Tag Archives: Shooters Hill

Lee Races

 Like many current pub landlords, the 19th century Thomas Sears of the (Old) Tiger’s Head was keen to increase income by diversification.  This included a series of sporting activities including ‘foot racing’ – running races with handicaps which the blog will return to in the future, pre-Queensbury rules boxing and horse racing – the Lee Races.

Lee Races were a series of local horse races based initially, and finishing In 1845, at Lee Green behind the Tiger’s Head (left picture below – note 1) but then with the same or similar names moving  to 

  • Harrow Fields, which were nearer to Eltham
  • Shooters Hill Road between the Sun in the Sands and the Earl of Moira (right picture below (2) which was the former name of the Brook, which is now a Co-op) public houses; and 
  • An unclear location in Eltham – presumably somewhere near Eltham Green.

 

 The July 1834 races were based in the two large fields behind the Old Tigers Head  at Lee Green, in whose garden was the grandstand, effectively between what is now Lee Road and Lee Park. The fields were probably those marked “Lee Green” in John Roque’s map (3) from a century before below.  The area would now include streets around Heathlee Road.   

The 1834 races were described in the pro-racing New Sporting Magazine 

The inhabitants of Lee, Blackheath etc got up some very good races … (the course being laid out in two large fields in front of the houses at Lee), which brought a large assemblage of people…amusing and enjoying themselves happily and innocently…the first Lee Races having gone off so well, we hope that steps will be taken to ensure a repetition of them. 

 The report in the New Sporting Magazine skirted over the death of a Greenwich pensioner who crossed the road during a race and was run over, and possibly a rider (4).  The ‘large assemblage’ clearly wasn’t peaceful enough for the relatively gentile people of Lee and the following year the races moved to Harrow Fields.

There is some debate as to where Harrow Fields were located.  Kincaid (5) has them in the area around Crathie Road (top left of photos below) and Scotsdale Road to the south of Eltham Road. However, the ‘History of Lee’ suggests that they were in an area where substantial houses were built there before 1882.  That would put them a little further to the west and north of Eltham Road – around the current Southbourne Gardens (bottom right in photo below), Courtlands Avenue (top right) and, possibly, as far east as John Roan Playing Fields. The were Harrow Cottages marked around there in the 1870 OS 6″ map.  Sutcliffe Park was, of course, formerly known as Harrow Meadow. 

  

Meanwhile, the ‘Shooters Hill races’ started in 1836 with separate organisers who attempted to link to those in Harrow Meadows.  They were known as the Lee, Lewisham, Greenwich and Eltham Races and were reported on in the Morning Chronicle in 1836 (quoted in the Lewisham Heritage blog) with The Greenwich Borough Cup won by a horse called Eliza Thornville. 

These races only had three annual meetings and, according to Kincaid (6), there were strong suggestions of fixed races and ‘intolerable nuisance in the neighbourhood.’ (7)

The 1837 ‘Eltham’ event was overshadowed by something other than the racing – an early attempted parachute jump which went badly wrong a couple of weeks before the races – this was covered before in the blog.

The races seemed to degenerate after Sears stopped his involvement in 1838 – possibly due to being convicted in 1837 of, what appears to have been, selling alcohol without a licence on the course.  

Sear’s wasn’t the only criminal activity – 1838 Old Bailey case records note several cases relating to the Races including John Bridger who was imprisoned for 6 months for the theft of a handkerchief; a William Richards was ‘confined’ for 5 days and whipped for stealing a horse cloth; and John Ebbs was imprisoned for the theft of a bunch of keys and a bag of money. The sentences handed down the following year seemed harsher and included a George Smith who was convicted of theft with violence, oddly against another George Smith, and transported for 16 years; and John Wood was transported for 10 years for the theft of a handkerchief, although he did have some ‘previous.’

The racing seemed to of a relatively low quality too – James Christie Whyte’s ‘History of the British Turf’, quoted in Wikipedia, described Lee’s 1840 races as “only of local interest” 

By 1841 at a new venue nearer Eltham, the races were described as ‘a most miserable affair altogether’ and the course described as ‘shocking’ (8).

The races returned to Lee Green in 1844 with a moderate degree of success, but much less so in 1845 race where numbers were sparse and it was to be the last year.  Lee was changing with Lee Road and Lee Park were beginning to be developed.

Horse racing was changing too, until the early nineteenth century it was a sport that took place at the local level as moving horses any distance was difficult.  The growth of the railways changed all this as the movement of horses and spectators became much easier. The 1838 Derby saw the first horse racing special rail services. 

  

Derby Day in the 1850s (9).

Permanent horse racing tracks began to be developed, including those at Sandown Park, Lingfield and Kempton which offered income from gate receipts as well monies from selling rights to gambling and alcohol sale.

Lee wasn’t the only location in the area to lose its racing – courses at Tunbridge  Wells and Rochester & Chatham had also disappeared by the end of the century.

Finally, the late nineteen century historian of Lee, F. H. Hart, after describing the clientele as the “lowest classes” and highlighting the “many accidents” concluded, 37 years after the final race, that 

We cannot be too thankful that the long list of these nuisances is now abolished, and that we live in more refined times.


Notes

  1. Picture of (Old) Tigers Head – from an information board at Lee Green
  2. Picture of Earl of Moira – source Culture 24 
  3. Map from an information board at Lee Green, the original was published in 1740
  4. Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ in Lewisham History Journal No 9, p34
  5. Kincaid, p35
  6. Kincaid, p44
  7. Kincaid, p52
  8. Kincaid, p53
  9. Source Wikipedia

In Search of Mid Kid Brook

I have known about the Kid Brooks for years, having done a little on-line trawling in the past to try to understand why Blackheath Village, whose contours would suggest that it is in a river valley which extends into Lewisham, seemed to be devoid of any waterway. The ‘discovery’ of the Upper Kid Brook (now with its own post) and its course through ‘The Village’ led to the realisation that there were two other Kid Brooks and that the end of the Lower one was on a playing field I knew well.

It is thus entirely logical then to start with the third Brook, Mid Kid Brook. Its source, according to the fantastic and usually reliable Edith’s Streets, is to the east of the Brook Hospital site, possibly from a pond at the former Hill Farm, (the entrance to which was around where Corelli Road is now). The source was probably covered when the Brook Hospital site was originally developed, and a ‘gated community’ was built after the Hospital closed around where the source may well have been. One of the few remaining bits of the fever hospital site is the old Water Tower, and for the want of a more tangible source, it seems as appropriate starting point for following the course of the Mid Kid Brook.

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Maps produced prior to the development of the area show the Brook flowing westwards, parallel to Shooters Hill Road, passing the former Brook pub (now a Co-op). Certainly at that point it could not be too far away from the main road at the land falls away to the south about 30 metres away from the road.

The first ‘sounding’ of the Brook may be in the London Marathon Playing Fields – there is a large manhole cover and a sound of running water underneath. It may just be wishful thinking on my part though, given the topics the blog covers.
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Edith’s Streets has the Brook flowing parallel to Shooters Hill Road to opposite Marlborough Lane latterly behind a parade of shops, although there is nothing there to show its course in the jumble of dumped rubbish, broken fences and abandoned outbuildings. Just beyond there the Brook turned back sharply on itself at a farm that has long since disappeared – Arnold’s Farm.

The name lives on though with a sheltered housing scheme, in the general location of the farm – Arnold House. There are parallels with the modern housing at the former Brook Hospital site, between 1881 and 1948 it was the site of the Blackheath and Charlton Cottage Hospital (the Cottage being dropped just before WW1). The small dispensary is all that remains of one of a large number of hospitals on Shooters Hill Road.

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The pre-development map of the area has the Brook meandering south-west towards the current A2. The exact route is difficult to work out, although the on the ground contours would probably suggest a route that included Begbie Road, the playing fields on Wricklemarsh Road, and going behind houses on Holbourne Road and crossing Woolacombe Road just north of Dursley Road – just to the north of the former location of Manor Farm before crossing what is now the A2.

On the far side of A2 the exact locations become a little clearer, aided and abetted by a street name, Brook Road, and some gentle contours, which sees the Brook flowing under the edge of a small meadow behind St. John Fisher church and then under the church drive.

Opposite the church, on the other side of Kidbrooke Park Road, is our first sighting of the Brook – emerging from underneath the road and running alongside Thomas Tallis School.

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While it is then apparently visible as the boundary alongside the Blackheath Girls School playing fields, there is no public access. The next clues as to its course are on Casterbridge Road on the Cator Estate where the contours and manhole covers with the sound of water underneath suggest a likely route.

The next sighting is more obvious, the pond on Casterbridge Road. This is likely to be the remains of one of the former ponds from the Wricklemarsh Estate (the other being on what is now Pond Road), certainly the Mid Kid Brook originally fed a pond in roughly this location.

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The remains of a bridge over the Brook are still there and there is a clue as to the course in a street name, Brookway, after which it crosses Foxes Dale and its route becomes apparent again (although without any obvious sign of water, but oddly it is marked on various modern maps in blue) between two houses before disappearing in a sink in the garden of a house on Lee Road, as I confirmed a few weeks ago.

The sink takes the Brook across Lee Road, where there used to be a small bridge, before following a the western side of the road a couple of hundred metres to Lee Green where it joins the Quaggy next to the Lewisham side of the bridge..

Its final outflow from a pipe provided a picture of what I would have imagined happening further upstream perhaps 300 years ago – a deer drinking from the Brook. Alas it is not a real one, but it is the next best thing, and one that is rather more permanent feature – one of the delightful works of Lewisham Natureman, that appear in all sorts of odd places – a Blackheath Banksy perhaps?

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This post is a part of a series on the Quaggy and its tributaries which are brought together here.

Postscript – a later post suggests than the current course from the ‘sink’ may not have been the original one and that Mid Kid Brook may have originally flowed westwards, roughly along the line of Lee High Road, to join the Quaggy nearer Lewisham.