Bell House, Dulwich

Above: Bell House photographed from one of the two entrances to the double drive beside College Road.

One of the largest properties built as a private house in Dulwich, the house is over 10,000 square feet in size and is set in two acres of mature private gardens. The house is Grade II* listed on the National Heritage List for England. It was built in 1767 for Thomas Wright (1722-98), who became Sheriff of the City of London in 1779 and Lord Mayor of London in 1785.

Bell House is one of the few large houses that remain in Dulwich. At one time there were many more but houses built for large wealthy families with plenty of servants are not in demand these days. Due to them having large gardens, like Bell House, developers have their greedy eyes set on such properties, thinking how many ‘little boxes’ they can cram into the site and how much profit they can make. What with the bombing during the Second World War and the building of large housing estates afterwards, many of the large houses, of which this is a good example, have been reduced to rubble in the name of progress – and, of course, profit.

Bell House stands beside College Road, towards the northern end, which means it is not far from the actual village centre with its quaint little shops. On its northern side is a large building once used as the coach-house, in the days of horse-drawn, privately owned carriages. It would have had bays for storing the carriage (or carriages). In addition, there would have been stables for the horses and possibly a small part of the building was lived in by the coachman. From the road, the house has a double drive. The main reason for such a drive was because, for a horse-drawn carriage, it was easier for a horse to continue moving forwards when pulling a carriage.

In 1833, Bell House was extended to provide servants’ quarters. Further extensions were made in the 1870s. In 1918 Sir Edwin Lutyens was engaged to carry out further alterations.

Above: A view of the bell turret on the top of the house.

The name of the house is due to an unusual feature for a private house – the bell-turret on top, complete with a bell. The reason for building the house with a bell on the top has never been explained although the bell has been put to good use over the centuries. For example, it is known to have been used as the village fire bell – to warn people of fire in the village – in the days before telephones. Whenever a fire broke out in the village, the bells of Bell House and the Dulwich College chapel were rung to gather help in pumping water for the village fire engine.

Thomas Wright

Thomas Wright lived at Bell House from 1767 until his death on 7 April 1798. He lived there with his wife Ann. Wright was a member of the Stationers’ Company and he became a printer and paper merchant. He and his brother opened a shop in the chapel building on old London Bridge. The original chapel, at road level on the bridge, served as their shop and below, in what had been the crypt, they used for their warehouse. They made a great amount of money from supplying paper to government departments. Wright’s was very successful in bidding for monopolies, like the right to print and sell almanacks and also printing the Bible, a highly profitable franchise.

While living at Bell House, Wright commuted from his Dulwich residence to his shop on London Bridge which a new idea at that time. In earlier years, it would have been customary to live near his place of work.

Interesting Stories

So far, we have kept to the facts. That brings us to some interesting stories about the house and its grounds that have been passed down by ‘old-timers’ in Dulwich and are still repeated today. It is not possible to establish whether the information is accurate.

One story goes that the bell was also used to warn travellers, on their way to Penge from Dulwich, of highwaymen on Sydenham Hill. College Road leads up to the high ground where today’s Crystal Palace Parade meets the road called Sydenham Hill. College Road was a known through-route for those who were travelling south to Penge and Penge Common.

Another story relates to the land in front of the house. On the wide side verge of College Road, there is a curious ‘hollow’ in the ground which is unique to Bell House. There is also a splendid large tree growing there. It is said that local shepherds used to sleep at night with their flock in the hollow in front of the house.

The two tales illustrate how countrified Dulwich once was and how people passing through the open countryside would have felt ‘out in the wilds’ in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whether the tales are true or not they certainly make a good story.

Later Uses of the House

After Wright died in 1798, the house was lived in by several families. Dulwich College took over the lease of Bell House in 1926 and it became the official residence of the Master of the College in 1927. During the Second World War, the Master moved out of Bell House to a smaller house.

In 1947 the building became a junior boarding house for about 30 boys attending Dulwich College, aged up to 13 years. There was a housemaster who lived in with his wife and children, a matron and house tutor both of whom also lived in. A tutor who did not live at the house also came to carry out supervising duties. When it first opened, most boys were boarding at the College because their fathers were still serving in the armed forces in some capacity, following the Second World War. There were also College connections with Thailand and South America, so some pupils came from those countries. In 1993 Bell House was returned to private ownership, due to the reduced need for a second junior boarding house.

In the summer of 2016, the house was purchased by an educational charity – the Bell House Dulwich. It offers support outside the mainstream school curriculum, lifelong learning, short courses, exhibitions, talks and musical events. It is also a centre for educational needs such as dyslexia support.

As a final footnote, the two pictures above were taken in 2015 – the year before the charity acquired the property. All the vegetation growing near College Road has now been cleared. The large wall in front of the property has also been taken down and elegant railings have been erected along the line of the old wall. The changes have opened up the aspect of the house from the road but, of course, it now does not look the same as when the house was first built. For that reason, the older pictures have been included above.


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Dulwich, Manor of

Above: A small version of a map of the Manor of Dulwich. Its boundary is shown in YELLOW. Modern street names are highlighted in GREEN. Place names are shown in PURPLE.

First mentioned in a deed of AD 967, granting land to one of Edgar the Peaceful’s thanes, the Manor of Dulwich has a long and remarkable history. It is among the earliest manors in today’s Inner London with a history going back well over 1,000 years. The manor was not mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) and it is not known under which manor it was included. In 1127 the Manor of Dulwich was granted to Bermondsey Abbey.

Its history is unremarkable for the next four centuries, until 1545 when the manor was granted to Thomas Calton. If you are a local, you may well know Calton Road which was named after him. In 1606 the manor was purchased from Francis Calton by Edward Alleyn for the sum of £5,000. The value of that sum in today’s money is about £1.5 million which, considering that many of the houses in today’s Dulwich Village are each worth above that figure, it probably represents a bargain. It should be pointed out that most of Dulwich was just fields and farmland in Alleyn’s time. It was not considered of any particular value at all. Alleyn completed the transaction in 1613.

He became a great benefactor to Dulwich which, in those days was only a hamlet. The nearest parish church for the community living there was St Giles at Camberwell – about a two-mile walk to church! Being very rich, Alleyn founded a school and almshouses, along with a chapel. The people of the village started to use the chapel as their place of worship – to save them walking to Camberwell. A burial ground was set aside in the village which is still there but it has ceased to be used. Due to people worshipping in the chapel, no parish church was built until 1892, called St Barnabas. It opened in 1892. If you live in or near Dulwich you probably know that the district was often referred to as ‘Dulwich Hamlet’ because it was not technically a village (with a parish church) until the 1890s.

Getting back to the story of Alley, he died in 1626 having only lived in Dulwich for the last 13 years of his life. When he died, his will contained an unusual statement – that the Manor of Dulwich was to remain administered by the trustees ‘for ever’. The village is waiting until that might be! As a result of Alleyn’s charitable work in founding a village school, the money for that school has led to the founding of several schools in Dulwich. Among them are Dulwich College, Alleyn’s School and James Allen’s Girl’s School (abbreviated to JAGS). It is almost as if the ‘industry’ of Dulwich was establishing schools.

Alleyn’s body lies buried in the chapel which he founded and the estate which he left under the control of trustees is still being administered today. Some of the strict controls of an estate have been swept away by Acts of Parliament over the years but essentially the estate is still under its administration, even today.

As a simple example, the Estate Governors would not allow public transport in or near Dulwich Village. The nearest railway stations had to be built well outside the village – at North Dulwich, West Dulwich and East Dulwich. There is no station in the village. Similarly, with the bus routes, no buses were allowed to run through Dulwich Village and certainly not double-deckers! In the end, due to Dulwich Village being so difficult to get into (or get out of) a concession was made – but not until September 1972 – when the single-deck bus route P4 was allowed to run through Dulwich Village and also drop passengers off at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Reminders of the old Manor of Dulwich are all around the area. A couple of obvious ones – so obvious that, if you are a local, you may have overlooked them – will be given here: Lordship Lane – takes its name from running along part of the western side of the old manor boundary. Since all of Inner London was once ancient manors, it is surprising there are not more street names with ‘Lordship’ in them. Court Lane – named because the old Manor House once stood nearby. The large house where the lord of the manor lived was often referred to as ‘The Court’.

Due mainly to Alleyn and his will of ‘God’s Gift’ Dulwich has remained in a time warp when the rest of Inner London has moved on. In some ways that is a problem but in other ways it leaves the village to develop at its slow pace which certainly adds considerable charm to this little piece of ‘old London’.

The map at the top shows the extent of the manor. It comes to a point at the northern end which is close to Camberwell Green. The western boundary is formed partly by Croxted Road and extends as far south as the southern end of today’s Crystal Palace Parade. The SE boundary is along the road called Sydenham Hill. The manor comes to another point quite close to where Horniman Gardens now stands. Finally, the rest of the eastern boundary is along today’s Lordship Lane. It represents quite a sizeable piece of land.


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Camberwell Overview

Above: An elegant terrace of Georgian houses in Camberwell Grove.

The old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell was rather like a slim triangle of land. Its northern short side was almost equally shared with the old Metropolitan Borough of Southwark and the old Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey. The two long sides ran south to join at a point at what is now Crystal Palace Parade – at the junction with Farquhar Road. By the way, the road is so-called after Thomas Farquhar who was Chairman of the Crystal Palace Company.

Within the old Metropolitan Borough, three ancient villages had developed – Camberwell, Peckham and Dulwich. All three are still recognisable centres in SE London to this day.

Above: Outline map showing the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. The RED outline is part of today’s London Borough of Southwark.

Camberwell – The church of St Giles may date from AD 670 when it is believed that a Saxon church was founded. The village, centred on Camberwell Greem, became the centre of a manor which is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086). The origins of the place name are not known for certain. The name could derive from the Old English ‘cranmere’ meaning ‘crane stream or brook’, due to a stream flowing near the village. Another theory is that the name comes from a well near the green – one well is known to have been in Camberwell Grove. The name may derive from the Old English ‘Cumberwell’ or ‘Comberwell’, meaning ‘Well of the Britons’ – referring to the inhabitants being Celtic in an area dominated by Anglo-Saxons.

Camberwell Green still exists, now laid out as a park. Nearly every village in what became Inner London once had a village green but few of them remain today. Many have just been lost to the layout of modern roads and the formation of busy road junctions which have ‘engulfed’ land that was once a tranquil village green.

In the vicinity of Camberwell Green, there are still many elegant houses, some of them in terraces, as the image at the top of this article shows. A large proportion of the land within the olf Metropolitan Borough became factories and in the 19th century, Camberwell was characterised by many works sites and also endless streets of small houses for the workers. Camberwell is now quite gentrified with those little houses, intended for the working classes now lived in by those earning quite a large salary – to be able to afford the humble residences.

One geographical feature of Camberwell that needs to be mentioned is that the land is made up of hills. Travelling from the City of London, through Southwark and Walworth, the land is completely level until you reach Camberwell Green. As you travel further south, the land rises in the form of Denmark Hill and then slopes downwards at Dog Kennel Hill where Goose Green is situated. The land gradually rises once more, along Lordship Lane, rising to its highest point at Horniman Museum, which is just over the boundary of the London Borough of Southwark – into the London Borough of Lewisham.

Peckham – This also began as a manor which was first mentioned as ‘Pecheham’ in the Domesday Book (1086). The name comes possibly from Old English ‘peac-ham’. The word ‘peach’ is Old English for the peak of a hill and ‘ham is Old English for a home which gives a derivation of ‘homestead by a hill’. Peckham was always regarded as the ‘poor relation’ to Camberwell. It was typically an area filled with poor housing and many factories. One arm of the Grand Surrey Canal ended at Peckham, allowing many businesses to develop next to it, including a large area occupied by gas works at the Old Kent Road.

Peckham has changed beyond recognition since just after the Second World War. What had been rows of terraced houses, lived in by the working classes (rather like Camberwell) has realised a complete make-over as the high-salaried middle classes have gradually moved into the district.

Slightly further south of Peckham is what was once the hamlet of Nunhead. Much of the area was open fields until the 1930s when housing estates started to bear down on the ‘countryside’ and now open spaces are not so plentiful. Nunhead is on the eastern boundary of the London Borough of Southwark, bordering the London Borough of Lewisham.

Dulwich – This is an ancient village that has already celebrated 1,000 years of existence. It did that in 1967. The earliest recorded mention of Dulwich was in AD 967 making it one of the first manors in Inner London to have a documented mention. The name comes from Old English ‘dill’ and ‘wisse’ meaning ‘meadows where dill grows’. A stream once flowed across the land, believed to be part of the River Effra.

Dulwich is still very much a village today. In 1606 Edward Alleyn (the famous actor at the time of Shakespeare) purchased the Manor of Dulwich, for £5,000 which in today’s money would be about £1.5 million. That is actually a modest sum because many of the houses in Dulwich Village are each worth well over £1 million. When he died, in 1626, his will declared that the land was to remain as a single estate ‘for ever’ as ‘God’s Gift’. His wishes were carried out by the trustees who still control what happens to the land (to a certain extent) even today. So, Dulwich has remained, in parts, trapped in time and looking rather like a country village even though it is surrounded by the sprawling urbanisation of SE London. The centre of Dulwich is still a ‘green and pleasant land’ and that is how the rather up-market residents want it to remain.

Across the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell that there is a great variety of architecture with many attractive open spaces in the form of parks. In addition, the hilly terrain adds to the charm of the area. Not all of it is scenic by any means but, on the whole, it has many locations which still recall the 19th and early 20th century.

Comment – Camberwell

We have spent an unusually long period of time looking at the old Metropolitan Borough of Southwark – taking about six weeks, rather than the usual four – bringing the count up to 64 places of interest. It is time to move on with the schedule. This year we also look at the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. Like its neighbour, the area has plenty to offer but in a different way. Southwark was all about the hustle and bustle of life close to the Thames, London Bridge and Borough High Street. Camberwell relates to the days when the area was ‘deep in the countryside’ – a concept that is now rather hard to grasp.


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Old Kent Road Pubs

Above: The attractive Georgian pub called the Lord Nelson stands beside Old Kent Road.

In 1977 there were 17 pubs in Old Kent Road. While several of the buildings remain standing, only two of them in the list are still operating as pubs – Lord Nelson (at No 386) and the Windsor (formerly the Prince of Windsor at No 888).

The names pf the pubs have been abstracted from Kelly’s Street Directory for 1977. The side streets are shown (at the side of the marker ‘===’), giving a rough idea of where each pub is (or was) situated. A few notes for each pub have also been added for each pub.

East Side

=== Pages Walk

World Turned Upside Down – 145 Old Kent Road. Furst known existence in the 1850s It closed in 2009.

=== Hendre Road

Castle pub – 205-209 Old Kent Road. Earliest recorded mention in 1794. It was called the ‘Old Kent Road Gin Palace’ in the 1970s. Demolished and the site is now modern flats.

=== Penry Street

Dun Cow pub – 279 Old Kent Road. It opened in 1856, built as a Victorian gin palace, It was rebuilt in the 1930s. The pub closed in 2004 and the building is in use as a surgery. It stands at the corner of Dunton Road.

=== Dunton Road
=== Humphrey Street
=== Rowcross Street

Duke of Kent – 365 Old Kent Road. It closed about 1978. It was converted for use as a mosque in 2008.

=== Cooper’s Road
=== Marlborough Grove
=== Lovegrove Street

William IV – 583 Old Kent Road. The earliest known date was 1869.

=== St James’s Road
=== Sandgate Street
=== Hyndman Street
=== Ruby Street
=== Murdock Street
=== Devon Street
=== Devonshire Grove
=== Sylvan Grove

Rising Sun Tavern – 799 Old Kent Road. The earliest known date was 1833. Although closed by 1999, it was still standing. It was later demolished.

Canterbury Arms pub – 871 Old Kent Road. It dated from 1869. Rebuilt after the Second World War. It was still trading up to at least the mid-1970s. It stood on the corner with Ilderton Road.

=== Ilderton Road
=== White Post Street

At this point, Old Kent Road joins New Cross Road.

West Side

Swan pub – 82-86 Old Kent Road [not listed in Kelly’s 1977]. It became a night club in 1994. It was demolished in 2004.

=== Mason Street

Brunswick Tavern – 148-150 Old Kent Road. It was renamed ‘Frog and Nightgown’ after the 1950s radio show called ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ used that name in the programme. It was demolished in 2013.

=== East Street
=== Madson Street
=== Kinglake Street

Green Man pub – 276-280 Old Kent Road. The pub closed in 2008 and became a restaurant. It later became a Noodle Bar but closed in 2014.

=== Shorncliffe Road

Thomas a Becket pub – 320-322 Old Kent Road. The name derived from St Thomas-a-Waterings, a stream and pond (roughly at the junction with Shornecliff Road). The pub probably closed around 2000 and was permanently closed for several years. In 2021 it was in use as a Thai restaurant and bar. The building still stands on the corner of Albany Road

=== Albany Road
=== Cobourg Road

Lord Nelson pub – 386 Old Kent Road. An early 19th-century building. It was listed as Grade II in 1972. The pub is still in use. It stands on the corner of Trafalgar Avenue.

=== Trafalgar Avenue
=== Glengall Road
=== Malt Street

Lord Wellington pub – 512-516 Old Kent Road. It was in existence in 1856. The pub was rebuilt after the Second World War. It became a club after 2008.

=== Bowles Road
=== Rodney Street

Alexandra pub – 578 Old Kent Road. The earliest known date was 1869. Demolished.

=== Peckham Park Road

Shard Arms pub – 610 Old Kent Road. The pub closed in 2001 and was demolished in 2003. The site is now a block of flats. The site was on the east corner of Peckham Park Road.

=== Commercial Way

Kentish Drovers Tavern – 720-722 Old Kent Road. The building dates from about 1840. It was listed as Grade II in 1972. It became a Thai restaurant. The building stands on the corner of Commercial Way.

=== Asylum Road
=== Gervase Street
=== Leo Street

Prince of Windsor pub – 888 Old Kent Road. Former names – ‘Windsor’, ‘Prince of Wales’, ‘Prince of Saxe Coburg’. The pub is still in use.

=== Loder Street

At this point, Old Kent Road joins New Cross Road.

Comment – One Thousand Blogs

Yes, it has taken over six years (at three blogs a week, you work it out!) but the 1,000th blog has finally been produced. Thank you for reading the blogs. Without your continued support, there would be no point in writing the articles which have been so well-received.


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Old Kent Road

Above: Looking west along Old Kent Road at the junction with Trafalgar Avenue.

At the time of the Romans, who established Londinium as one of their main townships, communication was a key feature of their world. When we say communication, we are talking about the legions being deployed around Britain, usually by marching soldiers along strategically laid out roads. The archaeologists working on London sites estimate that the Roman roads were probably laid out by about AD 60 – less than 20 years after the founding of Londinium. If the Romans could come back to our world day, they would probably be amazed that 2,000 years later we are still using routes they surveyed and built. The Old Kent Road is a good example. Other well-known examples are the Great West Road, the Great North Road, the road leading to Colchester and the A3 which was once known as the road to Chichester.

One wacky fact that few people seem to know relates to the drive-through McDonalds on the south side of today’s Old Kent Road. Before it was built, an archaeological dig was carried out. It was established that the line of the Roman road ran across the site of the restaurant. A plaque inside the building, put there by the Museum of London, confirms the fact.

In the case of the Old Kent Road, it was so-called because it led to Kent. The Surrey-Kent boundary has not always been in the same place but if you think of the boundary being at Deptford you will not be far from the truth. The Old Kent Road is actually in Surrey but it led to Kent and crossed the River Ravensbourne at a deep ford – hence the place name Deptford. At that point, by the way, the roadway is much further east of Old Kent Road. It is known as Deptford Bridge, being joined on either side by Deptford Broadway and Blackheath Road.

The Old Kent Road starts where there was once a large pub known as the Bricklayers’ Arms. The pub was demolished many years ago and so that location is described as starting at the Bricklayers’ Arms flyover where two other roads come together – Tower Bridge Road and New Kent Road. From that point, Old Kent Road runs in almost a straight line until it meets New Cross Road. Sadly, Old Kent Road has never been particularly scenic and as time goes by it seems to lose many of its interesting features so that it now runs past ugly large developments and tall blocks of flats.

If the planners get their way, what few buildings of interest remain are set to be demolished to make way for a ‘canyon’ of high rise tower blocks being erected along most of the length of Old Kent Road. The idea that Old Kent Road is an ugly street is by no means a new one.  In 1766, Smollett, in his ‘Travels, 1766’ seems to have found the street of his day as untidy as now when he writes – “the avenue to London, by way of Kent Street, which is the most disgraceful entrance to such an opulent city. A foreigner, in passing through this beggarly and ruinous suburb, conceives such an idea of misery and meaningless, as all the wealth and magnificence of London and Westminster are afterwards unable to destroy.” It would seem, therefore, the Old Kent Road has had a bad image for several centuries.

According to Blanch, writing in 1888, the Old Kent Road was known as ‘Kent Street Road’ until the end of the 19th century. The name ‘Kent Road’ appears on John Rocque’s map, of 1746. It also appears on Richard Horwood’s map, of 1800 and again in the ‘New Plan of London’ by Cross in 1835. One of the first maps to show the present name of ‘Old Kent Road’ is Bacon’s map of 1888.

Streams once crossed Old Kent Road at two points. The River Neckinger crossed the street where is now the Bricklayer’s Arms fly-over. This point was marked as being one mile from London Bridge. At this spot was a leper hospital called The Lock. Further east, at the junction with Albany Street, a stream, called the Earl’s Sluice, crossed the road at a point now marked by the Thomas a Becket pub. In early times the location was known as ‘Thomas a Watering’ – because pilgrims on their way to visit Thomas a Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral used to stop so that their horses could drink from the stream. No doubt, the pilgrims enjoyed a ‘swift half’ while their horses were having their drink.

Old Kent Road was also crossed by the Grand Surrey Canal which opened in 1807 and ran under the road which was ‘humped’ – to allow canal vessels to pass underneath. The location was once called Canal Bridge. Only older drivers would recognise that name now. After the canal had been closed and drained of water, the hump was levelled off in the 1980s by re-laying the roadway and making it much wider. Two roads meet at a very awkward junction at that point – Peckham Park Road and St James’s Road. The reason they did not meet was obvious when the canal was in existence. Peckham Park Road ran near the south side of the canal and St James’s Road ran near the north side. Today, it is very hard to find any evidence for the canal around Old Kent Road because so much has changed. There is talk of creating a footpath along the old line of the canal but nothing has come of the idea so far. Other parts of the canal near Peckham have already been turned in to linear parks and have been a grand success.

The western part of Old Kent Road lay within the old Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. The last building (going east) was the Thomas a Becket pub. The eastern part of Old Kent Road lay within the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. Since 1965, both those Metropolitan Boroughs were combined (along with that of Bermondsey) to form the London Borough of Southwark which means that all of Old Kent Road is now in that London Borough.

Having mentioned the Thomas a Becket pub, another feature of the Old Kent Road used to be its many pubs. In 1977 there were 17 pubs listed in Kelly’s Street Directory. While several of the buildings remain standing, only two in the list are still operating as pubs today. It is not only Old Kent Road that has suffered such a steep decline in pubs but it does mean that the road has been gradually losing its character as the years roll by. Another trend has been the loss of shops on the road which is mainly due to the almost hostile parking restrictions with double yellow lines and in later years the double red lines. The parking restrictions have helped the traffic move more easily but they have killed off most of the local shopping.

Not only was Old Kent Road part of the road that led to Canterbury (via Dartford, Rochester and Faversham), it was a road that led eventually to Dover. Triumphant monarchs, returning to London from the Continent, travelled up the Old Dover Road, eventually reaching Old Kent Road before entering the City of London. Good examples are (1) Henry V and his army marching up Old Kent Road after successful campaigns in France during the Hundred Years War and (2) the triumphant return of Charles II to England in 1660 after a nine-year exile when his procession made a grand entry into the City. Today, these events are recorded on the remarkable mural to be seen beside Old Kent Road at the junction with Peckham Park Road. On such occasions, the Lord Mayor of London and many of the dignitaries and residents waited to greet the triumphal procession at the site now occupied by the Thomas a Becket pub and then to travel with the victors for the remainder of the journey.

If you have read thus far and you don’t happen to know Old Kent Road very well – or maybe not at all – you may be wondering if the gloomy description of the road is accurate when the picture at the top shows a rather pleasant terrace of shops and houses. Well, you can be assured the description above is correct. The picture shows a late Georgian or early Victorian terrace that was restored some years ago by the London Borough of Southwark. It is one of the very few terraces that remain beside Old Kent Road. The picture was taken on a sunny day with a bright blue sky. Hopefully, it makes a good impression. Now for the bad news – most of the road is anything but scenic with scrappy shops, several ugly factories, the remains of a large gasworks site and some very run-down housing estates with tall blocks of flats.


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Elephant and Castle Pub, Newington

Above: The coaching inn, a painting by James Pollard 1826. Clearly, the roads were just as busy in those times.

One of the most well-known pub names in London is that of the Elephant and Castle. The pub actually stands in a part of the London Borough of Southwark called Newington but nobody refers to it by its geographical location. That part of London is just called ‘the Elephant and Castle’. Several pubs in London have caused the immediate locality to take their name. There is Swiss Cottage, a pub which has given its name to an area of Hampstead in the London Borough of Camden. There is New Cross, near Deptford, named when an old pub called the Cross was rebuilt – hence the ‘New Cross’. Much later, the road was maintained by a private company who built a gate across the road and charged tolls, giving the area the name New Cross Gate.

Returning to the subject of the Elephant and Castle, the first written record of a local establishment by that name appears in the court leet records of the Manor of Walworth (of which Newington was a part) when a meeting was held there on 21 March 1765. Like many pubs, this one was built at a curious road intersection – essentially a fork in the road where Newigton Causeway (the southern continuation of Borough High Street) met Walworth Road (leading SE to Camberwell) and Newington Butts (leading SW to Kennington). The junction was a busy one and a good place at which to have a pub.

Since those early times, additional roads have been added – like New Kent Road (which linked the junction to Old Kent Road), St George’s Road and London Road (linking to St George’s Circus). Due to the additional roads and the fact that all of them have carried a large amount of traffic – in the form of carts and then cars, buses and lorries – the intersection has always been rather a nightmare from the transport point of view.

In the 18th century, the Elephant and Castle was a large coaching inn. The inn was rebuilt in 1816 and even in coaching days there was plenty of congestion at the road junction as the contemporary painting shows. In Victorian times, it was rebuilt in 1898 with five storeys, standing on an island site around which traffic passed almost constantly. During the Second World War, the area suffered extensive bomb damage and large roundabouts were laid out in the 1960s in an attempt to improve the traffic flow. The old pub was demolished in 1959 and a new building erected. Sadly, the modern pub is a very poor substitute for the previous one. The old pub sign, taken down from the top of the Victorian pub, was displayed on the shopping precinct. However, the modern pub was only a fraction of the size of its Victorian predecessor.

Above: The large sign outside the old shopping centre that once stood on top of the Victorian pub.

As a footnote, it should be pointed out that, at the time of writing, the large ‘elephant and castle’ sign has been removed in preparation for demolishing the shopping precinct and a new large development of shops, accommodation and offices to take its place.

Derivation of the Name

What has always fascinated Londoners is how the name arose. There is no definitive answer and people have puzzled over the origins of the name for many years. Along the way, some very odd derivations have emerged. Putting aside some of the more bizarre ideas, there are basically three derivations that should be mentioned.

(1) Starting with the most unlikely – which is also the one that most people like to quote – it is said that the name ‘elephant and castle’ is a corruption of the name ‘Infanta of Castile’ or, more correctly, ‘Infanta de Castilla’. This would have been a reference to Spanish princesses such as Eleanor of Castile and María, the daughter of Philip III of Spain. However, Eleanor of Castile was not an infanta because the term only appeared in English about 1600. María has a strong British connection because she was once controversially engaged to Charles I, but she had no connection with Castile. It would seem that ‘Infanta de Castilla’ is a mixture of two Iberian royals separated by 300 years. Since there is no record that either of the two ladies just mentioned either visited the area or had any connection with it we can safely dismiss this derivation. However, no matter how many times we explain the point, the erroneous derivation will continue to be ‘trotted out’ by the locals and by ignorant guides in the locality.

(2) In London, the elephant and castle is also found on the arms of the African Company (later called Royal African Company), incorporated in 1588 by Elizabeth I. That theory has some credence but there is no record of the African Company being connected with the land where pub stands.

(3) It should be pointed out that the actual derivation for ‘elephant and castle’ is not known for certain but this third theory is considered to be the most likely. By about 1760, the property that became a pub is believed to have been in use as a smithy. Around that date it became an inn taking the sign of the Elephant and Castle. The name is generally accepted to be derived from the sign of the Cutlers’ Company who held property nearby. The first appearance of the sign is believed to have been in the 1770s. In 1622 the Cutlers’ crest, of the elephant’s head, was superseded by that of the elephant and castle. If you are wondering why the cutlers would adopt an elephant’s head for their sign you should bear in mind that elephant tusks were used to make ivory handles for knives. The name ‘elephant and castle’ was probably the everyday interpretation of the castle-like howdah that was to be seen on the back of an elephant when used as a mode of transport.


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Paris Garden

Above: Part of the Paris Garden shown on the Agas map (c1561). The large house towards the middle was the Paris Garden Manor House. A stream is shown flowing into the Thames with a tide-mill built above the end near the river. On the far right edge is shown the Falcon Inn – a well-known inn on Bankside.

The history of Southwark – that is to say the land that became the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark – was in early times mainly the story of several manors and liberties. This was unusual because most of what is now Inner London was mainly composed of large manors which were not subdivided but had just one lord of the manor owning all the land.

In 1113 the manor of Paris Garden was given by Robert Marmion to Bermondsey Abbey. It was not called the Paris Garden until the 14th century. This, with the Great Liberty and the Clink Liberty, was one of the three liberties of Southwark. The land was marshy, intersected by many small streams, with numerous willow trees growing on the land. Paris Garden comprised a little less than 100 acres (40 hectares), roughly a hide of ground, called ‘Wideflete’ with a mill, and other buildings.

The land was granted by Bermondsey Abbey to the Knights Templar in 1166, who held it until they were suppressed in 1312. A breach of the river wall occurred in 1311 on the low-lying land “on the marshes of Southwark, formerly belonging to the Knights Templar, but then in the King’s hands”.

At an approximate date of 1380, the land was in the hands of a Robert de Paris who had a house and garden on the land during the reign of Richard II. It is claimed by some that the name ‘Paris Garden’ began to be used due to his ownership. Another theory is that the name is a corruption of ‘Parish Garden’.

The manor land became the haunt of 16th century pleasure-seekers. The marshy land is clearly shown on the Agas map, along with the manor house which stood on land now covered by the brick railway arches running south from Blackfriars Station.

Henry Wheatley’s ‘London Past and Present’ recounts that “In 1578 the garden was described as being notorious for secret meetings of foreign ambassadors and their agents.” One would love to know more details of such affairs. A few years later, in 1589, the manor was bought by Francis Langley who was a member of the Drapers’ Company and had practised as a goldsmith. On 26 May 1599 the land was visited by Elizabeth I who went by water with the French ambassadors to Paris Garden, where they saw baiting of bulls and bears.

From 1601 the land was held by several owners. In that year, the manor was sold by Francis Langley to Hugh Bowker, a lawyer and member of a well known Southwark family. In 1644 the land was sold once more to a London grocer called William Angel. He later sold off the the Manor House to a woollen draper whose widow occupied it on his death and used the spacious grounds for stretching and bleaching cloth. In 1670 an Act was passed which constituted the parish of Christ Church. Three quarters of the land consisted of fields with a population of about 1,000 residents.

There are no old maps showing the boundary of the Paris Garden but, as a rough guide, the manor extended west to the site of today’s street called Broadwall, north to the Thames, and almost as far east as the present Founders Arms pub. The parish of Christ Church, Southwark covers approximately the same area as the manor. The only reminder of the Paris Garden today is a street by the same name, which runs south off Stamford Street.


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Skin Market Place, Bankside

Above: A photograph of the street name plate in 1980. By that time, the name plate itself was becoming a historic item. Because it only showed the postcode as ’SE’ the name plate probably dated from before 1920.

The ‘Skin Market’ is shown on Rocque’s large scale map (1746) as a large open area. It was one of the skin markets on the south side of the Thames. Knight’s ‘London’ mentions that – “Until 1833 there were two skin-markets on the south side of the Thames. One was held in Skin Market Place, near Bankside, with the other one near Blackfriars Road. It was decided by the tanners and leather-dressers to form one market which became the Leather Exchange, in Leathermarket Street, Bermondsey.”

The old warehouses on Bankside, involved in the tanning trade, were demolished long ago but the name of what was little more than an alleyway called Skin Market Place continued near the southern end of Cardinal Cap Alley – which is just a short distance west of the Globe Theatre (Replica). The alleyway was still there in 1980.

When the Globe Theatre (Replica) was built, a large amount of land was also acquired around it. Some of the additional buildings surrounding the theatre now cover the land where the street once stood. Yet another memory of the leather trade in Southwark’s Bankside was then erased from the map for ever.


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Bear Garden, Southwark

Above: A small part of Claes van Visscher’s Panorama of London (1616) showing the Bear Garden on Bankside.

Bankside was the main entertainment district for London in Tudor times and this tradition carried on well beyond the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. When they were banned in the City of London, brothels transferred to Bankside and continued into Tudor times. The grim spectacles of bear baiting and bull baiting were provided as ‘entertainment’ for those who wanted to see it. In addition, there were four famous theatres built on Bankside – the Hope, the Rose, the Swan and the Globe. Of those four, the name of the Globe Theatre has lived on and a replica was built and finally opened in 1997.

Bear baiting was a feature of entertainment at various places within the liberty of the Clink from at least 1550. The building is shown on the Agas map (c1561). The land around the place of entertainment was just large open fields. Only Bankside and Park Street were old thoroughfares. The Bear Garden is also shown on the map by Braun and Hogenberg (1575).

The lease of the land was acquired in 1594 by Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe. The latter used the place for the manufacture of starch until it was pulled down and the Hope Theatre built on the site in 1613.

William Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ was written about 1609-11. When it was first produced is not known, but in Act 3, Scene 3, there is a reference to a bear:

“Well may I get aboard! This is the chase;
I am gone for ever! [Exit pursued by a bear.]”

Further on in the play, in the same scene, are the lines:

“Go you the next way with your findings. I’ll go see if the bear
be gone from the gentleman, and how much he hath eaten; they are
never curst but when they are hungry; if there be any of him left,
I’ll bury it.”

The Hope Theatre was built in 1613 as a place for showing bear-baiting and plays alternately – one day a play and the next day bear-baiting. This theatre was built near the site of the old bear garden which was a little further north. Both sites were close to the street called Bear Gardens, on Bankside.

On 14 August 1666 Pepys visited the Bear Garden on a day he describes as ‘Thanksgiving’ – “And after dinner with my wife and Mercer to the Beare Garden, where I have not been I think of many years, and saw some good sport of the bull’s tossing of the dogs – one into the very boxes. But it a very rude and nasty pleasure. We had a great many hectors in the same box with us (and one, very fine, went into the pit and played his dog for a wager, which was a strange sport for a gentleman), where they drank wine, and drank Mercer’s health first, which I pledged with my hat off.”

John Evelyn also recorded in his diary that he visited the Bear Garden on 16 June 1670. He also found the sport to his disliking.

There is a short street called Bear Gardens which is close to the original site of the bear garden. It runs south from Bankside to Park Street and its name is a reminder of the site of the Tudor Bear Garden.


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Founders’ Arms Pub, Hopton Street

Above: The Founders’ Arms pub shortly after being opened. The pub has fine views across the Thames towards the City of London.

In the 1960s, the western end of the street called Bankside was a very unused area, with old derelict buildings and a general look of black sooty walls and the need for change. Many plans for the land were being prepared but the casual visitor would never have guessed that anything was about to happen. Gradually the area started to change. On the Thames, a large coal jetty still remained from the days when coal had been delivered to the nearby Bankside Power Station. That huge building was still mainly standing empty although parts of it were still in use as a power station until 1981 and the announcement to use the building for the new Tate Modern art gallery did not come until 1994.

Just west of the old power station, a new development called Falcon Point was built. It took its name from a once very famous tavern called the Falcon which had been known to Samuel Pepys. Falcon Point was built on the site of one of the London Hydraulic Power Station. That had ceased to be used and the land became available for a development of apartments with commercial premises at ground level.

A new pub called the Founders’ Arms and the development called Falcon Point were both opened in 1980. The pub was on a new site but not far from where the ancient Falcon Tavern had once stood. Many people thought that the new pub would use the old name and continue the memories of the once famous Falcon watering-hole. However, the name Founders’ Arms is just as appropriate because the site had, indeed, been a foundry at the time of Sir Christopher Wren. In fact, Wren is known to have lived close by while the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral was bring being constructed. A Blue Plaque had been placed on the boundary wall of the old London Hydraulic Power Station recording the fact but all that has been swept away. The foundry was where the wrought ironwork was made that surrounds the high altar in St Paul’s Cathedral and which can still be seen today.


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