Plumstead: A 19th suburb of Woolwich's industrial and military might

by Barbara Ludlow

Suburban Necessities: Churches, Schools, Shops and Public Houses

The majority of people living in the new houses in the Burrage, Herbert, and Plumstead Park Estates were from many parts of the British Isles (which then included the whole of Ireland). In common with all immigrants, they brought their own culture with them. There was a need to build new churches and chapels.

St. James Church, Burrage Road was built in 1855. St. Margaretís Church, Plumstead Common, which was to supersede the ancient church of St. Nicholas as the main parish church of Plumstead, in 1859. Ironically, St. Margaretís has been demolished and St. Nicholas has reverted to being the main parish church. Two more churches were to be built: Christ Church, Shooters Hill in 1856 - 1869 for the residents of the Herbert Estate, and All Saints, Ripon Road in 1881.

Many Irish people had settled in the Woolwich area from as early as 1800 and before, attracted by work at the Royal Arsenal and Royal Naval Dockyard, and it was largely for them that the new St. Peterís Roman Catholic Church was built in New Road, Woolwich in 1843. Fifty years later in 1893 St. Patrickís Roman Catholic Church was built in Conway Road to serve the Catholic population of Plumstead.

Plumstead was noted for its large population of non-conformists. Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians competed with each other for the allegiance of the working classes. Two important non-conformist chapels were the Cage Lane Evangelical Free Church of 1879, and the Peopleís Hall of the Evangelical Free Church at the Slade built in 1880. However, the largest of all was the Plumstead Great Wesleyan Hall in the High Street, which opened in 1905. The group with the most fascinating name was the Plumstead Peculiars who had a chapel in Waverley Crescent until about 1934. It then became the Plumstead Particular Strict Baptist Chapel.

The Plumstead Board of Works was formed in 1856 as part of the Metropolitan Board of Works, Londonís first strategic authority. The School Board for London, formed after the 1870 Education Act, had responsibility for education within the Metropolitan Board of Works district. Thus, education in Plumstead became the responsibility of the new Board. Previously, children had attended church schools: St. Margaretís School, built in 1856 on Plumstead Common (Plumstead Central School), or Christ Church School, built in1857 on Shooters Hill.

Among the earliest Board Schools to be built in Plumstead were: Bloomfield Road, Burrage Grove, Brewery Road, and Plumstead High Street. The Slade School of 1884 was designed by the famous School Board for London architect Edward Robson. By 1910 there were about ten state schools in Plumstead. The original names of these schools are used above but they were all subsequently renamed.

The corner sites of many roads in the new suburb of Plumstead were occupied by either a shop or a beerhouse. The Beerhouse Act of 1830 allowed a householder, on purchasing a licence for two guineas (£2.10p), to sell beer from a room in the house. In addition to the beerhouses purpose built public houses were also constructed. The Lord Herbert in Herbert Road was built c.1870 on the edge of the Herbert Estate. Most of the public houses in Plumstead belonged to the North Kent Brewery on the corner of Lakedale Road and Brewery Road. However, the oldest public houses like the Volunteer and the Plume of Feathers were, of course, in the High Street at the heart of the old village.

Corner shops like those at the northern end of Herbert Road and Acacia parade were convenient for local families but, inevitably, it was the main shopping areas in Woolwich, Woolwich Market, and Plumstead High Street that were the biggest draw for shoppers from Plumstead.