Sunday, 19 September 2010

From the archives: Carrington House


When Thankfull Sturdee published a book of Deptford history in 1895, Brookmill Road was still known as Mill Lane and was something of a problem. Despite its rather quiet appearance in Sturdee's photograph, the lane was an overcrowded and disorderly slum. Within a decade, it would have been demolished and Carrington House built in its place.

Carrington House, a former lodging house in Deptford, tells us a lot about the problems facing social reformers in London. I've already mentioned it as the residence of murderer Albert Stratton. It was built on Mill Lane (Brookmill Road) to replace an area of slums and lodging-houses, notorious for their use by criminals and prostitutes. Other local residents included itinerant labourers and beggars; as well as crime, overcrowding was a real problem. Unfortunately, the development of social housing here was hampered by squabbling between official bodies. The London County Council demolished about 50 houses on Mill Lane at the end of the nineteenth century; eight were lodging houses. The law required half of the former residents to be rehoused. How to do that was the topic of protracted arguments between the LCC and Greenwich Board of Works. Carrington House was the LCC's favoured option, while the local Board of Works preferred small cottages for families. The latter were built alongside the lodging house, and named Sylva Cottages. Both completed in 1903, they certainly offer a contrast in scale:

The lodging house was a new departure for the LCC, who had borrowed the idea from six 'Rowton Houses' created by philanthropist Lord Rowton to provide cheap accommodation to working men. The LCC building was named after Lord Carrington, chairman of the LCC's Housing of the Working Classes Committee, and officially opened by the Countess Carrington. Each of the 800 men it could accommodate had their own cubicle to sleep in, and there were also common rooms. Photographs in Harvard University Library show a dining room, reading room and smoking room, all large, tiled spaces with parquet flooring and huge windows, furnished with long tables and benches. The 'lavatory' was a room of bare pipework and rows of washbasins. Despite this careful copying of the Rowton Houses, some early residents soon returned to the nearest Rowton House saying it was 'more homely, more comfortable and warmer'. The LCC's version would never be as popular as the originals. During the First World War, Carrington House was home to refugees. The British Journal of Nursing reported in 1914 that
A large new establishment for the reception of refugees has just been opened at Carrington House, Deptford, and Miss Ravenor, a sister at Chelsea Infirmary, is acting as Matron. Miss Barton has also supplied nurses. The House can accommodate 800. Nurses engaged in the care of refugees are doing invaluable work at the present time.
By the 1920s, the building was once more a lodging house (the LCC's largest). A contributor to Age Exchange's Library of Experience remembers its residents pouring the contents of their pots over the fascist Moseley and his supporters as they marched down the road before the war. In sad contrast, its inhabitants in 1949 included a number of black seamen who faced a racist mob on 18 July. Carrying knives in self-defence, they rather than their 600 attackers were arrested. Today, the lodging house has been converted into flats and renamed Mereton Mansions.

2 comments:

Hels said...

Edwardians really wanted to clear up the crowded and nasty slum areas. So I say well done them, even if they could only place half the former residents. Where did the other half go, do we know?

But two issues in social housing that don't seem to have been resolved, even 100 years later:
1. large scale developments like these lodging-houses for working men Vs small cottages for families and
2. demarcation disputes between official bodies.

Deptford Dame said...

The pictures in the Harvard library are fascinating - I had never imagined this building as some kind of institution, only ever thought of it as flats.

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