Tag Archives: Lewisham

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 oddly to the Maudsley – whether one of those injured had mental health issues too or the local hospitals were so stretched that this was where the beds were isn’t clear.

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).

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 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 Makins (Downham)
  • Mr T W March (Tonbridge)
  • Miss F L Masters (Mastens) (Grove Park)
  • 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
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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 

A Single to Sydney – Transportation and the Two Lewishams

Lewisham has a namesake in the south western Sydney suburbs named after its south east London equivalent.  The New South Wales Lewisham, was given the name in 1834 from the estate of Jacob Josephson, which was sold after his death by his son, Joshua, in the 1850s for development.

The ‘other’ Lewisham in the 1930s (on a Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Jacob was transported for 14 years in May 1818 for having forged £1 notes in his possession.  His son Joshua and his mother made the same journey to New South Wales in 1820.   Jacob had been on the run before his arrest and running up considerable bank debts and absconding with church silver whilst working as a clerk to a parish church.  He seems to have never been charged with the theft as his punishment could have been considerably greater.  Once in Australia he set himself up in his former trade as a silversmith but again got into considerable debt and ended up in a debtors’ prison.

Once out of prison he seems to have made a large amount of money as a publican in several locations in New South Wales, it would be appear that part of this money was used to buy land, including what was to become Lewisham.

So where does the link to south east London come from?  Sadly, it isn’t clear, the church that Jacob Josephson was clerk to and ran away with the silver from was in Bethnal Green. The offence for which he was transported was tried in Oxford and at the time of the offence was living just north of Oxford.

The land in the area had been ‘granted’ by the first Governor, Arthur Phillip (who had been educated at what is now Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College) by around 1809. This was a decade or so before Josephson arrived in the colony, so one possibility might have been that an earlier owner had a link to south east London.  Sadly, nothing is obvious though – the two largest parts of the Lewisham estate were ‘granted’ to an the emancipated convicts, George Gambling, who had been convicted in Hampshire in 1797, and to John White from County Fermanagh, So, sadly, it remains something of a mystery where the link to Lewisham.

Transportation began to be used as a punishment in the early 18th century – Running Past has covered it before in relation to the Scottish Political Martyrs remembered at Nunhead Cemetery – see below.

It continued until 1857 when it was replaced by the slightly more enlightened penal servitude, which those who have been reading the blog for a while may recall was the punishment meted out to the Deptford anarchist and Post Office bomber Rolla Richards.

The Old Bailey’s on-line archives offer a fascinating insight into crime and punishments – by modern standards many of the sentences seem incredibly harsh – transportation for ten years for burglary without any aggravating factors would perhaps warrant a custodial term of 2 years now. Some of the theft cases that saw the perpetrators Australia bound may only have seen community orders.

 

The cases below all have a Lewisham (south east London) link in either the crime and/or the residence of the perpetrator, sadly with all of them it isn’t clear what became of them once they reached the Antipodes.

James Moore – Theft of Flutes from Colfe’s School

Moore was convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’  the home of  Joseph Prendergast, at Lewisham, who then head of Colfe’s School off Lewisham Road, his will was to enable the founding of the Prendergast School. He and an accomplice stole two flutes, with a value of £5 and £3 and a hat valued at 2/6d (13p). Moore was transported for 15 years in 1837.

Colfe’s School from the 19th Century on a Creative Commons via https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsoflew02lewi#page/74/mode/2up

William Skilton – Bigamy

Skilton (Skelton) was convicted of bigamy in 1837; he had married Mary Ann Wyld in Newington in 1820, Anne Sarah Wilkinson in Islington in 1826 and finally Esther Pink at St Mary’s, Lewisham  (below) in 1829.  On arrest he was reported as having said “What if I have had three wives, two of them turned out bad ones, and now I have got a third I suppose you won’t let me keep her.”  Skilton was sentenced to seven years for each offence – seemingly to run consecutively.

 

George Baker, George Bassett & John Grant – Burglary

The three men were convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ the home and business of a Lewisham grocer, taking coins and notes of almost £100 along with various goods of some considerable value one night in February 1844. The trio then went on a drinking spree taking in Deptford and Poplar, before heading to the brothels and bars of the Strand area.  Baker, Bassett and Grant were sentenced for 10 years transportation.

 

Samuel Ewins – Robbery

Ewins was indicted for a robbery, with violence on Loampit Vale, close to the former Hope Tavern, stealing from a 15 year old a watch and chain, value £14 along with around 6/2d (31p) in cash.  He was transported for 10 years in 1853.

 

Henry Pickett – Burglary

Henry Pickett was found guilty of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ and stealing two coats, a cap and a pair of boots from George Selby of Ravensbourne Park in Catford.  Based on the 1851 census, George Selby was a solicitor who lived on a farm which appears to have been managed by one of his sons.  Ravensbourne Park was to become an extremely desirable location with the arrival of the railway at Catford Bridge six years later, but already had a small number of large houses in the early 1850s.  The postcard below (eBay April 2016) was from a few decades later, but the look of the area, other than the station, would have been little different.  Pickett was apprehended after his accomplice tried to sell some of the goods in Deptford.

While his accomplice was sent to prison for two years, Pickett was sentenced to be transported for 10 years.  However, he never made to long voyage to Botany Bay as he seems to have ended up with a lesser prison sentence and was released from Portsmouth prison in 1855.

 

Notes

Thank you to the ever helpful Julian Watson for being able to rule out the theft of the silver being from St Mary’s, Lewisham and pinpointing it to Bethnal Green.  Thank you also to Aleem Aleemullah, Local Studies Librarian at Inner West Council (which includes the ‘other’ Lewisham) in the Sydney suburbs who was very helpful in providing some Antipodean local knowledge and getting me a little further along what proved to be a dead-end in trying to work out the link Jacob Josephson or his estate had to south London’s Lewisham.

The 1851 census data comes via Find My Past.

 

In Search of Upper Kid Brook

Logically this post should start at the beginning but there is no scenic setting for the source of the Upper Kid Brook, and I don’t want to put readers off so the end, the outflow, must be the beginning on this occasion – alongside the St Stephen’s Church, Lewisham.

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Its architect was George Gilbert Scott, better known for his gothic revival work, such as St Giles, Camberwell, and the St Pancras hotel and station. St Stephens is somewhat different

thirteenth-century, with some French details – ‘eclecticism of a chastened kind, and the union in some degree of the merits of the different styles’

But as rivers should be followed downstream, it is back to the beginning in what used to be a marshy area in north east corner in bend of Hervey Road at the junction with Begbie Road, close to the lower end of Shooters Hill Road. There is nothing tangible to see of the Brook around here, there are upstream pointing contour lines of the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map at 40 metres, close to the north western corner of the playing field between Begbie Road and Wricklemarsh Road.

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Eastbrook Road has a perceptible dip, just behind the fallen tree in the photo, a likely pointer to the Brook’s original course.

The 35 metre OS map contour clue is in the gardens of homes close to the south eastern side of the Kidbrooke Grove and Kidbrooke Gardens. On the ground another distinguishable dip on Kidbrooke Grove and the Victorian ‘Brook House’ offer further hints as to the course.

To the west of Kidbrooke Grove there are some man-made signs of the course of the still underground the Brook (it was apparently piped underground around here at the time the railway was built in 1849) – old boundary markers that followed the Brook are alongside the path bordering Morden College on a narrow fenced off green strip of grass. This ‘strip’ is clear from the OS map too as the ‘valley’ marked by the 35 metre contour is around 25 metres wide centring on the path.

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There is more of the same at the front of Morden College as the contours and boundary markers cuts across its grounds – there is a marker on their front lawn and then another against the far wall of the Lodge.

The next few metres of the route are easy to work out; the ground drops away quickly to the east of the Paragon. Perhaps once the Brook babbled and tumbled down a series of small waterfalls in some pastoral idyll, but the current reality is a little less bucolic, it is almost certainly the same as much of the route so far – at best, a buried pipe.

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Behind the Paragon the Brook flows through the Fulthorp Road estate, named after a 15the century landowner, the land was compulsorily purchased by Greenwich Council after WW2 and was the first council housing within the Cator Estate in1954 using a neo-Georgian style to try to fit in with the surrounding architecture.

The Brook used to supply a pond on the imaginatively named Pond Road, which formed a reservoir for the Wricklemarsh Estate.

While the pond is long gone, its western side is clearly demarked by the low boundary wall. The Brook’s course was to the west south west from the pond, although this may well have changed once it was diverted underground.

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Below the Pond there were considerable problems with winter flooding due to heavy rain and snow melt with flooding of up to three feet (one metre) reported around the current centre of the ‘village’ (1). One of the methods used to try to alleviate the problem was the creation of a series of small reservoirs – the biggest of which was known as The Canal and was behind the current Blackheath Grove. The water was used to irrigate Hally’s Nursery there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (2).

There had been an attempt to alter the course of the Brook in the dip in ‘The Village’, which was then referred to as Dowager’s Bottom (orHole), in the early 18th century by Gregory Page, owner of Wricklemarsh. It was perhaps an early attempt to deal with flooding problems, but Page was ordered by a court at the Green Man on Blackheath Hill to restore the line of the stream or pay a penalty of £10 (3).

The Brook’s valley was taken over by the North Kent Railway from 1849 and the Brook itself hidden from view. It flowed along the back of what is now Blackheath Grove, under the Post Office then crossing Tranquil Vale opposite the entrance to the station car park. The old boundaries would have it flowing just north of the car park, which was once railway sidings, but Edith’s Streets suggests a re-routing at this point to allow housing. It may actually have been buried under the tracks at this point, there are suggestions that after heavy rain it can be heard whilst waiting on the platforms, this may of course be just wishful thinking ….

There was frequent flooding from the Brook in this area too; Neil Rhind’s excellent book on Blackheath, refers to clearing them being a task for the Hollis family, who lived in former cottages in Tranquil Vale (4).

Its former route of the Brook is almost certainly hidden beneath the 1970s Lewisham council housing of Hurren Close, and then crossing Heath Lane (formerly Lovers Lane) to St Jospeh’s Vale.

Just before this point, there may have been a small tributary joining the Brook, there is a small valley clear on OS maps, starting around The Orchard on the Heath, as well as an obvious dip in Eliot Vale, the course would have then broadly followed Baizdon Road to the Brook.

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The 1894 large scale OS map has the Brook feeding two small lakes, one complete with a boating house, which were part of the estate of The Cedars on Belmont Hill. There are upstream pointing 20 metre contours line is at the south western edge of St Josephs Vale.

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(Alan Godfrey 1894 Blackheath and Greenwich Park)
The course then cuts to the other side of the railway around the bottom of Belmont Grove, where not to be outdone by their neighbours, the owners of Belmont, another large house on Belmont Hill also had a small lake fed by the Brook. Belmont was where roads such as Boyne and Caterham Roads now sit.

The lake has long since gone; most recently covered by a housing association development whose service road, at the top of Cressingham Road, the Brook follows. It continues through the back gardens between Cressingham and Boyne Roads. There is another tell-tale dip in the road in Lockmeade Road before following St Stephens Grove for the last 100 metres or so to The Quaggy.

There used to be an old boundary stone that marked the outflow point just south of St Stephen’s Church, but this may have disappeared with the development of the police station. Unlike the Mid Kid Brook, even the outflow isn’t that obvious – there are three pipes above the channelised bank of The Quaggy which all flowed in the rain but were water free on a dry day.

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Notes

1 Rhind, N (1976) Blackheath Village and Environs 1790 to 1970 (Bookshop Blackheath Ltd.) p71
2 ibid p71
3 ibid p67
4 ibid p105

Rolla Richards – The New Cross Post Office Bomber

There was an explosion at around 10:15 pm on Tuesday 14 August 1894 at the then Post Office at 177 New Cross Road – today a nondescript shop front

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A man was seen passing the Five Bells pub, about 30 metres from the Post Office, carrying a small parcel, then hurrying away down Hatcham Park Road soon after and followed by a small explosion at the Post Office. It caused ‘considerable noise which greatly alarmed those in the immediate vicinity.’ (1)

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At the Post Office, the police had found the remains of a tube upon which were written (2)

In memory of Ravachol, Vaillant, Bourdin, Polti, Santo.  Vive L’Anarchie.

All were well known anarchists who had died or been imprisoned as part of their activities – Bourdin had blown himself up, probably unintentionally in Greenwich, this was covered in Running Past in 2014; Vaillant had been responsible for the bombing of the French Chamber of Deputies.  So it was rather odd that it was reported that ‘the authorities do not entertain the theory that the explosion was the work of Anarchists.’ (3)  Some press reports though did make the clear and obvious linkage – referring  to it as an ‘anarchist outrage’ (4).

This wasn’t the only Post Office explosion in south east London in the 1890s – there was another in Lewisham High Street in January 1896. The small post office ‘filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder was noticeable.’ While fittings were damaged by the ‘sardine tin shaped bomb’, there seemed to be no structural damage.  The perpetrator was described as a ‘dastardly scoundrel’ and the Illustrated London News hope that a ‘heavy punishment would be meted out to the bomb ruffians’ (5).  There was no mention of anarchists at all on this occasion, despite press reports linking it with the New Cross bombing.

This approach continued after the forensic results were made public – when it was reported that ‘The authorities at first thought that the outrage was the work of an anarchist. They now believe that it was committed by some imbecile or other irresponsible person.’ (6)

This official line didn’t seem to help the police with their inquiries, there was a further attack on a Post Office on Trafalgar Road in East Greenwich in January 1897, which seems to have received little publicity at the time (7).  However, it appears that the police started to infiltrate the relatively large Deptford anarchist group who met at Deptford Broadway – their meetings occasionally got mentions in the left leaning Reynolds News (8).

These meetings led the police to a watchmaker, Rolla Richards (the court reports incorrectly call him Rollo), who had been heard talking about effectiveness of different explosives in late January 1897 and they raided his home at 136 Edward Street in Deptford.

Richards1Gunpowder and various other bomb making equipment was found at Edward Street (pictured, left (9) and Richards was charged with ‘Feloniously causing an explosion by gunpowder on August 14th, 1894, likely to endanger life.’ Initially he was changed with all three explosions but the Old Bailey record only covers the New Cross Road charge, although it notes that ‘There were two other indictments against the prisoner for similar offences.’.

Richards was linked to the New Cross explosion by pieces of card and paper from the parcel bomb, more of which was found at Edward Street A handwriting expert identified some of the surviving fragments of writing which were quoted above as being in the ‘hand’ of Richards,

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Richards, pictured above from a sketch at his trial (10), was sentenced to seven years hard labour, which according to 1901 census records he spent at Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. He was released on a conditional licence in 1903. He seems to have moved to the Bromley area on release, he married Emma Jane Macneale there in 1904.  They were living in Melrose Road in Biggin Hill in 1911, although neither were working.  He died in 1929 in the Bromley area and someone of the same unusual name bequeathed money to provide bells and a clock for the tower of St Peter & Paul, Cudham in 1931.

Notes

  1. Daily News (London, England), Thursday, August 16, 1894; Issue 15094
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Thursday, August 16, 1894; Issue 11282.
  5. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, January 18, 1896; pg. 38; Issue 1808
  6. The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, February 25, 1896; pg. 3; Issue 38600.
  7. Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Wednesday, February 3, 1897; Issue 8643
  8. For example – Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, April 5, 1896; Issue 2382
  9. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, February 7, 1897
  10. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, April 11, 1897; Issue 2838

Census and other related data are from Find My Past.

Garibaldi in Lewisham

Sadly this is not a post about links between the Borough in which I have made my home and Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of modern Italy, rather it is about the eponymous biscuits.

The Old Biscuit Factory is one of the better new buildings around Hither Green; I run past it a couple of times a week at night during the winter but today’s run included a day time run past.

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The Old Biscuit Factory was the site of Chiltonian Biscuits – their baking plant started in around 1911 in Staplehurst Road and expanded during WW1 making army biscuits.

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They moved to another site on Manor Lane in 1925, where it was latterly the home to Dad’s Cookies, Lemon Puffs and the link to the title, Garibaldi biscuits, until its closure in the early 1980s. While biscuit manufacture has gone, the Chiltonian name lives on through an industrial estate that is now on the site. By a strange coincidence the last non-residential user of the Staplehurst Road site, Drain Centre, made the same relocation as Chiltonian biscuits.

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The 1911 date suggested in the National Archives may have been slightly early, as the Staplehurst Road site was home to a short lived cinema – the Globe, later the Playhouse, which apparently closed it’s doors for the final time in 1915; this is covered in the excellent Lewisham’s Lost Cinemas blog.