Prior to the arrival of the railways, Hither Green and Lee were rural, a mixture of farming – such as Lee Manor Farm to the east and North Park Farm to the west of what is now Hither Green Station and the large country houses of Lee including the Manor House and The Firs. The railways directly and indirectly brought lots of new inhabitants, although the distances travelled and the modes of transport changed considerably in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Running Past has touched on Victorian migration before in numerous posts, notably those around shopping parades – such as 1 to 19 Burnt Ash Road, where the family histories of the shopkeepers have been explored. However, in the first of what will be a series of posts, we look at Victorian migration through several streets starting with what was a working class street then called Robertson Street, now Brightfield Road.
It is a street that we have looked at before in a couple of posts on its history – the period when it was Robertson Street and after it changed its name in the late 1880s. It was one of the earlier developments of smaller houses in the area, built around 1862 by the builder and developer John Pound. Its purpose seems to have been to house workers that Pound needed to build larger homes along what was then Burnt Ash Lane (now Road and Hill) towards Grove Park.
By 1881 it was an established community – as we saw in the earlier post, male employment still focused on the building industry, the women of the street were generally working too – mainly employed in washing, ironing and cleaning for the middle classes of the wealthier streets.
So where had these people come from? Census records for 21 houses, then numbered 30 – 50, have been looked at in terms of birthplaces. There were 33 households in those houses with 72 adults and 54 children. We’ll look at the adults first.
Given that the area had been developing since the early 1850s and the street since 1862, it is slightly surprising how few of the Robertson Street adults had been born in Lee, only 6 (8%), with the same number hailing from either neighbouring Lewisham or Blackheath.
21% came from established communities along the Thames from Chelsea to Woolwich via Deptford. Another half dozen (8%) from the rest of what was then London – so, in total, only just over a third were Londoners by birth.
Much of the migration though was relatively local – almost 1 in 5 (19%) came from the rural communities of Kent and Surrey, including many towns and villages now subsumed into London such as Eltham, Bromley and Chislehurst – all were separate in 1881.
The equal biggest group (21%) came from East Anglia – almost all from rural communities, many from hamlets which have now almost disappeared. They are plotted on the map below.
The rest came from either the Home Counties (4%) or from a variety of other locations around southern England plus one from Wales and one who was off map who was born in an unknown location in Scotland.
Their children were very different though – of the 54, 40 had been born in Lee and, of the rest, all but three were Londoners.
One of the longer distances travelled were by a couple from North Norfolk, the Harpers. Charles Harper was a bricklayer at number 42 who came from Roydon near Kings Lynn around 110 miles from Lee. Born in 1846 he was still in Roydon in 1861, aged 14, working as a bricklayer, probably with his father who was in the same trade. A decade later he was married to Elizabeth, who was from nearby Hunstanton in Norfolk. They had moved to London and were living at 18 Summerfield Street in Lee with Charles still working as a bricklayer, the street is pictured below. Like the houses in Robertson Street, they were built and rented out by John Pound many housing the labour for his building firm.
The family was still in Lee in 1891 – living at 7 Manor Lane, possibly working for WJ Scudamore, whose base was a couple of doors away (pictured below from 2015). Beyond 1891 the trail goes cold on them though. Like most of their neighbours in Robertson Street, all of their six children were born in Lee.
A later post will look at migration to one of the wealthier streets of Victorian Lee, probably Handen Road, to see whether the patterns of migration are different there.
- Census and related data comes via Find My Past, subscription required
- The maps have been created via Google Maps using 1881 census data