Tag Archives: Sangley Road

Days of Wine and Roses – The Sad Life & Death of Ernest Dowson

Running Past has covered several of the poets who have passed through Lewisham at various stages in their lives – Robert Browning, who lived in New Cross for a while in the 1840s, Thomas Dermody who died in a hovel on Perry Vale and was buried at St Mary’s Lewisham along with James Elroy Flecker, who was born in Gilmore Road.  Another who passed through was the ‘decadent’ poet, Ernest Dowson, whose final resting place is in Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.

Dowson was born on 2 August 1867 at 11 The Grove (now Belmont Grove) off Belmont Hill.  The house is no longer there; it was probably demolished during the early 1930s and replaced with a large block of council flats with more than a nod towards Art Deco, the appropriately named Dowson Court. He is remembered there though with one of Lewisham’s maroon plaques; as is next door neighbour Edward Owen Greening, also has a maroon plaque.  Both have matching overflows next to them.

Dowson was the elder son of Annie and Alfred.  They may not have stayed in Lee that long after Ernest’s birth – they were recorded as living in Weston-Super-Mare in the 1871 census and in Barnstaple in 1881, although it seems that the family travelled a lot around Europe in an attempt to find relief for his father’s tuberculosis.  Dowson went to Oxford in 1886 but left before the end of his second year, without a degree.  He returned to London to help run the family owned dock, seemingly without much enthusiasm becoming involved with London literary society – knowing the like of Wilde and Yates and joining The Rhymers Club contributing poems to their annual collections in 1892 and 1894.

He became infatuated with Adelaide “Missie” Foltinowicz when she served him, aged just 11 in a restaurant in 1889.   He was to later unsuccessfully propose to her, and was left devastated when she eventually married someone else.  He wrote extensively about her, often with overtones of paedophilia; although it has been suggested that Dowson (pictured below – source) was looking for eternal love rather than sexual gratification.  It was certainly considered ‘eccentric rather than deviant’ at the time.

His father died from an overdose of chloral hydrate in August 1894, probably a suicide as he was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis; his mother took her life early the following year.   Their deaths, along with the rejection by “Missie” seems to have caused Dowson to embark on a downward spiral of self-indulgence and drink, he became addicted to absinthe – a strong spirit, later banned in many countries, ostensibly due to purported hallucinogenic properties.

The publisher Leonard Smithers gave him an allowance to move to France and write translations in an unsuccessful attempt to try to shake him out of his dissolute lifestyle.  Dowson returned to London and stayed with the Foltinowicz family during 1897.

He was found drunk and penniless in a central London wine bar by the novelist and biographer, Robert Sherard and he was to spend his final weeks in ‘a cottage in Catford, where Sherard was living.’ Bucolic idyl it most certainly wasn’t – Catford was mid-way through its transition to suburbia through the likes of Cameron Corbett and James Watt.  The ‘cottage’ was in reality a two bedroom terraced house at 26 Sandhurst Gardens (now 159 Sangley Road).  Sherard noted

Our fashionable residence is in a row of cottages about 200 yards up the lane (from the Plough and Harrow).  The lane is a mud swamp.

As was common in poor households, the house was shared with a building worker and his family.  While Sherard had left by the time the census enumerators called in 1901 – 26 Sandhurst Gardens was then home to two households with 9 people.

Dowson was to die at Sandhurst Gardens on 23 February 1900, he was buried four days later on the Ladywell side of what is now Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery in an area reserved for Catholics.   

Oscar Wilde wrote on hearing of Dowson’s death

Poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic re-production of all tragic poetry, like a symbol or a scene.  I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb, and rue, and myrtle too, for he knew what love is.

The grave was restored through public subscription in 2010 with a ceremony on what would have been the poet’s 143rd birthday.

While there is no plaque on his place of death at Sangley Road, in addition to the plaque in Lee and the grave, he is ‘commemorated’ by an information panel in Wetherspoons in Catford, given his downward alcoholic spiral, this is perhaps an appropriate accolade.

Whilst drunk he apparently said the immortal words ‘absinthe makes the tart grow fonder’, but a  post about a poet needs some poetry – a good, accessible starting point is his poem – Autumnal – which starts

Pale amber sunlight falls across

The reddening October trees,

That hardly sway before a breeze

As soft as summer: summer’s loss

Seems little, dear! On days like these.

 

Let misty autumn be our part!

The twilight of the year is sweet:

Where shadow and the darkness meet

Our love, a twilight of the heart

Eludes a little time’s deceit.

 

However, Dowson is probably best known  for ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’ (appropriately translated as ‘The shortness of life forbids us long hopes), which now appears on his grave

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

 

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Woodham & Sons and the Catford Steamrollers

The name of Henry Woodham came up a while ago in relation to the short-lived velodrome in Sportsbank Street in  Catford, Woodham unsuccessfully attempted to build next to it in 1897 and may have been the developer who bought the stadium in 1900 and built in surrounding streets early 20th century.

The firm was much better known as a highways contractor and latterly also as a plant hire company, and local memories focus very much of the impressive looking steam rollers that the firm used, including the Ruston Hornsby roller below (on a Creative Commons via the Tractor and Construction Plant Wiki)

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The firm was based at a plot of land at 121 to 139 Sangley Road, almost opposite the Roman Catholic Church of Holy Cross, next to one of the alleys between Sangley and Engleheart Roads.

The yard would have originally been part of Cockshed Farm – it is midway between the Farm and Sangley Lodge on the 1893 OS map below (on a creative commons via National Library of Scotland)

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The highlighted yard is more obvious in the 1930s map of the same area – also on a creative commons via National Library of Scotland.

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There are fond local memories of the yard – there were several recollections on a recent Facebook page, including those who remembered the yard as children and would “always sit upstairs on the bus so that we could ‘look over the wall’ to see those wonderful machines as there was a bus stop outside.”

Several of the steam rollers have been preserved by enthusiasts, including the one below (on a Wikipedia Creative Commons) at Bredgar and Woshill Railway, near Sittingbourne. It was bought new by Henry Woodham & Sons in 1922, it still has a company plaque and was used on road repairs until the 1950s.

ruston__hornsby_115023_of_1922

 

So who were Henry Woodham and Sons?  Henry had been born in Elmers End in 1857, into a labouring family.  He moved around a fair amount as a young man – he was in Camberwell in the 1870s, marrying Maria and arrived in Catford by 1879 – his elder son, Henry George, was born there in 1879.  Henry (senior) was employing 11 as a road and sewage contractor living at 25 Brownhill Road in the 1881 census.

He was still living in Brownhill Road in 1901 (Sydney Villa) and 1911 when all five adult children were living at 182 Brownhill Road, including the ‘Sons’ Henry George and Reginald (born in 1881).

Henry Senior had retired by 1911, but was still living in Brownhill Road (102) with a housekeeper.  He subsequently moved to Bromley where he died in 1928.

By 1911 the business was being run by Henry George and Reginald, the former was living at 11 Ardoch Road with two children, including a Henry Ernest Clifford born in 1905.  Reginald who was living at 168 George Lane.

Reginald had retired and was living in Sevenoaks by the time the 1939 Register was drawn up – dying in neighbouring Tonbridge in 1956. Neither of Reginald’s sons went into the family business – Reginald (1904) worked as an engineer for Woking Council in 1939, with Gerald dying early in 1925, when only 17.

Henry George seems to have tried to expand the business into Devon between the wars.  But returned to returned to south east London, before his death in Bromley in 1961.  His son, Henry Ernest Clifford was listed as a Public Works Company Director in 1939, at 72 Arran Road, but maybe the business wasn’t doing quite so well – he was sharing with an unrelated father and son. He died in south east Surrey in early 1969.

By this time the business was gone, liquidated in 1965 – the registered office was in Bickley at that time, although the business was still carried out in Catford.

As for the yard, after Woodham and Sons went into liquidation, it seems to have been home to demolition firms, initially Sid Bishop Demolition, latterly Harris.   Like the former grandstand of the velodrome the small plot eventually succumbed to the developers.

The housing seems to have taken the name of the last users of the site and is known as Harris Lodge – a mixture of flats and bungalows. img_2819

And finally, another of the impressive steamrollers that plied their trade out of Sangley Road (although was later sold to A J Ward), the Excelsior – via a creative commons from Grace’s Guide.

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Note

All the census and related data comes from Find My Past