Above: Mural under the railway bridge near Lee Station.
So, where is Lee and where is its centre? Although it appears to be a simple question, it is not that easy to be precise about the answer. If the question was ‘What is the centre of Camberwell?’ almost everyone would almost certainly answer ‘Camberwell Green’. A similar question about Greenwich would return the answer ‘The dreaded one system beside the ‘Cutty Sark’. In the case of Lee, the answer is not so straight forward because the original village of Lee was rather spread out.
Derivation of the Name
The place-name Lee comes from the Old English word ‘leah’ meaning a meadow – in this case, an open space near a wood. The open space was probably a natural one and not a man-made clearing. The earliest recorded mention was in the Domesday Book (1086) which describes Lee as ‘a small area of cultivation set in extensive woodland’. The Manor of Lee was a historic parish of the Hundred of Blackheath and existed up to 1900 when it was merged with the parish of Lewisham to create the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham. The manor does not seem to have had an early manor house which may account for the sprawling nature of the layout of the village.
Lee Parish Church
There has been a parish church at Lee from about 1120. Its site was some distance west of Lee Green, on the north side of the road, where it changes its name from Belmont Hill to Lee Terrace. Between 1813 and 1830 an attempt was made to rebuild the medieval church, by the architect Joseph Gwilt. It was found that the foundations of the old church were incapable of supporting a new building and the plans were abandoned. The ruins of the old church are still standing in the medieval churchyard on the north side of Lee Terrace.
A new church was built between 1839 and 1841 on the south side of Lee Terrace. It was built in a simple early Victorian style to a design by a Norwich architect John Brown. That church is still in use, surrounded by its own churchyard.
Above: Map showing the places named in this article. [CLICK ON THE MAP FOR A LARGER VERSION]
Lee was a Domesday manor, with its village green – still known as Lee Green today – at the intersection of Lee High Road and Eltham Road (both part of the A20) and the other two roads – Lee Road and Burnt Ash Road. Although that location is still called Lee Green, the original village green has long since vanished. It is occupied by shops and housing. By the way, Burnt Ash Road, which changes its name to Burnt Ash Hill further south, was so-called because it led to a hamlet known as Burnt Ash.
It could be said, therefore, that the centre of Lee was once Lee Green although the village clearly extended from the parish church to the green. Lee Green has two pubs facing each other – one called the Old Tiger’s Head and the other the New Tiger’s Head. The latter is now  closed and is unlikely to open again as a pub. Lee Green is a good starting point but the story is rather more complicated. While there were a few houses at Lee Green which are shown on John Rocque’s small scale map of 1746 (the earliest map of the area), there were even more houses to be found along the southern side of Lee High Road. That road is not named on Rocque’s map but the houses are clearly shown.
Lee Manor House
In 1772 a large house was built on the site of a medieval farmhouse on land to the south of Lee High Road for Thomas Lucas, a merchant and treasurer of Guy’s Hospital. What is now Manor House Gardens (along with a pond and ice-house) were formally laid out about 1773. Lucas died in 1784 and in 1796 the house was purchased by Sir Francis Baring from, Eliza, the widow of Thomas Lucas. By that date Eliza had married John Julius Angerstein, becoming his second wife after his first wife died. Baring, the founder of the famous City bank, later bought the Manor of Lee and the large house became known as the Manor House. In 1902 it opened as a public library and the gardens became a public park, which is still the case today.
We now turn to what we will call ‘Modern Lee’ – meaning development of the land in the middle of the 19th century. Rocque’s map of 1746 shows nearly all the land as open fields, a state of affairs that was to continue until well into the 19th century. In 1866 Lee Station was opened and this was followed by house-building at Lee Green. Over time, Burnt Ash Road and Burnt Ash Hill were covered with housing. Farmland slowly disappeared and the ‘centre of gravity’ of Lee shifted from Lee High Road towards the station. In fact, modern Lee also extends east from Lee Green, towards the large roundabout where the Yorkshire Grey pub used to stand. The fate of the Yorkshire Grey was to become used by McDonald’s.
The wall mural has been painted onto one of the two brick abutments supporting the railway line beside Lee Station. That bridge crosses Burnt Ash Hill. If you are wondering why a heron was included in the mural it is because the River Quaggy flows nearby – crossing Lee Green and also flowing through Manor House Gardens. Herons are still to be seen beside the Quaggy, particularly at the lake in Manor House Gardens. The River Quaggy, which is normally nothing more than a tiny stream, is a tributary of the River Ravensbourne which it meets near Lewisham Station. The Ravensbourne then flows northwards to the Thames, at which point it is known as Deptford Creek.
COMMENT – End of the Academic Year
The Summer term started in April with a selection of blogs relating to Poplar (which includes Canary Wharf), followed by a selection of topics about Greenwich and Woolwich. Now that the academic year is at a close, we can use the months of August and September to ‘shake off’ the constraints of term time and free ourselves from the six-year plan of study. While we have been following the Know Your London plan, other things have been going on in London and the author has also found a few other ‘little gems’ of information that can now be included.
A Brief Guide to How the Blogs are Indexed
The blogs can be used in one of two ways. Firstly there are those of you who are ‘signed up’ to receive email notifications and who read each blog as it is published. Secondly, now that there are a large number of blogs online, many people find a particular blog due to searching for a particular place name. Either way, the blogs are certainly being looked at and that is just what was intended.
The Website began in September 2014. At first, the blogs appeared without any particular plan – other than each blog is tagged with the original Metropolitan Borough to which it relates. By September 2015 a plan was devised to structure the publication of the blogs and that has been refined with time.
If you only read the blogs because they appear in your inbox, you should be aware that all the blogs are indexed online. Use any one of the emails and just click on the dark blue heading. That will take you to the same version online. When a blog is published, it is sent out automatically by email. It may, however, have spelling errors which are later picked up an corrected in the online version. Down the right-hand side of the Webpage are indexing tags that allow the reader to select a particular area – like Lambeth – and find all the blogs relating to that area.
As time goes by, the system becomes more comprehensive. It is, therefore, all the more important to read the blogs from the Website because you can then use the indexes to find out related information.
The blogs are derived from a six-year series of lectures that were given on the history of Inner London and repeated many times. The blogs present only a small selection of the original long list of places that were included in the lectures. Each blog derives from the lectures but has been brought up to date before publishing online.
As the blogs build up, they are all related to a structure which can be summarised as . . .
Inner London Boroughs – eventually there will be a blog explaining each Inner London Borough. There are eleven of these. In addition, there is the City of London and the City of Westminster.
City Areas – because of its complexity, the City of London is sub-divided into 13 Areas of Study. Each of these will eventually have its own blog – called an ‘Overview’.
Westminster Areas – this has been sub-divided into seven Areas of Study. There will be an ‘Overview’ blog for each one.
Inner London Boroughs – each Area of Study is described under the original smaller Metropolitan Borough, with an ‘Overview’ blog for each one.
Area Descriptions – within each Area of Study there are often lesser areas which will have a blog called ‘A Quick Look Around’. There act as an ‘Overview’ but for a smaller piece of land.
Places of Interest – are many and varied. Examples are interesting buildings, parks, castles, palaces, offices, houses or anything that deserves a blog being written. All these blogs are tagged to the name of an ‘Overview’ and (if there is one) a name with ‘A Quick Look Around’ at the end of it.
Using the above rules, it should be possible to easily find how a particular place of interest relates to the rest of London. This is important because the author is keen that you get to ‘Know Your London’.