Running Past has covered several of the almost two hundred V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks on Lewisham, including the ones on Lewisham High Street, Lewisham Hill, Lenham Road, Mercator Road and Hither Green’s Fernbrook Road. They are important to remember both in terms of the death and injuries caused to ordinary Londoners whose stories often get forgotten, but also in terms of their impact on the urban landscape – both in the short-term and longer term.
Another was on the opposite site of the railway to Fernbrook Road around the junction of Springbank Road and Nightingale Grove, very close to the station at 6:18 on the evening of 29 July 1944. The photograph that is part of the Imperial War Museum collection (produced here on a Creative Commons) shows the devastation all too clearly.
The V-1 would have exploded on impact and a blast wave rippled out from the impact point, effectively creating a vacuum in the centre – the combined impact was to both push and pull buildings leading to large numbers of collapses. The impact was often spread over quite a wide area with total destruction in the centre with much less damage on the outside. There were memories from someone living at the edge of this attack of gardens ‘full of bits of shattered china and pottery from the houses affected by the bomb blast’ many years later. The map below produced by the London County Council during the war (1) shows this well – the darker the hand-colouring, the greater the damage.
The worst destruction was in Maythorne Cottages and northern end of Springbank Road along with the adjacent ends of Ardmere and Beacon Roads, where, as the photograph shows, there was almost complete destruction. Although a degree of caution needs to be used with the maps as a few properties that show as destroyed were able to be repaired – notably the former off licence on the corner of Ardmere Road – covered in an earlier post on the street.
There was damage too along Nightingale Grove from opposite Maythorne to Brightside Road at the southern end. At this end were purpose-built maisonettes and, which seemed to have been built as ‘railway workers cottages’. There was considerable damage, with the upstairs maisonettes having to be largely rebuilt.
Many of the houses destroyed were homes to some of the poorer residents of Hither Green, as was covered in the post on Ardmere Road. Given the scale of destruction it is unsurprising that there were deaths in the attack, the casualties seem to have all been at Hither Green Station:
- Emily (25) and Jean (1) Chapman – a mother and daughter from Walworth;
- Violet Kyle (25) of 11 Morley Road, who died in the Miller Hospital in Greenwich;
- Gerald Hill (17) of 278 Brownhill Road, who was in the Home Guard; and
- William Pontin (38) of Weybridge.
Emily (nee Keleher) was living in Huntsman Street in Walworth when war broke out, and at the time was listed as a Solder Machine Hand. The Bermondsey born Emily married James Chapman in 1940, although they were probably living together in 1939 with James’ parents. Jean was just 22 months old when she died.
Violet was from Lewisham although when the 1939 Register was drawn up was living in a shared house in Circus Street in Greenwich.
Gerald had been born in Lewisham in 1927; at the time the 1939 Register was drawn up he would have been around 12 and was not listed locally as he had presumably been evacuated in September 1939. Assuming that he was still living at home, his parents will have moved during the war as 278 Brownhill Road was vacant when the Register was compiled. William Pontin appears to have been working as a brewer’s clerk at the outbreak of war in 1939 and was a lodger in a cottage in Weybridge. The reason for his visit to Lewisham was probably to visit family – a William Pontin of the right age was born in Lewisham and in 1911 was living in Hedgley Street – where his younger brother Ernest still lived in 1939.
A further 17 people were reported as injured as a result of the attack (2).
There were initial reports of the tracks being blocked by debris at the station, although by the following day local lines were running and by 31 July the track was back to full operations.
The post-war rebuilding was a little more piecemeal than in some of the other sites with V-1 rocket damage locally. One of the early responses was to clear the site and erect prefab bungalows; what is perhaps surprising is that only 9 were built given the area covered and level of destruction. Those at the southern end of Springbank Road were replaced in the late 1950s or early 1960s by permanent bungalows built by the Borough of Lewisham.
Beaver Housing Society, which seems to have been formed in the 1920s, appear to have owned the houses at the eastern end of Ardmere Road – they rebuilt some of them in the mid-1950s and added a terrace of red-brick houses on the corner of Nightingale Grove.
Both are resplendent with the blue glazed ‘Beaver’ panel, sadly, this is all that remains of Beaver – they were taken over by L&Q in the early 2000s.
The block surrounded by Maythorne, Springbank and the railway was used for offices and related yards. The one on the corner of Maythorne – still survives, home to the building contractors P J Harte. The opposite corner went through a greater variety of uses – it was last a nursery which closed in the mid-2000s. It was boarded up by 2012 (see below from StreetView) and new houses completed by the summer of 2017.
- 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
- Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: the Forgotten Hamlet : Including the Corbett Estate’ p64
The Ordnance Survey map is on a Creative commons via the National Library of Scotland.