On a bend in Lee High Road going towards Lewisham from Lee Green an attractive late Victorian pub dominates. Currently badged the Dirty South, it has been empty since March 2020, seemingly a victim of COVID-19. It has some lovely architectural detail (including the original brass clock) and a fascinating history, most of it when called the Rose of Lee.
It is a pub that seems to have first opened its doors in 1859 with a licence granted to William Baker (1). The area around had started to be developed in earnest from the 1850s after the opening of Lewisham station in 1849, although there was earlier ribbon development along Lee High Road. The area that is now the Mercator Estate was developed in the 1850s and a Baptist chapel opened on the corner of Eastdown Park in 1854, along with Christ Church in Lee Park the same year. With the spiritual needs being met it is not surprising that there would be an attempt to meet the drinking requirements of the relatively wealthy locals.
The early years seemed to be a struggle for licencees and Henry Taunton took over in 1861 (2). By the autumn of the following year, possibly before, John Maywood Lee was there and had applied unsuccessfully for a music and dancing licence (3). The same application was repeated a year latter with a sympathetic local press noting a ‘strong case’ and no opposition, but the magistrate was unsympathetic (4).
Lee moved on by July 1864 with the 25 year old William Hart Wildee taking on the licence (5). He had previously had the licence of The Victory in Kingsland Road from 1861, which he seems to have inherited from his father (6).
Wildee seems to have wanted to make better use of the large space that the Rose of Lee offered – attempting to generate more regular income from the function room above. It was described in the press as a “ventilated room 75’ by 26’ ft (24 x 9 m) suitable for ‘first rate club or society.’” Its availability for excursion parties and bean feasts was noted too (7).
The magistrates seemed to take up the offer (8); in an era where few public buildings courts were often held in hotels and larger public houses, as we saw with the Green Man on Blackheath in relation to the Blackheath Pedestrian. The Rose of Lee was also regularly used for auctions – such as one for a range of building materials in June 1868 (9).
William Wildee attempted unsuccessfully to sell the lease in 1866 – the Rose of Lee was described as ‘a modern structure and replete with every convenience for carrying out a profitable trade’ (10). The implication seeming to be that while there was potential, money wasn’t being made.
Wildee’s tenure didn’t last much longer as it was cut short by his death in early 1867 at the Rose of Lee. His assets which included the lease passed to his wife, Harriet. While she took over the licence she sold up to George Taylor in the autumn of 1867 (11) – he was to be 6th name above the door in 8 years.
George Taylor’s tenure ended with eviction, although this seems to have been something of a formality as he was reported to have abandoned the pub and fled the country – perhaps with large debts and wanting to avoid the debtors’ prison. The Rose of Lee was left empty for a ‘considerable period’ before a new licensee arrived – the licence was granted to either someone called John Steib (12) or by John Scott, an experienced publican who had run two pubs before for a total of 10 years (13), depending on the newspaper.
John Steib was certainly a licensee there as he was replaced by James Philip Janes in 1872 (14). Janes would have been 21 when he took over the tenancy, he too struggled and by 1873 James Martin’s name was on the brass plate over the door (15). By early 1874 William Edgington was granted the licence after pub had been ‘closed’ by the late tenant, presumably Martin (16). Edgington’s tenure was even shorter, Walter Pool was the new landlord by September 1874 (17).
The Rose of Lee was becoming a graveyard for publicans some who had success elsewhere – James Janes did so elsewhere in Woolwich and New Cross and by the 1881 census he was living on Lewisham High Street and described as a ‘Retired Licensed Victualler’ and employing three servants.
Pool seemed to make a little more of go lasting until around 1879 before Edward Slater took over the licence (18). Slater, from Wednesbury in the Black Country, was there when the 1881 census enumerators called, along with two nieces and a barman. The licensee and owner (19) by 1886 was Frank Wilson though.
While music and dancing licences had been rejected in the 1860s, they had certainly been granted by the 1885. One of the relatively regular users of rooms there were Lewisham Hare and Hounds, a forerunner of Kent AC. The club had a handicapped race from their Hither Green Hall base (listed as Patches Lane, which seems to have been part of Hither Green Lane) with ‘smoking concert’ at the Rose of Lee afterwards (20). It was used by other sports clubs for similar purposes, including Blackheath and Lee Cricket Club (21).
Frank Wilson had taken over both the licence and the ownership of the Rose of Lee probably from around 1883 when one of his children was born in Lee. The family had spent time in Aden (now Yemen) before that. In the 1891 census Frank was there with his wife, Alice, six children and a barmaid – Ada Sidery. Ada was a local woman and was one of at least 12 children of the builder William Sidery and had grown up 100 metres down Lee High Road (next door to the Baptist Chapel, later site of Fry’s and Penfolds parts and servicing).
Frank Wilson sold up to Thomas Henry Cook in 1896 (22); Cook seems to have been behind the rebuilding of the Rose of Lee. Several prominent local pubs had been rebuilt in the late 1880s and 1890s – notably The Sultan, close to Lewisham, The Woodman further up Lee High Road, along with the Old and New Tigers Head pubs at Lee Green. Plans were submitted to the Parish surveyor in 1897 (23). However, it wasn’t until 1900 when plans were approved by local magistrates (24).
The changes seem to have enabled the pub to have a billiards club which saw regular exhibition matches, the were appearances from some of the well-known professional players of the day. In 1906 this included Bert Elphick (25) who was to become the Billiards Professionals’ Association Champion a few years later and Walter Lovejoy (26) who had recently turned professional after winning the amateur championship in 1904.
Other clubs and societies met there too – Lee Rovers Cycle Club (27) had already moved there from the alcohol free Jubilee Coffee Tavern near Lee Green. With the Lee Excelsior Musical Society (28) meeting there as well. The pub was home too to several Masonic Lodges, including the Lee Lodge of Instruction which had links to another lodge at Eltham Palace (29).
Cook was born in 1861 in the City and in the 1901 census was listed as being at the Rose of Lee living with his wife, Maud, four children, some extended family, two servants and four bar staff. Unless Thomas Cook was living way beyond his means, it seemed that the pub was a thriving business and had moved way beyond the trials and tribulations of his predecessors.
Cook was fined in 1903 for selling alcohol to a drunk, despite evidence to the contrary but the magistrates believed the police (30).
Cook must have moved on soon after as the 1905 Kelly’s Directory listed a Hugh William Shannon as being the landlord. Although Adrian Bailey had taken over by the end of 1905 (31) and like Cook, received a fine for selling alcohol to a drunk the following year (32).
Bailey there until December 1909 – the date was mentioned in case where his wife, Emily, was seeking divorce, citing cruelty. These were allegations that he denied, and the petition was dismissed (33). By the end of the war they were divorced though, Emily had moved in with a former regular at the Rose of Lee and Bailey, then an army Lieutenant, hired a private detective to get the evidence (34).
Thomas Robinson there in 1911 and is listed in the census with his wife, Edith, two young children, two servants, three bar staff and a boarder. The Robinsons had moved on by 1916 and Kelly’s listed George Poole as the man pulling pints.
George Poole and was to have his name in brass over the door until around the end of World War 2. Other than his 1939 Register entry, anything more of George’s life has proved difficult to track down – he was listed there as being born in 1872 and in 1939 was living there with his wife, Frances, a couple of bar staff and a cook.
By the 1945 Kelly’s Directory, the pub was listed as being run by Norriss Brothers, Caterers – who are listed until the early 1950s, after which the Directory doesn’t name who was there.
By the 1970s it was at least in part a music venue with bands playing regularly, its greatest claim to fame from this era was the first gig of Kate Bush in March 1977. The set list included a lot of covers including ‘Come Together’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Tracks Of My Tears’, but some of her own songs including ‘James And The Cold Gun’, ‘Saxophone Song’ and ‘Them Heavy People’ which all appeared on her debut album.
There were lots of fond memories of the pub in the 1970s and 1980s from a Facebook thread – the upstairs room used for wedding receptions, a landlord called Austin from the early 1980s who continued the tradition of live music, a short-lived gym in the function room, soul and R&B nights on Sundays, and, of course, the odd lock in – although how on earth that would have been hidden with the frontage, goodness knows….
In the 1980s it became a sports bar known variously as the Sports, Hobgoblin and Dirty South. It never seemed terribly inviting, a bar dominated by TV screens with a sparse number of drinkers looking out through the large windows. The landlords from the 1980s and beyond included Vickie & Steven Hill, Tony Coffey and Colin Taylor who ran the pub between 2001 and 2004 (there are several comments from Colin below, some of which has been included in the post).
From around 2004, the Rose of Lee re-invented itself as a rock and indie music venue, again badged as the Dirty South. It was a venue which attracted a younger audience, it always seemed busy around the weekend with DJ sets, which included the likes of Tim Burgess from the Charlatans and Terry Hall of the Specials.
There were lots of live acts too – this included some significant names from the era as two snapshots in time from Google StreetView in 2008 and 2009 note – posters outside included gigs for Bloc Party, Bombay Bicycle Club, the Levellers, The Yards (a band that evolved from The Seahorses), Domino Bones (a band that featured Bez from the Happy Mondays) and Babyshambles, filmed below – warning the music is loud and of not great sound quality. Alabama 3 also played there in 2010.
From around this time the upper floors started to be used for temporary housing hostel of various types – known as Rose House.
The pub was ransacked during the summer riots of 2011; while there main damage was to the windows at the front, it was enough to see the pub remained shut for around 5 years, with a full re-launch in 2017. It was a different clientele and age group it was aiming at – no longer primarily a music venue rather it seemed to have modelled itself on the same demographic as the seemingly successful Station Hotel on Staplehurst Road.
They offered a variety of fayre with an emphasis on food but music continued with jazz evenings and DJ sets, along with quiz nights and football on the TV. The shutters went up at the beginning of the first COVID-19 lockdown and never seemed to come off. Its website is no more, and the Facebook page has been silent since 7 March 2020.
At the time of writing in early 2021, the building is squatted and with metal grilles over the windows at the front It is a forlorn looking sight – it is owned by Wellington, a company controlled by the ultra-rich Reuben Brothers, its future, like much of the pub sector, appears very uncertain in the current environment.
If you worked there or drank there, tell your story, who were the characters who propped up the bar, the landlord, the staff, the atmosphere, the memorable nights, the particular celebrations that were held there, memories of the friends, the beers. Post them below (you can use your Facebook or Twitter login – or via Facebook (if you found the post via here) – if it is you first comment ‘here’, you will have to wait for ti to be ‘moderated’. I will update the post with comments. Anything libellous will get deleted here & no doubt on the Facebook Group pages.
- The Era 2 October 1859
- The Era 17 February 1861
- Kentish Mercury 04 October 1862
- Kentish Mercury 24 October 1863
- Morning Advertiser 11 July 1864
- Morning Advertiser 13 March 1861
- Morning Advertiser 3 August 1864
- Kentish Gazette 22 September 1868
- Morning Advertiser 27 June 1868
- Morning Advertiser 26 November 1866
- The Era – 17 November 1867
- Kentish Independent 19 August 1871
- Kentish Mercury 19 August 1871
- Morning Advertiser 12 February 1872
- Ken White (1992) The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham p236
- Kentish Mercury 16 May 1874
- White op cit p236
- ibid p236
- ibid p236
- The Sportsman 18 December 1885
- Kentish Mercury 14 January 1887
- Kentish Mercury 28 August 1896
- Kentish Independent 10 July 1897
- Kentish Mercury 11 May 1900
- Sporting Life 31 March 1906
- Sporting Life 5 May 1906
- Kentish Mercury 12 February 1897
- Kentish Mercury 08 November 1907
- Kentish Mercury 09 July 1909
- Kentish Mercury 27 February 1903
- Woolwich Gazette 15 December 1905
- Woolwich Gazette 30 March 1906
- Globe 9 November 1910
- Globe 23 July 1918
- All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
- The Kelly’s Directory data was accessed via Lewisham and Southwark Archives
- The modern photograph of the pub is via StreetView from 2019
- The Ordnance Survey maps are via the National Library of Scotland and are on a non-commercial licence
- I have no idea where the photo of the pub sign came from, if it is your’s do let me know so I can credit your photography (or take it down if you’d prefer).
A massive thank you to Colin Taylor, landlord at the pub in the early 2000s and with much longer connections to the pub for his input – filling in some details and correcting me on a few things.