Lewisham High Street and the Tram

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You have to be of a certain age to recognise all the features of this photograph which shows the point where Lewisham High Street joins onto Lee High Road. The photo is undated and so a guess around the 1940s or 1950s would normally be all that was possible. However, in the case of this particular photo we can easily fix the year as 1951. The reason is not hard to work out. Between the tram and the clock tower, at first floor level on the white building, is a large window with the Festival of Britain emblem. Many shops showed a similar emblem during the six-month exhibition, held on South Bank during the summer of 1951. So that fixes the date quite accurately.

The clock tower still stands on almost the same spot. A few years back this part of Lewisham High Street was pedestrianised, with through traffic skirting around the land seen here. The entire clock tower, built in white stone, was carefully taken down and rebuilt just a few feet from its original position.

Behind the clock tower is the large building, with a tower in the middle, called (surprisingly) ‘Tower House’. It was occupied by the large Co-operative Society departmental store and known to most shoppers simply as the ‘Co-op’. The building remains but the Co-op store closed down probably some time in the 1990s. The ground floor then became a large pub that has also closed down.

To the left of the tram we see another large departmental store called Chiesman’s. The main store was the one with the name along the top but there was a second smaller building, forming an extension, part of which can be seen on the far left. Chiesman’s was quite an old-fashioned shop even in the 1960s. It had been started as a drapery store by the brothers Frank and Harry Chiesman in 1884. In 1976, the Chiesman group was purchased by House of Fraser and was transferred into the newly acquired Army & Navy group. The store closed down entirely in 1997. It was the end of an era. Nearly every London high street had its own departmental shop. The store was demolished and the site is now occupied by a very large Police Station.

The main feature of the picture – the tram – has been left until last. It is the number 58 which had a route between Blackwall Tunnel (the destination that is on the board at the back of the tram) and Victoria. All tram routes were discontinued in 1952, to be replaced by buses running on the same routes. The 58 tram route became the 185 bus route which is still running today. The tram ran through Forest Hill and from there to Victoria the tram journey was about 25 minutes. Today, with all the increased traffic and resultant congestion, the same journey can take anything between an hour to over 90 minutes!

-ENDS-

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