STEER, ABRAHAM (1831 – 1894)
Abraham Steer was born at Bourne St Mary, Devon in 1831. In June 1841 he was living with his brother, an agricultural labourer, in Morchard Bishop, Devon. By March 1851 he had become a farm hand to William Luxton a farmer of Brushford, Somerset. Late in 1855 he married Susan Gibbings, a local servant girl of Morchard Bishop in Exeter.
Amazingly by the census of 1861 they were both living in Belgravia, Middlesex, where their first four children were born and by 1863 they had moved to Norwood, where they had a further three children. In 1891 they were living at 26 The Crescent on part of the South Norwood Park Estate that was being constructed by Steer.
At some point after their move to London Steer became an ambitious and speculative builder. He began with a massive capital of £250, £23,000 at today’s rates. It is unclear how he found this sum having been a farm labourer married to a domestic servant! He was certainly building houses by 1859 as one of his brick layers labourers died after scaffolding collapsed on a building site near London Road, Croydon. An inquest delivered a verdict of “accidental death”. (Fatal Accident, 1859).
Steer was a Freemason being a member of the South Norwood Lodge from 1866 – 1887 and then of the Abbey Lodge from 1887 until 1909. He was initiated into the South Norwood Lodge on the 20th December 1866. The South Norwood Lodge met from 1866 until 1869 at the Goat House Hotel, Penge Road, then at the public hall in Station Road, South Norwood until 1887 and thereafter at The Pavilion, South Norwood Park. The Pavilion was part of Steer’s development of sporting facilities in the grounds of South Norwood Lake for the private use of the residents of his development South Norwood Park. Croydon Council purchased the grounds in 1933 and they were then made available to the general public.
In 1868 Steer applied for a licence to sell liquor at the Freemasons’ Tavern, Penge Road, South Norwood. The licence was refused on the grounds that there were insufficient inhabitants in the neighbourhood. (Licence Applications, 1868). At that time Steer and his family were living in the Lodge, currently 11 Lancaster Road, of the South Norwood Park Estate and it was reported in court that he had built 111 houses locally as well as the tavern. A licence was granted a year later when Steer handed it to a publican to run the tavern.
His building enterprises extended from South Norwood to The City of London, Westminster, Kensington, Walworth, Camberwell and Sutton. (Roud, 2012).
Steer was declared bankrupt on a number of occasions throughout his career as a builder; firstly in 1878 when he was trading as a brick maker, and a stove, grate and chimney-piece manufacturer. His debts at that time were declared as £60,000 some five million pounds in today’s values! Unfortunately he was again declared bankrupt in 1893 at which time he owed £247,000 (£22 million)! (Another Big Smash, 1893). Steer was in court again the following year with further debts and “insufficient” books. The failure was attributed to the depreciation in property values following the “Liberator” crash, partly the fault of Morell Theobald of the Firs South Norwood Hill and the Australian Bank crisis (Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser., 1894).
Steer and George Newberry of South Norwood were summoned for illegally taking goods to cover the claimed failure to pay rent on one of Steer’s properties. They were found guilty and it was ordered that they should return the seized goods. (Croydon Police Court, 1875).
In March 1877 Steer was summoned for being on the premises of the Freemasons’ Tavern during prohibited hours without lawful excuse. He was found guilty and fined 5s with 13s costs. (Croydon Petty Sessions, 1877). Yet little more than a year later in August 1878 Steer was a member of The Grand Jury at Croydon Quarter Sessions. (Croydon General Quarter Sessions, 1878).
Their son Francis (1866-1886) was killed on the 26th of October 1886 in a shooting accident by the accidental discharge of a gun by John Ball near Kingsclere near Basingstoke.
Steer was accosted by “Lazy Drunken Beggars” according to a report in November 1888. They behaved in a “very disorderly manner” outside Steer’s house.
In 1891Steer was committed for trial for allegedly making a forcible entry into premises he owned in order to evict a tenant. (Court Proceedings, 1891).
Abraham Steer passed away in 1894 at the age of 64 shortly after the failure, for the third time, of his building business.