Tag Archives: Meadowcourt Road

The World War Two Home Front – Digging For Victory, Allotments and Women’s Land Army

Since the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in September 2019, Running Past has been looking at a number of aspects of life on the ‘Home Front’ during the War.  This has included the evacuation of Lewisham’s children to safer areas, the shelters built to try to keep the local population safe during air raids, the role of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service and the rationing of food.  On a similar vein we’ll look now at what is referred to a Digging for Victory, the growing of food in gardens and allotments along with briefly looking at the Women’s Land Army.

In 1939 Britain was importing large quantities of food – including 70% of cheese, cereals and sugar, 80% of fruit and more than 50% of meat. It was fully expected that the Germans would target food supplies coming in via sea, as they had done with the U-Boat Campaign in World War 1.  At the national level merchant shipping was put under Admiralty control in August 1939 – with food coming via convoy.

While they have links back to the 17th century, allotments, as we know them, have their roots in the Victorian period, demand for them in areas such as the then suburban Lewisham seems to have come from middle classes who wanted space to grow their own.  As we have seen with Lee Working Men’s Institution and Lee Public Halls there were several gardening clubs locally. Allotment numbers were not that large though with 244,268 plots in 1873 across the   country.

Numbers grew steadily in the Edwardian era and by the time World War One broke out, there were somewhere between 450,000 and 600,000 allotments. Those pictured above, bounded by Hafton, Hazelbank and Wellmeadow Roads, probably date from early in this period.  There was a large expansion during World War 1 with just over 1.5 million allotments in England by 1918.

Numbers of plots declined in the interwar period such that by the outbreak of World War Two just 819,000 allotment plots were cultivated. Many around Lee and Hither Green were lost to development in this period – two of the larger interwar private housing developments in the area – the Woodstock (the area around Woodyates Road) and Verdant Lane estates were both built on allotment sites in the 1930s, as was part of Reigate Road on the Downham Estate and a plot to the north east of bend in Meadowcourt Road near Lee Green.

The Ministry of Agriculture launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign soon after the outbreak of war in 1939. There was propaganda throughout the war encouraging people to use their gardens, parks and unused land for cultivation, stressing that ‘food just as important a weapon of war as guns’– several hundred thousand leaflets were distributed, with posters such as the one above displayed and it was a regular feature in propaganda films such as this one…

Around a million new allotments were created and many parks and open spaces were converted into allotments.  In the old Borough of Lewisham about 3000 were created (1)  – this included large swathes of Mountsfield Park as the 1940s Ordnance Survey map shows.

Parts of Beckenham Place Park were turned over to the growing of potatoes, with sheep grazing on the now former fairways (2).  Parts of Ladywell Fields were turned into allotments and on Blackheath around half of the triangular green bounded by Hare and Billet Road, Orchard Road and Eliot Place was turned into allotments.

One of the most iconic views in south London changed during the war with the field below the Observatory in Greenwich Park being dug up for allotments, the same had happened during World War One there.

It wasn’t just parks that saw food grown, other bits of land were brought into use too – a narrow strip of, presumably, railway company owned land between Milborough Crescent and the embankment was cultivated.  This was the same with the land on the other side of St Mildred’s Road where a narrow strip all the way down to Grove Park Nature Reserve was turned into allotments.

Other land too seems to have been taken over –  the land in a triangle bounded by Dacre Park (then Turner Road), Boone’s Road and Lee Park was a nursery and had been since the 1860s, probably before, emerged out of the war as allotments.  They continue to remain in that usage and are pictured below.

Another aspect of maintaining food availability was increasing the amount of help on farms – this was done through the Women’s Land Army which was launched ahead of the War in June 1939.   This was initially based on volunteering but a degree of conscription was added. By 1944 it had over 80,000 members; while most were already rural based around a third came from London and other cities.

Several women from Bellingham, including Olive Boyes who had previously worked at Chiltonian Biscuit Factory, Rene Powell and Joan Hicks joined the Women’s Land Army in the spring of 1942. They took a train from Catford to Ashford with Olive and Rene ending up in a small village called Hamstreet, with Joan and her friend Ivy being sent to Faversham.

Betty Hilda Baker lived at 41 Nightingale Grove had started the war as a ‘confectionary hand’ – perhaps working for Whitehouse and Co. at 36 Old Road.  Born in 1918 she was living with her parents, Charles and Julia, along with what are probably two younger siblings, Stanley who was a 23 year old butcher’s assistant and one that was redacted. It is known that she joined the Land Army but not known where she was stationed.

Joan Pearson lived at 73 Bramdean Crescent in Lee, at the outbreak of war she was an invoice clerk for Fords, aged 17.  When she joined up in 1942, she was working for Crosse and Blackwell near Charing Cross station – she wanted to ‘do something useful’ and to ‘get away from London.’ She ended up driving tractors in the New Forest.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p24
  2. ibid

Where not specifically referenced, examples of locations of allotments come via Ordnance Survey maps.

Credits

 

 

The Three Fire Stations of Lee

Running Past has covered several of the current and past buildings around Lee Green, notably Lee Green Farm and the closed pubs, the Prince Arthur and the New Tigers Head as well as a little on its more ancient version, the Old Tiger’s Head, in connection with the Lee Races of the first half of the 19th century.

In the north eastern quadrant is one of the most impressive bits of municipal architecture in the area, the Grade II listed fire station. We will return to that building later; however, it seems to have been at least the third Fire Station in the area. There had been one in Weardale Road by the late 1870s (1), presumably close to the Rose of Lee based on what else had been built at that stage in the road.  Weardale Road had still been known as Hocum Pocum Lane little more than a decade before.

The next one opened by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1895 was on the Lewisham side of Lee Green in the same group of buildings as the Old Tigers Head (see above). It was in an attractive group of four storey properties which have very distinctive Dutch gables. There used to be a tower in the middle of them but this appears to have been damaged in World War 2.

The site had originally been the stables for the ‘old’ Old Tiger’s Head and these seem to have been used for a while by Thomas Tilling for stabling the horses for their buses (like at 36 Old Road) – that was certainly the case in the 1888 edition of Kelly’s Directory. The courtyard entrance to the pub and stables remain with an alley with a ‘garage’ ghost sign above it.

The terrace  predates the ‘new’ Old Tiger’s Head pub by a few years – whose rebuilding was completed around 1896 (the façade is dated). The earlier building of the terrace allowed the pub to temporarily move to what became the fire station. The pub had previously had an address of 345 Lee High Road, but while it kept its number after the temporary move; by 1895 it was flanked at 343 by a hosier Alfred Trusson and at 347 to 349, a long lost type of retail outlet – a mantle warehouse, run by Alexander Aitken.

The fire station opened by 1896 once the pub had moved back to its newly rebuilt old home. In the 1900 Kelly’s Directory its neighbours were the grocers and related shop, the London and Counties Stores (see photograph above). Alexander Aitken was still selling mantles and the pub was numbered 351. By 1905 the mantle trade had moved on, 347 was empty and 349 was a chemist. After the Fire Station’s move to what would have been described at the time as ‘more commodious premises’ 345 seems to have remained empty until the late 1920s (see note below). The former fire station (and pub) is now home to Mandy Peters Solicitors.

The new fire station was designed by the Fire Brigade Branch of the London County Council Architects Department and opened in 1906 and was Grade II listed in 1973. The architectural team within the LCC had originally worked in housing and included Owen Fleming, who was better known for his work on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch.

The listing notes for Lee Green Fire Station remark that it is ‘notable for having two elevations of architectural quality in the Arts and Crafts-style to the south, with a cross-gable, and to the east.’

The Arts and Crafts style probably reflected that it was a Fire Station built in then suburbia and while Lee Green Farm had been lost as the Crown Estate sold off parcels of land for development from the 1860s, the neighbouring Horn Park Farm was to survive until the 1930s.

The materials used at the fire station are described as

Red brick with lower courses of russet glazed brick, steeply pitched slate roof and tall brick chimneys. Rendering to twin gables and glazed brick at ground floor on side elevation. Stone canted bay to front.

There was accommodation for firefighters included within the station itself, as was common at the time of building, and in a couple of houses behind the Fire Station in Meadowcourt Road (pictured above) as well as in an early to mid 19th century detached, yellow brick house, 7 Eltham Road (see main photograph of Fire Station). Royal Greenwich locally listed 7 Eltham Road in 2019, describing it as

Good quality and rare surviving domestic building of its date with a frontage which has largely remained in its original form

I& Eltham Road may have been acquired by the Fire Brigade after the station was built and it was noted in Kelly’s Directories of 1905 and 1911 as being home to a William Issott. Any earlier detail has proved difficult to unpick due to changes in names and numbering of the houses in the late 19th century.

The new station seems to have been one of the first to have been entirely motorised with two petrol engines and a steam powered one – the fire engines pictured outside at the time of the opening in December 1906.

While many of the local fire stations of the era have closed, such as Forest Hill in Perry Vale, and Lewisham’s, towards the southern end of the High Street, which was replaced 150 metres away, Lee Green has survived both rebuilding and closure programmes over the years; long may that continue!

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 17 January 1880
  2. The Graphic 15 December 1906

Picture & Other Credits

The photograph of the original fire station is from the collection of the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath, it is used with their permission.

The Kelly’s Directory information comes from Southwark Archives, I have copied data from every 5th year – so a few short term stays may be missed.