Tag Archives: Lee Working Men’s Club

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 8 – Blackheath to Lee Green

We’d started our circuit of Lee at Lee Green during the first 2020 Coronavirus lockdown and the last leg from Blackheath to Lee Green was under the not dissimilar conditions of lockdown 2.0 in the late autumn of 2020. In the intervening months, Running Past followed the long thin boundary of Victorian Lee just before it was subsumed into Lewisham in 1900. The navigation was aided by an 1893 surveyed Ordnance Survey map.

This circuit has been in seven stages up to this point, from Lee Green to Winn Road, passing a street whose residents probably now wish it had a different name – Corona Road; the next stage was through Grove Park; then on through Marvels and Elmstead Woods; the circuit skirted Chinbrook Meadows and followed the appropriately named stream Border Ditch; then another Ditch, Hither Green Ditch, more or less parallel to Verdant Lane and Manor Lane before following the Quaggy from Longhurst Road into Lewisham, then in the penultimate part following a Quaggy tributary, Upper Kid Brook to Blackheath.

We’d left the boundary at a T junction of borders, Lee – Lewisham – Charlton with a replacement of a 1903 boundary marker of a similar style to those seen in several places around the border.

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

The stone is next to the railway bridge and it is worth a quick turnaround by the first turning on the left, or would have been in 1893. A large Methodist chapel had been built in the mid-1860s and dominated the Blackheath Village skyline and was to do so for another 52 years until a V-2 rocket attack hit it in March 1945.

The turning is Bennett Park, which has one of biggest concentrations of blue plaques in south east London – the Physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington lived at number 4 – he was listed as a boarder there in the 1911 census, whilst working at the Royal Observatory. The cartoonist Donald McGill, lived at 5 Bennett Park – he was there when the 1939 Register was compiled. But, perhaps, the most significant is one at the far end for the GPO Film Unit, whose output included the wonderful film adaptation of W H Auden’s Night Mail, which featured a score by Benjamin Britten. The Film Unit also produced some World War Two propaganda films. The building had been partially funded by one the main benefactors of late Victorian Blackheath, William Webster, son of the eponymous main contractor of Joseph Bazlegette, as Blackheath Art Club.

Onwards and southwards, the boundary goes upwards and out of the valley of Upper Kid Brook towards the watershed with the adjacent Brook in the trio of Kid Brooks, Mid Kid Brook. Straddling the catchments is a pair of elegant buildings at the top of the hill – the Conservatoire of Music and Blackheath Concert Halls, again in part the paid for built by William Webster. Both were a few years away in 1893 though, there was a terrace of houses there at that stage. The Concert Halls, resplendent with some lovely pargeting, were to be the location of a badly disrupted suffragette meeting in 1909.

Lee Road, which we follow to Lee Green and the end of our circuit, had been farmland on the western side until 1835 (1) – this was a little later at the Lee Green end which in some years was the home to the annual horse racing of Lee Races. The eastern side, part of the Cator Estate, had seen some development from a couple of decades earlier. We won’t look at much of the housing here in any detail as Neil Rhind’s meticulously researched Blackheath Village and Environs Volumes 2 &3 cover this.

By 1893 though, this was wealthy suburbia and there was still farmland to the west. In the period since, the mix of housing has changed considerably – the area around corner of the Lee Road and Blackheath Park (pictured above from early in the 20th century) is perhaps, typical of them – with Victorian housing replaced by Span housing of which there are lots examples dotted around the Cator Estate (pictured from a similar location in 2020).

The Charlton – Lee boundary continued, unmarked, along the centre of Lee Road in 1893; on the western side the view would probably have been dominated by the Christ Church on Lee Park. The area had once been part of the parish of St Margaret’s but the burgeoning population saw the parish split several ways, Christ Church (pictured below from Lee Park) being the first to be carved out in the 1850s. It lasted until ten days into the Blitz when Luftwaffe bombs destroyed most of it with the remaining parts demolished before the end of the war.

The church wasn’t the only part of the urban landscape to suffer during the war. There was damage of sufficient volume for there to be two small estates of prefab bungalows – Lee Road Bungalows just to the north of what is now Heathlee Road and River Close, which was opposite Manor Way. The section between them and onwards to the south was re-developed in the 1960s. The postcard below shows the street scene in that part of Lee Road in the early 20th century looking towards Blackheath – the boundary going down the middle of the road.

Just to the north of Manor Way, there was another T junction of boundaries – Lee remained constant but on the eastern side Charlton became Kidbrooke. The 1893 Ordnance Survey map noted a boundary stone, but this alas is no longer there. The Charlton – Kidbrooke boundary had followed Mid Kid Brook through the Cator Estate. The Brook’s original course would have been across Lee Road but during the 18th century it was diverted down Lee Road, it is currently culverted.

The was very little bomb damage on the eastern side of the boundary beyond Manor Way, with most of the houses that would have been there in 1893 remaining. One of the original houses was taken over as Lee Workingmen’s Club at 113 -115 Lee Road in the 1920s, the Club (pictured above) closed this century and is now a nursery . The Lee Constitutional Club was two doors down but arrived just too late to quench the thirst of the Ordnance Survey cartographers.

The 1863 and 2020 boundary continues down the middle of the road, now with Greenwich rather than Kidbrooke. Like the streetlights, bins, paving, white lines and tarmac colours that have become informal boundary markers, Lee Road has another variant – a small island in the road.

About a hundred metres on, we reach the Quaggy – another three way boundary in 1893 with Eltham replacing Kidbrooke. There is another boundary marker by the bridge over the Quaggy, its a defaced one of a similar style to that at the beginning of this section – rumour has it that the places were hacked out so as not to offer any help to German troops in the event of an invasion. There is though a better boundary marker almost below it though; by the outflow of the culverted Mid Kid Brook which as it joins the Quaggy is another Lewisham Natureman stag. This is the final one in the quartet of stags we have spotted on or close to the Lee boundary, so it seems an appropriate place to finish the circuit.

Notes

  1. Neil Rhind (forthcoming) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 3

The Postcards are via eBay from 2016, apart from the one of Christ Church which is from a couple of years before.

Census and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

This, and the rest of the series of posts on the Lee boundary, would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go-to person on London’s boundary markers; he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient. He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath during 2020’s lockdown, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me. A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him via this link.

Lee Working Men’s Club – a Lost Lee Road Watering Hole

A while ago Running Past covered the Lee Working Men’s Institution which was initially on Boone Street but later at 87 Old Road.  There were several questions on Facebook threads about whether the Institute was in some way linked to the Lee Working Men’s Club that used to be at 113 -115 Lee Road.  The short answer was ‘no’, and those that set up the Institution on Boone Street would probably have been appalled by the thought – it had strong links with the Victorian temperance movement noting that ‘their great rival’ was the public house (1)

So what of their near namesake on Lee Road?  The Lee Working Men’s Club & Institute (I’ll drop the & Institute to avoid confusion) first appeared in Kelly’s Directories in the late 1920s – over 30 years after its near neighbour at 119, the Lee Constitutional Club, Conservative was added later; maybe something on that another day. It could well have been a little earlier than this as Kelly’s Directories were sometimes a year or two behind changes in business on the ground and there was no entry for the address in the 1920s.

The houses had been built well before the Ordnance Survey cartographers arrived in the mid-1860s (see buildings highlighted above) – it was probably constructed soon after the railway arrived in Blackheath in 1849.  However, as just post war maps make clear – while current site numbering is 111 to 115, it hasn’t always have been this.  111 was originally part of a pair of Victorian semi-detached villas next door to the site and what was the Working Men’s Club was 113-115. So not to confuse matters  the numbers used will be the current ones.

In 1896 111, the building at the side,  was used by  John Walls to carry on a Dairy business, he’d been previously listed as a ‘cow keeper’ in Kelly’s since an early one in 1884 – presumably keeping his small herd in the still rural land toward Eltham.  113-115 was the private dwelling of Charles Valentine Game – Game was appropriately a butcher, who had lived in Burnt Ash Lane in the 1860s.  115 was then referred to as ‘Holland House.’  Game seemed to live there until his death in 1894.

In the first decade of the 20th century John Walls departed and presumably the outbuilding at the side was incorporated into the main house. It became home to a private school, initially run by Valentine Johnson and then Warwick Wyatt Crouch.  The school had closed its doors by the time the 1911 Kelly’s Directory was compiled and the house was home to Major Ernest Edward Bruno.

The next occupant was the Working Men’s Club at some stage during the 1920s. There were some early recollections of the Club in some local memoirs.  Regular readers will recall that a while ago Running Past covered the ‘Sunday Constitutional’ that the Noble family’s men used to have in the late 1920s and early 1930s Lee, starting from a house in Lampmead Road. It was something covered in the memoirs of their daughter who was to become Phyllis Willmott, a noted Social Work and Social Policy academic. In that post the menfolk, with children in tow, went to various hostelries in Lee and Blackheath whilst the women stayed at home to cook the Sunday dinner.

Evenings had been spent downstairs (Phyllis and her immediate family had most of the 1st floor at 49 Lampmead Road) around her gran’s piano. However, as the children got older, it seems as though this was replaced with drinking outside the home, to which both the children and their mother were allowed to come too. The destination was Lee Working Men’s Club (2).

It was clear that this was something that Phyllis wanted to do but wasn’t allowed to come every week – her prayers at Boone’s Chapel often included requests to be allowed to the Working Men’s Club (3). (This is what is now Emmanuel Pentecostal Church, rather than the Grade II listed 17th century one further down Lee High Road).

When Phyllis and her family started going to Lee Working Men’s Club there was strict demarcation inside. Women and children were generally only allowed in the Hall at the side, what is now 111 (4). There was a regular dance night at the Club some Sunday’s in the Hall. The beer befuddled men would make a late appearance for the last waltz, generally poor dancers they would be guided around the dance floor by their more sober wives and girlfriends (5).

When it was warm enough the dances and events were held in the garden which had a ramshackle external bar, and a couple of sheds selling – jellied eels, horseradish and the like at one and saveloys and sandwiches at the other.  The horseradish was locally grown – harvested from the side of the railway close to Hither Green station (6).

Perhaps surprisingly, there are few on-line memories of the Club – a Facebook thread from earlier in 2019, had positive memories of being a Club that seemed child friendly, with several generations of the same family having almost grown up there. There were recollections too of bands and being in bands that played there.

While its doors were still open when the StreetView car passed by in June 2008 (see above), ‘sale agreed’ signs were outside when the next drive past occurred in the autumn of 2009.

So what went wrong?  Apart from the more general changes in drinking patterns, the most likely explanations are both local and national.  The haemorrhaging of office businesses from Lee Green (Osborne Terrace and Leegate) along with the closure of the Police Station a little further down Lee High Road meant that the clientele for lunchtime or post work drinks was considerably reduced.  There was competition too in the cheap beer market with Wetherspoons opening the Sir Edmund Halley in Leegate.  The factors were importnant too in the closure of two Lee Green pubs – the Prince Arthur and the New Tiger’s Head. Nationally, the smoking ban introduced in 2007 may well have sounded the death knell for the Club.  It is obvious though from comments on a Facebook thread that the closure caused some bitterness and disagreement amongst members.

By 2012 the site was split the hall, formerly 113, now 111, was (and still is) a Pilates studio and the main building is a nursery – part of a chain – Zoom, itself part of a larger chain Bright Horizons.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 09 March 1867
  2. Phyllis Willmott (1979) Growing Up in a London Village p124
  3. ibid p125
  4. ibid p126
  5. ibid p127
  6. ibid p128

Credits and Thanks

  • The photograph of the Club when it was still operating is via StreetView in 2008
  • Kelly’s Directory information comes via Southwark Local History Library and Archive
  • The photograph of the garden is  copyright of  Lewisham Archives and is used here with their permission
  • Census and related data come via Find My Past