Tag Archives: The Swan

The Swan – A Lee High Road Pub

On the corner of Lee High Road and Lee Church Street there is a small Victorian pub that seems to be clinging onto life, it has gone through a pair of reincarnations in the recent past. For the first 160 or so years of its life it was known as the Swan, in the last decade Rambles Bar and then Elements Bar.

The pub had opened around 1837, with the licence going to a James Couchman. It transferred to Thomas Couchman, presumably James’ son, on the condition that he ran the pub (1), Thomas was previously the parish constable. He had been born around 1796 somewhere in Kent (the 1841 census only listed the county), this may well have been in Lee.

As we saw in a post on one of the Quaggy tributaries, Mid Kid Brook, the original name came from swans that lived on a small lake or moat which had been created by damming the Brook in what are currently the grounds of Merchant Taylor’s Almshouses. The lake, sometimes referred to as the Looking Glass of Lee, went back to around the bottom of Dacre Park. Initially, it was for a farm run by the Lord of the Manor, Brian Annesley, whose later years seems to have at least influenced Shakespeare’s King Lear. Later it was an ornamental lake for Lee Place, home initially to a man who profited from the slave trade, George Thomson, and later to the Boone family.

In its early days, in the absence of of public buildings, The Swan was home to jury led inquests into deaths. This seems to have been common practice as we saw with the unfortunate Robert Cocking who died in an early parachute accident. His inquest was held at the Old Tigers Head.

Of the inquests held, the most notable was that following the death of police constable, William Aldridge, from a fractured skull in Deptford. He was hit by a rock thrown by a mob who tried to resist the arrest of John Pine outside the Navy Arms in Deptford (a pub building that is still there but looks forlorn and has seemingly been converted into flats). The death wasn’t instant and Aldridge returned to his home in Lee where he declined rapidly and died – the Metropolitan Police had been formed a decade before and he was the eighth officer to die on duty.

The foreman of the jury was a well known Lee name, Sidery, possibly William the head of household but, could have been Thomas, who lived in one of the houses between the Swan and the Woodman, which was transitioning into a shopping parade.

The inquest jury recorded ‘wilful murder’ against William Calvert, John Pine, his brother William, and John Burke (2). In the end charges were reduced to manslaughter and at the end of the trial at the Old Bailey, John Pine was transported for life as was William Calvert, albeit for 15 years (3). Perhaps they ended up in the antipodean Lewisham.

Like the Old Tiger’s Head at Lee Green there were sporting events along with associated gambling at the Swan. In 1843 there was a pedestrian race between ‘Two Unknowns’ one from Greenwich, one from Lee for a £10 stake over 200 yards (4). There also seems to have been live pigeon shooting (5) possibly over the road around what is now Bankwell Road, it was a sport that was only mentioned once in the press in relation to The Swan, but was later to happen regularly at the Old Tigers Head.

Thomas Couchman had moved on by early 1846 with George Chapman’s name was on brass over the door (6). Chapman died the same year, aged just 29 (7). James Charles Tiley was landlord by 1847; he would have been about 34 at that time, he was born in Middlesex. In 1851 he was a widower and was there with Charlotte Goddard, who was listed as his daughter in law (but almost certainly wasn’t), she worked as a barmaid; also there was a lodger. By 1861 James and Charlotte were married with two young children and a couple of servants – Sarah Larking and Mathilda Newmann.

As with every pub in the area, there were fights, drunkenness and arrests – one included the drunken assault of a police officer by George Mahoney of Robertson Street (now the Lee High Road end of Brightfield Road) who was fighting with someone else outside the pub and when arrested hit the PC. He was fined 10/- or two weeks in prison (9).

The next landlord was John Fitzgerald who started pulling pints after James Tiley’s death. He had moved on before the 1881 census enumerators called as the landlord was then John Green who was then 38 and hailed from Dartford. There with him was his wife, Mary from Devon, two children, two bar staff who lived above the pub, along with a domestic servant.

The Greens had moved on by September 1884 as Walter William Scott took over the licence. One of the first things that Scott changed was to try to let stabling attached to the pub, noting that it could also be used for for manufacturing or business (10).
Scott moved on by 1889 as the licence was briefly held in 1889/90 by Devonian, John Byerlee Beadle (11) who had previous been landlord at the Coopers’ Arms in Shoreditch. While listed there in the 1891 Kelly’s, he had moved on by the 1891 census as he was recorded as a retired publican living in Woolwich.

At The Swan in 1891 was Walter Haywood Cooper, born in Portsmouth in 1862, who was there with his wife Emma and two live-in staff, a potman, Thomas Mears and a barmaid, Bertha Crew.

The Coopers stay was a relatively short one, but those that followed had very brief tenures as the licence transferred to Frank Minty in August 1896 (12) soon after the death of Emma in May 1896 (13).

As we saw in the post on the Lesters of Lee New Town, there was a serious distubance in early 1897, when George Lester was charged with being ‘riotous whilst drunk’ and assaulting two Police Constables after having to be ejected from the Swan.  He was found guilty and got a hefty fine of £6 or three months imprisonment with 6/- (30p) costs.

Frank Minty was gone by May 1897, as J Ellesmere asserted that the pub was under new management stressing the quality of the whiskies on offer to the discerning drinker (14). Ellesmere’s stay was even shorter, little more than 4 months, as there was new ‘new management’ by September 1897 as the adverts were in the name of John McPherson (15). He was a Scot from Argyllshire, but had moved from the Red Cross pub in North Cray, the pub is has been known as the White Cross since 1935 to avoid confusion with the British Red Cross.

McPherson was there with his wife, Maud, a young child and a couple of live-in staff, barmaid Rosina Jones and a domestic servant Helen Gander in 1901. The pub is pictured at the back of the photograph below from around this era.

Around 1907 Bertie William Richard Perou took over the licence, he’d have been around 24, he’d been working as a barman at his Father’s pub, the Red Lion at 17 Greenwich High Road (the building, although not the pub is still there). His father had probably retired by 1907 and lived in Longhurst Road (16). Perou started to use the rooms for concerts – including a ‘Bohemian Concert’ in late 1907 one of several by the Lee and Lewisham Musical Society (17). Perou’s was another who had a short stay as by 1911 he was running the Hutchinson Arms in Stepney. The pub is pictured below, its sign visible at the rear of the photograph from this era.

The next name on the brass plaque over the door seems to have been Henry Bernard Drew who was certainly there by the time the 1911 Kelly’s Directory was compiled.
Born in the City of London in 1869, Drew came from a family who worked on the Thames, his father was a master lighter man and in 1901 he was listed as a Barge Owner living in the then suburbia of the Corbett Estate on Arngask Road with his wife Ada, daughter Ada and a servant not called Ada. It’s not clear why he gave up life on the water but was there by 1911, probably a year or two before, perhaps living in Catford he’d already given up interest other than ownership. They still had a live in servant and no doubt employed people in the bar.

He stayed at the Swan until the mid 1930s, possibly running the pub until his death in 1937 at the Miller Hospital in Greenwich. At the time he was living in the WJ Scudamore built Thornwood Road. He was survived by Ada.

The next landlord was probably Walter Edward Mitchell, he was certainly there in the 1939 Register, when he was living at The Swan on his own; he probably took over the tenancy at around the time of Henry Drew’s death. He was born in 1895 probably in Westminster, although the family always seems to have lived around Lambeth, and living in Kennington in 1911 when he was working as a Porter. He died in 1962.

On Facebook threads there were a few memories of a DJ called Graham Edwards in the 1960s and 1970s and the regular playing of T Rex’s Ride a White Swan (released in 1970). There was a darts team and that odd fixture of many pub Sunday lunchtimes – the stripper. It seems that in that era Jim and Kath ran the pub.

Fast forward to the 1980s and 1990s the landlord was William (Bill) Whipps born in Bermondsey in 1950, and wife Mary, they’d married in Lewisham in 1969. They may have divorced then remarried as a couple of the same uncommon names married in Bexley in 2002 – both with the surname Whipps.

Around this time the name seemed to have subtly changed with both a prefix and suffix to the ‘Famous Swan of Lee.’ The source of the fame is unclear. It was very much a ‘Millwall pub’, something particularly noticeable around the Lions trips to Cardiff for the FA Cup Final (whilst Wembley was being rebuilt) in 2004 and the subsequent brief foray into Europe, along with visits to Wembley later in the decade for play-off Finals. On such occasions the pub was covered with flags of St George. The pub was probably run by a couple called Mark and Faye in this era. It is pictured below from 2009.

There are several reviews in Beer in the Evening for The Swan which deteriorated during the first decade of the 21st century. In 2003 it was described as
“Cheap, honest, good jukebox, good beer. It’s doing the simple things well that makes this pub a cut above the rest nearby.”

A review four years later was equally positive, almost too good to be true “a fantastic pub, wonderful bar staff and super landlady, the entertainment is first class with Campbell’s disco every two weeks and the karaoke and bands they have on there, never any trouble!!!!”

It struggled over the next few years with several short periods closed for a variety of reasons, with reviews less gushing – ‘a very basic boozer’ was one less than enthusiastic description. It had a couple of prolonged periods of over six months closed during 2012 and 2013 before reopening with a new name, Rambles Bar, pictured below from 2014.

From the outside, at least, it was a business that seemed to struggle, while more inviting than the latter days of its previous incarnation, when passing it lacked a key element of a successful pub or bar, drinkers. There were a few party nights when the pub was rammed but these seemed to be rarities.

The current incarnation, which has straddled COVID-19 and the lockdowns that killed off the Dirty South (Rose of Lee), is known as Elements Bar. It offers food and cocktails, but much reduced hours to the traditional pub that was previously there. There seem to be similar issues of large parties but few drinkers on other nights. An almost empty bar from a November 2021 mid Saturday evening is pictured above.

The struggles of the Swan (and it’s successors) are almost certainly related to changes in the area – much of the social housing in what was once Lee New Town (the area bounded by Lee High Road, Dacre Park and Boone Street) has been sold under right to buy. The neighbouring streets on the south side of Lee High Road had been home to skilled manual workers and public sector workers before and after World War Two. However, wealthier professionals have moved in, house prices have risen and drinking patterns changed. There are lots of external factors too such as the smoking ban and cheaper supermarket booze too.

Combined, this has an impact on traditional pubs – the last 25 years have seen the demise of the Royal Oak, the Greyhound and most recently the Woodman. The former Swan is bucking the trend and hanging on in there. All four are pictured above from a few years ago.

Unlike many other closed local pubs, there haven’t been pages of memories posted on Facebook – maybe there hasn’t been a trigger to do it… So, if you worked there or drank there, tell your story, who were the characters who propped up the bar, the publicans, the staff,  the atmosphere, the memorable nights, the particular celebrations that were held there, memories of the friends, the beers.  Post them below (you can use your Facebook or Twitter login – or via Facebook (if you found the post via there) – if it is you first comment ‘here’, you will have to wait for it to be ‘moderated’.  I will update the post with comments.  Anything libellous will get deleted here & no doubt on the Facebook Group pages.

Notes

  1. Ken White (1992) The Public Houses of Lee and Lewisham p241
  2. 5 October 1839 – Kentish Mercury
  3. 9 October 1839 – London Evening Standard
  4. 28 May 1843 – Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle
  5. 3 April 1842 – Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle
  6. 23 November 1846 – Morning Advertiser
  7. 9 January 1847 – West Kent Guardian
  8. 23 September 1871 – Kentish Mercury
  9. 25 May 1872 – Kentish Mercury
  10. 12 September 1884 – Kentish Mercury
  11. White op cit p241
  12. 28 August 1896 – Kentish Mercury
  13. 24 April 1896 – Kentish Mercury
  14. 14 May 1897 – Woolwich Gazette
  15. 17 September 1897 Woolwich Gazette
  16. 17 May 1907 – Kentish Mercury
  17. 15 November 1907 – Kentish Mercury

Picture and Other Credits

  • The postcard with the pub in the background showing Oates drapers is from the author’s own ‘collection’
  • The postcard with the tram in from of the Woodman, is via eBay in 2017
  • The photograph of the pub from 2009 is via Wikimedia Commons
  • Kelly’s Directories are via the always helpful Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  • Census and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)

The Lesters of Lee New Town 

Running Past has often covered the stories of those living in and around Lee and Hither Green, particularly in Edwardian, Victorian times and before.  Because of the nature of the development of the area it has usually been the stories of the wealthy with servants, shopkeepers and publicans living in what was once suburbia and the farmers in the years before.  

The histories of several working class streets have been told –  notably Ardmere Road and Brightfield Road including under its previous name Robertson Street.  However, there have been few family stories – this post, on a family that lived in and around Lee Church Street for four generations, begins to put this right. Some relatively recent photographs of the area are below.

Lee New Town consisted of small terraced houses, many in narrow alleys on and off the current streets of Lee Church Street, Boone Street, Boone’s Road, Fludyer Street and Dacre Park.  It was built from the 1820s after the estate of Lee Place had been sold in lots. It was demolished both by the Luftwaffe and as part of a late 1950s slum clearance programme.  Boone Street is pictured below, probably from the 1950s before the demolition of the houses.

The Lesters were a long standing family who lived in Lee New Town for much of four generations.  It’s not an attempt to write a complete family history but to try and understand something of what life was like for an ordinary working class household in Lee from the 1850s into the 20th century.  We will focus on one member of the family from each generation.

Charlotte Lester, who successive generations have taken their name from was born in Colchester around 1803. It isn’t clear whether Lester is her birth surname or if she married in Colchester – there is no obvious record of either, although a child of that name was baptised in 1810.

Charlotte had two children in Colchester, James John Lester (1834) and Mary born there around 1838.

By the 1841 census, Charlotte was listed as a servant and living in Lewisham; she had hit very hard times as Charlotte and her two young children were in the Lewisham Union Workhouse. 

The Lewisham Poor Law Union was formed in 1836, serving the parishes of Lee, Charlton, Eltham, Kidbrooke, Mottingham, and Plumstead as well as Lewisham. The workhouse was on the site on the Lewisham Hospital. Victorian workhouse buildings remain on the site, complete with an eroded Lewisham Union badge over the entrance – the part to the left of the arch dates from before the Lesters’ stay, the rest was later (1). Charlotte will probably have been put to work picking oakum – unravelling strands of old rope.

There was a children’s section over the road on the edge of what is now Lewisham Park, so Charlotte was probably separated from James and Mary. Conditions were poor for the children – often suffering from rickets and anemia due to poor diet and sleeping four to a bed in what was a badly ventilated, cold building (2).

It isn’t clear how long the family was in the workhouse or where in the Union they had previously been.  As a servant, losing a job could quickly lead to the loss of home, directly if they ‘lived in’ or indirectly if they were unable to find new employment very quickly.  There was no welfare state safety net. 

Towards the end of 1843, Charlotte married John Kiddle in Greenwich – he was a Londoner who worked as a garden labourer.  Along with a new daughter, Eliza, who was born in Greenwich in 1845, they were listed as living at 9 Boone Street in 1851.  James, now around 15, was working as an errand boy. Houses from elsewhere on Boone Street are pictured below.

Whether they were actually living at 9 Boone Street is debatable – many of the houses on the street weren’t numbered in the census record apart from three households who were all given number 9. Either 19 people were sharing one property or some errors made.  If it was 9 it would have been close to where Boone Street now dog-legs around.  What is now the dog-leg was then Dacre Street.  What is probably more likely is that it was an incorrectly transcribed Boone’s Place where Charlotte was living in 1861.

It seems that John died around 1856, aged around 35.

In the 1861 census, Charlotte and Eliza were living in Boone’s Place, Charlotte working as a charwoman and Eliza, now 16, was still at school.  Boone’s Place was a small terrace facing north about 100 metres from the High Road off Boone Street, opposite the Smithy on the map below from 1893.

The census record isn’t completely clear, but it looks as though Charlotte was the head of the household at number 9 and it was a house that she shared with George and Mary Martin and their young son.  George Martin’s parents and seven siblings lived next door at number 8.

In 1871, Charlotte was still living at 9 Boone’s Place – listed as being the head of household, there was no occupation listed in the census. With her daughter Eliza and her husband Charles Robert Hoy, a baker, who she had married in Deptford in 1870. It isn’t immediately obvious what happened to the Hoys after the 1871 census.

Charlotte despite her hard life lived to around 74, a decent age given life expectancy in Victorian England – she died in Lewisham in 1877.

Back to Charlotte’s son James;  by 1861 he was living in George Square, one of the small  ‘courts’ in Lee New Town.  He had married Maria (née Wells) in Bromley in 1858.  They had two children James (1859) and Henry (1861) they were all listed as labourers in the census, but even in tough Victorian times, babies and toddlers weren’t sent out to work.

The small house that the Lesters lived in was almost certainly off Dacre Street and was shared with another family, the Smiths – there were 9 of them living there.

Infant mortality rates were high, and Henry had died before 1861 was out.  Over the next decade the Lesters had several more children – Maria (born 1863), Eliza (1864), George (1866), Emily (1869) and Samuel just before the census enumerators called again in 1871.  They had moved by 1871, by about 100 metres and were living at 10 Union Place – this was a small turning off the western side of Lee Church Street between the ‘Church’ and ‘Street’ on the map.

George, who will focus on in terms of this generation, was 5 and listed as a scholar, probably going to the National Schools over the road on the opposite side of Lee Church Street – pictured above just before demolition in the late 1950s alongside its current version.  A classroom is pictured below from the same era, but it had probably not changed markedly since George’s time there.

James and family were still living at 10 Union Place in 1881, James, now 46, was listed as a labourer. There were 10 children there ranging in age from 21 to 1. 

In 1881 George was 15 and living with his parents, he was working as a ‘cow boy’ – presumably a young assistant in a dairy rather than riding horseback through Lee wearing a Stetson. There were still several farms in the district which George could easily have walked to from Lee –  Burnt Ash, Lee Manor, College, North Park and Horn Park would fit the bill as would dairies, such as the one in Butterfield Street.

A decade later James, Maria and the family that remained ‘at home’ had moved out of Lee and were living in Victoria Terrace, part of Ennersdale Road. The house is still there although it is now 11 Leahurst Road – it is much bigger than the houses in Lee New Town. They were probably able to afford the no doubt higher rent as a lot of the family was now working – James was still a painter, Maria was working as a laundress, Henry (1871) a butcher, Alfred (1873) a servant, Charles (1875) and Ernest (1877) were both shop boys, with Annie (1878) and Alice (1880) both still at school. James died a few weeks after the census aged 57.

Maria stayed in the area – living in Molesworth Street in 1901, still working as a laundress at (63), with Charles (1875), a granddaughter and a couple of lodgers. She was still there a decade later with Alfred (1873) now a bank messenger, along with 2 boarders. What happened to her beyond that isn’t clear.

We return to George (born around 1866).  He married Sarah Elizabeth Reffin from Brighton in the summer of 1887; she seems to have been also known as Elizabeth – that is how she is referred to in later censuses. He was no longer a cow boy, by 1891 he was working as a bricklayers labourer.  In the early years of the marriage, the family moved around a little – they had three children born in 1889 (Catford), 1890 (Lee) and 1891 (Lewisham) and by the time of the census were back in Lee, living at 6 Dacre Square. Dacre Square was a tiny area of 12 houses accessed off the southern side of Dacre Street via an alley – below the ’R’ of street on the map. Dacre Square is just visible between properties on Dacre Street below (probably from the 1930s) as well as above.

George had a run in with the law in 1897 when he was was charged with being ‘riotous whilst drunk’ and assaulting two Police Constables after having to be ejected from the Swan.  He was found guilty and got a hefty fine of £6 or three months imprisonment with 6/- (30p) costs (3). In 2021 terms, the fine would have been around £800.

By the time of his conviction he was a bricklayer and living at 59 Dacre Street.  He and Elizabeth had 7 children living with them. 59 Dacre Street would have been almost opposite the entrance to Dacre Square – it may well be (just) pictured from the 1930s from Dacre Square below.

George and family were still in Lee New Town in 1911, living at 7 Royal Oak Place in 1911 – it isn’t clear exactly where this is, but logic would suggest it was close to the Royal Oak pub – at the top of Lee Church Street. There were eleven of them in the household ranging in age from 20 to 5.  

It isn’t immediately clear what happened to George after 1911.  However, a couple of George and Elizabeth’s children were still living in the area as war broke out in 1939 – the fourth generation of the family in Lee New Town.  Most of the oth ated to Canada in the 1930s.

Sidney (1897) was living at 7 St Margaret’s Passage and was working as a railway labourer – a house that was on the western side of the alleyway, more or less opposite the end of the Dacre Arms’ garden.  It was demolished for the flats which are pictured at the bottom of the first group of photographs.

The youngest son, Fred, born in 1906, was living at 52 Dacre Park – close to the corner of Boone’s Road – he seems to have worked for coal dealer – although this was incorrectly transcribed as ‘coal miner.’  Fred seems to have stayed in Lewisham until his death in 1983.  The home he was lived in was destroyed in the Blitz – there were prefabs there post war.

Note

  1. Lewisham Local History Centre (1992) Looking Back at Lewisham p56
  2. ibid p56
  3. Kentish Mercury 5 March 1897

Credits

  • Census and related data comes via Find My Past, subscription required
  • The pair of photographs of Boone Street and that of Boone’s Place (with children) come from the notice board adjacent to Kingswood Halls
  • The single photograph of Boone Street, the photo of the classroom along with those looking into and out of Boone’s Square are from the collection of Lewisham Archives and remain their copyright, but are used with their permission
  • The earlier photograph of the school is via Collage – Record number 189098 / Catalogue reference: SC_PHL_02_0327_59_2658 – permission given for use here, but no rights to use elsewhere, it remains their copyright
  • The Ordnance Survey map is on a non-commercial licence via the National Library of Scotland