The Borough of Lewisham WW2 Memorial, Hither Green Cemetery, erected 1951
One great, unknown benefit of living in Lewisham is membership of the Lewisham Library service. It's free, and besides allowing you to borrow books the card also gets you access to a load of online resources: being a professional wordmonkey I particularly like having access to the OED Online, but there's also the ODNB, Britannica and more – click here for the list.
And then there's a complete, online, searchable archive of The Times from 1785 to 1985, which has to be one of the most fascinating ways to lose a couple of hours. Or days. Or weeks. I went in today to find the first appearance of Kodachrome film (an exhibition of colour prints, 10/3/1915), in light of its demise today (30/12/2010), but ended up digging through the entire history of Hither Green, as it appears in the national press.
And Here's what I found. I've kept JPEGs of all the stories here for reference, but sadly the license doesn't permit me to reproduce them here, as much as I'd like to. They're all available to view in full online, of course- all you need is a library card.
July 1817- "The rural village of Lewisham"
Hither Green first appears on Thursday July 17, 1817. It's only mentioned in passing: "Laurel Cottage, with land, Lewisham, Kent" is being sold. It's "near Hither Green, within a few minutes walk of the rural village of Lewisham". Similar advertisements for property, board and lodging in the area continue throughout the 1800s.
May 1893 – "For the purpose of erecting a fever hospital thereon"
On Monday 29th May, 1893, the Times carries a news in brief report on the Metropolitan Asylums Board's fortnightly meeting. At the most recent meeting, a letter was presented stating that a public enquiry would be held – at Lewisham Workhouse – into "the proposal to purchase Hither Green lodge and Wilderness house estates at Lewisham for the purpose of erecting a fever hospital thereon".
The board seems somewhat exasperated by the Local Government Board, authors of the letter ("intolerable delays" … "want of attention" … "it seemed almost hopeless for the Aslyums Board to do its work") and made plans to send a letter back, "calling their attention to the large number of fever patients … and the fact that within a short time the accommodation would be exhausted".
July 1897 – "They met with a very loyal reception"
Perhaps despite the efforts of the Local Government Board, the hospital was built. On Tuesday 13th July 1897 the Times reports its opening, or rather who opened it: the headline is "Prince of Wales at Lewisham". "The Prince and Princess of Wales visited Hither Green, Lewisham, SE, yesterday afternoon, when his Royal Highness performed the ceremony of opening the Park Hospital … the ninth hospital erected … for the reception of patients of the metropolis suffering from infectious diseases".
The Prince's speech is reported at length. He praises the work of the board, notes that the hospital is one of several new ones, and adds: "Not only are the sick far better cared for in institutions such as this than could possibly be the case in their own homes, but the inmates of the homes are thus relieved of a heavy burden and the surrounding families of a serious source of danger".
March 1898 – "Serious Accident on the South-Eastern Railway"
The tie between Hither Green and its railway is apparent throughout the records, with dozens of station incidents and, of course, accidents. The first I spotted took place near St Johns on Monday 21st March 1898, where an express train ran into the back of another service stopped at a signal, "telescoping" the rear carriage. Three died, many were injured. Hither Green is mentioned as many passengers had only just boarded the service at that station.
March 1899 – "The prisoner suddenly said, "Look!", and did something to his clothes"
Just about every town in the land must have its entries in the court reports. On the 21st of March, 1899, one George Proctor Ellison, "bank clerk, of Wildmeadow road, Hither Green", was charged with indecently assaulting (as per the description above) 17 year-old Eva Shipman on, yes, the SouthEastern Railway. He allegedly held her down and, it seems, behaved in a generally menacing fashion until other passengers intervened near Charing Cross. The charge of Indecent Assault was dropped, but Ellison was bailed pending trial for actual bodily harm. I can't find any record of the verdict.
August 1904 – "It was a vice that ought to be put down"
Into the twentieth century, and petty crimes make the Times! Reuben Henry Williams, of Wellmeadow Road, Hither Green, "was summoned for assaulting Charles Cecil Talbot, aged 16, of Longhurst road, Hither Green". Mr Williams had, it seems, tried to stop the young man from smoking – by battering him with a cane, naturally – and was unrepentant. "It was a duty he owed to the boys' father, whom he did not know, to chastise the boy. He should appreciate it if any one caned his own boy should he be found smoking. It was a vice that ought to be put down". The judge disagreed ("you are not here to preach") and he was fined 20s.
May 1907 – "A special steamer from Folkstone"
Holidays in the sun, 1907-style: a short article, "Holidays in France", details special train-and-boat services to the continent "for the summer holidays". A train was to stop at Hither Green at 07.22, connecting to the steamer at Folkstone, and arriving in Boulognet at 10.40am. For just 14s (second-class) you could take a day trip, returning to Hither Green at 10.40pm.
November 1908 – "Woman's body found at Lewisham"
Sad, grisly news the next year – the body of Bertha Hume, wife of a tailor who had formerly occupied a shop on Hither Green Lane, was found under the floor of her husband's house in Loampit Hill, Lewisham. George Hume had been picked up by a policeman "wandering aimlessly around the neighbourhood" with his young son, and was being held in Lewisham Hospital by "the Lunacy services, who have certified him as temporarily insane". Mrs Hume, 27, had been strangled. Bizarrely, the report ends on the note that Mr Hume "was in India for some time, and while there had sunstroke".
November 1913 – "Robbery by as Masked Burglar"
Another violent crime makes the nationals. "Mr Langland, the manager of a pawnbroker's and silversmith's shop near the Park hospital" had popped out to post some letters when his wife was surprised by a man "wearing a piece of cloth over his face and carrying a revolver". He tied her to a chair and stole "around £15 in cash". Mrs Langland had succeeded in partly freeing herself by the time her husband returned.
June 1914 – "The Lewisham Outrage"
Said outrage comprised (as reported on the 3rd June 1914) of Walter Lockyer "of 42 Glenview-road, Hither Green, Lewisham", who was charged with breaking and entering 10 Belmont Road, Lewisham "with intent to steal, and further with feloniously wounding Elizabeth Haselup with intent to do her grievous bodily harm". Mrs Haselup wound up in the hospital; Mr Lockyer was remanded.
May 1915 – "Deer in a Lewisham House".
Or as I call it, the best Hither Green news story ever, from the Times on May 22nd 1915. "A deer, which had apparently escaped from some park, yesterday jumped through the window of a house in Hither Green lane, Lewisham … and did considerable damage". The police barricaded the window, and once joined by "two other men" a sergeant and a constable secured the deer "with some rope". "The animal", the report notes, "appeared to be mad with fright". Well, yes. "A good deal of glass and china" was damaged.
October 1917 – Zeppelin Raid
On the night of October 19th Hither Green was one of several areas bombed by German Zeppelin airships. Fourteen died, but as "Hither Green" is never mentioned in the reports – no place names are – I missed this story at first. See the comments below for details.
January 1919 – "Several complained of being bruised and shaken"
The Great War and Hither Green don't really coincide in any articles in the database, and soon it's 1919. On the 14th of January 1919, though, Hither Green pops up again in a report of yet another train crash. This time it was between Hither Green and St Johns, and "no passengers were seriously injured".
February 1926 – "Electric Trains to Orpington"
And here lies the root cause of SouthEastern Railway's inability to run trains during snow – early electrification. On the 25th of February 1925 the Times reports "a further stage in the electrification of the Southern Railway" being reached, with electric trains running from Charing Cross and Canon Street – via Hither Green – to Orpington, Hayes and Addiscombe from the next Sunday.
The company, it notes, has "been unfortunate with some of their previous electrified lines, during the first few days unexpected breakdowns having caused irritating delays in the service". Plus ça change..
Side note: there's also an article, "Southern Railway Fare Cuts", detailing cheaper ticket prices from stations including Hither Green. The date? Um, April First (1927).
August 1928 – "Considering her big effort she was remarkably fresh"
That's Miss Hilda Sharp, "an 18-year-old nurse-maid" of "73 Lea-hurst road, Hither Green", who on the 24th August 1928 swam the English channel. "She struggled gamely to beat Mis Ederle's record of 14hrs. 34min., but failed by 25 minutes". Never mind, though – the article notes that, after "a bath and a short rest", she was "remarkably fresh". Jolly good.
July 1931 – "Automatic Telephony in London"
Well, not all of London, yet – Hither Green was pegged to get an automatic exchange "during the next 18 months".
February 1943 – "Princesses" Bananas for Bomb Victims"
World War 2, and Hither Green and Lewisham made the news for the worst reasons in 1943 after an LCC school in Lewisham (Catford Sandhurst School) was hit by a single bomb, killing over 40. Another report records thirty-one of the victims being buried in a ceremony at Hither Green cemetery, where stands a memorial. The headmistress, herself injured in the raid, praised the older children of the school, who, displaying "no hysteria or display of fear at all … began to assist the injured, removing debris and carrying the little ones from the building".
This story, though, focuses on the Queen's visit to Lewisham Hospital to visit some of the survivors. "She took them a bunch of bananas from Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret … bought back from Casablanca by Lord Louis Montbatten". "The Queen carried the gift of bananas in a chip basket".
The story concludes: "Elizabeth Taylor, who is four years old and the youngest of the children in the hospital, received from the Queen the first banana she had ever seen, and asked, "Do I have to eat it?""
The Sandhurst School memorial, Hither Green Cemetery
April 1951 – "300 civilians killed"
Post-war, the Times carries a report of the 19th April 1951 records the Bishop of Southwark unveiling a memorial cross in Hither Green Cemetary to the civilian victims of the conflict – it's pictured at the top of this post. In the Borough of Lewisham 300 had died. This is recorded in a News in Brief, two items below "An order prohibiting the landing or sale of crabs less than 4 1/2 in. in breadth".
August 1955 – "Drinks on Moored Pleasure Boat"
A few years later and we're back to the slightly bizarre end of the criminal justice system. A report of the 23rd August 1955 records that "William Henry Bryon, 35, women's hairdresser of Verdant Court, Hither Green, SE", was charged with making some extra cash in a manner utterly unrelated to his profession.
Along with another man he was alleged to have set up shop on The Royal Princess – a boat in association with which two men had already pleaded guilty to charges relating to serving alcohol without a valid license, as per the headline – to take bets on races held by the Globe Rowing Club. A policeman, who had paid to board the cruise, noted "a considerable volume of business" taking place. Both men pleaded not guilty.
December 1957 – "Viaduct falls on to a Crowded Train"
Another horrible accident between St Johns and Lewisham stations. A steam train crashed into a stationary electric train, swung off the track and knocked over a viaduct – "over which another train was passing" – which then collapsed onto it. 52 were killed and hundreds injured. "It was stated that the accident was the worst in the history of the Southern Region and the former Southern Railway", notes a lengthy report of the 5th December 1957. The Queen and Government both issued statements of sympathy for the victims. There's a newsreel reporting the crash on Youtube, here.
October 1958 – "Bequests to Waiter and Caddie"
On Thursday 9th October 1958 the Times reported the will of one Horace Stanley Lindsay,"managing director of Linzi Dresses Limited", who had been shot dead that July. In it he left over £240,000 – and of it "£500 to Frank Wood, of Springbank Road, Hither Green, a waiter at the Trocadero restaurant".
Later that month the Lee High Road appears in court reports relating to a heist during which 1.5million cigarettes were stolen – "a van was rented from a firm in Lee High Road … the next night police were keeping observation at some lockup garages in Hither Green when the hired van arrived and some cartons of cigarettes were loaded into it". Three men were imprisoned.
November 1967 – the Hither Green rail crash
Forty-nine people died in what remains one of Britain's worst rail disasters when the 7.43 Hastings to Charing Cross service derailed near the Hither Green depot. Ten of its twelve coaches came off the tracks, and almost 80 more people were injured. The Times's report notes in a subhead that it took place just "(a) mile from the 1957 disaster scene", and that "a crowd gathered at Hither Green station waiting for news".
Newsreel from the Hither Green rail crash – Youtube
January 1969 – "Four Fires at school start Arson Enquiry"
Here's a strange one – Higher Green Primary School, on Beacon Road, caught fire. Four times. A report of the 14th January 1969 says that "Detectives are to question 540 children … after a fire broke out there for the fourth time in three weeks" – in the last incident a classroom was badly damaged. And, it concludes, "two cars parked in the playground were damaged by vandals".
July 1971 – "£5,300 Bank Raid"
On the 27th of July 1971 the Times reported this remarkably successful raid on Barclays Bank, Hither Green. The robber, armed with a shotgun, "escaped in a mini-cab … after first trying to escape in one of the bank staff's cars, but it would not start". The next January Hither Green figured in an even bigger heist – £35,000 of stolen silver – but only as the site where the theft, from a train, was discovered.
July 1974 – "Several minutes later there were two explosions"
More violent crime in July of 1974, as Egon Von Bulow, "aged 28, of Hither Green Lane", murdered police constable John Schofield by shooting at him, in his police car, in Surrey. Bulow was arrested in Hither Green after attempting to hijack a truck, successfully hijacking a car, exploding two grenades in Lewisham and then retreating to the sidings near Hither Green station. He then attacked police with another grenade, which went "down an embankment and exploded in a petrol station in St Mildred's Road", and then took off again, firing more shots and hurling more grenades.
PC Schofield was aged 27 when he was murdered, and two other policemen – PS Findlay and PS Fullalove – were wounded in the incident. Mr Von Bulow was arrested, charged and jailed. He was released – in an action condemned by the Police Federation - from prison earlier this year.
July 1984 – Hospital should close
Almost a century from the squabbling between the Asylums Board and Local Government Board over its construction, it was the "Lewisham and North Southwark Health Authority" that recommended the closure of Hither Green hospital, as reported on the 25th July 1984.
And that brings things neatly full-circle. The Times online archive ends in 1985, but the Hither Green (formerly Park) hospital formally closed in 1997, and is now the Meridian South housing complex, with only the clock tower remaining – it's visible from the bridge at Hither Green station.
All in all, a surprising amount's happened here for such a quiet part of town, but I'm sure there's much more to find in the archive – if you find anything, please do let me know in the comments.