Tag Archives: Verdant Lane

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

 

 

 

The World War Two Home Front – Digging For Victory, Allotments and Women’s Land Army

Since the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in September 2019, Running Past has been looking at a number of aspects of life on the ‘Home Front’ during the War.  This has included the evacuation of Lewisham’s children to safer areas, the shelters built to try to keep the local population safe during air raids, the role of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service and the rationing of food.  On a similar vein we’ll look now at what is referred to a Digging for Victory, the growing of food in gardens and allotments along with briefly looking at the Women’s Land Army.

In 1939 Britain was importing large quantities of food – including 70% of cheese, cereals and sugar, 80% of fruit and more than 50% of meat. It was fully expected that the Germans would target food supplies coming in via sea, as they had done with the U-Boat Campaign in World War 1.  At the national level merchant shipping was put under Admiralty control in August 1939 – with food coming via convoy.

While they have links back to the 17th century, allotments, as we know them, have their roots in the Victorian period, demand for them in areas such as the then suburban Lewisham seems to have come from middle classes who wanted space to grow their own.  As we have seen with Lee Working Men’s Institution and Lee Public Halls there were several gardening clubs locally. Allotment numbers were not that large though with 244,268 plots in 1873 across the   country.

Numbers grew steadily in the Edwardian era and by the time World War One broke out, there were somewhere between 450,000 and 600,000 allotments. Those pictured above, bounded by Hafton, Hazelbank and Wellmeadow Roads, probably date from early in this period.  There was a large expansion during World War 1 with just over 1.5 million allotments in England by 1918.

Numbers of plots declined in the interwar period such that by the outbreak of World War Two just 819,000 allotment plots were cultivated. Many around Lee and Hither Green were lost to development in this period – two of the larger interwar private housing developments in the area – the Woodstock (the area around Woodyates Road) and Verdant Lane estates were both built on allotment sites in the 1930s, as was part of Reigate Road on the Downham Estate and a plot to the north east of bend in Meadowcourt Road near Lee Green.

The Ministry of Agriculture launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign soon after the outbreak of war in 1939. There was propaganda throughout the war encouraging people to use their gardens, parks and unused land for cultivation, stressing that ‘food just as important a weapon of war as guns’– several hundred thousand leaflets were distributed, with posters such as the one above displayed and it was a regular feature in propaganda films such as this one…

Around a million new allotments were created and many parks and open spaces were converted into allotments.  In the old Borough of Lewisham about 3000 were created (1)  – this included large swathes of Mountsfield Park as the 1940s Ordnance Survey map shows.

Parts of Beckenham Place Park were turned over to the growing of potatoes, with sheep grazing on the now former fairways (2).  Parts of Ladywell Fields were turned into allotments and on Blackheath around half of the triangular green bounded by Hare and Billet Road, Orchard Road and Eliot Place was turned into allotments.

One of the most iconic views in south London changed during the war with the field below the Observatory in Greenwich Park being dug up for allotments, the same had happened during World War One there.

It wasn’t just parks that saw food grown, other bits of land were brought into use too – a narrow strip of, presumably, railway company owned land between Milborough Crescent and the embankment was cultivated.  This was the same with the land on the other side of St Mildred’s Road where a narrow strip all the way down to Grove Park Nature Reserve was turned into allotments.

Other land too seems to have been taken over –  the land in a triangle bounded by Dacre Park (then Turner Road), Boone’s Road and Lee Park was a nursery and had been since the 1860s, probably before, emerged out of the war as allotments.  They continue to remain in that usage and are pictured below.

Another aspect of maintaining food availability was increasing the amount of help on farms – this was done through the Women’s Land Army which was launched ahead of the War in June 1939.   This was initially based on volunteering but a degree of conscription was added. By 1944 it had over 80,000 members; while most were already rural based around a third came from London and other cities.

Several women from Bellingham, including Olive Boyes who had previously worked at Chiltonian Biscuit Factory, Rene Powell and Joan Hicks joined the Women’s Land Army in the spring of 1942. They took a train from Catford to Ashford with Olive and Rene ending up in a small village called Hamstreet, with Joan and her friend Ivy being sent to Faversham.

Betty Hilda Baker lived at 41 Nightingale Grove had started the war as a ‘confectionary hand’ – perhaps working for Whitehouse and Co. at 36 Old Road.  Born in 1918 she was living with her parents, Charles and Julia, along with what are probably two younger siblings, Stanley who was a 23 year old butcher’s assistant and one that was redacted. It is known that she joined the Land Army but not known where she was stationed.

Joan Pearson lived at 73 Bramdean Crescent in Lee, at the outbreak of war she was an invoice clerk for Fords, aged 17.  When she joined up in 1942, she was working for Crosse and Blackwell near Charing Cross station – she wanted to ‘do something useful’ and to ‘get away from London.’ She ended up driving tractors in the New Forest.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p24
  2. ibid

Where not specifically referenced, examples of locations of allotments come via Ordnance Survey maps.

Credits

 

 

VE Day in Lee and Hither Green

Friday 8 May 2020 sees the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, VE, Day and would have been celebrated both locally and nationally if these were normal times – it was to be one of the themes of the 2020 Hither Green Festival – maybe this will be re-visited later in the year.  We’ll look at what happened that day in 1945 with a local perspective.

After Berlin was surrounded by Allied forces and Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, the end of the war was quite rapid.  A week later, on 7 May 1945 Germany accepted an unconditional surrender of German Forces in most of the areas that they still occupied in the Netherlands and northwest Germany and the surrender came into effect the following day.  A further surrender document was signed with the Russians on 8 May.

Running Past has covered many of the areas of the Home Front in recent months (for the 70th anniversary of war breaking out); the winding down of the Home Front was rapid in early May – public air raid shelters were closed down, as was the air raid warning system and plans were made for the return of evacuee children and mothers by the end of May (1).

Over a million people took to the streets on 8 May in celebration throughout Great Britain to mark the end of the European part of the war.  Many massed in central London, particularly in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace as featured in the video footage (the sound levels are a bit variable, so beware!)

Many celebrated locally though; South Park Crescent (above and below) had been built as part of the Verdant Lane estate in the early 1930s and was the scene of a large party.  No doubt the celebrations were tempered there though by memories of 5 children from there and neighbouring streets who were amongst 38 children and 5 teachers who died at Sandhurst Road School.  There had also been a V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of South Park and Further Green Road less than a year before at 16:48 on 12 July 1944 which injured 15 (3) –  several houses were destroyed and lots damaged – perhaps including the roofs of those pictured below).

In and around Hither Green, there were several other street parties including ones in The Woodlands and neighbouring Blashford Street.

Lee too saw several street parties, mainly in the working class streets.  Taunton Road had seen a lot of damage in the Blitz with several lives lost.  There was a posed picture probably taken close to the park entrance, the road in the background is Wantage Road.

Just around the corner in Brightfield Road (below) there was another street party in the part of the street that was built by John Pound and had originally been called Robertson Street.  As can be seen from the photograph, the party wasn’t  held there until early June 1945. 

Brightfield Road had seen some damage from the V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of Lenham and Lampmead Roads.  In addition, there was Blitz damage to houses close to the bridge over the Quaggy, with several destroyed and several seriously damaged; along with three houses on the southern side of the bend which were damaged beyond repair (3).  The houses destroyed in Brightfield Road were never rebuilt, a new entrance to Manor House Gardens was created in their stead and those damaged beyond repair suffered a similar fate – they were to become an entrance to, what became after the war, Northbrook School and is now Holy Trinity

The street scene is now markedly different – the attractive bank buildings at the end of the street were lost after the war either to Penfold’s or Sainsbury’s expansion – more on the building another day, as there is an interesting story behind it.

While there were dozens of parties, as Lewis Blake noted, ‘for all the public display, it may be assumed that a majority of people stayed quietly at home.’ (4)

In addition to the celebration of the end of hostilities, there will have been a relief that bombing and rocket attacks were over – roads like Springbank, Taunton and Aislibie Roads had been badly affected by the Blitz, with V-1s hitting lots of local streets – including Nightingale Grove, (pictured below) Fernbrook Road, between Springbank and Wellmeadow Roads along with Leahurst Road, and as we’ve mentioned the Lenham/Lampmead junction.

A couple of days after VE Day, Lewisham was visited by the King and Queen who stopped in a packed town centre to survey the damage caused by the V-1 flying bomb from 10 months before (it’s at about 4:10 into the film, which is sadly silent).

Other than the rebuilding which was to continue for the best part of 20 years, the other element of wartime privations that was to linger on for almost another decade was rationing, which didn’t officially end for meat until 1954.

If you have personal or family local VE Day memories, please do post them either in the Facebook thread you reached this post from or in the comments below, if you haven’t commented here before, it may take a few hours for your comment to be approved.  I will hopefully add some of the comments into the main post.

In early May 2020 we don’t have the potential for street parties, but oddly, despite the lock down, we are probably contacting and seeing more of our neighbours than any of the generations since the end of World War Two. Every Thursday evening with the #ClapforCareWorkers most of our small street come out to clap and bang pots and pans; if we are typical, people often stay out in the street to chat, keeping social distancing, of course.  Neighbours are checking in with each other by phone with shopping bought for those having to stay at home.  Perhaps, for now at least, this is the World War Two type spirit we should embrace and celebrate, the parties will have to wait.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p62
  2. From ARP Logs held at Lewisham Archives
  3. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p119
  4. Blake, op cit p66

Credits and Thanks

  • Thank you to Andy Wakeman and Clive Andrews for allowing the use of their family photographs of the South Park Road party – the photographs remain their families’ copyright;
  • The photgrpahs of Brightfield Road and Taunton Road are part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright;
  • The photograph of the destruction on Nightingale Grove is from the collection of the Imperial War Museum – it is used here on a Non-Commercial Licence

The 1930s Verdant Lane Estate – ‘Delightful Houses’ for Skilled Workers

The Verdant Lane estate was developed in the early 1930s with most homes sold by the middle of the decade – it consists of homes on the eastern side of Verdant Lane itself plus the streets of South Park Crescent (named after the former farm on the opposite side of Verdant Lane that became part of North Park Farm); Further Green Lane plus the smaller streets of Pasture Road and Sedgeway. The newly built houses, as we shall see later, were to become the homes of skilled working classes along with a few supervisory staff and managers.

The opposite side of Verdant Lane had been developed by Cameron Corbett as part of the development of North Park Farm, the west side of Verdant Lane had been one of the last streets to be developed in 1910 (1). The land now occupied by the Verdant Lane estate was presumably not farmed by the Sheppards at North Park and was probably part of Shroffold Farm which was located where the mosque is now situated at the junction of Verdant and Whitefoot Lanes with Northover.  Latterly, like much of the newer part of the cemetery, it was allotments as the map below shows.

The allotments are clear in the photograph below, taken from 140 Verdant Lane around 1920 (see credit below) – the bend in the road is the junction of Verdant Lane and Sandhurst Road.  The photograph also shows trees bordering one of the Quaggy’s tributaries, Hither Green Ditch; the stream seems to have been culverted around the bulge in the fencing.  The course of the Ditch is obvious in the small valley on Pasture Road, the remnants of the stream is probably now culverted either under the front gardens of Verdant Lane or under the access tracks to garages behind.

Adjacent to the estate was Oak Cottage Nursery, which dated from at least the 1860s, perhaps earlier.  The nursery lasted until after World War 2 (the map below is from the early 1950s), presumably until Oak Cottage Close was built in the 1960s or 70s. A small part of the nursery remains as a lovely community garden

The builders of the estate were J Gerrard and Sons from Swinton in Greater Manchester; they had been founded in 1864 by Jonathan Gerrard.  Gerrard had died in 1906, but the firm was still within the family, although by this stage focused in the main on large scale public building contracts including hospitals and public housing for Manchester City Council.  Private sector housing, particularly in southern England, seems to have been something of a rarity for them at this stage in their evolution.

By the 1950s they seem to have been specialising in building power stations, such as Fleetwood in 1956. It appears that the construction arm was sold to Fairclough in 1971, who in turn were taken over by AMEC in 1982 and then by Wood Group in 2017.  There is still a haulage firm operating and still run by the Gerrard family.

Who designed the houses isn’t clear – it may have been an in house team and they seem to have done their own sales, presumably from a show house on the estate.

E17CAAB6-1B21-4E73-A176-CD0F7538E59D

The completion locally would have been on the Woodstock Estate,now mainly Woodyates Road, which was advertised in the same edition of Lewisham’s Official Guide (probably 1931).  While Woodstock was priced at £25 cheaper, with seemingly a similar specification, Gerrard’s, by asking for a higher deposit, managed to get the weekly cost to be slightly cheaper.

So who were the early occupants of the estate? The 1939 Register was effectively a mini-census carried out just before the start of World War 2 for the purposes of rationing.   It isn’t completely comprehensive, as anyone likely to still be alive now is redacted and those in the armed forces were not included. As part of the research for this post, the records of the 36 houses on eastern side of Further Green Road (35 – 105 odds) have been reviewed.  While other parts of the estate might have been slightly different, it is probably a big enough sample to get a reasonable picture of who lived there.

The men of the estate were employed in a wide mixture of trades, but there were a mixture of skilled manual workers and a range of office and managerial jobs

  • The skilled manual workers included a metal machinist, a couple of telephone engineers, two train drivers and a plasterer; and
  • The office and managerial roles included several warehousemen, a Director of a Shipping Agent, a Civil Servant, a theatre clerk and an office manager.

The difference between Further Green Road and a similar study in 1939 of Ardmere Road in Hither Green is stark – a large majority in Ardmere Road were semi and unskilled manual workers – the only Further Green Road resident that would fall into this category was the Brewer’s Drayman at 89. This was one of the very few entries with the suffix ‘Heavy Work’ added after the trade.  This would have entitled those described to extra rations.  Of the 50 paid jobs, only four had ‘Heavy’ appended to them – one of which was probably an error as it was given to a shorthand typist….

As was the case in Ardmere Road, working women, other than a few grown up children, were a rarity – most were listed as carrying out ‘Unpaid Domestic Duties.’

One of the surprising features of the estate was the lack of children – these in the main are three bedroom houses but there were only 11 children in the 36 homes (assuming all the redacted entries were children). This was almost certainly due to evacuation of children which had started at the beginning of September 1939 – including in Lewisham.  Most had returned by 1943 as the estate had  one of the bigger concentrations of the child victims of the Sandhurst Road School bombing.

Notes

  1. Godfrey Smith (1997) ‘Hither Green: the Forgotten Hamlet : Including the Corbett Estate’ p40
  2. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 29 December 1906

1939 Register data is via Find My Past

Image Credits

The pre-development photo is copyright of the always helpful Lewisham Archives and is used with their permission.

The Ordnance Survey maps of Oak Cottage and the estate before development are from the National Library of Scotland and are on a Creative Commons – the

The advert and floor plans were copied from somewhere on social media in mid-2017, I thought that it was from the excellent cornucopia of all things London local government – LCC Municipal – mainly to be found on Twitter, but I was mistaken – so if you posted it do tell me so that I can properly credit you!

Finally, thank you to David Underdown for reminding me of the reasons for the lack of children on the estate in late September 1939 – most had been evacuated.

 

 

The Bombing of Sandhurst Road School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandhurst School1

© IWM. Original Source– Non-commercial reproduction allowed

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

Sandhurst School 2

Source News Shopper

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

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

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

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

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

She was June Jarrett.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The children

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

And the teachers

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

 

Notes

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