Tag Archives: Lee Races

Horn Park Farm – Lee’s Last Big Farm

A few weeks ago Running Past looked at Lee Green Farm and its farmer – William Morris (no obvious relation to the eponymous textile designer, poet and socialist activist) – Morris was also the tenant of the neighbouring and slightly bigger Horn Park Farm from 1838.

Horn Park Farm, like Lee Green Farm, was owned by the Crown and in 1838 it consisted of around 221 acres of a mixture of arable and pasture. It seems to have stretched from around Winn Avenue to Eltham Road and possibly further northwards to the Quaggy.  At the Winn Avenue end  it bordered College Farm, and from around 1914 Melrose Farm (sometimes known as Woodman’s Farm).

An area nearly twice the size, 345 acres, known then as West Horne, had been enclosed in the 15th century and was one of three parks that belonged to Eltham Palace.  The Royal family stopped using the Palace early in the reign of Charles I and the Palace was badly damaged during the Civil War and the Commonwealth – John Evelyn noting in 1658 that “both the palace and chapel (were) in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel (Nathaniel Rich)”.

After the Restoration of the monarchy, Horn Park was converted into to a mixture of arable land and pasture with the Crown Estate retaining ownership.

The first subsequent on-line mention was in relation to a dispute in 1816 between the Lee and Eltham parishes in relation to the boundary between the two, it oddly went through the bed of the ill farm worker who was claiming poor relief. He got out of bed on the Eltham side so they ended up paying.  The farmer at that stage was a Richard Stames.

While Morris’ seems to have lived at Lee Green Farm, there were farm buildings at Horn Park marked on the earliest Ordnance Survey Maps up until the 1930s when the area was developed as Horn Park estate, a development not completed until the 1950s due to the intervention of WW2.

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Maps source – Ordnance Survey 6″ via National Library of Scotland – surveys from 1862, 1930 and 1938.

The farm buildings were roughly where the grassed area on Alnwick Road, opposite Horncastle Road – close to where Westhorne Avenue now is.

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It seems likely that when Morris’ lease ended around 1860, that the silk merchant Thomas Blenkiron, son of the racehorse trainer William leased Horn Park and used the farm for grazing racehorses.   It is possible that William, while more generally associated with Middle Park, also had some interest in Horn Park as it was one of the addresses listed in bankruptcy proceedings in 1884.

The next significant tenants were the Wood family who seem to have moved to Horn Park in the 1880s, presumably after the bankruptcy proceedings of Blenkiron.  The first tenant would have been Walter William Wood – his son Walter Thomas Wood was born there in 1888.

It was the Wood family’s second farm, Walter (William) seems to have started farming at Crockenhill in Kent – a farm they retained an interest in up until the 1930s.

The farming changed under the Woods – while it was predominantly grazing under both Morris and Blenkiron – cows and horses respectively, by 1912 the farm was described as having ‘well cultivated fields.’  There were also orchards at the southern end of the farm – clear on the later OS Maps above.

imageThe Woods seem to have moved the farm towards market gardening – certainly they were advertising for a ‘man well up in growing tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms for market’ in 1895

They also grew flowers for the market to – there was a court case involving theft of lilacs the same year in the short-lived Blackheath Gazette .  They later diversified into growing bulbs, they were subject to legal action at Greenwich County Court in 1920 relating to a dispute with a Dutch firm of bulb sellers, which they lost.

Walter senior died at the farm in 1924 and Walter Thomas died in 1929 in Bromley, it is not clear whether he was still on the farm at that point – he was certainly there in the 1901 and 1911 censuses though.  The younger son Sidney, born in 1892, stayed on after the deaths of his father and brother.  He married Audrey in 1920.

Sidney was made bankrupt in 1935 – possibly as a result of the shrinking size of the farm, the land around the farm house had been lost to the Horn Park Estate and there was housing built along Eltham Road.  The farm house had had to move to 34 Eltham Road – on the corner of Cambridge Drive (see photograph at the end).  The reduced size of the area for cultivation probably wasn’t enough to help keep the business afloat.  With the demand for land from a growing London, how long it would have been able to keep going beyond 1935 was probably questionable anyway.

The couple stayed in Lewisham after the break-up of the farm around the outbreak of WW2.  Audrey died in 1968 and Sidney ten years later.

The Farm was home to a number of sporting events – this included many of the fields that the horses and riders of the Lee Races would have galloped through in the 1830s.  In 1914 it was home to the annual Lewisham Horse Show.

imageThere was at least one illegal prize fight between Emmanuel Bilby and Jeremiah McCarthy, both of Deptford which was spotted by a local constable who followed crowds there in early 1899. It isn’t clear whether the fight was with the Wood’s sanction or not.

Finally, one of the early ‘losses’ of land was what is now the Old Colfeans sports ground – the Old Alleynians played rugby there for at least a season around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it seems to have been used for sport ever since.  It was sold the Leathersellers Company as Trustees for Colfes School, then a Grammar School sometime after 1929.  The current site of the school was also part of the farm.

The location of the last farm house & the playing fields

The location of the last farm house & the playing fields

 

 

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Lee Races

 Like many current pub landlords, the 19th century Thomas Sears of the (Old) Tiger’s Head was keen to increase income by diversification.  This included a series of sporting activities including ‘foot racing’ – running races with handicaps which the blog will return to in the future, pre-Queensbury rules boxing and horse racing – the Lee Races.

Lee Races were a series of local horse races based initially, and finishing In 1845, at Lee Green behind the Tiger’s Head (left picture below – note 1) but then with the same or similar names moving  to 

  • Harrow Fields, which were nearer to Eltham
  • Shooters Hill Road between the Sun in the Sands and the Earl of Moira (right picture below (2) which was the former name of the Brook, which is now a Co-op) public houses; and 
  • An unclear location in Eltham – presumably somewhere near Eltham Green.

 

 The July 1834 races were based in the two large fields behind the Old Tigers Head  at Lee Green, in whose garden was the grandstand, effectively between what is now Lee Road and Lee Park. The fields were probably those marked “Lee Green” in John Roque’s map (3) from a century before below.  The area would now include streets around Heathlee Road.   

The 1834 races were described in the pro-racing New Sporting Magazine 

The inhabitants of Lee, Blackheath etc got up some very good races … (the course being laid out in two large fields in front of the houses at Lee), which brought a large assemblage of people…amusing and enjoying themselves happily and innocently…the first Lee Races having gone off so well, we hope that steps will be taken to ensure a repetition of them. 

 The report in the New Sporting Magazine skirted over the death of a Greenwich pensioner who crossed the road during a race and was run over, and possibly a rider (4).  The ‘large assemblage’ clearly wasn’t peaceful enough for the relatively gentile people of Lee and the following year the races moved to Harrow Fields.

There is some debate as to where Harrow Fields were located.  Kincaid (5) has them in the area around Crathie Road (top left of photos below) and Scotsdale Road to the south of Eltham Road. However, the ‘History of Lee’ suggests that they were in an area where substantial houses were built there before 1882.  That would put them a little further to the west and north of Eltham Road – around the current Southbourne Gardens (bottom right in photo below), Courtlands Avenue (top right) and, possibly, as far east as John Roan Playing Fields. The were Harrow Cottages marked around there in the 1870 OS 6″ map.  Sutcliffe Park was, of course, formerly known as Harrow Meadow. 

  

Meanwhile, the ‘Shooters Hill races’ started in 1836 with separate organisers who attempted to link to those in Harrow Meadows.  They were known as the Lee, Lewisham, Greenwich and Eltham Races and were reported on in the Morning Chronicle in 1836 (quoted in the Lewisham Heritage blog) with The Greenwich Borough Cup won by a horse called Eliza Thornville. 

These races only had three annual meetings and, according to Kincaid (6), there were strong suggestions of fixed races and ‘intolerable nuisance in the neighbourhood.’ (7)

The 1837 ‘Eltham’ event was overshadowed by something other than the racing – an early attempted parachute jump which went badly wrong a couple of weeks before the races – this was covered before in the blog.

The races seemed to degenerate after Sears stopped his involvement in 1838 – possibly due to being convicted in 1837 of, what appears to have been, selling alcohol without a licence on the course.  

Sear’s wasn’t the only criminal activity – 1838 Old Bailey case records note several cases relating to the Races including John Bridger who was imprisoned for 6 months for the theft of a handkerchief; a William Richards was ‘confined’ for 5 days and whipped for stealing a horse cloth; and John Ebbs was imprisoned for the theft of a bunch of keys and a bag of money. The sentences handed down the following year seemed harsher and included a George Smith who was convicted of theft with violence, oddly against another George Smith, and transported for 16 years; and John Wood was transported for 10 years for the theft of a handkerchief, although he did have some ‘previous.’

The racing seemed to of a relatively low quality too – James Christie Whyte’s ‘History of the British Turf’, quoted in Wikipedia, described Lee’s 1840 races as “only of local interest” 

By 1841 at a new venue nearer Eltham, the races were described as ‘a most miserable affair altogether’ and the course described as ‘shocking’ (8).

The races returned to Lee Green in 1844 with a moderate degree of success, but much less so in 1845 race where numbers were sparse and it was to be the last year.  Lee was changing with Lee Road and Lee Park were beginning to be developed.

Horse racing was changing too, until the early nineteenth century it was a sport that took place at the local level as moving horses any distance was difficult.  The growth of the railways changed all this as the movement of horses and spectators became much easier. The 1838 Derby saw the first horse racing special rail services. 

  

Derby Day in the 1850s (9).

Permanent horse racing tracks began to be developed, including those at Sandown Park, Lingfield and Kempton which offered income from gate receipts as well monies from selling rights to gambling and alcohol sale.

Lee wasn’t the only location in the area to lose its racing – courses at Tunbridge  Wells and Rochester & Chatham had also disappeared by the end of the century.

Finally, the late nineteen century historian of Lee, F. H. Hart, after describing the clientele as the “lowest classes” and highlighting the “many accidents” concluded, 37 years after the final race, that 

We cannot be too thankful that the long list of these nuisances is now abolished, and that we live in more refined times.


Notes

  1. Picture of (Old) Tigers Head – from an information board at Lee Green
  2. Picture of Earl of Moira – source Culture 24 
  3. Map from an information board at Lee Green, the original was published in 1740
  4. Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ in Lewisham History Journal No 9, p34
  5. Kincaid, p35
  6. Kincaid, p44
  7. Kincaid, p52
  8. Kincaid, p53
  9. Source Wikipedia