our home has stood for almost 250 years
Originally built in 1772, the building itself is the third to have stood on the site. Originally a humble 17th century Farmhouse, of Lee Farm, similar dwellings with such close proximity to London and Greenwich Palace became popular with businessmen and courtiers alike, with many being rebuilt on a far more grandiose scale. This was the fate of the Farmhouse at Lee Farm.
The next building to stand on the site, was at least the size of the building you see before you now. Shortly before 1662, Sir John Lenthall (son of the celebrated Speaker of the House of Commons during the Civil War) would build a property so grand, that it would be divided into two separate dwellings in the early 18th century and remain so for the final 70 years of its life.
In the 1740s, a merchant named William Coleman would purchase both dwellings and live out the rest of his days. After his death in 1771, his nephew and heir Thomas Lucas inherited the property and set about demolishing it, erecting the Manor House as we know it today in its place. However, the building would not have this name until almost the turn of the century. Upon Lucas' death in 1796, the property was auctioned to a familiar character.
Sir Francis Baring, the renowned banker and MP, who was to become the majority owner of land in the Parish of Lee, took control of the property and gave it the name "The Manor House", in place of the original Manor House of Lee. This stood roughly where Lee High Road runs now, opposite to the current building.
The house would stay in the Baring family until 1901, passing through the hands of Sir Thomas Baring, the 2nd Baronet and Francis Thornhill Baring, who would later be elevated to the peerage of "Lord Northbrook". The two final tenants of the building were a banker's widow (Mrs Charlotte Dent) and a Poor Law Inspector (Harry Burrard Farnall).
Another familiar and historic local name, Henry Wolfram, took possession of the building in 1878, and gave the building its roots as an educational institution - as a Military School having moved from two prior sites in Bennett Park and West Grove in Blackheath. However, Wolfram's desire was for his pupils not to learn tactics or strategy, but Mathematics, Geography and Languages. The building was seen as a roaring success enabling the pupils to enjoy numerous sports within the grounds, such as "Lawn Tennis, Cricket and Football" (Football, of course meaning Rugby!).
In 1898, Wolfram chose to move his school Kensington, and the threat of demolishment and development was a real possibility until the Lee Board of Works were able to convince London County Council to contribute to the creation of a new public space and the upkeep of the Manor House itself.
The Board was interested in acquiring the house as offices; the total cost of the estate at the time was £9,600. Lord Northbrook made a contribution to the value of the property alone, leaving the Board to pay for the park, effectively gifting the house to the public.
In 1900, the Lee Board of Works ceased to exist, meaning their plans became irrelevant prior to the transfer of the property - though all its assets were transferred to the newly formed Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham, including the ongoing transfer of the Manor House. Lewisham had a library service and was to extend that service into Lee, with the building being offered to the Libraries Committee in 1901.
The Library was opened to the public after extensive renovations in 1902, and has remained so ever since.