The previous post on Penfolds explored their early years in Deptford and Greenwich and had seen them grow into a sizeable carting business by the beginning of World War One. The second part picks up the story when they switched from horses to motorised transport around the end the war until the last car was sold in the second decade of the 21st century.
Like many local transport businesses, including Thomas Tilling at 36 Old Road (and several other locations) and Pickfords at Lee Lodge and Manor Park Parade, Penfold’s switched from horse to motor vehicles after World War 1 and was renamed to reflect this, WH Penfold and Son, Motor Haulage Contractors. They were to remain at Clarendon Yard, where they had been since 1904, and are now the out buildings for the stunning Hindu Temple, until around 1937.
The original company was wound up that year, and a new one formed, seemingly following the death of Walter Henry Penfold (1879). He was living at 9 Heath Lane when he died.
Control of the business seems to have been with the two sons of Walter Henry Penfold, Walter Albert (1907) and Albert William (1909). In the late 1930s they were living at 14 and 12 Belmont Grove respectively – close to one part of the business that was over the railway bridge (see below). Walter was still there in the 1939 Register, married to Emily, with them was Walter H (1933), the other occupant who was redacted was probably Diana who was born in 1932. Walter was listed as a Managing Director of a Motor Garage; it was incorrectly transcribed as ‘Motor Carnage’ – although it may be appropriate given the roads from New Cross to Lee Green were some of the worst for accidents in London at the time.
Albert William had moved to Chislehurst by the time the 1939 Register was compiled and was listed as a Building & Road Material Transport Contractor (Master). There seemed to be two distinct, but interlinked, businesses – the motor sales and servicing, which we will return to later, and the transport and related activities. We’ll cover this part of the business first.
As we saw in the first part of the story – the family had its roots in carting business but also with links to refuse collection. They brought the northern part of The Cedars estate in the 1920s (1), Upper Kid Brook had flowed through this area and had been dammed to create a pair of ornamental lakes. It is possible that they had rented the area a little earlier than this (2).
Either way, the area was used for a combination of extracting sand and as a tip for building and related rubble – filling both the ornamental lakes and the pits from extraction. Initially they used the bridge from a Belmont Grove for access but their activities seem to have led to its closure (3), there is a clear difference between maps from the late 1950s and those a decade earlier. Similar activities, effectively operating as a skip hire company continued until the 1980s. The picture above is from the post war period the buildings at the back backing onto the railway. The site was sold in the 1980s for the development of St Joseph’s Vale – pictured below.
The first specific mention to the motor vehicle trade relates to 1 Lee Terrace, this was the former stables of The Cedars, a large house on Belmont Hill that still remains, just visible from the street. The stables had been sold off around 1912 to Sydney M Fry, whose business traded as Cedars Garage and was to soon move to Lee High Road – more on them another day. In the early 1920s the site was bought by the Penfold family business (4). It isn’t completely clear how long they stayed at the site (5) which remained in the motor trade until until around 2016 when Stephen James BMW sold the site for development. Originally it seemed that Stephen James were to return, but they ended up at another former Penfold’s site at 321-341 Lee High Road. The core of the stable block that Penfolds used was to remain until towards the end of the 20th century,
It may be that Penfold’s moved on around 1941, in that they appeared that year at 4a Clarendon Rise (now the Hindu temple – pictured below) noted as Penfold’s Motor Engineers. They stayed there until around 1950.
At that point Penfold’s seem to have expanded considerably taking over the shop front of 12-18 Burnt Ash Road, presumably as a showroom. The property had been the base of the drapers George Gooding for decades but had only been partially used since the beginning of World War Two – it is pictured below from the late 1970s or early 1980s.
At around the same time they acquired the site behind – 406-14 Lee High Road, presumably for servicing and repairs – they linked the two sites at the rear. The Lee High Road site had been used by a number of garages and haulage companies, latterly Falconers Transport from the end of World War 2. However, regular readers of Running Past may recall that it was a base for the builders W J Scudamore earlier in the 20th century.
This amalgamated site was to be the base of the firm for around 35 years. For much of that time it was a Vauxhall and other General Motors companies plus the still then independent DAF Trucks. The advert below with the gifted Vauxhall Cavalier GLS was probably from 1981 and no doubt coincided with Alan Mullery’s arrival at The Valley, more interestingly it shows the spread of Penfold’s with several related operations around south east London.
They added the portfolio in the 1970s the triangular site on Lee High Road next to the Quaggy, just down from the Old Tigers Head – this was initially used for second hand car sales (pictured below from 2008). When the blog covered Burnt Ash Road site in early 2020, there were lots of fond memories of time spent working there, it seemed to be a good place to work.
It seems though that in putting together a large site at Lee Green that there were others who could see potential there and the business shut up shop there in early 1985 selling the site to Sainsbury’s. It wasn’t the end of the business though – three smaller sites were acquired, all ones that have been covered in Running Past.
The car sales was from a site at the corner of Bankwell Road and Lee High Road, it had originally been built as a cinema but had gone through a variety of motor based businesses, notably Wittals, but before Penfold’s moved in it was home to Land Carriage Co. who sold caravans.
The servicing was carried out from 152a Lee High Road, on the corner of Eastdown Park – the site had been originally a Baptist Chapel, largely destroyed in the Blitz. The site was developed by Fry’s Ford in the 1960s as the garage and ‘shop front’ for servicing and parts. Fry’s main showrooms were a little further down Lee High Road into Lewisham.
The crash repairs were carried out from 36 Old Road, a site with a rich history that started (in that site footprint at least) as stables for Thomas Tilling’s buses.
After acquiring the trio of sites around 1985, Penfold’s continued to operate them until around 2006. Their accounts noted that employment levels fluctuated a lot though – between 62 and almost hundred at one point. The accounts also note that latterly the sites weren’t owned by them, rather by a separate company, Henry Walters Ltd who had the same Directors, Penfold’s paid rent for the sites from around 2001; there is nothing particularly unusual in this sort of relationship.
The first to be sold was the site on the corner of Lee High Road and Bankwell Road, a combination of red route parking in Lee High Road and one of the early Residents Parking schemes (triggered by the volume of Penfold cars that street parked) led to a decision to join the new and second hand car sales together at 321-41 Lee High Road which they had retained. The showrooms were replaced by a block of flats.
Car sales were badly impacted by the recession that followed the banking crisis of 2008. There were some signs of recovery for Penfold’s by 2013 when their accounts noted improved trading and the firm expected to ‘maintain an impressive trend (on sales and profit) in a highly competitive market.’ The operating profit was only £90K though, with a loss of £33k the year before – not much in the context of the value of the land. Like a lot of car showrooms and associated businesses in the area, Penfold’s wound up the business in 2016, although the process started earlier.
There seemed to have been a Vauxhall dealership of theirs that remained in Elmers End, certainly that was the final resting place of the business legally before it was wound up. That site continues as a Vauxhall Dealership.
Penfold’s were not on there own in shutting up shop – other car showrooms locally have gone the same way. The Ford dealer, Frys, latterly Trimoco, closed at around the same point and while Bellamy’s on Burnt Ash Hill survived a bit longer, it closed in 2019 after a brief attempt to trade without the, latterly, Citroen, dealership.
36 Old Road was sold to developers, Old Manor Homes, which had the same Directors as Henry Walters Ltd. and was set up in 2015. Development started around 2016 but stopped midway through the building and company went into administration in 2019. The site was bought by Purelake and the development is currently being finished off.
At the time of writing, in the autumn of 2020, Henry Walters Ltd too were being wound up. 321-41 Lee High Road was sold during 2020 and bought by DCMS Holdings, who rent the site to Stephen James BMW (previously of 1 Lee Terrace, see above); provision in the sale makes it less likely that the site will be developed until after 2028 due to a percentage of profits going back to Henry Walters Directors. 152a Lee High Road has planning permission, and is still owned Henry Walters but will be sold on the open market.
- Neil Rhind (forthcoming) Blackheath and Its Environs Volume 3
- I am sure I have seen earlier newspaper references to earlier rental, although have been unable to locate them
- Rhind op cit
- More work in a post COVID era is needed on the exact timings of their stay at 1 Lee Terrace, this requires time in archives looking at Kelly’s Directories.
Other References and Credits
- The accounts and related information for Penfolds, Henry Walters Ltd and Old Manor Homes are all in the public domain via Companies House
- Kelly’s Directory information comes via Southwark and Lewisham Archives
- The photograph of the pits and rubbish dumping at what is now St Joseph’s Vale is via Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission but remains their copyright
- I can’t remember where the press cutting of Alan Mullery came from, I must have copied at some stage from social media – if it’s yours let me know and I’ll credit you!
- The 2008 photographs of the various sites are via Google Streetview
- The photograph of the former showrooms is on a creative commons Ken Roe
Many thanks to Neil Rhind for sending me a pre publication draft of the Lee part of his forthcoming third volume and allowing me to quote from it here.
Finally, if there have been any errors in telling the story of the firm, they are entirely mine. My only defence is that the history of the family has been somewhat confusing as they seem to have used a very narrow range of names for male offspring – Walter, Arthur, Henry and William, although mainly the first two. Census and other data not always picking up second names and birth years amongst cousins were similar; Kelly’s Directories often only referred to initials.