Downham Estate: Its Origins and Early History

by Alistair Black

The Area Before the Estate Was Built

The LCC's acquisition of the Grove Park site (the name given to the area in the planning stages) was an official purchase, made in 1920, under the Housing Act (1890). Part of the site laid outside of the LCC's administrative jurisdiction in the borough of Bromley, but under the Housing Act (1900) it was empowered to purchase land outside its boundaries.

The original site was under the ownership of just two parties: the Earl of Northbrook and the Rt. Hon Henry William (Lord) Forster. Some 441 acres were purchased from the Earl of Northbrook and 131 acres from Lord Forster, the former package of land containing two farms, Shroffold's Farm and Holloway Farm. Later, much smaller tracts of land, for the purpose of rounding-off the site and giving access to existing highways, were purchased from the same landlords over the course of the next five years.

Until the 1920s visits to the area on which the estate was constructed, known locally as the 'Seven Fields', often provided a weekend outing for the people of Lewisham. Homesteads and farmland under the cultivation were still to be seen until 1924, and the official guide to the metropolitan borough of Lewisham in that same year refers to Southend Village, at the western edge of the site, as a community which still boasted 'the survival of past rural glories'.

At this time London extended only as far as Catford and Lee Green to the north of the site, although the area surrounding Grove Park Station to the east was relatively populated. To the west the tentacles of suburbia had reached as far as Sydenham, Beckenham and the new cottage estate at Bellingham, approximately a mile to the north-west of the Grove Park site (construction began at Bellingham in 1921). But to the south, Bromley remained a separate town, and on either side of the road linking Bromley with Catfbrd the prospect was still, in the early 1920's, a comparatively open one.

However, once construction got under way the rural division between Catford and Bromley began to disappear leaving only the administrative divide between the boroughs of Lewisham and Bromley, as well as between the LCC and Kent.