Tag Archives: Sandhurst Road

The Bombing of Sandhurst Road School

Perhaps the most depressing and bleak of Lewisham’s World War Two memorials can be found in Hither Green Cemetery on Verdant Lane – it is to the 38 children and 6 teachers who perished in a daytime bombing of Sandhurst Road School on 20 January 1943.

The school between Minard and Ardgowan Roads had been opened in 1904 – midway through the development of the Corbett Estate – it was not that dissimilar to many of the era, including the one on Eltham’s equivalent Corbett Estate.  The opening ceremony was performed by the Chairman of the London County Council (LCC), J Williams Benn – grandfather of the late Labour politician Tony Benn. The LCC had just taken over responsibility for London’s Schools including those in Lewisham, from the London School Board.

While many children had been evacuated from London during the Blitz of 1940 and 1941 most had returned to the capital.  It was to be another 18 months before V-1 rockets started hitting south London.  There were though a few sporadic attacks designed to terrorise the civilian population in the intervening period – often in relation for Allied bombing raids on German cities – these became more organised towards the end of 1943 with Operation Steinbock.

The facts as to what happened are quite simple; it was lunchtime at Sandhurst Road School on 20 January 1943.  A group of 28 Focke-Wulf 190 Fighter-Bombers, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (totalling about 60 planes), had taken off at around noon in occupied northern France and had evaded air defences and one of them was able to fly low over Catford and Downham. One of the  Focke-Wulfs was seen over Downham Way spraying bullets towards those on the ground; soon after it flew over Ardogowan Road, just above the roofs of the Corbett Estate, it was carrying a single 500 kg bomb.

At just before 12:30 the plane flew over Sandhurst Road School, there were reports that the plane looped around the school with the pilot waving to children in the playground.  On the ground the bell for lunch had just gone – a few children heard a distant air raid warning siren.  Some pupils made their way to the air raid shelter – oddly a bricked up classroom on the second floor.  The sound of the plane was heard and a few outside realised that it had black crosses of the Luftwaffe.

The bomb was dropped and the children in the air raid shelter were

transformed from neatly dressed school girls into ghastly frightening creatures, covered all over in dust which was choking us too and some of us bleeding from cuts …somehow, there was no panic — just bewilderment. Choking, bleeding and with tears streaming down our faces, we made our way out of the shelter, over girders, plaster, bricks, wood, glass ….. through the debris … there was a huge smouldering gap below us were the bodies of those children (who had been queuing up for lunch), some dead, some dying, some in terrible pain.

Initially even some of the children started to try to help with the rescue effort before emergency services arrived on the scene, but by the evening

it seemed that every available man in the locality was there, digging, some with their bare hands, as was my brother, frantically searching for loved ones, hearts and hands torn. Boys in the services home on leave, digging, searching, all through the night. The Red Cross, the women in the church hall just across the road making tea, tending those brought into the hut, even the vicar in his shirt sleeves had been there since the search had begun. All with one motive, even if it meant constant danger from falling rubble — to get those little mites out.

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© IWM. Original Source– Non-commercial reproduction allowed

Despite the claims of the pilot waving at children there is some debate as to whether the pilot realised that it was a school – his report on the raid noted that the large building destroyed was block of flats.  However, other local schools though seem to have been attacked by machine gun in the raid, not necessarily by the same plane though, including at the nearby Catford Boys School and at Prendergast (then on Rushey Green) and a little further away on Ilderton Road, off the Old Kent Road.

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Source News Shopper

In addition to the attack on Sandhurst Road School and the indiscriminate machine-gunning of civilians, which killed six and injured fourteen, there were several other local bombings in the same raid – the recorded ones are serious damage to several houses in Woodlands Street, off Hither Green Lane; Woodham’s Yard on Sangley Road (covered in happier times in Running Past in 2017) took a direct hit with six perishing and 14 injured; and four houses were demolished in Glenfarg Road (1).

Most of the victims, 31 children and one of the teachers, Harriet Langdon, were buried together at Hither Green Cemetery in a civilian war dead plot a week later after a memorial service at St Andrew’s Church on Torridon Road.   The photograph of the crowded cemetery from the Illustrated London News, below (2), with the small coffins is perhaps the most poignant one relating to the bombing, much more so than those of the destruction to the school.

Equally moving was a description within one of the press reports from the Daily Herald (3) of one brief encounter with a 14 year old at the cemetery

“Children walked past the grave – snowdrops narcissi, anemones drifted over the silver name plates.

A girl twitched my coat.  She said “Can you see Rodney’s names down there?  I’ve brought violets for him. They’re the first from the garden.

She was June Jarrett.

When the school at Lewisham was hit, she spent hours searching in the debris for Rodney, her six-year-old brother.

Now with violets in her hand she sought him again.”

Unsurprisingly, most of the victims lived relatively close by, within a mile and a half or so of the school; there were still some who lived some distance away – their parents perhaps moving after the child had been admitted to the school. As has been noted in other posts on World War 2 bomb and rocket damage, despite the war there was still a lot of movement between homes in an area where the private rented sector was large and security of tenure limited, but obviously too because of damage to homes in the Blitz.  The biggest concentration was around  South Park Crescent where 5 of the victims lived.

The orange ‘pin’ marks the school, blue pins children, purple the homes of two siblings and red, the homes of the teachers who died (one is off map in Surrey).  The data came from the CWGC website.

There don’t seem to be any equivalent daytime attacks on Berlin schools by the RAF, although attacks tended to be at night time to avoid the German air defences.  There were in total just over 67,000 British civilian deaths during the war – a figure dwarfed by the numbers of ordinary Germans who died – estimates vary from 1.5 to 3 million, including thousands in the Charlottenburg area that Lewisham is now twinned with.  But it seems that this Terrorangriff, terror-raid, may have been a reprisal, demanded by Hitler, for a RAF bombing of Berlin on 17 January 1943.

That so many bombers got through the air defences without adequate warning and allowing such a catastrophic loss of young life to occur seems like an abject failure.  The Air Minister’s explanation was it was initially thought that the raid was heading for the south coast and it was policy not to send warnings to London unless it was certain that the raid was heading that way. Otherwise the Germans could have easily sent Londoners scurrying into shelters every few hours by sending planes over Kent.  It appears that of the 60 planes, it was a smaller group of around 12 that peeled off towards London which was initially missed and as a result warnings were late (4).

The school was rebuilt after the war and remains – there is a memorial garden of remembrance to the victims and a stained glass window.

There are several contemporary videos that include footage showing the devastation of the school, including this one.

There are some memories of a survivors of the attack in a documentary made to mark the anniversary of the start on World War 2.

Finally, it is worth remembering the names of those who died at the school

The children

  • Malcolm Britton Alexander (11)
  • Brenda Jean Allford (5)
  • Lorina Elizabeth Allford (7)
  • Olive Hilda Asbury (12)
  • Joan Elizabeth Baker (12)
  • Betty Ellen Barley (15)
  • Dennis Handford Barnard (10)
  • Ronald Edward Barnard (9)
  • Anne Rosemary Biddle (5)
  • Judith Maud Biddle (5)
  • Kathleen Myrtle Brazier (13)
  • Donald Victor Brewer (10)
  • Joyce Agnes Brocklebank (11)
  • Pauline Feo Carpenter (4)
  • Margaret Kathleen Grace Chivrall (12)
  • Pamela Mary Joyce Cooper (15)
  • Winifred Mary Cornell (13)
  • Eunice Joan Davies (9)
  • Pauline Mary Davies (7)
  • Joan Margaret Day (12)
  • Olive Annie Margaret Deavin (15)
  • Anthony Drummond (9)
  • Janet Mary Dutnall (5)
  • Richard George Fagan (9)
  • Cyril Arthur Glennon (6)
  • Norman Frederick Greenstreet (8)
  • Norah Marie Harrison (9)
  • Sylvia May Ellen Head (12)
  • Iris May Hobbs (15)
  • Rodney Charles Ash Jarrett (6)
  • John Edward Jones (10)
  • Doreen Alice Lay (6)
  • Mary Rosina O’rourke (15)
  • Evelyn Joyce Scholes (11)
  • Pamela Eileen Silmon (10)
  • Clive Derek Tennant (8)
  • Doreen Thorne (12)
  • Edna Towers (12)

And the teachers

  • Ethel Jessie Betts (53)
  • Virginia Mary Carr (38)
  • Mary Frances Jukes (38)
  • Gladys Maud Knowelden (51)
  • Harriet Irene Langdon (40)
  • Constance May Taylor (58)

 

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green – The Forgotten Hamlet pp63-64
  2. Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, February 06, 1943; pg. 159; Issue 5416
  3. Daily Herald 28 January 1943
  4. Hull Daily Mail 27 January 1943

 

 

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A Victorian Walk Around the Corbett Estate

A month or two ago it was noted in another post on Running Past, that there had ‘probably never been a single sale of land around Hither Green and Lee that has been more significant than the sale of North Park Farm by the Earl of St Germans in 1895 as it allowed for the development of was initially known as the St Germans estate, now generally known as the Corbett estate.’ This post picks up the story a few years after the sale after development was well under way, but far from being completed.

We return on 15 November 1899 in the company of one of Charles Booth’s investigators, Ernest Aves (there is a biography of Aves here)and PC Lloyds from Ladywell Police Station, who lived locally in Harvard Road.  The walk gives a fascinating insight into the early days of the estate.120px-charles_booth_by_george_frederic_watts  Charles Booth (picture Creative Commons), the centenary of whose death is on November 23, 2016, conducted an ‘Inquiry into Life and Labour in London’ between 1886 and 1903 – for much of the city he produced wonderfully detailed maps coloured on the basis of income and the social class of its inhabitants.  His assessment was based on walks carried out either himself or through a team of social investigators, often with clergymen or the police, listening, observing what he saw and talking to people he met on the road.  Sadly, no map seems to be available for most of the walk but below is an extract which includes the most southerly part of Hither Green that seems to have been mapped – available from London School of Economics as a Creative Commons.

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booth

Albert Lloyds was about 35 and has been in the police for 11 years all of which has been in Lewisham, Booth feels that he is unlikely to get promotion due to his lack of education, he had five children in 1899.  By the 1901 census Albert Lloyds, from Newchurch in Kent, was still living at 35 Harvard Road, with his wife Ellen and 7 children in a two bedroom house.

Corbett was described as ‘speculator in chief’ but was subletting much of the work, the contractors included James Watt, whom Running Past has already covered.  The estate is described as being mainly for the ‘lower middle class’ and two styles predominated – ‘a small single fronted house letting at about £25 and a somewhat larger double-fronted house letting at £36 to £38.‘  The larger houses in Brownhill Road attracted a rent of £60.  These were presumably monthly rentals.  But there were lower, weekly, rents around ‘working class’ Sandhurst Road.

Aves seemed almost surprised that ‘many of the houses throughout the estate are said to be owned by their occupiers‘. Sale prices, on a leasehold basis a year earlier in 1898 had been £379 to £470 for the largest six bedroom homes; £298 – £353 for four bedroom homes and £215 to £252 for the 3/4 bedroom homes.  The smallest 3 bedroom homes on the estate were not offered for sales until 1903 (1).  The biggest of these are now fetching over £1 million, as was noted in a recent post in Clare’s Diary.

Duncrievie Road
His starting point was where we had left the estate a few years earlier in a post about the farm that came before the estate – North Park.  The original farm, occupied for years by William Fry, had gone, but houses occupied by the Sheppards were still there.  Eliot Lodge (below), at the corner of Hither Green Lane, was still occupied by Samuel Sheppard and the other, the former house of Edward Sheppard, was occupied by the Chief Agent for the estate, Robert Pettigrew who was from Edinburgh – it was referred to as North Park House in the 1901 census.  Both were given the second highest rating by Aves/Booth – red – ‘Middle class.  Well to do.’  Oddly Pettigrew wasn’t always in this trade, he’d been a storekeeper in 1881, but may have come across Corbett whilst the latter was developing in Ilford – he returned to Essex after he retired.

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Springbank Road
While some of the shops had been built, but certainly not all and only two or three let – this was perhaps not surprising, while the road was laid out, the houses were yet to be built.  The bustling parade of a decade later (see below – source eBay September 2016) was yet to come.

springbank

The only houses were the other remnants of North Park farm, the ‘pink’ (Fairly comfortable.  Good ordinary earnings) former farm cottages at the corner of Hither Green Lane.
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Wellmeadow and Broadfield Roads
The northern parts of the road, closer to the station, had already been built as had the ‘large Weslyan Chapel building’ (covered a while ago in Running Past) but south of Brownhill Road it was still under construction.

HG Church

Source – eBay February 2016

The pattern was the same with Broadfield Road (wrongly mentioned at Brookfield). Aves referred to the streets as a ‘pink barred’, this is a slight variant on some of his earlier definitions – in correspondence, this seems to mean ‘high class labour – fairly comfortable good ordinary earnings’

Brownhill Road
This was oddly described as ‘the swell road of the estate’ – many of the larger houses had already been built and were ‘red’ with a few of the pink barred blocks of houses constructed.

Ardgowan, Torridon, Arngask and Fordel Roads
Ardgowan Road, north of Brownhill Road, had been completed by the time Lloyds showed the estate to Aves, but to the south, construction was still ongoing; the opposite seemed to be the case with Torridon Road. Arngask and Fordel Roads were both completed, but Aves merely seemed to pass by noting the same pink barred colouring of the other two streets.

torridon-1910-l-wiki

Torridon Road from a decade or so later via Lewisham Archives on a Creative Commons

Glenfarg and Sandhurst Roads
These were described as ‘the two working class streets’  they were largely built, unlike much of the rest of the burgeoning estate, to rent on a weekly basis and these were the slightly lower graded pink (without barred element).

Aves with his interest in poverty lingered here longer, seemingly mainly on Sandhurst  Road –

‘most occupied by a decent class, but many on the down-grade.  Two families (per house) frequent, and even in passing many signs of deterioration observable.’

Many living in these streets were employed on the estate and would be expected to leave when the work was finished.  Given the estates position in then suburbia, Corbett presumably felt that to get the workers, he needed to build houses for them first – there seemed to be no philanthropy here, just business necessities.  Certainly, Smith noted that these houses were much later coming onto the market (2).

Maybe influenced by his companion, Aves noted that

The street (Sandhurst) is not getting a good name, and disorder and drunkenness are not uncommon, in spite of the absence of licensed houses in the intermediate neighbourhood.

Booth still felt the road to be mainly pink, but, apart from the shops of Sandhurst Market, that it would be turning ‘purple’ (‘Mixed. Some comfortable others poor.’)

It took another eleven years for the the building work to be completed with homes on Verdant Lane and Duncrievie Road being finished in 1910 (3).  The difference between 1894 and 1914 is enormous as the maps below show (both maps on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland).

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At some stage in the not too distant future we will pick up the story of the estate just before World War 2, to see whether the predictions of Aves and Booth proved to be correct.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: the Forgotten Hamlet : Including the Corbett Estate’ p40
  2. ibid p40
  3. ibid p42

Census and related data comes from Find My Past.

Ghost Signs in Catford and Lewisham

I had an interesting run last Sunday, triggered by a detour earlier in the week stopping in traffic by a couple of ‘Ghost Signs’ in Catford. I vaguely remembered that there were a few more in the area and set off to explore.

Ghost signs are old hand-painted advertising signage which pre-dated the paper advertising hoardings. There are some fantastic blogs on ghost signs, particularly on Caroline’s Miscellany, which covers a lot of other interesting things too.

The first was en route, and is on the corner of Lee High Road and Bankwell Road in Lewisham. This was hidden for years under an advertising hoarding but became visible a few years ago.

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Witalls was a car dealership on the opposite corner from the 1930s to the 1970s. It was housed in what was previously a cinema, the Lee Picture Palace, later to be Central Hall Pictures, before becoming a WW1 munitions factory.

More recently the building was home to Penfold’s car showroom and an upstairs snooker hall, but was demolished in the early 2000s for flats and a health centre.

There are seveal ghost signs around around Sandhurst Road in Catford. The first is on Muirkirk Road, for baker and pastry cook, the name was presumably in a different paint and has worn off.

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On the corner of Muirkirk Road and Sandhurst Road, over the door of a supermarket, is a butcher’s sign.

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At the other end of the terrace of shops that used to be called Sandhurst Market, on the corner of Inchmery Road, is a much less clear sign that has deteriorated in recent years for a chemist and druggist, over a present day pharmacy.

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Behind it is my favourite of the area, that of an ‘hygienic’ baker, the least one would expect; the sign dates from the 1930s or 1940s, although there was a bakers there from 1907, and there is a sign at the rear advertising Hovis.

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The bakers were Warner Bros….so I should sign off with a a phrase that originates from the same era ‘That’s All Folks!’

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