Annabel asked me, far too long ago to admit, about Hardy Cottages in Eastney Street, where she lives. I’ve always rather liked these unpretentious little places – it’s easy to pass them by but they have their own charm – I’m really fond of the coloured glass in some of the entrance windows.
They were built between 1900 and 1902 as part of an early slum-clearance project and there used to be rather more of them. I’m sure you can guess what happened to the rest. Basically anywhere there’s a break in one style of building, an oddly-placed car park or a strange block of flats/modern building among a row of Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian houses in Greenwich, you can place a fairly safe bet it’s taking the place of bomb damage.
They’re interesting in that they were one of the first slum-clearance projects that replaced mean little hovels with proper cottages rather than walloping great tenements, and thought was put into them. They’re in classic London stock brick, but they have details like the arches in red brick, and the chimneys are designed as a feature. According to the council’s Conservation Area report the ones that are left are pretty intact, except for the inner quadrangle (a place I have never seen) which
“is blandly surfaced in tarmac undivided by kerbs or footpaths spoiling an otherwise intact apperaance.”
Thing is, if these cottages replaced slums how did the slums get there?
That, I’m not really sure. As far as I can find out, it was always a rather posh, rural area in the days of the Court. Eastney Street was East lane, and before that Compton’s Lane and passed around by gents supplying the Court with fruit, veg and fish.
In 1486 one John Leaver sold John Archer ‘a mess, barn stables, gard, orch etc.’ in East Lane. What the tenent, George Gator, thought of that history doesn’t say, but I doubt that his ‘mess’ was actually one – I’m thinking ‘messuage’ – i.e. homestead.
The most famous occupant of East Lane was Sir William Boreman(of the charity, and who planted out the Park), who’d had connections with the Court since James I’s time. He bought land in Comptons Lane in 1620 from Innocent, the Gentleman of the Kings Privy Chamber, and Clement Lanyer (my mind does wonder if this is a strange spelling of ‘Lanier’ – perhaps one day I’ll delve into that…).
Boreman lived in a mansion on the place, but it must have been a huge piece of land – in 1638 he sold part of it and still retained enough at the south west end on the corner of Hog Lane (I haven’t worked out where this was, but I’m guessing it was an early, smaller form of Traf road) for gardens, cherry orchards and ponds. When he died in 1684 there were still 9 tenements, pike gardens and ponds which supplied the Court with fish (of the fresh variety, natch, there was plenty of the saltwater kind in the Thames…)
It all seems to get a bit murky from then on. The house was demolished in 1724 and at one point William Hatcliffe owned part of it – at least one ‘mess’ went to his charity, (for which I note there are currently places available in the rather lovely almshouses in Tuskar Street…)
But at what point did lovely Comptons Lane, with its pike ponds, cherry orchards, mansions and messes become a slum so bad it needed to be cleared?
That I don’t know, but I’m guessing the Industrial revolution, and the factories that were going up over East Greenwich and the Peninsula will have had something to do with it all. We already know that the area around the East of the hospital became its own little village, presumably that village just grew…
But this is an area that’s hard to find in the history books. As usual with Greenwich, attention is always on the posh, Royal stuff – when the circus moved on, everything gets much more vague in those archives.
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