Never heard of it? No, nor had I – and if you were to go by any histories or old maps of Greenwich you wouldn’t be any the wiser either. I haven’t found a single map that actually shows Kirkland Place as such. Some have the road marked, none seem to name it. And yet at least one Phantophile not only knew it but lived there for many years as a child.
I was puzzled when John contacted me about Kirkland Place where his dad had a shop in the 1940s and 50s, though it all became a little easier to pinpoint when he sent me this photo, courtesy of Morden College Archives (Morden College, of course, owned – and still own – large swathes of Greenwich; you will be pleased to know they have archived their considerable history. Even better, Hilary Peters who, if you remember, was responsible for the fabulous little corner garden and Foot & Mouth Memorial at Ballast Quay, tells me that it is open to all for research (by appointment) – last time she tried, admittedly many years ago, it wasn’t open to women…)
But I digress. Because of a sign on the side of the shop, we can at least pinpoint where Kirkland Place was – 300 yards from the Seawitch Pub. The Seawitch was on Seawitch Lane, now Morden Wharf Lane and we know where that is:
The pub sounds a sweet little place. Mary Mills says in her (sadly out of print) Greenwich Marsh – The 300 Years before the Dome that it was slightly set back from the riverside path, with a little garden set aside from the roadway. I can’t really tell from this picture where that would have been, but I do like the jolly jack tar enjoying a pint on the left (not sure where this picture’s from – I’m suspecting Greenwich Heritage Centre)
The hostelry was built by one Charles Holcombe, a wealthy industrialist who’d taken a lease out on a large swathe of land, roughly where the old, dead Amylum site is now.
Don’t know if you know the delightful Valentines Park in Ilford – for many years it was closed up and used as council offices, but has been restored and is now probably one of the few reasons to visit Ilford. The gardens are particularly impressive – if you walk around them you can see garden history from Henry VIII’s time through all the major phases of horticultural fashion right up to the 1950s – but the reason I’m talking about it today is that it was Charles Holcombe’s gaff back in the 1840s when Ilford was a hell of a lot posher than Greenwich. In fact it was very smart indeed. It might have just lost the gigantic Wanstead House* a couple of miles away (a great story of the ultimate Regency Rake, a misused heiress and an embarrassed Duke of Wellington…) but in the Victorian age we’re looking at Blackheath-level poshness.
But hey – I have no other reaason to mention Redbridge other than the fact that Holcombe lived there.
Anyway, Holcombe built the Sea Witch, presumably for workers (Mary Mills reckons it was probably named for a famous American tea clipper; others ‘on the internet’ assume that it’s got folklore traditions; I just think they thought it was a cool name…) and I have no reason not to think he was also responsible for Kirkland Place as somewhere for employees on his ‘brass foundry, tar and asfelt works’ to live.
By the time John was born in 1947, the Sea Witch had been dead for seven years, bombed in an air raid. He remembers peddling his little red car, from the shop, which was on the corner of Tunnel Avenue and Morden Wharf Lane, opposite where the old Dreadnought School (where he attended) still is now, up to the bombsite and back, trying to keep up with the Blue Circle cement lorries, reach the Mechanic’s Arms, do a 3 point turn and peddle down the lane. It took many years to redevelop the area, but the glucose works labs, until very recently, sat roughly where the pub used to be.
When he was five years old John had to have an appendix op at St Alphages Hospital. His family came to visit just before he went down for the operation, then returned to the shop. As John’s 15 year-old brother Tony was coming round the corner of Tunnel Avenue on that night (around the time John was having the operation) he saw a shadowy figure on the flat roof of 10 Kirkland Place. He ran up the stairs to the second floor, lifted the roof door and walked out but saw nobody there. He’s never been able to explain what or who he saw. Could it have been young John, having an out-of-body experience? Who knows…
Thinking back to the Seawitch – don’t you think with all that development that we were promised wouldn’t happen and now is, that a proper, historic Thameside pub on the west side of the peninsula would be a lovely thing? Enderby House is empty…
*razed to the ground for building materials to pay off massive gambling debts, though much of the park and features – including the grotto, inside which, in truly Gothick fashion, said rake once locked said heiress. There are also two classical temple-style follies, but they’re on private property and you can’t see them. Not something you expect to find in a back garden in Ilford…
Seriously, though, Valentines is worth a visit.
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