Tag Archives: Little Quaggy

Children’s Play in Lee Between the Wars

A while ago Running Past delved into the first volume of the autobiography of Phyllis Willmott who grew up in Lampmead Road in Lee, looking at the Sunday Constitutional that she and her siblings went on with the adult male members of her extended family. We return to ‘Growing Up in a London Village,’ to explore her recollections of play around 90 years ago.

Memoirs like this from the period are rare, as Willmott herself noted ‘(Working class) families seldom write letters; they do no keep diaries or publish books;’ traditions were oral (1).

The house at 49 Lampmead Road was overcrowded by modern standards, although as noted in the posts on Ardmere Road, for working class families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the area, this was not uncommon. It was rented by Phyllis grandparents who had the large front bedroom as well two uncles and a cousin who shared the rear living room. Phyllis mother and father, Harriet and Alec, shared the smaller second floor bedroom – with Phyllis and her brother and sister top to tail in a single bed (2). Unsurprisingly, unless weather prevented it, play was usually outside (or at least that’s what her memories were…)

Skipping games with old clothes lines were common and could often become the entire focus of play for weeks on end to the exclusion of almost everything else, but would then be quickly abandoned (3). Hopscotch would be marked out on the pavement, which was the venue for marbles too. There would be paper chases up and down Lampmead Road and into the road itself with cars a rarity (4).

Seasonal ‘standards’ included conkers in the autumn and a season later, winter warmer. The latter involved keeping lit rags smouldering in a pierced cocoa can (5) – it isn’t clear whether the children were able to purloin any methylated spirit or other accelerant to aid the burning.

In summer holidays the children of Lampmead, Brightfield and neighbouring streets would have a ‘fair’ against the wall of the end house which faced Brightfield Road (below); the house was occupied by the irritable Mrs French. They sold sweets made by mothers, posies of flowers from gardens, swapped possessions they no longer wanted – dolls clothes, toy soldiers and the like. It lasted about a week (6).

The wall was used for other games too – one involved cigarette cards being were propped up against it, others would attempt knock the cards down by flicking their own cards at them. Any card(s) knocked down were the spoils of victory for the flicker, but all cards standing would mean the loss of the the flicked card. Spirits rose and fell with the winning and loss of cards. (7)

Ball games were played against that long flank wall to the terrace too, it had enough length to support up to 4 games at once. The reverberations no doubt drove Mrs French to despair – often shooing the children away (8).

There were a couple of dozen children of a primary school age that played out in the street (9) so perhaps Mrs French’s interventions were not surprising. Street play was safe though, unlike now, cars were a rarity in the neighbourhood apart from those on Lee High Road. Much of the rest of traffic on the streets was horse drawn or the hand pulled barrow of the type that her father used for building work. The streets ‘belonged’ to the children and other pedestrians (10).

While the back garden was very much her grandfather’s domain, the children were allowed to play there too – a favourite was racing snails found in the lilac along the wooden benches he had made. The only condition was that he made Phyllis and her siblings clear up the trails from the seats. (11)

Source EBay Feb 2016 Source eBay Feb 2016

The children seemed to have a lot of freedom to wander from an early age and a frequent destination was Manor House Gardens, which had only been open for 25 years when Phyllis made her first forays there. There was then a shop in the park, the Old Road end of the cafe which sold sweets, tea and cakes. Next to it was a covered shelter (now part of the cafe, behind what is now the outside seating) – often where they ended up when weather was poor (12). The playground at Mountsfield Park was preferred to that in Manor House Gardens (it isn’t clear what existed in Manor House Gardens at that stage – large scale maps only note the tennis courts in front of the Manor House & where the football ‘cage’ currently is.)  However, there were gangs from neighbouring areas at Mountsfield Park so it was less popular (13).

As the children got older they were allowed to venture further afield, literally to a field – next to the Little Quaggy in Mottingham – ‘camping’ by the still clear stream – fishing and paddling there and on spring trips out there, jam jars would be filled with frogspawn (14). The Sidcup by-pass had just been built, and then it was home to Express Dairy cattle, now it is riding school land with lorries thundering past.

And finally… when her Dad was in work, trips to the Imperial Picture Palace were made on Saturday mornings, it was opposite where her grandmother had grown up near Lee Green (15).


  1. Phyllis Willmott (1979) Growing Up in a London Village p6
  2. ibid p12
  3. ibid p35
  4. ibid p36
  5. ibid p36
  6. ibid p37
  7. ibid p37
  8. ibid p37
  9. ibid p31
  10. ibid p177
  11. ibid p60
  12. ibid p106
  13. ibid p109
  14. ibid p110
  15. ibid p118



Following the Quaggy – Chinbrook Meadows to Eltham Bridge

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley and through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.

We left the Quaggy in a concrete channel coming out of Chinbrook Meadows.  A small weir lowers the level of the river bed as it exits the park, it is not to provide a more natural bed though, the notched river bed gives way to a flat one but it is still concrete – attempting to quickly move the water on, as was de-rigour in the 1960s.  The river isn’t completely barren at this point – some small plants are clinging onto an existence but struggling to put down any roots.


It is in a clear valley as it crosses Chinbrook Road, with climbs up to both Grove Park Station and the Grove Park and Chinbrook housing estates (both covered by the excellent Municipal Dreams blog).  But that is about as natural as it gets – while the shape of the banks and the bed change the concrete seems to remain as the Green Chain Path follows its eastern bank, it is a path that it marked on early Ordnance Survey maps (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)


OS Claypit.png

The path emerges out onto what used to be called Claypit Lane but is now called Marvels Lane.  The road is bridged and heads towards the entrance to some playing fields – this isn’t how it has always been though.  As the Ordnance Survey map above from the 1890s shows, there used to be a small pool and a distinct meander at this point – taking  the Quaggy in front of the former agricultural workers cottages – Sydenham Cottages (below) – presumably for Claypit Farm (just off map, although no longer marked by the 1890s).


There was serious flooding there – notably in 1968 – which seems to have led the channelisation and straightening of the river.  The Quaggy encased in concrete is now more or less devoid of life at this point.  Its former meander is now the Sydenham Cottages nature reserve which despite its river bank location has almost no trace of wetland habitat remaining.

The straight channel is slightly disturbed opposite the nature reserve with a concrete access ramp (see above left photograph) – this has led to some fluvial deposits in the slowest moving bits of the river.  Plants have colonised the sediments, but it is a precarious existence, without deep roots, they could be lost to the next high flow.

Opposite the nature reserve, and clearly visible from it is the outflow, just above the river level, one of the tributary streams joins the Quaggy, Grove Park Ditch – which rises in Marvels Wood and has an attractive 400 metres through woodland and park edge before being forcibly submerged around the edge of the Chinbrook Estate and then the playing fields of the former Fairy Hall – which gave its name to another stream in the Quaggy catchment, Fairy Hall Flow.

The river is followed by the Green Chain Path for another hundred metres or so before the path veers off to the right towards Mottingham Lane and the last home of WG Grace.  For those following the river as a walk this is the way to head and then re-join the Quaggy near at the junction with Winns Avenue.

For most of the 20th Century the former over spill Greenwich Union Workhouse, Grove Park Hospital, dominated the area – its land went up to the banks of the Quaggy – the slight valley is clear from the postcard below (source eBay November 2016).

grove park 1914

The location both as a workhouse and in its early days as a hospital, led to its under use as it away from the urban area.  It spent time as a military barracks and hospital during World War 1 ( see post card below – eBay May 2016) but was a TB and chest hospital for most of its ‘life’, although latterly became a mental health institution – the development of care in the community and associated hospital closure programme meant that its days were numbered.  It closed in 1994 and is now a mixture of a private health club and housing.

grove PArk 1915

There used to be a second meander, in what were the grounds of Grove Park Hospital but that too was removed presumably at the same time as that of Sydenham Cottages.  The meander is easy to see on the ground, next to the former hospital is a private leisure centre through whose ground there is access to a scrubby field that gently slopes down to the river, the path to it, which traverses a broken down bit of chain link fencing, is easy to miss though.  The former meander is a jungle of brambles which proved something of an obstacle to the bare-legged urban explorer.  A little further along the path that loops around the unkempt grass, the Quaggy is reachable and seems almost back to its semi-rural state last seen on Tong Farm, several miles back upstream.  It is but a brief interlude though – the Wates developed houses on the former Melrose Farm soon appear on the western bank and the river is left to flow behind the gardens of Westdene Avenue and Jevington Way.


On the eastern bank is Hadlow College, which was once the site of a large Victorian house, Mottingham Hall.  For a while, the site was the Macintyre Nature Reserve – part of an organisation that provided support for people with mental health disabilities, it then became an outpost of Phoebes Garden Centre, before being taking on by Hadlow College.  Contours would suggest that there may have been at least one stream joining the Quaggy in this area.


The Quaggy emerges into the public gaze by the side of the entrance to the College, still with natural banks, although one is lost as it hugs the side of Mottingham Lane before flowing through a shiny new screen to prevent blockages in a section under the Lane.  The opposite side of the road is then meandered against, with the fields of Mottingham Riding School on the other side, before a confluence with one of the Quaggy’s larger tributaries, the Little Quaggy close to the Sidcup by-pass (below, right.)


In several Facebook threads there are memories of playing in the river in this area, catching sticklebacks and taking them home in jam jars, going through the underground sections of the river both under Mottingham Lane and the braver ones under the A20. Others used to play ‘Quaggy jumping’ in this area near the now closed Dutch House pub. ‘It was always a triumph when you reached the other side without getting wet shoes, good days.’


Any feelings of ‘rus in urbe’ are soon lost after crossing the A20, while edged by grass and trees on initially scrubland and then a series of sports grounds, the concrete bed and banks return in their bleakest form anywhere on the river, any remaining sticklebacks would be hard pressed to find food.  The concrete course is almost as straight as a Roman road as it bypasses playing fields including the new home of Greenwich Borough FC, whose previous permanent ground, Harrow Meadow, adjacent to the Quaggy in Sutcliffe Park was lost to developers in 2009 – and they had a nomadic existence for a few years.  On the opposite bank, until the early 1930s, would have been the Middle Park Farm – like Horn Park Farm it was originally site one of the Eltham Palace’s hunting parks.

The river then squeezes between back gardens and is bridged the South Circular – on the south side it is shielded by a wall of a height that makes visibility of the flow impossible; on the northern side while the parapet was lower the overhanging shrub on both sides of the river meant that the flow was still invisible. It emerges back into the open at Eltham Bridge.  This is an area that is still subject to flooding – over 20 houses were flooded around Christmas 2013.  Before leaving the Quaggy there for another day a stop at the Bridge is worth making; it has an old London County Council sign with a wide variety of rules relating to bridges it controlled up until 1965.  Mooring a vessel at Eltham Bridge would be quite challenging though …..


In Search of the Little Quaggy

Close to the summit of Red Post Hill, on the borders of Chislehurst and Mottingham, is some old woodland – old Ordnance Survey maps refer to it as Hangingspring Woods.  It is dense and footpaths are unclear, but there is a pronounced dip going through it, falling away towards the North East.  This is the highest ‘sighting’ of one of the Quaggy’s bigger tributary streams, the imaginatively named the Little Quaggy.


Hanging Spring Woods, towards the source, Walden Road recreation ground (clockwise from top left)

The source though isn’t possible to reach on foot, it is in closely guarded woodland – a high metal fence blocks the way from the Green Chain Walk path adjacent to Walden Road recreation ground. Not that any water would have likely to have been found – the stream bed is just damp by the time it reaches Hangingspring Woods.  There is though a small pond marked on OS maps, which is likely to be the source.

The ‘hanging’ is likely to have its derivation in the old English word ‘hangra’, steep wood slope, rather than any more grisly meaning – the Chislehurst gallows were some distance away.  The woods would have been part of Coldharbour Farm – probably from the French col d’arbre (wooded hill/pass).

Coldharbour Farm  was a largely dairy farm -the farm buildings were located at what is now the junction of William Barefoot Drive and Mottingham Lane. The farm was developed for housing by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich from 1947 to help ease the housing problems in the northern part of the Borough; William Barefoot was a local councillor and mayor of Woolwich.

Behind the fencing used to be the grounds of Ravensbourne College. The College moved to the Greenwich Peninsula in 2010 after 34 years on the site – the likes of fashion designer Stella McCartney and film producer Gareth Unwin were alumni, although some of the more famous students, including David Bowie and Bruce Oldfield, passed through its doors when it was actually in the Ravensbourne catchment in Bromley.

Onwards and downwards…  My run takes me parallel to the remnants of the Wood dropping down Oakdene Avenue then Walden Avenue, where the side roads rise quite steeply away from the stream.  There is no sign of water, no sound of rushing water beneath the ferrous manhole covers in the road.

Wayside Green, location of Lavidge Bridge, valley on Ravensworth Road  (clockwise from top)

Wayside Green, valley on Ravensworth Road, location of Lavidge Bridge (clockwise from top)

There is a small notch in the Wayside Green that the Little Quaggy crosses, still unseen to all but the geographical eye.  Ravensworth Road follows its course, and, for a while, an obvious valley appears. The main Mottingham Road, the invisible boundary between Bromley and Greenwich, is reached and the south westerly side of the road would have been followed by the Little Quaggy for around 100 metres before crossing it at Lavidge Bridge – close to where Chapel Farm Road now is.

When the stream flowed above ground, it would have been overlooked here by the Geffrye Almshouses which were replacements for what is now the Geffrye Museum and were built in 1912 before the area was developed. They housed “ladies of restricted means”, often retired governesses.  The remaining ‘ladies’ were moved out to the more rural surroundings of Hook in Hampshire in 1972, and, since then, ownership has gone from the Greater London Council, to Bromley Council and then on to Broomleigh Housing Association in 1992.  From the plethora of estate agents’ boards outside, it would appear that many are now privately owned.  At the time of ‘passing’ the almshouses were not at their best – covered with scaffolding.

From Lavidge Bridge, the stream used to meander northwards through another farm, Chapel Farm, where it fed the farm pond.  Chapel Farm buildings were roughly where the Coldharbour Lesiure Centre is now.  Oddly for a farm, it had a cricket pitch and was the home to Eltham Cricket Club.  The club’s most famous player was W.G Grace and the ground was the location for his last ever appearance on a cricket field on 8 August 1914 – more on this later in the year.

Coldharbour Leisure Centre & the cover Little Quaggy

Coldharbour Leisure Centre & the cover Little Quaggy

The conversion of the Little Quaggy to a subterranean stream here happened during the development of the Coldharbour estate, around 1949.  The culverting though is barely below the surface and there are a series of raised red brick manholes joined together by a line of brown, almost deceased, grass edging a lush green playing field – it is parched from a lack of moisture due to the thin soils.  A few centimetres below though, the encased stream audibly gushes through its concrete pipe.

The original course of the Little Quaggy is bisected by the four lanes of the Sidcup by-pass.  It then skirts the western edge of Fairy Hill Park (Fairy Hill was a former name for what is now Eltham College –more on that in a week or two when another Mottingham stream, Fairy Hall Flow, is followed). The Little Quaggy had a concrete straightjacket imposed upon it when the park was created in 1938.It is then under the railway towards the Tarn.

The course in Fairy Hill Park

The course in Fairy Hill Park

The Tarn is an ornamental lake which is in an eponymous park which was originally part of Eltham Lodge (now Royal Blackheath Golf Club) and was acquired by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich in 1935.  The small lake was the most depressing site on the run down the course of the stream.  The park itself is a pleasant oasis, it is always a joy to run around its banks and has been improved over the years by its Friends.  The lake oozed neglect though – almost entirely covered with duckweed – a handful of wildfowl were attempting to make the best of it though, and a coot was even nesting on the still, pea-green water.  The Friends are fundraising to remove the duckweed.

Little Quaggy flows into the Tarn, the Tarn, the  outflow & the small tributary stream (clockwise from top left)

Little Quaggy flows into the Tarn, the Tarn, the outflow & the small tributary stream (clockwise from top left)

The Little Quaggy enters through a grim looking concrete channel on its course under the railway from Fairy Hill Park, it is joined in theory at least by another small tributary emerging from the golf course – but its flow did nothing to disturb the dull green surface of the Tarn.  The outflow, and continuation of the stream, is through a grille and remains enclosed again as Mottingham station and the railway line steal its natural course.

There was once another stream joining the Little Quaggy from land close to Eltham Palace – there is a distinct dip in Middle Park Avenue behind the station, with give-away upward pointing contour lines on the OS map, but the high hedges and horse riding make any further investigation difficult.

The Little Quaggy emerges into the open for the first time back across the Sidcup Bypass.  Just before its appearance, it is joined by the already mentioned Fairy Hall Flow. Its final four hundred metres are close to how the stream would probably have looked like prior to suburbanisation– a pasture covered with buttercups. It is not some semi-rural idyll though, just a narrow strip of green used by a riding school, with heavy goods vehicles from the Channel Ports thundering past, 20 metres away, towards inner London and the Blackwall Tunnel – very close by there are high average nitrogen dioxide pollution and occasional high levels of particulates – it is not a place to linger.