Verdant Lane

“A River Runs Through it”


When the part of Hither Green Lane south of Brownhill Road was renamed in 1907 it became Verdant Lane.   Before the Corbett estate was developed, the lane ran through fields alongside a small tributary of the river Quaggy.  This stream now runs northwest in a culvert underneath the pavement on the eastern side of the road, crosses the South Circular road at the traffic lights by the railway bridge and runs along the railway embankment until it disappears underneath it.  It surfaces on the eastern side of the railway but is no longer visible.

Verdant Lane in 1920 showing the east side which was not yet developed and the ditch of the river behind the fence

The lane itself forms part of the eastern boundary of the Corbett Estate, which starts with Springbank Road and runs southwards as far as the south-east corner of the estate where Verdant Lane joins Hazelbank Road.  During Corbett’s development, houses were built on the western side of the road only, and this was towards the very end of the development period in 1910.  They have even numbers starting with No.4 (No. 2 was added in recent years). The houses with odd numbers were built on the east side of the road at a later date, on land not owned by Archibald Corbett.

The dairy on the corner of Verdant Lane and Sandhurst Road in the early 20th century

At the time of the 1911 census there were 97 houses, including a small row of six shops at Nos 86 to 96 which are still there.  Most of the houses are single-fronted three-bedroom houses which are the amongst the smallest type on the Corbett estate. Some houses have the characteristic keystones above the front doors and plaster mouldings around the windows, but the lower numbers show a different model, some with keystones above the windows and some with decorative wood or metalwork arches above the porches.

The Early Residents: details from the 1911 Census

In these 97 houses there were 418 people on the night of the 1911 census.  54% of these were female and 37% were children under the age of 12.  The average occupancy per house was 4.31 which was typical of other roads in the area, although the Carr family who lived at No. 178 had nine children bringing the total in that household to eleven people.  James and Anna Carr had four sons (aged 21, 9, 7 and 1) and five daughters (aged 19, 17, 16, 14 and 12).  The eldest son James was at London University. The two eldest daughters, Dorothy and Elsie, worked as clerks, Lucy was helping her mother (presumably to run the house and to look after little Alec) and Gladys and Constance were at school, as were Albert and Alan.

Only one house contained more than one household, and 10% of the heads of household were female. There were 6 visitors staying over and three lodgers and twelve servants living in: these relatively low numbers of lodgers and servants compared with other streets indicate the relatively small size of the houses in Verdant Lane.

The census reveals that 70% of the people living here were born within the area which we now define as Greater London.  Two people are described as being residents of other countries: Frank Ray No. 30 was a “Brazil resident” whose wife was born in Peckham – how and where did they meet?  William Shultz of No. 72 was a commercial traveller who was a “US of America resident” and his wife was born in Glasgow.  Emily Sills, a domestic servant who lived and worked at No. 42, was born in Bermuda.  The oldest person in the street was Elizabeth Newman, a widow aged 87 who lived at No. 104 with her widowed daughter and two grandchildren. The most unusual surname in the street belongs to 20-year old Miss Maude Mugfur, a single young lady who was visiting the Randall family at No. 160 at the time; their son was 22, so maybe she was his girlfriend? A close runner up in my view is another lovely name – Mrs Maud Middleweck, a widow living at No 98 with her parents, Joseph and Eleanor Pettinger.

Most of those in work were employed as clerks or servants, or in tailoring, drapery, dressmaking and millinery.  Clerks worked in banking, insurance, shipping, shops, manufacturing and an ironworks. There were a few professional people (engineers, an architect, a headmaster, a ship’s draughtsman, a music teacher, a pianoforte tuner and a jeweller) and various tradespeople (trade perfumer, fruit salesman, waitress, electrician, waistcoat maker and tea taster and buyer).  The most unusual occupations were a diamond mounter and a retired umbrella maker.  The diamond mounter was Charles Behmber, aged 27, who was born in Paris and lived with his widowed mother and elder brother Henri at No. 46.  Since their mother was born in Westminster, it seems fair to assume that she went to live in Paris when she married her French husband and returned to London after his death.  The Dallas family at No. 52 were a married couple with three children. John Dallas, the father, was a musical instrument maker and their elder son Sidney was a music teacher.

It was common practice at this time for children to be named after their parents, especially the eldest son of daughter, and in this street containing 98 households there are 21 instances.  10 of these are mother and daughter combinations and 11 are father and son.  The most common names for parents were Alice, Mary, Emily and Emma, and William, John and Henry.

Shops on the Corbett Estate

Verdant Lane is one of five streets which had a parade of shops built as an integral part of the original St Germans Estate.  There were 48 different shops in the shopping parades in Ardgowan Road, Muirkirk Road, Torridon Road, Springbank Road and Verdant Lane, and several more in nearby Sangley Road.  Foodstuff providers accounted for many of these: 5 bakers, 2 butchers, 3 dairymen, a fishmonger, 9 grocers, 5 greengrocers and a tea dealer. Others consisted of a boot repairer, a chemist, 3 tobacconists, 3 hairdressers, a newsagent 2, drapers, an estate agent, a watch and clock repairer and 2 confectioners.

Despite this array of shops, many people did not need to go out for most of their daily requirements because traders sent round carts with various provisions on a regular basis.  Harry Sutton, who lived on the estate for many years, says in his memoirs that “no housewife needed to visit the shops for daily necessities, and shopkeepers were her humble and obedient servants.”  He mentions the hot-roll boy who came round at 7.30 each morning, and the muffin man who sold crumpets and muffins for tea at about 5pm each day and carried these on a tray on his head.  Each morning the baker came round, and the milkman came twice a day in a chariot-style vehicle with a large shining brass churn, from which he filled an oval container inside which hung a half-pint pewter measure which he used to ladle the milk into the jugs brought out from the houses.  The grocer and the butcher came after breakfast to take orders which were delivered later that day by a box tricycle or a horse-drawn cabriolet.  Three times a week the greengrocer called carrying seasonal produce in display baskets.  Apart from the regulars, many other merchants called round, shouting out their wares, including water-cress sellers, coal merchants, chimney sweeps and haberdashers, along with gypsies and beggars.

The Parade, Hither Green Lane