“Scouting comes to the Estate”
Springbank Road forms the north-eastern boundary of the Corbett Estate, where further development eastwards was limited by the course of the railway, which had reached Hither Green in the 1860s. We don’t know exactly where Corbett got the name ‘Springbank’ from, but if the other roads are anything to go by it was probably somewhere in Scotland. One famous place it definitely wasn’t named after is the famous whisky distillery near Campbelltown on the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland: Mr Corbett was a very strict teetotaller!
Starting at Nightingale Grove near the western entrance to Hither Green Station, the road runs south east alongside the railway and merges with Hither Green Lane just before the junction with the South Circular. Corbett built houses on both sides of the road and three parades of shops around the Springbank Road entrance to Hither Green railway station. The strategic siting of these shops provided a focal point for this transport hub, where bus routes have terminated for many years.
Springbank Road in the early 1900s showing the parades of shops on both sides of the road at the old entrance to Hither Green railway station, which is set back from the road beyond the shops on the right
The Early Residents: details from the 1911 Census
According to the 1911 census returns, there were 509 occupants of 112 houses. 15 of these people were lodgers and 14 were visitors. There was an average of 4.5 people in each house and many of the houses are large and double fronted. Eleven houses had more than one household living within them, and thirteen houses had residential domestic servants. One house had seven children in the same family.
At No. 112 there were 10 people consisting of the head of the household, his wife, three daughters, two sons, their son-in-law and two grandsons. Sadly this house was later destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War, one of four areas hit by bombs in Springbank Road that were probably casualties of raids aimed at the railway to disrupt supply routes between London and the south coast.
95 out of the 112 households (84%) contained a married couple and this is representative of the whole estate which was built with families in mind. 197 of the residents were under 21 and 54% were female. The most common names for adults were William and Arthur and Elizabeth and Alice. For children, Kathleen and Hilda and Harry and Edward came top of the list. Although the most common surname was Smith, two families had delightful surnames: Percy Christmas – yes, a real Father Christmas – was a chartered accountant who lived at No. 164 with his wife Helen and their one-year-old daughter Vera. At No. 54 we find Richard Gumbleton and his mother, two sisters and a brother.
The oldest person in the street was Mrs Matilda Hawken, aged 78, whose husband James was only 66. James was one of a large number of people who worked as clerks – by far the most common occupation on the whole estate. They worked in such diverse areas as export, printing, commerce, law, stockbroking and the timber trade. Thirteen people listed their occupation as “Private means” indicating that they had sufficient wealth to be able to live without working. Other common occupations were dressmaking, millinery and drapery. Some jobs were quite unusual: Ruby Hamilton at No. 135 was a “Brass Lacqueress” and Edward Evans of No. 124 describes himself as “Explosive worker at Woolwich Arsenal”.
Many of those who came to live on the Estate were born in the London area and in Springbank Road this figure was 70%, close to the overall figure of 72% for the whole estate. One resident came from Austria, two each from France, Germany and Spain, two from South Africa and six were born in India. At No. 171 we find Miguel Coll, a hairdresser from Spain, and his wife Therese from France. Daniel McCarthy, an India Office Messenger, was born in Bermondsey and lived at No. 131 with his wife who was from Nottinghamshire; of their five children, four were born in India and the last in London. There was even an actor born in India living at No. 114.
The Scout Hall
At Nos 123 to 127 Springbank Road stands the Scout Hall which houses the 4th Lewisham Scout Group. The building opened in 1955 and was built on a wartime bomb site. The Scout movement began in 1907 and the Scout Association was formed in 1910. In 1912 the Boy Scouts Association was incorporated by Royal Charter and the Queen is its patron today. A Scout Group was formed in Hither Green in 1919, called the First Hither Green Scout Group. It was one of the earliest groups in the area, and used to meet on the site of the current Littlebourne Flats in old army barracks behind the Wesleyan Methodist Church on the corner of Hither Green Lane and Wellmeadow Road. Sadly this was destroyed in the Second World War. There’s a scouting connection to Archibald Corbett, whose son Thomas (the second Lord Rowallan) became Chief Scout of the United Kingdom in 1945.
The railway connection
In 1895 Hither Green had got its own railway station, which paved the way for Corbett to develop his new Estate. There had actually been several suggestions for the station’s location and other options that were considered were sites at the junction of Courthill Road and Lewisham High Street and at the junction of St Mildred’s Road and Brownhill Road. The station was an invaluable way of connecting the estate to the Port of London and the City where many people living on the Corbett Estate made their living. Archibald Corbett persuaded the South Eastern Railway Company to build a second, more convenient (for the new Estate), booking hall on Springbank Road and provided a loan towards the cost. He also persuaded the company to provide season tickets at a reduced cost to the new residents, which was a great sales incentive. The booking hall was finally demolished in the late 1960s, and after being used as a woodyard for many years the land was redeveloped as Saravia Court, a block of flats. You can still see the original brick pillars at both entrances, and the former station master’s house at No. 69. The community garden at the bus stop was originally part of the former station entrance.
A photograph of the old station forecourt and garden at Hither Green with the Booking Hall entrance behind it and the Stationmaster’s house in the foreground at No. 69 Springbank Road.