Local archaeologist Andy Brockman will be the “Walking Time Machine” on Friday when he leads a walk through the history in and around Shrewsbury Park. This is the first of three free walks arranged by the Friends of Shrewsbury Park. Kathy from the Friends wrote with details:
One of our members, Andy Brockman, who is a Shooters Hill based archaeologist, is providing a free walk on Friday 17 July 2015 starting at 7.30pm. If you are interested, please meet at the car park off Plum Lane. He says, “your journey aboard the Walking Time Machine will last approximately one and a half hours and twelve thousand years, taking in the Bronze Age, London’s first Open Air School and the Battle of Britain. Families and well behaved dogs are welcome. This event is part of the Council for British Archaeology Festival of British Archaeology.
19th July, at 10am: Local birds. John Beckham will be leading the walk around the park and pointing out the local birds. Meet at the Garland Road entrance and bring binoculars if you have them.
25 July, at 3pm: Butterflies. John Denton will be showing us the different butterflies in the park. Meet at the Green Chain sign on Dothill (at the bottom of the concrete path that leads from the car park). Bring binoculars if you have them.
The “Walking Time Machine” is part of the 25th Festival of Archaeology which is co-ordinated by the Council for British Archaeology. There are over a thousand events taking place across the country between the 11th and 26th July 2015. I’m looking forward to learning about the Open Air School which was the first such school opened by the LCC in 1908 and based in Shrewsbury Park. David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped in History” describes the school, and includes a number of photographs of it such as the one below from the Greenwich Heritage Centre. Some of the pictures are of wooden buildings that formed part of the school. It’d be interesting to know where they were located. And where in Shrewsbury Park was Colonel Bagnold’s Bronze Age barrow number 6?
Greek mosaic specialist Kalypso Kampani and her team of conservators expect to complete the current phase of mosaic restoration work at St George’s Garrison Church by the middle of July. The marvellous mosaics, which were installed by Antonio Salviati around 1870, include the Venetian glass mosaic of St George and the dragon, part of the Victoria Cross memorial. Kalypso’s team come from historic building repair and restoration specialists, Skillingtons who won the contract for the restoration of the mosaics in late 2014.
There was standing room only on 9th May in the meeting room at Woolwich Library for the presentation about St George’s Chapel. Julie Ricketts who is the Heritage Project Officer responsible for the St George’s project gave an interesting presentation. She talked about the history of the Garrison Church and showed some old pictures of the church before it was partially destroyed by a V1 flying bomb, with some I hadn’t seen before of the 1500 capacity interior. I was also unaware of the extent to which cast iron was used in the construction of the church: there were cast iron pillars and iron was also used for the roof and balconies structures. Cast iron column capitals can still be seen in the ruin today.
As well as the Heritage Lottery Fund a lot of other organisations provided funding for the project:
The Heritage of London Trust Ops. has been working on a restoration project at St. George’s, with funding and assistance from a variety of sources: Ministry of Defence, Royal Artillery, HLF, English Heritage, John Paul Getty Foundation, Community Covenant Fund, Pilgrim Trust, Cory Landfill, Lord Ashcroft, Foyle Foundation and VC and GC Associations.
Julie’s presentation also gave details of the on-going restoration work and the plans for the future of the chapel.
There are two aspects to the first phase of work on the mosaics by Skillingtons’ team. The mortar backing on many of the smaller mosaic panels needs to be replaced. Those panels were removed from the chapel after fixing the mosaic tesserae in place by attaching muslin cloth to them using a glue made out of rabbit skin. Then the mortar between the tesserae is replaced from behind in the workshop, following which the panels are replaced in the chapel. In this phase missing parts of those mosaics are not being renewed; it is hoped this might be done in a future phase if funding is found.
Missing parts of the St George mosaic are being replaced in situ in the chapel. Missing sections are created, as shown in the photograph above, using new tesserae which are made by a producer in Greece. As well as the mosaic the letters in the marble tablets inscribed with the names of the deceased gunners who won the Victoria Cross from the Crimean War to the middle of WWII are being restored.
The conservators are concerned about the stability of some other memorial panels in the chapel, especially the alabaster panel shown below which is to the right of the St George mosaic. There has been a request for emergency funding to ensure this panel doesn’t deteriorate further.
After the presentations we all walked up the hill to the chapel where the new tensile fabric roof was being attached to the glulam timber-framed arch. The tensile roof was constructed by Fabric Architecture, with Thomas Ford and Partners as the conservation architects for the project. There’s much more detail about the project and photos of the work progressing on the Fabric Architecture website, for example: the main vaulted roof beams each weigh around 6 tonnes and they sit atop 8 supporting columns weighing around 750kg each.
It had been expected that the roof would be in place in time for our visit, but completion was delayed by strong winds. Resisting strong winds was an important factor in the design: the structure’s foundations need to be strong enough to prevent the roof being blown away as well as supporting the glulam framework.
What will happen to St Georges once the work is complete? Whilst the chapel will remain a consecrated place, there are plans to make the space available for community group events and school visits. Current ideas include concerts by the Royal Artillery Band, Greenwich University Big Band and Woolwich Singers and services for local veterans organisations and the Woolwich British Legion.
In the short term the chapel will be open to the public on the following dates:
Saturday 27th June – Armed Forces Day
Saturday 12th September – Ride & Stride
Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th September – Open House weekend
Julie is looking for volunteers to help for a couple of hours at the Greenwich great get together/Armed Forces Day festival on the 27th June to “greet members of the public at St. George’s Garrison Church, give out an information leaflet, ask them to sign the Visitors’ Book and shake a collection bucket!” You can sign up for this using an online calendar or by contacting Julie Ricketts by e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0754 6265480.
In the longer term Heritage of London are setting up a friends group to look after future events. Volunteers are sought, for the following areas: Events, Finance, Membership, Education & Outreach, Building & Gardening, Publicity, Media & Communications and Fundraising.If you’re interested contact Julie using the contact details above. St George’s chapel is also on Twitter and on Facebook.
The restoration of the Garrison Church was originally agreed before the 2012 Olympics, so it’s been a long project, but its looking like it will have been worth the wait.
Zur Erinnerung an 1020 G-PWW-Coy Shooters Hill – As a Memento of German Prisoner of War Working Company 1020 Shooters Hill – is the title of an exquisite, slim booklet from the archives of the Greenwich Heritage Centre. Its contents are a set of pen and ink drawings of the PoW camp by one of the German prisoners, Wolfram Dörge. Dated Christmas 1946, it is dedicated to the officer in charge of the camp, Major Leech, who was known to the prisoners of war as the “Father of the Camp”.
Wolfram Dörge’s pictures show the various huts that made up the camp, including the mess hut, the infirmary, the recreation room and the cobblers’ and tailor’s shop. They also include views of the inside of some of the huts, such as the billet hut shown below, the kitchen and the stage in the recreation room. It is a unique record of life for German prisoners of war in the UK after the end of the second world war.
The camp was situated in the area now taken up by the southernmost 9 holes of Shooters Hill Golf Club, the part nearest Shooters Hill, plus the westernmost fields of Woodlands Farm. The Shooters Hill Golf Club history page summarises the use of this part of the course during the war years:
In 1939, the southernmost 9 holes of the course were requisitioned for the establishment of an anti-aircraft battery and part of the Clubhouse became the headquarters of the Home Guard, and in the latter years part of the course also became a Prisoner of War camp for some 1000 German and Italian prisoners. The camp was surrounded by a 7ft high wire fence, and the cookhouse situated by the 17th green. The remaining 9 holes continued to be played even though the course sustained considerable damage from bombing.
The anti-aircraft battery was an unusual one – it was a Z Battery, which used 3-inch rockets to defend against enemy air attacks. In 2005 a community archaeological research programme called the “Lie of the Land project” led by local archaeologist Andy Brockman investigated the Shooters Hill ZAA Battery and the findings are documented in chapter 14 of Images of Conflict: Military Aerial Photography and Archaeology. An aerial photograph of the golf course from August 1944 shows the 64 twin-barrelled rocket projectors of the battery arranged in an 8 by 8 grid across the eastern-facing slopes. The battery was initially manned by personnel from the Royal Artillery, but later the Home Guard took over and it was fully manned by the Home Guard from the end of July 1943.
Even at the time it seems there was some doubt about the effectiveness of such unguided rockets against enemy aircraft, and it was suggested that they were there as much for civilian morale as for usefulness in defence. After the battery was stood down it is reported that the Mayor of Bexley sent a message to the stand down dinner which included the comment: “Thank God you are standing down because you have caused more damage to property in Bexleyheath than the enemy has”.
The Z Battery was on the golf course between August 1942 and November 1944, according to David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped in History”, which also mentions that an American tented camp was there before the PoW camp. Another aerial photograph from Images of Conflict, from October 1945, shows rows of military Bell tents which were no longer there in the autumn of 1946 – presumably this was the American camp – though when the PoW camp was first set up some of the prisoners were billeted in tents.
Camp 1020 was formed on 26th June 1946 according to a fascinating document from the National Archive which was referred to by Andy Brockman in his talk about the camp to Shooters Hill Local History Group last September. Andy thanked SE9 Magazine who passed on the document which is a report on an inspection visit to the camp and gives details of the PoWs and their educational and cultural activities in the camp, including the work to “denazify” the prisoners .
At the time of the report there were 533 German prisoners in the camp. They had all been transferred from Camp 197 at Chepstow, but before that 75% had been in the USA and the remainder in Belgium. Initially morale was low, as the report says:
Morale at first was low, owing to the disappointment of Ps.W. ex USA, who had been assured by American officers that they were being repatriated, and discontentment of Ps.W. ex Belgium who alleged they had been badly fed and roughly treated in Belgium. Good treatment, attention to welfare and educational activities on the part of the British staff and better food has now raised morale considerably. Many Ps.W. ex Belgium have gained up to 40 lbs in weight and the camp can now be regarded as content and happy.
Many of the activities organised for the prisoners were aimed towards political re-education, or denazification. One of the first steps was to classify how strongly each prisoner adhered to the Nazi ideology. A report on a project about another PoW camp, at Butcher Hill in Horsforth, explains the classification scheme:
White patches (‘A’ ‘A-‘) were for prisoners with no loyalty or affiliation to the Nazis. A grey patch (‘B+’ ‘B’ ‘B-‘) meant that the prisoner, although not an ardent Nazi, had no strong feelings either way (mitläufer). Hard-core Nazis and almost all Waffen SS and U-Boat crews wore a black patch (‘C’ or ‘C+’).
It isn’t clear whether the black/grey/white patch system was used at Camp 1020, but the camp was classified overall as grey and the A/B/C method of classifying prisoners was used. The vast majority of Shooters Hill prisoners were classified as A and B with just 31 Cs and 1 C+.
There were a wide range of re-education activities, including lectures on “Public Life in England” and “Germany yesterday, today and tomorrow” which were attended by between 100 and 150 prisoners and were followed by “lively discussions”. A press review was held three times a week attended by 150-200 men. Press items were selected and translated beforehand for the review. “Mr. Churchill’s speech at Conservative Conference was given in full and caused much discussion”. The radio was popular, with about 200 men listening to the BBC news in German on the “good quality wireless” in the recreation room. The YMCA Film Unit visited every Tuesday.
There were beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in English and classes in French and Spanish. The number of classes was limited by lack of accommodation, according to the report. It also recommended that the library of 103 books in German and 100 in English be augmented with more German novels. In addition the supply of newspapers needed to be increased. They received copies of the Daily Express, Daily Herald, Daily Mail, the Times and the News of the World, and also of a UK government produced newspaper in German called Wochenpost. The 50 copies of the latter were deemed totally inadequate for a camp of 530 men.
Why were prisoners of war still held in 1946, when the war in Europe had ended over a year earlier? They were kept as workers to help in reconstruction work at a time when many British workers were still overseas in the armed forces. Under the Geneva Convention PoWs couldn’t be forced to work, but most of them volunteered to as a way of passing the time. At its peak in September 1946 there were 402,200 prisoners of war in the UK, in hundreds of camps, of which 84.9% were working. It has been estimated that 25% of the workforce in the UK was such PoW labour.
“Steeped in History” records that the prisoners in Camp 1020 worked mainly in the warehouses of the North Woolwich dockyards and in the public utilities of military and civilian facilities. A few helped with farm work, for example harvesting potatoes at Woodlands Farm where the Western field was given over entirely to growing potatoes. They also worked on the groundworks for the Cherry Orchard Estate in Charlton and on snow clearance in the harsh winter of 1946/47. David Lloyd Bathe tells the story of how they saved a Charlton football match:
In the very severe winter of 1946/47, PoWs volunteered to clear the snow from the First Division Charlton Athletic’s football ground so that a regular weekend game could be played. About 300 PoW volunteers were “guests of honour! at the game.
“When our part in saving the game was acknowledged over the loudspeakers, there was much cheering and backslapping, and many cigarettes came our way!”
Prisoners at the camp were allowed quite a lot of freedom. When they weren’t working they could move freely within 5 miles of the camp in daylight hours. On Sundays a party of about 70 protestants went to a service in Welling Church. Catholics initially had a religious service at the camp led by a German speaking priest, but later they attended a mass arranged by Fr. Nevatt at St. Stephen’s RC Church in Welling. This became known to parishioners as the German Mass and hymns were sung in German.
According to David Lloyd Bathe the prisoners at Working Camp 1020 were discharged from the camp in the spring of 1947. Now, nearly 70 years later, almost all trace of the war-time uses of the golf course and farm has disappeared. Apart from some anomalies in archaeological geophysical surveys at Woodlands Farm all that remains is a couple of ramps leading from Shooters Hill towards the golf course.
There’s a rare chance at 1.00pm this Saturday, 9th May, at Woolwich Library to learn more about the restoration and visit the chapel. Julie Ricketts, the Heritage Project Officer for the restoration, sent details:
Learn about the restoration project at St. George’s Chapel, Woolwich and plans to return it to community use. Find out how your community group can use the venue. Take part in Heritage Open Day and Armed Forces Day. Discover our range of volunteering opportunities.
Presentations from the architect and mosaic conservator, followed by a visit to the site in Grand Depot Road. Refreshments provided.
No invitation required, all welcome from 1pm in the Reader Development Room, Woolwich Library. Contact Julie Ricketts, Heritage Project Officer, e-mail email@example.com, Tel 0754 6265480 Twitter https://twitter.com/HpoSe18, & on Facebook
I understand that the plan is to set up a friends group for the chapel and make it available to community groups. Should be an interesting afternoon, I’m really looking forward to learning more about the restoration of the mosaics.
If you are interested in nature or in local history there is a walk for you on Sunday. Woodlands Farm are hosting the last of their series of guided walks at 10.00am, and the Shooters Hill Local History Group have a circular walk round Woolwich Common starting at 11.00am.
Hannah, Woodlands Farm’s Education Officer, wrote with details of their Young Shoots Guided Walk:
Spring has firmly arrived at Woodlands Farm with lots of blossom and fields full of lambs. Join us for a guided walk round the farm to find out more about this wonderful time of the farming season. The walk starts at 10am, meeting in the green building. Sturdy footwear and suitable outdoor clothing is required, the walk does include climbing a stile, so is not suitable for young children or buggies. The walk is free, but donations are welcome.
Steve sent details of the Local History Group walk. It starts at the former Shooters Hill Police Station on the corner of Shooters Hill and Well Hall Road at 11.00am and is expected to take about one and a half hours at a leisurely pace. It will include: the historical background to the Herbert and Brook Hospitals; the Greenwich Free School site; the Queen Elizabeth Hospital; the former Woolwich Stadium site; the Ha Ha; the historical use of Woolwich Common; former site of General Gordon’s home; former Royal Military Academy. Steve says there will be some good photo opportunities along the way.
Sounds like a pair of very interesting walks, Let’s hope the good weather holds out till Sunday.
From time to time I receive e-mails with questions about Shooters Hill local history. Often these are from other countries, such as a question about dairies in Shooters Hill from someone in Australia. Another e-mail from Australia, from Lorraine McBride, was a question about the painting shown above of Shooters Hill School in about 1875. Lorraine wondered if I knew anything about the school, and whether it was still standing. She said that she knew nothing about the painting, or how it made its way to Australia.
It’s a puzzling picture. It doesn’t look like any of the schools around Shooters Hill today, certainly not Christ Church or Eglinton Road or the Post-16 Campus which used to be Shooters Hill Grammar School. The pond is particularly puzzling. The only possibility, it seemed to me, was that this was a painting of Wickham House at the back of the old Bull where the Rev. Thomas James Dallin ran an academy for gentlemen. The pond would have had to be the Eaglesfield Park Lilly Pond. This wasn’t a very satisfactory solution as none of the old OS maps of Shooters Hill showed both the pond and Wickham House at the same time. Also the dates didn’t quite fit: the Rev. Thomas James Dallin was the first vicar at Christ Church from 1856 until his death in 1865, ten years before the painting’s date.
The answer was in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped in History” includes the photograph below, which is very clearly the same building as in the water colour: the chimneys and widows are quite distinctive, as is the pond at the front.
Steeped in History has this to say about the building:
Up until 1875 the area by the water tower was known as Woodcot complete with its surrounding gardens. The house was said to be constructed from large sawn timbers obtained from local woods. It had a pond which measured 150ft by 90ft fed from a local spring and was used in severe winters for skating. The east facing house was built before 1745 and was demolished in 1875. For many years it was occupied by the artist W. Earl who with his wife oversaw a school for young ladies.
When the house was pulled down in 1875 two cottages were built just north of the water tower, they were known as 1 and 2 Woodcot Cottages. The pond remained until 1906 when it was filled in and six semi-detached villas were built, Ardmore, Eridge, Hammerwood, St Ives, St Denys and The Crest by Mr. Hutchings.
So the School in the painting was a school for young ladies run by W.Earl and his wife. W. Earl’s full name was William Robert Earl.
The Greenwich Heritage Centre folder about William Robert Earl contains an exchange of letters in 1979 between William’s great grand-daughter, Mrs. Patricia Glasgow, and the Greenwich local history library which was then at Woodlands House. Mrs. Glasgow lived in New Zealand to where her grandfather Albert, one of William Earl’s sons, had migrated in 1857. It reveals that the school was run by William’s wife Ann with the aid of a governess and that there were an average of 10 pupils.
Mrs. Glasgow’s letter also says a little about William’s career as a painter:
My great grandfather was a prolific painter; I received a letter from the librarian of the Royal Academy of Arts with a list of 19 paintings they exhibited between 1823 and 1854, and she also mentioned that over 50 works were shown by the British Institution and that he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Society of British Artists.
Here is Mrs. Glasgow’s list of William Robert Earl’s paintings that were exhibited by the Royal Academy:
1823 View near Chichester
1824 View on the coast of Sussex
1825 View at the back of the Isle of Wight, View from Green Hill, Evesham, Worcestershire
1826 A scene on the coast, Scene at St Cross, Isle of Wight, Scene at Charlton Forest, Sussex
1827 View in the New Forest near Lyndhurst, with figures, The fisherman’s fortunate haul and lucky return
1828 Waterfall and figures
1829 Coast Scene
1831 View near Eltham, Kent
1845 Fishing boats on the beach, Hastings, Sussex, Fishing boats landing, Hastings, Sussex
1848 Shrimping and wildfowl shooting between Hastings and Rye
1850 A wreck off the castle, Scarborough, Landscape, evening
1852 The morning after the wreck of the “City of Bristol” near Warms Head, South Wales
1854 Fishermen leaving home
Mrs. Glasgow also sent a colour photo of one of William’s paintings, Sheep Washing in Eltham Lane, which was owned by a cousin; I’ve included a scan of it below. Two more of William’s paintings are shown on the BBC Your Paintings web site.
Mrs Glasgow provides a link between William Robert Earl in Shooters Hill and the Southern hemisphere. Another is mentioned in an article in the March 2002 issue of the North West Kent Family History Society‘s journal by John Orbell, a great grandson of William Robert Earl. He had discovered a distant relative in Australia, but didn’t give any details. John also found an entry about William in the Dictionary of Victorian Painters by C. Wood:
EARL, William Robert, flourished between 1823-6 7, Coastal views in England, Scotland, Belgium & Germany. Exhibited 114 works, 19 at Royal Academy, 52 at British Institution (1806-67), 43 at Society of British Artists (founded 1823); London landscape painter. Exhibited at RA 1823-1854, but more frequently at BI & SBA, Suffolk Street. Subjects mainly views of Sussex, the Isle of Wight, and other places on the English coast. Also travelled in Germany and along the Rhine.
William lived in Shooters Hill until his death at Glengall Cottage on 10th June 1880.
Could William have painted the water colour of Woodcot? It’s difficult to say. Lorraine removed the painting from its frame to check for a signature with no luck. On the back of the painting there are two lines of indistinct text. The top one is the title and the second is:
‘…. ….. Bess (B.l.. .y…. dam)…ut about 1875’
The dots indicate undecipherable letters and Lorraine was not 100% sure about the letters in red. Any suggestions about the water colour’s painter would be very welcome.
The cottages and houses mentioned by David Lloyd Bathe that replaced Woodcot are still there, shown in the photographs below. The original Woodcot and its pond occupied all of the area between the short part of Cleanthus Road and Eaglesfield Road, with the house itself at the western end of the plot facing east. The water tower which now takes up part of that land wasn’t built until 1910; looking at the position of Woodcot on old maps the tower is positioned at the left hand end of Woodcot in the photograph at the top. The name “The Crest” can still be seen on the semi-detached villa closest to the water tower and “Eridge” on the one second furthest away. Colonel Bagnold says that the photograph of Woodcot was taken by “Miss Carter, at one time resident of Summer Court”. It would have been taken from roughly where Eaglesfield Road is now. The Colonel also says that the spring that fed the pond still existed (at the time he was writing) in the garden of the house called Hammerwood.
A partial solution to Lorraine’s picture puzzle, though not yet the complete answer. But it did reveal some interesting local history.
I hear from Steve that the Shooters Hill Local History Group is organising a circular walk on Sunday 5th October commencing at The Bull on Shooters Hill at 11am with a 12.30pm finish. He doesn’t give many details, but says that it an opportunity to learn more about the history of our area, and will make reference to some famous local names associated with Shooters Hill, houses, landowners and stories of interest about the area.
Participants in the Group’s last history walk took a peek over the wall of the garden of a Shooters Hill house and saw the stone coat of arms shown above. I wonder if this walk will go the same way?
Liz, who chairs the Friends of the Pet Cemetery, wrote to let me know about a presentation she is giving about the cemetery’s history at Charlton House on Saturday. The Friends’ latest newsletter has the details:
If you would like to hear more about the history of the former Blue Cross Cemetery, our Chair, Liz McDermott, will be giving a PowerPoint presentation for the Charlton History Society, Charlton House, Saturday 13th September, commencing at 2.30pm. All welcome.
I hear the presentation includes some great old archive photos.
The Pet Cemetery originated in the Blue Cross Quarantine Kennels which started at the end of the First World War and particularly looked after service men and women’s pets. They provided accommodation for 123 dogs along with cats and other pets including guinea pigs. It later fell into disrepair, and the Friends were set up in 2012 with the aim of refreshing the memorial stones, replanting the garden beds, improving the seating, installing bird and bat boxes and creating a wildlife-friendly environment.
They’ve made some great progress on these objectives: old, untidy shrubs have been removed and hedges trimmed (revealing more memorial stones); the bird and bat boxes are up, and at least one of the bird boxes has had occupants; and some of the stones have been cleaned up, with help from stonework professionals. There’s a “before” and “after” pair of photographs of one of the cleaned memorials below.
The Friends meet at the cemetery on the second Sunday of each month to continue their maintenance and restoration work, and they welcome visitors and helpers. Their future plans include a full survey of the cemetery, educational visits, more planting and possibly a pet “memorial wall”.
It’s hard to believe now that the little track running into Oxleas Wood from Shooters Hill was once the drive way to the Portland-stone Palladian mansion shown in the photograph above from Greenwich Heritage Centre. It was the home of Lords and Barons, painted by society artists and also once a hotel with 20 bedrooms. It was as grand inside as out, as shown in the set of photographs in the London Metropolitan Archive. These were taken in 1955 not that long before its demolition, and depict its elegant drawing rooms and a magnificent double-branched curved staircase as well as the boarded up exterior.
The site of Falconwood is today a butterfly-filled meadow surrounded by Oxleas Woods.
When the mansion was built in 1864-67 by the 2nd Lord Truro, Charles Robert Wilde, it was called Falconhurst. Lord Truro was related to Sir James Plaisted Wilde, who became Lord Penzance, and lived nearby at Jackwood. In the London Metropolitan Archive there is a typed sheet of reminiscences by Major C.E.S Phillips of Castle House about Falconwood. He has this to say about Lord Truro:
Falconwood was built by Lord Truro, reputed an illegitimate son of George IV. It is on Crown Land and was granted to him free of ground rent. Lord Truro had lived much in Italy and built Falconwood in purely Italian style. When his wife died (about 1880) she was buried under the lawn at mid-night by Lord Truro and his gardener Mr. Hart. The grave was surrounded by some beautiful wrought iron work, but after Lord Truro’s death in Italy this was removed and nobody knows now exactly where the grave is.
Lord Truro left the place and a strip of freehold land on the other side of the road to a very beautiful lady of limited virtue. They were a magnificent pair on horseback, both perfect riders. The legacy proved a nightmare for the legatee, for as soon as the Earl died, the Crown Office afixed a ground rent of £400 per annum on the property and she had no means of paying it. It was put up to auction but the first time there was not a bid for it. On the second auction it was bought by Sir Clarence Smith for I think £5000. It has cost £50,000.
I am indebted to our old Mr. Hart for the matter of the 1st part of this, it was he who helped bury Lady Truro, for all the rest I have relied on my memory only as I was familiar with all the facts at the time.
David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped In History” gives more details of the story: it reprints an article from the Daily Telegraph from 17th October 1879 which says that Lord Truro used a light coffin so as to “not arrest the process of natural decay”, and that the burial spot was chosen by Lady Truro. It also says that they understood that the Lady’s remains were later removed by her relatives. The burial in non-consecrated ground shocked the neighbourhood, and one resident said they could smell the emanation of sulphurous gases.
“Steeped In History” details the subsequent occupancy of the mansion. After Hull MP Clarence Smith moved out in 1908 he was unable to find a purchaser and the lease reverted to the crown. It was then let to Catherine (Kate) Rose Marie Antoinette d’Erlanger (née de Robert d’ Aqueria de Rochegude), wife of Baron Emile Beaumont d’Erlanger. Baroness d’Erlanger was known as “the Flame” because of the colour of her hair, and was renowned for her lavish entertaining. She was very well connected, as Philip Mershon says:
Catherine cultivated the most astonishingly irreverent continental society of bohemians, artists and aristocrats at salons in her homes. She was pals with Ravel, Debussy, Nijinsky and Proust. She was also financial patroness to Diaghilev, The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Cecil Beaton.
Catherine herself was photographed by Cecil Beaton, and also by Lafayette Ltd in the picture below from the National Portrait Gallery. It shows her in a “tableau vivant”, which was part of an entertainment called The Masque of War and Peace held in aid of the Widows and Orphans of the Household Troops during the Boer War.
Enid, turning her ‘ardent snobbish eyes, mad with interest’ on the beau monde, soon wandered through a hole in the hedge. Announcing her credentials boldly, she told the Baroness she was a journalist poised to write books. She knew that her inadequate clothes and schoolgirl fresh face were not enough. ‘Whatever I have looked like, and what my face has not carried, I have always had a sort of vitality that did instead’. She managed to put herself over. But the d’Erlangers were installing a hard tennis court and Enid’s immediate entry ticket was her facility with a tennis racket. She quickly became a daughter of the household.
The d’Erlangers left Falconwood at the time of the First World War. In June 1924 the Baroness applied to the London County Council for a licence to hold music and dancing entertainments in the drawing room on Falconwood’s ground floor. The licence committee notes in the London Metropolitan Archive say that it was proposed to use Falconwood as a private hotel. In 1932 the Baroness surrendered the lease and later moved to Hollywood.
Falconwood continued as a hotel under new management. In the archives there are Music and Dancing licence applications from Walter Frank Mills in 1933, Frederick Henry Clark in 1934 and F. Hugh Gough in 1936. The hotel seems to have continued in operation until after the war, but eventually failed. According to E.F.E. Jefferson’s “The Woolwich Story” Falconwood was acquired by Woolwich Borough Council in 1936 and was “laid out” in the 1950s and incorporated into Oxleas Wood. The house itself was demolished in 1959.
Falconwood Bexley. This district was developed in the 1930s as Falconwood Park on the site of a large wood called West Wood on the Ordinance Survey maps of 1805 and 1876 (earlier Westwood 1551). It is said to have been given this name to attract new residents.
Shooters Hill hasn’t been immune to tunnel planners’ dreams. An early proposal is included as an appendix to a slim 1947 monograph “Road Works at Shooters Hill, Kent, 1816”, by F.C Elliston-Erwood in the Greenwich Heritage Centre’s search room. Frank Elliston-Erwood, who lived on Shooters Hill, was a distinguished local historian. He was at different times president of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society and twice president of the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society. He was a member of the WDAS for 70 years, first joining as a teenager and continuing until his death in 1968. One of his interests was the New Cross Turnpike Trust, and it was from their minute books that he extracted the information for his paper about road works on Shooters Hill.
The paper is mainly about how the New Cross Turnpike Trust tried to create employment in the economic depression which followed Wellington’s victory at Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was “a period of commercial and industrial upheaval, coupled with misery, poverty and unemployment”. The Trust decided to allow £1000 out of their tolls at a rate of £50 per week to employ as many poor men as they could at a maximum wage of 10s (50p) a week in work such as the “the digging or quarrying of gravel or stones” and “the levelling or reducing of hills”. On Shooters Hill they moved gravel from the steeper parts and deposited it in hollows to smooth out the incline. The result can still be seen, for example on the western side of the hill on the road opposite Craigholm where the pavement rises above the road following the original slope of the hill. Similarly on the eastern slope there is an embankment on the Oxleas Wood side of the road.
The map and plan at the top concludes the paper. It shows a proposal for a road that bypasses the steep top of the hill, running parallel to Shooters Hill but on the Eltham side of Severndroog Castle. It was planned to run through a deep cutting and about 400 yards of lamp-lit tunnel. Needless to say the proposal was never implemented. The author of the plan clearly liked his pubs – the map includes the Bull, the Red Lion and the Fox and shows the bypass heading towards the Green Man in Blackheath. The Fox was the old Fox under the Hill, which subsequently was moved further down Shooters Hill Road.
A more recent proposal for a Shooters Hill tunnel was considered as one of the options for a new Thames Crossing which Transport for London consulted about last year. Option D6 in the Assessment of Options Report was for a Woolwich Tunnel joining the South Circular to the North Circular. The proposal is complicated by the presence of other tunnels in the vicinity – the Woolwich Foot Tunnel and Cross Rail, not to mention the DLR, so it would have to be a deep tunnel underneath all the others. Also the steep slope up from Woolwich towards Shooters Hill makes it difficult to start a tunnel close to the river, leading to the proposal shown below with a tunnel entrance all the way up at Eltham Common. This means that the tunnel would be some five or six kilometres in length, the longest road tunnel in Britain.
The South Circular at Eltham Common where the entrance to the tunnel would be is shown below. Just imagine this green scene replaced by a huge, 4-lane tunnel portal, like the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel. Fortunately the proposal was discounted. There were a number of factors leading to the decision not to take this option further. It was felt that Well Hall Road would become a bottleneck, limiting the tunnel’s capacity and reducing journey time improvements. It would be difficult to upgrade Well Hall Road because it is residential and has houses on both sides. Also it was “unlikely that the scheme could be built without negatively impacting on the housing lining the A205 through Eltham”.
The tunnel was felt to be too far away from the river to benefit residents closer to the Thames, for example in Woolwich, and would not connect to the major roads along the south side of the river, and so would not contribute to development along the river. Then there was the possible cost of up to 6km of bored tunnel, estimated at £1.5-2 billion. All things considered a Woolwich Tunnel doesn’t make sense.
The TfL East London River Crossings: Assessment of Options document mentions, very briefly, another tunnel under part of Shooters Hill. Section 6.234 on page 167, which discusses the proposal for a “local” bridge at Gallions Reach, says (my emboldening):
In the longer term, any fixed link provides the potential for the highway connections to be amended or improved over time, to best suit the prevailing traffic and regeneration needs of the area. For example, the connections to the strategic network could be improved in the long term, such as through the provision of a direct link to the North Circular together with a tunnel south to the A2. This could potentially address the local concerns about traffic on residential roads in Bexley by providing an effective by-pass, while delivering large journey time benefits to the wider area by providing a more easterly strategic orbital route. In time this could replace the Blackwall corridor as the main strategic route, and deliver benefits to regeneration in the Lower Lea Valley.
So once any Gallions Reach crossing is in place any changes in traffic level – the then prevailing traffic – could lead to the building of additional roads, such as one through Oxleas Wood, to create the major easterly strategic route.
Concern about increased traffic levels on residential roads south of the river as a result of a new river crossing at Gallions Reach were heightened by a report produced for the London Borough of Newham on the Economic Impact of Gallions Reach Crossings. It presents the results of traffic modelling of different options for a Gallions Reach crossing, generated using Transport for London’s highway model of East London known as ELHAM. Amongst the results was a map showing northbound traffic flows in 2021 assuming a bridge was built at Gallions Reach. The snippet below shows the area south of the river.
It’s a difficult map to read, and it took me some time to work out what it was saying. The green blocks represent high traffic flows, and the large block in the middle of the picture is the Gallions Bridge itself. Working southwards from the bridge, the high traffic flow roads seem to be: Western Way, down to the gyratory near Plumstead Station, then up residential Griffin Road, across Plumstead Common on Warwick Terrace and then along Swingate Road, Edison Lane, Wickham Street to meet Bellegrove Road: none of these roads is designed for large traffic flows. To the west there are also high flows in Plum Lane, and to the east large flows down narrow Knee Hill. And, as usual, the modelling doesn’t cover what would happen if one of the other Thames crossings was blocked, which seems a common occurrence at the moment, and all the traffic heading down the A2 to the Blackwall Tunnel turned off to Gallions Reach.
There is no analysis of the impact and costs of a tunnel from Gallions Reach to the A2 in the Assessment of Options document. As can be seen on the snippet from cbrd.co.uk web site’s superb UK roads database below, if the tunnel went from Gallions Reach all the way to the A2 at Falconwood it would have to be longer than a 5-6km tunnel from Eltham Common under the Thames, and well over twice the length of the UK’s longest road tunnel the 3.2 km Queensway tunnel in Merseyside. If it were a bored tunnel it would cost more than the £1.5-2 billion estimated for a Woolwich tunnel. Should a cheaper construction option be chosen then people’s homes in Plumstead and ancient Oxleas Wood would be threatened yet again.