Tag Archives: Mercator Estate

The Almshouses of Lee Part 2

A few months ago Running Past covered the two Boone’s Chapels on Lee High Road, both chapels had almshouses attached to them and in a recent post last week we looked at the almshouses themselves. Behind the Grade I listed Boone’s Chapel, set back from Lee High Road, are the best known some of the best known almshouses in South East London, Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses.

Like much of the area around Old Road, the land currently used by the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses on Brandram Road, has its roots in the piecemeal sell off of the land that was once belonged to Lee Place in 1824. Several of the plots were bought by the Worshipful Company of the Merchant Taylors’ for almshouses.

The Company was one of the livery companies of the City of London; as the name implies it was first an association of tailors, but this connection had virtually ended by the close of the 17th century and it had become a philanthropic and social association.

The almshouses built in 1826 were the third generation of almshouses – the first had been built next door to Merchant Taylors’ Hall in Threadneedle Street, and dated from the mid 14th century. The second edition was close to Tower Hill on land occupied by the railway into Fenchurch Street and DLR into Tower Hill.

The 1826 almshouses were designed by William Jupp, the Younger, who was the architect and surveyor to the Merchant Taylors’ Company. His uncle was Richard Jupp, who designed Lee Manor House.

The 34 almshouses, two behind each door, are Grade II listed and described by Cherry and Pevsner (1) as:

Large, on three sides of an open quadrangle, stock brick, sparsely classical, with a central feature emphasised by a pediment and cupola.

The almshouses have a walled garden with a lawn sloping down to a small dip which once contained the original course of Mid Kid Brook which was dammed around the border with Brandram Road to form a boating lake – latterly known as the Mirror of Lee. It is surrounded by mature trees and shrubs which make photography difficult.  The impressive gatehouse (pictured below) was added in the 1850s.

Having looked at the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses, we return to the Boone’s almshouses, as was noted in the previous post, the second version of them was replaced in 1963 in Belmont Park and known as Christopher Boone’s Almshouses. The area around there had been devastated by a pair of V-1 flying bombs, and the land to the north and east was covered with a large concentration of prefab bungalows. A slightly larger area was cleared for what became the Mercator Estate, which included an old people’s home. The almshouses site saw demolition of Victorian houses, which had suffered some damage in the Blitz. They are pictured in the bottom right hand corner of the aerial photograph from 1939 (just above the Patterson Edwards factory).

The number of almshouses increased from the 12 on Lee High Road to 29 one-bedroom houses and bungalows along with two staff units, originally for a matron and a gardener. The selection criteria for residents were less onerous than those of Trinity Hospital in Greenwich, requiring applicants to have lived for at least five years in the Borough of Lewisham or Greenwich; preference was given though to applicants from the former parish of Lee.  

The high walled development had an attractive gatehouse and, from the outside at least, looked a pleasant development. However, unlike the other variants of the Merchant Taylors’ managed almshouses in Lee, their life was a relatively short one – the relatively steeply sloping site proved to be a struggle for an ageing population with increasing mobility issues and letting the almshouses became problematic.

Plans were submitted in 2010 for the demolition of the 1963 site to be replaced by a much denser development – the 29 homes have become 62, with 32 being returned to The Merchant Taylors’ Boone’s Charity (the two charities merged in 2010). The remainder were sold to cross subsidise the re-provision of ‘state-of-the-art, fully-accessible and fully-adaptable almshouses;’ since 2010 there has been little grant funding for social housing and sales were, at the time, the only way to make this type of development ‘work’ financially.

To qualify for a home there the allocations criteria you would need to be …

• a peaceful, considerate person committted to getting on well with your neighbours
• in need of high quality housing in Lewisham
• aged at least 57
• capable of independent living; and
• can’t afford to buy

So what of the 1826 version? The residents were relocated to the new Blessington Road site with the Grade II listed buildings struggling to cope with those with reduced mobility who may require wheelchairs or motorised buggies. They currently stand empty and from the Brandram Road side look rather dilapidated; they are occupied by property guardians – with a notice on the listed entrance. Planning permission was granted in 2010 to build 5 houses, either side of the the southern most block, immediately behind Boone’s Chapel. In 2015 further permission was granted to reduce the number of almshouses – largely by knocking the ‘pairs’ behind each front door together. Both of these Planning Permissions will have lapsed at the time of writing in spring 2020, with no new permissions having been sought. The intention though presumably remains the refurbishment and sale of the Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses on a long leasehold basis – part of the cross subsidisation of the ‘state of the art’ version.

Notes

  1. Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) The Buildings of England – London 2: South p426

 

Credits

  • The 1939 aerial photograph is via the fantastic Britain from Above, its use is allowed in non-commercial blogs such as Running Past, it remains their copyright
  • The photograph of the 1963 scheme is via Google Streetview

The Mercator Estate – 1850s suburbia & 1960s Redevelopment

As Running Past has covered before, the area close to Lewisham town centre began to be developed with the arrival of the railway in 1849 as early Victorian suburbia – houses for the wealthy with sufficient space for servants.  One of these areas included Blessington and Mercator (initially Marlborough) Roads.  The houses were probably  built in the 1850s – they appear in 1861 census but not a decade earlier.

The Birts were at no 10 Blessington Road (probably just below the ‘A’ on the map) in 1861, Daniel a lawyer and Amelia both were in their 40s, had 6 children and 3 servants along with several visitors staying when the census enumerators called.  ‘Standards’ had fallen slightly by 1871 as there were only two servants there.  The Birts had moved on by 1881 – but ‘Stock and Share Dealer’ Francis Snoad, wife Annie and young daughter had returned the live-in servant complement to 3 – two housemaids and a cook.  The Powers, Samuel a 67 year old Mineral Merchant, his wife Rebecca and three adult children lived at no 10 in 1891 – their needs were simper – a cook and a housemaid sufficed.

In 1901 the Scriven’s lived there – William was a Brewery Manager – perhaps a slightly lower ‘class’ of resident than their predecessors, with his wife Elizabeth, two teenage children and the same servant type and numbers as their predecessors.  By 1911 the house appears to be being used as a school, there were 2 caretakers for number 10 which appears to have been the main school building but the schoolmaster was at 14, an Arthur Mason.

By the 1939 Register was complied virtually all the houses on the street had been subdivided – 10 was home to the Liffens, James was a heating engineer, the Orrs – William was a Clerical Officer for the Admiralty and the Garnetts a larger family which included 3 adult children including a Clerical Officer for the Admiralty and a ‘Hot Water Fitter.’   Unsurprisingly, there was not a servant in sight.

The area was captured on film from above in February 1939 – Mercator and Blessington Roads are in the bottom right hand corner.

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps suggest 3 V1 flying bombs were dropped in the area, although Lewisham records only record two – the latter is probably correct as the most easterly of the trio marked doesn’t seem to have damage consistent with a V1.  Emma (80) and Henry (66) Nieass died on 8 July 1944 at 49 Blessington Road. There were 10 deaths on 29 June 1944 (sometime reported as being the following day) in attack that destroyed most of the houses in Mercator Road – Dorothy Clayton (40), died at number 6; Constance Bunyan (58), Ethel Castlehow (55) and Jospeh Dale (60) all died at number 8, probably in different flats; Dorothy Moir (42) perished at 10 Mercator; the victims at 12 were Robert Goodwin (67), Rhona Holmes (40), Sidney (77) and Ann (70) Mote; the youngest victim was Muriel Green, aged just 3, who lived at 14 Mercator.

Key: black=total destruction, purple=damaged beyond repair, dark red=seriously damaged (doubt if repairable), light red=seriously damaged (repairable at cost), orange=general blast damage (non-structural), yellow=blast damage (minor), green=clearance area

There were other bombing related deaths on the estate too – the Allens, Mary and Edwin, both in their 70s, died at 45 Blessington on 8 September 1940, the second night of the Blitz. Also killed in the same house that night was Alberta Hayward (31).

In the period after the war much of the area was cleared and over 80 prefabs were built either side of Mercator Road and on the higher parts of Blessingham Road.  They will have been one of the bigger concentrations in the area after the Excalibur Estate, Hollyhedge Bungalows and Hillyfields.

The approval for the construction of the 14 storey, 51 flat, Rawlinson House was given by the old Borough of Lewisham in 1964; so it is reasonable to assume that the rest of the estate was approved at around the same time.  The contractors who built Rawlinson House (and probably the rest of the estate) were Tersons.  They were a housing subsidiary of the major infrastructure contractor Balfour Beatty who specialised in tower block from at least the mid-1950s, when they were building police flats around their north west London base.  Other similar building work included parts of the Stockwell Park estate.  The redevelopment included not only the sites used for prefabs but also included the demolition on houses untouched by the war along Lee High Road as well as some badly damaged by still standing houses elsewhere on the estate.

The estate is a mixture of a terraces of houses facing onto Belmont Park at a raised level above Lee High Road (14/18 of these had been sold under Right to Buy by mid-2019) along with another 8 houses north of Saxton Close – again ¾ have been sold.   There are a series of maisonette blocks, such as Chesney, Ericson and Clavering Houses, fronting onto Mercator Road and Blessington Road; along with the single tower of Rawlinson House.  While some of the flats and maisonettes have been sold – the majority still seemed to be owned by the Council.

Like many of the estate of the era, the estate included several garage areas.  These were designed to keep cars off estate roads and presumably allow the continuation of play in streets.  As the levels of car ownership increased the estate roads became clogged with cars and as the average size of cars increased the garages became redundant.  Lewisham used a couple of sites on the Mercator as a pilot for developing new homes in an era of very low grant funding for social housing so new homes for rent had to be cross subsided by sales.  The rental part, Atlas Mews, is behind the houses on Belmont Park, the sale element at the Marischal Road end which also included an unused community centre. It was the first new council housing in Lewisham for 30 years.

It is a model that has continued elsewhere in the area – with a site off Lee Church Street about to be finished as new homes for rent (as of spring 2019) with a nearby site between St Margaret’s Passage and Dacre Park under construction for sale.

 

Credits

Land Registry data on the sales comes via Nimbus Maps

The bomb damage map is from –  Laurence Ward (2015) ‘The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945’ – permission has been given by the copyright owners of the map, the London Metropolitan Archives, to use the image here.

The Ordnance Survey maps are on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland – the top is from 1863, the lower map is from 1950

Census, 1939 Register  and related data comes via Find my Past

The 1939 aerial photograph is via the fantastic Britain from Above, its use is allowed in non-commercial blogs such as Running Past, it remains their copyright.