The Lemon Well at Avery Hill

Lemonwell Drive is named after the ‘Lemon Well’ which was a bricked well beside the road from Avery Hill to Eltham. At one time it had a reputation for its medicinal properties and was used for ‘affectations of the eye’. The spring which supplied the well was in the grounds of Lemon Well House, occupied by Major Sir Harry North, son of Col John Thomas North of Avery Hill.

Born in Leeds in 1866 and educated at Cambridge, Harry served in the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He was knighted in 1905 for his military service. He married Jessie in 1894 and they lived at Lemon Well with their three children, a butler, cook/housekeeper, housemaid, kitchen maid, nurse and ladies’ maid.

The house was sold after his death in 1920 and divided into three units. But in 1961 it was demolished and twenty-four flats were constructed in its place.

This part of Bexley Road, between Avery Hill and Eltham, still has a rural feel to it.

Col North: mechanic to millionaire

Avery Hill Mansion and the Winter Garden were created by Col John Thomas North ‘Nitrate King’ in 1890. But he didn’t get long to enjoy his house, as he died suddenly in 1896. In his obituary he was described as “a solid, sturdy Yorkshireman, shrewd, honest”.

John Thomas North was born in Leeds in 1842 and was apprenticed to a machine manufacturer. He was sent to South America to superintend machinery there. While there he found vast deposits of nitrate of soda and he realised the commercial value of this as fertiliser. This made him very wealthy. On his return to London he became a familiar face in the City, built himself an extravagant house at Avery Hill and became Honorary Colonel of the Tower Hamlets Volunteer Engineers. He had risen from mechanic to millionaire. But his business empire collapsed, and after he died his widow sold Avery Hill.

William Willett (1856-1915), builder and inventor of daylight saving

Did you know that it was a Chislehurst house builder, William Willett, who first proposed daylight saving hours in this country?

When most people lived in agricultural communities, the sun rising earlier in the summer than in winter had not been a problem as people just shifted their habits according to the daylight. But by the end of the 19th century more people were living in towns and cities and working in offices and shops, and their daily routines were determined by the clock. On his early morning horse rides over Chislehurst Common William Willett noticed how many window blinds were still down. He realised that warm spring evenings were being wasted because it got dark early, so he came up with the obvious solution – to change the nation’s clocks, and in 1907 he wrote a pamphlet, ‘The Waste of Daylight’. This would also benefit golfers playing in the evening (he was a keen golfer!).

But it took nine years and a world war to persuade the Government to adopt his proposal. In 1916 an emergency law was passed to change the clocks twice a year, increasing war production, and this became permanent by the passing of the 1925 Summer Time Act.

Sadly William Willett died from influenza in 1915 before his idea was enacted. He is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chislehurst. There is a blue plaque on the wall of his house, The Cedars and a Willett Memorial sundial in Willett Wood. There is even a pub named after him in Petts Wood, the Daylight Inn.

It’s worth mentioning that the link between Blackfen/Sidcup and Chislehurst was once much stronger than it is now. The A20 cut them adrift, but large areas of Blackfen were owned up to 1915 by the Townshends of Frognal and Scadbury.

 

From Ireland to Blackfen

On St Patrick’s Day, let us remember the most prominent Irishman in Blackfen’s history, Michael Heaslip, who was born in Newmarket, Co. Cork and came to England with his young family in the 1890s. He worked as a haulage contractor in north Woolwich and he bought a farm in Blackfen as grazing for his horses which he liked to use as his weekend retreat! His son, also Michael, served at the Woolwich Arsenal during WWI and his picture (see below) was part of the WWI display at Sidcup Library.
The farm was sold off for 1930s housing development, but Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Church was later built on land next to the site of Heaslip’s farmhouse. The Catholic Church was in high demand in the 1930s while house-building was active in Blackfen as there was a large Irish population who came to find work.
And when Irish people in Blackfen married their weddings were often announced in Irish newspapers. The Ballina Herald reported on 14 April 1951 the marriage of John Bradley, only son of Mr and Mrs John Bradley, Glasgow, to Breedge, youngest daughter of the late Mr John Granahan and Mrs Mary Granahan, Creevy, Castlehill, Ballina, which took place on Easter Monday at the Church of the Holy Rosary, Blackfen Kent. Meanwhile the Irish Independent of 20 November 1962 p13 reported the marriage (pictured) of Mr Thomas Sullivan, Rosmuck, Co. Galway and Miss Elizabeth Dunne, Sidcup Kent, who were married in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, Kent.

The Legacy of Slavery

Yesterday I visited the ‘Slavery, culture and collecting’ exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands which investigates the relationship between European culture and transatlantic slavery. It’s an uncomfortable truth that many ‘philanthropists’ commemorated for their associations with charitable causes generated their wealth from slavery.

And Blackfen is directly affected by this. Danson House was the lavish country home of Sir John Boyd who owned sugar plantations on St Kitts. He acquired the freehold of Danson Hill in 1759, had a new Palladian villa built and set about greedily acquiring parcels of land to enlarge his estate to display his wealth and social status – this took the boundary up as far as Westwood Lane and south of Blackfen Road, including the cottage which became the ‘Chapel House’. He travelled abroad, purchasing works of art for his villa. In later life he focused ‘on religious subjects and good deeds and administering local charities’.

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Neill Malcolm inherited the Malcolm family fortune made in Jamaican sugar plantations and through marriage inherited Lamorbey House (now Rose Bruford College) in 1812. He extended Lamorbey’s estate by buying up surrounding parcels of land. The Malcolm family went on to endow the chapel at Holy Trinity, provided land for a new vicarage, supported the church school in Hurst Road, established another school in Burnt Oak Lane and built cottages for workmen. Although the family moved away from the area, it was Lt-Col G. I. Malcolm of Poltalloch, a descendant of the Malcolms of Lamorbey, who laid the foundation stone for the Church of the Good Shepherd in Blackfen Road in 1967.

George William Staples

Blackfen’s oldest pub is re-opening on Thursday after a refurbishment. But who was George Staples (the pub name since 2008)? George William Staples was born in Knockholt, Kent in 1791. In 1814 he married Jane Maria Godsave and they had three children. George worked as an inn keeper and a wood dealer. He rented woodland in Bexley and was the landlord of the Blue Anchor pub in Bridgen 1838-1841.

In 1838 George Staples bought a cottage on the north side of Blackfen Road which he rented out. In 1845 he built the Woodman Inn (naming it after his occupation) and he lived there with his wife, a domestic servant and two lodgers. He also built more cottages alongside the pub which were rented out, providing an income for his family.

George Staples died on 24 January 1859. His widow Jane and their son William continued to run the Woodman for some years afterwards. Their son Michael ran the Tower Inn (later the Railway Tavern) in Bexley village.

In 1931 the Woodman Inn was rebuilt to serve the large number of new residents who had just moved to the area.

Leechcroft in Carshalton

Look familiar? These roads are actually in Carshalton, Surrey. This estate was built by Charles Richard Leech who was also a linoleum maker. He had designed a floor-covering which was of improved quality and cheaper to manufacture than before, and his success meant that he could buy up large areas of land for redevelopment in the early 1930s. In Blackfen he built hundreds of houses on what had been Westwood Farm, Heaslip’s Farm and Queenswood and he also built houses in Old Farm Avenue, Sidcup and the Kingswood Estate in Swanley.

Leech’s 1930s houses and bungalows are still serving us well in Blackfen – although many have been extended and altered, but I would think the original lino flooring in the houses he built is long gone!

Lamorbey House

The history of the Lamorbey Estate is closely intertwined with the history of Blackfen.

In 1608 the Goldwell family’s Lamorbey estate included a 54 acre farm at Blackfen. This later got passed around as fortunes rose and fell. In the 18th century landowners bought up parcels of land to convey their wealth, political power and social status. William Steele enhanced his Lamorbey estate by buying up land in Blackfen in 1745. But it worked both ways: when Robert Owen Jones died and his Blackfen home was put up for auction in 1861 a key selling point was the fact that the property adjoined big estates like Lamorbey and Danson. Estate agents were at work even then!

And when Blackfen’s Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1967 it was Lt-Col G. I. Malcolm of Poltalloch (a descendant of the Malcolms of Lamorbey) who laid the foundation stone.

The Grade II listed Lamorbey House (now the home of Rose Bruford College) is open to visitors as part of Open House next Saturday 22 September 10am-3pm. https://www.bruford.ac.uk/news-events/events/lamorbey-house-part-of-open-house-london/

Lamorbey_House

 

Townshends of Scadbury and Frognal

Glamorous landlords! One of Blackfen’s farms, on the east side of Days Lane, was owned from the early 1800s by the Townshends, including the politician John Robert Townshend, 3rd Viscount and later 1st Earl Sydney. The family also owned fields in what is now the Boundary Road area. They lived at Scadbury in Chislehurst and later at Frognal House. All the land was sold off as part of the vast Frognal and Scadbury estate in September 1915.

Each year there is an Open Weekend at Scadbury. You can see excavations of the ruined remains of the medieval manor house and moat, plus WWII defences. There is a self-guided tour of the site and there is a bookstall and refreshments. It takes place this year on 15 and 16 September 2pm-4.30pm. Well worth a visit. http://www.odas.org.uk/open-weekend/

Politics in Blackfen

Bexley’s Local Elections take place on 3 May. Use your vote! This year’s 100th anniversary of votes for (some) women reminds us that we didn’t always have the opportunity. We don’t have any Suffragettes in Blackfen but Dame Ethel Smyth, OBE lived in nearby Sidcup and she devoted herself to the cause of women’s suffrage; she was also a female composer in a musical world dominated by men, and a prolific writer.

As the community in Blackfen developed in the 1930s a number of political organisations were established as the Labour Party and trade unions were growing in importance and the Conservative Party reacted to their rise.

The Blackfen Constitutional Association began with a meeting at the Woodman in April 1932. Mrs Packham, Chairman of the women’s branch, proved herself a great leader, starting with 15 members in early 1932 and almost 1,000 members by the annual dinner in November 1937. They held meetings, socials, whist drives, outings and talks.

Many of the early residents of Blackfen, who had often moved out from London, wanted to improve their lot in life through politics and trade unions. In 1931 there was no Bexley Labour Party group and John Cronin became committed to establishing one (he later became a Councillor and Mayor). The Ridgeway Residents Association tried to get people elected to the local council. The Ridgeway Estate became known as ‘Little Moscow’ because of all the Labour posters in the windows of houses.

The Blackfen Co-operative Men’s Guild and the Blackfen Co-operative Women’s Guild (men and women were always separate at that time!) met in the hall above the RACS Stores. They held horticultural shows, cake-making competitions and dinners.

I always think this must’ve been quite an exciting time in Blackfen’s history. Thousands of families had arrived in a new place in a very short space of time. They all wanted a new life and they worked together to make it happen.

The candidates for Bexley’s Local Elections on 3 May are shown here: http://www.bexley.gov.uk/sites/bexley-cms/files/2018-04/Statement-of-Persons-Nominated-for-Thursday-3-May-2018.pdf