Local historical records ‘rediscovered’ at Charlton House

Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust have been in touch with news of a discovery in the cellar of Charlton House: 

WW1 History of Greenwich Borough uncovered as Charlton House’s Locked Vault is opened for the first time in memory.

Staff and volunteers at Charlton House in London have made an extraordinary discovery, in the cellar of the historic building.

Charlton House, part of the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, has ‘rediscovered’ historical records and leather bound documents relating to the local area, and dating back more than 150 years.

Hidden deep in the basement of Charlton House, the vault containing the records has been locked since before the building was handed over to the Trust 8 years ago. Amongst the items discovered inside is the First World War Memorial Book for the Borough, containing the names of local men who served during the 1914-1918 war and a 100 year old log book for the local church – St Luke’s, which details all services and is annotated with significant events such as the Silvertown Explosion.

Tracy Stringfellow, Chief Executive of Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust explained: “We don’t know exactly how long it is since the vault was last opened, but the documents inside are very exciting and likely to be of significant interest to local historians and genealogists”

The Trust plans to display the discoveries at their forthcoming Great War exhibition, which takes place at the Greenwich Heritage Centre in February.

The documents and books will now be examined by preservation experts to ensure that their condition does not deteriorate.

There’s not been much information available on progress with Charlton House since it was quietly transferred to Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust in 2014, so we’re glad to hear that things are happening, and hope to see more video updates from the Heritage Trust. A shame, though, that their latest finds aren’t going on display in Charlton House itself.


Charlton ghost sign uncovers long-lost Arthur Cooper wine merchant

Bramshot Avenue
Work to convert a corner shop in Bramshot Avenue into a house has revealed a sign belonging to a long-gone chain of wine merchants.

The ghost sign reveals the old off-licence on the corner of Wyndcliff Road used to be part of the Arthur Cooper chain of wine merchants, which by the 1970s was a 300-strong chain of stores, mainly across southern England and south Wales.

Arthur Cooper wine merchant

Part of the Courage brewing giant, the name fell into disuse by the 1980s and the chain seems to have been all but forgotten about.

If you remember this as Arthur Cooper, it’d be great to hear your memories. You can still bid for some Arthur Cooper wine coasters on eBay…

(Thanks to Tweeter @CDPL1 for pointing me in the right direction on Arthur Cooper.)

Do you have photos of the Charlton Park prefabs?

54/366 Palaces for the people?

An interesting museum has opened in Catford – the Prefab Museum, which is open until May on the Excalibur Estate and recreates the atmosphere of these temporary homes erected in the 1940s. See the Prefabs – Palaces For The People website for more.

But while the Catford prefabs survived for decades, those in Charlton are long gone. Carol Kenna of the Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project has a question:

“The CPRP project was told about the prefabs that were along Canberra Road backing into Charlton Park this was up to the end of the 1950’s. During the project we could never trace any photos of this. I have now been contacted by a gentleman who lived in one of the prefabs asking if we had any photographs.

“Could you ask your other readers if they have any, whether they would accept them – if they do – being passed on and also added to the Parks website.”

If you have any photos, drop Carol a line via the project’s website.

(Photo of Catford’s Excalibur Estate courtesy of Clare Griffiths on Flickr.)

Charlton history: The story of High Combe

High Combe

Ever wondered why there’s a blue plaque on the stately-looking house next to Our Lady of Grace School? Charlton Champion historian Peter Bone tells the tale of High Combe, which stands on Charlton Road…

In the 19th century, Charlton Road, between the Village and the Standard was lined with grand houses, mansions and villas. Most were demolished in the late 19th century to make way for new streets, homes and a growing population. The names of some of these lost houses – Eastcombe House, Little Combe, Bramhope Lodge, Springfield and Mascalls – were used to name the new streets that replaced them.

One of these grand houses, originally called High Combe, has survived. It’s now known as 145 Charlton Road, between church and school of Our Lady of Grace, and is now the church’s presbytery,

High Combe was built around 1825 in the fashionable Regency style. It’s a Grade 2 listed building, thanks to the pairs of rounded bay windows at both front and back, the central Doric porch and the original double door with rounded panels and fanlight above. You can read the full details on English Heritage’s website.

The house now looks a little overshadowed and cramped between the church and school, but a map from 1870 shows a grand sweeping drive in front of the house with entrances approximately where the church and school now stand.

There are plans to rebuild the school over the next few years, so let’s hope that the new school will improve the setting of this fine historic house.

The history of High Combe and the people who lived there reflect some of Britain’s economic and military history through the nineteenth century.

One of High Combe’s first residents was General Sir William Congreve (1772 – 1828). Congreve succeeded his father (also called Sir William) as Comptroller of the Royal Military Laboratories at Woolwich where he was responsible for developing new weapons for the British army and navy.

William CongrieveIt was a period when Britain was a dominant military power and had acquired a large empire. As Congreve (pictured right) himself said “England is at war with one half of the world, and has the other half to defend”.

He is best known for inventing the “Congreve Rocket”; rocket powered explosive shells. These were used by British: against the French in the Napoleonic wars, in suppressing a rebellion against British rule of India, and against the USA in the Anglo American war of 1812 – 1814. The line in the American national anthem “And the rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air” describes an attack onan American fort by the British navy using Congreve’s rockets.

Congreve was also an MP for Plymouth, banker, entrepreneur, and prolific inventor of mechanical devices. He was a friend of the King George III (mad George) and equerry to the king’s son George, the Prince Regent (think of George in Blackadder III, but much more unpleasant).

Things started to go badly wrong for Congreve in 1826, soon after he married and moved into High Combe. In a time when capitalism was rampant and unregulated, he was accused of fraud in management of one of the many investment companies he formed. Difficult meetings with shareholders and questions in parliament followed and Congreve’s health deteriorated. He died in 1828 in France. He may have been convalescing from his illness, but many claim he was fleeing from angry shareholders. Congreve’s wife re married in 1835 and subsequently lived in the City.

It’s not clear who was at High Combe immediately after Congreve, but by 1851 General Sir George Whitmore (1775 – 1862) and his wife Cordelia were living there. Whitmore was born into an aristocratic family and joined the Army Royal Engineers at the age of 14. His postings over the next 30 years, to Gibraltar, Malta, Corfu and the Caribbean, reflect Britian’s military rivalry with France, Spain and America.

In 1840 Whitmore was appointed Commandant of Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and the lived near the Academy at Woolwich Common. I think it’s likely that Whitmore moved to High Combe when he retired. Cordelia Whitmore died in Charlton in 1857 at the age of 70; George died in 1862 aged 84.

An English Heritage blue plaque on the front of the High Combe commemorates its next resident, the eminent civil engineer William Henry Barlow (1812 – 1902). William Barlow was born in Woolwich. His father, Peter Barlow, was Professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, and his older brother Peter Barlow junior (1809 – 1885) was also a civil engineer best known for developing tunnelling technology that was important in building London’s early Underground.

WIlliam Barlow's blue plaque

William Barlow was famous for the design and construction of railways, bridges and iron and steel structures during the golden age of railway building. From 1838 he worked on the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, and became Chief Engineer for the Midland Railway in 1844. He advised Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace about the iron fame of the Palace. Between 1862 and 1869 he oversaw the building of the Midland railway from Bedford to London and designed the layout and construction of St Pancras Station (but not the ornate hotel in front of the station ). He served on the court of enquiry into the 1859 Tay Bridge Disaster, and designed the replacement bridge.

William Barlow retired in 1896 but continued to live in some style at High Coombe. The 1901 census lists 7 house servants living there as well as a coachman and a groom living in at stables in the grounds. The histories of the dozens of servants who worked at High Combe would tell a less glorious story about Britain in the nineteenth century.

William Barlow died at High Combe in November 1902 and his wife Selina Crawford Barlow died there a few months later. High Combe was purchased by a French Catholic Community of Sisters from Bordeaux: the Oblates of Assumption. A small chapel was established in the house, but the population of the area was growing rapidly and congregations grew.

The building of Our Lady Grace church in the grounds of High Combe began in 1905 and was completed in 1911. The sisters started a school in the High Combe stables. Plans were made to build a new school, but these were delayed by World War I, and a new school building opened in 1927.

Get to know Charlton’s people and parks

Maryon Park

A note from Carol Kenna at the Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project:

After two years in the making The Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project is now
complete and can be visited online at www.charltonparks.co.uk. There you will
find stories and photographs looking at the history of the parks and their importance
to local people over the past hundred years.

You can listen to scores of interviews, with people talking about everything from wartime jazz at Maryon Park bandstand to looking after the deer and other animals in Maryon Wilson Park. There are memories of swimming at Hornfair lido to clambering around Gilbert’s Pit plus many more stories featuring Hornfair, Charlton, Maryon Wilson, and Maryon Parks, Gilberts Pit and Barrier Gardens parks, all featured on the website.

24 volunteers including adults, as well as pupils from Years 9,10 and 11 at John Roan School were trained in audio recording and interview techniques and over 60 interviews conducted. Extracts from those interviews are included on the website while full versions are available to listen to at the Greenwich Heritage Centre in the Royal Arsenal. The website, designed and edited by Stuart Evans, Rib Davis and Carol Kenna, is now also archived with the UK web archive at the British Library.

To accompany the website, a CPRP booklet has been produced including extracts from each person contributing to the project alongside wonderful photographs of the parks.

The book will be available FREE from borough libraries, Greenwich Heritage Centre
and Charlton House from late January 2013.

New contributions – if you weren’t able to take part in the project it still isn’t too late to add to the website: There is a special ‘Contributors” button to enable people to upload new stories and photographs, and we welcome suggestions for items or issues which may have been missed. We aim to update the website with many more reminiscences and pictures over the next five years.

The project has been organised by the Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project Steering Group – Greenwich Mural Workshop, The Charlton Society, Friends of Charlton House, Friends of Charlton Park & Friends of Maryon & Maryon Wilson Parks.

The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Viscount Gough, and is partnered by Greenwich Council parks department, Firepower and Greenwich Heritage Centre.

It’s an incredible piece of work – congratulations to Carol and all involved. Don’t forget, you can download the booklet here.

Also, Tim Anderson from the Friends of Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks will be talking to the Charlton Society at Charlton House tomorrow (Sat 19 Jan, 2.30pm, all welcome.) (Cancelled due to the snow)

Finally, it’s the Charlton Pub Quiz tomorrow – come along!

Charlton: Where London’s last trams went to die

Sixty years ago today, in the early hours of the morning, London’s last tram pulled into New Cross depot from Woolwich. Once a much-loved part of the capital’s transport system, the rattly old trams were deemed uneconomic to replace after the Second World War, and were replaced with buses. So while today in 1952 also saw the end of tram route 40 along the Woolwich Road, yesterday saw the 60th birthday of the 177 bus route, which, until the 1980s, used to follow the old tram route to the City.

Little bits of tram infrastructure survive here and there – New Cross depot remains as a bus garage, the power station in Greenwich originally served the trams, there’s the odd manhole cover around, and there was an old electrical cabinet next to the Blackwall Tunnel’s old tram terminal until a few years ago. Most famously, the old tram subway survives under the Kingsway, with part of it kept in use as the Strand Underpass.

But there’s two sites in Charlton that are key to London tram history. The first is the repair depot, which was, naturally, in Felltram Way, right at the western edge of SE7. Opened in the days of horse trams, the Central Repair Depot served all the capital’s fleet and remained open until the end. Later, it became a factory making Airfix models. Before it was demolished in the early 1990s – landing the next door Asda with a rat problem for a while – the tram tracks and cobbles were still there.

Here’s the site in 1991…

Here’s what it looks like now.

There’s one other, more notorious site – but it could be one where the tram tracks live on. The old trams were scrapped at a yard in Penhall Road, close to where the Thames Barrier is now. A couple of years ago, Dutch tram enthusiast Arie den Dulk sent me some pictures of Penhall Road in 1987. (He also sent me the shots of Felltram Way in 1991, for which I’m also very grateful.) He’d been hunting around, and found the old tram tracks…

Are they still there now? It’s hard to tell. While part of Penhall Road was swallowed up when Woolwich Road was turned into a dual carriageway, the building that sat on the site remains. Until fairly recently, it was the first home of the Meantime Brewery. But the yard was never used, and it now remains overgrown and fenced off. There’s nothing to see but foilage.

There’s long-term plans to see all this land developed as housing, but for now the secrets of Charlton’s role in London transport history may well remain buried beneath foilage next to an empty warehouse. When the bulldozers return, if there’s something to left to preserve, hopefully it can be kept for posterity.

More pictures at Greenwich Industrial History.

Charlton Lido: A bit of Charlton’s history is coming back

Behind all that rubble, something is stirring… but what exactly is happening with the redevelopment of Charlton Lido?

Well, the good news is that by all accounts, it’s on course to reopen next month after a number of years out of use. It’s now under the management of GLL, which runs Greenwich Council’s leisure centres and libraries, after an attempt to lease it out to a private consortium collapsed in 2010.

Full completion of the project is planned for 2013, when it’ll include a health and fitness centre and cafe, but for now, outdoor swimming during the Olympic summer will do.

The launch of the fantastic Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project website is a further reminder of what a fantastic local asset the the 73-year-old lido is, despite being neglected over recent decades.

As well as a few photos of the lido in the 1950s, the site also contains these notes about its history, alongside its surviving sister lidos at Brockwell Park, Herne Hill and Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. Just as Brockwell Park has been central to the revival of its local area in recent years, hopefully Charlton Lido will give its own neighbourhood a boost – and be the catalyst for further improvements to Hornfair Park.

If you’ve got memories of the lido, feel free to share them here – and what do you want to see at the new-look Charlton Lido when its gates open again?