Grand Surrey Canal Route

Above: Part of Cary’s map of 1837 showing the route of the canal along with part of the Croydon Canal. [CLICK ON THE MAP TO ENLARGE]

London still has few canals in existence – like the Regent’s Canal in north London – but there have been others which were dug and became fully operational, only to fall into disuse and then be filled in. One example is the Grand Surrey Canal, whose proposers wanted it to convey goods by water from the Thames into the middle of Surrey, with the distant hope that the canal might bypass the whole of the SE of England and eventually lead to Portsmouth. It was intended to build a canal following a route via Deptford, Peckham and Camberwell. From there, the route was to link Clapham, Croydon and Kingston to Ewell and Epsom. It was intended to aid the transport of market produce.

There is no harm in dreaming. In fact, the canal never went further west than Camberwell Road – a distance of about four miles from its start beside the Thames. A look at the map makes you wonder why the canal was cut across the land starting where it did. A shorter canal would have resulted if the entrance had been from the banks of the Thames nearer Deptford. The history books do not explain why the start was chosen further north.

Before describing the route of the canal, it should be explained that the Surrey Commercial Docks have played their part in the canal’s history. The first dock built on the large expanse of land that became known as the Surrey Commercial Docks was what is now known as Greenland Dock (labelled No 1 on the map). As time went by, most of the land between the banks of the Thames and Deptford Lower Road (now called Lower Road) and Plough Lane (now called Plough Way) was occupied by docks. The docks were gradually filled in from the 1970s onwards and only a few of them remain to be seen today.

The Route

Each of the labelled points on the map is described. They are followed by a paragraph explaining what evidence for the canal remains today –

Start – The entrance to the Grand Surrey Canal from the Thames is shown on the above map and marked ‘Start’. The first part of the canal was relatively wide and was at a later date enlarged to become Stave Dock and Russia Dock.

Today, the land that became Stave Dock and Russia Dock was filled in during the 1980s and is now parkland. It is almost impossible to work out where the canal originally ran.

Greenland Dock – After continuing further south, the canal passed the western side of Greenland Dock (labelled on the map as ‘No 1’). About 1900 Greenland Dock was rebuilt and its length was nearly doubled. From that time onwards the Grand Surrey Canal started from the south side of the newly built Greenland Dock.

Today, Greenland Dock is used as a marina and a sailing amenity. A ‘notch’ in the southern side of Greenland Dock, now used as a beach, indicates where the canal once led south from the dock.

Evelyn Street – The canal on the map is shown continuing south and turning through 90 degrees to run under what is now called Evelyn Street. It ran almost due west, passing a large canal reservoir called Black Horse Pond, taking its name from a nearby pub called the Black Horse.

Today, the route of the canal can easily be traced because some of it is a linear park and the path west of Evelyn Street follows the line of the original towpath. Further west, the line of the canal became a new thoroughfare called Surrey Canal Road.

Old Kent Road – The canal is shown running in a curve – which was beside a large gas works – before passing under Old Kent Road. Canal Bridge on the Old Kent Road was a well-known bottle-neck right up to the 1980s, even though the canal had ceased to be used. The road today is a six-lane highway, three lanes in each direction.

Today, the route on the western side of Old Kent Road is still in existence. There is talk [as of 2019] by Southwark Council to establish a footpath on the line of the old canal. If the new footpath came into existence it could link up with the eastern end of Burgess Park which is known as Surrey Linear Canal Path.

End – For all the brave talk of crossing southern England, the canal continued west but led no further than wharves on the east side of Camberwell Road.

Today, the westernmost route of the canal is well signposted, crossing land that is now part of the extensive Burgess Park.

Peckham Arm – From Old Kent Road, a short arm was constructed, travelling south for about half a mile, ending at Peckham High Street.

Today, the entire length of the old Peckham Arm is now a narrow park called Surrey Linear Canal Path.

Brief History of the Canal

The Grand Surrey Canal Act was passed 21 May 1801. Construction was started by the Grand Surrey Canal Company. Timber (supplying many timber yards along the canal’s route), coal (supplying a gas-works beside Old Kent Road), stone (for road-making), bricks and tiles were some of the main commodities carried. The canal opened as far as the Old Kent Road in 1807, to Camberwell in 1810, and to Peckham in 1826. Once the Grand Surrey Canal was completed as far as New Cross, it was joined by the Croydon Canal in 1809.

In 1864 the early docks near the start of the Grand Surrey Canal were combined and called the ‘Surrey Commercial Docks’. The Surrey Commercial Dock Company was formed which took over docks on the Surrey side of the Thames. The canal, of course, crossed that land.

The Grand Surrey Canal was never a financial success because it was too short to be effective. Looking back, it was probably the transport of timber from the docks to timber yards beside the canal that was the most enduring commodity transported. Coal for the gas-works at the Old Kent Road probably came second in importance. The demise of the canal came with the gradual closure of the Surrey Commercial Docks from the 1970s onwards. Gas-works were changed over from using coal to storing North Sea gas supplies.

Most of the canal was drained and large sections were filled in. The resulting land was used for container storage and by companies who ran businesses like lorry transport. Some of the land was used for housing and one section became a new thoroughfare called Surrey Canal Road. By the 1980s large parts of Camberwell which had traditionally been occupied by small factory units started to close down and much of the land around the western end of the canal was developed into a large park. The idea for Burgess Park was conceived after the Second World War when the need for more green space in Camberwell was recognised. The park was formed over several decades by buying up land left vacant by the factory units and gradually connecting up the pieces of land with landscaping and other features including a large lake.

Several small roads crossed the canal, some with humpback bridges. Wells Road had such a bridge – near the old St George’s church. Trafalgar Avenue had a similar bridge which has also been removed. Further south is a rather more ornate and graceful iron bridge that once carried Willowbrook Road over the Peckham Arm of the canal.

When Burgess Park was being laid out, the planners were mindful of the canal’s route. A footbridge remains standing in its original position, now in the park, along with several other reminders of the old canal.


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Joiner Street Bridge

Above: The girders of the bridge above Joiner Street. The rest of Joiner Street is under brick arches.

The rebuilding of London Bridge Station, which was completed in 2018, was an amazing achievement. The ‘small army’ of skilled engineers required for the work not only rebuilt the station with all its tracks but all the work was done while trains were still arriving and departing, serving the needs of the many passengers who use it. When we say that the station was rebuilt, that is true, but several historic features remaining from the older station were also retained. Once the rebuilding was complete, those historic features were carefully cleaned and restored. One of the historic features was a girder bridge which formed part of the old station. It may be that you have never noticed it but it is looking splendid now that it has been renovated and repainted. There is a new plaque on the high wall of Joiner Street, with the South Eastern Railway insignia on it. The plaque will help to draw attention to the restored girders above it.

The new station concourse is now at ground level, situated between Tooley Street and St Thomas Street. The platforms and railway tracks are above ground level because all the tracks approaching the station are also above ground level, carried on brick arches. The station opened in 1836 as a terminus but in the 1860s an additional brick viaduct was constructed beside Tooley Street which crossed Borough High Street. Trains via Deptford and New Cross could then stop at new platforms at London Bridge Station before travelling west, ending at Charing Cross Station and Cannon Street Station. The work was completed in time for its opening in 1864.

Above: A detailed view of one end of one girder showing its intricate design.

In those days, three roads ran under the station platforms – Joiner Street, Stainer Street and Weston Street. Joiner Street is still in existence but it is now used only by pedestrians on their way to London Bridge Underground Station. The northern end of Joiner Street forms a T-junction with Tooley Street and Duke Street Hill. At that point, the railway above is supported by large girders. Until recent times, the girders were black, covered with decades of grime and soot. Hardly any details of the intricate metal-work could be seen. Due to the recent rebuilding plan, restoration has been carried out on the girders and the results are well worth looking at.

Known as Joiner Street Bridge, it was designed by Peter William Barlow and constructed about 1849 using girders. It is an early and unusual example of the use of Warren bridge girders, patented in 1848 by James Warren and Willoughby Monzani. The unusual aspect is the use of cast iron for the top and diagonal members, together with wrought iron plate chain links for the lower horizontal members. The span is about 60 feet (18 m). To the south of the bridge, the rest of Joiner Street is encased in brick arches which still support the approach roads to the station.

When Joiner Street Bridge had been completed, vast quantities of bricks were required for the additional brick arches over Joiner Street and, with limited space to store the bricks, most of them were stacked on the new bridge itself. The stacked bricks amounted to greater weight than the bridge was intended to bear. All of a sudden, on Saturday morning 19 October 1850, whilst a number of pedestrians and several vehicles were passing under the span, a noise was heard that sounded like a cannon being discharged. The noise was so loud that the pedestrians panicked and ran for their lives. The immense weight of the bricks on the arch caused some of the cross-stays to split. Miraculously, there were no reports of anyone being injured. Peter Barlow was called in to assess the cause and he found that the workmen building the brick arches had stacked about 120 tons of bricks on one girder alone. The girder could have carried such a weight if it had been evenly distributed but not all in one place. It is a tribute to the design of the girder that it carried such a weight which was far in excess of what was needed in normal operation.

An enquiry followed and a ‘careful examination’ of the girder bridge was ordered. It was carried out by two independent engineers who just happened to be no less than ‘Sir John Rennie and Mr Brunel’ – two of the most eminent men of their day. The findings were that the bridge was correctly designed but that the excessive weight of bricks had caused the disaster.

Above: View looking east along Tooley Street from the footbridge over Duke Street Hill. The old Joiner Street is on the left and one girder of the railway bridge can just be seen above what is now a pedestrianised area leading to the underground station.

Even though in later years, the bridge has had to carry much heavier trains than the designer could ever have imagined, this remarkable bridge is still in working order today – over 150 years after being constructed. When you are next in the western part of Tooley Street, surely the least you can do is to take a good look at it.


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London Bridge Station New Pillars

Above: View of the concourse standing below platforms 11 and 12, looking west. Notice that the round supporting pillar on the left is shorter than the one to the right of the large V-shaped support girder.

There are a large number of features to observe at the newly redeveloped London Bridge Station. With so many new things to observe, it is probably best to do them one by one. The new concrete pillars are a case in point.

The old terminus was a complicated affair. Instead of all the platforms being at the same level and in a straight line, they were clustered in groups. There was a simple reason for that. The original terminus opened in 1836 with just two platforms because only two railway lines then existed. They were the ‘up’ line and the ‘down’ line of the London and Greenwich Railway which ran on a brick-arched viaduct via Deptford Station, ending at Greenwich Station. Over the years, additional termini were opened at London Bridge, operated by other railway companies. Later still, additional railway lines were added for ‘through’ trains, on their way to Central London termini at Cannon Street and Charing Cross.

By about 1900 London Bridge Station was a jumble of platforms which were all interconnected by ramps and stairs for the benefit of passengers who wanted to change from one train to another. That state of affairs continued for another hundred years – until recent times – when it was decided that a rebuild was the only possible solution. The greatest problem was that the station – the fourth busiest in Britain – had to remain open and fully operational during the rebuilding. About 48 million passengers use the station each year which required very careful management of spaces for the work to be carried out.

As has already been mentioned, all the railway tracks approaching London Bridge Station run on brick arches. This means that the whole station is not at ‘ground level’ but high above the streets. If you remember the endless narrow stairs linking platforms on the old station you are well aware that not all platforms were at the same level. Grimshaw Architects, who were responsible for the new design, decided on an unusual solution to the problem of track levels. The old station was entered from where the buses stand which, of course, was not at ground level either – being at the level of the platforms.

The new solution was to return to ground level and have the main concourse with access from the roads on either side of the station – Tooley Street and St Thomas Street. In addition, there is also an entrance from the level where the buses stand. The new main concourse is level and is completely flat. Access to the platforms above is by escalators and by lifts. So far, so good. However, the platforms 1 to 9 are all at the same height above the ground. The remaining platforms 10 to 15 are all at the same height as each other but they are at a different height from the low-numbered platforms.

To create the large open concourse at ground level, the old Victorian brick arches had to be removed and modern concrete pillars were installed to support the tracks and provide space for passengers to move around the new concourse. From what has been said, with a level concourse, the escalators to platforms 1 to 9 are much longer than those conveying passengers to platforms 10 to 15. This also applies to the lift shafts and, similarly, it applies to the supporting concrete pillars. The design has been so skilful that few people ever notice that the elegant round concrete pillars are actually of two different heights. Due to the perspective, as you look across the concourse in the top picture, the differing heights of the pillars are not immediately obvious.

Platforms 1 to 9 are used for ‘through’ trains connecting with Charing Cross Station, Blackfriars Station and Cannon Street Station. Platforms 10 to 15 are used by trains terminating at London Bridge Station. The two sections of the station are divided from each other by a large concrete wall which means that when you stand on a platform you cannot see that some platforms are higher than others. It is only the pillars on the concourse that indicate the variation in the heights of the platforms above.


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China Hall pub, Lower Road

Above: Looking NW at the pub beside Lower Road.

Leading SE from the large roundabout which connects with Jamaica Road and Rotherhithe Tunnel is the rather uninteresting Lower Road. Lower Road extends from the roundabout to the awkward junction with Bestwood Street, where the continuation is known as Evelyn Street. Part of Lower Road (just west of Surrey Quays Underground Station) runs beside Southwark Park and on the opposite side of the road is a pub called the China Hall. The pub closed in 2018. Nobody wanted it to close, least of all the landlord, but it had been acquired by an offshore property company and they had plans to redevelop the site. Pubs are closing in London at an alarming rate and this has become one more casualty. Before it is swept away completely, its history should be told.

The pub stands at 114 Lower Road. It is of modest size but there has been a hostelry of some sort since the first one was established in 1719. The 18th-century publicans did all they could to attract people to their establishments. In the case of the China Hall, there was a theatre on-site by 1777. It stood next door and is believed to have seated about 500 people. It was used to stage plays and musical concerts. Various Shakespearian plays were also staged at the theatre, including Richard III. It had a short life because it burned down in the winter of 1779. However, another theatre was later built in its place.

The site of the theatre is thought to have become tea-gardens, with the usual arbours and ‘boxes’ during the Victorian period. By the 1920s most of the gardens had been absorbed into the Surrey Commercial Docks in the form of an extensive timber yard.

The building continued as a local pub until about 2018 when, after a spirited campaign by the locals to save their pub and support the landlord and his wife, the pub closed and is unlikely to be reopened.

Above: The pub sign, photographed in 2005.

The original hostelry on the site was given various names before it became the ‘China Hall’. How that name arose has never been explained. Part of the pub’s land was taken over by the Surrey Commercial Docks whose boundary once ran close to the building. The pub sign in 2005, which is still on the building today, predictably portrays two sailors walking past a Chinese gentleman against a background of ship’s rigging. There were plenty of ships in the nearby Surrey Docks which, until the 19th century, would have been sailing ships. Whether the pub ever had any connection with the docks – or with China – is doubtful. The Surrey Docks received imports from all over the world, not especially from China. The docks were mainly receiving timber from the Baltic and from Canada.

Another curious fact, mentioned in some accounts of the pub is that the location was visited by Samuel Pepys. Since the generally agreed date of it being established is 1719, this would seem to be ‘stretching a point’ because by that date Pepys had been dead for more than 10 years! Pepys often mentioned Rotherhithe in his diary but it is unlikely that he visited this location. Edward Walford – in his ‘Old and New London’ – also mentions the same fact stating that ‘Our old friend Pepys mentions going to China Hall, but gives us no further particulars’. It could be that there was some other establishment on the site or nearby at the time of Pepys. It is known that, during the later years of the life of Pepys, the site was occupied by a warehouse of a paper manufacturer.

What is known for certain is that when today’s Rotherhithe New Road was laid out it was at first called China Hall Road so the pub must have been an important local landmark at the time. Rotherhithe New Road is some distance to the south of the pub. It was laid out about 1870 to connect the Old Kent Road to the Surrey Docks at a period when Rotherhithe was expanding.

It is always sad when one of London’s old pubs closes. This one, in particular, has a known history of nearly 300 years. When the China Hall becomes a thing of the past, its name will live on in the form of another place name – the entrance to Southwark Park in Lower Road, on the opposite side of the road – which has always been known as ‘China Hall Gate’.


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Stairs (Water)

Above: Wapping Old Stairs, leading to the river from Wapping High Street. They are on the west side of Oliver’s Wharf. The stairs and causeway are a good example of water stairs beside the Thames.

This is one of the Categories listed with a ‘4-‘ on the Know Your London Website, meaning that it is one of the many ‘Subjects’ that are cross-referenced in the blogs.

Until the 19th century, water stairs were a common sight on the banks of the Thames. In fact, they were vital to the way that the river was used. They were once to be found, spaced about 100 yards apart, along the entire length of the Thames in what is now Inner London. Most of the sides of the Thames were embanked – making it impossible to get access to the river at high tide or to access the beach when the tide was out. Cut into the embankments were flights of stone stairs (or sometimes wooden ones) so that those working beside the Thames could easily access boats moored on the Thames at high tide or to the beach when the tide was out.

In addition, members of the public who wished to be rowed across the Thames or ferried to another location on the river would use the stairs to board a rowing boat (usually called a wherry). If the tide was out, the beach was often muddy and stone causeways led from the foot of the stairs for passengers to walk out to the waiting boats. The use of ferries for passengers died out in Victorian times. Due to the strong tides on the Thames, the causeways have gradually been eroded. Many are now in a very poor state of repair and only a small number are to be seen at low tide today.

Above: Part of John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing water stairs to the east of the Tower of London. Few of the stairs exist today but those that do act as a ‘marker’ on the Thames to the past.

The thing that makes these water stairs so important in the 21st century is that they exist at all. When so many of the buildings that once stood beside the Thames have been demolished, little remains to enable those interested in its history to know where the buildings once stood. Because the water stairs are still in existence (even if they are now in a very poor state) they provide points of reference on an otherwise featureless riverfront. The stairs can be found on old maps of the Thames, like John Rocque’s map, for example.

During the 1980s and 1990s, large stretches of the river bank were ‘improved’ by renewing the river-wall. It was the time when the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was working to develop the Docklands area of London. Warehouses were demolished and large featureless blocks of modern apartments or rows of houses were erected. The obliteration of the history of the riverside continued on a similarly large scale in Greenwich in the 2010s. With the 19th and 20th century way of life almost completely ‘air-brushed’ out of existence. One of the features that have been retained are the water stairs. Although no longer needed for practical purposes, the stairs are not part of the land on which the apartments stand and so they cannot be removed. They now form a useful link to the past – as well as marking some of the once well-known features on the river.


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Deptford Creek Lifting Bridge

Above: Looking north at the south side of the bridge and Deptford Creek.

One of the most unusual features of the old London and Greenwich Railway was the lifting bridge constructed to carry the two tracks over Deptford Creek. The entire railway was constructed on a viaduct, nearly three miles in length, made up of brick arches. Being on a viaduct, the arches were high enough to allow for traffic using the existing roads to pass underneath. The brick arches over roads are still serviceable today. The viaduct also had to cross the Grand Surrey Canal where extra-wide arches were constructed. Although the canal has been filled in, those arches are still in use. The most challenging part of building the railway line was where the lines passed over Deptford Creek, which is the northernmost part of the River Ravensbourne.

Constructing a bridge over Deptford Creek would have presented no problems if had been built of brick arches. However, the Creek is tidal and, at high tide, it is relatively deep. It is also quite wide which means that Thames sailing barges could use the Creek, proceeding as far south as Deptford Bridge. Such barges have a tall mainmast and, because they had been using the Creek for several centuries, they had right of way over trains using the new railway route. Any bridge crossing the Creek was required to be either a swing bridge or a lifting bridge. For a swing bridge at the height of the viaduct, there would have been considerable problems with its construction. A lifting bridge was, therefore, decided on – to raise the rail section above the height of a high-masted vessel. This proved to be rather complicated and, therefore, it held up the completion of the railway line to Greenwich Station. The London and Greenwich Railway ran from London Bridge Station to Deptford Station in December 1836 but the line over Deptford Creek to Greenwich Station was not completed until 24 December 1838.

The First Lifting Bridge

The lifting bridge over Deptford Creek was made of iron and had a central section that also carried the two railway lines. In order to open the bridge, bolts had to be removed from the fish-plates securing the two railway lines so that the bridge section could be raised high enough for a sailing barge to pass underneath. The bridge was then lowered and the bolts securing the movable part of the track were replaced. It was completed by November 1838, consisting of a complex system of pulleys and chains, sliding rods and counterweights, which needed eight strong men to operate it. Three blasts on a train whistle had to be sounded before it was crossed.

The whole procedure to lift the bridge probably took between 30 minutes and an hour to complete, maybe longer if a problem was encountered. When a passenger travelled down to Greenwich Station from London, it was quite usual to consult a tide table because train services from London Bridge Station could be seriously disrupted around high tide on Deptford Creek. Similarly, if somebody was meeting a passenger from a train at Greenwich, they faced a long uncertain wait for delayed trains if the bridge over the Creek was lifted.

The requirement to lift the bridge was enshrined in an Act of Parliament. Any failure on the part of the railway, or its staff, to raise the bridge in a prompt and timely manner was a criminal offence. The Act was not abolished until the 1980s.

Later Lifting Bridges

The original lifting bridge of 1838 was replaced in 1884. When this bridge was opened – to allow a vessel to pass – there was an equally cumbersome procedure. Even the rails had to be completely removed and no less than twelve men were required to carry out the task.

The 1884 bridge was replaced in December 1963 and is the one that is in place today. It was an electric lift-bridge, designed by A H Cantrell, Chief Civil engineer of BR Southern Region and built by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. Thames sailing barges passing through at high tide were required to book a time slot in advance for the bridge to open.

The rail authority, Network Rail, manages the bridge. It is now a listed structure and will, therefore, remain in situ. Network Rail is considering removing the lifting mechanism, which has fallen into disrepair after 30 years of no use.

The central span weighs 40 tonnes. About 2000 it was welded shut in the ‘down’ position. Continuously welded rails have been laid across the bridge. Although it is a rather ugly structure, it is well-known to locals who would be sad to see it demolished. They regard it as part of Deptford’s industrial heritage and rightly so. What would improve the structure is a coat of paint. The bridge is black – either due to the rusting iron or because it was last repainted in that colour. A more sympathetic colour would not only preserve the structure but it would also make it more attractive for those viewing it when close to it or from afar.


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Lady Well in Lewisham

Above: The plaque on the housing bock near Ladywell Station.

Today, we all have running water piped to our homes and we probably take it for granted. In times gone by, residents considered themselves lucky if they even lived near a well. In those days they would not be able to conceive of turning on a tap in their own homes for fresh running water. Lewisham was a spread-out village with houses either side of what we know today as Lewisham High Street. A look at John Rocque’s small-scale map of 1746 for Lewisham shows a ribbon of houses lining the High Street with the River Ravensbourne flowing on the western side, probably being responsible for the linear development of the village.

Lewisham High Street – which runs south from near today’s Lewisham Station to join with the road called Rushey Green – was essentially the shape of the village of Lewisham. At the southern end stood the village church – as it still does today – dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. The land around the church gradually grew up with a separate name, being known as ‘Lady Well’. Today it is written as one word ‘Ladywell’ and it is that name that is under consideration in this article.

It is self-evident that the land around the church would have been marshy, due to the nearby River Ravensbourne but there were also springs in the ground which were used as sources of water. Today, the site of one of the wells is marked by a large plaque on a newly-built housing block in Ladywell Road, very close to Ladywell Station. The plaque is shown at the top of this article, stating that the Lady Well was in use on the site from c1472 until 1855. The site of the well is shown and named on a map of 1592. The well was dedicated to ‘Our Lady’ because the parish church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. During the 18th century, the land was occupied by Bridge House Farm whose name was not related to a bridge over the River Ravensbourne but because it was farming land owned by the Bridge House Estates.

The Bridge House Estates was a trust, set up when the first stone London Bridge was completed across the Thames in 1209. Its objective was to derive revenues from land that the trust owned (or was given) and, in that way, fund the upkeep of the bridge. The Bridge House Estates is still in existence today, owning land all over London and also outside in the countryside. Money coming in paid for the construction of the last London Bridge which was officially opened in 1973.

There was a wooden footbridge linking Ladywell to Lewisham High Street and the church. It was replaced with a brick bridge by the Parish Vestry in 1830. A few decades afterwards, a railway was built and Ladywell Station opened in 1857.

Nearby is a large Victorian, red-brick building that was once used as a mortuary. In front of the building was a circle of stones. They looked as though they came from the top of a well. Whether they were from the Lady Well is not known but they are no longer to be seen.

Above: The plaque on the private house at 148 Ladywell Road, a short distance from the other plaque.

As has already been mentioned, there were several springs in the area. There was a second mineral spring – claiming medicinal properties – at the site now occupied by a private house at 148 Ladywell Road. A plaque on the house marks the site today. Due to the construction of a sewer in 1885, to provide for the development of the area, the spring ran dry and the well could no longer be used.

There were many mineral springs across what is now Inner London. Within a distance of a few miles, there were situated at Dulwich Wells and Sydenham Wells. By the 18th century, there were probably around 50 in what we know as Inner London today. The ground of London is mainly clay which is of a yellowish colour due to iron in the soil. Any spring water would also contain iron and drinking it would not be a particularly pleasant experience. However, the belief was that the worse the water tasted, the more it was doing the person good. Such springs were called chalybeate due to the salts of iron in the water. Many a pub landlord who had such a spring in his garden derived good income from allowing people with various ailments to come and drink the water. Of course, he charged them for the privilege and then probably sold them some of his finest ale to wash away the unpleasant taste of the water from the spring. In that way, he ’scored’ twice – once from the sale of the well water and again from the ale. It was all good for trade!


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