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  • Writer's pictureCarol Harris

Forest to Farm

1875-76 by Gustav Pope
Three daughters of King Lear

In Tudor times, the woods which had for centuries dominated the local landscape were still thriving and supplying timber for, among others, Henry VIII's dockyards at Deptford. Farms were thriving too: by the sixteenth century, a house called Forest Place was the main residence locally, and a settlement of houses and farms around a green evolved in the vicinity of the Brockley Jack public house over the next 200 years.

There's an intriguing and somewhat oblique reference to events which involved a local family in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Bryan Annesley, a highly-placed courtier of Queen Elizabeth, was a wealthy Kentishman with three daughters: Grace (married to Sir John Wildgoose), Christian (the wife of William, 3rd Baron Sandys), and the youngest, the unmarried Cordell. In 1603, Grace and her husband, with the support of Christian, tried to have her ageing father declared ‘a lunatic’ and therefore incompetent to manage his estate. Cordell wrote to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, opposing her sisters’ plans and in support of her father. When Brian Annesley died in July 1604, Cordell Annesley successfully defended her father's last will and testament, which left most of the family property to her.

Shakespeare fans may think this all sounds a little too similar to 'King Lear' for coincidence and that may well be the case. Then as now, writers took contemporary issues as the basis for plots, not least because awareness of current scandals would make the play more interesting to the potential playgoing public.

Title page of the First Quarto edition, Shakespeare's King Lear 1608

Another play, called King Leir, was performed at the Stationers' Company in 1594. Both it and Shakespeare’s versions drew on the legend of the ancient Brythonic king Leir of Britain, and were in print by 1606. Spoiler alert/interesting difference: the King Leir version has a happy ending. Cordell and Cordelia are obviously similar names to Shakespeare’s heroine, although Goneril and Regan are nothing like Grace and Christian. Christian is the interesting daughter for the Crofton Park story as her inheritance, Brockley Farm House (or Forest Place, as it was known then), was most likely an earlier building on the site of Brockley Hall.

So if you live in Brockley Hall Road, you are on that very site.

This blog is a short extract from an article by Carol Harris in the current edition of the Lewisham History Journal (no. 26 2018), published by the Lewisham Local History Society.

Carol will be talking about shops, industries and businesses around the Brockley Road at the next meeting of the society, in, 'What We'll Do for Two Shillings' at 7.30pm on Friday 25th January 2019. Mike will be speaking to the society at its February meeting, when he will present the results of his new research into 'The Blitz on Crofton Park'.

Details for both talks:

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