South-east London as seen on Pathe newsreels

Transpontine did it a while back, and so did Caroline, and a link elsewhere led to me spending a morning delving into the British Pathe archives… which turned into almost a whole day. South-east London wasn’t always overlooked by the media, you know.

This stuff’s been online for some time now, and considering the number of errors in the accompanying text (the team behind it only had the soundtracks to rely on) perhaps these archives would benefit from a Wikipedia-style approach where we could correct it ourselves. There’s a heap of fascinating stuff there – here’s a (huge) selection. If you’re after Woolwich’s military history, Greenwich’s royal history, or old sporting fixtures from the area, there’s loads more at the British Pathe site.

pathe11914: Artillery sports at Woolwich.
1914: A Victoria Cross winner gets a hero’s reception at Deptford.
1916: Lewisham’s pride – footage of soldiers from World War I. Wonder where the street is?
1917: Queen Mary visits mothers and babies in Woolwich.
1920 “The kiddies of Deptford – for whom the Duchess of Albany is organising the great Ball at Devonshire House on April 14th.” (UPDATE: See Deptford Misc for more, thanks to Bill for researching this)
1920: Clouds of smoke from a coke fire across the Thames at North Woolwich.
1920: Top hats ahoy! Woolwich Borough Council starts work on a new housing estate. (This would be around Rochester Way, Eltham, wouldn’t it?)
1920: Homeless boys make Christmas pudding at the Cranleigh Mission, Blackheath.
1921: Anglo-French rugby at the Rectory Field, Blackheath.
1921: An open air Catholic service at Bostall Convent, Plumstead.
1921: A tank gets stuck in the Thames at Woolwich.

pathe21922: An intrepid cameraman shimmies 250 feet up a wireless mast at Kidbrooke. Unfortunately, we don’t see the view from the top, which would have been priceless.
1922: Queen Mary opens the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Samuel Street, Woolwich. It closed in 1984.
1922: Prince Henry’s there to see the British Army football team play their Belgian counterparts, presumably on Woolwich Common.
1923: At long last – Surrey beat Kent. Cricket at the Rectory Field. Kent used Blackheath FC’s home as a ground until 1972.
1923: Match footage from The Valley – Charlton Athletic v Bolton Wanderers.
1925: Policemen and firemen mince through the streets of Eltham – it’s a walking race.
1925: Messing around on motorbikes at the annual gymkhana at Woolwich. I wonder where the stadium is?
1925: An old fire pump in Welling.
1926: The All Blacks beat Blackheath at the Rectory Field – featuring their war dance.
1927: The Prince of Wales – later Edward VIII – visits Woolwich Market.
1928:Greenwich-on-sea” in a heatwave.

pathe31930:Meet the Clarke family of Blackheath, London – a father and eleven sons; a complete football team and referee!”
1930: Queen Mary opens Rachel McMillan teacher training college in Creek Road, Deptford. See a photo here.
1930: The Woolwich military tattoo.
1931: A woman in Sidcup who keeps monkeys for pets.
1934: Oh no! The Kidbrooke wireless mast is coming down! We do get to see the view this time, though.
1935: Princess Mary opens Danson Park, Bexleyheath.
1936: “Now, it’s away to The Valley, to meet the lads of Charlton Athletic” – their first season in the first division, after two consecutive promotions – and a chance to see George Tadman “bang in a hard one”.
1937: Mrs Chebby Cohen of Woolwich impersonates a little girl and plays with the neighbourhood children. A little odd.
1937: Celebrations! Bexley becomes a borough – with “the biggest crowds Bexley has ever seen”.
1936: More from The Valley – this winter, keep your eye on Charlton Athletic!”. Legendary manager Jimmy Seed gets his magnetic board out and outlines his plan for success at “Charlton Ath-er-letic”.
1938: Football again! Charlton beat Millwall 1-0 at The Den in a charity game, with 27,745 watching.
1938: Mr J H O Bunge wants to dam the Thames at Woolwich.

1938: A 36-ton boiler falls off a lorry and crashes into a Woolwich off-licence.
pathe61938: Air minister Kingsley Wood sees barrage balloons at Kidbrooke, and gets three cheers for his troubles.
1940: Footage of Chislehurst and Petts Wood.
1940: Fitness wins! Physical jerks at The Valley – followed by Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Straighten up there!
1941: An RAF parade at Kidbrooke.
1942: Mr Woolley of Eltham shows off his model of the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship.
1946: A school for barmaids at the Dover Castle, Deptford.
1947: Their proudest moment – Charlton win the FA Cup.
1947: Bexley’s teenage mayoress.
1948: Cooks on parade for Christmas at Woolwich Barracks.
1948: Making propellers at Stone’s foundry in Charlton.
1948: A mobile fish and chip shop is a big hit in Sidcup.
1948: A “silent butler” to help busy housewives is unveiled in Hither Green.
1949: “Daredevil cockney kids” use a New Cross bomb site as a speedway track.
1949: : An FA XI takes on an Army XI at The Valley.
1949: “Plumstead Plumber” Bill Painter climbs Eros in a trilby.

pathe41950: Some of the last hop-pickers set off from London Bridge.
1952: How Fred Fellingham from Charlton was at the forefront of hen technology.
1952: London’s last tram arrives in New Cross from Woolwich.
1954: The sparkling new Kidbrooke school for girls – Britain’s first comprehensive – is unveiled. A contrast from the rotten state it was in when I did an A-level there in the early 1990s.
1954: Goalkeeper Sam Bartram celebrates 500 league games at Charlton.
1954: The Cutty Sark sails into Greenwich for the last time.
1955: Vintage cars leave Kidbrooke RAF base on a jaunt to Hastings.

1956: Checking out weights and measures in Lewisham market.
pathe71956: Canoe-making in Eltham and Welling.
1956: The Camberwell Beauty butterfly is released in Greenwich Park.
1956: Artists gather at the Yacht pub, Greenwich, to paint Thames-side scenes. I didn’t realise the Yacht was 300 years old – or did Pathe get it confused with the Trafalgar Tavern, which is old but hasn’t always been a pub?
1957: Blackheath’s “house of tomorrow” – is this the Cator Estate?
1957: It’s the Lewisham North by-election – and some great shots of the high street. I wonder where that ornate old town hall was?
1957: The Lewisham rail disaster. The “temporary” replacement bridge erected after the crash remains.
1957: Midwife Elsie Walkerdine retires after bringing 4,000 Deptford babies into the world.
1957: Footage of a dim-looking Blackwall Tunnel.
1958: Charlton-based artist and sculptor Russell Gammage lets Pathe see him at work.
1958: Clive Lloyd, 11, of Bexley, shows off his private zoo. Wonder if he picked up his monkeys from the lady in Sidcup?
1959: A Charlton factory – presumably Stone’s – demonstrates a new kind of ship propeller.
1959: Afghan hounds race at New Cross dog track.
1959: Children from Earl Rise primary school, Plumstead, head off to school camp.

pathe81960: A star-packed circus on Blackheath.
1960: Fanny Cradock holds a “cockney party” in Blackheath.
1960: A very busy looking Woolwich Foot Tunnel (which had been open for many years, contrary to the blurb).
1961: “Four blocks of flats, 14 storeys high, is one practical way the Woolwich Borough Council is celebrating its diamond jubilee.” Princess Margaret opens Frances Street high-rises (part of the soundtrack was recently used in this sneery ad for sausages). Also features the infamous Autostacker car park, which didn’t actually work and had to be pulled down.
1962: Meet pop star Marty Wilde’s mum – living in Blackheath in a house bought by her son. I think Marty Wilde – father of Kim – was brought up in Greenwich.

1965: Fascinating clip from a debate I can’t imagine people being open-minded enough to have now. Is Kidbrooke School too big?
pathe51966: The new Woolwich Ferry terminals open.
1966: A butterfly farm at Bexley.
1967: The aftermath of the Hither Green train disaster.
1967: The second Blackwall Tunnel opens – and work starts on the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach.
1968: The Gipsy Moth arrives at Greenwich – by road from Woolwich – where it stayed until 2004. It’s now sailing again.
1969: This is my favourite – camels and bingo at The Valley.
1969: Early footage of Thamesmead.
1970: Meet Plumstead clergyman Barry Wright – also a policeman in Woolwich.
1970: Woolwich beats Maggie Thatcher – milk snatcher. Bit baffled by this as Greenwich was a Conservative council in 1970, but you can see where a generation of local TV news reporter got their style from.
1970: Protesters in Eltham demand the building of the Dover Radial road – finally opened in the 1980s as the Rochester Way Relief Road.

(See also Time Out Big Smoke and Londonist. Title frames are copyright British Pathe, of course.)


  1. Interesting that the Hither Green crash clip mentions the ‘Caravelle crash’ and a ‘black weekend’ – this was a Spanish plane flying into Heathrow that hit a hill in Sussex. Remarkably little known now, despite a well known actress dying in it. Naturally Pathe covered it:

    Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees was on the train that derailed at Hither Green.

  2. It’s an incredible-looking building, isn’t it? How did it get knocked down?

    The Hither Green footage was the only one out of those that I hadn’t stopped to really look at – it’s really haunting footage. I guess these days camera crews are kept well back.

  3. They are interesting – well worth you spending the day finding them. A few comments:

    Lewisham Train Crash – much the worst. They’ve just put a plaque up, haven’t they? I was told the bridge was made up of whatever steel parts could be put together quickly from lots of different firms and assembled by Redpath Brown (site more or less under the Millennium Village)

    Woolwich milk – that’s John Cartwright – he must have been Labour Group Leader. Or he might have still been Agent then. I don’t remember his hair being that black though. I’m sure he was blondish.

    Marty Wilde’s Mum – I was always told she was the lady in the launderette which then was in the shop which is now the dry cleaner at the end of Humber Road.

    Stone’s propellers – I think I’ve got an article which goes with those pix.

    Kidbrooke School – there was a story out on the web that the school hall was built of the remains of the Dome of Discovery. It isn’t true – (I found I actually knew the man who was engineer on the Dome and he said ‘no’) but as the result of that I looked through their books of press cuttings and the Kidbrooke School architect was Asian and it was designed earlier than the Dome (of Discovery).

    Eltham Protestors – I’m sure there are some recognisable faces there. I thought those demonstrations were linked to lead in petrol – but perhaps that was later.

    love the pix though.
    (draw a veil over the autostacker)

  4. I realised I skipped watching both rail crashes – you can only imagine the impact of the Lewisham newsreel on the big screen. There’s a plaque on the ticket office at the DLR level – an underwhelming memorial, really. Especially after seeing that footage.

    Marty Wilde’s mum makes sense, because I’m sure I was told he was brought up in the big terraces on Woolwich Road close to Halstow Road.

    There’s a few other odd things around but I fell prey to putting most up other than ceremonial occasions. But you could lose whole days looking at this stuff – there’s a fascinating one about Oxford Circus Tube station being rebuilt when the Victoria Line was under construction.

    But there’s plenty of factual errors, though – reminders that many people complaining about journalistic standards and “d*mb*ng d*wn” are often just imagining a golden age.

  5. Great post
    re 1925 Motorbike clip. The stadium is the Valley, compare to 1923 footage of Charlton v Bolton.
    Just look at the crowds on the ‘East Terrace’ and remember the closure of the terrace for ‘health & safety’ reasons before a friendly against Liverpool in the 80s.

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  8. I went to Woodhill JM&I school and was one of the few lucky ones to go up and see Princess Margaret opening the flats in Samuel Street. I lived at the top of the hill, just opposite the first block of flats. I would’ve been 10 in May 1961. I remember (I’m fairly sure) that her outfit was yellow and she was lovely.

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