Thursday, 19 July 2018

History of St. Mary's Church, Lewisham - Exhibition Online



St. Mary's Church, Lewisham is the oldest building in the London Borough of Lewisham. 
The Lewisham Local History and Archive Centre presents a selected number of archives and books associated with the Church. 


Guide to archive exhibits



1. Parish register

An example of charred parish register fragments saved from the ruins of the 1830 fire, mounted and preserved in Lewisham Archives. Such fragments show the vulnerability of historic documents and the need for conservation by professional archivists. Ref: SM1


2. Baptism Certificate, 1830

A sample Baptism Certificate for Jane Cox born in Lewisham 1830. It is signed by the then Vicar Augustus Legge. Ref: SM1/1/89


3, 4, 5Vicar's Account Book, including Glebe Survey, 1714. Letter of approval of sale of Glebe land for use as Public Baths, 1883. List of names of Tithe payers, 1778

The Church was an important landowner in Lewisham. As evidenced by this glebe survey of 1714 in the Vicar’s note book, list of tithe payers of 1778 and  letter of approval of the sale of glebe land for use as a public baths of 1883.Presumably the land in the glebe survey is the land sold for the public baths. The public baths (better known as “The Playtower”) were built in 1884 and granted Grade II listed status in 2004. There is currently a public consultation on the development and renewal of this historic building. Ref: SM1/1/94, SM1/1/97, SM1/1/96 

6. Posters for Consecration of Chancel, 1882-6

After the 1830 fire, the interior 
was rebuilt by public 
subscription and the current 
chancel rebuilt in 1881. The 
service was held on the 
Feast Day of the 
Annunciation (25 March). 
Appropriately for a church 
dedicated to the Virgin Mary, 
this day marks the visit 
(annunciation) of the angel Gabriel to Mary. Ref: SM1/1/78                 

7.Tower repair appeal, leaflet, 1907

The building work of 1881 did not include the tower which was also in need of repair. Following an appeal for funds, this was done in 1907. In his appeal, the Vicar refers to the history of the church tower.


8. Copy will of Abraham Colfe, 1788. 

Abraham Colfe (1580-1657) was Vicar of St Mary’s Lewisham from 1610 to 1657, founding Colfe's School, a reading or Latin school (1652) and five almshouses for the inhabitants of Lewisham. He later made provision for both in his will (shown here). Following wartime damage, the almshouses were demolished in 1958. The school later came to bear his name and still exists. Ref: SM1/6/14

9. Copy Will of Joseph Prendergast 1869

Dr. Joseph Prendergast (1791–1875) was Headmaster of Colfe's School 1831-1857. In his will he founded Prendergast Grammar School (now Prendergast Hilly Fields College) for 31 poor girls in Rushey Green, Catford. The school became comprehensive in the 1970s and moved to the current site in Hilly Fields in 1995. Ref: SM1/6/52




















10. Print of St Mary’s Church, 1809

An early nineteenth century print shows the church after the 1776 rebuilding. Ref: SM1/9/2


11. Drawing of the exterior of the Church, 1764. 

A drawing c1764 of the old, medieval Church just before the 1776 re-building. The drawing was made about 1870-7 based on a drawing of 1764.


12. Photograph of parish clergymen, including Augustus Legge, c1880-12

n this photograph Legge (1839-1913) is shown seated third from the left. Legge was the Vicar of Sydenham (1867-1879) and then Vicar of Lewisham (1879-1901), where his brother was Lord of the Manor. During Legge’s vicariate the interior was remodelled and the chancel added. Legge later became Bishop of Lichfield,Staffordshire. SM1/1/133


13. Postcards

A selection of postcards from the Local History and Archive Centre collection showing old photographs, drawings and prints of the church. The churchyard has been enlarged at least twice, 1791 and 1817. Until Brockley and Ladywell cemetery was formed in 1858, the parish churchyard was the only burial ground. In September 2017, a Therapeutic Garden was opened in the grounds to promote well-being through gardening. It was featured in the BBC Gardeners’ World. Ref: PH79 8796, PH98 19-398, PC65 1211


Guide to exhibited books




14. The Parish registers of St Mary’s, Lewisham (being such portions as were saved from the fire of 1830), 1555-1750, with extracts from wills relating to the parish. Leland L. Duncan

n 1830 a fire damaged the interior and some of the parish registers were burnt. Fortunately, the noted local historian Leland L. Duncan used copies kept by the parish clerk and other notes to create this transcript of the registers from 1558 to 1750, which he published in 1891. Transcripts of historic documents and archival materials are useful because many of them are handwritten. Transcribing these primary sources helps us increase accessibility to historical records so that all of us can more easily read, search for, and use the information they contain. Ref: 929.3


15. The Parish Church of St Mary Lewisham, Kent, its building and rebuilding: with some account of the Vicars and Curates of Lewisham. Leland L. Duncan

First published in 1892, this classic account of the Church’s history was written by Leland L. Duncan (1862-1923), a highly productive local historian and antiquarian. He was born in Lewisham and lived his entire life in Lewisham. He also published a transcript of the monumental inscriptions in the church and churchyard in 1889. There is a plaque to him at 8 Lingards Road, Lewisham, SE13. Ref: 726.583

16. Census of Great Britain, 1851: particulars of the churches, chapels and other places of religious worship in the following districts:- Charlton, Deptford, Eltham, Greenwich, Kidbrooke, Lee, Lewisham, Plumstead, Sydenham and Woolwich. Public Record Office

The 1851 Religious Census was a unique survey of all identified places of religious worship then in existence, including Nonconformist and Catholic chapels and Jewish synagogues as well as Church of England churches. The surviving returns provide an invaluable snapshot of religious practice in the middle of the nineteenth century. As this census return for St Mary’s shows, Sunday attendance could be as high as 1,750. The church was obviously too small to accommodate a growing population. New sub-parishes were created and with them the demand for new churches. Saint Bartholomew’s church, Sydenham was built 1827-32, with St. Stephen’s following in 1863-65, St. Mark’s 1868 and St. Laurence’s   1886-7. Ref: 808.883



17. Diary and correspondence of John Evelyn. John Evelyn

John Evelyn (1620-1706) was an English writer, gardener and diarist who lived in Deptford from 1652. The entry for Christmas Day records he attended St Mary’s church. Ref: 726.5

Exhibition curated by:

Julie Robinson, Local Studies Librarian, Lewisham Local History Archive Centre
Felicity Croydon, Archivist, Lewisham Local History Archive Centre





Follow this link for a full list of Church of England Records held in the Lewisham Local History Archive Centre
Church of England Records in the London Borough of Lewisham Area



Thursday, 12 July 2018

Local History and Archives Centre -closure on Tuesday 17th July

The Local History and Archives Centre will be closed on Tuesday 17th July. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Teacher who inspired England footballer Ian Wright has died



Sydney Pigden, teacher at Turnham Junior School on the Honor Oak estate, has died aged 92. Ian Wright who played for Arsenal and England, was one of Mr Pigden’s pupils. He later credited his former teacher as “the first positive male figure” in his life. He dedicated his autobiography A Life in Football to Pigden.

Ian Wright discusses his education with Sydney Pigden on You Tube

Sydney Charles Pigden was born at Sydenham on 25 April 1922 to a humble working class family.

Although an able pupil he had to leave school aged only 14 to help out with the family finances. His parents died the next year and he later gained his school certificate by studying at evening classes.

During the war he served in the RAF as a pilot. Mentioned in dispatches, he was demobbed in 1946 as a Flying Officer.

He trained as a teacher at Wandsworth Teacher Training College and then taught at a school in Catford before moving to Turnham.

The Local History and Archives Centre has a longer, hard copy, obituary in the Subject Files which is available on request.

Monday, 2 July 2018

From Workhouse to Well-being – a short history of University Lewisham Hospital


The 70th Anniversary of the NHS is a good time to look back on the history of our local hospital University Lewisham Hospital. Did you know that the hospital first began as a workhouse?

Workhouse origins

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was a large increase in poverty. In 1834 an Act of Parliament made it compulsory for parishes to form unions, and for each union to have its own workhouse. The union covering Lewisham was called the Bermondsey Union. Workhouses were large buildings which housed the poor and destitute and were deliberately designed to be horrible places to live. Work was compulsory.  Lewisham had a workhouse at least as early as the 1740’s and a new one was built in 1817. By at least 1865, the workhouse was mainly a hospital for the old. And in 1894 a separate infirmary was built. The following year medical staff quarters were built. Friction between the Matron and the Medical Superintendent soon followed. The authorities deemed Matron had been “insubordinate” but she refused to resign and the matter continued for some time. In 1897 the infirmary opened its doors to “lunatics” (as people with mental health problems were then labelled). The Workhouse Infirmary was the building that still stands as part of Lewisham Hospital on the left-hand side of an entrance arch. You can still see the workhouse coat of arms in red and white over the archway.

University Lewisham Hospital with the workhouse coat of arms above an entrance.

 The workhouse infirmary was often used by non-resident local women as a place to give birth. From 1904 children were issued with birth certificates giving the address of 390 High Street, Lewisham with no mention of the workhouse. Other workhouses did the same.

Many UK hospitals have similar histories of being housed in part in former workhouses.


1914 until 1948

During the First World War, the Workhouse Infirmary was cleared to make way for expected wartime casualties. The hospital was then renamed Lewisham Military Hospital. It cared for officers, ranks and German POWs. One of the nurses was Sister Daisy Ankers who will be the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at Lewisham Library. 

Lewisham Military Hospital.
After the war, the hospital reverted to civilian use with new buildings being built in 1925. The workhouse continued to operate to some extent until 1929 when the site was taken over by the London County Council and became a general hospital called Lewisham Hospital. In 1932 C block was built with 163 maternity and children’s beds. In 1935, HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, opened a new wing.

An NHS institution

After the NHS began in 1948, the hospital continued to expand. In 1954 Lewisham Hospital opened a premature baby unit for 12 babies. Building started on a new Outpatients block in 1956. In 1957, Lewisham was the second hospital to introduce a staff paging system. HRH Princess Margaret opened a new Outpatients Department in 1958 built on the bomb-site of one of the ward blocks hit in World War II. In the 1960s, new operating theatres were added together with a new Special Care Baby Unit, a new Antenatal clinic and an Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU). The ITU was the first in a District General Hospital in the UK. After a new Nurses Education Centre opened in 1971, the Macmillan Team treated their first cancer patient in 1982. 1987 saw the beginning of a redevelopment of the Hospital and another  redevelopment phase began in 1992 which included a new Women and Children’s wing. The 1990s  also saw the upgrading of the A&E Department, the Ladywell unit for mental health and the granting of University status in 1997.

During this time the hospital responded to local civil emergencies by treating casualties from the 1957 Hither Green and St John’s train crashes, and the Eltham crash of 1972.

Riverside Redevelopment

In 2007 Archbishop Desmond Tutu opened the Riverside wing as part of a third redevelopment programme to replace Nightingale wards with more modern facilities. Archbishop Tutu was asked to open the building due to his ministry in the Borough in the 1970s at St Augustine’s Church, Grove Park.
Construction of the ‘S’ shaped building which weaves around the Ravensbourne river to maximise the site space, was carried out by Carillon. It was the first major NHS building to generate some of its own power using photovoltaic roof panels.

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign

In July 2012, the South London Health Care Trust responsible for running the hospital went into financial administration. A Government report that year recommended that the A&E unit should close and patients go to Woolwich instead. It also recommended that the maternity unit close. A strong and spirited local campaign quickly followed. Nobel Prize winner and Freeman of the Borough of Lewisham, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out against the move as did as Lewisham Council. 

In July 2013, the High Court ruled that the closure could not go ahead. And in October 2013, the Court of Appeal ruled that Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt had exceeded his powers as a Government Minister. He did not have the authority to make cuts at the hospital. The decision will have important effects as it affects how ministers can manage NHS finances.

In 2013, the hospital became part of the Greenwich and Lewisham NHS Trust.

The present and future

In January 2018, the Midwifery Unit Network made the birth centre a beacon site for its midwife-led birth unit. The hospital continues to provide a range of community health services in Lewisham.

As of 7 July 2018, the A&E and maternity units are still open. Jeremy Hunt remained the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with social care added to his portfolio, in January 2018, until July 2018 when he became Foreign Secretary. He was replaced by Matthew Hancock. 

Forthcoming exhibition: the Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre will present an exhibition on Sister Daisy Ankers and the Lewisham Military Hospital later this year. It will be part of the national events commemorating the First World War and women’s role in it as well as the Centenary of UK women's suffrage. 

Julie Robinson, Local Studies Librarian. Enquiries: local.studies@lewisham.gov.uk

Friday, 29 June 2018

Wondering where to find C19th prison records?




Lewisham Local History Archive Centre. Reference: A/03/44/9/1/4/51 (MC 1837)

Records of prisoners and prison staff are held in a number of different places, including The National Archives, prisons themselves and local history archives. There is no national register of prisoners. A good starting point is The National Archives research guide - 'Prisoners and prison staff'. Advice, links, tips on how to begin a search.


Another useful place to look is the website Prison History https://www.prisonhistory.org/ . The site contains information on 843 English prisons, lock ups and hulks used to confine those accused and convicted of crime between 1800 and 1899.








Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre Opening Times


Monday​*                 10am–12:45           2.15-4.45
                               Open for appointments only

Tuesday                 9.30am–12:45        2.15-5.45               
                               Drop in day (and appointments)

Wednesday            Closed​

Thursday                9.30am–12:45        2:15–5.45    
                               Drop in day (and appointments)

Friday*                   9.30am–12:45        2.15-4.45    
                               Open for appointments only

Saturday*               9.30am–12:45        2:15-4.45    
                               Open for appointments only some days

Sunday ​                 Closed

Enquiries/Appointments: *Please note that there is no counter service on these days for people who do not already have an appointment on that day. 

Contact us: local.studies@lewisham.gov.uk or 020 8314 8501. Please email if you can, as it allows us time to give you a considered answer.


Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Exhibition at Lewisham Library - Suffrage Centenary




The year marks the centenary of women gaining the right to vote. The Representation of the People Act (1918) was passed after decades of struggle and gave some women over 30 the right to vote. This exhibition explores the suffrage struggle before 1914 with particular emphasis on local links. See  a specially commissioned photograph of the suffragette banner  of the Lewisham branch of the Women’s social and Political Union. Find out about how local women such as Rosa May Billinghurst (WSPU activist) and Florence Gadesden, Headmistress of Blackheath High School for Girls, and others made history. The exhibition comes with a guide which asks open ended questions to help you explore the exhibition. Contact the Local History and Archives Centre for a talk with the Local History Librarian or the Archivist. For more, follow us on Facebook for a series of postings which has been running through the year. There is plenty to find out about.

Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre │199-201 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London SE13 6LG │ local.studies@lewisham.gov.uk │020 8314 8501 │
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