Prior to the arrival of the railways, Hither Green and Lee were rural, a mixture of farming – such as Lee Manor Farm to the east and North Park Farm to the west of what is now Hither Green Station and the large country houses of Lee including the Manor House and The Firs. The railways directly and indirectly brought lots of new inhabitants, although the distances travelled and the modes of transport changed considerably in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Running Past has touched on Victorian migration before in numerous posts, notably those around shopping parades – such as 1 to 19 Burnt Ash Road, where the family histories of the shopkeepers have been explored. However, in the first of what will be a series of posts, we look at Victorian migration through several streets starting with what was a working class street then called Robertson Street, now Brightfield Road.
It is a street that we have looked at before in a couple of posts on its history – the period when it was Robertson Street and after it changed its name in the late 1880s. It was one of the earlier developments of smaller houses in the area, built around 1862 by the builder and developer John Pound. Its purpose seems to have been to house workers that Pound needed to build larger homes along what was then Burnt Ash Lane (now Road and Hill) towards Grove Park.
By 1881 it was an established community – as we saw in the earlier post, male employment still focused on the building industry, the women of the street were generally working too – mainly employed in washing, ironing and cleaning for the middle classes of the wealthier streets.
So where had these people come from? Census records for 21 houses, then numbered 30 – 50, have been looked at in terms of birthplaces. There were 33 households in those houses with 72 adults and 54 children. We’ll look at the adults first.
Given that the area had been developing since the early 1850s and the street since 1862, it is slightly surprising how few of the Robertson Street adults had been born in Lee, only 6 (8%), with the same number hailing from either neighbouring Lewisham or Blackheath.
21% came from established communities along the Thames from Chelsea to Woolwich via Deptford. Another half dozen (8%) from the rest of what was then London – so, in total, only just under a half were Londoners by birth.
Much of the migration though was relatively local – almost 1 in 5 (19%) came from the rural communities of Kent and Surrey, including many towns and villages now subsumed into London such as Eltham, Bromley and Chislehurst – all were separate in 1881.
The equal biggest group (21%) came from East Anglia – almost all from rural communities, many from hamlets which have now almost disappeared. They are plotted on the map below.
The rest came from either the Home Counties (4%) or from a variety of other locations around southern England plus one from Wales and one who was off map who was born in an unknown location in Scotland.
Their children were very different though – of the 54, 40 had been born in Lee and, of the rest, all but three were Londoners.
One of the longer distances travelled were by a couple from North Norfolk, the Harpers. Charles Harper was a bricklayer at number 42 who came from Roydon near Kings Lynn around 110 miles from Lee. Born in 1846 he was still in Roydon in 1861, aged 14, working as a bricklayer, probably with his father who was in the same trade. A decade later he was married to Elizabeth, who was from nearby Hunstanton in Norfolk. They had moved to London and were living at 18 Summerfield Street in Lee with Charles still working as a bricklayer, the street is pictured below. Like the houses in Robertson Street, they were built and rented out by John Pound many housing the labour for his building firm.
The family was still in Lee in 1891 – living at 7 Manor Lane, possibly working for WJ Scudamore, whose base was a couple of doors away (pictured below from 2015). Beyond 1891 the trail goes cold on them though. Like most of their neighbours in Robertson Street, all of their six children were born in Lee.
A later post will look at migration to one of the wealthier streets of Victorian Lee, probably Handen Road, to see whether the patterns of migration are different there.
Census and related data comes via Find My Past, subscription required
The maps have been created via Google Maps using 1881 census data
In the first part of this post, we explored the 19th century history of Brightfield Road from its building as Robertson Street to its extension and renaming in the 1880s. We turn now to the 20th century and beyond, looking in particular at how the street fared in the World Wars.
We pick up the story with the 1901 census; the street had changed in the late Victorian period from homes for the building trades employed by John Pound, and other local builders, as well as for servants for the large houses in Lee, to a wider mixture of working class occupations. Looking at the lower numbers at the eastern end of the street, little had changed by 1901 with a mixture of working class jobs such as road mender, carpenter, horse keeper and coachman (this excludes the shops which we will return to in a later post).
The average size of households had reduced to 5.3 (from 5.8 a decade before) mainly as a result of slightly fewer households taking in lodgers and/or houses being split between households. This was much smaller than the numbers in the not dissimilar homes in Ardmere Road in Hither Green which were built at around the same time.
There was little change by 1911, although the average household size dropped again to 4.5. The nature of the jobs was little different though – manual trades and still lots relating to horse based transport.
The street fared badly in World War One, many of the sons, brothers and husbands of the households were either volunteers or conscripts to fight on the battlefields of France and Belgium – eight of them never returned home to Lee all were buried in cemeteries or remembered on memorials close to where they died.
William Upton of number 42 was a Driver in the Royal Engineers and died on 13 March 1918. He was a labourer in civvy street and was around 25 when he died; he was buried at Sailly-Labourse Cemetery in France.
Sidney George Munday lived five doors up from William Upton at 52, he was a Private with The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He was 21 when he died on 14 April 1918 and is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.
William Henry Church had lived just over the road at 33, he was just 20 when he died serving as a Private in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) on 18 September 1916. He was buried at Etaples Military Cemetery in northern France.
Willie J Church was just 18 when he died on 6 June 1918, serving as a Private in the London Regiment. He is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery in France. He lived at number 85, it isn’t clear whether he was related to William Henry Church.
Arthur John Cobb will have known Willie, as he lived two doors away at 89 with his wife Gertie. They served in the same Regiment too. Arthur died on 18 February 1917 and was buried in France at Merville Communal Cemetery Extension.
Alfred William Meggs lived seven doors down at 75, he was 20 and serving as a Corporal with the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) when he died on 3 October 1916. He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial, pictured above.
William George Bickle had lived five doors away at 65, he died two days after Christmas in 1915 aged just 16, the youngest on the street to perish. He shouldn’t have been there but, probably like Willie Church he will have lied about his age – soldiers needed to be 18 to sign up and 19 to be sent abroad as we saw with Herbert Burden from Catford who was shot for desertion aged just 17.
As World War Two broke out, the numbers living in the smaller houses at the eastern end of Brightfield Road were probably the lowest that there had ever been in the street’s existence – an average of just 2.9 people per home. A large chunk of this related to the evacuation of children in September 1939, just before the ‘census’ for rationing purposes was taken, the 1939 Register. However, even taking this into account household size had reduced with very few lodgers and a lot more houses just inhabited by couples and single people. This will probably be at least in part as a result of limited non-contributory pensions being paid from 1909.
Since 1911 all the horse related trades had disappeared and the eastern end of the street was home to several involved in train, lorry and tram related transport. There were several working at the Royal Arsenal making armaments. Very few had the ‘Heavy Work’ suffix to their role which would have allowed them to have larger rations though. The difference with Ardmere Road here is significant. A slightly smaller proportion of women worked to 28 years before in 1911, but the trades were little more diverse – still mainly shop, laundry and work and dressmaking though.
There were a couple of nights heavy bombing in early December 1940, on the nights of the 8th and 9th of December. Given the significance of these nights in the area we’ll return at some point but several houses had incendiary bombs hit them – 19, 20, 22, 43, 46, 52, 60, 113 and 123. All seemed to have been put out and the houses remain. There was a high explosive bomb that seems to have landed in the rear garden of 95 without causing too much damage.
Just after Christmas incendiary bombs rained down on Brightfield Road with 32, 34, 42, 43, 49, 63 and 83 all hit by them (some are pictured below) – the fires were put out by wardens and the inhabitants, but many of the roofs were damaged.
Early in 1941 there was a high explosive bomb that hit the roadway close to the bridge over the Quaggy, several houses were destroyed or had to be demolished due to the resulting major gas explosion (1). The damage is the darker colours is shown on the bottom left hand corner of the map below (2). No one died with only two requiring optional treatment but there was widespread damage in terms of broken windows and major structural damage to houses up to 100 metres away (3).
On the odd side, 103 – 107 were never replaced and the gap was used to form an entrance to Manor House Gardens. Over the road, whilst the last house, 92 (at the left of the photograph) survived, 84 to 90 didn’t and they were replaced by private sector housing after the war.
So who lives there now? While it isn’t possible to use census data from 2011 just for the street there is a Output Area that relates to most of the street, along with Lampmead Road. The employment categories are very different to the census data that we have looked at before. The main employment types of the 196 residents in employment were shops (7%), finance, insurance and banking (10%), professional and scientific (13%), education (19%) and health (7%). It will be interesting to see what changes there are when the 2021 Census results are collated.
Most of the homes seem to be owner occupied homes – although there are eight or nine owned by property companies letting the homes and three are let by social landlords. The change is massive compared with when the homes were built as Robertson Street when virtually all will have been privately rented.
Certainly rising house prices will make affordability nigh on impossible for the sort of people that lived there before World War Two. One of the bigger houses was sold for £842,500 in 2020 – now single-family dwellings, when built they had been ‘conveniently arranged for two families. Let to very respectable tenants at 12/- a week’ in 1892 (4).
One of the smaller houses sold for just under £500,000 just before the first lockdown.
We will return to Brightfield Road at some point in the future to look at the shops that used to be on the street.
Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming of Age in Wartime London, Peter Owen p51
Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p116
Willmott op cit p51
Kentish Mercury 25 July 1892
Permission has been given by the copyright owners of the Bomb Damage Maps, the London Metropolitan Archives to use the image here, it reamins their copyright
All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
The photographs of the VE Day party is part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright;
Streets having their names changed is nothing unusual – we’ve covered it a couple of times before with Dermody Road (formerly Hocum Pocum Lane), Waite Davies Road (formerly (Butterfield Street). Similarly, on the other side of Lee High Road the bottom of Dacre Park was previously known as Turner Road. Like the second two examples, there is fading evidence of a painted street sign bearing the earlier name. However, it isn’t as easy to decipher the former name, Robertson Street, due to multiple layers of faint paint, re-pointing and a burglar alarm. In a pair of blog posts we’ll tell the history of the street – from its building to the present day.
The builder of the original part was someone we’ve covered several times before, John Pound, mainly in relation to his house building but also shops on Burnt Ash Road, pubs and Lee Public Halls. The street was built by Pound around 1862 (1), with applications made to the Board of Works that March for drainage connections. The land was owned by Lord Northbrook, although it doesn’t seem to have been farmed as part of Lee Manor Farm – it isn’t in the farm map of 1846 – and the estate seems to have retained the freehold post development (2) as permission was sought from Lord Northbrook’s agent for some work.
The homes were unlike most of those in the rest of the area at the time. The arrival of the railway in Blackheath had seen substantial homes with space for servants built to the north of Lee High Road. The function of these smaller houses was similar to those in Lee New Town – providing homes for the servants who didn’t ‘live-in’ and working classes of mid-Victorian Lee. There was another function too, large-scale housing development in what was then suburbia needed somewhere for the building labourers and trades to live in an era without cheap public transport. Pound seems to have done the same around Waite Davies Road and Summerfield Street for his brickworks in South Lee. It was a pattern followed by Cameron Corbett with houses in Sandhurst Road a few decades later.
Pound also seems to have built the neighbouring Hedgely Street – he made an application for sewer connections in 1868 (3). The street was adopted and paved in 1871 at a cost of 4/6d on the rates for occupiers – not the landlord (4).
So, who were the early occupants? We’ll look at the first 20 houses in the 1871 census, the first census they appeared in; while the numbers appeared as consecutive in the census reports it isn’t clear whether this was the case on the ground. The numbering is now odds and evens. The shops have been ignored for now, but may be returned to in a later post.
The majority (52%) of heads of household were working in the building trade, mainly skilled trades with the remainder split between various forms of domestic service and other trades. Relatively few of the women worked, but those who did, tended to be listed in the census as charwoman or laundress. While not in in the houses reviewed in detail, elsewhere in the street there were farm labourers housed – presumably still working at either Burnt Ash, Lee Manor or Horn Park which were all still working at that stage.
Almost half of the houses were either home to two households or took in a lodger, there were some very overcrowded homes as a result – 13 lived at no 17 for example. Almost all the households had children.
A decade later the average number in each house was 6.7 (it had been 5.5 in 1871), mainly due to an increase in lodgers and shared houses. More women were working, although the trades were mainly around washing, ironing and cleaning. Male employment had changed little too, the majority working in the building trades.
Unsurprisingly, there was some crime relating to the street, a fair amount of it alcohol related. John Mahoney had to be removed by heavies from the Tiger’s Head for being drunk and aggressive. He then went over the road to what is now referred to as the New Tiger’s Head, but press reports called the Little Tiger, where he was arrested after falling asleep drunk. He then violently assaulted the arresting officer for which he spent 6 weeks in prison (5).
Robert Stow was found guilty of assaulting a police officer after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly outside the nearby Duke of Edinburgh – his defence was that he didn’t know it was a policeman and that he’d had too much rum to drink cut no ice with the magistrates. He was fined 20/- or 2 weeks in prison (6).
Theft wasn’t completely absent though – Thomas Upton (23) a labourer from 19 Robertson Street charged with stealing 25 hens from Blackheath Park and then selling them in Greenwich. He was sent to prison for 14 days (7).
The western side of the terrace backed not onto the Quaggy, as it does now, but onto a path from that broadly followed what is now Aislibie Road. After the floods in 1878 and probably also to allow better development of the land that was to form Lampmead Road, the Quaggy was deepened, straightened and took the route of the path. The differences are clear between the 1863 (top map below) and 1893 visits of the Ordnance Survey Cartographers.
The extension of the street to the northern side of the Quaggy seems to have happened around 1885 following the piecemeal sale of the Lee House estate. The builder may well have been George Mitchell; he made the application for connecting the new homes Brightfield Road to the existing sewers in what was still referred to as Robertson Street. John Pound asked for money for the connection (8). It is assumed that these would be the homes that are now numbered 109 to 127 Brightfield Road (some of which are pictured below), but could have been those to the south over the Quaggy.
Three years later a decision was made by the Metropolitan Board of Works in March 1888 to change street names in the area. It seems that Lampmead Road was created, it had originally been a dog-leg of Lenham Road going towards Lee High Road. The biggest change was in relation to Brightfield Road – from 1883 it had run from Old Road and then dog-legged around to the new homes built by George Mitchell. The section from Old Road now became Aislibie Road and Brightfield Road, while shortened to the north took expanded over the river and Robertson Street was no more (9). In addition to the remains of the painted sign, a stone one remains and is now part of a garden wall.
The new Brightfield Road had changed a lot by 1891 compared with the last census for Robertson Street. John Pound’s building work had finished in the area and only 8% of the heads of household at the eastern end of the street were working in the building industry, just over a third were servants – mainly jobs relating to horses with the remainder a wide variety of manual jobs. As was the case a decade earlier a lot of the women worked – mainly as dressmakers and laundresses. Most households had children and most of the houses were either shared or homes to lodgers too – overcrowding remained, although it was less bad than in 1881 – the average was 5.8 rather than 6.7 a decade earlier.
There were a few sales of the houses which seemed to be all tenanted over the next few years. In 1892, 111 -125 (odds) were up for sale at auction. These are the larger houses backing on to Manor House Gardens, then let as a military crammer school before the House and Gardens were sold to the London County Council in 1898. The particulars of the sale of the houses in Brightfield Road noted the proximity to Lee and Blackheath stations. Each house was ‘conveniently arranged for two families. Let to very respectable tenants at 12/- a week.’ There were unexpired leases of 92 years (10).
Three years later some more of the later houses, 75-79 which were adjacent to the original houses were sold – they were advertised as being on long leases, having a weekly rent of 12/- and an annual ground rent of £5 (11).
The change in name didn’t stop crime relating to the street in 1897, Emma Agate was arrested for theft of a large number of garments from Lee Public Halls Steam Laundry (in early 2021 home to Travis Perkins off Holme Lacey Road) where she worked as an ironer, she was found with a number of pawn tickets. She denied the charges but was remanded in custody (12).
There were a couple of bigamy cases – William James was charged with bigamously marrying Mary Bator of number 61 in 1889 (13). Four years later, Walter Garland admitted to a bigamous marriage to Alexandra Taylor of 60 Brightfield Road (14).
We’ll leave Brightfield Road at the end of the 19th century, returning in the second part to cover the 20th century and beyond.
Kentish Mercury 22 March1862
Kentish Independent 01 June 1872
Kentish Independent 10 October 1868
Kentish Independent 16 December 1871
Kentish Mercury 18 June 1870
Kentish Mercury 30 October 1875
Kentish Independent 10 April 1886
Kentish Independent 02 May 1885
Kentish Mercury 9 March 1888
Kentish Mercury 25 July 1892
Kentish Mercury 29 September 1895
Woolwich Gazette 27 August 1897
Kentish Mercury 13 June 1890
Woolwich Gazette 27 April 1894
The maps are on a Non-Commercial Licence via the National Library of Scotland
All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
The photo of the stone sign is courtesy of Frederic Heffer