Tag Archives: Woodman’s Farm

Beating The Bounds of Lee Part 2 – Winn Road to Grove Park

In the last post, we returned to the old tradition of ‘beating the bounds’ of the civil parish of Lee, ‘armed’ mainly with a Second Edition Ordnance Survey map of the area and a decent amount of local knowledge of the history. The survey for the map had been carried out in 1893, but it seems to have updated to reflect boundary changes relating to Mottingham in 1894.

We had left the Lee boundary on Winn Road, part of a small estate developed by William Winn, which, appropriately for the time this post was written, includes Corona Road.

The route followed is the red line on adjacent Ordnance Survey map. It was broadly the same circuit that had been followed in 1822 by the great and the good of the parish. Included in their number, although not in the ‘good’ part, was the final tenant of Lee Place, the odious Benjamin Aislabie – a slave owner after slavery was abolished in the Empire. At least the parish spelled his name incorrectly as ‘Aislibie’ when naming a street after him.

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We had left the boundary at the final of a trio of 1903 Lewisham boundary markers at the south easterly junction of Winn and Guibal Roads. Lee was merged with Lewisham into the Borough of Lewisham in 1900. The 1893 boundary was about 15 metres to the west and cut across to what is now Burnt Ash Pond, mid way down Melrose Close. The current Lewisham boundary with Greenwich veers off to the east down Winn Road to the Quaggy.

Burnt Ash Pond is usually a delightful little oasis of calm, but seemed to be suffering from lock down, seemingly covered with either duckweed or green algae when passed by on this occasion. The 1893 variant of the boundary passed through the Pond and continued southwards down Melrose Close, attractive late 1970s council housing, diminished by an entrance through largely abandoned garages. In 1893 the boundary passed through back gardens parallel to Burnt Ash Hill, almost opposite College Farm. There is an 1865 Lee Parish marker hidden in the undergrowth next to the pond, although it is not visible from the outside.

The name ‘Melrose’ came from another farm which seems to have evolved out of Horn Park Farm, whose farm yard we crossed in the first post, and was essentially a market garden operation and was also referred to as Woodman’s Farm, after its tenants. The Close was probably part of its land. Its farmhouse in Ashdale Road remains and was used as a site office for the developers of much of the area we are about to pass through, Wates. The farm’s main claim to fame was the unintentional landing of Willows II (pictured below) which was aiming for Crystal Palace and in the process created a record for the longest airship flight.

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The boundary continues parallel to Burnt Ash Hill until a point almost opposite Ashwater Road when it follows what are now the rear fences of houses on the northern side of Senlac Road, presumably named after the likely location of the Battle of Hastings. In the back garden of a group of Wates built interwar semis between Exford and Ashdale Roads, there was once the junction of the parishes of Lee, Eltham and Mottingham. The house with three boundaries, then had two and now has none – the Bromley boundary is now at the bottom of the hill following the Quaggy. The change is a relatively recent one, dating from 1991 proposals, the current resident remembers paying council tax to both Lewisham and Bromley. In 1893 we would have been in fields.

The 1893 boundary broadly followed what is now an access road to the rear of houses in Jevington Road. The end of Jevington Road has a chain link fronted jungle facing it, the boundary pierces through the chain link, on the Mottingham side of the 19th century border is now a Den of a former Dragon, a Bannatyne Health Club. The Lee side is, arguably even healthier – some allotments, along with a community volunteer run library.

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This section would have been very different if the Conservative run Greater London Council (GLC) plans for Ringway 2 had come to fruition in the late 1960s. In South London, it was essentially a motorway replacement for the South Circular.

There was much secrecy about the detail of the route, although the most likely version suggested by Chris Marshall would have seen a five lane motorway driven through the allotments, with a minor interchange for Burnt Ash Hill and a major one on Baring Road. There was much opposition across south London to the scheme, and the absence of a motorway here points to its success. The only tangible remains of Ringway in the area is an eponymous community centre on Baring Road.

Returning to 1893, when the Ordnance Survey cartographers visited, the Grove Park Hospital had yet to be built – that wouldn’t be for another 15 years. We’ve covered the hospital when we followed the Quaggy through these parts.

On the northern wall is a boundary marker – the ‘MP’ is clear in that it relates to Mottingham Parish which from 1894 to 1934 was a ‘detached’ part of the Bromley Rural District. The ‘LP’ is less clear, Lee had disappeared into Lewisham by the time the hospital was built, but it was the Borough of Lewisham rather than the parish.

In 1893 the parish of Lee meandered across the soon to be hospital site, changing direction at a tree that doubled up as a boundary marker. The tree is long gone, presumably felled when the hospital was constructed and the boundary moved to the edge of the hospital site. Oddly, in the housing that replaced most of the hospital buildings, there is a tree at the same point as the former boundary marker.

On the eastern side of the hospital site, Lee’s boundary takes on a new format, the Quaggy. Rivers and streams often form the boundaries between parishes and local authorities, as we have found with several streams and rivers – including the River Wilmore in Penge and Border Ditch that we will encounter later in our perambulation around Lee.

Alas, the conterminous boundary with the Quaggy (shown top left below) only lasts for around 50 metres, about 2 and a half chains of Victorian measurement. However, we swap one watercourse for another as the boundary veers off the the east, following Grove Park Ditch, which depending on rainfall levels either cascades or splutters into the Quaggy (top right, below).

The confluence is a pipe opposite the Sydenham Cottages Nature Reserve, named after the farm workers cottages above. 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 – there also are Milk StreetBorder and Petts Wood further upstream.

About 50 metres inside the Lee side of the boundary, Lewisham Natureman has been recently active – a new stag has been painted, drinking from the Quaggy (or would be in more typical flows) in the shade of an elder bush. We will return to his work at a few other points on our travels around the Lee boundary.

The course of Grove Park Ditch isn’t certain, it is culverted for almost half a mile, but would have crossed the fields below more or less parallel to a very rural looking Marvels Lane from 1914, presumably coterminous with the boundary.

There is a boundary marker outside 94 Grove Park Road. It is weathered and unreadable, but marks the Lee boundary with Mottingham – given the style is similar to those around Winn Road at the beginning of this section it probably dates from 1903, however, the location of the boundary was the same in 1893.

In the next instalment, we will follow the boundary through the rural Grove Park of 1893.

Picture Credits

  • The Ordnance Survey Map is via the National Library of Scotland, it is used here on a non-commercial licence
  • The picture of Willows II is from an original postcard in the authors ‘collection’
  • The Ringway map comes from Chris Marshall’s fascinating website
  • The postcard of Grove Park is from e Bay in November 2016

The series of posts on the Lee boundary that this post is part of, 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.

Lee’s Accidental Airship Record  – Willows II

When thinking about locations for aeronautical records in south London, the most obvious places to consider are, perhaps, Biggin Hill or the old Croydon Aerodrome (covered in passing in relation to ‘Lady Icarus’);  a  long way down the list would be Lee. But Lee has been home to two  records – the first known parachute fatality at Burnt Ash Farm, which was covered in the blog in 2015, and, for a short period in the early 20th century, it was the accidental location for the end of the longest airship flight  when Willows II landed somewhere around Winns Road on what was known as Woodman’s Farm.

Like the sad tale of Robert Cocking, Lee’s claim to fame was a purely accidental one.  The pilot was aiming for Crystal Palace but due to poor visibility and some technical problems had somewhat overshot his destination.

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From postcard in author’s ‘collection’

The pilot was Captain Ernest Thompson Willows, he was the son of a wealthy Cardiff dentist and born in 1886.  He had been inspired by the Wright Brothers and built his first airship, Willows I, two years after their flight at Kitty Hawk when Willows was just 19. It was powered by a motorcycle engine and was reasonably successful, its maiden flight outside Cardiff lasted for 85 minutes, the first of half a dozen flights.

The follow up, the imaginatively named Willows II, was another four years in the making and was slightly bigger than the first one and launched in 1909.  He extended the length of the flights – flying from Cheltenham to Cardiff in four hours in July 1910.

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Picture from ‘Flight’ 13 August 1910

The flight to Lee was the following month.  He left his ‘shed’ in the moors above Cardiff around 8 pm on an August Saturday evening, guided initially by the lights of his father’s car.  The car lights failed soon after England had been reached and Willows was left to steer by a combination of stars, lights from towns and occasional forays down to almost ground level to check where he was via megaphone (1)  His flight took him over Chippenham, Colne, Reading and Chertsey before heading towards Crystal Palace (2).

Coming to a stop was fairly rudimentary and involved throwing a grappling iron out and hoping someone would be able to get hold of it and secure the airship.  On the approach to Crystal Palace, the grappling iron got stuck in a tree and the rope broke.  He drifted on to between Lee and Mottingham, where a watchman with some help from others was able to catch the rope and secure Willows II (3).

There was some damage to the skin with a consequent loss of hydrogen, which needed to be replaced.  So it wasn’t until the following Monday evening that he was able to complete the trip to Crystal Palace – his flight took him over Lee, Hither Green, Catford and Lower Sydenham before reaching Sydenham Hill 18 minutes later – the journey was watched by thousands on the ground.  The final destination was in cloud and he lost those on the ground who he was following, so like the flight to Lee, the final descent was a bit haphazard.

Once at Crystal Palace he did regular demonstrations, which adverts were taken out for in the local and national press – such as this one in The Times (4).

Woodman 2

Willows continued with building airships – Willows II was re-built and re-named as the City of Cardiff in an unsuccessful attempt to win a £2000 prize for the first flight between Paris and London.  While he was able to sell Willows IV to the Admiralty for just over £1000, it seems to have been the only significant money he made from his passion for flight.  A period in the Royal Flying Corps in World War 1 was bookended by offering sight-seeing flights – it was on one of these near Bedford in August 1926 where the basket became detached from the airship and Ernest Willows and his five passengers hurtled to the ground – one of the passengers survived but all the others, including Willows, perished.

Woodman

As for Woodman’s Farm in Lee, it seems to have been a relatively short lived farm, its location is highlighted on the map above.  It may well have originally been part of Horn Park Farm which the blog covered a while ago.  The unplanned landing of the airship seems to be its first mention.  It was also known as Melrose Farm – which it was referred to in the 1914 Kelly’s Directory (5).

The farm was a market gardening operation supplying the army during WW1 and selling produce at Greenwich market (6).  It was run by the Woodman family seemingly until the 1930s, when, like Horn Park Farm, it was lost to developers (7).  The farm house remains on Ashdale Road, helpfully called ‘The Old Farm House’ to make identification easy and was used by the builders of streets around there, Wates, as a site office during the construction (8).

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Notes

  1. Flight 13 August 1910
  2.  Ibid
  3.  Ibid
  4.  The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Aug 23, 1910; pg. 1; Issue 39358
  5.  Josephine Birchenough and John King (1981) ‘Some Farms and Fields in Lee’, p14
  6.  Ibid
  7.  Ibid
  8.  ibid