As regular readers of Running Past will be aware, the blog has followed the course of a number of natural features and human constructs – rivers and streams, notably the Quaggy and its tributaries, the Greenwich Park branch railway and the Prime Meridian from the edge of Croydon, back through Lewisham and to the Greenwich Observatory. Such wanders make for interesting cross sections of the city. We turn our attention to another of these constructs – the boundary of the former civil parish of Lee which existed until 1900.
Beating the bounds is an ancient tradition, reminding parishioners of the importance of boundaries which was carried out during Rogationtide—the fifth week after Easter. There would be a walking of the parish boundaries, with children would carrying willow which would be used to beat the boundary markers. The boundary markers might be stones, streams or marks on trees, or roads. Oddly, other than around Lee Green, roads seem to have been neglected in deciding the parish boundaries of Lee.
No willow will be harmed in the perambulation of Lee, the on-ground research for which appropriately started on Rogation Sunday. The variant of Lee that we will be metaphorically beating is the civil parish mapped with the second edition of the Ordnance Survey 6” to the mile series. It was was surveyed in 1893 and published a few years later, just before Lee was merged with Lewisham to form the new Borough of Lewisham in 1900.
Lee in 1893 was a long narrow parish, a width of just over a mile and a quarter at its broadest point between Lee Bridge at the western end of Lee High Road to just beyond Cambridge Drive’s junction with Eltham Road. It’s length was around 5 miles at its longest – Blackheath, just to the north of the railway, in the north, to Marvels Wood on the borders of Mottingham to the south. The boundary was around 14 miles long, although with the diversions made to avoid trespass and Hot Fuzz style demolition of garden fences the actual 21st century trip around the borders of late 19th century Lee is somewhat longer….
We start at Lee Green, one of the three original centres of Lee, along with Old Road and the top of Belmont Hill; it had the green that it’s name implies, along with a windmill and a farm. The boundary with Liberty of Kidbrooke was to the north east, beyond the Quaggy and with the Parish of Eltham in the north eastern quadrant of Lee Green and to the north of Eltham Road. In 1893, that quadrant included a previous incarnation of the New Tigers Head, then called the Tiger Tavern, the photograph below was taken around 1897.
The Old Tigers Head shown above was the 1896 variant; three years before, when the Ordnance Survey visited, it was the earlier building pictured below. It was about to be demolished with the pub briefly migrating a couple of doors down during the rebuilding.
On the Lee side, the farm, called Lee Green Farm, had been there in 1863 when the Ordnance Survey cartographers first mapped the area, but had been demolished soon after. The farm building had been relocated to the current site of Leybridge Court on the already built Leyland Road by 1893.
Opposite, the impressive Fire Station would still be 13 years away, and its predecessor on Lee High Road a couple of years off, it would be the temporary Old Tigers Head first.
The boundary followed the centre of Eltham Road; in 1893 there was a boundary post more or less next to the easternmost leg of Ravens Way, presumably named after the Ravensbourne Athletic, whose buildings were incorporated into the post war development, but had not been developed in 1893. In the first incarnation of the Ordnance Survey map, the Lee Green Toll Gate (pictured below) would have been a few metres behind, a bus stop is located in its place now. Tolls were meant to cover the costs of maintaining the roads, but with the coming of the railways (1849 in Lewisham and Blackheath) income dropped and in 1888 the remaining Turnpike Trusts were wound up with responsibilities going to the local authorities.
The current, and indeed 1893 surveyed boundary, goes to the rear of the houses in Cambridge Drive, following the edge of the Old Colfeans playing fields. Cambridge Drive, originally Road, and the land bordering Eltham Road had been one of the first parcels of land sold from Horn Park Farm for housing by the Crown Estate. The 1890s and current variants of the boundary slightly diverge around Dorville Road, briefly, home to Edith Nesbit. The former border slightly cut across the playing fields, but was presumably revised to ensure that the cricketing boundaries weren’t crossed by administrative ones.
The boundary, now with Greenwich (in 1863 with Eltham), re-emerges on Upwood Road. Former municipal generations needed to make boundary stones or even marks on trees to indicate the edge of their territory. Their modern counterparts have more subtle methods – different shades of tarmac, wheelie bins of changed hues and my favourite here, the humble street light. Lewisham has energy efficient, 21st century LED lights whereas the Royal Borough has a cornucopia of types including some rather attractive Borough of Woolwich concrete ones which probably dates from the 1950s.
The 1893 and current variants again diverge at this point, the former boundary heading south east, the current one turning back westwards behind elegant interwar detached houses of Upwood Road. The divergence seems to have been after the move of Colfe’s, then a Grammar School, in 1963. The original had been in a site between Lewisham Hill and Granville Park in Lewisham.
It had been largely demolished by a V-1 flying bomb in 1944 – the site is pictured above, and until the 1960s used what are now Brindishe Green and Trinity Primary schools in Beacon and Leahurst Roads respectively. The new school would have stood astride the then Woolwich and Lewisham boundary, so the current variant hugs the railway line heading towards Mottingham from Lee.
The boundary crosses the South Circular close to Alnwick Road where a pleasant Green is situated. The 1893 flâneur would have found the last large farm of Lee at the southern edge of the green on what is now Horncastle Road. Running Past has already told the story of Horn Park Farm; but there was a cautionary tale that is worth repeating in relation to boundaries.
Magistrates at the Green Man in Blackheath had to decide on the case of whether Lee or Eltham parishes should pay for the care of a farm worker at the farm. The boundary passed through the centre of the house on the farm he lived in. In fact, his bed was actually on the boundary – the magistrates found in favour of Lee as the farm labourer would have put his feet on the Eltham side first.
The development of Horncastle Road seemed to follow field boundaries, which also marked the administrative border. There were a couple of stones in 1893 that have been replaced by rear garden fences. As we saw in a post on Corona Road, the Crown Estate, had sold off land alongside Burnt Ash Hill, initially used as a brick works used by John Pound and then developed by William Winn. Almost all of Winn’s development has been lost to the Blitz and post war redevelopment.
The 1893 boundary bisected a tennis club within the development, but seems to have been adjusted soon after as there are a trio of very weathered 1903 boundary markers marking the current border between Lewisham and Greenwich on Corona Road at its junction with Guibal Road, on Guibal Road itself and at the junction of Guibal and Winn Roads.
While the derivation of Winn and Corona Road is clear, developer and relating to the Crown, Guibal isn’t immediately obvious. It isn’t a family name of either William Winn or his wife and the only obvious mentions in the press at the time relate to the development of a centrifugal mining fan by a French engineer, Théophile Guibal in 1872. It is not an obvious connection to an area with no mining heritage.
In the next post on ‘beating the bounds’ we will look at the boundary from Winn Road southwards towards Grove Park.
- The Ordnance Survey map is on a non-commercial licence from the National Library of Scotland, other maps from the same source have been referred to for the post;
- The photographs of Lee Green and the Lee Green Toll Gate are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, remain their copyright and are used with their permission;
- The photograph of the earlier version of the Old Tigers Head is from an information board at Lee Green; and
- The photograph of Lewisham Hill and Granville Park bomb damage is via the Imperial War Museum on a Creative Commons).
This, and the series of posts on the Lee boundary that will follow, 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 during 2020’s lockdown, 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 via this link.