Leybridge Court is an attractive social housing estate centring around three 11-storey blocks a few metres away from the boundary of Lewisham with Greenwich. The site has an interesting history that this post will explore.
The land was once part of the estate of Eltham Palace which we have covered in relation to the farms that cultivated the area – Horn Park and Lee Green Farms, the former lasted up until the 1930s. The farmhouse of the latter, unsurprisingly, was at Lee Green in the south eastern quadrant where the Leegate Centre is currently situated and is pictured below.
The farmhouse moved to the current site of Leybridge Court in the 1840s, with the then farmer William Morris(s) purchasing land from the Crown presumably on a 99-year lease. He built a very large new home called Tudor House and seems to have also built some speculative housing on the same site – either side of the current Cambridge Drive (1).
Little changed until the mid-1860s – the Ordnance Survey map of 1867, shows the houses that Morris built but nothing else around the Lee Green toll house. The feel though would have still been rural. The change in the next four or five years was dramatic with new housing laid out along Eltham Road, almost up to what is now Sutcliffe Park. As the local MP remarked in 1871, ‘in a short period a town has sprung up in the neighbourhood.’ (2)
As we saw in a post on St Peter’s, the church that in various forms has served the area, around 160 large houses were built along Eltham Road, Cambridge Road (now Drive), on what is now Courtlands Avenue along with Weigall, Osberton and Leyland Roads. The houses were small compared with Tudor House, while no photographs seem to survive of Tudor House, a picture of the neighbouring Rothsay, a few doors closer to Leyland Road, does.
By 1871 Tudor House and those to the east had been built for well over 20 years, to the east they had been joined by others following the demise of Lee Green Farm in the 1860s. All were covered in the census and all were single family dwellings generally with several servants – Tudor House was home to shipowner Joseph Pegg, some adult children and a modest two servants. One of the houses was used as the vicarage for St Peter’s, the Vicar was Leonard McDonald James, the others included in ship broker, a silk broker, a ship builder.
By 1911 not that much had changed, the houses were still inhabited by wealthy single households with servants – the Tudor House was home to a Swiss engineer with a couple of servants. Fairfield, next door was home three generations of Watkins who had three live-in servants including a Between Maid. It was the family’s 4th census there – the wealth having come from ship ownership. Others in the group of houses included company director and a doctor.
Much had changed by the time World War Two broke out, while most of the houses still seemed to be occupied in the 1939 Register, virtually all were subdivided into flats (often with some parts of the house empty). The inhabitants were a mixture of manual, clerical and shops workers and the retired, often there were lodgers too. The exception was Tudor House where there were three people rattling around in it – a retired couple, an engineer and millinery buyer, along with a lodger.
The Bomb Sight website, notes that Tudor House was hit during the Blitz, although there is no obvious record of it in the local APR Log. By the time the area was visited by surveyors putting together the LCC Bomb Damage maps the site had been cleared and no significant bomb damage was noted (3). Similarly, when Ordnance Survey visited in 1948, cartographers though noted a gap with some earthworks where the Tudor House once stood. was though.
The reality is that this was a crater that provided a playground for those growing up in neighbouring streets, such as Osberton Road during and after the war. The site wasn’t just a playground during the war, it was part of the dig for victory allotments as the 1948 map above shows.
The old Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham approved the construction of the estate in 1958 and the contract was awarded to Costain, with work completed in 1960, this will have included demolishing the remaining houses on the site. Costain was a firm with roots in Merseyside who had expanded into the south east in the 1930s. At the time they built Leybridge Court, public sector housing was only a small part of their work but they were to become a significant player in the 1960s. Costain continue today as a civil engineering contractor.
The estate centres around a trio of 11 storey blocks, each with 44 flats. At the rear of the estate are much smaller, low rise, maisonette blocks.
The blocks were seemingly quite popular, based on one Facebook thread at least. Unlike most tower blocks they weren’t given names, just referred to by the numbers within them. However, they did tend to be known by a distinguishing feature – the colour of the doors and railings on the balconies – green (nearest to Lee Green), blue (close to Cambridge Drive) and red at the back of the estate.
In 2000 the then Labour Government set the Decent Homes Standard which sought to ensure that public sector homes were in a reasonable state of repair, had effective heating systems and ‘reasonably modern’ facilities and services – in the main this related to kitchens and bathrooms. There wasn’t sufficient money for local authorities to do this work all themselves. So, in some locations, councils looked to transfer stock to other organisations who weren’t subject to the same borrowing restrictions as they were. In Lewisham, this led to large areas of stock being transferred to housing associations – Phoenix was set up to improve and manage the homes in Downham and Bellingham. With Leybridge Court and the Newstead Estate (often referred to as the Redbrick Estate), Lewisham with input from residents, undertook a competitive process and in the end selected Broomleigh (now known as Clarion) to refurbish and manage the estates.
Work was underway to the outside of the estate when the Google Streetview car passed by in 2012, the internal works were probably completed earlier. The exteriors look much more modern and have changed from brick to what looks like a white render – they have become a landmark, clear from many of the higher points of south east London. One thing remains though the colour of the entrances is still red, green and blue – something, no doubt, that residents will have insisted upon.
The improvements on the estate were at least partially paid for by the use of land on the corner of Cambridge Drive for new homes for sale on a shared ownership basis.
Today, the estate, from the outside at least, seems well maintained and cared for – how social housing should be.
If you live(d) or work(ed) at Leybridge Court estate, tell us your memories of your time there. Post them below (you can use your Facebook or Twitter login – or via Facebook (if you found the post via here) – if it is you first comment ‘here’, you will have to wait for it to be ‘moderated’. I will update the post with comments. Try not to post anything libellous about others though.
- Neil Rhind (1987) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 2, p34
- Kentish Mercury 15 July 1871
- Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p116
- The Ordnance Survey map is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence
- The picture of the original Lee Green Farm is from information board at Lee Green
- The black and white photograph of the estate being built is from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright