Tag Archives: Old Road

Lee House to Lee Centre – the Story of a Small Part of Lee

The Lee Centre is an elegant late Victorian building at the junction of Aislibie and Old Roads in Lee. It is currently used by a couple of voluntary sector organisations. Both the building, and its predecessors on the site, have interesting stories – this blog post outlines the history. 

The site was for centuries ‘home’ to Lee House, a medieval mansion that was probably the last building showing on the bend of the main road on the southern side of John Rocque’s map from the 1740s (see below (1)). This was, of course, before Lee High Road was straightened following the breakup of the estate of Lee Place in 1824. At that point Old Road was given its current layout.

The original Lee House was probably a Tudor mansion and was known to have rush and clay partition walls (2).   Relatively little is known about the early history of the House although it was to become one with Republican links – it was home to the family of one of the Regicides of Charles I (3) and then owned by the slave owner and trader, Maurice Thomson.  Running Past has already covered Thomson and his brother George who may have built Lee Place and who also had clear links to slavery.

In the early 18th century the House was owned by the Lewin family (4), then home to the Huguenot Jamineau family (5) and later to City merchant and Alderman Sir George Champion (6). Champion’s daughter Mary was to marry Sir Thomas Fludyer in 1742 who inherited the house (7), presumably on George Champion’s death in 1754.

Sir Thomas Fludyer was brother of Samuel who lived at Dacre House, more on him at some stage in the future. Thomas was elected as MP for Great Bedwin in 1767, a seat that he swapped for his brother’s Chippenham seat on the latter’s death in 1768 (8). He died the following year in Hackney although his body was buried in Lee (9). Lee House was left to his daughter, Mary, better known by her married title, Lady Dacre.  She was to live at the eponymous House, further up the hill towards St Margaret’s Church. Her time in Lee will be considered in more details in a future post on Dacre House.  The House was sold on by the early 1770s to Henry Pelham (10).

Pelham was the nephew of two Prime Ministers – his namesake who died in office in 1754, as well as the Duke of Newcastle.  Lee’s Henry Pelham had been briefly an MP, but by the time he moved to Lee was Commissioner of Customs in 1758, a role he continued in until the 1788 retiring on a pension of £761 (worth around £1.4m at 2018 values). Henry Pelham died in 1803.

Around 1807 (11) the House was bought by the banker and MP for Taunton, William Morland; he died in 1815 with his wife remained at the house until her own death in 1826. The House was then inherited by their grandson Sir Francis Bernard Morland.

Sir Francis demolished the old house within a year or two, along with a neighbouring house on Lee High Road which had previously been home to Alexander Rowland, the barber who popularised the use of Macassar Oil, who had died there in 1823. As F W Hart noted, many of the older houses in Lee had been considerably extended over the years (as we have seen with Pentland House) but done in a way that didn’t meet the aspirations of the wealthy early Victorian Kent country gentleman. The realignment of the road provided the ability to design a home with a sweeping drive and gatehouse so gave added impetus for change.

Like its predecessor, no images of the House seem to exist, but from late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps at least, it appeared quite grand with a gatehouse (12) – Lee House is the unnamed large house below the right ‘E.’

While Sir Francis Morland lived on to the ripe old age of 86,  he moved on relatively quickly, as the occupant of the eight acre estate for much of the 1830s and 1840s were the Stuarts – William Forbes Stuart, a Scottish  ‘merchant,’ and his wife Hannah.  In 1841 they were living there with two grown up daughters a relative and eight live-in servants.  The Stuarts (incorrectly spelled Stewart) were still there in the 1851 census; while their children had moved on, they had a retinue of 14 servants, including a pair of lodge keepers.

The Stuarts seem to have sold up in the 1850s and moved to Brighton.  The purchaser was James Halliburton Young, a Justice of the Peace. he probably never lived there but he certainly added some of the land of Lee House to his estate at Cedar House which was situated on what is now the opposite side of Aislibie Road, and no doubt will be covered at some stage in Running Past.  It is the collection of buildings between Lee House and Manor House on the Ordnance Survey map above.

It isn’t clear who was at Lee House in 1861; it may well have been empty when the census enumerators called. In the 1871 Lee House was home to James and Anne Dale – it was clearly a time before contraception – there were 13 surviving children between 18 and just born living at the House along with 3 live-in servants.

By 1881, while the Youngs were still next door, there was no mention of the House in the census, part of the site had already been sold off – the census lists St Margaret’s Home whose inhabitants included a curate.  By the late 1880s, the house had been demolished and what is now Lee Centre at least had its foundation stone, with the grounds sold for the housing of Aislibie and Lenham Roads.

Part of the land was bought by the widow of George Barnes Williams, Helen, ‘For the use and benefit of the men and lads of Lee.’  The building is now known as the Lee Centre.

George Barnes Williams is a name that has already had a passing reference in Running Past in that he was living at ‘Belmont’ (The House that Named the Hill) when the census enumerators called in 1871. He was an architect and surveyor, with a business based in Westminster.  He was best known for his input into the refurbishment of the Mercers Hall between 1877 and 1881.

In 1881 he and his wife Helen were living at 14 Brandram Road. George died in 1887.  In addition to what is now the Lee Centre, it appears that Helen paid for a window at St Margaret’s Lee in his memory.  Helen seems to have lived on at Brandram Road until her own death in 1894.

From the outset there was a chess club based there, which was to be a feature at the Institute for at least 30 years, meeting initially on Monday and Thursday evenings (13).   In addition to chess, there seems to have been a football team based there for a while (14), and an athletic club was based there in 1892 which met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (15).  How long the football and athletics clubs lasted is not clear, as there was only one mention for each in the local press. In its early days of operation the building was also used by Lee Dispensary – it was listed in the Kelly’s Directories there between 1895 and 1900.  Certainly, when it was first considered by planners in 1888, the application from Helen Williams, was in relation to setting up a Cottage Hospital (16) so this may have been a relic of the original application.

While initially it seems that the Institute was an independent one, by 1927 it had come under the wing of St Margaret’s Church whose parish rooms were then next door.  The building was still home to the Chess Club which lasted there until 1930; the 1937 Kelly’s saw a solitary mention of St Margaret’s 1st Lee Scouts being based there.

While the Scout group only appeared once in Kelly’s Directory, it seems to have been a feature there until the early 1960s, before the group moved to the then newly acquired Kingswood Halls. The building continued to be used to store camping and other equipment for Scout and Guides until at least 1960.

The building was also used for storage by a father and son painting firm, Charles and Gordon Payne, in the late 1950s and 1960s, perhaps earlier. They lived in Dacre Park as war broke out in 1939 and continued to use a hand cart to transport materials around Lee into the 1960s when motorised transport had become the norm.

The Working Men and Lads suffix lasted until 1953, by which time the building was just known as St Margaret’s Lee, Church Institute – a name which lasted in Kelly’s until 1980 by which time it was referred to as the Lee Centre.  The mosaic above the door probably dates from around then – it certainly wasn’t there in 1979 when photographed.

By this stage, the building was being used Goldsmiths College as a Community Education Centre, as part of their Department of Adult Studies. This had started in 1973 and continued until around 1991, the activities run from there included several reminiscence projects during the 1980s.  The building was also used for some Lewisham Council run Adult Education courses up until around the mid-1990s.

In the more recent past it has been home to several voluntary sector groups – notably the Arts Network whose work was aimed at people with enduring mental health support needs and sought to provide ‘a supportive welcoming space for participants to explore their creativity.’ It often opened its doors to the public as part of Lee Green Open Studios, with the upper floor providing a pleasant airy space for displaying art. The project has now moved on to the Leegate Centre.

At the time of writing (late 2018) the building was being used by Ubuntu, a Black social history project and Family Health Isis, a mental health project.

It is a lovely building, although, oddly, neither Listed nationally by English Heritage or locally by Lewisham – it is certainly at least as worthy as the Grade II listed Lochaber Hall a couple of hundred metres away.

Notes

  1. Map from information board at Lee Green
  2. Edwin and Josephine Birchenough (1968) Two Old Houses of Lee – Dacre House and Lee House p68
  3. ibid p68
  4. ibid p71
  5. ibid p72
  6. ibid p73
  7. ibid p78
  8. ibid p78
  9. ibid p79
  10. ibid p94
  11. ibid p97
  12. The map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland
  13. Kentish Mercury 18 October 1895
  14. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 15 January 1899
  15. Kentish Mercury 25 March 1892
  16. Kentish Mercury 17 August 1888

Census and related data comes via Find My Past

Kelly’s Directorys were accessed via the always helpful Lewisham Archives

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Pentland House – One of the Country Houses of Lee

The area around Old Road in Lee was one of the three original parts of Lee – a three centred village, the other concentrations being around the original St Margaret’s Church and Lee Green. Old Road at various stages was ‘home’ to some of the largest houses in the district, the first two of which were at least partially funded through slavery – Lee Place, the Manor House, The Firs, Cedar House (which was at the top of what is now Aislabie Road) and Lee House  (roughly where the Lee Centre is now).  The final one that still remains is Pentland House, known for a while in the second half of the 19th century as Foclallt House – shown  in the mid 1860s surveyed Ordnance Survey map below (1).

It is a Grade II listed building which was built at the end of the 17th century, probably by a John Smith on land bought from the Boones of Lee Place – on the opposite side of Lee Road. It predated the adjacent Manor House by about a decade and is probably the oldest inhabited building in Lewisham.

It seems that the house stayed in the ownership of the Smith family for about 170 years – the commonness of the name though, may have hidden some elements of the past.  Around 100 years after the house was built its occupant was Matthew Smith, who became Mayor of the Tower of London in 1793

It seems that Matthew Smith moved out at the beginning of the century, and let the house, initially to Sir Thomas Baring whilst his father, Sir Francis, lived next door at the Manor House.  Pentland House was then home to a ladies boarding school which taught ‘French language and manners’.  It was run by William Grimani who was probably a Hugenot refugee.  He was one of the signatories of the Lee Petition in 1814 – one of part of a campaign begun to insert a clause in the treaty with France to make France abolish their slave trade, which had been reintroduced by Napoleon.

Matthew Smith died in 1812 and his son, also Matthew, inherited the house; he was a navy Captain with a less than distinguished record – his vessel was sunk after hitting a rock and he was court martialled and dismissed from the service in relation to an incident in 1794.   While he appealed and was re-instated, he never commanded a ship again.

Matthew Smith did not extent the lease of Pentland House to Grimani beyond 1822 moving in himself and making major alterations.  The building was extended to the east, almost to the boundary with the Manor House, probably adding the Doric porch at around the same time.  It seems that rather than repairing the external brickwork on original house, the entire structure was rendered.

Lee Place was demolished and sold after its last tenant Benjamin Aislabie moved out in 1824, Smith bought one of the lots, the land opposite – now surrounded by the newer part of Old Road,  Market Terrace on Lee High Road and the western side of Bankwell Road. It had been used as a kitchen garden but seems to have been converted into an orchard (as the Ordnance Survey map above shows).

Matthew Smith appears to have moved to Richmond before his death and let Pentland House to another naval family Admiral Sir George Martin, whose wife, Ann, was sister of Rev. George Lock, then Rector of Lee.  The couple were there, along with two servants, when the census enumerators first visited Lee in 1841. Ann died a year later and it seems that Sir George moved to central London – he died in Berkeley Square in 1847.

When Matthew Smith died in 1844, he left the house to his nephew Colonel Bellingham J. Smith.  He was still there in the 1851 census where he was described as a ‘fund holder’, aged 60 – the other occupants were his wife Priscilla and four servants.

While Bellingham Smith sold up in 1856, it was another Smith that bought the house – the unrelated John T Smith, a retired Colonial Marine Engineer who lived there with his wife Maria Sarah with 10 children living at home in 1861 and 6 in 1871.  It was a family that had moved around the Empire a lot with children born in India, the East Indies and South Africa before arriving in Lee where one of their children was born in 1859.  Living in one of the larger houses in the area they clearly had standards to maintain – there were 9 servants in 1861, a complement that had grown by 2 in 1871.

It seems to have been John Smith that changed its name to Foclallt House, it is referred to as this in electoral registers in the 1860s.  Where this name came from isn’t clear though; it is a Welsh word although the only definitive reference elsewhere is to a farm of that name near Tregarron.

The house was sold on to Robert Whyte in the early 1870s; the Whytes were already in Lee in the 1860s, living at 126 Lee Park in 186.  Robert Whyte’s father was described as a Colonial Merchant.  By the time Robert (snr) died in 1869 the family was living further down Lee Road at 20.  Where Robert was listed as the head of household in 1871.  During the 1870s they moved to Old Road, returning the Pentland to the House name.

Whyte, according to F W Hart, the Victorian historian of Lee,  ‘modernised the interior and improved the whole for domestic and personal convenience, so as to render it available for the requirements of the present age.’  By 1881 he had married Ruth (nee Jay) and they already had 4 children and 6 live-in servants, he was listed as a ‘General Merchant’ in the census. In 1891 there were more children and more servants.  Whyte and his extended family remained at Pentland House until around 1911 – they were listed there in that year’s Kelly’s Directory.  In 1912 there was no mention of the house but in 1913 it was listed as ‘Hostel (Goldmsiths College) for Women attending the Training Department at the College.’

There were occasional adverts for staff in The Times – in 1926 there was an advertisement for a kitchen maid and housemaid offering  ‘wages £26 : good holidays and outings :  might suit sisters’ (2) and a decade later ‘a lady to assist the Housekeeper’ (3).

The house remained a student hall into the 21st century when it seems to have been sold by Goldsmiths.  It then went through a variant to the hall – basic bedsits with shared cooking facilities before being refurbished around 2016 to effectively become a backpackers hostel – with prices starting from as little as £16.20 (September 2018) a night in a shared dormitory, with breakfast for a further £3.  At the time of writing there were very mixed reviews on Trip Advisor and regular complaints about noise from neighbours, particularly in Manor Lane Terrace and Manor Lane.

Notes

  1. The map is via the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  2. The Times (London, England), Friday, Mar 26, 1926; pg. 3; Issue 44230
  3. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 16, 1936; pg. 3; Issue 47481

Census and related data is via Find My Past

Kelly’s Directory information is via Lewisham Archives