Tag Archives: W. G. Grace

W. G. Grace in South East London

WG Grace was born near Bristol and the vast majority of his career was spent playing for Gloucestershire and England. The blog touched on his final cricketing home a few months ago whilst exploring the route of the Little Quaggy in Mottingham and, with the centenary of his death approaching, it seem apposite to spend some time exploring the ‘swansong’ of his career in SE London.

Grace played his final Test in 1899 and severed his almost career long relationship with Gloucestershire the same year; the reason for the latter was that he had accepted an offer from the Crystal Palace Company to set up a new county team, the London County Club – Grace was secretary, manager and club captain of the new County club. He was given an annual salary of £600, probably very well paid for the time, and worth around £58,000 at 2015 prices, so quite moderate compared to the earnings of the current cricketing elite.

Grace was already 51 when the 1900 season started. The matches played by London County were given ‘first class’ status but were not part of the County Championship which had started ten years earlier – Grace had opened the batting with his brother Edward in the very first County Championship match against Yorkshire. The lack of involvement in the County Championship meant that Grace was able to attract various leading lights of the days to play for London County in what were effectively exhibition matches, whilst they retained their attachment to their counties. Notably amongst these was CB Fry, who retained his link to Sussex.


WG Grace in London County colours – source Wikimedia Commons

The County had an inauspicious start losing to Surrey at the Oval by an innings in mid April 1900. The first home match at Crystal Palace was a draw against the same opposition three weeks later, both were the cricketing equivalents of pre-season friendlies.. The club played another eleven first class matches that initial season – although almost half were against teams other that counties – such as the Oxbridge Universities and the M.C.C.

Grace was the club’s big attraction though and he still averaged 37.09 with the bat in 1902, scoring 1187 runs; but as Grace’s form deteriorated with age, so did attendances and the London County lost its First Class status in 1904 and while it survived for another few seasons it folded in 1908.

One of Grace’s biographers, Robert Low, noted that

In truth, London County was never the serious cricketing project its backers had envisaged but more of a jolly swansong for the Champion in his twilight years.

The cricket ground was located roughly where the decaying 1970s athletics stadium is now located. It was also used for FA Cup finals, the 1905 final being the only surviving panorama picture (below) of the stadium. The stadium was taken over by Cristal Palace football club in 1905 who remained there until the park was requisitioned by the military in WW1, and slightly later by a speedway team that was later to become New Cross Rangers (covered in the blog in 2014).


Whilst at Crystal Palace, Grace was also involved with lawn bowls persuading the Crystal Palace Company to turn some of the tennis courts into bowling greens and was instrumental in creating England’s first indoor bowling green under the glass within the Crystal Palace. He was also involved in some of the early internationals and governance of the sport.

Whilst playing for London County Grace lived in nearby Sydenham at 7 Lawrie Park Road, a house called St Andrews.  The house is no longer there is a new development there with a maroon plaque and the roads either side are named Cricketers Walk and Doctors Close.


He then moved to Mottingham in 1909, living at Fairmount on Mottingham Lane, now a residential home.  The plaque was unveiled in 1966 by Stuart Chiesman, Chairman of Kent County Cricket Club, who was a son of one the founders of the Chiesman’s department store in Lewisham – which had been founded in 1884 – and was taken over by House of Fraser in 1972.


Grace played for the local team, Eltham, who were based at Chapel Farm, the current location of Coldharbour Leisure Centre – where he played his final game on 8 August 1914 although he neither batted nor bowled. The last match he had batted in was against Grove Park, where he had scored an unbeaten 69 a couple of weeks earlier.

Grace died on October 23 1915, following a major heart attack, and was buried in the family grave at Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery in Elmer’s End, close to the resting place of Thomas Crapper.

In Search of the Little Quaggy

Close to the summit of Red Post Hill, on the borders of Chislehurst and Mottingham, is some old woodland – old Ordnance Survey maps refer to it as Hangingspring Woods.  It is dense and footpaths are unclear, but there is a pronounced dip going through it, falling away towards the North East.  This is the highest ‘sighting’ of one of the Quaggy’s bigger tributary streams, the imaginatively named the Little Quaggy.


Hanging Spring Woods, towards the source, Walden Road recreation ground (clockwise from top left)

The source though isn’t possible to reach on foot, it is in closely guarded woodland – a high metal fence blocks the way from the Green Chain Walk path adjacent to Walden Road recreation ground. Not that any water would have likely to have been found – the stream bed is just damp by the time it reaches Hangingspring Woods.  There is though a small pond marked on OS maps, which is likely to be the source.

The ‘hanging’ is likely to have its derivation in the old English word ‘hangra’, steep wood slope, rather than any more grisly meaning – the Chislehurst gallows were some distance away.  The woods would have been part of Coldharbour Farm – probably from the French col d’arbre (wooded hill/pass).

Coldharbour Farm  was a largely dairy farm -the farm buildings were located at what is now the junction of William Barefoot Drive and Mottingham Lane. The farm was developed for housing by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich from 1947 to help ease the housing problems in the northern part of the Borough; William Barefoot was a local councillor and mayor of Woolwich.

Behind the fencing used to be the grounds of Ravensbourne College. The College moved to the Greenwich Peninsula in 2010 after 34 years on the site – the likes of fashion designer Stella McCartney and film producer Gareth Unwin were alumni, although some of the more famous students, including David Bowie and Bruce Oldfield, passed through its doors when it was actually in the Ravensbourne catchment in Bromley.

Onwards and downwards…  My run takes me parallel to the remnants of the Wood dropping down Oakdene Avenue then Walden Avenue, where the side roads rise quite steeply away from the stream.  There is no sign of water, no sound of rushing water beneath the ferrous manhole covers in the road.

Wayside Green, location of Lavidge Bridge, valley on Ravensworth Road  (clockwise from top)

Wayside Green, valley on Ravensworth Road, location of Lavidge Bridge (clockwise from top)

There is a small notch in the Wayside Green that the Little Quaggy crosses, still unseen to all but the geographical eye.  Ravensworth Road follows its course, and, for a while, an obvious valley appears. The main Mottingham Road, the invisible boundary between Bromley and Greenwich, is reached and the south westerly side of the road would have been followed by the Little Quaggy for around 100 metres before crossing it at Lavidge Bridge – close to where Chapel Farm Road now is.

When the stream flowed above ground, it would have been overlooked here by the Geffrye Almshouses which were replacements for what is now the Geffrye Museum and were built in 1912 before the area was developed. They housed “ladies of restricted means”, often retired governesses.  The remaining ‘ladies’ were moved out to the more rural surroundings of Hook in Hampshire in 1972, and, since then, ownership has gone from the Greater London Council, to Bromley Council and then on to Broomleigh Housing Association in 1992.  From the plethora of estate agents’ boards outside, it would appear that many are now privately owned.  At the time of ‘passing’ the almshouses were not at their best – covered with scaffolding.

From Lavidge Bridge, the stream used to meander northwards through another farm, Chapel Farm, where it fed the farm pond.  Chapel Farm buildings were roughly where the Coldharbour Lesiure Centre is now.  Oddly for a farm, it had a cricket pitch and was the home to Eltham Cricket Club.  The club’s most famous player was W.G Grace and the ground was the location for his last ever appearance on a cricket field on 8 August 1914 – more on this later in the year.

Coldharbour Leisure Centre & the cover Little Quaggy

Coldharbour Leisure Centre & the cover Little Quaggy

The conversion of the Little Quaggy to a subterranean stream here happened during the development of the Coldharbour estate, around 1949.  The culverting though is barely below the surface and there are a series of raised red brick manholes joined together by a line of brown, almost deceased, grass edging a lush green playing field – it is parched from a lack of moisture due to the thin soils.  A few centimetres below though, the encased stream audibly gushes through its concrete pipe.

The original course of the Little Quaggy is bisected by the four lanes of the Sidcup by-pass.  It then skirts the western edge of Fairy Hill Park (Fairy Hill was a former name for what is now Eltham College –more on that in a week or two when another Mottingham stream, Fairy Hall Flow, is followed). The Little Quaggy had a concrete straightjacket imposed upon it when the park was created in 1938.It is then under the railway towards the Tarn.

The course in Fairy Hill Park

The course in Fairy Hill Park

The Tarn is an ornamental lake which is in an eponymous park which was originally part of Eltham Lodge (now Royal Blackheath Golf Club) and was acquired by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich in 1935.  The small lake was the most depressing site on the run down the course of the stream.  The park itself is a pleasant oasis, it is always a joy to run around its banks and has been improved over the years by its Friends.  The lake oozed neglect though – almost entirely covered with duckweed – a handful of wildfowl were attempting to make the best of it though, and a coot was even nesting on the still, pea-green water.  The Friends are fundraising to remove the duckweed.

Little Quaggy flows into the Tarn, the Tarn, the  outflow & the small tributary stream (clockwise from top left)

Little Quaggy flows into the Tarn, the Tarn, the outflow & the small tributary stream (clockwise from top left)

The Little Quaggy enters through a grim looking concrete channel on its course under the railway from Fairy Hill Park, it is joined in theory at least by another small tributary emerging from the golf course – but its flow did nothing to disturb the dull green surface of the Tarn.  The outflow, and continuation of the stream, is through a grille and remains enclosed again as Mottingham station and the railway line steal its natural course.

There was once another stream joining the Little Quaggy from land close to Eltham Palace – there is a distinct dip in Middle Park Avenue behind the station, with give-away upward pointing contour lines on the OS map, but the high hedges and horse riding make any further investigation difficult.

The Little Quaggy emerges into the open for the first time back across the Sidcup Bypass.  Just before its appearance, it is joined by the already mentioned Fairy Hall Flow. Its final four hundred metres are close to how the stream would probably have looked like prior to suburbanisation– a pasture covered with buttercups. It is not some semi-rural idyll though, just a narrow strip of green used by a riding school, with heavy goods vehicles from the Channel Ports thundering past, 20 metres away, towards inner London and the Blackwall Tunnel – very close by there are high average nitrogen dioxide pollution and occasional high levels of particulates – it is not a place to linger.