Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Robert Gloag was a generous benefactor to St Stephen’s Church in Walworth and served there as the People’s Churchwarden until ill health forced him to retire from the role. He died in 1891 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Past the railway bridge, there are two houses on the south side of Queen’s Road bearing blue plaques, both connected to the medical profession. At 142 Queen's Road, a plaque commemorates Dr Innes Pearse and Dr George Scott Williamson who opened the Pioneer Health Centre at this address.
Queen’s Road crosses the boundary between the boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham. It continues from the end of Peckham High Street and ends in an area once called Hatcham, now better known as New Cross Gate. The road was named in 1866 to honour Queen Victoria who often travelled along the road on her way to the Royal Naval School at New Cross (now the site of Goldsmith’s, University of London). Before then, it was known as Deptford Lane.
Old postcards show the road was dominated by the very tall spire of Peckham Methodist church located on the corner of Woods Road. The Methodists’ first place of worship in Peckham was Providence Hall in Harders Road and seated about 60 worshippers. This was replaced in 1834 by a small but substantial chapel in Stafford Street. It was surrounded by fields and gardens but as more houses were built and the population increased, it was necessary to add a gallery to the Chapel to accommodate the enlarged congregation. By 1862, the congregation had increased to 3,000 and it was decided to replace the chapel with the new building and its Shard-like spire, described by Pevsner as a “monstrously ugly building.”
The building suffered severe damage during World War II and although renovation work was carried out, the church was a victim of an arson attack and the decision once again was made to rebuild. The new church in Woods Road is a smaller and more discreet building and opened in 1974. The landmark church on Queens Road was demolished in 1972 and replaced by flats.
Opposite the new church was Messrs Gloag & Co, the UK’s first cigarette factory. Since Sir Walter Raleigh had introduced tobacco to Britain at the end of the 16th century, it had been smoked in pipes. The custom of smoking cigarettes is thought to have begun when Napoleon’s soldiers, fighting in Egypt, had lost their pipes and someone came up with the idea of rolling tobacco between pieces of fine Indian paper used for gunpowder spills. Several years later, Robert Peacock Gloag serving in the Crimean War as a paymaster to Turkey, an ally of the British, noticed soldiers smoking tobacco in this way, in particular it was most popular with Russian soldiers
He left the Crimea before the end of the war, taking with him back to the UK a large amount of Turkish tobacco and set up a cigarette factory. The sources are inconsistent where this first factory was, some say it was in Queen’s Road, Peckham, other sources state it was in Boyson Road, Walworth. Either way, from the advertisement shown to the right, it is clear he had premises in Queen’s Road in 1866. He originally employed three local girls to make the cigarettes by hand. Gloag’s original cigarettes were longer and thinner than today’s cigarettes, with the tobacco stuffed into cardboard tubes. Gloag had noticed how smokers liked to chew on their pipe so inserted a cherry wood tip at the end with a hole drilled through it. The first cigarettes he sold were called ‘Sweet Threes’ as there were three of them wrapped in a little packed and sold for a halfpenny. Later brands he introduced were ‘Little Tom Thumb’, the ‘Straight Cut, and ‘Forest Gems’. After only a few years, he had a workforce of 150, each making about 260 cigarettes an hour.
The doctors met at the Royal Free Hospital where they both worked during the 1920s. They both had a commitment to health and well-being that centred around the family with an emphasis on good ante-natal care, social interaction and preventative measures. They opened their first centre in Queen’s Road in 1926 in a house that operated as a club with a small membership fee. Peckham was chosen as it had a mixed demographic for their study with no mass unemployment. The only conditions of joining were that the whole family had to join and that members underwent a regular 'health overhaul. Also called “The Peckham Experiment” the Centre was in a sense a
laboratory where members were studied, an experiment which in the words of Dr George Scott Williamson was to “study health, find out what makes health”, the outcome of which was to achieve “positive health”.
The centre in Queen’s Road premises closed after three years. After raising the funding privately the Pioneer Health Centre opened in 1935 just around the corner in St Mary's Road in a building designed by Owen Williams.
Further east along Queen’s Road, a plaque has been awarded at no. 164 to honour Dr Harold Moody, general practitioner and pioneer in race relations in the United Kingdom. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1882 to a devout Congregationalist family. His father was a retail chemist and Harold himself originally trained to be a pharmacist. In 1904 he travelled to London to study medicine at King’s College and upon graduation was refused employment in a hospital due to the colour of his skin. He set up his own practice in 1913 in King’s Road, Peckham (now King’s Grove) and moved to the house in Queen’s Road in 1922 where he both lived and saw patients. He married Olive Mable Tranter, a white nurse, whom he met at The Royal Eye Hospital, in 1913. They had six children. See more here
A little further east just after crossing into Lewisham is New Cross Fire Station. Built in 1893 by the London County Council in the chateau style, it is a pleasant contrast to the more utilitarian fire stations built today and a bit of a surprise to learn it is still a functioning fire station. “New Cross was the command centre of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s ‘D’ Division, and the station was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman, eight married and eight unmarried firemen, as well as two coachmen and stabling for four horses. The equipment comprised one steam-powered and one manual appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (in its own shed in the station yard) and four fire escapes.
“A major upgrade took place in July 1912, when the Waller Road range was remodelled and enlarged to form self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman and flats for additional married officers. A sliding pole was installed to give quick access to the engine room, which was expanded to incorporate the now redundant stable block. In 1958 the two original appliance bays were increased to three, and the openings widened and remodelled.” The building is Grade II listed.
On the opposite side of the road is the Hatcham Liberal Club, one of the few remaining visible signs remaining that this area was once called Hatcham. The building known dates from around 1884 and, despite its name, was not associated with the Liberal Party. It grew spontaneously, the result of a group of Radical railwayman who used to meet in a public house to discuss politics and who in the late 1870s decided to form their own working men’s club. It ran a varied programme of political meetings, talks and lectures, as well as entertainment and social events. Sidney Webb gave a lecture at the Club entitled “Socialism” in 1887 and it was the venue of the last performance music hall performer Hannah Chaplin, mother of Charlie.
The village of Hatcham was recorded in the Domesday book as having 11 households comprising 9 villagers and 2 smallholders and with land for three ploughlands. It had six acres of meadow and sufficient woodland for three pigs. The value was assessed as £2 and the taxable value as three geld units. The manor was acquired by the Haberdashers’ Company in 1614. The 1873 Ordnance Survey map shows 2 large houses at the very easterly end of Queen’s Road, one named Hatcham Manor House and the other named Hatcham Grove House. These houses were demolished not long after and Waller, Erlanger and Pepys roads laid out leading off Queen’s Road.
A short way to the east from the junction with Queen’s Road, New Cross, was already an established community, from at least 1675, named after the New Cross Inn. A tollgate was erected outside the inn at the beginning of the 18th century but moved a little further west to where Queen’s Road (then Deptford Lane) met New Cross Road leading from Old Kent Road. It was probably then that the area became known as New Cross Gate and the use of the name Hatcham gradually faded. The New Cross Tollgate was dismantled in 1865 but one of the two railway stations was renamed New Cross Gate in 1923 and the area’s new name became firmly fixed.