Tag Archives: Lee Public Halls

Victorian Cricket and a Suffragette attack in Lee

In an area bounded by Manor Lane, the railway between Hither Green and Holme Lacey Road there was once a pair of cricket grounds, Granville at the Manor Lane end and Northbrook at the western end abutting Lee Public Halls.  We’ll look at Northbrook now and Granville in a later post.

The land appears to have previously been on the southern (left) edge of Lee Manor Farm – the farm map below from the 1840s probably marks it as ‘C K 12.1.10’.  Further to the south was Burnt Ash Farm (at the current junction of Baring and St Mildred Roads).  

In the mid 1860s the railway embankments had cut through the southern end of the farm cutting off the fields and seeing several other parcels of land sold for development.  

Both farms were owned by the Baring Family, at that stage headed by Thomas Baring, Baron Northbrook from 1866 and Earl of Northbrook from 1876.  The title was named after a village close to their Stratton Park estate in Hampshire.  As was covered a while ago, some of the family money came directly from slavery, including some slave ownership.

The Northbrook Cricket club seems to have been founded in 1871 by two relatively wealthy locals of mid Victorian suburbia – William Willis and  William Marks (1).  The latter was born in 1822 and was a Silk Merchant who lived at 30 Southbrook Road (also referred to as The Cottage) in the 1881 and 1891 censuses but had probably moved there in 1871.

The other founder was William Willis QC (pictured), who was a barrister from Bedfordshire living at 4 Handen Road in 1871, 12 Northbrook Road in 1881 and 1891, he moved to the Elms at the corner of Belmont Grove and Belmont Hill during the 1890s (2) and in Belmont Park by 1911.  Willis was also a Liberal politician and MP for Colchester from 1885 until his death in 1911.

Unsurprisingly, given the name of the club, its President was Lord Northbrook (3) and the ground was imaginatively  named Lord Northbrook’s Ground (4).

It was a club with a vision of success who employed a professional in its early years – the Kent player Henry Palser (5).  He seems to have been a local man who was born in 1841, his father had been ‘Beadle of Lee Church’ in 1851.   Palser had an intermittent career as a professional around the country over the next couple of decades; out of season, he worked as a bricklayer – he was living in Court Hill Road in Hither Green in 1881.  

In the local press there wasn’t that much coverage of the club, mentions only seeming to mention fundraisers often at Lee Public Halls, next door, at least until it became a laundry. The Royal Hand Bell Ringers and Glee Singers featured in early 1880 (6).  They also covered annual dinners and the speeches at them – 1878’s noted a good season winning 16/28 matches drawing 8 and losing 4; the batting averages were topped by a Mr Cole at 41 which he won a bat for at the annual dinner (7).

From the early 1880s there began to be extensive coverage of their games, or at least the scorecards in a Victorian newspaper called ‘Cricket.’  Oddly while batting averages were published, bowling ones weren’t. The matches seemed to be friendlies, or at least no league tables were produced.   There is no intention here to do a complete season by season history of the club, it would be repetitive and probably not that interesting; instead we will look at a season every few years.

1883 was their 13th season and it was noted as being ‘successful and satisfactory.’ Matches played that season included their next door neighbours Granville, Sidcup, Burlington, Addiscombe, Old Charlton who played in Charlton Park, Lausanne, Islington Albion, Eltham (at Chapel Farm – now Coldharbour  Leisure Centre), Orpington, Hampton Wick, Pallingswick (close to Hammersmith) and Croydon.

Thirty six matches were played that summer of which 15 were won, 8 lost – of the 13 drawn games, 8 were in the favour of the men from Lee. The batting averages were headed by a W J Smith on 22.13 (8).

By 1889 the opponents were similar although matches had extended down into Kent, with matches against Gravesend and Greenhithe added.  There were 46 matches played 15 won, 12 lost, 12 drawn and 7 abandoned in the wetter summer.  The batting averages were headed by P W G Stuart  on 52.7 (9) – he was probably army Lieutenant, Pascoe Stuart who had been born in Woolwich but had moved away from the area by 1891. Heading the bowling averages was E D J Mitchell who lived just around the corner in Birch Grove, just over the road from E Nesbit of Railway Children fame.

In the late 19th century, Lee was a prosperous area on the edge of the city and those who played for the team in that era reflected that.  They included that season Thomas Blenkiron (10) a silk merchant who live on Burnt Ash Hill who had family links to Horn Park Farm – the house they lived in was called Horn Park. 

1893 started badly for the club with the pavilion being destroyed by fire in January the cause was not  clear (11). The rebuilding was incredibly rapid, with a new ‘half timbered structure with three gables’ built by Kennard Brothers of Lewisham Bridge and opened in late April ahead of the new season (12). The location was mid-way along what is now Holme Lacey Road (below).

Reporting became a lot more reduced during the 1890s, the reasons for this aren’t that clear although it may be because the nature of the Cricket newspaper may well have changed.  In the 1880s smaller clubs like Northbrook were able to pay to have their scorecards covered, this didn’t happen any more in the final decade of the century with mentions reducing to, at best, a couple of sentences.  1899 was a poor season for the club, matches includes matches against Goldsmiths’ Institute – the home away away games involved heavy defeats; a winning draw against Dulwich and a draw in the return fixture at Burbage Road, a losing draw against the London and Westminster Bank, defeats to Panther, Charlton Park and Forest Hill (13).

The number of mentions  got further and further between in the 20th century, with only a handful of reports each year.  There were a few more mentions in 1912 which seems to have been a relatively successful one for the club. There was a winning draw against Albemarle and Friern Barnet in and victories against Addiscombe and  Crofton Park in May and June respectively – A W Fish scored 50s in both games and probably his brother, HD was a centurion in June against Hertford, with Mansel-Smith a centurion against Bromley Town a few days earlier.

There was a comfortable victory against Derrick Wanderers in Manor Way in Blackheath (pictured above in 2020); the ground is still open space but is now abandoned and fenced off, owned by a development company hoping no doubt for a planning law changes that will allow them to develop the site.

In January 1914 the Northbrook Cricket Club pavilion was burned down again. While the Lewisham WSPU branch never claimed responsibility, that week’s ‘The Suffragette’ implied it was the their work the headline noting. ‘Fires and Bombs as Answer to Forcible Feeding’ and having a report on the fire below (bottom right hand corner). The national press was a little more circumspect about naming the culprit though and no one was ever charged with the arson.

It isn’t clear what happened to the club after their 15 minutes of infamy in 1914.  While it is possible that it continued for the rest of the 1914 season, it is likely that World War One brought cricket to a halt there most sport – as we saw with Catford Southend football club.   

By 1924, the landowners, presumably still the Northbrooks, had cashed in on the value of the land and sold it.  The Northbrook ‘square’ was covered by the Chiltonian Biscuit factory which had moved on from Staplehurst Road.  Today, it is the home of the Chiltonian Industrial Estate, pictured below.  The pavilion and southern edge of the outfield was covered at around the same time by the houses of Holme Lacey Road, built by W J Scudamore – pictured earlier in the post.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 28 April 1893
  2. Neil Rhind (2020) Blackheath and its Environs, Volume 3 p518
  3. Kentish Mercury 11 January 1873 
  4. Sporting Life  23 September 1871 
  5. Kentish Mercury 27 May 1871 
  6. Kentish Mercury 24 January 1880 
  7. Kentish Mercury 23 November 1878 
  8. Cricket 20 September 1883 
  9. Cricket 26 September 1889 
  10. Cricket 26 September 1889 
  11. Reynolds’s Newspaper 8 January 1893
  12. Kentish Mercury 28 April 1893
  13. Cricket 1899 various dates 

Credits

  • The 1843 map of Lee Manor Farm and the picture of the Chiltonian Biscuit Factory are part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright;
  • The picture of William Willis is via WikiTree on a Creative Commons
  • The map showing the location of the ground is on a non-commercial licence via the National Library of Scotland
  • Census and related data comes from Find My Past

Variety, Soap Suds and Building Supplies – The Story of Lee Public Halls

At the Burnt Ash Road end of Holme Lacey Road, set back from the road, is a London Stock brick building which has been largely covered by the signage of its current owners – Travis Perkins. While the building itself has been much extended and altered, at its core is a 1870s building that started as Lee Public Halls – briefly home to variety, light entertainment and numerous Victorian Societies and later, as the title suggests, put to a variety of other uses.

The ‘proprietor’ and no doubt builder of the Lee Public Halls was John Pound – builder of much of Burnt Ash, Grove Park and bits of Blackheath along with a quartet of the area’s pubs. There were two linked brick buildings one holding up to 1000 the other 400 which were ‘suitable for concerts and public meetings’, they were probably built around 1876. The original site included a frontage onto Burnt Ash Hill, now largely occupied by Bellamy’s Citroën dealership.

The Victorians liked their Societies and needed venues for them – Blackheath had the Concert Halls, built by William Webster’s firm of builders, and the Arts Club; the northern part of Lee had the Lee Working Men’s Institution on Old Road (which was nothing of the sort and will be covered in a later post), but South Lee had nothing equivalent in the way of halls for Societies and entertainment. Lee Public Halls, along with the Station, the shops and the pubs was probably part of the package that Pound was using to sell the homes he was building.

The earliest references to the Halls are at the beginning of 1878 where Professor Era ‘the Popular Illusionist’ performed giving his ‘marvellous and amusing entertainment.’ Like many of the evening entertainments, it was effectively a benefit, with proceeds going to the ‘Burnt Ash Mothers Meeting.’ (1)

Another early benefit was by the Lee Literary and Musical Society who gave a musical recital in aid of Lee Crèche, an organisation which provided for ‘poor children’ in the absence of their mothers during working hours (8 am to 9 pm). The Hall was filled and the ‘audience good’ (2).

During the day the Halls were regularly used as an auction hall for furniture (3). There was an attempt to set up a school there in 1879, although this doesn’t appear to have come to fruition (4).

Political meetings were held there from early in its life, the first recorded one being a large one concerning flooding in the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments in May 1878 – an early incarnation of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group, perhaps (5).  It noted that 2000 homes had been flooded in the area in April 1878 and asked the Metropolitan Board of Works to do something about it.

Penny Readings were regular fayre; they seemed to follow the standard, well established form that had been in place for 20 years consisting of readings and other performances, usually by local people. While when they were introduced the charge was as the name implied, by the time they reached Lee, the charges were 2/- (10p) for the reserved seats and 6d (2.5p) for unreserved seats (6). The Penny Readings were popular entertainment with, in the early years, 800 often present (7).

The next door neighbour to Lee Public Halls when they opened was Northbrook Cricket Club, which we have covered before in relation to a suffragette arson attack on their pavilion in early 1914. The Halls were the venue for an annual fundraising concert for the club, the 1878 edition saw the Hall was ‘tastefully arranged and adorned with evergreens and flower, (and) was comfortably filled with a select and appreciative audience.’  (8)

The 1880 version saw apparent favourites of Queen Victoria, the Royal Hand-Bell Ringers and Glee Singers perform. The tickets were only slightly more expensive than the Penny Readings (9).

One of the regular variety acts at Lee Public Hall was the Royal Black Diamond Minstrels (see below, 10)  – they were described as ‘popular exponents of negro minstreley.’ While such entertainment is racist and very dated, it remained popular up until the late 1970s when one of their successor groups, the Black and White Minstrels, still regularly appeared on prime time television on Saturday evenings – oddly for a while featuring Lenny Henry. In the 1880s it was considered family entertainment with generally white performers using burnt cork as make up and ‘enacting comic songs and dances with often grotesquely stereotyped caricatures of black behaviour.’  The Black Diamond Minstrels appeared several times to packed houses, ‘crowded to excess.’ (11)

The local Societies regularly used the Halls as a venue – a regular was South Lee and Burnt Ash Dahlia Society which held annual competitions there (12).

As noted above, benefit concerts and amateur dramatics were a staple fayre at the Halls – an early one in May 1878 was a fundraiser for the building of St Mildred’s – there was a poor turnout due to the ‘inclement weather’ (13).  By the autumn of the following year there were fortnightly concerts and entertainments raising funds to build the church (14) and pay for the organ – there was a concert with piano, several violins and vocalists in November 1879 (15).

Indirectly, the funding of benefit concerts for St Mildred’s was probably one of the things that contributed to the Halls demise as a venue. The building of churches and other halls locally will have reduced the revenue stream and it is noticeable from the early 1880s that local press coverage of events there diminished considerably.

By mid-1885 the building had been put to a new use – an advertisement in the Kentish Mercury in July announced that ‘The Public Hall Sanitary Steam Laundry’ was now in operation. A smaller advert in the same edition ‘Ladies desiring the van to call may send post card to the Manageress’ and could also come and have a look at the new machinery (16).

These were days before washing machines and, in middle class Lee, it would not be expected that the women (and certainly not the men….) of the households would be undertaking domestic drudgery of this type. As we saw in the first of the posts on Ardmere Road, taking in laundry for wealthier neighbours was commonplace. A step up from this were laundries – a little later local suffragette Clara Lambert came from a family that had set up a laundry and worked in it herself for many years.

There were adverts most weeks for staff in the ‘Kentish Mercury’, a few examples included:

  • Woman & boy for wash house (17)
  • Experienced preparer ‘none but good hands need apply’ (18);
  • Best ironers, tall drier also good washer (19);
  • Experienced folder wanted (tall preferred) (20).

It is possible that John Pound still had an interest in the building into the 1890s; there were attempts to sells it, along with Pound’s Estate Office (2 Burnt Ash Hill) opposite in the months after his bankruptcy. The laundry was let at £150 pa, and was noted as having a frontage of 81′ onto Burnt Ash Hill ‘thoroughly ripe for the erection of business premises.’ (21)

There were several similar adverts over the next few months, so perhaps surprisingly, the laundry remained and the frontage onto Burnt Ash remained undeveloped (22).

By 1905, it appears that a small portion of the frontage was let to decorators – Edmund James Tagg, but the Public Halls Steam Laundry, then under the control of W P Cowan remained as having an address with a frontage onto Burnt Ash Hill.

Little changed until the 1920 when two motor trade businesses were to take over the front – in the 1927 Kelly’s Directory Albert Tooley’s Station Garage and Lee Auto Services were on the Burnt Ash Hill frontage, with the shortened Public Hall Laundry now accessed from the W J Scudamore developed Holme Lacey Road (the map below shows the site from 1950 (23))

By 1941 Scudamore’s were using part of the site of the laundry, whether this marked a slight scaling back of operations isn’t clear. By 1953 the ‘Public Halls’ had been dropped from the name – it was now known as ‘Supreme Laundry.’ The last mention of the laundry was in 1962, when Lee Public Halls name had been restored. In 1963, the Halls were home to South London Engineering and Sheet Metal – they seem to have diversified into electrical equipment and air conditioning and were still there in the late 1980s when the last local Kelly’s Directories seem to have been published – replaced over time by Yellow Pages, Thompsons and the Internet.

View of rear of building from the Chiltonian Industrial Estate

As for Scudamores, they remained on the site until they went bankrupt in 1966; for a few years another building contractor – M E Lee seem to have used part of the site but they had gone by the mid-1970s. The current occupants are Travis Perkins and while the overall impression is of a builders supply yard, bits of the original building can still be glimpsed and it is still just about possible to imagine the carriages drawing up at 9:45 for the wealthy suburban citizens of Lee having seen the Royal Handbell Ringers and Glee Singers in February 1880 (24).

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 05 January 1878
  2. Kentish Mercury 16 February 1878
  3. Kentish Mercury 07 December 1878, but lots of other examples
  4. Kentish Mercury 05 July 1879
  5. Kentish Mercury 04 May 1878
  6. Kentish Mercury 19 April 1879
  7. Kentish Mercury 26 October 1878
  8. Kentish Mercury 02 February 1878
  9. Kentish Mercury 24 January 1880
  10. Kentish Mercury 01 November 1879
  11. Kentish Mercury 08 November 1879
  12. Kentish Mercury 20 September 1879
  13. Kentish Mercury 25 May 1878
  14. Kentish Mercury 15 November 1879
  15. Kentish Mercury 01 November 1879
  16. Kentish Mercury 31 July 1885
  17. Kentish Mercury 27 February 1891
  18. Kentish Mercury 03 February 1893
  19. Kentish Mercury 14 May 1897
  20. Kentish Mercury 12 August 1910
  21. Kentish Mercury 29 May 1896
  22. Kentish Mercury 04 December 1896
  23. On a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/view/103032888
  24. Kentish Mercury 24 January 1880

The non-hyperlinked references to Directories are from the Blackheath, Greenwich and Lee Kelly’s Directories (pre-World War 2), the later ones are from the Kelly’s London Directories. Both were accessed via the always helpful, and under resourced, Lewisham Archives.