Tag Archives: Lee

Graffiti Ancient and Modern

It may seem rather obvious, but not being able to run for a while has slowed my wanderings down a bit.  As a result, I noticed, for the first time, something on a footpath I have run along probably hundreds of times – some 18th century graffiti on a wall along St Margaret’s Passage.

St Margaret’s Passage was part of an old route from St Margaret’s Church and almost certainly northwards to Blackheath (the open space, not the ‘village’) via Love Lane, now Heath Lane, and Lee High Road.

The alley has gone through a variety of names – I have a series of Ordnance Survey maps referring to it over time by different names ‘The Arches’ (1863), ‘Church Passage’ (1894) and ‘Royal Oak Place’ (1914).  The change to ‘St Margaret’s Passage’ seems to have come around 1920.  

South of what is now Kingswood Place, the alley more or less followed the course of a field stream, which I called Annesley’s Stream, and still seems to be audible, if not visible, which flowed into the Looking Glass of Lee.  
Beyond the former Royal Oak, which was at the boundary of the Boone and Fludyer estates, the path presumably joined what is now Dacre Park to join Lee High Road – Lee Church Street wasn’t developed until the 1820s.

One of the reasons I have never noticed the graffiti is that they are around knee height – the ground level has presumably changed in the intervening 240 years.  When trying to find out a bit more about the graffiti I discovered that another blogger had noticed them too, the fantastic and inimitable Edith’s Streets blog – which is painstakingly documenting the history of London streets and buildings in Ordnance Survey grid square by grid square.  ‘Edith’ visited in 2010 and suggests that there was probably a stile into the field with which contains the present St Margaret’s church – the old was on the opposite side of the field in Belmont Hill. 


Edith suggests that the ne’er-do-wells seemed to congregate around the likely stile and scratched dates and initials in to the wall belonging to the Fludyer estate.  The front of the house (generally now known as Dacre House) was around 100 metres away to the south-east and the wall would have offered some privacy.  

The requirement for privacy probably pre-dated the graffiti though.  By the 1770 the House was home to Lady Mary Jane Dacre (formerly Fludyer) and Lord Dacre, who died before his wife.  The following is a description of the area relating to that time (albeit written sometime later)

The whole of these beautiful views of Lady Dacre’s park and the Boone estate were open to the public gaze on all sides, either by low hawhaw fences or dwarf thorn hedges. 

However, the high walls and secluded environment for the graffiti artist remain and a metre above the 18th century graffiti is a late 20th or early 21st counterpart. 

‘Death by Falling from the Clouds’ in Lee

Burnt Ash Farm, which was around what is now the junction of St Mildred’s Road and Baring Road, has a somewhat odd historical claim in that it was the scene of the first fatal parachute jump.

Robert Cocking was a watercolour artist by trade, but had spent years attempting to develop a parachute and on 24 July 1837 its maiden flight was planned from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which by that stage had been re-badged the The Royal Vauxhall Gardens.

A lot was made of the launch – the public were allowed to inspect the 107 foot perimeter parachute, there were bands and an orchestra, and the parachute was to be launched from the Great Nassau balloon which was piloted by, perhaps, the best known balloonist of his generation – Charles Green.

It was planned to get the parachute to around 8,000 feet (about 2,400 metres), but the weight of the parachute with the basket below prevented this and at less than half this height Cocking was released from the balloon over Greenwich. The balloon, without the weight of Cocking’s contraption, rapidly ascended, however the parachute plummeted turning inside out and breaking apart before crash landing in Lee.


John Chamberlain, a shepherd at Burnt Ash Farm was a witness to the crash and the events leading up to it with the rapidly falling parachute making a sound like ‘thunder’ and the sight of the the crash ‘quite turned him’. Others appeared on the scene quite quickly, including Richard Norman. the proprietor of Burnt Ash Farm, and the battered Cocking was taken to the previous incarnation of the (Old) Tiger’s Head, where he died soon after.  There have been suggestions that while those finding him were from Burnt Ash Farm, that he may have actually landed in a field of a neighbouring farm – Lee Green Farm (the story of the farm was covered in the blog in 2016).

The original (Old) Tigers Head, built in the 1730s (1) and demolished in the early 1890s – from information board at Lee Green.

The detail of the post-mortem was published in The Lancet, which covered the horrendous extent of Cocking’s injuries in some detail. The Lancet though was damning of the enterprise, describing the parachute as a ‘suicidal machine’

The instrument of death was simply a canvas toy, constructed in ignorance, and used with the hardihood which might distinguish an unfortunate being who contemplated his own destruction by extraordinary and wonder exciting means ….

The inquest was held at the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee Green, the report in The Times noted that (2)

cocking times 1

These conclusions seems somewhat harsh, the paths trodden by pioneers of most means of transport were, and still are, fraught with danger. Cocking in trying and failing with an unusual design made it easier for those who came after to learn from his mistakes and was probably fully aware of the risks of failure.

It is worth noting a comment from the coroner about the innkeeper, Thomas Sears, who had charged sixpence to see the badly injured corpse of Robert Cocking’s body; the coroner found the scheme “deserving of peculiar censure and deprecation.” Some of Cocking’s clothing and pieces of the parachute also disappeared whilst in Sear’s charge (3).

Cocking was buried in the old St Margaret’s Lee Churchyard on Belmont Hill, close to the Astronomer Royal, Sir Edmund Halley – whose grave the blog visited a while ago, whilst following the Prime Meridian.


The crash left Cocking’s family almost destitute as a ‘begging’ letter in The Times noted just after the inquest (4).

cocking times 2


  1. Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ Lewisham History Journal No 9
  2. The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jul 29, 1837; pg. 6; Issue 16481
  3. Kincaid op cit
  4.   The Times (London, England), Monday, Jul 31, 1837; pg. 4; Issue 16482

Lee Place – A Stately Home of Lee

Lee is now was very different to how it was in the past, that doesn’t make it that dissimilar to any other place in the country. What is really different is that it has moved. What is now regarded as Lee, the area around the station, and Burnt Ash Road/Hill is a mile away from its historic centres – Lee was previously three small settlements – on Belmont Hill, around Old Road and around Lee Green. Old Lee was a place for the rich, with some of the wealth having its origins in the slave trade and Deptford. There were several very large houses stretching from The Cedars on Belmont Hill in the north to the Manor House in the south – over time I will probably touch on all of them, but I will start with one that is no longer there – Lee Place.

There is a logic to this in that its disappearance helped shape the current development of the area in that it allowed the straightening of Lee High Road. There had been a large medieval moated farm, latterly known as Annesley’s House, located some distance away, to the north of the High Road – roughly where St Margaret’s Lee CoE School is now. This estate was fragmented in the early 17th century following the death of Brian Annesley. The end of his life, and his at least partial inspiration for King Lear, was covered a few months ago in the blog.

This fragmentation of the old estate seemed to allow the development of a series of slightly smaller merchant’s houses in the area. Lee Place was one of the first of this new generation of houses and was built in the early 17th century. It was located just to the rear of the western side of the current Bankwell Road (named after Lords of the Manor of Lee in 13th and 14th Centuries). Its grounds included an area largely bounded by the current Old Road, which then formed the main road from Eltham westwards towards London but included an area to the north of it as well. There was a partial moat, probably originally Annersley’s, and small lake just north of the current Lee High Road, behind the petrol station and Rambles bar. There will be another post on this in the New Year.

IMG_0323.JPG (Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Lee)

Relatively early in its history it was home to Christopher Boone, a wool merchant in London. His name lives on with the estate chapel that bears his name and was a mausoleum which was built in 1683 – more that sometime in the future. The main entrance to the estate was adjacent to the recently refurbished Boone’s chapel.

P1040595.JPG Other than Boone’s Chapel, the remaining sign of Lee Place is part of its boundary wall facing onto Old Road, it was the external wall for a now unused council depot, while old, it isn’t brickwork of any great beauty.


Lee Place almost certainly not built by the Boones, the 1664 Hearth Tax listed it as being owned by George Thomson and having the most chimneys in the parish – 21.  He seems likely to have been the brother of Maurice Thomson – who lived nearby and was heavily involved in slavery, Running Past will return to him in the future.  Assuming it is the same family, George Thomson had been a member of the Long Parliament and was also heavily involved with slavery.

The Boone family lived in the Place for most of its life, after Christopher’s death the house was inherited by his son Thomas. It then passed to Thomas’ daughter in 1749 to live in until her death when it passed to Thomas’ nephew, Charles Boone. Around this period, the house was let to Thomas Lucas who went on to build The Manor House – which was completed in 1772. Charles moved into Lee Place in 1777, although by 1797, possibly earlier, he was letting it out to Benjamin Harrison, and then to Benjamin Aislabie (the Victorian street at the south east corner of the estate is named after him, albeit spelled ‘Aislibie’) for 14 years from 1809.

Charles died in 1819 and the end of the lease to Aislabie the estate was sold. The site seems to have been sub-divided, which led to its piecemeal development. The area to the north of what is now Lee High Road seem to have been the first to have been re-developed with Lee New Town – small terraced houses mainly for the ‘staff’ for the large houses. By the end of the century Booth described in the notes books for his poverty maps purple – ‘Mixed – Some comfortable others poor’

IMG_0569.JPG Turner Road (now Dacre Park) on the edge of the ‘New Town’ – from information board by Kingswood Hall Lee High Road was straightened soon after the sub-division of the estate, but the immediate grounds of Lee Place remained as small fields. There were some Victorian shops built along the straightened Lee High Road with a depot for the Cheisman’s store in Lewisham behind them on Old Road. The terraces of Bankwell Road and part of Old Road were built around 1907, and the long gone cinema Lee Picture House, on the corner of Lee High Road and Bankwell Road first opened its doors in 1910. The remainder of the northern side of Old Road and Lee High Road (Market Terrace) to the west of the cinema weren’t developed until the mid to late 1930s.