Tag Archives: Lewisham Town Hall

Preparations for World War Two – ARP Wardens, Sirens and Black Outs

As part of the 80th anniversary of World War 2 breaking out, Running Past has been looking at some of the preparations for war on the ‘Home Front.’ So far, this has included Lewisham children being evacuated to Kent then Surrey and the variety of shelters used to one of the key elements try to keep the civilian population safe during air raids. We return now to the Civil Defence services set up to try to keep the civilian population that remained in London and other urban centres as safe as possible from the air attacks that were expected soon after war broke out.  This post looks in particular the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) service.

Like the building of shelters, the roots go back to the interwar period. The ARP Department of the Home Office was set up in 1935 (1),  although appeals for volunteers were not made until 1937 – the approach was based on studying the impact of fascist bombing of Republican areas of Spain and the measures that were employed on the ground there (2). A second appeal for volunteers was made in March 1938 (3).

In the months before war broke out, it was agreed to pay full time ARP personnel £3 per week, although only £2 for women, with recruitment posters stressing the desire for ‘responsible men.’ Later in the year payments for some part time personnel were agreed (4).

Some of the early work that ARP wardens had to contend with was enforcing the blackout that was introduced on 1 September 1939 and lasted until April 1945 (5). Shop windows were darkened from 6:00 pm as were houses – requiring heavy curtains or blankets to ensure that no light escaped. Streets in almost darkness were dangerous with a large increase in injuries – 20% of the population reported as having suffered blackout related injuries in the first 4 months that they were in operation.

Road deaths increased around 40% when compared with pre-war fatalities. Regular readers will recall that a few years earlier Lewisham streets were noted as being some of the most dangerous in London.

Source ebay March 2016

Their control centre was in the basement of the old Town Hall in Catford (above) and, after January 1940, was funded through the rates, a predecessor of Council Tax (6). Every bombing, incendiary and related incident was phoned through to the ARP control centre who effectively acted as an emergency call centre.  They would find out about injuries, deaths, those trapped or missing, any fires that couldn’t be controlled locally (7) and look to send emergency services to assist.  On nights where there was heavy bombardment or large numbers of incendiary devices dropped these were not always available, as we saw with the fire that destroyed the original Church of the Good Shepherd in Lee, below.

Below is one small part of the Lewisham ARP log for the period between Christmas and New Year in 1940, while there had been a lull on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, hundreds of high explosives and incendiary bombs were dropped over the next few days, many around Lee. We’ll explore these attacks in much more detail in later posts.

At the level below the control centre, Individual wardens were based at schools and some purpose built concrete ‘pillboxes’ (8) around the community. They each served a population of 2 to 3,000, typically with a complement of six wardens, mainly part time (9).

One of the ARP posts in Lee was at what was then Hedgley Street School, pictured above (it was later Northbrook and currently Trinity Lewisham School) on the corner of Taunton Road. Running Past has covered the Noble family, who started the war at 49 Lampmead Road, a number of times before, including in relation to 1920’s play and the ‘Sunday Constitutional.’ Several of the family members worked for the ARP – Phyllis was briefly a warden with a navy battledress and steel helmet with a large white ‘W’ on the front (10). Her brother Joe and a cousin, who also lived at 49 Lampmead Road, worked as messengers based at the School – while in theory there were telephone links to Catford, cycle and motor cycle based messengers were used too in case lines came down.

The school was hit while Phyllis’ younger brother, Joe, was working there and partially destroyed. He was to be the only one injured – a bruised ankle from a falling fireplace (11). The ARP post presumably moved to an undamaged part of the evacuated school.

On the ground, the local ARP wardens would deal with whatever was needed, this ranged from providing first aid to those injured in incidents, directing people to shelters and help in getting the dead and injured out of bombed premises, this was both for hits on houses as well as the larger scale destruction of incidents like the attack on Sandhurst Road School in early 1943.

In front of St Stephens Church in Lewisham is a tall metal post with what looks like a pair of speakers attached to the top. It is easy to miss, particularly when the adjacent trees alongside the Quaggy are in leaf. It seems to be Lewisham’s last remaining air raid warning siren – one of around 25 around the then Boroughs of Deptford and Lewisham (12).

Once the warning sounded ARP wardens ensured that residents took cover in one of the air raid shelters; they sounded on over 1200 occasions during the war. Other locations seem to have included a former police station on Catford Hill, Catford Police Station on Bromley Road and Sandhurst Road School. The survival of the Lewisham one probably relates to its location next to the Quaggy and has a residual use as a flood warning siren.

The chilling sound of the air raid warning siren and, at the end, the all clear sound is on the YouTube video.

Finally, it is worth remembering that many ARP wardens lost their lives during the war; across London around 300 perished (13).  Those that died serving their community in Lewisham included (14):

  • Albert Brown (64) of 1 Eliot Hill was Injured at 14 Montpelier Vale on 8 March 1945 in the aftermath of the V-2 attack on Blackheath and died later the same day at Lewisham Hospital (pictured below);
  • Henry Cottell (52) was a Senior Air Raid Warden of 41 Manor Lane Terrace was injured at Lee High Road on 29/12/1940 and died same day at Lewisham Hospital;
  • Barbara Fleming (16) of 20 Farmfield Road in Bellingham was injured on 16/04/1941 at Warden’s Post, Ashgrove Road; died same day at Lewisham Hospital;
  •  Douglas Hardisty (44) ; of 70 Vancouver Road in Forest Hill who was a Captain in the  Home Guard as well as being an ARP Warden was Injured 21 March 1944, at corner of Vancouver Road and Kilmorie Road; he died at Lewisham Hospital;
  • Kenneth Smith (33) of 251 Burnt Ash Hill was injured at Methodist Chapel, Burnt Ash Hill on 13/10/1940 and died same day at Lewisham Hospital; and
  • Marjorie Wickens (19) of 7 Taunton Road died at the Albion Way Shelter on 11 September 1940.


Running Past will return to the fire watchers, the expanded fire service and other elements of the in later posts on World War Two.

Notes

  1. Mike Brown (1999) Put That Light Out! Britain’s Civil Defence Services at War 1939-45 -Stroud, Sutton Publishing p2
  2. ibid p3
  3. ibid p5
  4. ibid p7
  5. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 – 1945 p12
  6. ibid p28
  7. ibid p28
  8. ibid p27
  9. ibid p27
  10. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming Of Age in Wartime – London, Peter Owen, p42
  11. ibid p45
  12. Blake, op cit, p41
  13. ibid p29
  14. These are based on records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

Picture Credits

  • The recruitment poster comes from the collection of the Imperial War Museum and is used on a Non-Commercial Licence.;
  • The photograph of Hedgley Street School & the ruins of the Good Shepherd come from a booklet produced by Church of the Good Shepherd, Lee in 1956, p16 and it used with the church’s permission;
  • The picture of Sandhurst Road School is via The Newsshopper;
  • The postcard of the Town Hall is from eBay in March 2016;
  • The ARP Log is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their consent and remains their copyright;
  • The photograph of Blackheath is of an unknown source, although given its age is probably a government one and would thus be out of copyright; and
  • The ARP helmet is via Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons.

 

Britain’s First Cycling Stage Race Which Almost Started in Catford in 1944 

One of the now seemingly permanent features of the national and international cycling calendar is the Tour of Britain. It is an event that can trace its roots back to a race that was planned to start from Catford – the first ever British stage race.

Cycling stage racing has been common on the continent with races such as Le Tour de France and Giro D’Italia having their origins in the early 20th century. In Britain road racing had been effectively banned since the end of the 19th century.  Time trials  (where riders start on their own and race against the clock) were eventually tacitly allowed often in remote locations with ‘code-named’ courses to avoid any police interest.’ (1)   Mass start races were only ever allowed on tracks, such as the short-lived one on Catford’s Sportsbank Street or Herne Hill, or later on airfields or motor racing circuits – some of the earliest racing at Brands Hatch was cycling, as well as more notably at the Brooklands Circuit (2).

The first road race with a mass start had been organised in 1942 by Percy Stallard, (picture source) it was a single stage race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton.  He and the other organisers and riders were all banned by the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) as a result.  Stallard set up the rival British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) to promote racing rather than time trialing.

With Midlands roots, it was perhaps surprising that a war-torn London was to be the location for the (not so) Grand Départ of the first English Cycling stage race.  Perhaps using it as a fundraiser for the Red Cross helped and perhaps it was seen as a morale booster for those suffering at home.

Source ebay March 2016

The race was due to start in Catford outside the then Town Hall (above) on Saurday 5 August 1944, – the beginning of what was then the August Bank Holiday Weekend.  The planned route of the first stage is not clear but the second and third stages were the same –  starting at The Fantail (now Chapter 1) at Locksbottom and looping 60 miles out to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Pembury before returning to Locksbottom – see below (3).  Just 40 riders were to start the race which received some media interest – the BBC planned to cover the first stage (4)

Presumably when the organisers had agree the route with the authorities, London seemed a relatively safe location – there had been a lull in attacks following the end of the Blitz.  But from June 1944 London was again targeted by the Germans.  The first V1 rockets hit Lewisham on 16 June, including attacks on Lewisham Park and the areas around George Lane and Davenport Road.  Around a 100 more were to hit Lewisham  in the 7 weeks before the planned start, so it was probably understandable that the  Ministry of War Transport wanted the start moved (5).

The race was moved to Farnborough, where, in the end, all three stages started  outside the Fantail Restuarant, almost opposite the Ye Olde Whyte Lyon pub, pictured from around three decades before (6).

As for the race, the first stage was won by the organiser of the initial Llangollen-Wolverhampton race, Percy Stallard.  The second stage saw Les Plume from Manchester triumph, despite the seemingly safe location in the Kent countryside, during the race the RAF shot down another London bound doodlebug very close to the peloton. With shrapnel coming down around the cyclists, the eventual winner wondered whether they should be in an air raid shelter rather than racing.

The final stage saw a lone breakaway, won by Ron Baker with a sprint for the rest of the podium places of the stage won by Stallard, over ten minutes behind the winner.  Les Plume took the overall victory by just a second from Len Hook who had placed well on each of the stages.  Baker took the King of the Hills competition.

The following year there was the Victory Cycling Marathon from Brighton to Glasgow and a similar national stage race has been almost ever present (there was a five year hiatus from 2000).

Notes

1 William Fotheringham (2005) Roule Britannia: A History of Britons in the Tour de France p8

2 ibid p8

3 Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 21 July 1944

4 The People, 30 July 1944

5 The People,  6 August 1944

6 Postcard via eBay February 2016

 

James Brooker and the Old Lewisham Town Hall

Hidden away under trees in the corner of Manor House Gardens, close to the library, is a large block of masonry carved in a way reminiscent of Victorian graves – it is clearly a foundation stone, one of a trio of similar stones in the same area.

image

Unless James Brooker was very busy on 27 July 1874, it is the foundation stone of the old Lewisham Town Hall. It was initially created as the Vestry Hall for Lewisham and Penge, becoming the Town Hall after local government re-organisation in 1899.

The building was ceremonially opened a year and a day later on 28 July 1875 at a cost  of about £11,000 which was shared 2/3rd to be paid by Lewisham and 1/3rd by Penge based upon their respective rateable values.

Source ebay March 2016

Source ebay March 2016

So who was the James Brooker?  He had been born in 1803 in Newington or Walworth (depending on the census) then in Surrey.  He married Ann and they  had stayed around Newington; all their 9 children seem to have been born around there and in 1841 he was living in Gloucester Place.

By 1851 he had moved to Forest Hill, and listed as a ‘master builder’.  He was elected to the Lewisham Board of Works from its formation in 1856, chairing it from 1857 and also representing the District on the Metropolitan Board of Works.  He carried out a variety of other civic roles including Poor Law Guardian.

In the 1861 census he was listed as living in Brockley Park and a decade on he was living in St German’s Road. The foundation stone from 1874 and a few other on line references to him on-line have him back at Brockley Park.

He lived until 1877 and at his funeral he was fondly remembered in terms of his public service

The natural independence of character and integrity of character possessed by Mr. Brooker, coupled with his urbanity and impartiality as chairman, endeared him the respect and esteem of all with whom he was associated, whilst his public spirit and devotion rendered his life and services very valuable to the public generally of this district.

He was buried on the Lewisham side of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery where the work of, perhaps, the same monumental mason as the foundation stone recalls his life in now fading detail.

image

The Town Hall was in rather grand Gothic Revival style and its architect was George Elkington, who was born in Bermondsey in 1824.  He was described as ‘Architect to the Lewisham Board of Works’ at the time of the design.

image

Photo source Creative Commons – source here

He seems to have moved on to a similar role in his home borough, designing a similar grand vestry hall for the Bermondsey Board in 1879.  It too is no more, it was demolished in 1963 following WW2 bombing.  There is some video footage of this at around 45 seconds in on the YouTube video below, which was one of a trio made on the work of the council in the early 1930s.  Running Past has touched on some of this in a post of Solarium Court and the Salters (the other two videos are embedded there).

The only known building of his that survives is the Leather Hide and Wool Exchange, also in Bermondsey which remained active until 1912.   His other legacy is Southwark Park – he produced the initial plans for it, although in the end more modest proposals were adopted.

He later seems to have had his own south London practice, with his son, also George who continued it after his father’s death in 1897..

The builders were Higgs, Hill and Hill was  who were based in Vauxhall – they had been formed by a merger the year the foundation stone was laid, so it would have been one of their first major projects.  The initial ‘Higgs’ was dropped a few years later when one of the founders retired.  They continued in business until 1996 when they were taken over by a Dutch construction firm.

There is video footage of the Town Hall from the 1920s when Hither Green channel swimmer, Hilda ‘Laddie’ Sharp  when she was greeted by the deputy Mayor following her successful swim, covered here in Running Past. The video has not been uploaded onto YouTube so cannot be embedded in WordPress but can be watched here.

Just as local government re-organisation had seen the extension of the Town Hall at the end of the 19th century, the old Town Hall and the neighbouring St Laurence Church, were demolished in 1968 to provide a more modern Town Hall for the new, expanded London Borough of Lewisham.  This was despite the involvement of Sir John Betjeman in a campaign against their demise – a picture from which is shown below.

Betjeman

Source Creative Commons via Wikipedia, here

Of the two other stones, one is rather weathered and the lettering unclear to the naked eye. The other marks an event in 1857, presumably another unveiling, by Marian Legge, wife of the Reverend Henry Legge.  It doesn’t seem to relate to the Manor House, despite its prominent location at the rear, its date wouldn’t obviously link it to any of the ‘lost’ churches of the immediate area or even St Laurence Catford  – all were a little earlier or later.  So if anyone can through any light on this it would be much appreciated.

Legge was Vicar of Lewisham between 1831 and 1879, he was no humble rural parson – the fifteenth child of George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth, one of the major Lewisham landowners of the era. George Legge was patrons of the ‘living’ so it was a ‘job for the boys’, well one of his anyway.