Sepia etching of a field with cows in the foreground and trees and a farmhouse in the background

This is the story of the Friern Manor Farm Estate, in East Dulwich, from the late 18th Century leading up to its development for house building in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The Estate covered some 221 acres, 89.5 hectares. It was bounded approximately by what is now Barry Road to the north, Lordship Lane to the west and a more indented eastern boundary reflecting historic field patterns flanking Peckham Rye and stretched south as far as the present Horniman Museum buildings. St Clement and St Peter Church was built on the site of the Friern Manor farmhouse, the main farm of the Estate.

For most of this period the owners lived elsewhere and used the Estate as a source of rental income and subsequently as an asset against which to secure loans. There is no evidence that the owners themselves had involvement in slavery but they did have close family ties with owners of slaves in the West Indies and a business associate who acted for slave owning families.

Ownership: The Jones Family and the Cartwrights
The history of the ownership of the Estate from the late 1700s to the purchase of the major part by the British Land Company in 1865 is detailed in an extensive extract of the Sale Agreement, which is held by the Southwark History Library on Borough High Street. The history starts with the purchase in March 1773, by Henry Jones of some 118 acres of land which included Friern Court Farm with its two barns, stables, a granary, outhouses, orchards, together with 10 fields of varying acreages. One of fields was called Ladlands, a name maintained as a block of flats at Dawson Heights. Recently, an orchard has been re-established on the site of the farmhouse, where volunteers have planted a community orchard behind the hall of St Clement and St Peter Church.

In October 1796, Henry Jones acquired from Joseph Ruse and Richard Turner a further 84 acres to the south, including Nodlings Farmhouse on Lordship Lane with 19 fields. He separately purchased a further 3 fields covering 18 acres. The total area from all three purchases forms the Friern Manor Farm Estate, which was under common ownership, but which was occupied by various tenants.

In the period from the 1770s to 1805, Henry Jones and his son, also named Henry, appear in local records. Henry Jones senior used his ownership as an investment and a source of income from rentals, mainly for the selling and servicing of annuities. His son, Henry Jones junior did spend some time at the farmhouse, then called Friern Manor Court, but after his early death his heir, his daughter, Mary Anne Jones, lived elsewhere both before and after her marriage to William Cartwright.

In 1822, at the time of their marriage, Mary Ann was a Ward of Chancery and William, a captain in the 10th “Prince of Wales Own” Hussars. He had served as a lieutenant with the regiment at the Battle of Waterloo. Mary Ann needed both the permission from the Court of Chancery and Dame Harriett Tierney, her guardian and aunt, who was married to Baron Matthew Tierney, the physician to the Prince Regent and when he became George IV. Her inheritance including the Friern Manor Farm Estate was protected against her husband becoming bankrupt, which fortunately never happened. The couple settled at Flore House, outside Northampton.

A large part of the Friern Manor Estate, some 118 acres, bounded by modern day Barry Road, Forest Hill Road, Wood Vale and Lordship Lane, were listed on the 1838 tithe map as being owned by William Cartwright and tenanted by William Blackmore Noble and John Mee. As the joint tenants of the Friern Manor Farm, they leased 90 acres of grass and 28 acres of arable land.

William Blackmore Noble was born in Rotherhithe in 1789 and joined the Royal Navy in 1803. John Mee was born in Ireland in 1790 and joined the navy the following year. Both joined as midshipmen at the age of fourteen, soon after the start of the Napoleonic Wars. They soon saw action. In early November 1805, John was serving with Sir Richard Strachan’s squadron when they pursued and captured four French ships of the line fleeing the Battle of Trafalgar. William became a lieutenant in 1809 and John achieved the same rank a year later. They probably met for the first time when their careers overlapped when William joined the HMS San Josef in November 1810, the ship on which John had been serving since June. The San Josef had been captured by Nelson in 1797 from the Spanish at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. During the period that William Noble and John Mee served on HMS San Josef, it was stationed in the western Mediterranean and was part of the Channel Fleet blockading the French ports.

After HMS San Josef, they served on different ships patrolling home waters. Then in January 1814, during the largely forgotten War of 1812, fought against the USA, they both saw active service again. John Mee transferred to HMS Tonnant, the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane off the eastern coast of the USA. In June 1814, William Noble joined the newly built 56 gun HMS Prince Regent on Lake Ontario supporting the British forces in Canada.

On 24th August 1814, Cochrane’s fleet supported the army in the capture of Washington and burning of the White House and Capitol Building. The British next began to prepare to assault Baltimore, Lieutenant Mee was present at the bombardment of Fort McHenry guarding the approach to the city, which inspired the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. In the event the attack on Baltimore was not pursued and instead the task force sailed south to attack New Orleans. The campaign ended at the Battle of New Orleans when Andrew Jackson led the American forces to a resounding victory against the British troops.

In March 1815 John Mee transferred from HMS Tonnant to HMS Narcissus but, with an end to the war with United States that same year, the Royal Navy much reduced its strength and in May 1816 he was placed on the Navy List at half-pay and retired from the Royal Navy. One year senior in rank, William Noble had retired a year earlier, serving his last 11 months on HMS Charwell in Canada. On 1st September 1818, William Noble married Esther Allen at St Leonard’s in the City of London. They had three daughters, Mary Ann born on 27th May 1819, and Maria on 27th July 1820. Both were baptized at St Leonard’s and the family was living in Newgate Street, with William’s occupation given as mariner, presumably still on half-pay. The third, Eliza Esther was baptized on 30th May 1823 in St Giles Camberwell. This time, William is recorded as a gentleman but without an address. As former ship-mates, Noble and Mee had clearly stayed in touch and perhaps had already formed a business partnership. On 5th April 1832, at St Bride’s Church, City of London, John Mee married Elizabeth Allen, Esther Noble’s sister with William listed a witness.

In 1838, William Noble is recorded as appearing as a witness at the Old Bailey in the prosecution of one of his servants, James Smith. William gives his address as parish of St Andrew, Holborn, and states that he kept a dairy farm with John Mee of Peckham Rye. It seems, John was running the farm day to day. In the 1841 census, both John and William with their wives and William’s daughters are at Friern Manor Farm. In the neighbouring lodge lived Charles Austin, dairyman, and his family. 

Newspaper reports from 1842 show that they were still running Friern Manor Farm. On 12th July 1842, James White, a 53-year-old employee, was brutally assaulted by William Webb, a fellow employee, using a billhook in the stables on the farm. John Mee gave evidence along with Mr Barnes, his foreman, and two employees, Taylor and East, at the hastily convened trial. Later that month, there was a great storm across much of London. Two of Mee’s men were mowing rye grass when they were struck by lightning. The lightning scorched the grass and burnt off the scythe handles from the blades. The men survived and speedily left the field. 

Evidence of the expansion of Noble and Mee’s business enterprise beyond Dulwich, comes in a newspaper report of a fire in Fetter Lane, Holborn, on 21st August 1843, when a terrific explosion destroyed the entire back of a house precipitating a chest of drawers and a bedstead onto the roof of the Friern Manor Farm Dairy, some 50 yards away. In 1846, Mee and Noble are listed in Kelly’s London Postal Directory as Dairymen, 1 Bartlett’s Passage, Holborn, however, the 1851 Census suggests that they had by now retired from the business. John Mee had moved to Lambeth and William Noble to Swanmore, Hampshire. Both retained their reserve naval status, eventually being made Royal Navy Commanders on the retired list. John Mee died in Ventnor on his 82nd birthday in 1872. William Blackmore Noble died in Redhill, on 16th March 1889 at the age of 99 years.

Benjamin and George Wright
In 1851, Benjamin and George Wright are listed as the occupiers of Friern Manor Farm and Trade Registers show that they have taken over and further expanded the dairy business. The brothers were from Clerkenwell and respectively 29 and 25 years old in 1851. They were two of the sons of Joseph Wright, a manufacturer and major leaser of Royal Mail coaches to operators, with up to 250 coaches leased out at one time. In 1836, Joseph obtained the contract for the London to Birmingham Royal Mail service. He realised that the days of horse drawn mail coaches were numbered and moved into the manufacture of railway coaches and wagons, setting up a large works, in 1847, at Saltley, near Birmingham, selling and leasing wagons to operating companies. So, although in their twenties, Benjamin and George had a substantial family business behind them.

In 1851, also listed as living at the farm are two maidservants, a cowshed hand, five milk carriers and a groom. Additionally, Will Steele, the cowshed foreman and his family were living at the Friern Farm Cottage. Charles Dickens mentions a Mr Wright in his glowing description of the farm, in his article, “The Cow with the Iron Tail”, in the 9th of November 1850 issue of Household Words of which he was editor. The article described the problems of the adulteration of milk sold in London. Dickens holds up Friern Manor Farm as an example of the production and supply of hygienic and pure milk. He described the farm in detail. The dairy herd contained up to 300 cows of varying breeds and types. They grazed lush grass, supplemented with mangold wurzels, turnips and even kohlrabi. This rich diet meant they each produced 18 quarts (about 19.5 litres) of milk a day. 

The workers all lived at the farm. The milking took place at night in two sessions, one at eleven o’clock and the other at one thirty in the morning. The milk was passed through several strainers, and placed in churns, barred across the top, and sealed. The milk was despatched in a van about three o’clock each morning and arrived at the Dairy, Farringdon Street, between three and four. The seals checked and taken off. Next the milk carriers, or " milkmen," all wearing the badge of Friern Farm Dairy, collected their pails, filled, fastened at top, and sealed. and away they went on their early rounds, delivering to the early breakfast-people. Late breakfasters were supplied by a second set of men. On 11 June 1853, the Illustrated London News printed a similar article extolling Friern Manor Farm husbandry practices, especially regarding hygiene and the quarantining of newly bought cows before their release into the herd and the careful disposal of manure.

In November 1851, the two brothers went their separate ways, dissolving their partnership in the farm by mutual agreement. The notice of the dissolution lists two dairies, 20 Farringdon Street in the City and 8 Charles Street off Grosvenor Square. Benjamin’s interests in the farm and Charles Street were bought by Henry Benwell. Benjamin retained some interest in the Farringdon Street dairy and George retained his interest in the Farm, managing it and supplying the two dairies. In 1857, there was a legal dispute between Benjamin Wright and Henry Benwell. Benjamin claimed that in their agreement Benwell was restricted from serving his customers within a three-mile limit of the Charles Street dairy. The judge decreed this over restrictive and proposed the restriction on deliveries only to Benjamin’s former customers. 

In September 1855, George married Anne Mary Cadwell, in Clerkenwell. In 1861, George and Anne are living at Friern Manor Farm with two servants. As in 1851, there are six milk carriers and John Legg, dairyman, and his wife lived at the Friern Farm Cottage Farming on the Friern Manor estate ended when freehold of the farm was purchased by the British Land Company in 1865 and the leasehold agreement had terminated at end of September 1867. George Wright moved to Watford and expanded the milk business still further, opening a dairy in Hornsey. This still exists and is today a pub restaurant and retains a remarkable set of sculptured wall panels depicting the activities of the farm. Even the name of the Friern Manor Farm continues to exist as a shell property company, interestingly with some property in Peckham.

On 4th December 1880, George died at Pareora, Merrow Road, Guildford. In the statutory notice for creditors, his businesses were listed as 20 Farringdon Street, City of London, 191 High Street and 20 Fairlight Terrace, both in Peckham and 64 Hanley Road, Hornsey. In October 1853, Benjamin married Anne Turton and moved to Edgbaston, to join his other brothers at the railway works, now called Joseph Wright and Sons. In 1862, the company went public, as the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd. Benjamin retired to St Leonards in Sussex and died in 1871.

Until the early 1860s, the Friern Manor Farm Estate of 206 acres (83.4 hectares) was still mainly a dairy farm with 106 acres leased to Benjamin Wright. The Crystal Palace Suburban Brick and Tile Company, however, had taken a lease of 22 acres of land for a factory in 1858 at the base of what is today known as Ladlands and Primrose Hill in Dunstans Road. A further 77 acres of the estate remained under grass though not tied by leases. A few houses had been built on the Lordship Lane end of Wood Lane and there had always been a few small properties at the north-eastern, Peckham Rye corner of the Estate. 

The British Land Company, which had already been buying up land in the area now turned its attention to the Friern Manor Farm Estate. The company had been formed in 1856 as the commercial arm of the National Permanent Mutual Benefit Building Society, known as the National Freehold Land Society. Founded in 1849 by Richard Cobden and Samuel Morley, Liberal MPs, and others, it was intended to enable men of small means to acquire freehold property, thereby gaining the vote. This noble purpose did not survive and the Society became more of a development company, buying tracts of land and selling off plots to private builders to erect houses. That would be the fate of the Friern Farm Estate,

The tenants from 1850: George Hazeldine: Coach and Van Builder
In 1851, George Hazeldine leased the southernmost part of the Estate: a square-shaped area of land now partially covered by Horniman Gardens and Museum. He was living in Brown Lodge on Wood Lane, now Woodvale, with his wife, Ann, three sons and two daughters and operated a coach and van building business in Lant Street, Southwark. The business prospered and in October 1856, he was granted a patent for an invention of "improvements in carriages requiring poles' between the horses or draught animals." In February 1857, his partnership with Thomas Matts was dissolved and he became sole proprietor. By 1861, he had moved to live in Godstone in Surrey. He died in 1862, leaving his business to his sons. The business continued until 1928, then called Hazeldine and Norton, the premises were taken over by David Sebel.

Nodlings Farm
The farmhouse stood on the east side of Lordship Lane between Barry Road and what is today Friern Road. The 1851 census shows that Robert Fielding has taken on the running of Nodlings Farm, with his wife Mary. The farm was now reduced in size to 40 acres with some of the previous acreage leased to the Wrights of Friern Manor Farm. In 1851, Robert was 60 years old. Born in Devizes, Wiltshire, he was listed in 1841 as a cow keeper, living with his wife and three daughters on the Old Kent Road. Typically, a cow keeper owned two or three cows and sold their milk very locally and kept them in stalls. He died in 1858, by which time industry was already starting in the area. 

Crystal Palace and Suburban Brick and Tile Company
On 28th March 1858, 22 acres of the Friern Farm Estate were leased to the Crystal Palace and Suburban Brick and Tile Company, (CP&SBT Co) for 21 years. The company had existed since at least February 1856 when there had been an announcement of a shareholder meeting in the Morning Advertiser. Apart from bricks and tiles, the company also manufactured drainpipes. At the new factory in 1861, Ebenezer Dawson is listed as being resident and is described as a brick and tile manufacturer. He was only 19 years old, the son of William Dawson, a brickmaker in Plumstead. His elder sister, Catherine, 28 years old, described as the housekeeper seems to be looking after him. Experienced help is at hand however, as Thomas Colman 63 years old, a brickmaker, is living next door. In 1862, the CP&SBT was cited in a patent case between Pechiné, a French industrial company and a Mr Denis. The latter had been appointed by Pechiné as their agent in the United Kingdom for a new continuous drying system. It was claimed that Denis had entered into an agreement for the English patent for the process with CP&SBT in exchange for £30,000, made up of £18,000 in cash and the remainder in shares. Pechiné had only received £800 in cash and the shares were still entered under the name of Denis. The Judge decided that Denis was not responsible for the monetary debt, but he should pay it to Pechiné in instalments as he received the money. On the shares, Denis needed to declare that he was only the trustee for them. There seem to be no public records on how the issue was resolved with the CP&SBT Co.

In August 1864, there was fraudulent behaviour by some of the brickmakers. William and Alfred Robinson and Henry, their brother, had been contracted by Dawson’s at 5s 6d per 1000 bricks, the 5s per 1000 to be paid weekly with the 6d per 1000 to be held over to the end of the contract. On 29th July, three months into the contract, Mr Colman, the foreman paid William for 24,000 bricks and Alfred for 12,000. However, it turned out they were taking bricks, already paid for, from the previous week and claiming them to be new bricks. The two men were remanded for future sentencing. On 18th June 1868, there was a major fire at the brickworks, which caused £7,000 worth of damage and sadly three horses were burnt to death.

When the lease ran out in 1879, the brickworks were sold off. The sale announcement listed the machinery as: a 12-horsepower table engine machine, a Cornish boiler, Shafting, rigger and cog wheels, iron roller, a Force pump, several Pug mills, 1600 feet of tramway metal and a 450 - foot iron tramway, and the buildings as: a large brick-built and tiled factory, 235 feet by 33 feet with stabling, an engine house, workshops, a brick chimney shaft about 130 feet high and a brick kiln.

The legacy of William Dawson, founder the Crystal Palace and Suburban Brick and Tile Company, (CP&SBT Co), would be that it would have the hill behind his works named after him.

Crystal Palace High Level Railway
In the early 1860s, the London, Chatham & Dover Railway constructed a branch line to Crystal Palace to compete with the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. On Wed 26th August 1863, they reported that their contractors had possession of all land for the line from the junction of Wood Lane and Forest Hill Road to Crystal Palace. The Line was opened on 1st August 1865. It cut off the southern fields of the Estate, now part of the Horniman Museum and Gardens and forced the realignment of Wood Lane/Vale at its junction with Lordship Lane.

The Cartwright Family
The Cartwright family, the freeholders of the Friern Manor Farm Estate, who had acquired the land and farmhouse through marriage in 1822, continued to concentrate on their own careers and civic responsibilities elsewhere. In 1846, William Cartwright became the Deputy Lieutenant of Northamptonshire. In 1856, he was appointed the first of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary, a post he held until 1869. He was the senior of three regional inspectors and responsible for the police forces in the Midlands. In 1857, he was promoted to the rank of Major General and finally in 1863 to Lieutenant General. 

Fairfax Cartwright, the elder son, had gone to Christ Church College, Oxford, and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1844. From 1845 to 1850, he was a Fellow of All Souls College. In 1848, he took up a commission of Captain in the Archduke Charles Lancers Regiment of the Austrian Army. He was possibly influenced by his uncle, Sir Thomas Cartwright who was British minister in Belgium 1830, in Frankfurt 1830-1838 and ambassador to Sweden 1838-1850. Sir Thomas had married the daughter of a German count. Fairfax stayed in the Austrian army until 1855, when he returned to Britain at the time of the Crimean War and enlisted as a Major in the British German Legion.

Aubrey, the younger son, had joined the British Army, enlisting as an officer in the First Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. In August 1848, he was at the Battle of Boem Plaats, against the Boer Voortrekkers, near Bloemfontein, in South Africa. The British won the battle but following the signing of the Sand River Convention in 1852, a Boer Republic was established north of the Vaal River. Aubrey next saw action in the Crimean War as a Captain in the Rifle Brigade. On 5th November 1854, he was shot and killed at the battle of Inkerman. He has a marble memorial plaque in Aynho parish church.

Between 1852 and 1856, Fairfax had borrowed various sums totalling some £21,000 at 4% to 5% interest, equivalent in today’s money to up to £1,500,000 using his mother Mary’s trust’s landholdings as security. In 1853, he had acted as guarantor for loans to Aubrey of £1350, some £100,000 in today’s money. On 15th November 1860, Mary died at Flore House, aged 58 years. William and Fairfax Cartwright were now jointly the owners of the Friern Manor Farm Estate.

On 18th October 1865, before finalising the sale with the British Land Company, William and Fairfax cleared the loans, which with interest due had risen to over £40,000. Two days later on 20th October 1865, William and Fairfax sold the Friern Manor Farm Estate for £64,200 to Richard Harris, the agent of the British Land Company. In today’s money this is some £5,640,000. The Cartwrights retained a small area of land at the junction of Lordship Lane and Wood Lane/Woodvale, near the Lordship Lane Railway Station, which Fairfax sold on in 1880. 

In 1868, Fairfax William Cartwright became the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire. He campaigned actively for police superannuation, a cause his father had held dear. On 2nd February 1881, he died while still a serving MP. Fairfax has his own plaque on the Aynho church wall. He had never married and the assets of this branch of the Cartwrights went to the main family at Aynho. On 5th June 1873, Lieutenant General William Cartwright died at his London home, 16 Green Street, W1. He was buried at Aynho and both the commemorative plaque in the church and his grave display a carved cavalry sword.

The British Land Company sold off the land in parcels to a number of house builders and the area developed into the residential streets of today. In 1884, work commenced on building the church of St Clement on the site of the old Friern Manor Farm. The Church was completed in 1885. The Friern name is retained with Friern Road.