Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries and a local historian, reveals the stories of some of the people – the rich and famous as well as tA he poor and long forgotten – who had links with our neighbourhood
Sir Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) poet, short story writer, and novelist. Charlton-born Walter worked for the Anglo-American Oil company, before becoming a full-time writer publishing his first collection of poetry, pseudonymously, Songs of Childhood in 1902.
In addition to publishing more than a thousand poems, culminating with The Traveller (1945) and Winged Chariot (1951), considered by many – among them T. S. Eliot, his editor at Faber Publishing – to be his finest poems, he published novels, including Memoirs of a Midget (1921), short stories, drama, stories for children and literary criticism.
He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1953. His ashes are buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, where he had once been a choirboy. Walter’s family lived for a time at 57 Brookbank Road having moved from nearby Forest Hill around 1887.
Gordon Brock Bridgman (1882-1971) Architect. The son of Architect and Surveyor, Henry Hewitt Bridgman (d.1898) , who was dubbed ‘The Commissioner of Sewers’, G.B. Bridgman’s eponymous local connection is that of having Gordonbrock road ( and the adjoining primary school ) named after him.
This happened during the rapid urban expansion of the area in the 1880’s. There was some wry consternation at the time from borough worthies at some of the street names proposed for the developing area near to Brockley grove remembering family off spring of local builders and surveyors!
G.B. Bridgman went on to design numerous impressive buildings in the Sudan and he died in Majorca. Photographs of many of his works are now held in Durham University Archives.
Octavia Hill (1838-1912) Social Reformer. Octavia was a pioneering social reformer and one of the founders of the National Trust. Her tireless commitment to improving urban housing and protecting green spaces, led her to campaign to prevent Hilly Fields being developed in the late nineteenth century.
The Dedication to the Public of Hilly Fields, by Sir Arthur Arnold, Chairman of the Council, took place on Saturday, 16th May, 1896. modern day wayfarers who cherish and use this wonderful local green space can perhaps offer her an appreciative thought when they ‘soak up the value of abundant good air’.
Two other local literary figures who reference Hilly Fields in their writings were the children’s author, Edith Nesbit, who mentions it in her 1913 non-fiction book Wings and the Child and Poet, Artist and Soldier (David Jones d.1974) whose fond boyhood recollections of walking to Hilly Fields from nearby Brockley, found later rich literary inspiration in his poem The Tutelar of the Place. He is buried in Ladywell cemetery and a commemorative maroon plaque was unveiled in 2015 at his childhood address in Arabin road.
Reverend Canon George Holden Butt (1832-1915). George who was born in Dulwich, was the son of the Reverend Phelps John Butt. For many years he was the resident priest living at George Town, Demerara, British Guiana (Guyana). His two sons were killed in the First World War. One of George’s brothers was Sir Charles Parker Butt (1830-1892) who was a correspondent for the ‘Times’ at Constantinople and who in 1886 was the ‘floundering’ Judge in the case of Crawford v. Crawford which was among the first Victorian divorce cases to involve a well-known English politician Sir Charles Dilke. George lived for a time in Vicars Hill, Ladywell. The family grave is in Ladywell cemetery.
Violet Gladys Tyler (d.1997) Diarist. Violet’s occupation was described as that of an office worker. She started to write her diaries before the Second World War. These were later handed onto Lewisham Local History and Archive centre after her death in 1997. She lived at 25 Ladywell Road in the 1930s and 1940s with her parents and worked in an office at Maltina Bakeries, Webber Street, Blackfriars Road. There are numerous references to World War II in the later diaries, and throughout many comments on leisure pursuits, such as attending the cinema and the state of the weather. Her grave is in Ladywell cemetery.