Tag Archives: Prime Meridian

Woodlands Street – A Hither Green Street

Woodlands Street is a Hither Green road that has been touched on a couple of times before – notably in relation to its builders, WJ Scudamore who completed work on this and the neighbouring streets of Benin and Blashford at the end of the 19th century.  This post looks at what was there before the the street was developed, Hope Cottage, the early residents along with the impact of the war on the street along with recent changes.

Hope Cottage was built on farmland in around 1840; it was described initially as Wood Cottage in the 1841 census. While it was called a ‘cottage’ it was anything but and was located on what is now the forecourt of the shops of 272/274 Hither Green Lane (1). Unlike many of the large houses in Hither Green and Lee, there was no complicated history of ownership and tenants to unravel, Hope Cottage was built for, and inhabited by, the same family throughout its life. The Ordnance Survey cartographers got to name wrong when they surveyed the area in the mid-1860s – describeing it as Oak Cottage.  The real Oak Cottage was further south off what is now Verdant Lane.

It was built for William and Eleanor Butler (both born around 1785), the former was a wealthy grocer and property owner who hailed from St Pancras. It was an area they seem to have stayed in as all the children were born there.

In the 1861 census, what was then referred to as Hope Cottage was described as being in ‘Brightside’ – a lane down the side of the property to a property of that name, it is a name which lives on in the relatively nearby Brightside Road.  Hope Cottage was home to the now retired Butlers, William and Eleanor along with their adult children Charles (42, born in 1819) and William (56, 1805) who were both fund holders and Eleanor (45, 1816) who didn’t work.

Eleanor (Snr) probably died in 1870; but everyone else had remained at Hope Cottage, with Richard, born in 1819 having moved back to the house. William (Snr) died in 1876.  By 1881, all the younger Butlers were still there and had been joined by their younger sister Elizabeth who was widowed, all were described as having an income derived from houses and dividends.

By 1891 there was just Charles, Eleanor and Elizabeth remaining, all described as ‘living on their own means.’  In the latter years of the three siblings, the city was rapidly encroaching on what had been originally a country house:

By this stage Charles was the only remaining Butler, Elizabeth had died in 1893 and Eleanor in 1896. Charles sold up to W J Scudamore soon after Eleanor’s death and seems to have moved in with a nephew in one of the large houses on Brownhill Road – he was there in the 1901 census.

This was one of the earlier sites in the area that family building firm W J Scudamore developed in the area; the work was started in the late 1890s with payments for the connection of the sewers into Hither Green Lane made in 1899. However, the building was probably over several years. In the 1901 Census,  21 – 27 at the south western end (away from Hither Green Lane) were not recorded, with 19 and 20 (the numbering is consecutive) appeared not to be fully occupied and may have only just been let.

Unlike some of the bigger houses on Hither Green Lane along with the bigger Corbett Estate houses, Woodlands Street was a working class street.  Virtually all the houses were subdivided into flats, 3 room flats 6/- (30p) a week with the 4 room variants 7/6d (38p) in 1904 (2) with the homes managed from the Scudamore’s estate office at 1 Benin Street.   It was only the southern side of the street that was built on – the edge of the Park Fever Hospital formed the northern side of the street.

A few houses seemed have singles families, including the Ives at 2 and the Lees at 6, although with each of these it may be that part of the house was empty at the time the enumerators called in 1901.  Some were significantly overcrowded – there were 14 people living at number 4.  That said there were slightly fewer people living there on average than in the smaller houses in Ardmere Road in 1901 – the average there was 7.4 per house, with 6.9 in Woodlands Street with a median (mid-point) of 8 and 7 respectively.

The trades were all manual work, a lot linked to the building industry – it will be remembered that the Corbett Estate was still being built and while the Archibald Cameron Corbett used some of the smaller houses in streets such as Sandhurst Road to house workers, the demand for housing will have spilled out into estates such as this.  Some of the tenants may also have been employees of the Scudamores. There were several bricklayers, a pair of plumbers, a house painter and a trio of carpenters.  Several worked on the railway, perhaps based at Hither Green.

In the early years there were a few cases of crime – several of these involved neighbour disputes and included one of tenants of 24 being convicted for throwing a flower pot at child of the other tenant of 24, while it missed, the court fined her 5/- (25p) (3).

There were a fair number of cases of drunkenness; George Fowler of 10 was convicted of being drunk and disorderly, using abusive language towards the police and fined £1 or 2 weeks in prison (4). His neighbour at 11, Andrew Smith,  was arrested for being drunk and disorderly at the Black Horse in Catford in 1905 and was fined as a result (5).

Richard Sancto of no 7 was charged with being drunk and disorderly and assaulting Joesph Gibbs of Ardmere Road and a police Constable who tried to break up a fight in Courthill Road. Sancto was sentenced to two months hard labour in the summer of 1907 (6).

There were thefts too, some local, some a little further afield – Fanny Gotts of 13 was charged with the theft of two pairs of trousers in Greenwich – pleaded guilty and sentenced to 21 days hard labour (7).

By the time the 1939 Register was collected just after the outbreak of World War Two, the nature of employment on the street had changed markedly.  As was the case in Ardmere Road, the number employed in the building industry had dropped sharply – this was not surprising as, other than a few small infill sites, there wasn’t much new housing being built in the area.  Work was almost entirely manual amongst the men, with around 1/3 being given the ‘heavy work’ suffix which attracted additional rations during the war.  There were lots of labourers, a few lorry drivers, and several working on the railways.  Other than those who were unmarried, very few women worked – amongst those who weren’t married there were several cleaners, a couple of telephonists, a typist, a tie packer and a knitting machinist.

In the 28 houses (48 households) six were working on war preparations with the navy in Deptford, RAF Kidbrooke and the Royal Arsenal.  In addition three of the residents on the street had already been recruited to Air Raid Precaution work – Albert Chambers at 15 and Albert Hudson at 18 were part time ARP Wardens with Frederick Cook at No 2 recruited on a full-time basis.

There were more children in the street than perhaps expected – eleven with ages and another 22 redacted cases (anyone who may still be alive is blacked out on the Register).  Most children had been evacuated, including from the school site that many of the boys will have received their education at Catford Central Boys School, Brownhill Road Boys School which was split into infants and juniors.

One other point that has already been alluded too was that these were still shared houses.  The levels of overcrowding were not as great as in 1901, although this is probably largely explained by evacuation.

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 was some damage to the street as a result of World War 2 attacks – Woodlands Street is around the centre of the map above; it is coloured red which means that the homes were ‘seriously damaged (repairable at cost)’ – given that the Park Hospital next door was a one of the two specific targets of the Luftwaffe, along with the railway marshalling yards behind Springbank Road (8), it is perhaps surprising that there wasn’t more collateral damage during the Blitz.

In fact, the main damage came in an awful day time raid on 20 January 1943 when a number of FW190 planes got through defences with indiscriminate shooting  at numerous civilians, killing 6 people and injuring 14 others.  Each plane had a 500 kg bombs; one of these was dropped at Sandhurst Road School at 12:31 killing 38 children and 6 teachers.  Another landed in Woodlands Street 4 minutes later– the impact must have been in the street itself as none of the houses were destroyed, and just 2 injured.  The ARP Log notes that the road was closed due the scale of debris and that 66 houses were severely damaged – this included houses in neighbouring streets too.

In some locations where World War 2 damage is easy to spot with replacement houses in a different style or large areas of different bricks used – there were brick shortages post World War Two and it was often to get exact matches. The tell-tale signs are less clear here – in a few houses bricks the red brick detail around square bays of the yellow London Brick Co ‘Stocks’ is missing.  But the only really obvious signs are on one house above with different window styles and a missing pointed roof to a bay window.  That said, a lot of houses on the street are  rendered or have painted brickwork which hides what happened underneath.

The street outlasted the hospital next door which closed in 1997.  The hospital site was redeveloped over the next decade or so mainly by Bellway – ‘badged’ as Meridian South (the Prime Meridian passes through the end of Woodlands Street).  The Woodlands Street part seems to have been one of the later phases and was developed for a housing association.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green, The Forgotten Hamlet p35
  2. Kentish Mercury 05 February 1904
  3. Woolwich Gazette 15 July 1904
  4. Kentish Independent 11 September 1903
  5. Kentish Mercury 06 October 1905
  6. Kentish Mercury 09 August 1907
  7. Kentish Independent 13 March 1903
  8. Smith op cit p63

Credits

  • The Ordnance Survey map is on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland.
  • Census, 1939 Register and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The ARP Log was accessed via the under-resourced, but always helpful, Lewisham Archives
  • The bomb damage mape is via Laurence Ward’s ‘The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945’ published in 2015 – permission has been given by the copyright owners of the map, the London Metropolitan Archives, to use the image here

Following the Meridian III – To the Observatory

The last two posts on following the Prime Meridian, went through Bromley’s suburbia and then through Lewisham leaving us at the resting place of several Astronomers Royal at the old churchyard of St Margaret, Lee (albeit a few metres off route).

The Prime Meridian can be picked up again on the other side of the river valley that the railway purloined, that of Upper Kid Brook, at the top of Heath Lane. The ‘line’ goes through the back gardens of The Orchard, but once round that late Victorian incursion into the ‘Heath, the open expanse of Blackheath makes it easy to follow despite some long grass in places.

The Prime Meridian almost cuts through that ultimate eyesore for the ‘guardians’ of the ‘Heath – the Tea Hut, which has been there since the 1920s (It was destroyed in a car crash in early 2020). The Blackheath Society had been trying to get rid of it for at least 40 years through various means, although in recent years they became more relaxed about it re-tweeting details of a film about it. However, it remained limpet like at the junction of the A2 and Goffers Road. It’s not terribly exciting, it’s not that attractive but was always well used and was a bit of a local institution, something that the ‘Heath was, on balance, better for. I often run past, it is by one of the main pedestrian crossings on the ‘Heath, but don’t stop, tea isn’t a drink to be running with…. There are plans to replace it.

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Along the side of Chesterfield Walk is a meridian marker built into the wall of the Ranger’s House.

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Next door used to be Montague House, home to Caroline of Brunswick between 1799 and 1813 which was demolished in 1815. The Rangers House, where Caroline’s mother, Augusta, lived, fortunately remains. The House was bought be the Crown in 1815 and the meridian passes diagonally through it.

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Into Greenwich Park and the Observatory is in sight as the Prime Meridian skirts the north western edge of the rose garden and the covered reservoir before ‘passing through the centre of the transit instrument’.

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There is one rather attractive marker in the garden at the rear of the Observatory which looks a bit like a gyroscope but is called an Armillary dial and is an early means of telling the time.

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I could follow the Prime Meridian another 1.75 miles (as the meridian flies) south of the river as there are a few meridian markers north of the Observatory before it goes out into the Thames then briefly touching the O2 Arena and then finally crossing the river. These include a rather attractive sundial on the line next to the small boating lake that doubled up as a water-feature for the Equestrian events in the 2012 Olympics.

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However, a line on path by the Dome which I must have run over numerous times but never noticed doesn’t seem a great place to finish though – but this would be roughly the route….

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I must admit to having baulked at the £8.50 entry to the courtyard, something which was free until 2011, so the destination photos are taken through the wrought iron railings.

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Following the Meridian II – Into Inner London

Last week’s Following the Meridian 1, I tracked the Prime Meridian from the borders of New Addington, through suburbia, to Shortlands, leaving the ‘line’ close to a rather imposing war memorial. This post continues the trail towards Greenwich.

The ‘line’ crosses the railway close to Shortlands station, but then heads through the houses on Ravensbourne Avenue and across the real Ravesnbourne onto a golf course. That’s obviously out of bounds for the running blogger so I head parallel to the meridian – my path is still very suburban in feel, although there are a few large Edwardian houses at the station end of the Avenue. The route to the incomes to afford them, the railway into Victoria and the City, is high on the embankment to my left.

After several miles without a man-made meridian memento – there are two in quick succession either side of Farnaby Road both of which I have passed numerous times before.

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While the Greenwich Meridian Trail heads off for the more scenic surroundings of Beckenham Place Park and the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne – it doesn’t actually follow the meridian – we won’t meet the walk until close to the Observatory. The meridian itself then heads into Warren Avenue Playing Fields, like so many of the open spaces in this area they were formerly company sports grounds – in this case a mixture of The Times and Midland Bank. Oddly, Bromley failed to add an entrance here, so it is a squeeze through some railings to the play area that Bromley Council and everyone else seems to have forgotten – a trio of former swings now more reminiscent of gibbets.

The Prime Meridian then cuts across Millwall’s rather leafy training ground – somewhat removed from the New Den and its adjacent incinerator. The training ground used to be owned by Oxo and below is an image from 1937 from the fantastic Britain from Above site, with the line of the meridian towards the rear.

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The Millwall training ground is close to a big change in the territory, the first signs of which are a McDonalds Drive-Thru’ in what used to be a 1950s pub, the Garden Gate.

We are on the edge of the Downham estate; inter-war council housing mainly in Lewisham but straddling the boundary with Bromley – its origins are covered well in the excellent Municipal Dreams blog. At the bottom of Bromley Hill there is one of a small number of street plaques that Lewisham council have installed – it seems strange that they didn’t do more with the same template. It is in front of a dry cleaner’s shop.

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Other than the main road, which changes from Bromley Hill to Road, little is actually seen of Downham, the meridian (or at least the route closest too it) follows Downham Woodland Way – part of the Green Chain Walk. It is a route I have run along several times, although oddly always in the other direction.

North of Whitefoot Lane, the meridian makes its way through the houses and gardens of Waters Road and Boundfield Road before passing through the Excalibur Estate – passing down Meliot Road – roughly bisecting the museum.

Running Past visited here earlier in the year, not that much has changed although some of the ‘decanted’ homes on the eastern side of the estate have now been demolished and the pop-up museum that was originally just for a few weeks is still there and has recently found funding to continue until 2017, with a large mural added to the side of the bungalow next door.

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Out of the estate and the roundabout at the end of Torridon Road (which more or less follows the meridian) proved to be a photo opportunity that was too much to resist (although I should have gone prepared with a bigger piece of chalk)……

Lewisham Council and Bellway also couldn’t resist the opportunity to mark the crossing of Woodland Road and Hither Green Lane with small footpath inserts marking other places along the route. A great idea, but sadly the inserts last only a little longer than my chalk degree symbol and were either stolen or became trip hazards and all that remains are some infilled concrete and a line.

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One of the most visible, and perhaps best meridian marker, is at Hither Green station where the meridian bisects the foot tunnel entrance to the station.

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Continuing on, the ‘line’ enters Manor Park (there was a post about this a few months ago) almost using the new bridge entrance from before crossing a path I use several times a week near the main entrance. More or less following the road Manor Park, we come to the second of Lewisham’s pavement inserts outside Halley Gardens which they combined with a celebration of Anti Racist Week.

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Inside Halley Gardens there is another on line marker, a rather attractive pergola.

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The old landownership patterns of the former stately homes of Lee make getting near to the Prime Meridian difficult, but my slightly off line route takes me past the old churchyard of St Margaret Lee which is rather appropriate as it contains the graves of several Astronomers Royal – including that of the previously celebrated Edmund Halley.

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With its links to the Observatory this is perhaps an appropriate stopping point. The next post will cover the final mile and a half to the Observatory.

Following the Meridian I – Suburban Footsteps

Today, 13th October 2014, is the 130th anniversary of the a decision at The International Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884 which led to

the adoption of the meridian passing through the centre of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich as the initial meridian for longitude.

The line is well known and a tourist attraction at Greenwich, although it was 4th in a series of ‘lines’ ‘drawn’ at Greenwich – the first by Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, was 7.75 metres to the west. The blog has been there before with an unsuccessful anarchist attempt to blow up the Observatory.

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While the Observatory would be an obvious place to start, I am going to resist logic and run my way back from the southern edge of London following as close to the Prime Meridian as possible, taking in a transect of the city. Fittingly, our starting point is another invisible and artificial construct – the boundary between Croydon and Surrey. Our starting point is a footpath (roughly where the large tree on the left is) around 100 metres west of a road called Park Road, remarkable only for its absence of a park. Oddly though the footpath had been tarmaced in the dim and distant past, the reasons for this became clear within 50 metres – there was a sign to Greenwich via National Cycle Route 21, a route I run down, further to the north, several times a week.

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The Prime Meridian is no respecter of rights of way and heads north over school playing fields. Our first turn to the north is a footpath more or less parallel to an old Roman road that went from London to Lewes – while there have been a few Roman coins found in the area, there is little to get excited about. Our first obvious sign of the meridian is a sun dial at the front of Addington High School, which was first installed in 1953 and re-furbished about 5 years ago. It is a great idea that would be even better if it wasn’t partially under a tree and had an upright that looked less like a bit of left over piping. There is an online ‘guide’ to the various meridian markers that helped identify this, and many of the others en route back to the Observatory.

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The meridian skirts the eastern edge of New Addington, which is an odd peninsula of development sticking out into the greenbelt; its development as Croydon overspill started in the 1930s through the First National Housing Trust which bought a couple of farms with the intention of developing a village based on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City principles including 4,400 homes centred around a village green.

WW2 interrupted the growth of New Addington, and post war Croydon Council developed the estate further bringing a lot more homes than were originally intended, some light industry and eventually decent public transport links through the Croydon Tramlink in 2000 which reduced its isolation.

Some of the industrial units are more or less on the meridian and are imaginatively called the Meridian Centre on Vulcan Way. Originally, I had intended to at least ‘pop-in’ to one of the units which is home to probably the closest brewer to the ‘line’, CronX, which is part owned by a friend. However, despite being only a mile or so in to the route, I was already way behind time and in any case drinking and running aren’t the best of bedfellows, particularly for runners like me with clumsy feet.

Being surrounded by greenbelt, the route away from New Addington is rural; I am very tempted to follow the path suggested in the Greenwich Meridian Trail guide through woods and fields towards Coney Hall. I know the path quite well, in the opposite direction, as it is the first couple of miles or so of a cross country ‘mob match’ route I run most years. However, my aim is to stay as close to the meridian as possible, so after a brief run across some fields, I picked up a lane into the inter-war suburbia that is Coney Hall. One of the roads passed is rather tempting to turn down given its name, although I resist the temptation….

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Like New Addington, Coney Hall is an enclave of 1930s housing, built on a former farm sticking out into the greenbelt, however, that is where the similarity ends – Coney Hall is Mock Tudor suburbia with its half-timbered gables. It foreshadows much of what is to come for the next few miles.

I should have resisted a minor detour to the west of the meridian, but there is a rather attractive Grade II* listed 15th century church – St John the Baptist – which stands on a hill overlooking fields. Almost next door is Wickham Court – an old manor house of a similar age and with links to the Boleyn family, glimpses of what is now a fee paying school are possible through the trees.

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Along the crest of the same hill as St John’s there is a marker of the meridian, an odd little obelisk, like a small Ordnance Survey triangulation point..

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In 1997 there was a rather grandiose scheme to plant a series of trees to make the meridian visible from the air. While it wasn’t an enormous success, Bromley was an enthusiastic adopter of the scheme though and offered trees and a large scale map to residents on the ‘line’. Unfortunately, there was neither a requirement to actually plant on the ‘line’ nor to mark the tree – so the trees that have survived are largely indistinguishable from any others.

There were a couple planted a little further up in hill in Coney Hall, but both are long gone; but through the parkland and into South Walk one of the two planted there remains with a large tudorbeathan backdrop (see above).

The roundabout on Glebe Way is almost crossed by the meridian according to the Guide, but then it is ‘tacking’ across footpaths and roads looking for our next marker or in fact two of them. There is a sundial and obelisk on the edge of the grounds of Hawes Down Junior School which are now around 60 years old and rather attractive, although difficult to spot through the quite dense boundary hedge.

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There is conveniently a bridge over the railway, a short distance from its terminus at Hayes which opened in 1882. Hayes is an old village, with an attractive church, St Mary the Virgin, which has parts going back to the 15th Century. The village had links to the Cade Rebellion of 1450 but the nearest to rebellion around here these days would be a vote for UKIP, with the Tory vote approaching 60%. Sadly, we see nothing of old Hayes, it is the best part of a mile from the bridge – this is very much suburbia here.

Our next marker is still in mock Tudor territory but noticeably the houses are smaller here than in Coney Hall, it is at the end of a terrace rather than the large semis ¾ of a mile to the south. While the tree is now but a stump the owners have marked the passing of the Prime Meridian with a sign.

While I run on onwards and northwards, there is nothing else in this borderland between West Wickham and Hayes to indicate the passing of the Prime Meridian through the kitchens and lounges of commuter land. It is an area I know fairly well at night – these are streets I sometimes run along with my running club – but during the day they seem unfamiliar, unremarkable and unaffordable to most.

Crossing over that main artery of many a Beckenham Running Club route, Pickhurst Lane, there are several more of Bromley’s meridian marking trees in the leafy avenues towards Shortlands.

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We are passing close to Enid Blyton country here, she lived for a dozen years a couple of hundred metres away at 83 Shortlands Road and wrote ‘The Adventures of the Wishing Chair’ whilst there in the 1930s. In my search for meridian trees I should have perhaps been on the look out for a ‘Magic Faraway Tree’, written much later though. There is though a rather imposing war memorial just off the ‘line’ but on my route.

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The run continues next week from Shortlands towards Greenwich, and the territory begins to change.