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Part of the work­house sur­vives as Lady­well Lodge; the rest has been replaced by hous­ing on Dress­ing­ton Avenue, Rushey Mead and Sla­grove Place, togeth­er with some coun­cil facil­i­ties, includ­ing the Lady­well Cen­tre.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