Tag Archives: William Morris – farmer

Dairy Farming in Lee – College Farm

Running Past has covered several of the farms of Lee that predated the gradual encroachment of the city – Lee Green Farm, Horn Park Farm, Woodman’s Farm and the slightly smaller operation of Butterfield Dairy.  College Farm is a farm that the blog has mentioned a few times before in passing and was to be the final home of the large scale Lee farmer, William Morris (sometimes called Morriss) who ran both Lee Green and Horn Park Farms for many years. College Farm was a largely dairy farm which stood on the western side of Burnt Ash Hill, located roughly where Farmcote Road now meets Burnt Ash Hill.

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Before continuing, College Farm should not be confused with a farm of the same name on Lewisham High Street which was farmed latterly by the Clarks who end up at the close by Butterfield Dairy..

The land for the farm has its roots in the early 17th century, it was bought by Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton to help provide income for Trinity Hospital in Greenwich which was founded in 1613 (there was a post on the blog in 2015 on Trinity Hospital) (1).  The land was initially woodland, but like most of the woodland in Lee it was probably felled for farmland during the 17th century.  It was managed on behalf of Trinity Hospital by the Mercers Company (2).

The farm was referred to, although not by name, in the 1839 tithe schedule.  While the land is noted in the tithe schedule as being owned by the Mercers Company, this is probably a mistake (3).

In 1839, College Farm was being farmed at part of the large portfolio of land which William Morris leased in the area – Running Past has covered Morris in some detail in a post on Lee Green Farm.  It was listed in the 1839 Lee Tithe schedule as being of 61 acres – it was mainly set to pasture as part of Morris’ extensive dairy operation.  Some fields had some rather attractive names such as Little Climbrooks (see below – source).

College Farm 3

In his latter years Morris was to make College Farm his home, passing away there in early 1851.  His second wife, Susannah, continued to hold the farm for another 4 years – she surrendered the lease in 1855 to William Brown (4).  It appears that by 1893 Brown was the freeholder, but it may have been much earlier than this.

College Farm 4

There was an attempt to let the farm house separate to the farm, presumably by William Brown in 1862 (5).  Whether this was successful or not is unclear, but by 1871 the Bowditchs were listed in the  census as living at College Farm, Kerslake Terrace. The father of the family was away on business on census night and doesn’t appear in subsequent censuses.  Charles Edward Bowditch was living there with his mother, Anne, his cousin and a Dutch visitor.  The family seems to have been around Lee since at least the Morris’ time, as Charles was born there in 1851.

There were three other households in Kerslake Terrace in 1871 which appears to have been the name of the workers cottages on or adjacent to the farm, they were given the similar ‘Karslake’ name in 1881.

It seems that the farm was run for a while as a joint enterprise between Charles and, presumably, his brother Stephen (born 1852) but this was ended in 1879.  Stephen carried on as a dairy farmer, based at 2, The Limes, Lee in 1881.  Charles stayed on at College Farm, having married Caroline from Cambridgeshire in 1878.

Like many modern farms, College Farm tried to diversify – it offered ‘board and residence’ in The Standard a couple of times in October 1881 – interestingly Lee was still regarded as ‘very pretty country’ at that stage (6).

College Farm 5

The Bowditches remained at the farm during the latter part of the 19th century – in 1891 there was Charles, Caroline, four daughters along with Ann(e). By the 1911 census Charles seems to have retired he and had moved to Wisteria Road in Lewisham, his occupation is listed both as ‘none’ and ‘dairy farmer’ so it is probably reasonable to assume that the 60 year old Charles had retired.  He passed away in 1915.

College Farm 1

The presumably shrinking farm was taken over by the Edwards Family – Public Health Reports listed them having 36 cows in 1913 along with 56 at Burnt Ash Farm – they were being farmed together, along with a few other local farms.  It seems likely that by this stage that the College Farm was just being used for milking and storage (7) – there is a photo above of some rather dilapidated looking buildings on the farm from that era (see notes for source).  The Edwards and Sons were a relatively large scale dairy enterprise with 60 shops around SE London – the family name continued to be used for a while after it was taken over by United Dairies (8) in 1927.  The photo below is a field from the farm from around this time  (see notes for source).

College Farm 2

The numbers were the same in 1919 but reports after that don’t list the dwindling number of dairy operations – which halved between 1919 and 1924 to just six, it probably didn’t include College Farm though.

The encroachment of suburbanisation continued apace in Lee as the series of maps below from 1867, 1893 and 1914 show (all on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland).  By the next time the cartographers visited in the 1930s to update the maps the farm was gone – 1920s and 1930s terraces and semis were to sweep away most the remaining farmland in the area – as we saw with Wates development of the neighbouring Melrose/Woodman’s Farm.  It is likely that the developer was a local builder that we have covered before, W J Scudamore and Sons, part of what was referred to as the Northbrook Estate – Farmcote Road began to be developed in 1925 (9) .

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Notes

  1. Josephine Birchenough (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p13
  2. ibid p13
  3. ibid p13
  4. Like much of the family detail on William Morris – this information comes via a comment to the blog on the post on William Morris and Lee Green Farm
  5. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Apr 16, 1862; pg. 6
  6. The Standard (London, England), Thursday, October 13, 1881; pg. 8; Issue 17858.
  7. Birchenough op cit p13
  8. Ibid p 11
  9. Joan Read (1990) Lewisham Street Names and Their Origins p22

The last two photographs are  produced courtesy of Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre.  The census and related information generally comes from Find My Past although some relating to William Morris comes from a comment by Mike on the Lee Green Farm post.

Horn Park Farm – Lee’s Last Big Farm

A few weeks ago Running Past looked at Lee Green Farm and its farmer – William Morris (no obvious relation to the eponymous textile designer, poet and socialist activist) – Morris was also the tenant of the neighbouring and slightly bigger Horn Park Farm from 1838.

Horn Park Farm, like Lee Green Farm, was owned by the Crown and in 1838 it consisted of around 221 acres of a mixture of arable and pasture. It seems to have stretched from around Winn Avenue to Eltham Road and possibly further northwards to the Quaggy.  At the Winn Avenue end  it bordered College Farm, and from around 1914 Melrose Farm (sometimes known as Woodman’s Farm).

An area nearly twice the size, 345 acres, known then as West Horne, had been enclosed in the 15th century and was one of three parks that belonged to Eltham Palace.  The Royal family stopped using the Palace early in the reign of Charles I and the Palace was badly damaged during the Civil War and the Commonwealth – John Evelyn noting in 1658 that “both the palace and chapel (were) in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel (Nathaniel Rich)”.

After the Restoration of the monarchy, Horn Park was converted into to a mixture of arable land and pasture with the Crown Estate retaining ownership.

The first subsequent on-line mention was in relation to a dispute in 1816 between the Lee and Eltham parishes in relation to the boundary between the two, it oddly went through the bed of the ill farm worker who was claiming poor relief. He got out of bed on the Eltham side so they ended up paying.  The farmer at that stage was a Richard Stames.

While Morris’ seems to have lived at Lee Green Farm, there were farm buildings at Horn Park marked on the earliest Ordnance Survey Maps up until the 1930s when the area was developed as Horn Park estate, a development not completed until the 1950s due to the intervention of WW2.

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Maps source – Ordnance Survey 6″ via National Library of Scotland – surveys from 1862, 1930 and 1938.

The farm buildings were roughly where the grassed area on Alnwick Road, opposite Horncastle Road – close to where Westhorne Avenue now is.

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It seems likely that when Morris’ lease ended around 1860, that the silk merchant Thomas Blenkiron, son of the racehorse trainer William leased Horn Park and used the farm for grazing racehorses.   It is possible that William, while more generally associated with Middle Park, also had some interest in Horn Park as it was one of the addresses listed in bankruptcy proceedings in 1884.

The next significant tenants were the Wood family who seem to have moved to Horn Park in the 1880s, presumably after the bankruptcy proceedings of Blenkiron.  The first tenant would have been Walter William Wood – his son Walter Thomas Wood was born there in 1888.

It was the Wood family’s second farm, Walter (William) seems to have started farming at Crockenhill in Kent – a farm they retained an interest in up until the 1930s.

The farming changed under the Woods – while it was predominantly grazing under both Morris and Blenkiron – cows and horses respectively, by 1912 the farm was described as having ‘well cultivated fields.’  There were also orchards at the southern end of the farm – clear on the later OS Maps above.

imageThe Woods seem to have moved the farm towards market gardening – certainly they were advertising for a ‘man well up in growing tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms for market’ in 1895

They also grew flowers for the market to – there was a court case involving theft of lilacs the same year in the short-lived Blackheath Gazette .  They later diversified into growing bulbs, they were subject to legal action at Greenwich County Court in 1920 relating to a dispute with a Dutch firm of bulb sellers, which they lost.

Walter senior died at the farm in 1924 and Walter Thomas died in 1929 in Bromley, it is not clear whether he was still on the farm at that point – he was certainly there in the 1901 and 1911 censuses though.  The younger son Sidney, born in 1892, stayed on after the deaths of his father and brother.  He married Audrey in 1920.

Sidney was made bankrupt in 1935 – possibly as a result of the shrinking size of the farm, the land around the farm house had been lost to the Horn Park Estate and there was housing built along Eltham Road.  The farm house had had to move to 34 Eltham Road – on the corner of Cambridge Drive (see photograph at the end).  The reduced size of the area for cultivation probably wasn’t enough to help keep the business afloat.  With the demand for land from a growing London, how long it would have been able to keep going beyond 1935 was probably questionable anyway.

The couple stayed in Lewisham after the break-up of the farm around the outbreak of WW2.  Audrey died in 1968 and Sidney ten years later.

The Farm was home to a number of sporting events – this included many of the fields that the horses and riders of the Lee Races would have galloped through in the 1830s.  In 1914 it was home to the annual Lewisham Horse Show.

imageThere was at least one illegal prize fight between Emmanuel Bilby and Jeremiah McCarthy, both of Deptford which was spotted by a local constable who followed crowds there in early 1899. It isn’t clear whether the fight was with the Wood’s sanction or not.

Finally, one of the early ‘losses’ of land was what is now the Old Colfeans sports ground – the Old Alleynians played rugby there for at least a season around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it seems to have been used for sport ever since.  It was sold the Leathersellers Company as Trustees for Colfes School, then a Grammar School sometime after 1929.  The current site of the school was also part of the farm.

The location of the last farm house & the playing fields

The location of the last farm house & the playing fields

 

 

William Morris – A Farmer from Lee Green Farm

It is easy to forget that Lee Green was once a village green – large enough for cricket matches – with a windmill and a village pub.  Unsurprisingly, there were farms too – over time, the blog will probably cover most of the former farms in the area. The starting point though will be a farm next to the green – the imaginatively named Lee Green Farm.

The location of the farmhouse was roughly where the decaying remains of the Leegate Centre are now located.  Its age is uncertain, oddly it wasn’t covered in Josephine Birchenough’s fascinating booklet ‘Some Lee Farms and Fields’. However, the information board at Lee Green suggest dates it around the mid to late 17th century, there were certainly buildings there in John Roque’s 1740s map (1).

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The land was owned by the Crown, probably as part of the extensive lands held through Eltham Palace, and the first on-line reference to the farm was a lease granted to William Morris in 1838 of both Lee Green Farm and the neighbouring Horn Park Farm.

Lee Green Farm (see picture below (2)) was 131 acres in size, according to tithe records, and was a mixture of arable and pasture but it was just a small part of the land that William Morris (sometimes spelled Morriss) farmed.  As early as 1815 he was leasing much of the current Cator Estate (3) and his 9th (ninth) child was born in Kidbrooke.   The land was largely rich pasture that he used for dairy cattle – important in terms of proximity to London, prior to the development of the railways.

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By the 1830s he had relinquished much of this Cator estate interest, Kidbrooke tithe records for 1850 had his interest at just 7 acres.   Some of this was to allow development – such as a field where 97-115 Lee Road now stands (4).

The 1838 lease of Lee Green Farm was presumably a continuation of a previous one, certainly he was farming in Lee in 1820 as there was a case as the Old Bailey involving the theft of two cows and an attempt to sell them to a farmer in Mile End – William Smith was found guilty and hanged. The timings of his move to Lee are confirmed with the birth of his 11th child there the same year.

What is clear though is that William Morris had interest in a lot of land around Lee Green other than the Farm, F W Hart noted that at this time he and ‘Farmer Giles’ from Burnt Ash Farm leased most of the land in the area.  Morris’ land included

William Morris(or Morriss, the spelling of the surname varies) was from Banstead, Surrey was the son of Samuel and Sophia Morriss, and was baptised on May 29 1780. By 1804 he had married Elizabeth Walker and they had their first child Sophia and they were living on Blackheath Hill – presumably close to the Green Man Hotel.  At that stage he was described as a ‘milkman’ or ‘cowkeeper’ – possibly having a small amount of land (as was the case with Clark’s of Summerfield Street).

MorrisGrave

Elizabeth died in 1829 and was buried in the old St Margaret Lee Churchyard (see middle vault above).  William Morris remarried in early 1832, Susannah gave birth to the first of six children for the new family at Horn Park and seem to have made that their home rather than Lee Green – their youngest child was baptised in Eltham, rather than St Margaret’s Lee.

The farm buildings moved slightly to the east in the 1840s to what was to become known as Tudor House (roughly where the Leybridge Court estate is now).  This was presumably under the stewardship of Morris, who also built a few speculative homes adjacent to it (6).

One of the frustrating elements of writing this and other posts about the history of the area is that written history tends to focus on the rich and influential in society.  Nothing is known about the farm labourers on Morris’ land, other than there were a number of tied cottages, whether Morris was a good employer, his rates of pay and so on.  The only references to the rural working classes in Lee tend to relate to crime, and as we have seen with the case of the theft of cattle in 1820 and its draconian punishment, and when there were calls on poor law relief – such as in the bitterly cold winter of 1814 – referred to in the post on Benjamin Aislabie.

There were some attempts to redress this by William Cobbett in the 1820s.  Cobbett was a late Georgian and early Victorian radical, the son of an agricultural labourer from Surrey, he opposed to the Corn Laws who undertook a series of ‘Rural Rides’ to look at the condition of farming in the 1820s.  In addition to the Corn Laws, his ‘rides’ were against a backdrop of the Enclosure Acts of the early part of the century, where the rich landowners took ownership of what hitherto had been common land.  While there seems to have been little common land in Lee, the Acts had a major impact elsewhere in Lewisham – particularly in Sydenham.

Cobbett visited farms, talked to farmers and labourers on his horseback rides; he did not visit Lee, so it is difficult to judge on conditions locally but he did note in terms of land close to Dartford “Here dwell vanity and poverty.”

It is certainly difficult to generalise based on Cobbett’s observations and whether there was this “poverty” in Lee is unclear but elsewhere in the south-east when describing farming poverty he noted that

The labourers seem miserably poor. Their dwellings are little better than pig-beds, and their looks indicate that their food is not nearly equal to that of a pig. Their wretched hovels are stuck upon little bits of ground on the road side, where the space has been wider than the road demanded.

We will return to William Morris in his final days at College Farm where he was to pass away in 1851, by then Lee Green Farm was being run by his son Richard, three of his sisters Eleanor, Rebecca and Mary were living there too – the farm was listed as 302 acres and employed 20. Richard was still at the farm in 1861 although the acreage was much reduced, just 114 acres were being farmed. Beyond 1861 neither the farm nor Richard Morriss are able to be found on census records – maybe it became unviable as land was lost to development.

The original site of the farm was redeveloped in the 1860s as housing called Carston Mews, although the name lived on it Carston Close, just to the south.  Carston Mews itself was demolished to make way for Leegate shopping centre in the 1960s. The centre has been in decline since Sainsbury’s opened to the west of Burnt Ash Road, something compounded by an increasing amount of empty office space above the centre.  There are plans to redevelop the centre going through the planning process at the time of writing (January 2016).

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Notes

  1. Map from information board at Lee Green
  2. ibid
  3. Neil Rhind p34
  4. ibid p162
  5. Josephine Birchenough with John King (1981) Some Farms and Fields in Lee p28
  6. Rhind op cit p34

All the census and related data came via Find My Past 

I am indebted to Mike for providing most of the family information via a fascinating comment (see below, you may need to click on the title first if you can see another post below this one) – the post was substantially updated in June 2016 as a result of this.