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.

Barber & Son bakers

The 1933 Sidcup and District Free Press has an advert for Barber & Son bakers in Blackfen Road. William Barber opened this bakery with his son Andrew in 1932, and customers were enticed by the warm yeasty smell and the sight of iced buns. Bread was delivered to local residents on a bicycle-powered cart. The business was bought in 1949 by Frederic John Ayre and he installed his son Jack to run it. Eventually Jack bought the shop and named it J. Ayre.

I wonder how many loaves of bread and iced buns have been sold since then!

The Bookshop at The Oval

In 1933 the shop at 9 The Oval was a newsagent, bookseller, general and fancy stationer. It was also a lending library with music, and it sold toys and games.

According to the Sidcup and District Free Press, “The Bookshop at The Oval, Sidcup, caters for those who like early morning deliveries of the daily newspapers – also those who like the evening editions. There is a most excellent ‘No Subscription’ Lending Library at this Bookshop. Lovers of books have an opportunity there of obtaining real good reading matter. Special books, magazines, music and back numbers are delivered in less than 24 hours.”

This shop must’ve been a really useful one to the early residents of Blackfen and the Marlborough Park Estate, as the library (the old one in Cedar Avenue) was not built until 1937.

And it’s still a newsagent today!

Woodlands Parade 1933

I’ve just acquired a 1933 ‘Sidcup and District Free Press’ which has a page of adverts for Blackfen. Here are R. E. West hardware stores, Woodlands Post Office and H. E. Rowbottom grocers in what was then called Woodlands Parade, opposite Sycamore Avenue. Plus in the house alongside, the rather fabulous Blackfen School of Music, Dancing and Elocution. The photo is 1934. And lastly, the same view today (2019).

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.

 

The West Wood

Dominating the north west part of Blackfen used to be The West Wood, a surviving section of much more extensive ancient woodland. In the 1200s it belonged to the Lord of the Manor of Bexley, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was valuable, providing wood for fences, poles and gates, logs for fires and charcoal for fuel, and a great pond was stocked with 4000 fish. In earlier times local tenants would have taken their pigs to feed in the woods, but in 1284 there were complaints that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s systematic use of the woodland had taken away their ancient rights.

Labourers were employed to cut the wood and a ‘woodward’ was in charge of selling the wood to shipmen, coopers and brewers, transporting it overland to Woolwich or Erith to be sent up the river to London. The aerial view below (dating from 1932) shows the proximity of the River Thames (across the top). Also below are images of the Thames at Erith.

After the Reformation, ownership of the West Wood passed to Henry VIII. After being passed around a few times it was granted in 1621 to the University of Oxford to provide endowment for a professorship of history. By 1854 foreign imports of timber had made the woodland unprofitable and all the trees were dug up so the land could be used as a farm instead – Westwood Farm, which remained until 1930s housing redevelopment.