History of Lee

Old English ‘Leah’ means “the clearing in the wood”. Lee was a long, narrow parish, much smaller than its neighbour Lewisham. There were three old centres of population, all small and all in the northern quarter. One was around the church in Belmont Hill, another in the Old Road area of Lee High Road, and the third at Lee Green. South of Old Road and Lee Green there were only farms and farm cottages on land that had been forest until the seventeenth century.

Lee was a popular place for wealthy London merchants to live, and a number of large country houses were built here in the 17th and 18th centuries. The three that survive are the Manor House and Pentland House in Old Road, now a library and nurses’ home, and The Cedars, Belmont Hill, now part of a housing development.

Lee New Town (Church Street, Boone Street, etc.) was built from 1825 mainly to house those working directly or indirectly for the wealthy residents in the large houses springing up all around, in Lee itself and the neighbouring Blackheath Park. These small houses were cleared in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1866 Lee Station was opened, which made it practical for a wider range of people who worked in central London to live in Lee and commute. The old coach services were far more expensive, and private carriages only for the very rich. Houses were built for these new settlers, typically civil servants, merchants, and professional men, on what had been farmland, and most of the area was built up by 1914. (The extreme south of Lee parish developed independently as Grove Park, q.v.) The central focus of Lee shifted from Lee High Road to Burnt Ash Road, between Lee Green and the station.

See historic maps of Lee