Tag Archives: World War 1

Brightfield Road – the Street with Two Names, Part 2

In the first part of this post, we explored the 19th century history of Brightfield Road from its building as Robertson Street to its extension and renaming in the 1880s. We turn now to the 20th century and beyond, looking in particular at how the street fared in the World Wars.

We pick up the story with the 1901 census; the street had changed in the late Victorian period from homes for the building trades employed by John Pound, and other local builders, as well as for servants for the large houses in Lee, to a wider mixture of working class occupations.  Looking at the lower numbers at the eastern end of the street, little had changed by 1901 with a mixture of working class jobs such as road mender, carpenter, horse keeper and coachman (this excludes the shops which we will return to in a later post).

The average size of households had reduced to 5.3 (from 5.8 a decade before) mainly as a result of slightly fewer households taking in lodgers and/or houses being split between households. This was much smaller than the numbers in the not dissimilar homes in Ardmere Road in Hither Green which were built at around the same time.

There was little change by 1911, although the average household size dropped again to 4.5.  The nature of the jobs was little different though – manual trades and still lots relating to horse based transport.

The street fared badly in World War One, many of the sons, brothers and husbands of the households were either volunteers or conscripts to fight on the battlefields of France and Belgium – eight of them never returned home to Lee all were buried in cemeteries or remembered on memorials close to where they died.

  • William Upton of number 42 was a Driver in the Royal Engineers and died on 13 March 1918. He was a labourer in civvy street and was around 25 when he died; he was buried at Sailly-Labourse Cemetery in France.
  • Sidney George Munday lived five doors up from William Upton at 52, he was a Private with The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He was 21 when he died on 14 April 1918 and is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.
  • William Henry Church had lived just over the road at 33, he was just 20 when he died serving as a Private in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) on 18 September 1916.  He was buried at Etaples Military Cemetery in northern France.
  • Willie J Church was just 18 when he died on 6 June 1918, serving as a  Private in the London Regiment.  He is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery in France.  He lived at number 85, it isn’t clear whether he was related to William Henry Church.
  • Arthur John Cobb will have known Willie, as he lived  two doors away at 89 with his wife Gertie.  They served in the same Regiment too.  Arthur died on 18 February 1917 and was buried in France at  Merville Communal Cemetery Extension.
  • Alfred William Meggs lived seven doors down at 75, he was 20 and serving as a Corporal with the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) when he died on 3 October 1916.  He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial, pictured above.
  • William George Bickle had lived five doors away at 65, he died two days after Christmas in 1915 aged just 16, the youngest on the street to perish. He shouldn’t have been there but, probably like Willie Church he will have lied about his age – soldiers needed to be 18 to sign up and 19 to be sent abroad as we saw with Herbert Burden from Catford who was shot for desertion aged just 17.

As World War Two broke out, the numbers living in the smaller houses at the eastern end of Brightfield Road were probably the lowest that there had ever been in the street’s existence – an average of just 2.9 people per home.  A large chunk of this related to the evacuation of children in September 1939, just before the ‘census’ for rationing purposes was taken, the 1939 Register.  However, even taking this into account household size had reduced with very few lodgers and a lot more houses just inhabited by couples and single people.  This will probably be at least in part as a result of limited non-contributory pensions being paid from 1909.

Since 1911 all the horse related trades had disappeared and the eastern end of the street was home to several involved in train, lorry and tram related transport.  There were several working at the Royal Arsenal making armaments.  Very few had the ‘Heavy Work’ suffix to their role which would have allowed them to have larger rations though.  The difference with Ardmere Road here is significant.   A slightly smaller proportion of women worked to 28 years before in 1911, but the trades were little more diverse – still mainly shop, laundry and work and dressmaking though.

There were a couple of nights heavy bombing in early December 1940, on the nights of the 8th and 9th of December.  Given the significance of these nights in the area we’ll return at some point but several houses had incendiary bombs hit them – 19, 20, 22, 43, 46, 52, 60, 113 and 123.  All seemed to have been put out and the houses remain.   There was a high explosive bomb that seems to have landed in the rear garden of 95 without causing too much damage.

Just after Christmas incendiary bombs rained down on Brightfield Road with 32, 34, 42, 43, 49, 63 and 83 all hit by them (some are pictured below) – the fires were put out by wardens and the inhabitants, but many of the roofs were damaged.

Early in 1941 there was a high explosive bomb that hit the roadway close to the bridge over the Quaggy, several houses were destroyed or had to be demolished due to the resulting major gas explosion (1). The damage is the darker colours is shown on the bottom left hand corner of the map below (2). No one died with only two requiring optional treatment but there was widespread damage in terms of broken windows and major structural damage to houses up to 100 metres away (3).

On the odd side, 103 – 107 were never replaced and the gap was used to form an entrance to Manor House Gardens.  Over the road, whilst the last house, 92 (at the left of the photograph) survived, 84 to 90 didn’t and they were replaced by private sector housing after the war.

Over the bridge, 75 to 79 were lost too at some stage in the Blitz.  They too weren’t replaced – the playground to what was then Hedgley Street School (now Holy Trinity School) was extended.

Several civilians on the street died;

  • Annie Taylor from 121 Brightfield  died in an attack on 110 Springbank Road as we saw in a post on that street;
  • Alfred Dibley of 56 died on 5 July 1944 at St John’s Hospital on Morden Hill presumably as a result of a V-1 attack;
  • Elizabeth Grant of 70 died at Albion Way Shelter early in the Blitz and
  • Eliza Jenner was injured at an attack on number 4 on 11 May 1941 and died at Lewisham Hospital the same day.  

There was a VE Day party there, a bit later than most on 2 June 1945.  The street scene is now markedly different – the attractive bank buildings (once a temperance coffee house) and the three storey shops at the end of the street were lost after the war either to Penfold’s or Sainsbury’s expansion.  We’ll return to the shops in a later post.

So who lives there now?  While it isn’t possible to use census data from 2011 just for the street there is a Output Area that relates to most of the street, along with Lampmead Road.  The employment categories are very different to the census data that we have looked at before.  The main employment types of the 196 residents in employment were shops (7%), finance, insurance and banking (10%), professional and scientific (13%), education (19%) and health (7%).  It will be interesting to see what changes there are when the 2021 Census results are collated.

Most of the homes seem to be owner occupied homes – although there are eight or nine owned by property companies letting the homes and three are let by social landlords.  The change is massive compared with when the homes were built as Robertson Street when virtually all will have been privately rented.

Certainly rising house prices will make affordability nigh on impossible for the sort of people that lived there before World War Two. One of the bigger houses was sold for £842,500 in 2020 – now single-family dwellings, when built they had been ‘conveniently arranged for two families. Let to very respectable tenants at 12/- a week’ in 1892 (4). 

One of the smaller houses sold for just under £500,000 just before the first lockdown.

We will return to Brightfield Road at some point in the future to look at the shops that used to be on the street.

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming of Age in Wartime London, Peter Owen p51
  2. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p116
  3. Willmott op cit p51
  4. Kentish Mercury 25 July 1892

Credits

  • Permission has been given by the copyright owners of the Bomb Damage Maps, the London Metropolitan Archives to use the image here, it reamins their copyright
  • All the census and related data came via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The photographs of the VE Day party is part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright;
  • The photograph of the Theipval Memorial is on a creative commons via Wikipedia

Remembering the World War 1 Dead in Lee & Lewisham

In Knutsford they have had a lovely idea to commemorate the WW1 fallen in the streets where they lived by giving residents stickers to put in windows of the homes where the soldiers and sailors lived. While it is too late to do this for 2014, it got me thinking about remembering some of the WW1 dead in my area who would have been the neighbors and friends of the people who lived in my home 100 years ago. Perhaps they drank together in the Woodman, or watched films together at Lee Picture Palace, possibly they were members of the congregation at Holy Trinity on Glenton Road, or just fellow passengers from Hither Green. It isn’t an extensive or thorough listing but just some of the soldiers and sailors who lived in streets around me who lost their lives during World War 1. Households in Lochaber and Boones Roads were particularly badly hit.
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24 Brandram Road
James Thomas Sadgrove, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) died in France on 6 September 1916, aged 23.

Leonard Stephen Sadgrove, Royal Fusiliers 23rd Bn., died in France 7 September 1918, aged 18.

1 Bankwell Road
William Henry Hale, Royal Guernsey Light Infantry, died in Belgium near Ypres on 12 April 1918 aged 19.

46 Manor Lane
William W Preece ,Mercantile Marine – S.S. “Persia” (Greenock), died when torpedoed by U Boat off Crete 30 December 1915, aged 26.

28 Boones Road
Timothy Albert Wakeman, Royal Field Artillery “D” Bty. 80th Brigade, died in France on 7 August 1916 aged 21

34 Dacre Street
Frank Edward Willgress, East Surrey Regiment “C” Company, 8thg Battalion, died in France on 6 July 1916 aged 20.

4 Aislibie Road
Nevins Robert Potter, Royal Field Artillery, 4th London Brigade, died in Greece on 23 October 1915, aged 22.

4 Chalcroft Road
Walter Stanley Arnold Clarke, Dorsetshire Regiment, 6th Battalion, died in France on 10 July 1916 aged 22.

10 Murillo Road
Harold Stephen Tovey, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), died in Belgium on 20 September 1917 aged 19.

37 Lochaber Road
Charles Frederick Upton, Sailor, Mercantile Marine , S.S. “Ausonia” (Liverpool), died when boat torpedoed on 30 May 1918 around Fastnet (south of Ireland), aged 19.

25 Church Street, Lee
William Henry Davey (Military Cross) London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers, died in France, 9 September 1916, aged 21.

Source for all this information Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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The Zeppelin Attack on Hither Green

Zeppelin attacks had been expected since the beginning of the war with blackouts reminiscent of the Blitz 35 years later in place almost from the declaration of war. Initially, London wasn’t a target for Zeppelin strikes because the Kaiser didn’t want to put members of his family that were part of the British royalty at risk, but this was relaxed in April 1915, to allow for attacks on dockyards. The first attack in London was in May 1915 in Stoke Newington, with the final one on the night of 19 -20 October 1917 with, in total, around 200 deaths in the capital. It is that final raid that this post will focus on as the final bomb fell in Hither Green.

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Source Wikipedia

Over those two and a half years the Zeppelins had evolved to evade the improving air defence systems on the ground and aircraft attacks on them, much of this involved flying at higher levels of dodge attacks.

London wasn’t even the target for the ‘Silent Raid’ of the 19th and 20th October; the 13 Zeppelins were heading for Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. They were a new variant of Zeppelin able to fly at 20,000 feet – above the range of fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns. However, on that night they were hindered by gale force winds from the north at that altitude and were forced to turn back. The L45 that was responsible for the raid was heading for Sheffield but turned back and dropped 22 bombs in Northamptonshire before drifting south.

Navigation was a real problem for the Zeppelins and in an interview with one of the crew of the L45, Karl Schuz, the problems on that flight were described

We saw some lights – afterwards darkness. We tried to get wireless bearings from Germany but we couldn’t obtain them. Now it was a searchlight, two searchlights – I counted twenty! And that we guessed it must be London. But no shot, we were unseen, and we could see the Thames. Now, running before the wind with a full speed, and we must drop our bombs. We dropped the large bombs, they were 600 pounders, and I heard later on bombs – great bombs – fell on the Piccadilly Circus.

The reasons for Zeppelin L45 escaping the searchlights was fog, it was an extremely misty night and had been so for several nights.

The Piccadilly Circus bomb killed seven, mainly people waiting for buses, and severely damaged the Swan and Edgar store (at the junction with Regents Street). Another bomb was dropped on the corner of Albany and Calmington Roads (now on the edge of the Aylesbury Estate) in Southwark demolishing three houses, a fishmonger and a Doctor’s Surgery killing 10 people and injuring a further 24.

The highest number of casualties of the night though was in Glenview Road in Hither Green where three houses were destroyed and several others seriously damaged in the raid, as the Wikipedia photograph below shows.

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The homes in Glenview Road were three bedroom terrace houses, probably dating from around 1895 – some of a large number of homes developed in when Hither Green belatedly became a station. By current standards at least, two of them were seriously overcrowded.

There were fifteen deaths, ten of which were children and seven of these were all members of the same family – the Kingstons. The Kingstons had moved to Glenview Road sometime after 1911 as at the time of the census they were living nearby at 17 Leahurst Road.

They were a family that had moved around a lot – whilst the father, Patrick, was born in Deptford, he had moved to County Tipperary where he had married Mary and they had at least three children in Ireland. They then returned to Deptford in 1902, moving on to Greenwich (1904) and Woolwich (1907) before coming to Lewisham. By 1914 there were 10 children in the family, but Patrick was killed in the Lee sewer tragedy on 15 July 1914 – drowned when attempting to clear a blocked drain a few streets away in Eastdown Park.

Another family was decimated too – the Milgates, they had seven children and had lived in Glenview Road since 1895. The father and four children were killed as a result of the attack.

The burials of fourteen of the victims were on 24 October 1917 and it was reported that Mrs Kingston attended “with her only surviving daughter, Joyce, and her little boy … [she] was carried in the arms of a man to the graveside”.

The burial of Samuel Milgate, a joiner and carpenter, was later as he initially survived but died a few days later in hospital.

News about the detail of the bombings was limited in London with no information given about the locations, and there was concern expressed in several newspapers about the lack of warning and the silence of the raids which contributed to the number of casualties. There was also a lot of anger about the raid – the Coroner at the inquest for Samuel Milgate belligerently called for reprisals.

glenview1

The site was not immediately used for housing and was a garage until the 1990s (see map above from 1950, on creative commons from the National Library of Scotland) when the current houses were built in what is now Nightingale Grove.

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As for the Zeppelin that carried out the bombing – the raid was its last flight as it drifted considerably off course in the wind and was then chased by French aircraft across Lyon and Dijon before being brought down at Sisteron, near Gap in south eastern France and its crew taken prisoner. There is a French site about this particular Zeppelin with photos of both the crashed airship and its captured crew, which includes the press cutting below. It was the last Zeppelin attack on London.

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There was a memorial put up for the victims, and those of the Gotha attack on Sydenham Road seven months later at Brockley and Ladywell and Cemetery paid for by public subscription.  It was next to the low service personnel memorial in the ‘Lewisham side’ of the cemetery .  Over the years the details of those who died became eroded and indecipherable.  The Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries successfully sought funding to restore this memorial, which is being officially unveiled on Saturday 21st October at 2.30 pm.

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