Ladywell

Ladywell, Lewisham

A verdant residential locality beside the River Ravensbourne on the west side of Lewisham

Hidden London: Hilly Fields Park From Ladywell Fields

As early as 1472 a spring was recorded on the site of what is now 148 Ladywell Road. It was called Our Lady’s Well because of its supposed healing powers and was visited by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

In the 18th century the Ladywell area was sometimes called Bridge House, after a farmhouse that was the only signi­ficant structure in the vicinity.

From the 1780s small­holders enclosed strips of waste bordering Ladywell Road, often applying to the manor court for squatters’ rights and being granted 21-year leases. On the expiry of these leases the farmers became the direct tenants of the lord of the manor.

In 1830 a brick-built bridge replaced the wooden footbridge that had formerly provided the sole connection with Lewisham.

Ladywell station opened on the Mid-Kent Railway in 1857 and the Lady Well was covered over as terraced housing began to line Ladywell Road. On the far western side of the locality the Lewisham (now Ladywell) and Deptford (now Brockley) cemeteries opened in 1858. As has been pointed out, “for much of its short history the dead population of Ladywell has outnumbered the living.” Originally separated by a wall, the two cemeteries were merged in 1965.

Ladywell water tower

From the mid-1880s a cluster of municipal buildings provided various civic amenities, from a swimming bath to a coroner’s court. In 1894 the five Thames-side parishes of the Bermondsey poor law union acquired Slagrave Farm and built the huge St Olave’s workhouse, which opened amid scenes of extraordinary jubil­ation in 1900.

Part of the workhouse survives as Ladywell Lodge; the rest has been replaced by housing on Dressington Avenue, Rushey Mead and Slagrove Place, together with some council facil­ities, including the Ladywell Centre.

The workhouse’s water tower is also still standing, though it has of course been converted to resid­ential use.

Council housing was built in Ladywell after each of the world wars, but some former meadows were left open because they were liable to regular inund­ation when the Ravensbourne overflowed. These now constitute Ladywell Fields, a 46-acre park divided by the railway lines into three separate sections. The creation of weirs and levées eliminated the flooding problem and sections of the fields were taken for the creation of Ladywell Arena, on the border with Catford, and a major extension of University Hospital Lewisham.

The neigh­bourhood is well endowed with green spaces, as the satellite map below shows. In addition to Ladywell Fields (and the cemetery), Hilly Fields has been a public park since 1896, thanks largely to the efforts of the heroic Octavia Hill. The Friends of Hilly Fields website has a brief history of the park. The photo­graph at the top of this article shows a view across the rooftops of Ladywell from the northern end of Ladywell Fields to Hilly Fields.*

Ladywell leisure centre opened in 1965, in what is really Lewisham itself rather than Ladywell. It was colour­fully revamped in 2004 but has since been super­seded by the Glass Mill leisure centre, which opened in June 2013 on Loampit Vale, opposite Lewisham station. There were hopes that the old centre might be converted to a cinema but the building was quickly demol­ished and replaced by a kind of pop-up village of 24 homes on the upper floors, with an enter­prise hub, creative workspace, retail space and café at street level. The building will remain here until 2020, by which time it is hoped that a long-term plan for the site will have been developed and approved.

The residents of Ladywell ward tend to be relat­ively young and well-educated.

Henry Williamson, the celebrated author of Tarka the Otter (but who was less well regarded for his fascist connections), grew up in Eastern Road. In 1984 the Henry Williamson Society and Lewisham council placed a commemorative plaque on the house where he spent the greater part of his childhood and youth, and which is the setting for the early volumes of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight.

Postal districts: SE13, SE4 and SE6
Population: 14,515 (2011 census)
Station: Southeastern Trains (zone 3)
Further reading: Robert Smith, The Well of Our Lady, Ladywell Village Society, 1986
Website: Ladywell Village Improvement Group

 

* The picture of Hilly Fields Park from Ladywell Fields at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Loz Pycock, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence. The photo of Ladywell water tower was released into the public domain by ‘Quintus Petillius’.