By kind permission of John King, Author
Meanwhile there was a problem over-shadowing the Peace celebrations, although perhaps not for many of those then residing in Grove Park — housing. As early as 1917 the Local Government Board had sent a circular to the various local authorities about the provision of houses for ‘the working classes’ after the war. The theme of the circular was that it was realised that private enterprise would be quite unable to grapple successfully and speedily with the arrears of building. It would, therefore, be necessary to rely far more than in the past upon local authorities to provide the houses and associated drainage, water and roads; but the circular noted that it was realised that it would be necessary to afford substantial relief to those authorities prepared to carry through a programme of housing.
The housing problem was particularly acute in the adjoining Borough of Deptford. The problem was considered by Deptford throughout the following year and into 1919 until it was concluded that it could not take effective steps to relieve its shortages because of the absence of open space for building. Depfford did not, however, turn its back on the problem and subsequently urged the LCC to consider acquiring land for housing purposes as near as possible to Deptford. This was in the summer of 1919 and on 5 August Deptford wrote to Lewisham with a suggestion that the three Metropolitan Boroughs of Deptford, Lewisham and Bermondsey should act together as the problem was too great for any one of them independently. The suggested joint action was the building of a garden city in the Lewisham/Bromley area.
Lewisham responded warmly to the communication but before it was formally considered, there was a suggestion in September that the hutments adjoining Coopers Lane could be used for housing purposes. It was obvious that not all the buildings had been vacated, although there had been a general demob by the RASC in Grove Park, because the London Housing Board replied to Lewisham’s suggestion to advise that the huts could not be used; the Board added that it would communicate again if there were a possibility that the huts would become empty. As if to confuse everybody, Lewisham received a memorandum in October from the new Ministry of Health about the provision of temporary housing accommodation by the use of Army Huts. No action appeared subsequently to be taken over Grove Park’s huts.
In the meantime the RASC did leave Grove Park. This was reflected by the closure of the solders’ clubs. The Soldiers’ Institute at Maresfield was closed on 31 March in anticipation of the peace while that at St Mildred’s closed on 22 October 1919.
Meanwhile the Deptford proposal progressed and the first meeting was held in September 1919 between the three Boroughs, although a fourth one, Greenwich, declined to participate. Both the Lewisham and Bermondsey delegates agreed to recommend the proposal to their councils. A further conference was held in October but without representatives from Bermondsey who considered that schemes within their own borough would claim their whole attention. Details of a plan for a garden city then emerged — it would be on the land between Grove Park Station and Bromley Road which was mainly the farmland of Shroffold Farm and Holloway Farm. The Lewisham delegates had no instructions from their Council, but they expressed themselves personally in favour of the proposal subject to certain safeguards about management. The Ministry of Health, and no doubt the LCC, were advised of the scheme.
Yet another conference took place, this one at Lewisham Town Hall on 19 December 1919. Bermondsey then changed its mind and asked to be included again — this was accepted. The bombshell came on 4 February 1920 when Lewisham’s Council meeting rejected the joint plan on a narrow vote of 18 for, 21 against. Not surprisingly there was public anger in some quarters of Lewisham and the Council was petitioned to call a meeting of the townspeople of Lewisham to discuss the Borough’s decision — this was a rarely-used device to challenge municipal policy.
The petition was placed before the Council on 3rd March which divided 14 for the meeting, 24 against who included Le May. Bermondsey and Deptford both urged Lewisham to reconsider its policy while a meeting of the Lewisham branch of the Middle Classes Union expressed its appreciation of the decision and its hope that Lewisham would not change it. Difficulties also appeared to be occurring with the Ministry of Health over the original proposal. In the meantime, Camberwell had asked Deptford that it should be included but the latter rejected this. for reasons unknown. Another resolution was submitted to Lewisham — from the United Vehicle Workers who,in condemning Lewisham’s decision suggested it was ‘owing to numerous local members not being able to obtain adequate housing’.
New forces then appeared and on 30 March 1920 the LCC made an order to compulsorily acquire more than 150 acres of land to the west of Grove Park. Thus was born the LCC’s Downham. The pre-war tranquility of the district was destined to change. It would never be quite the same.
Itwas not the only change and in February 1920 the Metropolitan Asylums Board purchased the Workhouse for use as a TB hospital. Another change was that some of the families in the big houses were leaving Grove Park — indeed, some had left during the war. Many of the former domestic staff did not want to return to their old way of life after experiencing the higher rates of pay of factories or new new experiences of life when in the forces, while the owners of the big houses faced higher costs.
One of the vicars was unable tosee the changes. On 12 August Farquhar left St Mildred’s after 9.5 years to return to Northumberland from whence he had come; to be Rector of Hexham. Luffman remained at St Augustine’s, however, to see many changes before his death in 1930 but that is another story. In the meantime the people of Gróve Park and Lee did not forget the supreme sacrifice that some had made. — war memorials, chapels and shrines with a list of names and dates were completed at the churches while the officers from the RASC at Grove Park presented their Mess with a silver trophy model of a Leyland lorry.
In 1983 that lorry was still a treasured exhibit in the Officers’ Mess of the Royal Corps of Transport at Aldershot. May future residents not forget the sacrifices of others in those years.
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