Tag Archives: Quaggy

The 1968 Lewisham Floods

Mid-September sees the 50th anniversary of the 1968 floods in Lewisham caused by the Rivers Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool all overflowing their banks as a result of two days very heavy rain on 15 and 16 September 1968.  The summer of 1968  had been one of the wettest on record, so the ground was already pretty much saturated causing large amounts of water to immediately run-off with large amounts draining into the local rivers.

So what caused the floods? A warm and very moist air front which had its origins in the western Mediterranean converged with a cool, moist one from the Baltic over south eastern England.  The fronts then moved very little for two days.   A broad area from the Thames Estuary to Hampshire received six weeks of rain, 75 mm (3” for you non-metric folk), during those two days.  A large area including south east London received double this – 150 mm (6”) – 3 months of rain in 48 hours.  On  Sunday 15 September alone, the Met Office noted that Bromley saw the heaviest rain with 129.5 mm (5.2”); rain in Bromley  ends up in flowing down the Ravensbourne and Quaggy to Lewisham. With this volume of rainfall it is not surprising that drainage systems failed to cope.

To understand the sheer scale of the flooding it is worth noting that the Quaggy, which typically had a depth of 15 cm (3”) at one point was over 5 metres deep in Lewisham (1). Traffic was unable to run at all along the main road between Catford and Loampit Hill as the entire area, built in the Ravensbourne flood plain was flooded (2).

The Ravensbourne

The Ravensbourne runs in a fairly flat valley all the way through Catford and Lewisham and there was flooding all the way along course – The Times photographed flooding on Southend Lane, close to Bromley Road where the usually hidden Ravensbourne crosses (3).  There was flooding too further upstream at Bromley South where the Ravensbourne burst its banks.

There were lots of memories on Facebook threads on this of using boats from Peter Pan’s Pond – originally a mill pond on the Ravensbourne (now the pond outside Homebase) to row around the area, including getting into the bar at the Tiger’s Head and generally playing in the flooded waters.

In nearby Watermead Road, flood waters reached 1.5 metres deep in places (as they did on Southend Lane) – houses there took a year to dry out and there was some looting after the flood waters receded.   A little further downstream is one of iconic pictures of the Lewisham floods – the Robertson’s Jam Factory which had the Ravensbourne immediately behind (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph).    

Unsurprisingly, a hundred metres further down Bromley Road, there was also flooding at the junction with Aitken Road (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph). Those with basement flats were particularly badly affected – in one on Barmeston Road the water went up to the ceiling.  

The volume of water coming down the Ravensbourne was augmented by the also flooded River Pool (see below) – the confluence is just south of Catford Bridge.  This meant that Catford Town Centre was under water.  There were memories on Facebook of free buses being laid on to transport people wanting to get from Stanstead Road to Brownhill Road, elsewhere refuse lorries did the same thing.

There was a ‘not entirely successful’ attempt to sail from Catford to Lewisham on a wooden garage door brought downstream on the Ravensbourne.  More appropriate forms of water transport were used in Ladywell Fields where an unknown kayaker paddled close to the railway bridge.

The extent of the flooding becomes apparent in the foreshortened by telephoto lens shot looking towards Ladywell Bridge from the around the ‘playtower’

While not shown in the picture there was a boat that ferried people across the worst of the flooding at Ladywell.  Marsala Road, parallel to the Ravensbourne, itself became ‘a fast flowing river’ with water levels inside houses rising to over a metre above ground level at one point.  There were Facebook memories of playing on a tractor inner tube in the flood water on the street. The ground floors in neighbouring Elmira Street were flooded too.

In Lewisham it seems that the flooding caused a crane to topple over – presumably on the Sundermead Estate that was being built at the time (4).

The Quaggy

From its entry into Lewisham at Chinbrook Meadows (and no doubt further upstream too) there was flooding along the Quaggy, Just outside the park in Marvels Lane, next to Sydenham Cottages as the Quaggy burst its banks.

Lee Green flooded, although probably not as badly as it had done in the past from snow melt in the early 19th century.  Manor Lane, where the Quaggy is bridged and Leahurst Road flooded too. There was flooding on Lee High Road and the parallel streets – with memories of submerged basements and flooded gardens around Eastdown Park – the photogrpah belwo shows the bottom of Dermody Road and the bridge over the Quaggy into Weardale Road.

On Lee High road itself the shops on Manor Park Parade (opposite the Rose of Lee, now Dirty South) had almost 2 metres of water in their basements).

At Lee Bridge water reached the top of the steps of the White Horse and there are rumours of paper money floating in the basement of the then Midland (now HSBC) Bank opposite, which were covered in a blog post on the last stretch of the Quaggy.

The bottom of the High Street flooded as the whole area around the Quaggy and Ravensbourne confluence was inundated – perhaps the most icon photograph of the floods are of the ‘Lewisham Lake’, it made the front page of the Daily Mirror but local people put on their wellies just got on with life as the photograph below outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) shows.

One of the largely culverted tributary streams of the Quaggy, Hither Green Ditch, seems to have flooded on Verdant Lane.

The Pool

The Pool effectively forms in Cator Park in Beckenham from the confluence of The Beck, Chaffinch Brook (which certainly flooded) and the River Wilmore (often known as Boundary Stream).   Unsurprisingly, the River Pool flooded too at, and below, Bell Green.  The photograph below is from Winsford Road, with the backdrop of Grangemill Road in Bellingham (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph) – the area flooded to the left is still open ground and known locally as Dog Field (after a very short-lived greyhound track that was once there).  The high waters washed away large amounts of coke from the gas works, off screen right, which was deposited on the allotments behind Dog Field.

A little further upstream the Pool overflowed near Bell Green making the bridge from Southend Lane impassable other than by boat

Pool River in Flood - 1968

Elsewhere in the South East

Given the extent of the weather front it wasn’t surprising that the flooding wasn’t an isolated issue for Lewisham, although it was one of the areas that was hit worst; large swathes of south east England were flooded with rail contact between London and Kent was being completely cut.   Edenbridge in Kent was completely cut off after the River Eden, a tributary of the Medway, burst its banks. 150 passengers on a diverted train from Charing Cross to Hastings stuck on the train for almost 12 hours at the station there (6).

The AA described the picture from above with only a little exaggeration –  ‘The whole of the area form Essex to the Sussex-Hampshire border was like a giant lake, with dozens of main roads and hundreds of secondary roads flooded.’ (7)

In days when mobile communication is the norm – landlines were the only means of telecommunications – over 78,000 (9), including many in Lewisham were down as the GPO were overwhelmed (8).  Still 28,000 of those out of action by 19th September (10)

In the days that followed the flooding spread as the storm water made its way down the Thames – East Molesey being particularly badly affected. (11)

The Immediate Aftermath

In the days after the flood before the water subsided the army were brought into deliver food to those cut off on upper floors (14). Shops had sales of tinned food without labels which became something of a lucky dip and town centre shops, such as Chiesmans, had flood damage sales.

Basements were pumped out – including the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South) and no doubt the shops opposite.

The Mayor of Lewisham had used his dinghy to ferry a few people around and investigate what was happening on the ground (lake?) himself whilst the area was flooded (11).  However, the then Tory run council was accused of “falling down” on its duties.  Some victims were paid up to £1600 from surpluses on funds set up following the Lewisham Rail Crash in 1957 and the Hither Green one of 1967 (12).  Some were rehoused by the council, but beyond that, other than giving people a bottle of bleach, there seems to have been little practical support for those families make homeless or having had possessions ruined – particularly those who weren’t insured.  After the floods subsided, carpets were hung over fences and other possessions left outside in the hope that they would dry out and recover …..and then there would have been the smell as they probably didn’t properly dry out.

Lewisham’s population has changed a lot since 1968, many of the areas alongside the rivers have seen gentrification and those with better paying occupations move in.  It is easy to forget the changes in the last 50 years – ‘Employers, Managers and Professional Workers’ made up 34.5% of the adult population in last census in 2011 – in the census immediately after the floods in 1971 only 10.5% fell into this category.  Census employment categories have changed a lot over time but it is worth remembering that manual work still dominated in the area at the time of the floods.  Household contents insurance was rarer, and then, as now, poorer households didn’t have it.   While overall household insurance costs from the floods across south east England were estimated at £15 million (13), this would obviously not have taken into account those without.

There was little in the way of a Parliamentary debate about the floods – Parliament was in recess when the floods happened and seems to have moved-on by the time that the floods were debated in mid-October – in the Commons the focus was on farming and in the Lords, oddly on a telephone exchange in Cobham that was flooded for a couple of days.

Longer Term Changes

There was little change in approach to moving peak flows downstream, a continuation of plans that had been started on the River Wilmore (Boundary Stream) in Penge and other local rivers of creating concrete banks and beds to move water on faster – sometimes referred to as ‘channelisation’.  

 

This continued along parts of the Quaggy – notably between Grove Park and Eltham Bridge (see above); the River Pool between Bell Green and Catford had its meanders removed (left) and the concrete casing and straightening continued from its confluence with the Ravensbourne all the way through Catford, Ladywell and Lewisham (see below).

There were still occasional more localised flooding’s but the real downside of the concrete straight-jackets was that the lack of natural banks and beds meant that the rivers lost much of the plant and wildlife.

New approaches started to be developed from the late 1990s, with large scale flood water storage areas in Sutcliffe Park (above) and Weigall Road which hold peaks flows – much of this happening through work by QWAG, the Environment Agency and other local groups. Similar work is planned in Beckenham Place Park.   More natural, wider banks and meanders have been added and restored in several areas – notably in John Roan Playing Fields, Chinbrook Meadows, Manor Park and Ladywell Fields (below from late 2013) – these allow the rivers to hold more water in peaks, slow down flows and allow the return of plant and wildlife on banks.

Notes

  1. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968;
  2. Ibid
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  5. ibid
  6. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57358. (796 words)
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  8. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 10; Issue 57358. (1129 words)
  9. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 2; Issue 57361. (376 words)
  10. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 18, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57359.  (792 words)
  11. South East London and Kentish Mercury 19 September 1968
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 23, 1968; pg. 4; Issue 57363.
  14. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 21; Issue 57361.

Picture Credits

  • Most of credited within the text
  • The Ordnance Survey map of the Pool’s meanders is via the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  • The photograph of Marvels Lane is from Borough Photographs, used with permission of Lewisham Archives
  • The photograph outside the Odeon has appeared numerous times on social media, never credited – if you are the copyright owner do let me know so that I can credit you (or remove if you would prefer.
  • The remaining 1968 photos were copied by Emily Hay from Lewisham Archives and are used with the kind permission of both
  • The modern photographs are mine, feel free to use them, credited, for non-commercial purposes.

A massive thank you to Emily Hay both for the photos and talking with me about her childhood memories of the floods – it was really helpful and much appreciated.

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Following the Quaggy – Manor Park to the Ravensbourne

We left the Quaggy just outside Manor Park having seen the park’s rejuvenation  from one of Lewisham’s worst bits of open space to one of its best, before that Running Past had followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom; then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows; through the concrete and countryside of Mottingham; and then on through the playing fields and parkland of Sutcliffe Park and the Lee/Blackheath borders.
We left the river at an old crossing, although relatively new bridge that formed part of Hocum Pocum Lane; we continue along the Lane although it is now referred to as Weardale Road.  Unusually, it is visible for a short stretch as the western side of Weardale Road remains undeveloped, in spring it is a riot of colour from the plants that have colonised the banks.  The bridge is a great place for seeing the iridescent blue blur of the kingfisher – often sighted almost skimming the surface of the water, with occasional sightings of egrets and herons fishing in the shallows.
After 100 metres or so It bends sharply to the left, on the bend, in a tight triangular site, is almost certainly the finest modern building on the Quaggy – 22 Weardale Road – designed by and Anglo-Dutch architectural practice 31/44.
A little further on is the Rose of Lee pub, latterly called the Dirty South although it has gone through several names in the last 25 years.  It opened around 1900 and, perhaps, it’s greatest claim to fame was that it was the first venue that Kate Bush played.  It suffered damage and looting during the 2011 riots that spread across numerous locations in London in early August, it looked as though it was to become another lost Lewisham pub.  There were occasional signs of life and a few drinkers during 2016, but it took until 2017 to have a major revamp and re-open as the Dirty South in late October 2017.
Around here the Quaggy was once joined by Mid Kid Brook which used to flow  more or less alongside Lee High Road from close to Lee Green, its former valley is clear in places.  However, it was diverted to follow Lee Road to Lee Green, probably around the early 18th century.
The river is bridged by Eastdown Park, a bridge that was partially destroyed in a flooding in 1878 in an era when flooding seemed more common.
On the west side of f the Eastdown Park bridge (to the left of the photograph) is currently Penfolds garage – the remaining part of a company that used to have three bases locally, including taking over Lee Picture Palace as a car showroom in the 1970s. The usage of the site, which used to be home to a Baptist Chapel (below – source eBay April 2016), is about to change again – this time to flats.
The river follows a tight channel, built on both sides, occasionally over it – such as by KwikFit. The banks had been almost rural on the south-eastern side of until the College Park Estate in the late 1860s as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).
By the next bridge, over Clarendon Rise, is without a doubt the most attractive riverside building on The Quaggy, a Hindu Temple, the London Sivan Kovil.  In September each year it is the venue for probably the most stunningly beautiful site in Lewisham – the Chariot Festival.
Attempts continue to be made either side of the Clarendon Road bridge to slow down flows through artificial meanders, while this allows some of the normal fluvial erosion and depositions on rivers in their natural state and thus will help a little with plant growth, it will be of little use in high flows though.
Soon after Clarendon Rise, just behind Lewis Grove, the Quaggy is covered at what used to be known as Lee Bridge.  Like much of the area upstream this too was liable to flooding – on an earlier Facebook thread on the river further upstream there were stories of what was then the Midland Bank (postcard from eBay September 2016) flooding in and notes floating around the flooded basement of the bank.
Historically, flooding was very common around Lee Bridge, this 1968 photograph, outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) Cinema commonly shown in relation to Lewisham flooding will probably relate to both the Quaggy and  Ravensbourne though – see comments below.
The extent of the covering of the Quaggy has varied over time, the recent development of the police station offered an opportunity to extend its visibility but it wasn’t taken and there is less of the Quaggy open now than there was a century ago as the postcard below shows (source – eBay February 2016).
The river currently re-emerges in front of St Stephen’s church, having first been joined by Upper Kid Brook. There used to be two arms to the Quaggy at this point – one by the former Roebuck pub, the second by the former Plough as the map below shows ( (Image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland). Both pubs disappeared in the early 2000s, as part of the redevelopment of Lewisham town centre.
The river broadly follows the course by the former Plough Bridge (left photo above) but at the time of writing, the confluence with the Ravensbourne is hidden in the middle of the Lewisham Gateway development which has rendered the area around the station almost unrecognisable.  Eventually, the confluence with the Ravensbourne will be in a small park, Confluence Place, but it may be a wait until the reality is anywhere near the architect’s impression.

Following the Quaggy – Lee Green to Hocum Pocum Lane

We left the Quaggy close to Lee Green with a Lewisham Natureman stag ‘grazing’ by the outflow of Mid Kid Brook, before that Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom; then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows; through the concrete and countryside of Mottingham; and latterly through the playing fields and parkland of Sutcliffe Park and the Lee/Blackheath borders.

The river changes here; gone now are the almost bucolic feel of the river through the playing fields and parkland in the section of the river from Sutcliffe Park to Lee Green. The Quaggy is now very much an urban river, with building up to the banks and the route downstream for the fluvial flâneur often parallel with the river only visible on bridges.

Riverside pubs have been conspicuous by their absence so far, but are a much more regular feature as we follow the last mile or so of the course.  The Old Tiger’s Head, 50 metres or so away from the river, was the base for the mid 1840s horse racing of the Lee Races. Lee Green was still rural then, complete with a green, a windmill and a farm – Lee Green Farm. The pub was very different then, being rebuilt in the 1890s, as the picture above from an information board at Lee Green shows.
The Quaggy squeezes between some 1990s flats and a plot of land that was Victorian housing and will presumably be returned to housing again; it was latterly the showroom of Penfolds Vauxhall dealers, after they moved from the former Lee Picture Palace on the corner of Bankwell Road.  The river, for a short period, is again banked and bedded in concrete – little is able to grow but that didn’t stop a few optimistic sticklebacks from attempting to eke out an existence in a hostile environment (below, top left) when I did the research for the post.

The Quaggy emerges out into the open at what used to be called Lee Green Bridge and the first proper riverside pub, the Duke of Edinburgh, still serving and with a pleasant garden at the rear.  The pub dates from around 1871 when the landlord, a Mr W Baker, took over licence of the Black Horse, which was a short-lived ‘beer house’ that may have been on the same site (1)

The river forms the rear boundary between homes in Lampmead and Brightfield Roads – the former named after a field. The course wasn’t always thus, the Quaggy originally took a course further to the north touching the southern end of what is now Lenham Road.  The differences are clear between the 1863 (top map below) and 1893 visits of the Ordnance Survey Cartographers (maps on a Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland). The effective development of Lampmead required the straightening of the river, following what was previously a path behind the houses of Robertson Street, which was to become Brightfield Road at around the same time.  The curved building (above, top right and bottom) hugs the banks of the river.
The Quaggy is bridged by the dog-leg of Brightfield Road before tumbling down into Manor House Gardens.  The Gardens are one of Lewisham’s flagship parks and were the grounds to a large house built and maintained from the proceeds of slavery until bought by the London County Council as a library and park in 1902.

Source – eBay Feb 2016

The Quaggy seems to have originally fed the small lake although is now at a much lower level.  It is bridged a couple of times within the park, both having been the venues for generations of Pooh Sticks, no doubt played before the game was named in the 1920s by A A Milne.
The river has natural earth banks topped with a dense tree canopy throughout its 400 metres or so through the park, during the summer the river is heavily shaded.  The steep banks make the river relatively inaccessible through the park.
Flowing out of Manor House Gardens, the river crosses Manor Lane, an old farm track and again forms a boundary – between the WJ Scudamore homes of Thornwood Road, a Lewisham Council sheltered scheme off Manor Lane and later more Scudamore homes on Manor Park.  This was a largely rural area until Hither Green station was build in the 1890s, there was a junction there from the 1860s, as the 1870 map below  on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland) shows. This part of Lee was still used for market gardening, mainly run from Manor Farm, until the Scudamores built homes of what was marketed as the Manor Park Estate..
Over the other side of Manor Park the river turns almost 90 degrees, to flow between more gardens, between Manor Park and Longhurst Road, briefly visible by peering around a bridge on one side of Staplehurst Road – close to the shops posted about earlier in 2017.  Just before the bridge the river is joined by one of its tributaries, Hither Green Ditch (Quaggy Hither Green).
The river continues northwards, squeezing between the gardens of Manor Park (the street) and the northern end of Longhurst Road before opening out into Manor Park (the park rather than the street).  The park’s rejuvenation has been covered before in Running Past, the former small pig farm has gone from one of Lewisham’s worst bits of open space to one of its best.  The Park has become a community hub – centred around the Arts Cafe.  The river itself is used much more – including the annual Quaggy Duck Race and the Float Your Boats event in June 2017, pictured below.
The Quaggy itself while having a ‘natural’ feel at the end of the back gardens of Leahurst Road, was concrete encased and hidden from the park on  the opposite bank.   Flooding used to be common in this area – in the mid-1960s, the then MP for the area Chris Chataway described residents as living ‘in fear of this wretched stream.
At the edge of the Park, there is a bridge – while the structure is a new one, the crossing an old one – it was the final section of Hocum Pocum Lane – an ancient path from Lee High Road to St Mary’s Church, and possibly beyond.
We’ll leave the Quaggy here for its final section to its confluence with the Ravensbourne in Lewisham.
Notes
  1. Ken White (1992) ‘The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham’ Part 6a, p134

Following the Quaggy – Sutcliffe Park to Lee Green

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.  Most recently, we left he river at on the south side of Eltham Green Bridge, by an old London County Council sign, wondering about how to moor a boat there.

North of the bridge, over Eltham Road, is Sucliffe Park; until the early 20th century the area was farmland, The Quaggy meandered through the fields as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).  Woolwich Borough Council acquired the land just after World War 1.  It was named after the then Borough Engineer (1).

The meanders had been removed by the time that the Ordnance Surveyors cartographers visited again in 1938 and encased in concrete – as the map below shows (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland). The river was completely enclosed at some stage during the post war period, Ken White believed it to be around 1970 (2) although several on Facebook threads thought it was much earlier than this.

The look that remained until the current Millennium was of a flat, featureless park (apart from the athletics track that is home to Cambridge Harriers, whose early history was covered a while ago.  It was reminiscent of a miniature Hackney Marshes (Photo below on a Creative Commons via Restoring Europe’s Rivers wiki)

In Facebook threads on upstream posts, there were lots of memories of playing in the Quaggy and culverts around the Park, seemingly including some of the streams that join the Quaggy – notably Well Hall Stream.

This all changed in 2002. A new meandering channel was created for the Quaggy, close to its pre-1930s course, albeit at a slightly lower level, with the park itself being remodelled to create a flood plain able to store 85,000 m³  with a series of boardwalks, viewing points and a large pond. The old channel was retained for extreme flood situations and flow can be switched to it when the storage in the park is full (above, right photograph).

The park which used to be rarely visited other than for weekend football is now a well-used focal point and reconnecting the community with the river and its natural environment – it is often held up as an excellent example of urban river management. Unlike other parts of the Quaggy’s catchment, it is beginning to be used as a place of play and discovery – children can sometimes be seen jumping across the river, there were reminiscences about doing this in Mottingham, feeding ducks on the pond along with the occasional sightings of fishing nets and buckets.

The Quaggy was originally joined by Well Hall Stream in the park, although when followed a while ago, there was little evidence of any current flow.

The river goes through some complex engineering that can shut off the flows in periods of high water, and re-emerges the other side of Kidbrooke Park Road in the playing fields of John Roan School.  Here too the river has changed, the concrete encasement had continued west of the road, I remember having to scramble down angled concrete to fish out footballs from the river during my sons’ Saturday morning football practice there. 

The Quaggy is theoretically joined by Lower Kid Brook (above) opposite a rather impressive Woolwich Borough marker (below left), or rather it isn’t any more – the flow was probably diverted into the Quaggy three hundred metres to the east in Sutcliffe Park.

Beyond John Roan playing fields, the river is sandwiched between Lyme Farm Road estate, which replaced Victorian housing, and Crofton Albion FC.  It emerges out into the public gaze again at Weigall Road where the 1903 boundary markers from Woolwich had again been busy (above right).

Over the road, to the south, there is another series of playing fields – the first is a public one, Weigall Sports Field which was once home to Ravensbourne Athletic Club’s grass running track.  It was part of a residential club and sports centre for employees of Cook, Son and Co (St Pauls) Ltd. which was a clothing wholesale company – the building faces on to Eltham Road (see above) and was completed in 1912.  Prior to then there were newspaper reports of them being based in Ladywell Fields, hence the name from a different catchment.  The building on Eltham Road was requisitioned for World War 1 billeting but returned to its former use after the War.  It continued as this until after World War Two when it was converted into flats – it is now part of Ravens Way (perhaps a shortening of the club’s name) (3).

Its next door neighbour is the Bowring Group Sports Ground (below), although its days in recreational use are probably numbered as it seems to have been acquired for  a ‘Free’ School.

The northern banks of the Quaggy also used to have playing fields, the just post war Ordnance Survey map shows cricket grounds (on a Creative Commons from National Library of Scotland.) The outlines of the fields are still there and indeed the derelict remains of one the pavilions remains.  The formerly manicured grounds have been largely abandoned and now form part of the Weigall Road flood defence and storage, although the intention has always been dual use.

It isn’t meant to be an accessible area, but fences on Weigall Road and Blackheath Park are always porous enough for the runner of a smaller stature to enter without having to resort to contortions or scaling boundaries.  It the last long section of the river where the Quaggy has a bucolic feel – it probably hasn’t changed much since the fields by the river were used as the venue for the horse racing of the Lee Races in the first half of the 19th century.

The flood defences have a second fence to prevent the fluvial flâneur but in a period of low flow they proved to be of limited deterrent.  Apparently the Weigall Road storage will hold 65,000 m³ of water.

There is/was probably a small tributary joining around here.  There is very boggy ground just south of the derelict pavilion, more standing water in wetter seasons but still pooling in a very dry Spring.  There is an occasionally running stream which forms the boundary between the fields, in recent years I have only seen water there in the very wet winter of 2013/14.

On Facebook pages relating to upstream posts, there are fond memories of playing in and on the banks of the Quaggy in these parts – there still sometime cross river swings with a ducking for those with poor grips, although none have been noticed for a year or two.

Beyond the Weigall Road flood storage area, the Quaggy briefly disappears before being bridged by Meadowcourt Road and then flowing onwards towards Osborne Terrace.  The river is then bridged by Lee Road, there was only a footbridge until as late as the 1860s, as the 1863 published 25″ Ordnance Survey shows (on a Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland). The road bridge was certainly there by the time the cartographers returned in 1893.

 

This was an area of flooding – Hastead reported depths of 10′ (3 metres) in the 18th century and FW Hart reporting similar depths after the rapid thaw following the bitterly cold 1813/14 winter, there was flooding over a wide area including a lot of Lee Park.  Hart reported flooding being a regular occurrence in the early 19th century with a Bromley farmer drowning in 1830.

 

There is another Woolwich marker from 1903 by the bridge, only someone has chiselled out – the borough name, perhaps they were going to return and add Greenwich, but they never did.  Next to the bridge there is a pipe with water entering the Quaggy, with a Lewisham Natureman stag ‘grazing’ next to it, this is the diverted Mid Kid Brook.  On the opposite bank, there is a ghost sign for a ‘carver and gilder’ (more here), oddly hidden by the current cafe owners.  We’ll leave the river here for another day.

Notes

  1. Ken White (1999) The Quaggy & Its Tributaries p25
  2. ibid p25
  3. John Coulter (1997) Lewisham and Deptford in Old Photographs: A Third Selection

 

Following the Quaggy – Chinbrook Meadows to Eltham Bridge

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley and through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.

We left the Quaggy in a concrete channel coming out of Chinbrook Meadows.  A small weir lowers the level of the river bed as it exits the park, it is not to provide a more natural bed though, the notched river bed gives way to a flat one but it is still concrete – attempting to quickly move the water on, as was de-rigour in the 1960s.  The river isn’t completely barren at this point – some small plants are clinging onto an existence but struggling to put down any roots.

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It is in a clear valley as it crosses Chinbrook Road, with climbs up to both Grove Park Station and the Grove Park and Chinbrook housing estates (both covered by the excellent Municipal Dreams blog).  But that is about as natural as it gets – while the shape of the banks and the bed change the concrete seems to remain as the Green Chain Path follows its eastern bank, it is a path that it marked on early Ordnance Survey maps (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)

 

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The path emerges out onto what used to be called Claypit Lane but is now called Marvels Lane.  The road is bridged and heads towards the entrance to some playing fields – this isn’t how it has always been though.  As the Ordnance Survey map above from the 1890s shows, there used to be a small pool and a distinct meander at this point – taking  the Quaggy in front of the former agricultural workers cottages – Sydenham Cottages (below) – presumably for Claypit Farm (just off map, although no longer marked by the 1890s).

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There was serious flooding there – notably in 1968 – which seems to have led the channelisation and straightening of the river.  The Quaggy encased in concrete is now more or less devoid of life at this point.  Its former meander is now the Sydenham Cottages nature reserve which despite its river bank location has almost no trace of wetland habitat remaining.

The straight channel is slightly disturbed opposite the nature reserve with a concrete access ramp (see above left photograph) – this has led to some fluvial deposits in the slowest moving bits of the river.  Plants have colonised the sediments, but it is a precarious existence, without deep roots, they could be lost to the next high flow.

Opposite the nature reserve, and clearly visible from it is the outflow, just above the river level, one of the tributary streams joins the Quaggy, Grove Park Ditch – which rises in Marvels Wood and has an attractive 400 metres through woodland and park edge before being forcibly submerged around the edge of the Chinbrook Estate and then the playing fields of the former Fairy Hall – which gave its name to another stream in the Quaggy catchment, Fairy Hall Flow.

The river is followed by the Green Chain Path for another hundred metres or so before the path veers off to the right towards Mottingham Lane and the last home of WG Grace.  For those following the river as a walk this is the way to head and then re-join the Quaggy near at the junction with Winns Avenue.

For most of the 20th Century the former over spill Greenwich Union Workhouse, Grove Park Hospital, dominated the area – its land went up to the banks of the Quaggy – the slight valley is clear from the postcard below (source eBay November 2016).

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The location both as a workhouse and in its early days as a hospital, led to its under use as it away from the urban area.  It spent time as a military barracks and hospital during World War 1 ( see post card below – eBay May 2016) but was a TB and chest hospital for most of its ‘life’, although latterly became a mental health institution – the development of care in the community and associated hospital closure programme meant that its days were numbered.  It closed in 1994 and is now a mixture of a private health club and housing.

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There used to be a second meander, in what were the grounds of Grove Park Hospital but that too was removed presumably at the same time as that of Sydenham Cottages.  The meander is easy to see on the ground, next to the former hospital is a private leisure centre through whose ground there is access to a scrubby field that gently slopes down to the river, the path to it, which traverses a broken down bit of chain link fencing, is easy to miss though.  The former meander is a jungle of brambles which proved something of an obstacle to the bare-legged urban explorer.  A little further along the path that loops around the unkempt grass, the Quaggy is reachable and seems almost back to its semi-rural state last seen on Tong Farm, several miles back upstream.  It is but a brief interlude though – the Wates developed houses on the former Melrose Farm soon appear on the western bank and the river is left to flow behind the gardens of Westdene Avenue and Jevington Way.

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On the eastern bank is Hadlow College, which was once the site of a large Victorian house, Mottingham Hall.  For a while, the site was the Macintyre Nature Reserve – part of an organisation that provided support for people with mental health disabilities, it then became an outpost of Phoebes Garden Centre, before being taking on by Hadlow College.  Contours would suggest that there may have been at least one stream joining the Quaggy in this area.

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The Quaggy emerges into the public gaze by the side of the entrance to the College, still with natural banks, although one is lost as it hugs the side of Mottingham Lane before flowing through a shiny new screen to prevent blockages in a section under the Lane.  The opposite side of the road is then meandered against, with the fields of Mottingham Riding School on the other side, before a confluence with one of the Quaggy’s larger tributaries, the Little Quaggy close to the Sidcup by-pass (below, right.)

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In several Facebook threads there are memories of playing in the river in this area, catching sticklebacks and taking them home in jam jars, going through the underground sections of the river both under Mottingham Lane and the braver ones under the A20. Others used to play ‘Quaggy jumping’ in this area near the now closed Dutch House pub. ‘It was always a triumph when you reached the other side without getting wet shoes, good days.’

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Any feelings of ‘rus in urbe’ are soon lost after crossing the A20, while edged by grass and trees on initially scrubland and then a series of sports grounds, the concrete bed and banks return in their bleakest form anywhere on the river, any remaining sticklebacks would be hard pressed to find food.  The concrete course is almost as straight as a Roman road as it bypasses playing fields including the new home of Greenwich Borough FC, whose previous permanent ground, Harrow Meadow, adjacent to the Quaggy in Sutcliffe Park was lost to developers in 2009 – and they had a nomadic existence for a few years.  On the opposite bank, until the early 1930s, would have been the Middle Park Farm – like Horn Park Farm it was originally site one of the Eltham Palace’s hunting parks.

The river then squeezes between back gardens and is bridged the South Circular – on the south side it is shielded by a wall of a height that makes visibility of the flow impossible; on the northern side while the parapet was lower the overhanging shrub on both sides of the river meant that the flow was still invisible. It emerges back into the open at Eltham Bridge.  This is an area that is still subject to flooding – over 20 houses were flooded around Christmas 2013.  Before leaving the Quaggy there for another day a stop at the Bridge is worth making; it has an old London County Council sign with a wide variety of rules relating to bridges it controlled up until 1965.  Mooring a vessel at Eltham Bridge would be quite challenging though …..

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Following the Quaggy – Sundridge Park to Chinbrook Meadows

In earlier posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, leaving the river just after it had appeared from the dominant bulk of the railway cutting on Sundridge Avenue.  Almost as soon as it arrived into the open it was to disappear into Sundridge Park – which is largely out of bounds for the fluvial flâneur.

Sundridge Park is an old country estate – there had been a three storey brick house on the southern bank of the Quaggy which had been home to a succession of wealthy Londoners.  The estate was remodelled by Humphrey Repton in the late 18th century – this included creating a Pulhamite grotto on the hillside close to the current house (see comment from Sarah below). It seems likely that Repton, the preeminent landscape gardener of his generation, was responsible for culverting the Quaggy through much of the grounds – certainly early Ordnance Survey maps (on creative commons from National Library of Scotland) which were surveyed well before the golf courses were built  have the Quaggy largely hidden, only reappearing for a lake just below the House.  Part of the culverting was removed during the 20th century.

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As well as hiding the river, Repton was also responsible for the demolition of the original house, which was located south of the river, around 1792 and a new house was designed by James Wyatt for Edward George Lind and built between 1792 and 1795. Lind sold the estate to (Sir) Claude Scott in 1796, and he employed the prominent Georgian architect John Nash to make additions in 1799.  It is an impressive Grade I building (see below – source eBay February 2017), although the extensive conference centre it is now part of it, somewhat detracts from it.

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The Park itself is notable for its lack of public rights of way, there are no public footpaths traversing the pair of golf courses of the Sundridge Park golf club (although the Green Chain Walk skirts part of the western course) which was opened by the then Prime Minister Balfour in 1902 on land leased from the Scotts.  The valley of the Quaggy is clear on this early postcard of Sundridge Park (source eBay November 2016).

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While the golf courses make the park largely out of bounds for the (sub)urban explorer, access was negotiated for following Milk Street Ditch at the northern end of the Park along with some slightly less legitimate looking for the unnamed tributaries of the Quaggy elsewhere on the ‘estate’, the Sundridge Park Ditches.  ‘Ditch’ should not be seen as a derogatory term, it is just the local term for a small stream. The photographs below show the river upstream and downstream from Milk Street Ditch.

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Once out of the Park the river is culverted under New Street Hill  and flows, submerged through part of the 1930s suburbia, an area originally known as Hall’s Farm Estate after the farm whose land was lost to development.  While the Quaggy is submerged, it is clear in a valley and the course is followed above ground by tracks to what seem to be largely abandoned garages – too small for 21st century vehicles. The Quaggy is joined by another unnamed ‘Ditch’ which follows one of the streets of the estate Leamington Avenue.

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The Quaggy re-emerges into the open in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows (top left below) before being encased in concrete to take it under the towering mass of the mainline out of Grove Park.  A few metres into its tunnel it is joined by another tributary – Border Ditch – whose last metres are behind the fencing in the bottom right hand photograph.

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The emergence again into the open is initially bounded by concrete but then gently meanders through the main part of Chinbrook Meadows.  This was not always the case – early Ordnance Survey maps (on creative commons from National Library of Scotland) suggest a straightening to allow for easier cultivation in pre-development Grove Park. Worse was to come for the Quaggy, after the farmland was turned into a Park – the river was given concrete banks which discouraged any flora or fauna and hedging was planted which almost prevented park users from even viewing the river. It was a waterway disconnected from its environment and the population around it.  This all changed in 2002 and the Quaggy was taken out of its concrete culvert and allowed a naturalised bed to flow in.

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The changes help mitigate flood risk and allow the banks to be overflowed and excess water to be safely retained within the park, slowing flows and reducing the likelihood of flooding downstream.

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Before leaving Grove Park a brief detour a few metres is worth making, to the Peace Garden – an area opened in 2009 by one of Grove Park’s most famous residents, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – some of whose early ministry was as an Honorary Curate at St Augustine’s between 1972 and 1975.

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We’ll leave the Quaggy at this point with a stark reminder of how it used to be – a barren concrete channel.

The Sundridge Park Ditches – Tributaries of the Quaggy

Sundridge Park is an area which formerly had several streams joining the Quaggy – there are a number of tell-tale sets of notched contour lines on modern Ordnance Survey maps heading towards Chin Brook, the local name for the Quaggy at the eastern end of the Park (it is again Kyd Brook at the western end).  Other than Milk Street Ditch and its own small tributary, which Running Past has already covered, none have allowed any blue selections by the Ordnance Survey cartographers, indicating current water, so the valleys may be historic, created in times when water tables were higher.

However, they become obvious when looking at Environment Agency flood risk maps (using the surface water option).

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All seem to be unnamed but I have referred to them as ‘Ditches’ – this is not to belittle them, far from it, it can be seen as bestowing significance on them – most of the named Quaggy tributaries in this area have the appellation ‘Ditch’ – Petts WoodMilk Street, Border and Grove Park.

There are several on the southern side of the railway – including the valley of parts of Sundridge Avenue, another which would have risen somewhere around Scotts Park Primary School.  There is a further one which is almost adjacent to St Joseph’s School – the latter (and probably the former) were used to feed a long gone boating lake, complete with boat house shown on the 1897 Ordnance Survey map below (source National Library of Scotland on a creative commons).

 

The location of the lake is obvious on the ground, well obvious to those who ignore the ‘private’ signs (but unlike the western branch of the Kyd Brook higher up in the catchment, there was no razor wire or indeed fencing to deter the fluvial flâneur.)  While a notice threatened ‘deep water’, the former lake was a rather dried-up shadow of its former self.

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There is another ‘Ditch’ just to the rear of Garden Road, the small valley is obvious on the road up to the clubhouse but not on the golf course viewed through the fencing at the bottom of the Garden Road.

The most obvious valleys are on the northern bank of Kyd Brook – one may have been diverted by the construction of Elmstead Woods station – the dark blue flood risk stops there, but the valley continues – there are clear notched contours just to the west of Rockpit Wood (see the area marked ‘Botany Bay’ on the 1919 OS Map on a National Library of Scotland creative commons, below).  The woods take their name from a small quarry, in which there have been found lots of fossils.  While no water is marked on the map below, there is a small stretch of azure on the Environment Agency map above – a small remnant of a past watercourse.

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There is certainly another ‘Ditch’ behind the Mansion, possibly a dammed stream creating a small pond on the hillside – a stream isn’t obvious from OS Maps but it features on the East Course golf course map adjacent to the 15th and 16th fairways, with a smaller arm from close to the Mansion. They probably wouldn’t be noticed by those playing the ‘demanding’ par 3 15th, hidden by the woodland to the right of the fairway .  While the confluence with the Quaggy is marked, I failed to spot it from my surreptitious run along the road up towards the Mansion.

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The deepest valley is one emerging opposite Milk Street Ditch – the source of this is in Elmstead Woods , the other edge of the wood is source to another tributary – Fairy Hall Flow.  This is clear on the ground, close to Grove Park Cemetery; with two small ditches coalescing at a screen in a small dip on the Green Chain Walk.  While I haven’t seen any water there for a while, I certainly remember small channels flowing alongside the path in wetter seasons.  The combined flow, when it flows, would take it under a corner of Grove Park Cemetery and then at a slight dip in the path crosses the Green Chain Walk just before it enters Elmstead Woods.  There is the ferrous presence of a manhole cover allowing access to the occasional stream in a small dip in the path going back towards Chinbrook Meadows allowing access before it reaches the railway.

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The railway bars its way and the Flood Risk Map (above) suggests that it may have flooded in the past – there seems to have been a new concrete structure built which presumably ushers the wrong kind of water away from the tracks.

There appear to be remnants of the stream adjacent to the 10th fairway on the West Course – visible on the fly-through of the course.

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I had hoped to be able to see the valley when tracking Milk Street Ditch’s short traverse of the golf course but the last vestiges of autumnal colours prevented a clear enough view.

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