Community groups: The Ladywell Society has been a campaigning force in the village for almost 40 years, writes Robert smith, founder and first chair.
The Ladywell Village Society was formed in “Orwell’s Year”, 1984, in rather interesting circumstances! I had been fascinated by Earth Mysteries, ley lines and all aspects of ancient sites for some years.
After visiting many such places as Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Avebury and many more, and being attentive to my wife’s forbearance, we decided to look locally. I was directed to One Tree Hill, Honor Oak by a local sage: “Where the Four Winds meet!”
We took out some old maps, which covered quite a wide area and, lo and behold, I noticed in an old-fashioned script, “The Well” shown quite clearly just around the corner from where we live. By a weird coincidence, that same week the local paper carried a notice that planning permission was being sought for an industrial unit on the site.
One could see why the area needed improvement, but this was the site of the Lady Well and it needed to be commemorated there. So, in went a letter of objection and a group of local people formed to fight the application.
At the planning meeting we were met by one of our local councillors, who gave a very eloquent speech affirming what a wonderful organisation our newly formed Society was. I then had to speak from the floor.
There was no sitting at a desk with a microphone that there is now – you had to stand up, speak up and hope for the best. Fortunately, the committee said they had heard enough and deferred the application, although we had to wait until 2014 for a plaque to be erected on the site!
We then set about building up the Society. We decided that the Village community spirit was important following the oft quoted “London is a collection of villages”. We were going to foster the community spirit by focussing on our own village.
The village notice board was an early achievement with its first iteration being constructed by local shop keeper, John Board and erected in the grounds of the old stationmaster’s house, which he and his family had converted to a garden centre. We envisaged that this would make it easy to communicate with our members, i.e. just one newsletter on the board!
We gave ourselves 3 objectives:
- Investigate and promote the Village history
- Foster the Community Spirit
- With others to work to improve the environment.
Local Village Barn Dances were put on which quickly became popular and part of the social calendar. In 1988 and 1989 we held week long Ladywell Village Festivals. Looking back these were hugely varied and ambitious events involving Folk concerts, acrobatics, Morris Dancing in the street, village fayres, majorettes, marching bands, keep fit and Karate displays, talks, and far too much more to list.
But we were active in local planning matters as well and were consulted on all applications in the area and our concerns were taken account of.
We produced publications on “The Well of Our Lady”, “The Ladywell Spa” and “Ladywell Lodge”. We arranged to commemorate the site of the Mineral Spring /Spa with a maroon plaque and welcomed the mayor to unveil it.
In 1990 after the second Village Festival, I stepped back to concentrate on our young family but the Society continued. I was sad to see it drop “Village” from its name as this aspect was so crucial to our original aims. However, the village is still here and the name now emphasises that the Society covers the whole of Ladywell and its environs.
On-going activities included the campaign to save the Ladywell Lodge Green and input to the design of the Dressington Road development. The Society was successful in adding local buildings to the Statutory List of Buildings of Historical Special Architectural Interest including:
Ladywell Railway Station (1857)
The Old Fire Station (1898)
Police Station (1899)
Coroners Court (1894)
Another success was the national listing by English Heritage of Riley’s Billiard Hall (1910) on Lewisham High Street.
Advocating the setting up of the Ladywell Conservation Area in order to protect the many fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian houses is another achievement. We are fortunate to have welcomed an impressive list of speakers on a variety of subjects relating to all aspects of Ladywell.
Our meetings are attended by our local ward councilors, who have been very supportive and the society enjoys a good relationship with the Ladywell Traders’ Association and many other organisations.
There has only been space here to list the bare bones of our history and achievements, but the Society continues to be active and innovative. In partnership with Global Fusion Music and Arts, the Village Barn Dances continue and the Folk Ladywell festival is a worthy successor to the Village Festivals.
The Society is only as strong as its members and we welcome new people to our Facebook site until we are able to resume our monthly meetings in the St. Mary’s Centre. You can also see some of our recent activities on the fledgling YouTube channel: Wellof OurLady and, of course, keep an eye on the Village Noticeboard or our board in Ladywell Station.
Meanwhile, we will welcome any recollections of the early days of the Ladywell Village Society and people can contact Robert at email@example.com. Memories, photos, videos etc. can all contribute to a commemoration of 37 years of the Society and maybe a suitable celebration of 40 years in 2024!