Tag Archives: Lewisham

Remembering Lewisham’s World War One Combatants

This week marks the centenary of Armistice Day and the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of the Great War. No doubt, there was celebration and relief about the end of the bloodshed in Lewisham and elsewhere.

Ultimately victory had come at a high cost; around six million British men were mobilised, with just over 700,000 were killed; that’s around 11.5% of the combatants.

In every community there had been deaths; Lewisham, Lee and Hither Green were no different – almost every street had seen it residents slaughtered, every family had lost a son, a relative or a friend. The German bullets, rockets and grenades were no respecter of social class, officers were slightly more likely to die. The same was no doubt the case for the German conscripts on the end of the British weaponry.

The number of men from Lewisham who lost their lives is uncertain, while many of the records on Commonwealth War Graves website contain a reference to an address (there were 624 in Lewisham, 552 in Catford, 213 in Lee and 440 in Blackheath), the records are sadly incomplete in terms of addresses so probably fail to show the enormity of loss felt in local communities.

What is less clear is what happened to those who came home disabled in body or mind as a result of experiencing things that no one should see. This was a country a generation before the NHS with little understanding of mental health or dealing with even the practicalities of physical disability.  At least 80,000 soldiers suffered from shell shock, now referred to as post traumatic stress disorder. There was often little sympathy for the soldiers who suffered and at least 20,000 were still suffering as the war came to an end.

Dotted around Lewisham are several dozen memorials to those who perished in France, Belgium and elsewhere – many are in churches or other buildings where access is limited; or in graveyards where the number of passers by is small. There are a few memorials though which are out in the open, easy to see, easy to visit and easy to reflect on when passing by, whatever your mode of transport. This post visits three of them, at each ‘stop’ we’ll remember one of the many names chiselled or engraved in the memorial.

St Mildred’s, Lee

The memorial is on the South Circular, just beyond the traffic lights at the junction with Baring Road. It is clearly visible from the road, but surrounded on three sides by dense hedging, it is a surprisingly calm location. It has three faces and two thirds of the way up on the left panel in Leonard Cole, along with his brother, Henry.

Leonard Cole was born Eltham in 1883, he was one of at least eight children born to Edmund and Sarah. In the 1911 census most of the family who were living at 31 Butterfield Street (now Waite Davies Road) in Lee, next door but one to the Butterfield Dairy, where the family hav moved to in 1904. Leonard was working on his brother-in-law’s farm in Harefield, near Uxbridge in Middlesex when the census enumerators called in 1911.

Leonard enlisted in Eltham and was a Gunner who served with A’ Battery of 307 Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He died of wounds less than three weeks before the end of the war on 23 October 1918 and was buried at Awoingt Cemetery near Cambrai, along with 707 other British servicemen. His listed address was Butterfield Street.

St Andrew, Catford

The war memorial is on the western side of the church, on Torridon Road. The top of the left panel has been largely worn away from being out in the open, in the firing line of the prevailing winds, names only just visible.

Julian Baxter is one of those largely eroded names; he was one of at least a dozen children of Alfred and Charlotte Baxter who had lived at 68 Arngask Road in 1911, the family had been at 55 Holbeach a decade earlier, Julian attended the school named after the street.

Julian joined the 12th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, he was killed in action on the 15th April 1918, aged just 20. He has no grave and in addition to the fading memorial in Catford he is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial.  While the metal inlay makes Julian’s name just visible, it is still hard to see, but he is certainly not forgotten.

The Lewisham Victoria Cross Memorial

Just to the side of the main Lewisham war memorial, opposite the hospital, is a smaller one, easy to miss from the main road. It is to the recipients of the Victoria Cross who were born in the Borough. For several such as, John Lynn, it was their final act of courage that saw a posthumous award for bravery. The names are remembered in the stones in front of the memorial.

Alan Jerrard was born and briefly lived in Vicars Hill in Ladywell – he had served in the Staffordshire Regiment and then the nascent Royal Air Force. His Victoria Cross was awarded for repeated attacks on an Italian Airfield in the face of overwhelming fire – he destroyed several aircraft before being shot down himself and being taken prisoner – the citation for award was listed in the London Gazette of 1 May 1918.

His story is deliberately last, because, like most of the combatants he returned home, while his home was no longer Lewisham, he returned. He was awarded a Victoria Cross, and is rightly remembered, but there were no doubt hundreds of local men who carried out small acts of courage, that may not have been noticed by officers but will have been remembered by their comrades in arms.

Next time you pass one of Lewisham’s war memorials do stop, do pause for thought, do remember the sacrifices – not just of the men whose names are listed, but think of their families and those who returned having experienced things that no young man should ever see. To quote the words of Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen.’

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

 

 

 

Notes

The census and related data comes from Find My Past; the numbers of local war dead and some of the other information about them comes from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

There have been several other posts in Running Past relating to those who died in World War 1 which may be of interest:

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Suffragette City – Public Meetings in Lewisham

In the year of the centenary of (some) women getting the vote Running Past has been looking back at the work of the Lewisham Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) branch. It was an active branch with a number of militant members – this post looks at one of the main vehicles of bringing public attention to the cause – the (mainly) open air public meetings held in and around Lewisham town centre from 1908 until the outbreak of World War 1.

The earliest of these were around The Obelisk, for those with only recent knowledge of the town centre – it was at the station end of the High Street more or less opposite the church of St Stephen. The area was lost the late 1980s to the major roundabout and it is now covered by the tower blocks of the current redevelopment.

These public meetings, while they sometimes saw well known suffragettes from the wider movement, were frequently addressed by members of the local branch – the WSPU had a programme of training women on public speaking. One of the earliest of these open air meetings saw Jeannie Bouvier, for many years the Branch Secretary, and a Mrs Auld speaking there in July 1908 (1).

In October 1910, Russian émigré Eugenia Bouvier again spoke at the Obelisk to ‘large and interested crowds.’ (2) She’d spoken with Ellen ‘Nurse’ Pitfield there a couple of months earlier too (3). Ellen Pitfield was arrested several times, latterly putting herself at considerable risk of death in an arson attack after she discovered she had an inoperable cancer – she died in 1912.

Caroline Townsend, later WSPU Branch Secretary, spoke there too in late October 1910 to a ‘sympathetic audience.’  (4) The Blackheath born Emily Davison was a speaker there later in the autumn of that year (5).

For most of the active WSPU period in Lewisham public meetings were in the market area, what was still referred to then as the Costers’ Market.

While the road layout is little altered, it looked very different to modern Lewisham – the remnants of the Lewisham of the suffragette era was destroyed with a V-1 attack in July 1944 and in the development of the Shopping Centre in the late 1960s.

The meetings in the market were a regular feature of the weekend, one of the earlier meetings saw local activist, and later branch secretary, Caroline Townsend speak there in November 1909. It enable ‘good propaganda work’ and ‘brisk business’ for the nearby branch shop (6).

Townsend and her co-secretary Christina Campbell, spoke in the market in response to Asquith dropping the Franchise Bill noting that ‘the Government had done what it was expected that it would do and had broken faith with women in letter and in spirit.’ (7)

The crowds attending were considerable regularly reaching several hundred by the spring of 1913. Certainly, there were hundreds there when, the almost ever present Jeannie Bouvier told the assembled crowd in early February

The life of men will be made so miserable that they will rush to the Prime Minister and beseech him to give the vote to women….men would cry for mercy….Miltancy had brought the women’s question to the forefront of politics.

There was a ‘good deal of jeering’ and Jeannie had to be escorted back to her tram towards Catford by police as she was ‘followed by 200.’ (8)

The level of disruption, heckling and threats of violence increased during the year, with youths storming the stage in June following the death of Emily Wilding Davison, there were crowds of up to 2,000 at this point (9).

The market area also saw ‘poster parades’ with branch members marching up and down the High Street, holding posters, often to draw attention to a major meeting. There seem to have been speakers at the end of the parades. Georgina Brackenbury, who had been imprisoned with Jeanie Bouvier following the pantechnicon incident, spoke at the end of one and ‘created a sensation.’ (10)

There was a procession by a Drum and Fife Band in early October 1909 – part of the publicity for a big meeting in Blackheath later that month, it was a band that regularly appeared at WSPU events (11).

There were similar open air meetings by the tram terminus in Catford – close to the old Town Hall (above). Jeannie Bouvier chaired a meeting there in June 1909 where a Mrs Massie spoke, it was ‘well attended and uninterrupted’ and the ‘clever speaker’ spoke in defence of militant tactics, but was ‘accorded an attentive hearing.’ (12)

Later in 1909 disabled suffragette, Adelaide Knight (pictured, middle, with Annie Kenney, right and Jane Sparborough) spoke to a large audience in Catford in October 1909 (13).

The almost ever present Jeannie Bouvier and a Miss Froude had ‘splendid meetings’ there in September 1912, along with similar meetings at Hillyfields (14).

One of those influenced by the meetings in Catford was probably Eliza Simmons, she had been born in Hoo in Kent in 1886, she had started working for the Hart Family who lived at Carn Brae on Ravensbourne Park in early 1901.  She was registered there in the 1901 census, although had moved on by 1911 when the Harts were living in Lowther Hill.

She was present at Black Friday in late 1910 and was awarded the WSPU badge for this.  She was arrested the following week for throwing stones at the home of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, in Eccleston Square.  After her arrest she was described in Votes for Women as a housemaid ‘who would devote her whole time to help the cause if she were in a position to do so.’ (15)

She and eight other women pleaded guilty to committing wilful damage and were sentenced to 14 days in prison or £2 fine, like the others Eliza took the former course. One of her co-defendants, Margaret Fison, told the court ‘I want to say this: We were forced to make a protest. I want you to know that I am a law-abiding woman, but I have had to do this for political reasons. I am not in the habit of throwing stones through windows.’ (16)

 

Around Lewisham Town Centre there were also meetings in Limes Grove – one example of this is a meeting that Eugenia Bouvier spoke at in late May 1911 (17)

There were regular ‘at home’ meetings in a house in Avenue Road (around the main entrance to Lewisham Shopping Centre), one had to be broken up by police after it became disorderly with chants of ‘why did you burn the Pavillion down.’ It isn’t clear which pavilion they were referring to – the probable suffragette arson of the Northbrook cricket pavilion was 9 months later (18).

Earlier in the struggle there were meetings in many other locations in and around Lewisham Town Centre – Charlotte Despard and Christobel Pankhurst spoke in Ladywell – the latter was heckled. Also speaking was Edward Aveling, Sydenham resident and long term partner of Eleanor Marx, and, according to Rachel Holmes’ biography, her murderer (19)

Christobel Pankurst was due to speak at Ladywell Baths in late February 1910, with the Lewisham branch spending much of the early part of the year publicising and promoting the meeting – including a dozen meetings largely to promote it. Oddly, there wasn’t a report of it (20).

Ladywell also welcomed Millicent Garrett Fawcett – her non militant brand of suffrage was ‘heartily received’ as she pointed to the enfranchisement of women in Australia and New Zealand to a Parish Hall only two thirds full (21).

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 30 July 1908
  2. Votes for Women 21 October 1910
  3. Votes for Women 10 August 1910
  4. Votes for Women 4 November 1910
  5. Votes for Women 11 November 19105
  6. Votes for Women 26 November 1909
  7. Lewisham Borough News 3 January 1913
  8. Lewisham Borough News 7 February 1913
  9. Iris Dove (1988) Yours in the Cause, Suffragettes in Lewisham, Greenwich and Woolwich p5
  10. Votes for Women 5 November 1908
  11. Votes for Women 15 October 1909
  12. Kentish Mail Greenwich and Deptford Observer 11 June 1909
  13. Votes for Women 15 October 1909
  14. Votes for Women 20 September 1912
  15. Vote for Women 25 November 1910
  16. Votes for Women 2 December 1910
  17. Votes for Women 26 May 1911
  18. Lewisham Borough News 18 April 1913
  19. Lewisham Borough News 31 May 1907
  20. Votes for Women 25 February 1910
  21. Lewisham Borough News 3 April 1914

Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News

Census and related data comes from Find My Past

Picture Credits

The photograph of Adelaide Knight et al is via the Museum of London website and reproduction is allowed for non-commercial research such as this

Eliza Simmons Black Friday ‘badge’ is via her grandson Nick Flint

Copies of postcards are via eBay at various stages over the last four years

The header drawing is via Spartacus Educational, although originally appear in Punch

 

Suffragette City – The Attacks on Lewisham’s Post Office

During recent months Running Past has celebrated the work of Lewisham’s suffragettes both individually – looking at May Billinghurst, Eugenia Bouvier, Caroline Townsend and Clara Lambert, and collectively in the first of a series of ‘Suffragette City’ posts in Lee and Hither Green, all being brought together on a Lewisham Suffragettes page

This post continues with this, looking at the repeated attacks on Lewisham Post Office, Sorting Office and neighbouring pillar boxes within Lewisham Town Centre by Lewisham’s militant suffragettes, presumably members of the Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The main Post Office, marked PO above, was in roughly the same location as its last independent location, in Lewisham High Street within the market.  The sorting office was more or less opposite behind 108 Lewisham High Street – this is now land covered by the Lewisham Shopping Centre and would have been close to the current location of the residual Post Office within W H Smiths.

Oddly, the suffragettes weren’t the first to attack Lewisham Post Office; as Running Past has already covered, Rolla Richards, a Deptford Anarchist with mental health issues had attacked it in 1896 along with several other local Post Offices.

Before looking at the attacks, it is worth looking, briefly, at the history of and reasons given for damage to and destruction of property by militant suffragettes. The WSPU had believed in Direct Action almost from its formation in 1903 – Emmeline Pankhurst had disrupted a Liberal meeting in 1904.  The move to greater militancy and targeted damage to property seems to have been born out of a frustration with lack of progress, not just since 1903, but for a generation before. Despite a majority of MPs elected in 1906 supporting women’s suffrage Asquith (Liberal Prime Minister and opponent of women’s suffrage) contrived to ensure that Bills were never enacted.  This came to a head between 1911 and 1913 with levels of militant activity increasing dramatically.  There were also serious concerns about the extent to which the initial form of protest, demonstrations, were being met with considerable brutality by the police – notably Black Friday and events the following week in late 1910.

One of the first examples of a more direct approach was by a woman with a Greenwich link, Edith New, who smashed windows in Downing Street in 1908. This remained a rarity until 1911, but the following year 240 women were sent to prison for smashing windows, arson and pillar box ‘outrages.’

So why were the Post Office and pillar boxes targets? Presumably it was because they are obvious institutions of the state, resplendent with the mark of the monarch and would disproportionately impact on the wealthy, business and the Government. In practice, it was at least partially targeting those who were denying women the vote. One of the first recorded incidents was in 1911 when Emily Wilding Davison attacked three post boxes in late 1911 including one in Parliament Square. It started to be used on a larger, more coordinated scale in November 1912.

The post box at the main Lewisham Post Office (pictured above) was attacked on 17 December 1912, the same evening at several others in Lewisham, Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath – after the latter attack May Billinghurst and Grace Mitchell were arrested. A black, tar-like, substance was poured into the box, damaging letters (1).

There was to be another ‘pillar box outrage’ at the Lewisham Post Office on 3 May 1913 when a packet of partially burnt gunpowder was found, it had only ‘partially fired’ and around 30 letters were damaged (2).

In September 1913 there was a significant explosion and fire there, which ’caused some alarm.’ A loud bang was heard in the market and then (3)

a portion of the letter box fell into street and this was immediately followed by flames bursting from inside. The fire spread to other parts of the building which was quickly alight…..By the time the firemen arrived (from Lee Green and Ladywell) the flames had got a firm hold of a section of the premises and their efforts were directed at confining the fire to as limited an area as possible.

It took around 45 minutes to put the fire out although the local newspaper report suggested that there was relatively little damage to the building itself (4).

As the local press noted, by this stage it was obvious that the Post Office was ‘steadily becoming the objective of malicious suffragette activity in this neighbourhood.'(5). What was perhaps more surprising was that the attack in September 1913 was immediately after a public meeting in the market, which would probably have had a relatively high police presence and that no one seemed to have been watching what had become a clear target.

Less than a month later there was an almost repeat at around 7:00 pm on a Saturday evening in early October 1913 a loud explosion occurred at the Post Office and moments later flames were seen to be coming from the letter box. A large crowd gathered and while the flames were put out quickly hundreds of letters were damaged or destroyed (6).

Late in 1913 wax vesta matches and gunpowder were found in the post box at the Post Office, but they failed to explode.  The same evening there was also an attack on a pillar box in Lee High Road, that too failed to ignite as intended (7).

There was a further attack on Saturday April 18 1914 when phosphorous in an envelope and a cycle tyre containing a black liquid, wrapped in ‘The Suffragette’, was pushed through the letter box at Lewisham Post Office. The same evening an envelope containing sulphur was put in a post box at 160 Rushey Green (above). The damage on this occasion was quite limited.

As for the Lewisham Post Office while the attempts to destroy it, initially by Rolla Richards and then suffragettes, failed – it was very badly damaged in the V-1 attack on 28 July 1944 (it is on the right edge of the photograph above). It was initially rebuilt as a Post Office after the war although is now used for other retail purposes.

 

Notes & Credits

  1. The Suffragette 27 December 1912
  2. Lewisham Borough News 12 September 1913
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. The Suffragette 10 October 1913
  7. The Suffragette 4 January 1914
  8. The Suffragette 1 May 1914

Thank you to the always helpful Julie Robinson at Lewisham Archives in terms of press cuttings held there from Lewisham Borough News

Picture Credits

The picture of the Post Office is courtesy of Luke Anthony Briscoe on the excellent Catford and Lewisham Way Back When Facebook Group.

The picture on the pillar box in Catford is via Google Streetview.

The map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland

The photograph of the destruction of the town centre in 1944 is on a Creative Commons via the Lewisham War Memorials Wiki

The 1968 Lewisham Floods

Mid-September sees the 50th anniversary of the 1968 floods in Lewisham caused by the Rivers Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool all overflowing their banks as a result of two days very heavy rain on 15 and 16 September 1968.  The summer of 1968  had been one of the wettest on record, so the ground was already pretty much saturated causing large amounts of water to immediately run-off with large amounts draining into the local rivers.

So what caused the floods? A warm and very moist air front which had its origins in the western Mediterranean converged with a cool, moist one from the Baltic over south eastern England.  The fronts then moved very little for two days.   A broad area from the Thames Estuary to Hampshire received six weeks of rain, 75 mm (3” for you non-metric folk), during those two days.  A large area including south east London received double this – 150 mm (6”) – 3 months of rain in 48 hours.  On  Sunday 15 September alone, the Met Office noted that Bromley saw the heaviest rain with 129.5 mm (5.2”); rain in Bromley  ends up in flowing down the Ravensbourne and Quaggy to Lewisham. With this volume of rainfall it is not surprising that drainage systems failed to cope.

To understand the sheer scale of the flooding it is worth noting that the Quaggy, which typically had a depth of 15 cm (3”) at one point was over 5 metres deep in Lewisham (1). Traffic was unable to run at all along the main road between Catford and Loampit Hill as the entire area, built in the Ravensbourne flood plain was flooded (2).

The Ravensbourne

The Ravensbourne runs in a fairly flat valley all the way through Catford and Lewisham and there was flooding all the way along course – The Times photographed flooding on Southend Lane, close to Bromley Road where the usually hidden Ravensbourne crosses (3).  There was flooding too further upstream at Bromley South where the Ravensbourne burst its banks.

There were lots of memories on Facebook threads on this of using boats from Peter Pan’s Pond – originally a mill pond on the Ravensbourne (now the pond outside Homebase) to row around the area, including getting into the bar at the Tiger’s Head and generally playing in the flooded waters.

In nearby Watermead Road, flood waters reached 1.5 metres deep in places (as they did on Southend Lane) – houses there took a year to dry out and there was some looting after the flood waters receded.   A little further downstream is one of iconic pictures of the Lewisham floods – the Robertson’s Jam Factory which had the Ravensbourne immediately behind (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph).    

Unsurprisingly, a hundred metres further down Bromley Road, there was also flooding at the junction with Aitken Road (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph). Those with basement flats were particularly badly affected – in one on Barmeston Road the water went up to the ceiling.  

The volume of water coming down the Ravensbourne was augmented by the also flooded River Pool (see below) – the confluence is just south of Catford Bridge.  This meant that Catford Town Centre was under water.  There were memories on Facebook of free buses being laid on to transport people wanting to get from Stanstead Road to Brownhill Road, elsewhere refuse lorries did the same thing.

There was a ‘not entirely successful’ attempt to sail from Catford to Lewisham on a wooden garage door brought downstream on the Ravensbourne.  More appropriate forms of water transport were used in Ladywell Fields where an unknown kayaker paddled close to the railway bridge.

The extent of the flooding becomes apparent in the foreshortened by telephoto lens shot looking towards Ladywell Bridge from the around the ‘playtower’

While not shown in the picture there was a boat that ferried people across the worst of the flooding at Ladywell.  Marsala Road, parallel to the Ravensbourne, itself became ‘a fast flowing river’ with water levels inside houses rising to over a metre above ground level at one point.  There were Facebook memories of playing on a tractor inner tube in the flood water on the street. The ground floors in neighbouring Elmira Street were flooded too.

In Lewisham it seems that the flooding caused a crane to topple over – presumably on the Sundermead Estate that was being built at the time (4).

The Quaggy

From its entry into Lewisham at Chinbrook Meadows (and no doubt further upstream too) there was flooding along the Quaggy, Just outside the park in Marvels Lane, next to Sydenham Cottages as the Quaggy burst its banks.

Lee Green flooded, although probably not as badly as it had done in the past from snow melt in the early 19th century.  Manor Lane, where the Quaggy is bridged and Leahurst Road flooded too. There was flooding on Lee High Road and the parallel streets – with memories of submerged basements and flooded gardens around Eastdown Park – the photogrpah belwo shows the bottom of Dermody Road and the bridge over the Quaggy into Weardale Road.

On Lee High road itself the shops on Manor Park Parade (opposite the Rose of Lee, now Dirty South) had almost 2 metres of water in their basements).

At Lee Bridge water reached the top of the steps of the White Horse and there are rumours of paper money floating in the basement of the then Midland (now HSBC) Bank opposite, which were covered in a blog post on the last stretch of the Quaggy.

The bottom of the High Street flooded as the whole area around the Quaggy and Ravensbourne confluence was inundated – perhaps the most icon photograph of the floods are of the ‘Lewisham Lake’, it made the front page of the Daily Mirror but local people put on their wellies just got on with life as the photograph below outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) shows.

One of the largely culverted tributary streams of the Quaggy, Hither Green Ditch, seems to have flooded on Verdant Lane.

The Pool

The Pool effectively forms in Cator Park in Beckenham from the confluence of The Beck, Chaffinch Brook (which certainly flooded) and the River Wilmore (often known as Boundary Stream).   Unsurprisingly, the River Pool flooded too at, and below, Bell Green.  The photograph below is from Winsford Road, with the backdrop of Grangemill Road in Bellingham (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph) – the area flooded to the left is still open ground and known locally as Dog Field (after a very short-lived greyhound track that was once there).  The high waters washed away large amounts of coke from the gas works, off screen right, which was deposited on the allotments behind Dog Field.

A little further upstream the Pool overflowed near Bell Green making the bridge from Southend Lane impassable other than by boat

Pool River in Flood - 1968

Elsewhere in the South East

Given the extent of the weather front it wasn’t surprising that the flooding wasn’t an isolated issue for Lewisham, although it was one of the areas that was hit worst; large swathes of south east England were flooded with rail contact between London and Kent was being completely cut.   Edenbridge in Kent was completely cut off after the River Eden, a tributary of the Medway, burst its banks. 150 passengers on a diverted train from Charing Cross to Hastings stuck on the train for almost 12 hours at the station there (6).

The AA described the picture from above with only a little exaggeration –  ‘The whole of the area form Essex to the Sussex-Hampshire border was like a giant lake, with dozens of main roads and hundreds of secondary roads flooded.’ (7)

In days when mobile communication is the norm – landlines were the only means of telecommunications – over 78,000 (9), including many in Lewisham were down as the GPO were overwhelmed (8).  Still 28,000 of those out of action by 19th September (10)

In the days that followed the flooding spread as the storm water made its way down the Thames – East Molesey being particularly badly affected. (11)

The Immediate Aftermath

In the days after the flood before the water subsided the army were brought into deliver food to those cut off on upper floors (14). Shops had sales of tinned food without labels which became something of a lucky dip and town centre shops, such as Chiesmans, had flood damage sales.

Basements were pumped out – including the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South) and no doubt the shops opposite.

The Mayor of Lewisham had used his dinghy to ferry a few people around and investigate what was happening on the ground (lake?) himself whilst the area was flooded (11).  However, the then Tory run council was accused of “falling down” on its duties.  Some victims were paid up to £1600 from surpluses on funds set up following the Lewisham Rail Crash in 1957 and the Hither Green one of 1967 (12).  Some were rehoused by the council, but beyond that, other than giving people a bottle of bleach, there seems to have been little practical support for those families make homeless or having had possessions ruined – particularly those who weren’t insured.  After the floods subsided, carpets were hung over fences and other possessions left outside in the hope that they would dry out and recover …..and then there would have been the smell as they probably didn’t properly dry out.

Lewisham’s population has changed a lot since 1968, many of the areas alongside the rivers have seen gentrification and those with better paying occupations move in.  It is easy to forget the changes in the last 50 years – ‘Employers, Managers and Professional Workers’ made up 34.5% of the adult population in last census in 2011 – in the census immediately after the floods in 1971 only 10.5% fell into this category.  Census employment categories have changed a lot over time but it is worth remembering that manual work still dominated in the area at the time of the floods.  Household contents insurance was rarer, and then, as now, poorer households didn’t have it.   While overall household insurance costs from the floods across south east England were estimated at £15 million (13), this would obviously not have taken into account those without.

There was little in the way of a Parliamentary debate about the floods – Parliament was in recess when the floods happened and seems to have moved-on by the time that the floods were debated in mid-October – in the Commons the focus was on farming and in the Lords, oddly on a telephone exchange in Cobham that was flooded for a couple of days.

Longer Term Changes

There was little change in approach to moving peak flows downstream, a continuation of plans that had been started on the River Wilmore (Boundary Stream) in Penge and other local rivers of creating concrete banks and beds to move water on faster – sometimes referred to as ‘channelisation’.  

 

This continued along parts of the Quaggy – notably between Grove Park and Eltham Bridge (see above); the River Pool between Bell Green and Catford had its meanders removed (left) and the concrete casing and straightening continued from its confluence with the Ravensbourne all the way through Catford, Ladywell and Lewisham (see below).

There were still occasional more localised flooding’s but the real downside of the concrete straight-jackets was that the lack of natural banks and beds meant that the rivers lost much of the plant and wildlife.

New approaches started to be developed from the late 1990s, with large scale flood water storage areas in Sutcliffe Park (above) and Weigall Road which hold peaks flows – much of this happening through work by QWAG, the Environment Agency and other local groups. Similar work is planned in Beckenham Place Park.   More natural, wider banks and meanders have been added and restored in several areas – notably in John Roan Playing Fields, Chinbrook Meadows, Manor Park and Ladywell Fields (below from late 2013) – these allow the rivers to hold more water in peaks, slow down flows and allow the return of plant and wildlife on banks.

Notes

  1. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968;
  2. Ibid
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  5. ibid
  6. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57358. (796 words)
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  8. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 10; Issue 57358. (1129 words)
  9. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 2; Issue 57361. (376 words)
  10. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 18, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57359.  (792 words)
  11. South East London and Kentish Mercury 19 September 1968
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 23, 1968; pg. 4; Issue 57363.
  14. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 21; Issue 57361.

Picture Credits

  • Most of credited within the text
  • The Ordnance Survey map of the Pool’s meanders is via the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  • The photograph of Marvels Lane is from Borough Photographs, used with permission of Lewisham Archives
  • The photograph outside the Odeon has appeared numerous times on social media, never credited – if you are the copyright owner do let me know so that I can credit you (or remove if you would prefer.
  • The remaining 1968 photos were copied by Emily Hay from Lewisham Archives and are used with the kind permission of both
  • The modern photographs are mine, feel free to use them, credited, for non-commercial purposes.

A massive thank you to Emily Hay both for the photos and talking with me about her childhood memories of the floods – it was really helpful and much appreciated.

The 1957 Lewisham Rail Crash

The evening rush hour of Wednesday 4 December 1957 was a very foggy one, while the Clean Air Act had been passed the year before it had yet to have a dramatic impact and fogs made worse by the pollutant laden air of the city were still common.

The train services had been disrupted throughout the day by the fog, the running order of trains had been changed and a Hastings train heading towards Ladywell was wrongly held at a red signal, on the assumption that a train heading towards Hayes was in front of it.  It wasn’t; the crowded electric commuter train was behind and stopped at a red signal close to St Johns, just beyond the point where the line from Nunhead joins, its brakes firmly on as it was on a slight incline at that point.

At just before 6:20 pm a late running steam train from Cannon Street to Ramsgate approached, its driver had missed two yellow warning signals and when he saw the lights of the Hayes train it was too late.  The Ramsgate train ploughed into the stationary Hayes-bound electric, the front coach of the former left the track and crashed into the bridge from Nunhead which partially collapsed onto the first three coaches of the still moving Ramsgate train – largely destroying them. The map above from the Ministry of Transport report shows the location, with the picture below showing the devastation under the bridge was from a few days later (1).

Further up the track two of the Hayes train carriages were forced upwards and together as a result of the impact from behind.  The accident could have been even worse as a train was approaching the bridge from Nunhead; fortunately the damage to the bridge caused a partial derailment and the driver saw the problems ahead and was able to stop in time.  The extent of the damage to the twisted bridge from above became visible as the fog cleared and daylight broke (2).

As was to happen a decade later with the Hither Green crash, local emergency services and people  (such as the unknown woman below (3)) responded to the aftermath of the crash. In a statement in Parliament the next day, the Transport Minister noted:

The Government would like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the outstanding work done, not only by the emergency services and the voluntary organisations but also by those living near the scene, who so unselfishly put their houses and their belongings at the disposal of the rescuers. The conditions in the dense fog and darkness were appallingly difficult and distressing, and there can be nothing but praise for all concerned who worked with such efficiency and determination throughout.

Express 5 Dec

The conditions that the rescue workers operated in were atrocious – one syndicated newspaper report (4) describing it as ‘Dante-esque’  – rescue workers ‘ moving like ghosts in the all-embracing fog guided by the screams of the injured trapped in the wreckage.’  There was too the evidence of everyday life of coats, gloves , handbags and briefcases strewn across the site along with Christmas parcels bought hours earlier in the West End scattered across the tracks – some just visible the following day in a photograph from the official report – the location with the art deco Grover Court to the left is clear.

While many of the casualties went to Lewisham Hospital they were also rushed to various other local hospitals, many of which are long lost to NHS rationalisation – St Alfege’s (later to become Greenwich) ,  the Brook, the Miller, St John’s (Morden Hill), St Giles (Camberwell) and  to the Maudsley – which had a small unit that dealt with serious head injuries and tumors.

In the Facebook discussions on the post there were lots of memories of those who ‘escaped’ the crash through small changes to their normal routine with themselves or relatives leaving work slightly late and not being able to get onto the train and in days before many homes had telephones those waiting fearing the worst – such as a brother, expected home at 7:00 pm, but not opening the door until nearly midnight.  There were those who were lucky in their ‘choice’ of carriages saving them.  There will have been others though where changes to their normal routines will have meant that they didn’t return home that night.

Both parents of one person who commented on one of the threads were involved – her father was in the Civil Defence and so he decided to go and assist. Her mother was found in the wreckage about 11.00 pm – she had moved carriage at London Bridge, a move that probably saved her life.   She was taken to Lewisham Hospital and seems to have been in for a while with operation to dislocated hips and pelvis. She never fully recovered from her injuries but she was stoic and was determined to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as she could.

Many suffered mental scars after surviving the crash or being involved with the recovery – one man described his 15 year old self who worked for a company who had heavy duty cutting gear working most of the night in the recovery efforts. While there was a subsequent court case relating to what we now would refer to as post-traumatic stress none of the survivors or those involved in the rescue received the sort of support that would happen now.

George W GregoryThe story of one survivor is worth telling in a little more detail. George Gregory (pictured), from Accrise near Folkestone, was one of those who, eventually, made it home.  He was an aviation underwriter at Lloyds who commuted every weekday – the carriage he was one of those that the bridge collapsed onto. He was able to get out onto the track, although was very cautious of the live rail.  With other surviving passengers he helped with the initial rescue work until the emergency services arrived – they managed to free 20-30 passengers from the wreckage.  He then worked with a doctor who was administering morphine – marking with a ‘M’ those who had received it with his pen.  He stayed on site for almost 3 hours helping the emergency services.

George stayed the night with a dock worker who lived near the station who had also been helping with the rescue effort before returning home the following day.  He was a little overwhelmed by the generosity of the couple he stayed with (and other local people) – the dock worker had given his coat away to a cold crash victim.  They wouldn’t wanted nothing more than thanks from him, but apparently he left some bank notes down the side of a chair before he left.

Despite surviving the crash, George carried the events of that commute home through the rest of his life.  He had survived when close friends and colleagues hadn’t and had given up his seat to a woman who never made it home. He suffered nightmares for years as a result of the crash – often waking his wife up by trying to drag her from their bed and ‘rescue’ her from the crash (5).

In the end, 90 passengers lost their lives that night; there are few, if any, peacetime incidents in Lewisham that caused as many fatalities – the December 1952 London smog with a total death toll of between 4,000 and 12,000 may have well have done over a few days but data doesn’t seem to be broken down by borough.

There was a Ministry of Transport inquiry to find out what happened and to try to learn for the future.  The report found that the driver he had failed to slow after passing two caution signals so he was unable to stop at the danger signal, although some newspaper reports of the inquest suggest that he never saw it due to the density of the fog.  It concluded that an automatic warning system would have prevented the collision, although recognised that there were lines with even more rudimentary warning systems that needed to be prioritised.

The inquest jury found, by a majority decision that the 90 deaths were due to ‘gross negligence’ but it was a verdict rejected by the coroner who recorded one of accidental death.  The driver of the Ramsgate train was charged with manslaughter, but was acquitted at a second trial; at the first the jury were unable to reach a verdict.

The memorial to the crash is slightly oddly at Lewisham station given the proximity of the crash to St Johns, but perhaps it is more visible there at a busier station.  It seems strange that it gives no idea of the sheer enormity of the scale of the loss of life; it is sad that there is almost as much space is devoted to the names of the commercial organisations (a newspaper, two private rail companies and a funeral director)  who ‘made possible’ the installation of the plaque as to the accident itself.

A full list of the names doesn’t seem to be available for the crash, on line at least – something that just wouldn’t happen now.  The names of 86 of the 90 fatalities have been pieced together from on-line press reports, as well as the friends and relatives of those who died responding to this post.    While there are some local (to Lewisham) people, given the routes and destinations of the trains most of the dead were from the areas around Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Dover and Beckenham.

The youngest victim was Graham Freeman who was just three and had visited Father Christmas on Oxford Street that afternoon and was returning to Catford. He was found dead at the scene – a toy drum crushed by him and he was still holding a soft toy when he was found by rescuers (6).

Pat BakerPatricia (Pat) Baker was 19 and had lived at 9 Lushington Road, Bellingham since she was a toddler. She had been a pupil at Holbeach Secondary School in Catford.  When she she left, she had gone to work in statistics for the Regent Oil Company and liked going to the pictures and dancing.  Her Dad had tried to get the same train but had failed.  In the tangled debris of the crash she had hung upside down for 3 hours but was still chatting and joking with her rescuers before being able to be cut free; she he died in the early hours of 5 December (7).

The impact on the families of those who died was significant too; Anthony Matthews of Tunbridge Wells died of his injuries a few days after the crash. His death left his widowed mother and two younger sisters in financial difficulties as he was the breadwinner. No support came from British Rail.

Unlike the Hither Green crash a decade later, this crash felt a much longer time ago, the smaller hospitals of the early NHS, the pre-nationalisation steam trains and the rudimentary signalling and warning systems (semaphore was still used elsewhere).  They belonged to a different era, much less safe one – although as the 2016 Sandilands tram derailment showed, no rail system is 100% safe.

Next time you are travelling towards Lewisham through St Johns or from Nunhead, while the train probably won’t stop, at least pause for thought – the crash location will be obvious to even the occasional traveller on the line, remember those who died, remember that your journey is that little bit safer because of what happened to them.

image

Those who died included

  • Ms Agnes Adams (Embleton Road, Ladywell)
  • Mr Richard Allchin (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Joseph Allen (unknown)
  • Mr Leonard Ambrose (Tonbridge)
  • Ms Rosemary Gillian Ashley (Beckenham)
  • Miss Patricia Baker (Lushington Road, Bellingham)
  • Mr R A Baker (Beckenham)
  • Mr Morris J Banfield (Tonbridge)
  • Mr John Barnard (Tonbridge)
  • Mr P B Bassett (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Anthony Berkeley (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr Guthrie Birch (Folkestone)
  • Denise Bridle (Catford)
  • Mr F J Bond (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Charlesworth (West Wickham)
  • Pte Kenneth (wrongly referred to as Arthur) Clift (Hexal Road, Catford)
  • Mr Leonard Colin (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Coombs (Ashford)
  • Mr Roy Coppard (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr C A Davis (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr V B Emes (Abbey Wood)
  • Fusilier Brian England (Dover)
  • Mr C Everard (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Alfred Ernest Fletcher (Southborough)
  • Mr R Gibson Fleming
  • Mr Graham Freeman (Catford)
  • Mr H R Green (Horsmonden)
  • Mr Brian Hallas (Southborough)
  • Mr W J Halsey (Dymchurch)
  • Mr C Halstead (West Wickham)
  • Ms Florence Ada Harries (Persant Road, Excalibur Estate, Catford)
  • Mr Percy Heaver (Dover)
  • Ms Jospehine Henning (unknown)
  • Mr William Hicks (Sunderland Road, Forest Hill)
  • Miss Barbara Hubbard (Beckenham)
  • Mr M Humphries (Tonbridge)
  • Mr S T Humphries (Tonbridge)
  • Mr George Huxtable (Shirley)
  • Mr Colin James (Folkestone)
  • Mr Brian Jarrett (Pembury)
  • Mr Thomas Sydney Kennett (Dover)
  • Mr Sidney Lawrence (High Wycombe)
  • Miss E Leary (West Wickham)
  • Mr Liddle (Little) (Pembury)
  • Ms Eileen Mary Maskins (Downham)
  • Mr T W March (Tonbridge)
  • Miss F L Masters (Mastens) (Grove Park)
  • Mr  Anthony Donald Matthews (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr McGauge (Not known)
  • Mr McGregor (Southborough)
  • Mr A R McGregor (Tonbridge)
  • Mr R D McGregor (Hildenborough)
  • Mr Robert Morley (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Rodney Newbery (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Vernon Newland (Beckenham)
  • Mr T F Nightingale (Tonbridge)
  • Miss A Noakes (Tonbridge)
  • Mr FJR Norris (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr C North (Chislehurst)
  • Mr Harry North (Folkestone)
  • Mr Andrew Phillips (New Romney)
  • Mr Colin Pope (Saltwood, near Folkestone)
  • Mr E J Pope (Hythe)
  • Dr Harold Priestley (Lewisham Park, Lewisham)
  • Mr Arthur Reeves (Romborough Way, Lewisham)
  • Mr L Relfe (Tonbridge)
  • Mr R W Reynolds (Crutchley Road, Downham)
  • Mr Derek Rose (Ardgowan Road, Catford)
  • Mr C E Rowson (Beckenham)
  • Mr Royle (Silvermere Road, Catford)
  • Mr Sedgewick (Dover)
  • Mr John Sherrott (West Wickham)
  • Mr John Shotton (Fordmill Road, Catford)
  • Mr Peter Slipper (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Edward Snook (Folkestone)
  • Mr Andrea Sofokis (Pomphret Road, Brixton)
  • Mr F Steeples (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr Charles George Stone (Southborough)
  • Mr Roy Harold Taylor (Folkestone)
  • Mr Roy Taylor (Tonbridge)
  • Mr R W Taylor (London)
  • Mrs S M Taylor (Broadfield Road, Catford)
  • Mr William Tidman (Beckenham)
  • R Wells (Camden)
  • Mr Ronald Williams (Downderry Road, Downham)
  • Mr Vernon Williams (Beckenham)
  • Mr John Wood (Tonbridge)
  • Mr W J Wyard (Hythe)

Notes

  1. Illustrated London News 14 December 1957
  2. The Sphere 14 December 1957
  3. Daily Express 5 December 1957
  4. Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 5 December 1957
  5. George’s story comes from both a local paper – the Folkestone, Hythe and District Herald of 7 December 1957 and a emails from his daughter who also supplied his photograph.
  6. Daily Express 6 December 1957
  7. ibid

Following the Quaggy – Manor Park to the Ravensbourne

We left the Quaggy just outside Manor Park having seen the park’s rejuvenation  from one of Lewisham’s worst bits of open space to one of its best, before that Running Past had followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom; then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows; through the concrete and countryside of Mottingham; and then on through the playing fields and parkland of Sutcliffe Park and the Lee/Blackheath borders.
We left the river at an old crossing, although relatively new bridge that formed part of Hocum Pocum Lane; we continue along the Lane although it is now referred to as Weardale Road.  Unusually, it is visible for a short stretch as the western side of Weardale Road remains undeveloped, in spring it is a riot of colour from the plants that have colonised the banks.  The bridge is a great place for seeing the iridescent blue blur of the kingfisher – often sighted almost skimming the surface of the water, with occasional sightings of egrets and herons fishing in the shallows.
After 100 metres or so It bends sharply to the left, on the bend, in a tight triangular site, is almost certainly the finest modern building on the Quaggy – 22 Weardale Road – designed by and Anglo-Dutch architectural practice 31/44.
A little further on is the Rose of Lee pub, latterly called the Dirty South although it has gone through several names in the last 25 years.  It opened around 1900 and, perhaps, it’s greatest claim to fame was that it was the first venue that Kate Bush played.  It suffered damage and looting during the 2011 riots that spread across numerous locations in London in early August, it looked as though it was to become another lost Lewisham pub.  There were occasional signs of life and a few drinkers during 2016, but it took until 2017 to have a major revamp and re-open as the Dirty South in late October 2017.
Around here the Quaggy was once joined by Mid Kid Brook which used to flow  more or less alongside Lee High Road from close to Lee Green, its former valley is clear in places.  However, it was diverted to follow Lee Road to Lee Green, probably around the early 18th century.
The river is bridged by Eastdown Park, a bridge that was partially destroyed in a flooding in 1878 in an era when flooding seemed more common.
On the west side of f the Eastdown Park bridge (to the left of the photograph) is currently Penfolds garage – the remaining part of a company that used to have three bases locally, including taking over Lee Picture Palace as a car showroom in the 1970s. The usage of the site, which used to be home to a Baptist Chapel (below – source eBay April 2016), is about to change again – this time to flats.
The river follows a tight channel, built on both sides, occasionally over it – such as by KwikFit. The banks had been almost rural on the south-eastern side of until the College Park Estate in the late 1860s as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).
By the next bridge, over Clarendon Rise, is without a doubt the most attractive riverside building on The Quaggy, a Hindu Temple, the London Sivan Kovil.  In September each year it is the venue for probably the most stunningly beautiful site in Lewisham – the Chariot Festival.
Attempts continue to be made either side of the Clarendon Road bridge to slow down flows through artificial meanders, while this allows some of the normal fluvial erosion and depositions on rivers in their natural state and thus will help a little with plant growth, it will be of little use in high flows though.
Soon after Clarendon Rise, just behind Lewis Grove, the Quaggy is covered at what used to be known as Lee Bridge.  Like much of the area upstream this too was liable to flooding – on an earlier Facebook thread on the river further upstream there were stories of what was then the Midland Bank (postcard from eBay September 2016) flooding in and notes floating around the flooded basement of the bank.
Historically, flooding was very common around Lee Bridge, this 1968 photograph, outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) Cinema commonly shown in relation to Lewisham flooding will probably relate to both the Quaggy and  Ravensbourne though – see comments below.
The extent of the covering of the Quaggy has varied over time, the recent development of the police station offered an opportunity to extend its visibility but it wasn’t taken and there is less of the Quaggy open now than there was a century ago as the postcard below shows (source – eBay February 2016).
The river currently re-emerges in front of St Stephen’s church, having first been joined by Upper Kid Brook. There used to be two arms to the Quaggy at this point – one by the former Roebuck pub, the second by the former Plough as the map below shows ( (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland). Both pubs disappeared in the early 2000s, as part of the redevelopment of Lewisham town centre.
The river broadly follows the course by the former Plough Bridge (left photo above) but at the time of writing, the confluence with the Ravensbourne is hidden in the middle of the Lewisham Gateway development which has rendered the area around the station almost unrecognisable.  Eventually, the confluence with the Ravensbourne will be in a small park, Confluence Place, but it may be a wait until the reality is anywhere near the architect’s impression.

The Roebuck – A ‘Lost’ Lewisham Town Centre Pub

The Roebuck was a Lewisham pub that dated back until at least the 1740s, possibly earlier.  In recent times its address was in Rennell Street but originally it was located on the High Street next to one of the two arms of the Quaggy as it joined the Ravensbourne.  The other ‘arm’ had a pub too, the Plough, which Running Past covered a while ago.

In between the two pubs was Plough Green, named after the Plough, and before the Enclosure Acts which allowed the wealthy and powerful to ‘enclose’ common land, there was an area of grass “Plough Green” roughly around the area of the old town centre roundabout; it was home a St Thomas Day fair – the Green is shown below (source on a Creative Commons) – the building shown was an early incarnation of the Roebuck.  This area was enclosed in 1810 and built upon. (1)

The two arms of the Quaggy were obvious in early Ordnance Survey maps, the Roebuck is the realtively large building just north of Rennell Street.  It was almost opposite the Lewisham Tollgate – marked ‘Lewisham TH.’ (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).

The first mention of the pub was in parish registers in 1742 (2)  It was originally at 40-42 the High Street and it seems to have had a garden or bowling green at the side of it – which was later built upon.  The garden had a chestnut tree, in the picture below, which was said to have been planted in 1683 (3).

The William Miller referred in the picture of the pub, was the landlord from around 1834, the previous landlord was a William Lance – he decided to return to his former trade as a hatmaker (4).  Miller was probably from Lewisham (his sister certainly was), he died in 1849, but his wife, Elizabeth, took over the tenancy – the owners were Roach and Hill (5) – helped by his son Robert, who was also listed as a licensed victualler in the 1851 census. Elizabeth Hall was from Westerham in Kent, although had lived in Lewisham since 1825, possibly earlier, as Robert was born there. The rate book listed the pub as having assembly rooms, garden, yard, stables and building land (4).  Elizabeth was to remain the publican until around 1863 (6).  In the 1851 census there were two relatives living at the Roebuck, one working as a barmaid, along with three servants and two paying lodgers.

Robert had moved on by 1861 but a daughter Eliza had returned to work at the pub along with her husband, George Beven who was running the stables at the Roebuck.

After the Millers left there was a steady trickle of licensees; in 1871 the landlord was Richard Wooff who was 40 – he lived there with his wife Hannah and 4 children and a neice – there were three live-in servants helping to run the Roebuck.  He seems to have later moved on to the Three Tuns in Blackheath (now O’Neill’s) with one of his sons.

At the 1881 census James Tyrell from Rainham was the ‘Licensed Victualler’, also living there was his wife Frances, three children and three servants. The beer around this time was supplied by the Nicholls brothers  from the Anchor Brewery in Lewisham, which was covered by Running Past a while ago, whose offices (below) still remain in Tesco’s car park.

A decade later, Samuel and Elizabeth Fryatt were running the Roebuck (or Roe Back as it is incorrectly transcribed in the census…). The Fryatts had six live-in staff including one with the wonderfully named role of Potman and Billiard Marker.  Around this time the pub moved to the corner of Rennell Street, its former site was later to become the Gaumont (picture below from postcard – eBay Nov 2016).   The new building didn’t stop the steady flow of publicans though, Owen Ward from Ireland was there in 1901, when the census enumerator called, but had moved on by 1905, to be replaced by EE Coley.  Charles and Beatrice Freeman had arrived by 1911, he from Brighton, she from Portsmouth.  The business was creating enough trade to support three live-in barmaids, two cooks and a domestic nurse – presumably to look after the Freemans’ children.  The Freemans certainly lasted longer than many of their predecessors; they were still there in 1921 Post Office Directory.

Leonard Jennings was the landlord by 1938 and in the 1939 Register; he was a Bermondsey boy, born in 1877 – he married Sarah Elizabeth in 1906 in Southwark.  They had moved on by the end of World War Two, Leonard passing away in Greenwich in 1947.  One of the next landlords (1956) was W H J Harris.

The pub moved again, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s, from its impressive position on the corner of the High Street and Rennell Street to a position a little further back down Rennell Street.  There are a couple of photos courtesy of Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog  – one each of its exterior and interior from 1961.

It had a function room (downstairs) where bands played – those performing there included the local ‘legend’ Albert Lee, who grew up in Kidbrooke Park Road in Blackheath – according to several comments on Facebook threads relating to this post he was a regular performer there.  It also nearly saw the demise of Dave from Chas ‘n’ Dave who was non-fatally electrocuted on stage there whilst playing with The Tumbleweeds.  Other famous names spotted there included Lee Brilleaux from the Feelgoods, alas this wasn’t as a performer, but to buy some cigarettes before a gig at the Gaumont around the corner.

During the 1970s the Roebuck also became a relatively well-known Country & Western venue on Tuesday nights, hosting bands in the basement.  A Facebook thread from a while ago fondly recalled a local singing postman who was renowned for his rendition of Charley Pride’s ‘The Crystal Chandelier.’ Around the same era a Shadows tribute band called Apache who played regularly at the venue.

Other Facebook reminiscences from this post included Saturday nights which frequently saw tribute acts in the basement including Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison and the Everley Brothers. After the bar closed, some went to the Gaumont on the pub’s former site for late night ‘pictures’. Kicking out from there would be after the last bus – so it would be a long walk home.

The YouTube video of Dreamstate  performing there in 1991 gives a few glimpses of what the room was like (the volume is at Spinal Tap 11, so you may want to turn down the sound on your device before opening ….)

Harry Robinson was landlord during the 1980s and also owned Lewisham firm Robinson’s Hauliers based in Thurston Road.  My own recollections are from a decade later – my memory is of a dark, dismal place with little natural light and a blurry fag smoke fug even when there were few drinkers lighting-up.

Within a year or two of my last visit, the Roebuck became a gay bar, initially retaining the Roebuck name but latterly it was known as Bar Phoenix (see above on a Wikipedia Creative Commons), which included ‘weekly drag entertainment’.  There are a few on-line reviews from that era

The Roebuck, near Lewisham Shopping Centre, is dire, but has to be seen to be believed. It attracts a strange mix of ‘fresh’ and ‘experienced’ faces.

This gay-friendly bar is a real find. I’d heard good things about The Roebuck from friends so last Saturday we trooped off to the place anticipating a good night. We simply had a ball. The service was outstanding and the atmosphere unrivalled by any bars in the area. The Roebuck has got to be seen to be believed!

It remained until around the end of the first decade of the 21st century before it was demolished – part of the early preparation work for the redevelopment of the northern end of Lewisham town centre. Rennell Street still exists; it is part of a short stretch of dual carriageway to be endured by those passing through the town centre by road with risks of high levels of pollution.

The final resting place of the pub is ‘marked’ by a pedestrian crossing (left, below) with its Victorian incarnation remembered via The Roebuck Memorial Traffic Lights (right, below).

Notes

  1. Leland Duncan (1908) History of the Borough of Lewisham p96
  2. ibid p77
  3. ibid p77
  4. Ken White The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham 6c p233
  5. Ibid
  6. ibid

Census and related data comes via Find My Past