The Watch House Green was Lewisham’s original village green where, for centuries, soldiers camped, preachers proclaimed and criminals were caged, whipped or put in stocks. This land was privatised and sold and now lies under the pedestrianised shopping area between High Street and Lewis Grove.
A framed passage about The Watch House.
The text reads: This J.D.Wetherspoon pub is named after the old village green. Known as Watch House Green, it is now covered by the shops and offices that stand between the High Street and Lewis Grove.
Watch House Green was the centre of the old village of Lewisham. Soldiers camped here, and itinerant preachers drew a crowd. It was also the site of the cage, where wrongdoers were locked up overnight, and the location of both the stocks and the whipping post.
The village green was built over after the enclosure act, which made common land available for development by selling it off to private landowners.
The largest landowners, such as Lord Dartmouth, obtained the lion’s share of enclosed land, and had the greatest influence over whether an enclosure act succeeded in their neighbourhood. In this area the opposition was considerable, yet Lord Dartmouth’s agent was able to assure him “I have no doubt but by perseverance we shall carry our object, for though there are many persons against the measure their property is inconsiderable”.
A framed drawing, print and text about early warriors, kings and archbishops.
The text reads: The earliest mention of Lewisham is dated 862AD. It was then ‘Liofshema’. The name was derived either from Leof, meaning ‘dear’ or ‘beloved’, or Lefsa, meaning ‘weak’.
In either case it is the name of the Saxon warrior whose people settled in the meadows by the river, and later cut their way into the surrounding forest, sometime in the 6th century.
In 964AD King Edgar, urged by Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave the manor of ‘Lieuesham’, which included Greenwich and Woolwich, to the abbey of St Peter at Ghent. This was reward for the Abbey sheltering Dunstan when he was exiled from England in 956AD.
The Abbot installed a Prior to act as agent on his new estate. He probably used the existing manor as his priory. This building may well have been the one that was bought and rebuilt by the Cheseman family around 1500 and stood close to Albacore Crescent, near the heart of the original settlement.
Wars the France made the English kings suspicious of ‘alien’ landowners, and hungry for the income from their estates. From Edward I onwards, alien priories were regularly confiscated, until Henry V finally expelled all foreign monks in 1414, and gave Lewisham to the Carthusian priory of Shene.
Far Left: The Abbey Church of St Peter of Ghent, 1580. The Abbots were Lewisham’s Lords of the Manor for 450 years.
Framed prints and text about vicars at St Mary's.
The text reads: Lewisham has been graced by some exceptional vicars at St Mary’s Church, who have had a particular interest in education.
John Glynn was vicar from 1546 to 1568, and left £100 to found a grammar school. Queen Elizabeth gave it a charter in 1574.
The foundation had almost petered out when Abraham Colfe became vicar in 1610. Colfe was a moderate man, in an increasingly fanatical age. Puritan doctrine and policy began to bite, and when wealthy city merchants and lawyers, full of righteous zeal, moved out to Lewisham, Colfe found himself hounded.
In 1642 Parliament began sending ‘appointees’ to parishes where the vicar was considered suspect. Colfe had to give one John Batchelor free use of his pulpit. However, the congregation simply stayed away, and Batchelor gave Lewisham up as a bad job.
Parliamentary troops were billeted here in 1644, partly to enforce payments to their cause. Colfe had to pay £100, which stalled his efforts to endow the ailing Glynn’s school, and other charities. However, he was able to start building the new school on Lewisham Hill in 1651 and open it in 1652.
The grammar school was one part of a comprehensive scheme. A school teaching reading was opened in the High Street and stood until the 1870s where the hospital is now. Seven university scholarships were established, and the grammar school housed a public library for further education.
Framed prints and text about Margaret and Rachel McMillan.
The text reads: Pioneers of nursery education, Margaret and Rachel McMillan lived at 127 George Lane, Lewisham, between 1920-1913. This period coincides with the first years of their educational work in Deptford.
Born one year apart, Rachel in 1859, her sister in 1860, Rachel worked as a nurse, Margaret as a governess, until 1888, when they began working together at a hostel in Bloomsbury. They also attended socialist lectures. In 1892 Margaret made her first public speech, and joined the Fabian Society.
Fellow socialists invited Margaret to Bradford, where shew was elected on to the school board. The schools she visited horrified her. Her campaigning led to the first school medical inspection in 1894, and paved the way for school meals.
Margaret returned south in 1902 and published Education through the Imagination. The sisters ran a health clinic in Bow from 1908-1910. It was then that their most celebrated work began. They opened a school clinic at Vestry Hall in Deptford, and in 1912 a nursery school at 535 Evelyn Street.
When the nursery school moved to a larger premises in 1917 Margaret was able to give full reign to her ideas. Children should combine learning with play, preferably in the open air. They should attend nursery from the age of two until seven and get three meals a day provided.
Rachel has died in 1917, exhausted by over work. Margaret planned a college to train nurses in her memory. Rachel McMillan College, in Creek Road, opened in 1930. A year later Margaret died, and was buried with Rachel.
Above: Left, Margaret McMillan Right, Rachel McMillan.
Framed prints and text about E.E. Nesbit.
The text reads: Edith Nesbit, ‘Daisy’ to her family, was born in Kennington in 1858. Her father died when she was four. The family travelled in Europe and settled in Kent, whilst their funds ran low Lack of money forced a move to Islington.
Edith met Hubert Bland, a former banker, and married him in 1880 when she was seven months pregnant. Bland had taken on a brush- making business. His partner ran off with the funds and left Bland penniless. Edith then showed her mettle, making ends meet by selling poems and stores to newspapers. Hubert helped her, thus beginning his career as a journalist.
Edith began writing children’s stories when she was 40. She wrote more than 60 books for children, including The Railway Children.
The Blands’ private life was complex. They were founder members of the Fabian Society. Their friends included G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells. Hubert was a womaniser. He had two children by their housekeeper Alice Hotson. Edith brought them up as her own. She too had affairs, and tried, unsuccessfully to persuade G.B. Shaw to be her lover. At the same time she worked amongst the poor in Deptford.
Edith’s and Hubert’s first home was in Elswick Road, near Loampit Vale. They later lived in Lee, and in Grove Park. In 1899 the family moved to Well Hall in Eltham. After Hubert died Edith struggled financially until she was given a civil pension in1915, and then married the colourful T.T. Tucker, with whom she lived happily until her death in 1924.
Left: Edith at work Above: left, Hubert at 45
Right: Edith and her son John 1904.
A framed drawing and text about Walter de la Mare.
The text reads: This famous poet and novelist was born in Charlton in 1873. After the death of his father the family moved to Forest Hill and then to Brookbank Road, Lewisham, where they lived between 1887-1889.
The future poet went St Paul’s choir School, and joined the Standard Oil Company in 1890, writing in his spare time. In 1908 he retired on a state pension and devoted himself to literature.
He wrote poems and stories for adults and children, as well as essays, literary studies and anthologies (his anthologies of poetry, especially Come Hither in 1923, are evergreen selections).
His poetry is romantic and musical. The immediacy of wonder and beauty which he evokes places him in a tradition going back to William Blake, Thomas Trahene and Henry Vaughn.
Uniquely, he brings to his wok the light-stepping freshness of nursery-rhyme. His work has the qualities of fairy story, where great beauties mingle with dark terrors in an otherworldly setting.
A framed print and text about John Wesley.
The text reads: John Wesley and his brother Charles, along with George Whitefield, started the evangelical movement that became known as Methodism. All three were close friends of Jane Sparrow. Jane was a widow, and lived in the High Street at the Limes, one of Lewisham’s largest houses. When Jane died in 1747 Wesley’s financial adviser the banker Ebenezer Blackwell, bought the limes.
During the occupancy of both, a period that only ended with Blackwell’s death in 1783, John Wesley was a regular visitor to Lewisham. He often used the Limes to get on with his writing, on the few occasions when he rested from hi incessant journeying around the country preaching to the people
When Blackwell died Wesley wrote: “My brother and I paid our last visit to Lewisham...Upwards of forty years this has been my place of retirement…”
It was Blackwell who advanced the money needed to build the new St Mary’s Church in 1777, replacing the medieval building which had become inadequate for the rapidly expanding parish. In the last two decades of the 18th century many outstanding monuments were built by wealthy congregants, employing great sculptors like Flaxman.
Framed prints, drawing and text about the railway.
The text reads: London’s first railway, the London and Greenwich, opened in 1836.
At first train fare were too high for anyone but the upper middle classes. So early suburban development provided housing away from the crowded, smoky town, for bankers, stockbrokers and the like.
Landowners hear the cash tills ringing as the railway lines reached out into the countryside surrounding London, and their fields became potential building plots for home for commuters.
The first Lewisham Station was opened in 1849 by the North Kent Company. It was situated by the railway bridge in the High Street. Edward Legh, owner of the limes at this time, had anticipated the new line by building houses on the fringes of his garden. Limes Grove was already developed when the station opened.
Granville park was built between the station and Black heath. The ’Superior villas’, originally envisaged in favour of semi-detached houses
Top: left, The Tonbridge Line passing Lewisham Congregational Church, at the bottom of Courthill road in 1900
Right: South Eastern Railway line, opened in 1849, passing under Florence Road Bridge
Above: Granville Park, as originally envisaged.
In the event semi-detached houses replaced these grand villas.
Framed drawings and text about country life in Lewisham.
The text reads: In the early 1800s Lewisham was composed of country mansions in their own grounds. These were the residences of wealthy Londoners for whom Lewisham was convenient for the city, yet remote from its congestion.
John Thackeray was one of the most notable residents. He built the Priory, in the neo-gothic style, as his country mansion. It was situated on the west side of the High street, with the stream on his door step, form which he drew water to feed his ornamental fountains. Thackeray also built the Almshouses which bear his name, and are still intact. They opened in 1841. Thavkery died in 1851, having lived here long enough to see the change from village to suburb begin.
Above: The road from Blackheath to Lewisham
Left: top, The priory
Below: Thackeray’s Almshouses.
Framed prints and text about Lewisham evolving in the past.
The text reads: Lewisham began to evolve form a few villages, with large houses dotted about, into a modern suburb, when the first terrace of housing was built for lower middle class (office workers mainly).
Grove House stood at the South End of Watch House Green. It had been associated with the radical politician John Wilkes, but by 1830 it housed a wealthy London solicitor named Allen. However, when he decided to move, instead of selling his estate in the usual way, he had the house demolished, and then did something revolutionary. He built the first turning off the High street, and the first terraced housing –‘genteel villas’ according to the advertisement. He called his turning Avenue Road (later Romer Road).
Above: Romer Place built in the garden of Grove house
Right: John Wilkes, who lived at grove house.
Framed drawings and text about civic pride in Lewisham.
The text reads: In 1855-56 a sewer was dug as the local authorities began trying to cope with Lewisham’s transformation from village to suburb. Inadvertently they perforated the clay bed of the pond that fed the stream, which for centuries had flowed along the west side of the high street.
The waters disappeared. The heirs of john Thackaray sued for reinstatement of their ‘beautiful trout stream’, but the newly formed Lewisham Board of Works prevailed against the landowners. This was a decisive moment symbolically as well as in appearance, Lewisham had abandoned its ‘village’ past.
The Board of Works was the future. Dominated by shopkeepers, it was a vehicle of progress and development, replacing the old-gentry-led authorities, with their rural, conservative with a small ‘c’ bias.
The Board first occupies plain and simple offices near the present hospital, but by 1875 its importance, in the eyes of its members at least, accorded with an elaborate new gothic building, which locals soon dubbed ‘Catford Cathedral’.
The Board doubled the size of these offices in time for the new century, but was abolished before it could enjoy its expansion. The new Borough council made the building the Town Hall.
Above: left, the rural past , 1770
Right, Lewisham Town Hall decked out for the coronation of George V in 1911
Left: Catford Cathedral
A framed photograph of High Road, Lewisham, c.1910.
A framed photograph of the Fire Station, Lewisham, c.1910.
A framed photograph of High Road, Lewisham, c.1910.
A framed photograph of The Obelisk, Lewisham c.1907.
A framed photograph of High Road, Lewisham, c.1910.
A framed photograph of Thornford Road, Lewisham, c.1908.
A framed photograph of Lee Bridge, Lewisham c.1908.
A framed photograph of High Street, Lewisham, c.1909.
A framed photograph of Loampit Hill, Lewisham c.1910.
A framed photograph of St Stephen’s Church, Lewisham.
A framed old photograph of Lewisham.
A framed old photograph of Lewisham.
External photograph of the building – main entrance.
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