Street by Street History

Jim asks:

I’m moving to Woodland Grove in a few months. I’ve been looking online I can find almost zero historical information on this street.

Are you aware of any street by street resources that I might be able to follow up to learn a little bit more about this place?

The Phantom replies:

What a shame you’re not just a few streets over, Jim. If you lived in SE3 rather than SE10 then the answer to this would have been ‘yes.’ Neil Rhind has written the definitive history of Blackheath, street by street, over the last years, and the final volume in the Blackheath and Environs trilogy is due to be released soon. Westcombe Park, although it is ‘our’ side of the heath, counts as Blackheath, and is covered in the (rather rare) Volume II.

Sadly for you, Jim, Maze Hill and its surroundings are very definitely ‘Greenwich’, and much as I’ve been trying to persuade Neil to venture out from SE3, I’ve had no joy yet.

But that doesn’t stop the area being interesting. Woodland Grove as a street I know very little about but it would have been very close to Sir John Vanbrugh’s back garden. Or is it front garden? I can never work out which way his wild collection of five splendid follies faced. I’ve just been looking in the sprawling Phantom archives (even I get lost in ‘em…) and I can’t find the post I could have sworn I wrote about Vanbrugh’s ‘extra guest accomodation’ so I’ll try to put together one for you. In the meanwhile if you google within the site you should find a whole bunch of stuff on Vanbrugh Castle itself…

Given that a lot of the buildings in Woodland Grove are quite modern I did have a look at Londonist’s rather interesting map that Michael sent me the other day showing the sites of V2 rockets during the war (that’s one of the main reasons for modern buildings in the middle of largely Victorian houses round here) but the only one that’s showing near you is right up at Maze Hill Station, which we know about already (though I guess there could have been some other kind of incendiary device deployed…)

Other than that, a trip to Greenwich Heritage Centre should pay dividends. They have large cardboard boxes of photos, street by street (not always accurately labelled, I discovered…) and many other resources that the Phantom library can only dream of.

Something you might like to get involved with is the group that are looking after Woodlands. Don’t know what Woodlands is? It’s that tiny little sliver of – well – woodland, actually, tucked in behind Maze Hill station. It’s pretty much all that’s left of Vanbrugh Castle’s extensive grounds and the only reason it hasn’t been turned into yet more luxury apartments is that it is locked-in behind houses one way and a ravine the other (yes, you did read that right, a ravine, albeit a baby one. It’s the remains of an old quarry…)

It’s not open to the general public much – not least because you have to get into it via someone’s back garden, but a small group of dedicated volunteers, the Friends of Westcombe Woodlands, try to keep the jungle under control and look after it without regimenting it too much and they do occasionally open it up for nosy neighbours and inquisitive Phantoms. Interestingly they don’t mention Vanbrugh Castle on their site; perhaps it didn’t stretch that far after all. I’ll try to find out just how far those grounds stretched. In the meanwhile if anyone fancies telling me more about Vanbrugh’s follies I’d love to hear from you. Otherwise I’ll just do some legwork. It’s about time I did…

As usual, I’ve digressed from the original question. The answer is ‘no’, there isn’t a street-by street guide to SE10 as a whole (though if you are lucky enough to live in the Ashburnham triangle, there is one by Diana Rimmell – you can find it in the Visitor centre) Anyone who wants to write one will be trumpeted to the rooftops of Phantom Towers.




Wendy has forwarded this information for Jim, about her family who lived in Woodland Grove:

 My Grandmother’s family lived at 11 Woodland Grove from before 1871 (can’t find them on the 1861, they were at Marsh Lane in 1851) until at least 1937 (see electoral roll on Ancestry).  My Grandmother Ellen Mabel Lewis (nee Plowman) and her father Lewis William Plowman were born there.  Her Grandfather Thomas Plowman committed suicide there in 1886 (but Jim probably would rather not know that!) when the poor law  officers refused to increase the allowance he and his wife lived on – they were getting 6/- per week (he was blind).  I have a picture of my Gt Grandfather, Lewis William Plowman when he was working on the building of the Greenwich Power Station, I believe he also worked for the General Steam Navigation Company as my Gran said he was a ‘Navvie’ and that is what their workers called themselves. My Grandmother had five brothers all born at 11 Woodland Grove and they all served in the first World War in France, Belgium and Palestine . Two of them Henry and Freddie, did not come home.  

3 Comments to “Street by Street History”

  1. Mary says:

    I don’t know much about Woodland Grove per se – there is something about the street in Booths survey – and I also think that comparisons between old maps will show that the area changed in the 19th century as streets were built and rebuilt. The Council block there is also interesting – again can’t remember details but it is architecturally important. When my new east Greenwich history web site gets up and running it is the sort of thing I might do – but I have nothing written up and ready.
    All those pictures at the heritage centre – I can remember ten or so years ago that the local history library recieved boxes and boxes photos from the planners – who had taken them over many years, never used them but stored them without any notes as to what they were of. Visitors to the library were asked to look at them and see if they could recognise them!!

  2. Neil Rhind says:

    Dear Phantom

    Very pleased to note that you are back to posting and can keep us up to date with what is going on. Also, delighted that one Jim is taking an interest in the history of one of the forgotten corners of the urban structure of East Greenwich.

    You have been very kind in mentioning my books again for Jim’s quest and I can join you in regrets that Volume II is out of print. Copies can be had from a well-known bookshop in the Village (now for sale, you may have spotted) but Vol II will cost you about £75-80. Cheaper copies can be found on E-Bay from time to time, and readers can always thumb it over in the reference libraries at Greenwich, Lewisham and Guildhall.

    There is much in Vol II about the history of Maze Hill and its houses, the Woodlands behind and stretching on to Vanbrugh Hill. Its topography owes much to gravel digging but in the 1860s the owners – Morden College – leased about six acres to the Wheeler family who built a sizeable house at the Vanbrugh Hill end. Alas, this was demolished when the Health Authority bought the whole site in 1920 and subsequently placed the Nurses Home on the east end. Phantom covered this in some detail a few issues ago.

    Before the Wheelers a good piece of the land in the middle, with access then from Maze Hill, was rented by William Tyler, a market gardener who sub-let various plots as small holdings. In the mid 1840s he decided to create Tyler New Town, on the larger rectangle edged by Vanbrugh Hill and Trafalgar Road, north of the railway line. I am certain his development didn’t quite include Woodlands Grove.

    Tyler’s little neat village enjoyed various family names originally but for reasons undiscovered Edward Street became Earlswood Street, and George Street became Columb Street in the late 1880s. At least Walnut Tree Road kept it title although I doubt many nut trees survived the building and subsequent bits of redevelopment, especially post-war.

    From pictorial evidence I am certain that the original Woodland Grove was taken down sometime in the late 1890s because a photograph of 1904 covering the whole landscape hereabouts shows quite a wide clean road with handsome villas, whereas the 1860s Ordnance Survey sheet indicates tiny houses in a tight alley.

    I am pleased to tell you – hand on heart – that Volume III will be out before year end. The Heath Trail and Heath Timeline (as well as the architectural drawings volume with Julian Watson) should hit the bookstalls by end September.

    Neil Rh

    I will send the 1904 picture of all this if you tell me how

  3. Thomas says:

    Also at the heritage centre they have the ARP maps from the second world war, colour coded to show the extent of bomb damage to buildings.