27: The historic road setts of Lamerton and Albury Streets in Deptford aka ‘Lewisham! Leave those setts alone!’

27: The historic road setts of Lamerton and Albury Streets in Deptford aka ‘Lewisham! Leave those setts alone!’

This post was originally just about how beautiful are the swirling granite setts of Albury and Lamerton Streets in Deptford. But then I saw they are under threat threat of ‘tidying’! So what was once just going be a homage became an historical investigation and a plea!

Albury Street as Cross Fields Lane in 1761
https://biblio.unibe.ch/web-apps/maps/zoomify.php?pic=Ryh_1813_22.jpg&col=ryh

First some history: Albury Street is one of the oldest streets in Deptford. It first appears on Roques 1761 map as Cross Field Lane, as Union Street in 1868, Creek Road in 1894 and Albury Street by 1914. Numbers 13-45, and 34-40 are mainly all listed 11* and dated as “early 18thC” by Historic England. [1] And just north and parallel to Albury is Lamerton St, not quite as old as Albury but mapped as Bridge Row in 1830 and Queen Street in 1895.

Albury Street, then Union Street on the Greenwood of 1830
Harvard University, Harvard Map Collection, G5754_L7_1830_G7_Stitched

Old Deptford History has serialised the 1979 thesis on Albury Street of local architectural historian, writer and photographer Anthony Prosper Quiney. “Dr. Quiney is Professor Emeritus of Architectural History at the University of Greenwich, and a fellow (and former president) of the Society of Antiquaries of London” [2]

Dr Quiney states “These houses are among the few survivors in the whole of London from the first two decades of the eighteenth century and although the gaps in their ranks are to be regretted, the four houses on the south side of the street and the longer series on the north must be seen as one of the most important treasures architecturally and historically among domestic buildings in London.” [3]

Dr Quiney also notes that “The construction of the road was rather primitive being made of gravel and dentre stone, or drainage channel running done the middle of the street. The roadside was paved with Purbeck Stone and posts were set up to keep off the carts” but this is clearly no longer the case and showing that the setts, not surprisingly, are not original to the street. [4] [5] [6]

So we have two streets, one early 18thC and one that appears in the 19thC, but they both have paving that I would suggest is 19thC.

Note this 19thC access cover also has a random pattern, again suggesting the pattern is 19thC.

And the setts in both streets have the same swirling pattern that is both very unusual, and in my opinion stunning! Most street setts are laid in rows, either as identical cubes or as graded sizes of rectangular setts. Sometimes setts are laid in fans or even circles. Random swirling patterns as here are, as I say, unusual. Check out Tony McCormack’s fantastic Paving Expert website which nails what setts are and how they have historically been laid! [7] [8]

Lamerton Street looking west to Deptford High Street: The kerbing I think is new. The setts and pattern, and the gutter, 19thC.

Albury and Lamerton streets are in the London Borough of Lewisham, in the Evelyn Ward, and Lewisham has rightly included these streets in the St Pauls Conservation Area and rightly and specifically noted the importance of the street surfaces in a consultation / appraisal for a management plan, which is great, stating: [9] [10]

“10.3 Albury Street is one of the oldest streets in Deptford and hosts some of its most handsome buildings. These buildings date from the early Georgian period and their historic and architectural interest is reflected in their designation at Grade II and Grade II* listed.”

“Albury Street, formerly Union Street, was laid out in 1705 by a local bricklayer, Thomas Lucas. Lucas developed the street between 1705 and 1715, constructing around forty houses, many of which survive today. “

“10.3.3 – Historic street materials survive along the length of the Lamerton Street, Albury Street and Mary Ann Buildings, adding significantly to the character;”

So, all good! But… then the document suggests:
12.5.1 – “a list of projects that could be undertaken subject to funding being obtained, in order to enhance the Conservation Area, and public appreciation and enjoyment of it” including:
“A programme of repair and improvement to the streetscape of Albury Street, including relaying the granite setts and removing street clutter in order to reinforce the historic character of the street and the setting of its exceptional listed buildings.”

AND again in 12.8.1 – “Albury Street, with its early 18th century terraces, is one of the most historically and architecturally important in the Borough, and indeed in London. The streetscape contains some historic materials but the granite setts are laid randomly, not in the neat, regular patterns used historically (for durability and for effective drainage); they have either been taken up and re-laid badly, or brought from elsewhere in the relatively recent past”

I think this suggestion re the setts is big mistake, and hope that as this appraisal is a discussion document that someone else has spotting this and inputted already or that my input here will help.

Why is it a big mistake in my opinion?

Firstly, the setts as they are, are unusual if not unique in their pattern! I personally have not to my recollection seen patterns like this anywhere else in London. There are 100s of streets in London with “granite setts … laid … in the neat, regular patterns”.

Secondly, I think the pattern is stunning, swirlingly beautiful! Like a Roman mosaic!
So on aesthetics alone, please, Lewisham, leave them alone! 😀

Thirdly, I do not believe they have ” … been taken up and re-laid badly, or brought from elsewhere in the relatively recent past”. I think this is illustrated by that there is wearing on some of the gutter stones at the east end of Lamerton Street, on the north side, which looks very like wearing from the iron rimmed wheels of carts, suggesting they have been in place for at least 100 years. While this does not discount the setts themselves having been ripped up and re-laid, it makes it unlikely.

East end and north side of Lamerton Street. .. with what appears very much to be cart wheel marks clearly visible
Close up of what appear to be wear marks from iron rimmed cart wheels at Lamerton Street

Fourthly, studying old photographs going back to the 1950s, it is clear that the setts are then in the same pattern. It seems extremely unlikely, for streets that were, and had been, semi-derelict for many decades, that the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford [11] would have bothered to tear up both roads and relay them in such an unusual pattern. The older photos don’t help that much as streets were covered in a layer of horse dung!

Albury Street in 1906. Looks like the setts are random not in rows, but the horse dung may disguise that.
I think that is the pub sign of the King of Prussia on the far left.
https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2009/11/albury-street-formerly-union-street.html
Again looks like a swirly, random not rowed pattern though as you can see it would have had a coating of horse dung! https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2009/11/albury-street-looking-east.html
Albury Street in the 1950s with the swirling setts now clearly evident.
https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2011_11_27_archive.html
In this picture here of Albury Street from the 1960s it’s clear the setts are in their current ‘random’ pattern
https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2009/11/albury-street-looking-east-in-60s.html
And again here.
https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2009/11/albury-street-looking-east-in-60s.html
The same view as the 1950s photo, but now in the 1970s, again showing the ‘random pattern’ of the setts and that tragically a row of the early 18thC houses have been demolished. Actually I think this maybe older than the 2 1960s photos above which show the road having been dug up. https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2012/04/albury-street-1970s.html

I don’t think the Albury (or Lamerton Street) setts are from the early 18thC when the street was laid out, like I think nearby Upper Watergate Street is [12], which would have been amazing, and I think early 18thC setts would be more likely to be Purbeck [ as seen outside the Dog and Bell on Prince Street ] or some other limestone, so in terms of their age and origin the setts look like a standard mix of 19thC granites. See my last post for more details [13]. But that they are not identical cubes and that they have this beautiful random swirly mosaic pattern makes me think these are earlier rather than later 19thC. and that as they are clearly unique, and while repairs to them from previous road works would be good, for Lewisham Council to rip them up and relay them ” .. in the neat, regular patterns” would simply be vandalism.

The setts in Mary Ann Buildings/Gardens look a similar date but laid in rows. I didn’t have a good look at them but from Google they just look like standard granite rectangular setts.

Lewisham do need however to do some repairs and the two pictures below show how the swirly pattern has been damaged by road works. That damage could certainly be remedied.

Great to see though that the document suggests including Comet Place into the Conservation Area, purely on it’s street surface!
“12.1.3 Extension 1: Comet Place (the carriageway) … Comet Place, including the alleyway passing ‘The Granary’ that links the street with Douglas Way to the north, is a rare survival of historic granite setted street surface that warrants conservation.”

East end of Albury Street looking west. I think the pattern here has been damaged by repeated road works.
The Cornish granite gutter and edging looks very 19thC.
You can see here where a utility company here has laid setts back in a rowed pattern and how bad it looks in comparison.
And in detail: This recent job looks awful! The historic random pattern is less random than it appears and I suspect hard to replicate.

Postscript: John Gast

At number, 4,6 or 8, depending on the date, Albury Road stood the King of Prussia (post 1914 the King of Belgium) pub which seems to have closed in the 1920s. [14] And it was was run by John Gast [15] at some point in the late 18thC or early 19thC. John Gast was one one of the most important working class radicals in the early 19thC in Britain, setting up a ship workers trade union, a working class friendly society and a workers newspaper. The great historian E.P. Thompson in his seminal “Making of the English Working Classes” dedicates several pages to Gast who he regards as ” … one of the three truly impressive trade union leaders who emerged in these early years. ” High praise indeed! [16 [17]

https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2017/07/the-king-of-prussia-king-of-belgium_2.html

The brilliant Old Deptford History website writes of him here “… John Gast (1772-1837) was a shipwright by trade who worked in the Deptford shipyards in south-east London (though he was also associated with neighbouring Rotherhithe, where he lived for a time at 14 Lucas Street), and an early trade unionist. Having unsuccessfully tried to found a labour organisation during the 1790s, he helped organise the ‘Hearts of Oak Benefit Society’ during a shipwrights’ strike in 1802 and was advocating workers’ rights in radical pamphlets such as Calumny Defeated, or A Complete Vindication of the Conduct of the Working Shipwrights, during the late Disputes with their Employers (1802). Having been involved with regional efforts to build trade unions (notably the Metropolitan Trades Committee), in 1822 Gast formed a ‘Committee of the Useful Classes’, sometimes described as an early national trades council, and in 1824 he was the first secretary of the ‘Thames Shipwrights Provident Union’. Gast also promoted an inter-union organisation: ‘The Philanthropic Hercules’. In 1825, the Combination Acts were repealed. Employers were furious and lobbied for the Acts’ restoration, prompting the emergence of workers’ movements to resist such steps; Gast founded the first Trades Newspaper as part of this resistance. In 1836, Gast was a member of the London Working Men’s Association, some of whose members drafted the core six points of the People’s Charter (the principles at the heart of the Chartist movement). He was also a dissenting preacher and ran the King of Prussia public house at 6 Union Street (now Albury Street), Deptford. ” [18]

You can read more about Gast in ‘Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth Century London: John Gast and His Times’ by Iorwerth .J. Prothero [19] [20]

And a note for the Left. Be like John Gast. Take over the pubs. Should have done that decades ago but it may not be too late.

‘Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth Century London: John Gast and His Times’ by Iorwerth .J. Prothero [19] [20]
Detail of certificate of the Heart of Oak Society of 1894 set up by John Gast 50 years earlier. https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co65171/the-hearts-of-oak-society-print-chromolithograph

References:
[1] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1358938?section=official-listing
[2] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2010/11/history-of-albury-street-deptford.html
[3] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2012/01/history-of-albury-street-final-part.html
[4] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2010/11/history-of-albury-street-part-1.html
[5] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2011/01/history-of-albury-street-part-3.html
[6] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2011/05/part-5.html
[7] https://www.pavingexpert.com/setts01
[8] https://www.pavingexpert.com/setts06
[9] https://consultation.lewisham.gov.uk/planning/deptford-high-street-and-st-pauls-ca/supporting_documents/draft%20Appraisal%20%20Deptford%20High%20Street%20and%20St%20Pauls%20Church%20CAA.pdf
[10] https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/planning/conservation/conservation-areas/deptford-high-street-and-st-paul-s-conservation-area
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Borough_of_Deptford
[12] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/12/12/21-upper-watergate-street-the-oldest-street-surface-in-london/
[13] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/12/30/22-granite-setts-at-the-middlesex-and-essex-filter-beds/
[14] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2017/07/the-king-of-prussia-king-of-belgium_2.html
[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gast_(activist)
[16] https://uncomradelybehaviour.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/thompson-ep-the-making-of-the-english-working-class.pdf
[17] https://libcom.org/library/making-english-working-class-ep-thompson
[18] https://www.olddeptfordhistory.com/2010/09/building-layout-change-from-union-st-to.html
[19] https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30875207757
[20] https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/mono/10.4324/9780203080047/artisans-politics-early-nineteenth-century-london-routledge-revivals-iorwerth-prothero?

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