Tag Archives: slavery

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 5 – Verdant Lane and Manor Lane

During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown, Running Past has been following the boundary of Victorian Lee before it was subsumed into Lewisham at the end of the Victorian era, aided only by a Second Edition Ordnance Survey map. We have so far wandered, in stages, initially from Lee Green to Winn Road, appropriately passing Corona Road en route; the second stage took us through Grove Park, crossing the never built Ringway;  then through Marvels and Elmstead Woods and a Borough of Deptford Cemetery; and in the previous instalment through Chinbrook Meadows appropriately following Border Ditch. We pick up the 1893 Lee – Lewisham boundary on what is now Downham Way – the most southerly of the red dots on the map below.

The Downham estate was built by the London County Council (LCC) in the late 1920s and early 1930s on compulsorily purchased farm land. On this side of the estate included what was probably the last outpost of the land owned by the Baring family, Shroffold Farm, pictured later in the post.  We will probably return to the farm at some stage in the future. However, the farm was part of the Manor of Lee bought by Sir Francis Baring, later Baron Northbrook, the purchase of which was at least partially funded by both financing of slave owning operations as well as some direct ownership on enslaved people. While the Barings dispensed largesse to the locals in their latter years, their ability to do this was based, in part at least, on the enslavement of African men, women and children in Montego Bay in Jamaica at the end of the 18th century.

We’d split our circuit of Lee at the top of what was described in a 1790 map as ‘Mount Misery’, better known these days as Downham Way (the most southerly dot on the map). There was a lot of ‘misery’ in the area in that era. South Park farm, which was to become North Park – a little further down the hill in our broad direction of travel was a farm that for a while was known as Longmisery.

The reason for the split in the post at Mount Misery was that the boundary in 1893 had changed soon after the brow of the ‘Mount’ from field edge to stream at the boundary.

Before leaving this point, it is worth remembering that at the time the Ordnance Survey cartographers surveyed the area they would have had an undisturbed view almost to the north of the parish and St Margaret’s Church. Certainly this was what the local Victorian historian, FH Hart, noted in the early 1880s when following the boundary from this point.

The stream is Hither Green Ditch; a stream that Running Past followed a while ago which has several sources. The nomenclature ‘Ditch’ is used quite a lot within the Quaggy catchment, it shouldn’t be seen as belittling or derogatory it is just the way smaller streams are described – the 1893 boundary of also followed, Grove Park Ditch and Border Ditch, with Milk Street and Pett’s Wood Ditches further upstream.

This branch of Hither Green Ditch seems to have emerged somewhere around Ivorydown, south and above Downham Way. It merges with the 1893 Lee – Lewisham boundary just north of the street named after the farm, Shroffold. The merged boundary and stream followed the middle of Bedivere Road.

The section that the Lee-Lewisham boundary initially followed, is one of the sections of Hither Green Ditch that is barely perceptible on the ground, although the contours are clear on early 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps, if not current ones. Whether this part of the stream was actually flowing in 1893 is, at best, debatable, water tables had declined after the end of the Little Ice Age, the last really cold winter was in 1814 – with extensive flooding around the parish of Lee when there was a thaw.

The boundary and stream followed the edge of a small piece of woodland in 1893 which is now an area bordered by Pendragon, Ballamore and Reigate Roads. There is an attractive U shaped portion of the latter, where council surveyors struggled with dampness from the hidden Ditch.

The post war 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map, notes a flow at around the point of Railway Children Walk, an homage (or a homage) to E Nesbit who lived on the other side of the railway – on of at least a trio of locations within the Parish she resided in. A small detour is worth making for a view of another Lewisham Natureman stag standing proudly above the railway.

Detour made, the boundary follows Hither Green Ditch which was marked as flowing in the 1960s 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map, so was presumably also flowing in 1893. To the west of the Ditch, and boundary, was Shroffold Farm, the farmhouse (pictured below from the 1920s) was where the mosque is now located – diagonally opposite to where the Northover/Governor General was to be built 40 years later at the junction of Verdant Lane, Northover and and Whitefoot Lane. To the east was almost certainly land belonging to Burnt Ash Farm – both sides of the boundary owned by the Northbrooks.

While fields in 1893, this area is now part of Hither Green Cemetery. It originally opened as Lee Cemetery in 1873 but with a much smaller size at the northern end of the current one. Like the Borough of Deptford cemetery we passed through in Grove Park, it was outside the jurisdiction it served, all on the Lewisham side of Hither Green Ditch. There are two impressive chapels, the Dissenters one (for Methodists and the the Baptists of Lee High Road and what is now Baring Road), was built by William Webster of Blackheath and was damaged during the last war and is slowly decaying.

The southerly end of what is now the cemetery had changed from farm land to allotments in the early part of the 20th century. The exact timing of the expansion of the cemetery into the allotments isn’t clear, it was probably just before or just after the start of World War 2, it was showing as allotments in the 1938 surveyed Ordnance Survey map. But by the time the children who died in the awful attack on Sandhurst Road School in early 1943, were buried the area had expanded. There is a large memorial to those who perished, something covered in a blog post that marked the 75th anniversary of the bombing in 2018. The crematorium in the south east corner was opened in the 1950s.

The 1893 boundary is relatively easy to follow on the ground through the cemetery as Hither Green Ditch has left a small valley close to the Lombardy poplars that border the railway.

Just outside the cemetery in 1893 was a small hospital, Oak Cottage Hospital; it had been built in 1871 by the local Board of Works for dealing with infectious diseases like smallpox and typhoid (1).  It was overtaken by events in that the Metropolitan Board of Works (which covered all of London) decided to open a series of fever hospitals as a response to a major Scarlet Fever epidemic in 1892/93, the health system was unprepared and there was a severe shortage of beds.  One of these was the Park Fever Hospital, later referred to as Hither Green Hospital; Oak Cottage Hospital was briefly considered as a possible alternative location (2).   Oak Cottage Hospital closed soon after Park Fever opened in 1896 (3).  It eventually became housing in the 1960s or 1970s.

Beyond Oak Cottage Hospital in 1893, were again fields, probably part of Shroffold Farm. On the opposite side of Verdant Lane (then Hither Green Lane) was North Park Farm, about to be ploughed under by Cameron Corbett. The Lee Lewisham boundary continued to use Hither Green Ditch which was to remain visible until the development of the Verdant Lane estate in the 1930s. This section is pictured below, probably soon after the Corbett Estate was completed around 1910.

In addition to the Ditch, there were a pair of long gone boundary markers, one was just to the north of the junction of Verdant Lane and Sandhurst Road, perhaps at the point one of the confluence of two of the branches of the Ditch; the other where it crosses St Mildreds Road – again a possible branch of the Ditch that would have been obliterated by the railway.

St Mildreds Road hadn’t existed when the Ordnance Survey cartographers had first visited in the 1860s. While the church of St Mildreds had been built in 1872, even in 1893 only homes at the Burnt Ash Hill end had been build, including another of the homes in the area of E Nesbit in Birch Grove.

The boundary went under the railway close to what was a trio of farm workers cottages for North Park Farm, which are still there at the junction of Springbank Road and Hither Green Lane.

The boundary continued to follow Hither Green Ditch – it wasn’t just a Parish boundary at this point, but a farm boundary too – on the Lewisham side, Hither Green’s North Park Farm, which was mainly on the other side of the railway and was sold at around the time that the land was surveyed and would form the Corbett Estate. On the Lee side was Lee Manor Farm, which is pictured on a 1846 map below (right to left is south to north, rather than west to east) and Hither Green Ditch which had several small bridges is at the top.  There were several boundary stones and markers along what was broadly Milborough Crescent and Manor Lane.  There was then a sharp turn to the east along what is now Longhurst Road.

The confluence of Hither Green Ditch with the Quaggy was in a slightly different place in 1893, then it was more or less where 49 Longhurst Road is now located; it is now around 40 metres away on a sharp corner between between Manor Park and Longhurst Road, as pictured below.

We’ll leave the boundary of Lee and Lewisham here for now following what is now the Quaggy into Lewisham in the next instalment.

This series of posts would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go to person on London’s boundary markers, he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient.  He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me.  A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green, The Forgotten Hamlet p54
  2. Woolwich Gazette 02 June 1893
  3. Smith op cit p54

Picture Credits

 

 

 

Beating the Bounds of Lee, Part 4 – Chinbrook and Downham

During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown Running Past has been following the boundary of Victorian Lee before it was subsumed into Lewisham, aided only by a Second Edition Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1893 and a fair amount of local knowledge. Posts have taken us in stages from Lee Green to Winn Road, appropriately passing Corona Road en route; the second took us through Grove Park, crossing the never built Ringway and the previous one through Marvels and Elmstead Woods leaving the boundary on the edge of Chinbrook Meadows allotments – and it is on to the Meadows that we now proceed.

This section is marked by the red dots on the adjacent map.

At around the point of a kissing gate, at the top of a steep hill down into Chinbrook Meadows the 1893 and 2020 variants of the boundary of Lee diverge.

The current variant of the boundary heads down into the lovely Chinbrook Meadows; it wasn’t always like this when the farmland became a park, the Quaggy was hidden. A blog post from a few years ago, covers its rejuvenation in 2002. The now Bromley and Lewisham border largely hugs the bottom of the railway embankment coming in from Elmstead Woods.

The 1863 version of the boundary crosses the railway in what is a deep cutting at this point, and emerged in what was then a small field and is now part of the smaller southwestern field of Chinbrook Meadows following the fences to the rear of the gardens of Portland Road until the Quaggy is again reached (further upstream than when covered in earlier in the circuit of Lee).

The 1893 boundary followed the Quaggy for around 100 metres until a confluence with the Border Ditch underneath the railway embankment. The ‘border’ in Border Ditch appropriately refers to the boundary we are currently following. When we followed Border Ditch as part of the tracking of the Quaggy and its constituent tributaries, the Ditch in Chinbrook Meadows was in a poor state but there were plans for a sustainable urban drainage system to be incorporated into its flow. Alas, this seems not to have materialised and the watercourse looked decidedly uninviting during lockdown – the photographs of its latter stages are from the initial visit in 2016.

Border Ditch has an even shorter flow than the Quaggy within Chinbrook Meadows – it emerges from culverting in a way that is more reminiscent of a drain than a stream.  As had been the case in the summer of 2016, there was little sign of movement in the ominous looking muddy water. 

The Ditch continues upstream and seems to have marked the border until the 1991 proposals came into force, although as was noted in the post on Border Ditch there were several minor re-alignments of the Ditch and the boundary over the years

Over the other side of the physical boundaries of the railway, which required a significant detour, Border Ditch only appeared as a field boundary on the 1893 Ordnance Survey map. It is now not only the border between Bromley and Lewisham but between the private sector semis of the former and the social housing of the latter. Traces of water were difficult to find in lockdown in the normally still flowing division between the two.

Streams, even quite small ones create valleys and out on the main Burnt Ash Lane the dip is noticeable and there lies both the current and 1893 variants of the boundary. The photograph above probably dates from just after the map was drawn, is of what was then a bridge and is looking towards Bromley.

Burnt Ash Lane was a name that once continued from here to the junction with St Mildred’s Road, but the it was renamed in ‘honour’ of the Lords of the Manor – the Baring Family. At the time they bought the Manor of Lee at least part of the Barings money was coming from an enslaved estate in Montego Bay in Jamaica. John Pound built much of Victorian Grove Park, on Northbrook/Baring land, naming the pub after them – the lovely Baring Hall.

We’ve strayed 400 metres away from the boundary putting the street name into some context, so back to the border, Border Ditch. The 1893 Lee (now Lewisham) – Bromley border continued westwards across fields to a three-way split in 1893 with Lewisham providing the third part of the trio. During the 19th century there had stood, according to F H Hart, ‘a tall round-top oak tree, a land mark from Lee Church’ at the junction of Lee Terrace and Brandram Road. It seems that this may have been lost by 1893, as this point was marked with a boundary post. In 2020, it is part of one of the dozens of largely access roads to garages in the area made largely redundant by the increase in car size, this one behind Welbeck Avenue.

The redundant access road is the course of Border Ditch which continues another 50 metres or so to a source in what is now some school playing fields. A small pond was marked in 1893. Oddly for such an elevated situation, close to the watershed between the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments, this was a small World War 1 airfield, Grove Park Landing Ground.

On the other side of the redundant track to redundant garages is the edge of one of the larger London County Council (LCC) estates, Downham, which was built in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The name doesn’t have any local links, rather it was that of a Chairman of the LCC just after World War 1.

The Lee – Lewisham boundary of 1893 was through fields, the boundary following what were then the hedges of field edges not marked in any way by posts, markers or marks on trees. Despite the transformation of the area between the World Wars, the street pattern still at least partially follows the field patterns. The former Lee – Lewisham boundary was follows the middle of what is now Geraint Road; like many boundaries that follow roads, it’s marked by white paint. The 1893 boundary then bisects Ivorydown, the name of a former field in this area, to reach Downham Way.

We will leave the boundary there for now because on the other side the nature of what is followed changes from field edge to hidden stream.

Credits and Thanks

  • The Ordnance Survey Map is via the National Library of Scotland on a non-commercial licence.
  • The black and white photograph of Burnt Ash Lane was originally used in the post on Border Ditch on the basis of a creative commons from this site, although the photograph library with it seems to have been deleted.

The series of posts on the Lee boundary that this post is part of, would probably not have happened without Mike Horne, he was the go-to person on London’s boundary markers; he had catalogued almost all of them in a series of documents. He was always helpful, enthusiastic and patient. He died of a heart attack in March but would have loved my ‘find’ of a London County Council marker in some undergrowth on Blackheath during 2020’s lockdown, and would have patiently explained the details of several others he knew to me. A sad loss, there is a lovely series of tributes to him via this link.

Old Road & Beyond – A Walk Through Some of Lee’s Past

The area bordering Manor House Gardens has a rich and interesting history which Running Past has written numerous posts about.  This post was written to ‘accompany’ a walk organised as part of the 2019 Manor House Gardens Festival, it can be used to independently to walk the route (it’s a circuit of around a mile, which can be found here) or as virtual tour of the area.  The ‘walk’ is divided into sections which relate to the planned stopping points – each of which is full of links to other posts in the blog which will have more detailed information.

Some Background

Before it was enveloped by the city Lee was a village, a village with three centres – Lee Green, the area around St Margaret’s Church and Old Road, as John Rocque’s map from 1746 shows.

Lee remained largely rural until mid-19th century until the coming of the railways – Blackheath & Lewisham stations opened in 1849, Lee in 1866 and Hither Green not until mid-1890s (it was just a junction before that).

The mid-1860s Ordnance Survey map above shows how little development there was beyond Lee Green and to the south of Old Road; farms remained until the 1920s and 1930s, such as Burnt Ash and Horn Park.

The Manor House

Old Road was once home to a series of large houses, starting from the eastern end these were Lee House, The Cedars, Lee Place, the Manor House, Pentland House and The Firs – geography played an important part, it is on a small hill which would have offered impressive views to the east and south but were high enough to protect from flooding from the Quaggy and the now diverted Mid Kid Brook, which used to flow down Lee High Road.

Lee Place

The first of the country houses was Lee Place; Its building was the result of the death of Lord of the Manor, Brian Annesley who had a moated farm probably where St Margaret’s Lee School is now situated.  His later years are believed to at least partially inspired Shakespeare to write King Lear – there was happier ending than in the play though.  The estate split up on his death.

Lee Place (above) probably built by/for George Thompson – had links to the slave trade but is better known as a soldier and MP during the Commonwealth brother of Maurice who lived at Lee Farm. It was the home to the Boone family (it was their family chapel) for several generations but was let out from the mid-18th century.  Its last tenant was Benjamin Aislabie.

The estate was sold in 1824 as still has an impact on the current landscape as it was broken up into relatively small lots which were developed at different times.  It allowed too the straightening of Lee High Road – the straightened bit was known as New Road for several decades

The Manor House

Lee Farm was previously on the site, which moved to what is now the junction of Baring and St Mildred’s Roads in 1727 and became Burnt Ash Farm. The former farm was bought initially by the slave trading brother of George Thomson, Maurice and then by William Coleman who sought to re-create the lands of the old Manor for his nephew,Thomas Lucas, both were ‘merchants’ with strong links to the slave trade.

The Grade II listed Manor House was built on the site of the farm in 1770 by Richard Jupp for Lucas.  It was bought by Sir Francis Baring in early 19th century, whose family wealth also had its origins in the slave trade – used it as their near London base – the merchant on the maroon plaque is depressingly vague. The Northbrooks let in out during much of the 19th century

They sold the house as a library and grounds to the London County Council in 1898 opening to the public in 1902.  The Northbrooks owned much of Lee and their gradual selling off of their ‘estate’ in the latter part of the 19th century which shaped the current urban landscape.

Pentland House

Pentland House was built in early 1790s and is probably the oldest residential building in Lewisham – it is a close run thing with St Mary’s Vicarage though!  It has been added to considerably and rendered in the early 19th century when extended.

It was home to the rich, but not that significant Smith family, who sold to some more Smiths, who sold to some more Smiths (albeit with a prefix) – it became a Goldsmiths’ College hall in 1913 which stayed until the early 2000s.  It is currently a largely backpackers hostel.

Flats & Houses Opposite

The houses and flats opposite are a bit less grand – Bankwell Road & adjoining bits of Old Road – completed in 1908, possibly by James Watt – it was the central of three plots of land bounded by Lee High Road and Old Road – as the 1890s Ordnance Survey maps below shows.

The eastern of the plots are Arts & Crafts style flats which are a bit out of kilter with rest of area.  The land they were built on had been part of Lee Place – the house itself was on this part.  The land was bought as an orchard and kitchen garden for Pentland House with the flats & Market Terrace on Lee High Road built in the mid-1930s.

Before moving on worth reflecting on the library, the park and indirectly the rest of the current urban landscape was paid for by the slave labour in the plantations of the Caribbean owned or traded by those that lived here and over the road.

On the way to Lochaber Hall at the first house on Manor Lane Terrace look at the wall – the remains of a sign pointing towards air raid shelters in Manor House Gardens (more on that later).

Lochaber Hall, the Firs, Holy Trinity

Lochaber Hall

If think Lochaber Hall looks like a church hall you’d be right, it was originally church hall for Holy Trinity in Glenton Road (pictured below).  The church was destroyed in the Blitz and is now Callaghan Close (almost opposite the Telephone Exchange) and named after the 1970s Prime Minister who lived in Blackheath.

The Hall was designed by Ernest Newton, a locally renowned architect and President of RIBA, he also designed St Swithuns, the original Church of Good Shepherd and Baring Hall at Grove Park. Slightly surprisingly it is Grade II listed. Immediately after World War Two it was used as a hall for the Church of the Good Shepherd as that church was largely destroyed in a fire & the congregation was using the adjacent hall as the church.

The Firs Estate

The Firs was another of the large country houses of Lee, it was a large red-brick house which was a built around 1700 as the ‘town’ residence for the Papillion’s, a prominent Huguenot banking family – it stayed in the family’s ownership for a century.  The last owner from the mid-1860s was John Wingfield Larkin, a member of a wealthy Kent family who had been a merchant in Egypt and British consul in Alexandria between 1838 and 1841.  The family sold up on his death as the city encroached in 1893.

It was developed as Murillo, Old, Rembrandt & Lochaber Roads by the end of 19th century.  It is not certain who the builder/developer was – although is a stained glass for Siderys on Murillo Road – who were prominent builders in the area.

The houses on the corner of Manor Lane Terrace and Abernethy were largely destroyed on the 1st night of the blitz.  27 Murillo Road was home to one of the more prominent Lewisham suffragettes – Caroline Townsend.

Lee Manor Farm

This was originally at the Manor House, moved to what is now the junction of St Mildred’s Road and was renamed Burnt Ash Farm in 1727; that farm was split in the early 19th century and new farm buildings constructed opposite The Firs (close to the current junction of Manor Lane Terrace and Manor Lane).  It didn’t stay the farm house that long and we’ll return to it at our next stop.

Junction of Manor Lane Terrace & Kellerton Road

Manor Park Estate

We are in the land of W J Scudamore here and along with John Pound are probably the two firms of builders that most influenced the area – buying land from the Northbrooks. W J Scudamore were based on Manor Lane (corner of Handen Road) then Lee High Road (part of Sainsbury’s site) and latterly on Holme Lacey Road in Lee and active in Lee, Hither Green and later elsewhere from the 1890s until the 1930s.

The Manor Park Estate (as the roads around here were originally referred to as) was built for a mixture of rent and sale – sale prices were £265 or£275 for the bigger ones – it was 1906…!

They definitely also built

  • Shops on Manor Lane (eastern side)
  • Newstead Road
  • Some of St Mildred’s Road
  • Holme Lacey & Dalinger Roads
  • Several small sections of Leahurst, Longhurst and Fernbrook Roads
  • Probably lots of others too

Wolfram Close

On the site of the last location of the Lee Manor Farm (pictured below) – the land farmed was to the south of here.  The farmhouse seems to have been sold with the land for the Manor Park Estate and became a home for the Scudamore family who remained there until 1961.

The site was redeveloped in the 1960s or early 1970s, it isn’t clear whether this was by Scudamores, as they went into liquidation in 1966. It is presumably named after the last occupant of the Manor House – Henry Wolffram from Stuttgart who ran a ‘crammer’ school for would-be army officers – the spelling of his name is incorrect though – the cul de sac as one ‘F’ the name two ‘Fs’.

The council estate behind Cordwell Road – is named after one of the last farmers of the farm.

 

Manor House Gardens

The park was created in the early 1770s as gardens for the Manor House until 1898 when the Northbrooks sold up to the London County Council (LCC), which as with Mountsfield Park on the Hither Green and Catford borders wanted to ensure that the newly developing suburbia had parks and libraries provided. The Gardens had been left in a poor state by last occupant (Henry Wolffram) and didn’t open to the public until 1902.

Source –  eBay Feb 2016

It contains a rather impressive Ice House which was used as an air raid shelter in World War Two; there were a couple of other ones too, the outline of one of them was visible in the parched grass in the hot weather of 2018.

The Gardens have been ‘listed’ since 1987 and underwent a major refurbishment in 2000.  The small lake has been part of grounds for most of its post agricultural life.  The River Quaggy flows through the Gardens, it used to be at a higher level but the bed was  excavated partially to reduce flooding – probably in the 1880s.

Behind the library, there are two little bits of Catford – foundation stones for the now demolished St Laurence Church and the original Town Hall.

Lenham Road/Lammead Road Corner

If we were standing here in the 1870s we would be in or next to the River Quaggy as there was a meander that originally came up to this point. It was straightened in 1880s both to allow development but possibly too as flood prevention measure – there were really bad floods in 1878.

Most of housing on Lenham, Lampmead (and Aislibie that will walk up) Roads dates from late 1880s when Lee House (more on that later) was demolished and the land sold for development. It was slightly different on the other side of the river – Robertson Street, now Brightfield Road probably dates from the late 1850s or early 1860s.

The houses at the corner are very different – early 1960s council housing as opposed to late Victorian.  This was because early in the morning of 22 June 1944 a V-1 flying bomb hit the corner, killing 6.  There was a lot of Blitz damage on Lenham Road as well as on Aislibie Road where there are several bits of infill council housing from the late 1950s or early 1960s.

49 Lampmead (above) was home to Phyllis Noble who was to become Phyllis Willmott and wrote a 3 part autobiography about growing up in Lee in the 1920s and 30s – this has been covered a few times – including in relation to the Sunday Constitutional and children’s play.

Almsot opposite, at the junction with Aislibie Road in 2016 a house had Blitz type damage as a result of badly executed building work.

Lee Centre

Lee House & Centre

This was originally the site of Lee House, a medieval mansion that was rebuilt in the 1820s probably partially as a result of the re-alignment of Old Road, it is pictured below. However, by the 1880s it no longer met the needs of the wealthy Victorian gent as city encroached with the railways.

Lee Centre was built on the site in the 1880s – initially it was home to a few clubs, including a chess club. But it was never developed uses that befitted its impressive architecture by World War 2 it had effectively become used for storage and nurse appointments; it was used for education from 1970s and more recently by various charities.

Next door was built as St Margaret’s Parish Rooms, long before Kingswood Halls were built; it was also home to school for many years before becoming offices and warehouses for stationery supplier and then a toy merchant.  It has been a nursery for the last decade or so.

Chiesmans’ Warehouse

In a former incarnation this was home to the teetotal Lee Working Men’s Institution, it was taken over as a depot for the Lewisham Department Store, Chiesmans who rebuilt it around 1914 – it was almost completely destroyed in during the Blitz before being rebuilt on same footprint for Chiesmans in mid 1950s.  After some slightly less than legitimate activities it is slowly being converted into flats.

The Cedars

Was situated on what is now the opposite corner of Aislbie Road, it was another large house – the estate was broken up and mostly sold at the same time as Lee House.  The house itself remained until the 1890s before being sold for development – hence the housing at the north-western corner of Aislibie Road is different to the rest of the street.  The street itself was named after, although spelled incorrectly, the slave owner and terrible cricketer Benjamin Aislabie – the last tenant of Lee Place.

 

Manor House Gardens (Old Road entrance)

This is next door to 36 Old Road, this was part of the estate of The Cedars.  Post development the site was used for many years as stables for Thomas Tilling’s horse drawn buses and then as a workshop by the firm afterwards.  It went through several uses afterwards – the sweet makers Whitehouse and Co from 1929; John Edgington and Co Marquee Manufacturers who latterly made floats for the Lord Mayors Show were there from 1949 (including some of those below) and then Penfolds used it as a crash repair workshop from the late 1980s until around 2010.  Development into flats started a few years later but has been paused for a couple of years.

 

Picture Credits

  • John Rocque’s 18th century map is from the information board at Lee Green
  • The Ordnance Survey map from the 1860s is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland
  • The picture of Lee Place comes from the information board opposite St Margaret’s Church
  • The picture of Holy Trinity Glenton Road is via Wikipedia Commons – originally from Illustrated London News
  • The photograph of The Firs is from the information board on Brandram Road, opposite St Margaret’s church.
  • The drawing of Lee Manor Farm is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, it remains their copyright and is used with their permission
  • The 1890s Ordnance Survey map is courtesy of the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons.
  • The pair of Ordnance Survey maps from  1863 (top) and 1893 are on a Creative Commons via National Library of Scotland
  • The sale plan of Lee House is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, it remains their copyright and is used with their permission
  • The picture of Benjamin Aislabie is on a Creative Commons via one of Lewisham Archives sites 

The Thomson Brothers – Slave Traders & Owners of Lee

One of the underlying threads in the growth of Lee and the underpinning source of its wealth from the 17th century onwards was slavery – Running Past has covered this before in relation to the Manor House with the links of both Thomas Lucas and the Barings to it as well as to the last resident of Lee PlaceBenjamin Aislabie, who kept his ties to the awful trade in misery beyond the time it was outlawed in the Empire.

While what these Lee residents trading links were despicable, two of their predecessors on what is now the borders of SE12 and SE13 were considerably worse and helped paved the way for what was to come later – George and, more particularly, Maurice Thomson (they are sometimes referred to by the alternate spelling Thompson).  Maurice Thomson lived at Lee Farm, sometimes referred to as Lee House (1), his brother George was one of the early inhabitants of Lee Place (covered in Running Past in 2014) it may even have been built for him (2).

IMG_0323

Maurice Thompson was described “England’s greatest colonial merchant of his day.”  He was born into a wealthy family in Watton-at-Stone in Hertfordshire  around 1600 and moved to Virginia around 1617, initially being involved in the supply of indentured servants (who were obligated to work only for a set period of time) and became involved in tobacco production directly himself – exporting 25% of Virginian output by the mid 1630s.

His involvement in slavery began in 1626 – supplying 60 slaves for the Leeward Island of St Kitts.  Over the next couple of decades along with a  few other families, like the Noells, the Thomsons turned the English colonies in the West Indies into sugar producing islands totally dependent on slavery – there were around 12,800 slaves in Barbados by 1650. The number doubled again within a decade.

The trade was effectively a three cornered one – taking slaves from Guinea and elsewhere on the coast of West Africa to the West Indies, bringing sugar back to Europe and then returning with provisions to West Africa.  Thomson was also involved in a wide variety of other trade – including privateering in the Caribbean – essentially a legalised form of piracy, which has been covered in Running Past before, in relation to the name of the Antigallican Hotel in Charlton.

Maurice Thomson’s first definite on-line links to Lee came when he took a 21 lease out on Lee Farm in 1662 from Francis Sherman, who had bought the farm in 1633.  It wasn’t his primary residence for much of the rest of his life, this was in Haversham which is now part of Milton Keynes where he bought the Manor House in 1664.

As discussed previously in a post , Slavery and the Manor House, there isn’t complete certainty where Lee Farm (sometimes known as Lee House) actually was in this period.  It may have been where the Manor House is currently sited or could have been close to the junction of Old Road and Aislibie Road.

It seems likely that Maurice Thomson  was living in Lee before 1662 – there was a Maurice Thomson in Lee in 1641, who had a son, also Maurice, christened at St Margaret’s Lee in May – it is known that Maurice Thomson’s first son who died in infancy was also called Maurice. He was also on hearth tax records from 1641 (3).

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Maurice Thomson used Lee Farm it as his close to London base until his death in 1676.  In his will he left most of his land interests, including the slaves, to his son John

I give bequeath and devise unto my said dearely beloved sonn Sir John Thomson Baronett All my ffreehold mannors Lands Tenements and hereditaments in England Ireland Barbadoes, Cureco St Christophers (now known as St Kitts), Virginia , the Caribie Islands and elsewhere …

John Thomson stayed in Lee until 1680 when the remainder of the lease was transferred to Elias Aston.

John Thomson, married Frances Annesley, while she has the same family name as Brian who had been Lord of the Manor of Lee and an early 17th century  court case seems to have at least partially inspired King Lear (covered in Running Past in 2014),  she would have been no more than a distant relative – it has not been possible to find any direct link through The Peerage.  Her part of family came from Anglesey.

As merchants the Thomsons were very much in the Parliamentary camp during the English Civil War, which Christopher Hill notes was

… a class war, in which the despotism of Charles I was defended by the reactionary forces of the established Church and conservative landlords, and on the other side stood the trading and industrial classes in town and countryside . . . the yeomen and progressive gentry…’

Of the Thomson brothers, George was much less involved in the slave trade, although his name crops up; it is with much less frequently than Maurice his brother.  He settled in Virginia in 1623 before returning to London as a merchant trading with Virginia and the Caribbean – trade with these areas always indirectly involved slavery in this period.  He is much better known for his political and military activity.  George Thomson became actively involved in the Parliamentary cause as a soldier, losing a leg in battle. After the end of the Civil War he was elected to Parliament for Southwark, although fell out with Cromwell for a while.  After the Restoration in 1660, George Thomson (picture below – source) seems to have laid low in Lee, but he was mentioned in hearth tax records in 1664 – he had the most chimneys in the parish, 21, six more than his brother at Lee Farm.

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While this is the first definitive on-line reference to him, like his brother, there are clear indications that he had been living in the area for a while – there are christening records from the 1645 with the correct names of children and wife.  So it may be that he had been the first resident of Lee Place.

He died in 1668, and the estate of Lee Place seems to have been sold to the Christopher Boone, who took up residence in 1670. Boone’s will makes reference to it having been bought from Thomson.

Notes

  1. Edwyn and Josephine Birchenough (1968) Two Old Lee Houses – Dacre House and Lee House p68
  2. Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Church
  3. Birchenough op cit p70

 

The Lewisham Anchor Brewery

There is an impressive, slightly faded Victorian building within Tesco’s car park in Lewisham; it looks rather out of place amidst the 21st century internal combustion engines and 1980s retail architecture.  It is Eagle House which was the former office of H & V Nicholl’s Anchor Brewery and was built around 1870.

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The Lewisham brewery seems to date from the late 18th century, initially on Lewisham High Street (1); its owner, Abraham Constable was mentioned as an ‘eminent Lewisham Brewer’ who lived at Bridge House Farm in Ladywell by 1804 (2).  While there appears to be no online reference of it this, Constable seems to have been in partnership with someone called Fordham.

The usually reliable Edith’s Streets has brewing on the Tesco site from 1818, presumably with Constable and Fordham. Abraham Constable was Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Kent and lived at the rather grand Mount Pleasant in Hither Green which was built for him in 1810.  Abraham Constable had an interest in the White Hart at Lee Bridge (bottom of Belmont Hill) as late as 1830. But ownership of the Lewisham Brewery had been sold to Fordham and Marsden by 1820 (3), possibly earlier as they were in partnership from as early as 1810, in relationship to a land deal next to The George.  Constable died in late 1832.

The brewery was again sold in 1827 as there was a letter from a B Wood, who was ‘partner in recently sold Lewisham Brewery’ to John Courage offering Courage the Roebuck pub in September 1827. It isn’t clear whether Wood was the current or recently past partner.  The John Courage referred to in 1827 would probably have been the son of the original brewer from Aberdeen.  John Courage (senior) had bought an existing brewery in Horsleydown, Bermondsey in  in 1787 but died in 1797 aged just 36.  His son John was born in 1788 and became a partner in 1811.

It doesn’t appear that the letter relates to anything more than The Roebuck though, although at some point the name changed from Lewisham Brewery to Anchor – a name shared with the Courage Brewery at Horsleydown, Bermondsey as well as that ofthe eponymous brewery on the South Bank – once partially owned by a tenant of Lee Manor House, Frederick Perkins.  The location is shown on the Ordnance Survey map below surveyed in 1867.

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The history becomes clearer in the 1830s, as the brewery was  bought by Harry & Vincent Nicholl, during the 1830s – the first reference is a mention in bankruptcy proceedings in 1838 where the Nicholl brothers were listed as creditors (3). Both brothers were listed as early as the 1851 census as brewers, Harry as a “Brewer employing 11 Men.”

There is nothing on-line suggesting connections with other breweries so maybe the earlier date is correct – certainly, as will be seen below, there were connections with Lewisham from around that era.  They could of course been brewery managers who then became owners (as we saw with the Barclay Perkins brewery).

The Nicholl brothers were from the Chipping Barnet area, perhaps a century before suburbia encroached upon it.  Harry was born in 1810, possibly a twin – there was a sister of the same age in the 1841 census.  He was still living at home in 1841 – with Vincent and two sisters.  It was a family of wealth – there were eight servants living at the family home – Greenhill Grove.

The family wealth that allowed the brothers to buy to brewery came, in part, at least, from slavery – their father, Richard who died in 1839, owned two estates in St Vincent with 163 and 216 slaves in 1837..

They had two brothers who had already left home by the time the census enumerators called for the first time at Greenhill Grove in 1841 – J R Nicholl, who was to become Rural Dean of Streatham – a role he stayed in until he was 95!  Another brother, Charrington Nicholl, had moved to Essex and took over the East Hill Brewery in Colchester (4) which lasted until about 1925, when it was acquired by Ind Coope.  There is a link to the East End brewers Charringtons – the name for which comes from a John Charrington.  He was the father of the Vincent and Harry Nicholl’s mother, Anne.

By 1851 Harry had moved to Beckenham and was living on his own (with three servants), a decade later he was still there but he married Emily in 1867 in a church on the Strand, she was from the then market town of Watford.   By 1871 census showed them still in Beckenham and they had an 8 year old daughter plus two children from Emily’s previous marriage along with a trio of servants.  A decade later, he was living at Morants Court in Chevening in Kent, this is a large country house – he seems to have rented rather than purchased it, but times were not hard – they had five servants living-in on census day.  They may well have moved back towards London – he died in 1889 in Bromley – certainly his widow was living in Beckenham in 1891.

Vincent was born in 1814, like his brother he seems to have remained in and around Barnet until at least 1841.  He married Lousia in Lewisham in 1843.  With both the next two censuses he was away from home, in 1851 visiting a wine merchant in Lewisham, and in 1861 he was in a large boarding house in Brighton.  It was probably a relatively upmarket hotel,  the other clientele included a Navy Commander, a Norfolk vicar and a Barrister.

It appears that they had no surviving children Vincent and Louisa were listed in the 1871 as living in Reigate Foreign (originally outside the castle walls) with five servants – a compliment that had increased to seven a decade later.   He died after the sale to Whitbread in 1902, still living in Reigate.

The brewery was sold to Whitbread in 1890, perhaps precipitated by Harry’s death the year before, for what seems like the incredibly large amount of £185,000. In employment terms it had grown considerably from the ’11 men’ in 1851 – the 1881 census put the workforce at 30.  Whitbread’s motive for the purchase seems to have been to turn the plant into a bottling depot for their operations south of the Thames.

Although they were also to take on Anchor’s tied trade that amounted to 24,000 barrels a year – it is known that they supplied at least two Lewisham pubs – The Roebuck (covered in Running Past) and the White Hart, along with Eltham’s Rising Sun, Forest Hill’s Railway Telegraph and Beckenham’s Greyhound amongst many others.

The brewery did more general sales to the trade and private customers as this advert from the Kentish Mercury which appeared in various guises during the 1880s and 1890s shows (5).

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The photo above is from just after World War 2 it shows the bottling plant from the air – it is on the right hand side of the picture about half way up.  Just above it is the then very new Lewisham Hill Estate, and a little further up are the prefabs next to Hollyhedge House are clear – there is a photo from a different angle from an earlier post.  Just below the bottling plant is the engineering firm Elliot Brothers (which the blog will probably return to).

The bottling plant continued in operation until the 1980s when it was sold to Tesco for the current supermarket.  The bottles below may have been used at Lewisham during  Whitbread’s ownership.

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The Anchor name does live on close to the site, what  the brewery tap is on the corner of Lewisham Road and Lewisham Hill (known for a while as Bridge House).  It closed for a while in the early 2000s but re-opened in 2011 and was still open when this post was updated (June 2018).

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) Hither Green –The Forgotten Hamlet p29
  2. Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal 30 November 1804
  3. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 24 November 1838
  4. 11 February 1905 – Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser, Upton Park and Dagenham Gazette
  5. Kentish Mercury 02 May 1890

Photo Credits

The black and white photo is from the Britain from Above website which allows use of its photos for non-commercial blogs; bottle photos come from eBay.  The photo of The Anchor is by Chris Whippet and is on a Creative Commons via Geograph.

The census and related information comes from Find My Past.

 

 

Slavery and the Manor House

The Manor House in Lee is an impressive building, rightly listed, but amidst the grandeur and beauty it has financial foundations that lie very firmly in slavery – it is a prime example of what has been referred to as ‘dark heritage’.

The House was built for Thomas Lucas around 1770, he had lived in Lee for a while, renting Lee Place (on the opposite side of Old Road) from the Boones – it is a ‘country house’ that Running Past ‘visited’ a while ago.

But to understand the history of the Manor House, we need to go back a generation.  It certainly wasn’t the first building on the site – John Roques map of 1746 (1) a quarter of a century before the Manor House was built shows a lot of properties around where it is now located.  It was probably the location of Lee Farm, although there is some uncertainty about this.  Lee Farm seems to have moved around 1745 to become Burnt Ash Farm and the vacated buildings were bought by William Coleman, Thomas Lucas’ uncle, who sought to re-create the old Manor of Lee for his nephew (2)  which had been broken up after the death of Brian Annesley – covered earlier in Running Past.

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Coleman was the agent for a number of Leeward Islands plantation owners, notably the Pinneys of Bristol who were who were at that time probably the wealthiest plantation owners in St. Kitts and Nevis. He also jointly owned a plantation in Antigua with his nephew – Roundhill which had 150 slaves.

Thomas Lucas was born around 1720, possibly in the West Country.  He was Treasurer (1764-74) and later President (1774-84) of Guys Hospital and has been described as ‘a wealthy merchant’, much of his wealth came from  joint ‘business interests’ with his uncle in St Kitts in the Leeward Islands, along with the Roundhill plantation with 150 slaves in Antigua.  In his own right, Lucas probably owned land at Barbados Bay in Tobago – which almost inevitably would have had direct or indirect links to slavery.

A Thomas Lucas of this era part owned a number of ships directly involved in taking slaves to the West Indies – while there  is nothing definitive linking him to Lee, there cannot have been many of that name, with sufficient wealth to own a share in a large ship, who had  links to the West Country and who were involved in the slave trade at that time.  One of these ships was the ‘Africa’, jointly owned by a Thomas Lucas and seven others.  It left Bristol in 1774 and its captain purchased slaves at New Calabar (in what is now Nigeria) and then proceeded to St Vincent for instructions on their sale in 1775.  The net proceeds were a staggering £5442, millions at today’s prices.

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Manor House was designed by Richard Jupp, a well-known 18th century architect and surveyor, employed for much of his career by the East India Company.  The Manor House is one of a trio of relatively well known south London properties that he designed – the others being the Sevendroog Castle and the entrance and wings to Guys Hospital (1774-77), presumably as a direct result of his work for Lucas  at the Manor House.

Lucas died in 1784 and what happened next in terms of ownership and occupancy is a little confused with some contradictory evidence, although some elements of this ‘confusion’  may relate to the author’s poor understanding of 18th and early 19th century legal jargon.  It seems that the former Lady Lucas let the house to the Call family, Sir John in 1792 on a 61 year lease.  However, he seems to have moved out before his death in Westminster in 1801 – there is an impressive pyramidical family tomb in the old St Margaret’s churchyard.

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Lucas wife, who later married John Julius Angerstein (someone else who had made money from slavery) and appears to have sold the estate in the 1790s; there is a report of a sale in August 1796 at Garraway’s Coffee-House.  However, to confuse matters there is also the granting of a lease to Sir Francis Baring by the executors of Thomas Lucas in 1797. There are also frequent reports of a sale by a Sir Joseph Paice of the Manor House to Sir Francis Baring for £20,000 in 1796.  This may be the same sale as that by former Elizabeth Lucas, in that the House might have been due to pass to him after her death – there is a mention of him as the reversionary legatee which might point to this. Whatever the chain of events was, the net result was that around the end of the 18th or early in 19th centuries the Manor House became the London home of the Barings – this was certainly by 1801 as John Baring, the 3rd son of Sir Thomas was born there.

Before moving onto the Barings, it is worth touching on Sir Joseph Paice.  He would certainly have known Thomas Lucas as Paice was also trustee at Guys.  While there were no direct links to slavery, the Paice family had ‘trading links’ with Jamaica for produce and crops inevitably produced by slave labour.  Paice was also a childhood friend of Francis Baring – growing up in the same part of Devon, and was to help with the setting up of Barings Bank.

Despite their purchase of Stratton Park in Hampshire in 1801, it seems that the Barings remained at the Manor House, using it as their London base.  Sir Francis died there in 1810 and Sir Thomas lived there for a few years after that, although the family was to own the House for almost another century.

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The links of the Barings early wealth to slavery is relatively well known and well documented;  the whole family of that era and before seem to be imbued in the trade.   The graphics above come from the University College, London Legacies of Slave Ownership database – the maroon plaque from the Manor House.

While Sir Francis is said to have made his fortune before the age of 16 based on slavery; I have found no specific evidence for this. However, he had ‘interests’ as at least a lender at the Bogue Estate in Montego Bay in Jamaica from 1792. But he was more than that, in the detailed records of sales and related from the estate from 1792 to 1808, Sir Francis is listed in the ownership – Bogue is described as the ‘property of the heirs of Richard Atkinson Esq deceased and Messrs Baring and Clayton.’ The transactions included ‘hire of enslaved people’ in 1795 and 1796. In 1800, at around the time of the purchase of the Manor House there were 215 men, women and children enslaved on the estate.

While his son Thomas Baring is known to have eventually opposed slavery, unlike his near neighbour Benjamin Aislabie – whose murky past Running Past covered a while ago – his home and lifestyle at the Manor House and Stratton Park were under-pinned by past links to slavery.

Given this past it seemed odd that it is a family deemed worthy of a Lewisham maroon plaque without mention of what the ‘merchant’ refers to.  This was finally recognised in June 2020, when, after pressure, Lewisham Council covered it up, pending a broader discussion about its future. The context of this was a series of Black Lives Matter protests across the country and in Bristol the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and dragged into the harbour.

The next post will look at the latter years of the House in private ownership, when the Barings retained ownership but rented the House out.

If you are a current Lee, Hither Green or Lewisham resident, next time you use the park, the library or just walk or travel past and admire Richard Jupp’s fantastic architecture, please at least pause to remember the ‘dark heritage’, to remember the lives of those transported 5,000 miles from New Calabar to injustice and misery in the Leeward Islands, and to remember that it was the enforced and unpaid toil of slaves that largely paid for what you are looking at.  If you live somewhere else, something similar may well apply to your local ‘country house’ too.

Notes

  1. From information board at Lee Green
  2. Josephine Birchenough &  John King (1981)Some Farms and Fields in Lee p3

Benjamin Aislabie – Lee Resident, Slave Owner & Possibly the Worst Ever First Class Cricketer

The blog has touched on Benjamin Aislabie a couple of times before, notably him being the last tenant of Lee Place – the first of the country houses of Lee, that was situated in the area bounded by the current Old Road, Lee High Road and Bankwell Road, although its estate extended much further.

The long-term owners of the house, the Boone family, had ceased living in the house around 1770, letting it initially to Thomas Lucas who was to build the Manor House.  Aislabie became its final occupant in 1809, taking on a 14 year lease.

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(Picture from information board opposite St Margaret’s Lee)

Benjamin Aislabie, son of Rawson and Frances Aislabie, was born in 1774 at Newington Green.  By the time he moved to Lee he was a wealthy man, he would have needed to be to afford to rent Lee Place; he had made much of his wealth from the wine trade and was widely reported as having Nelson as one of his customers.

Like a number of the former wealthy inhabitants of Lee, he had links to slavery in the West Indies and the southern states of the current USA, this is something that the blog will undoubtedly return to in the future in posts on Lee Farm, the Manor House and Dacre House.  Aislabie was more unusual in that his links with the slave trade continued after it had been abolished in the British Empire in 1807.  However, it still existed elsewhere and there was nothing to prevent British citizens having interests in it outside the Empire.

It is known that Aislabie had a mortgage interest from 1812 in an estate in Antigua, and in his will he was owner of two estates in Dominica, one of which had 111 slaves, leaving them to his son Rev. William John Aislabie along with an income to his wife from them of £100 a year.

Unsurprisingly, he was one of those in Lee who did not sign the Lee Petition in 1814 – calling on the government to insert a clause into a treaty with the defeated French to end slavery in their empire.

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Picture source – via creative commons

In addition to his interests in wine and slavery, Aislabie was actively involved with the affairs of the parish of St Margaret, both helping oversee the construction of the short-lived second incarnation of the church (which had to be replaced three decades later due to subsidence) and helping dispense the largesse of the parish in the bad winter of 1814.  The late 19th century Lee historian F H Hart notes that Aislabie

took a lively interest in distributing the charities that severe winter to the poor; he also placed to the use of the parish the buildings in the front yard of his mansion, for the storage of coals and potatoes, which were given to the poor during the thirteen weeks’ frost; bread was very dear at this time, and Lee had no poor-house.

Aislabie’s erstwhile landlord, Charles Boone, had died in 1819 and when the lease ended in 1823, it was not renewed, and Lee Place was sold.  While F H Hart suggests he may have moved to Sevenoaks, it certainly wasn’t his permanent residence; in his latter years this was Park Place, next to Regent’s Park and close to the new home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Lords.  He was buried in Marylebone church in 1842.

Aislabie had a passion for cricket and was heavily involved in the administration of the game through the MCC, becoming its President in 1823 and secretary from the year before until his death.  In cricketing terms he is remembered though as having one of the worst first-class cricket records of all time.  In part this was because he continued playing well into his later years – his final match was played against Cambridge University at Lord’s on 1 and 2 Jul 1841 when he was aged 67 years 169 days – the oldest ever English participant in a first class game.

His record suggests that he managed 100 first class innings, with a highest score of 15 and a batting average of a paltry 3.15; he didn’t bowl.  The cricket records website, Cricinfo, suggests that

His lack of skill was further hampered by his girth, and towards the end of his career he was so fat that he had a permanent runner who also used to field for him

His record as an administrator seems little better, the same source notes

Under his tenure the club lurched from crisis to crisis, and while not dishonest, he was certainly a dreadful financial controller. He was also, among other posts, Custodian of the MCC Snuffbox.

The MCC at the time though was a little kinder to his memory – it was noted in the Sporting Magazine that

Aislabie obit

Given his links to slavery it seems strange that a man of Aislabie’s ‘pedigree’ has been remembered with a street name (albeit incorrectly spelled) from the 1890s, although perhaps the late Victorians in Lee and Lewisham were only aware of his past via the rose tinted glasses of F H Hart.

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Ignatius Sancho – Britain’s First Black Voter

Tucked away in the wall in the far south-western corner of Greenwich Park are a pair of memorial stones, it is easy to miss them.  The first is to mark the location of Princess Caroline’s bath at Montague House, the second is a memorial to Ignatius Sancho. 

  

The story told of Ignatius Sancho’s early life is generally that from a biography by Joseph Jekyll in 1782 who describes him being born on  a slave ship bound for Cartagena in the Spanish colony of New Granada (now in Columbia) soon after it left Africa, his mother died in labour and his father committed suicide rather than spend the rest of his in slavery.  He was brought to London effectively as a slave where he was owned by three sisters in Greenwich, who called him ‘Sancho’ as they thought he resembled Don Quixote’s squire.

  

However, more recent research suggests that he was more likely to have been born in Africa rather than on a slave ship and casts doubt on the route to London too.  However, with the strong links of south east London to the slave trade, via the Deptford dockyards, it is perhaps not surprising that he ended up working as a servant/slave in Greenwich.

Sancho’s’ later life is a little clearer, he eventually ended up at Montague House after being befriended by John, later to become, 2nd Duke of Montagu who encouraged him to read and lent him books from the library at the House.  He became a butler to Lady Montagu, and and on her death in 1751 he received an annuity of £30 and a year’s salary which he seems to have frittered away in George Best style.  During the 1760s Sancho married Ann Osborne and began to have influence amongst the Georgian intelligentsia on the issue of slavery.  This included Laurence Sterne who wrote about the subject in ‘Tristram Shandy’ .  Sancho returned to the employment of the Montagus before they set him up  with a shop in Mayfair.

Whilst Ignatio was in the employ of the Montagus his portrait was painted by Gainsborough in 1768 – the Duke and Duchess had portraits painted at the same time.

  

Source – Wikimedia Commons

As a male property owner in Westminster he was entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections, and in 1774 became almost certainly the  first person of Black African origin to cast a vote in Britain – he voted for the prominent Whig politician and anti-slavery campaigner Charles James Fox who stood in Westminster in that election. ‘Sancho’ was also the first Black African to have an obituary written about him in Britain. 

He is perhaps most remembered for his letters which were published posthumously  on slavery and British political and social life in the late 18th century.