Friday, 17 June 2016

One Acre Allotment and more stories of rural Eltham

One Acre Allotments, 1908
Even in the most built up urban areas there are clues to our rural past.

Here in Chorlton there is still the village green with the old school, the parish graveyard, two old pubs and some former farmhouses along with a barn where the Methodists held services at the beginning of the 19th century.

And Eltham is no different; although I have to say this bit of what was once Kent and is now south east London has managed to retain far more of its old fine houses.

But it is not of fine houses that I want to focus on today but the intriguingly named “One Acre Allotments" which have their story.

They were all that was left of the fields to the north of the High Street beyond the line of buildings and had you had a mind to you could have walked them all the way up to the woods and Shooters Hill.

Our field was known locally as One Acre and was directly behind what is now the school on Roper Street.

One Acre  1844, One Acre  is numbered 251, 
It was meadow land and formed a block of meadows which stretched east across along the present Gourock Road and also included the field that ran along what is now the west side of Roper Street.
and was “often used to accommodate for the night the herds of cattle or flocks of sheep that were being driven out of Kent into the London market.”* 

A practice which seeks to remind us that most of our big cities were supplied with fresh food which before the railway was walked to its destination and joined the livestock permanently kept in urban centres.

In total there were four of these meadow fields and only one is officially listed with a name.  In the 1840s they were farmed by different tenants but three were owned by Sir Gregory Page Turner while that on the western side of Roper Street was Glebe land.

It might not be good history but I do catch myself wandering down the lane which is now Roper Street and heading off onto the footpath where the land finished.  Had I done this in the 1840s there at the end of the lane would have the stile and the start of the footpath.

The Smithy and One Acre Meadow, 1858-74
And  I had a choice, turn east and by degree I would have ended up at Shooters Hill, and if I gone west along what was sometimes called “The Slip” which ran parallel to the High Street I would have reached the parish church.

And if that was not enough choices at both the start of The Slip and at its end there were paths off to Well Hall and Shooters Hill.

Now I rather think there may also be stories about the people who rented these four fields.  Each is known to us, and two appear to have been comfortably off describing themselves variously as Gentleman, Independent or Merchant.

But as ever there seems a little bit of mystery and yes it is our field which the records show was rented by a George Smith snr in 1839, but exactly which George Smith is a problem, for there were three living in Eltham during the 1820s into the next two decades.

The most obvious was George Smith who listed himself as a blacksmith during the period.  He lived in the High Street had a son called George which might explain the description George Smith snr and his smithy was at the bottom of the lane where it joined the High Street.

If this is him the fates were not kind, by 1851 he is in hospital and his son is living with his former wife who had reverted to her maiden name. And like so much of the history I like this just gets a tad messier, because George Smith snr is recorded as renting 40 acres along with a “farmhouse, barn, yard and building” which seems a bit out of the range of a blacksmith.

But we shall see.

*R.R.C.Gregory, The Story of Royal Eltham
Pictures; One Acre Allotments from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on
The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, detail of Eltham, and detail of the Smithy and One Acre Meadow,detail of Eltham High Street, 1844 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, and detail of smithy, the lane and the meadow land from the OS map of Kent 1858-74

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