Forest Hill – Quick Look Around

Above: Honor Oak Road near the junction with Westwood Park. The location is still quite wooded even today.

Ask anyone where the centre of Forest Hill is today and you will probably get a reply along the lines of “Does Forest Hill Have a centre?” or maybe “I suppose it’s somewhere near the station”. Either answer sums up the demise of what was once a flourishing collection of shops.

First, we will look at the origins of Forest Hill. If you look at John Rocque’s map (1746), you will find that while there are quite a few houses shown where Sydenham started but there are none to be seen around the location of Forest Hill. While the thoroughfare we now called Sydenham Road has plenty of houses shown beside it, you will have to struggle to even work out where the original site of Forest Hil is to be found. If you have looked at the small scale sheets of Rocque’s map, you find the land that became Forest Hill is partly on the sheet where ‘Oak of Arnon’ is shown and partly on the sheet where ‘West Wood Common’ is shown. Forest Hill developed somewhere in between.

The ‘Oak or Arnon’ should be ‘Oak of Honor’ and is now a small park called One Tree Hill. ‘West Wood Common’ is now mostly built over but above that name is shown the words ‘Hensford Pond’ and ‘The Lapse’. While ‘Hensford Pond’ is not a recognisable name, the name ‘The Lapse’ is now a lane called Lapsewood Walk – almost opposite Horniman Gardens.

If all this sounds a bit vague, it is. Forest Hill – as a name and as a place – just did not exist in 1746. Another 50 years later, the place called Forest Hill is starting to emerge. It all started happening near the T-junction of Honor Oak Road with Westwood Park. Two houses – Hill House and the nearby White House – were built during the 1790s. Other houses were built at the end of the Georgian period and a name for the area followed – Forest Hill. It was not so much a place name and a place description because these houses were certainly built ‘in the forest and on the hill’.

That was the 1790s and about 40 years later the route of the Croydon Canal was acquired to build London’s second oldest railway – the London and Croydon Railway – which opened in 1839. Forest Hill Station was one of the stops on that line. As with most stations, residents tend to live nearby if they want to commute to London. So it was that the ‘centre of gravity’ for Forest Hill moved from Honor Oak Road down to the T-junction that is made up of three roads – Devonshire Road, Dartmouth Road and London Road.

Goods and also food arrived at Forest Hill Station which was delivered to the nearby shops. In Victorian times crates of fish and many boxes of fruit and vegetables were delivered by train. Gradually a flourishing shopping centre emerged. High-class shoe shops and ladies’ dress shops were set up in business along with men’s outfitters. Does anybody remember Humphries in Dartmouth Road? One of the most expensive china and glassware shops in the area was also in Dartmouth Road – Brice Rogers. Don’t forget that plenty of wealthy people lived in and around Forest Hill (and also Sydenham) due in part to the coming of the Crystal Palace.

After the Second World War, Forest Hill was an important shopping centre. There were no fewer than five butchers within 200 yards of each other near Forest Hill Station. One of the early Sainsbury’s shops (actually two shops side-by-side) was set up in London Road – not on the site of today’s large Sainsbury’s but in smaller shops closer to Forest Hill Station.

Then, it all began to change. A short length of Devonshire Road and all of London Road had become part of the South Circular Road. People started to acquire motor cars and, because they wanted to park at the shops, along came the man who marked out the double-red line. One by one the shops closed down leaving most people to wonder if Forest Hill has a ‘centre’ at all!

We better not omit the amazing Mr Horniman from the story – the German tea merchant who lived in a large house on an estate now known as Horniman Gardens. He loved to travel and bring back plants and even trees to grow on his estate. Some of them are quite rare and they are still to be seen in the gardens today. He also loved collecting things and he had to build a museum to house his vast collection. He eventually gave his museum to the London County Council (LCC) which is why Forest Hill still has the Horniman Museum.

Forest Hill is still a ‘green and pleasant land’ on account of its origins as part of the Great North Wood that once extended across the hills now known as Sydenham Hill, London Road, Horniman Drive, Canonbie Road and One Tree Hill. All of these are either completely or partially within the boundary of Forest Hill.

The area also extends towards Catford where Blythe Hill should also be mentioned – right on the very edge of the Great North Wood, not far from the River Ravensbourne.


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Shackleton, Ernest in Sydenham

Above: The house where Shackleton as a teenager.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922) was an Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Shackleton was born in Kilkea, County Kildare, in Ireland. He died in 1922 at Grytviken, South Georgia and was buried in the Norwegian cemetery there.

Shackleton is best remembered is for the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–16) which left England under Shackleton’s leadership in August 1914. He planned to cross Antarctica from a base on the Weddell Sea to McMurdo Sound, via the South Pole, but the expedition ship Endurance was trapped in ice off the Caird coast and drifted for 10 months before being crushed in the pack ice. The members of the expedition then drifted on ice floes for another five months and finally escaped in boats to Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands, where they survived by eating seal meat, penguins, and their dogs.

Shackleton and five others sailed 800 miles (1,300 km) to South Georgia in a whaleboat – a 16-day journey across a stretch of the dangerous ocean – before landing on the southern side of South Georgia. Shackleton and his small crew then made the first crossing of the island to seek aid. Four months later, after leading four separate relief expeditions, Shackleton succeeded in rescuing his crew from Elephant Island. Throughout the ordeal, not one of Shackleton’s crew of the Endurance died. A supporting party, the Ross Sea party led by A E Mackintosh, sailed in the Aurora and laid depots as far as latitude 83°30′ S for the use of the Trans-Antarctic party; three of this party died on the return journey.

This is the story of a man who overcame unbelievable difficulties and saved all his brave colleagues from what would otherwise have been certain death. Having mentioned places as far-flung as Antarctica, we now turn our attention to the point of the story – the early part of Shackleton’s life began in Sydenham where there is a Blue Plaque on a house in Westwood Hill. It is the only house in all of Sydenham and Forest Hill to have one.

As already mentioned, Ernest Shackleton was born in Ireland in 1874 but in 1887 his father moved the whole family to London – at a house on the south side of Westwood Hill at No 12, next to the church of St Bartholomew, in Sydenham. There, his father practised as a homeopathic doctor until 1917. The young Ernest was sent first to a school at Fir Lodge, Croydon, then later, aged 13, he was sent to Dulwich College for the next three years. He walked from his home to school each day, as a day boy. Making the walk each way was about three miles but it was uphill for about half the route. Walking to school involved an uphill trek to the top of Westwood Hill, crossing the ridge of Sydenham Hill and then walking downhill via College Road. Walking to school for most children in those times was a common occurrence because few people owned cars and there were not many buses around.

When Shackleton lived beside the church, the road was known as West Hill, being later changed to Westwood Hill. As can be seen from the picture above, the house the young boy grew up in was large and spacious. It has changed little from the time when he lived there. The London County Council (LCC) Blue Plaque is to be seen on the front wall.


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Sydenham – Quick Look Around

Above: A Victorian terrace of shops in Sydenham Road with the red brickwork and ornate stonework.

The shopping area in Sydenham is spread out along what is now called Kirkdale and the even longer Sydenham Road. If you are looking for railway stations there are several names – Lower Sydenham, Sydenham and Sydenham Hill. At one time there was Upper Sydenham Station in Wells Park Road. With so much to consider, you might have thought that Sydenham was a very important place but it is all quite the reverse.

The origins of Sydenham as a village are shown on John Rocque’s map (1746) with a collection of houses near today’s T-junction formed by Trewsbury Road and Sydenham Road. This junction is mentioned because it was at that point that Sydenham’s first place of worship was built in the 17th century. Various residences were built up the sloping part of Sydenham Road – including two Georgian houses which remain today – and, at the top, the Greyhound Inn is also to be found on Rocque’s map.

The western continuation of Sydenham Road is Kirkdale, where another couple of Georgian houses are to be found. Not only do we have Rocque’s map showing the early development of Sydenham but there is actual evidence of Georgian residents living in the area. What was to follow was the seismic event of the rebuilding of the Crystal Palace on the southern end of the ridge then called Sydenham Hill. Today we call it Crystal Palace Parade. That one event, when the new Crystal Palace opened in 1854, was to change Sydenham forever. For anyone with money, living near the elegant Crystal Palace was seen as the place to be. This was for two reasons. Firstly, Victorians loved to live on high ground where the air was considered to be much purer than in the low ground of London’s suburbs. Secondly, with the ‘in crowd’ of the day all gravitating to the Crystal Palace – to enjoy the exhibitions, the concerts, the fireworks and the general ‘buzz’ of the place, you just had to live nearby.

If you take a walk along the roads called Sydenham Hill or Westwood Hill, you will find further evidence for large houses lived in by the wealthy. The bombing during the Second World War and the 1960s developers removed many of the fine houses but of what remains you can see the kind of ‘upstairs downstairs’ clientele that lived in style with numerous servants to look after them. So, where did the lady of the house go shopping for her essentials? The answer is that there were no elegant shops in Sydenham because it had grown up from such humble beginnings. A certain gentleman called Walter Cobb saw his opportunity and opened his store, next to the Greyhound Inn, providing ‘madam’ with the very latest in elegant hats and stunning ball gowns. The wealthy could shop at his store and not have to travel across London to Kensington High Street to stores like Barkers.

Alas, Cobb’s is no more. Having opened in 1860, the store was almost completely rebuilt in time for its centenary celebrations. The times were changing and in the 1970s it went into decline – along with many similar stores across London. Cobb’s closed in 1981. It was the end of an era. All around Sydenham are many Victorian shops and terraces of shops, all further evidence of the boom that the area enjoyed as a result of the Crystal Palace and the wealthy residents living nearby.

The Three Levels of Sydenham

On the lowest ground in Sydenham, was once one of the largest gas works in London – extending across 46 acres. It closed in 1968 and is now the site of several large stores, including a Savacentre – the fourteenth and last of 21 large stores planned by Sainsbury’s – was opened on 15 August 1995. Being at the bottom of the hilly terrain the area is known as Lower Sydenham, with its own rather remote station which is on the boundary of the London Boroughs of Lewisham and Bromley.

Next (by the height of ground) comes Sydenham – what most people think of as Sydenham – with Sydenham Station at the top of Sydenham Road. This part of Sydenham was on the route of the Croydon Canal which followed the route of today’s railway tracks. The canal land was purchased by the London and Croydon Railway Company who, in 1839, opened London’s second public railway in London, running from London Bridge Station to West Croydon.

Finally, the land rises towards Sydenham Hill. It was served by a railway line running between Nunhead and Crystal Palace – with a station called Upper Sydenham. That line fell into decline after the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936 and it eventually closed in 1954. Those who live there now, who commute to London, use the slightly less convenient Sydenham Hill Station which, although it has Sydenham in its name, is situated in South Dulwich.

Victorian Times Live On

One brief story will illustrate the wealthy nature of Sydenham which continued from Victorian times well into the late 20th century. In the 1960s, all four of the main banks could be found in Sydenham Road – Lloyds; Midland (now HSBC); Nat West; and two Barclays branches (one at the top, almost opposite Cobb’s and one in Lower Sydenham). In 2021 Sydenham Road has Lloyd’s and Nat West in their original positions. Both the original Barclays banks have closed, along with HSBC. Years after the two Barclays banks closed down, the Woolwich was taken over by Barclays and that branch was renamed in 2007 as Barclays. The area can hardly claim to be the ‘centre of the universe.

A Lloyd’s Bank manager, when commenting on this fact in 1968, said “Well, you know why don’t you. I still have many very large accounts in my bank owned by rich, elderly ladies who are the granddaughters of the original Victorian millionaires who moved into the area in the 1860s, when the wealthy had new houses built in the area of the Crystal Palace”.

Final Thoughts

Sydenham today is hardly an important place but it is extensive, served by the post-code of SE26. Although there are no high profile large buildings within the area, its streets are rich in architecture because the Victorian and Edwardian builders of the elegant houses were designing for well-to-do residents. There are many well-laid-out wide residential roads which, because they had been laid out on terrain that had once been a forest still have a large number of trees. For this reason, Sydenham is a very leafy suburb of Inner London.

Sydenham is at the southern edge of the London Borough of Lewisham. Along the line of Sydenham Hill, the district shares a boundary with the London Borough of Southwark – once the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. Sydenham Road is not a boundary itself but it lies close to the boundary of the adjacent London Borough of Bromley.


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Blackheath – Goffers Road

Above: Street name still to be seen on Blackheath.

This a tale about the early days of the game of golf. It is generally believed that the modern game of golf originated in Scotland during the 15th century.

In 1603 Elizabeth I died and the Scottish King, James VI ascended the throne as James I of England and Ireland, taking up residence at Greenwich Palace in London. The new king’s predominantly Scottish court began to settle into life in London and they wasted no time in searching for somewhere to play their favourite game of golf. It was sport that few people outside Scotland had ever heard of. The higher relatively level ground on Blackheath provided almost perfect conditions. It is known that golf was being played as early as 1606, with royal players including Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales.

Above: A copy of a painting ‘To the Society of Goffers at Blackheath, Portrait of Golfer and Caddie’ from an original in 1790.

A ‘Society of Goffers at Blackheath’ was established and the picture at the top was painted in honour of those who played the game. Shortly after the game became established on the heath, the Blackheath Golf Club was formally instituted in 1608 making it the oldest Golf Club in the world.

At the end of the 16th century, when it became obvious that Queen Elizabeth I of England would never marry, James VI of Scotland was recognised as being heir presumptive to the throne of England. Elizabeth died in 1603, and accordingly James VI of Scotland proceeded with his Scottish court to London, taking up residence at the Royal Palace in Greenwich (Elizabeth I’s birthplace) as James I of England.

Although the crowns of England and Scotland came together when James I became King of England, the two countries were not fully united for another 100 years and the old hatred between the Scots and the English remained. Scots in London tended to keep their own company. The sport of golf, which few, if any, Englishmen at the time would have witnesses and even less have played, probably provided a common sport for them to play.

The Blackheath Clubhouse occupied various locations around the heath before, in 1923, moving to the Grade I listed Eltham Lodge where it remains to this day.

For any English golfer, the turf at Blackheath, such as it is, should be regarded as hallowed ground. It was there that the game was introduced into England. The fact is that when the club moved to Eltham, they also moved the golf course to the new site. On Blackheath, apart from the Goffers Road retaining the old name for a golfer, there is now no other evidence of the original site at all.


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Blackheath Gravel Pits

Above: Remaining evidence for the so-called Eliot Pits on the Lewisham side of the heath. The trees have grown up since the pits were abandoned.

The plateau of Blackheath was so-called because it appeared a darker colour than the green fields beside the Thames below it. The soil was dark and so were the plants which grew on the heath, like gorse. Contrary to local belief, the name has nothing to do with the plague or the Black Death. The soil was of poor quality and not cultivated. However, the land was useful for chalk, gravel and larger pebbles for ballast which were dug out of it in large quantities. This left deep pits all over the heath. Some have now become ponds, some were filled in with rubble from bomb sites caused during the Second World War.

It is estimated that there have been ten sites excavated for gravel on the heath. Due to some of them having been filled in, only three obvious sites are now visible. One is beside the steep hill leading to the heath from Lewisham where the grassy slope has the appearance of once being the side of a gravel pit. Others are on both sides of Charlton Way where large ‘craters’ also remain from the days of gravel digging.

Surprisingly, it is claimed that gravel from Blackheath was used to build the Palace of Versailles which was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI.

Gravel was excavated particularly in the 18th century when there was a building boom in London. During the 19th century, an Act of Parliament governing the management of the Heath – the Metropolitan Commons (Supplemental) Act 1871 – precluded the planting of trees to maintain the heath’s open character. The lack of trees is largely due to the lack of a water table and rapidly draining gravel which results in its poor quality soil.

A document called ‘The Blackheath Holes’ written by Mr C De Rance in 1881 contains the following information – “The chalk forming the base of the escarpment between Woolwich and the entrance to the valley of the Ravensbourne, dips at a low angle to the south-south-east under Greenwich Park and Blackheath. It is overlaid by the Thanet Sands, estimated by Mr Whitaker of the Geological Survey at 40 to 50 feet, with the Reading and Woolwich Beds, consisting of shelly clays, sometimes 40 feet thick, associated near Lewisham with fine laminated sands. These beds are overlain by the Oldhaven or Blackheath gravels, reaching a thickness of about 50 feet, which have been largely dug for gravel in various parts of the district.”

Until the mid-19th century, the Crown used to allow gravel extraction for £56 a year, when it was used for ships’ ballast. This was stopped in 1866 by the Metropolitan Commons Act. In 1946 several pits were filled in and grassed over.

Known Sites of Gravel Pits on Blackheath

Vanbrugh Pits • They are situated on the heath on the south side of the road called Vanbrugh Park. A few of them were filled in after the second World War with wartime rubble. Of those that remain, the evidence of pebbles is easier to see than ay other places on the heath. This is partly due to erosion of the land in modern times by the many BMX bike riders in the pits. Crown Pit was a gravel extraction site between it and Charlton Way. It is now used for the site of the annual fun fair.

Eliot Pits • They are near the junction of the roads called Eliot Hill and Mounts Pond Road, on the Lewisham side of the heath. Blackheath was once extensively quarried for gravel, sand and chalk, and the pits remained open for many years. During the 1870s, the sharp sides of some of the gravel pits were eased to make them less dangerous. The Eliot Pits do not seem to have been filled in with bomb rubble after the Second World War, possibly because the land slopes away steeply from the edge of the heath whereas the Vanbrugh Pits were easy to fill in an level because they were deep holes in the level land.

Lewisham Hill and Eliot Hill run steeply down from the heath and converge behind the four storey 1930s block of flats called The Hermitage. This part of the Heath is largely obscured from long views due to it sitting in remains of old gravel pits which have created a man made bowl lined with trees. The Heath falls away sharply at this point to reveal views towards Lewisham.

Blackheath Vale • The housing was built in a former gravel pit.

Goffers Road • On this location, Marr’s Ravine was a gravel extraction site between it and Hare and Billett Road. It was filled with soil from building sewers in 1905.

Royal Parade • A line of cottages called Washerwomen’s Row. Another gravel extraction pit where the church stands. Talbot Houses were cottages in the hollow with strips of garden in front.

Shooters Hill Road • Once a Roman road over the heath, the ground is very sandy and the road was heavy going for 18th coaches. During the 18th century, antiquaries found Roman remains and Roman road structures in the immediate area.

Folly Pond • This is the result of a Metropolitan Board of Works improvement of an old gravel pit. It was at one time a sizeable boating lake. It tends to dry up in the summer and there is a standpipe nearby to top up the water level.


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Blackheath (Village) – Quick Look Around

Above: View of the village from the road approaching from Lee. The entrance to Blackheath Station is in the dip.

The village of Blackheath is among the famous villages of London – along with Dulwich and Hampstead. Almost everyone in London has heard of all three names. However, Blackheath is not particularly ancient. Dulwich and Hampstead can rightly claim to have origins in Norman times. While the Hundred of Blackheath is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), the village is much more recent.

As an example, where the village of Blackheath is today is not shown on John Rocque’s map (1746). His map only shows a handful of houses in a hollow on the southern side of the heath. The location was sometimes called Blounts Hole, due to the dip in the land near the present site of the station. The village did not develop until after 1740. Some houses in today’s village are Georgian but the majority are Victorian.

Much of the original Blackheath Station dates back to 1849 at track level. At the ticket office level, the building dates from 1879. Although the entrance to the station is in a dip in the land, being relatively high ground, the tracks are below the roadway and run underneath it. The village was starting to develop around the 1800s and the coming of a railway through what was still a very rural setting certainly boosted development in the area.

What makes most people think the village has ancient roots is probably the fact that the roads are quite narrow and the shops are still in their unchanged state since Victorian times. For those reasons, the streets have a ‘village atmosphere’ which those living nearby are keen to preserve. Although there have been many changes to what the shops now sell, there is still a collection of food shops along with clothing boutiques and small cafes and restaurants. All this is mixed in with estate agents because Blackheath is a trendy place to live.

Whereas most of the heath lies within the boundary of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, most of the village lies within the boundary of the London Borough Lewisham – with a small part to the east being in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. For those who live in Blackheath, the boundary seems to mean everything. Being able to claim you live in Greenwich has more ‘street cred’ than admitting you live in Lewisham.

Adjacent to the shops is Blackheath Park which is a large estate to the SE of the station. It is not only a large estate but it also contains many large elegant houses. All of that land is within the borough of Greenwich.

As a place to visit, the village is well worth seeing but all the historic houses are mainly scattered around the heath itself. Because there are few railway stations in the area, arriving at Blackheath Station by train is a good strategy because it in the centre of the village. It is also within easy walking distance of the expansive heath and not a great distance to walk across it to reach Greenwich Park.


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Blackheath (Heath)

Above: The heath is one glorious expanse of grass.

This page is titled ‘Blackheath (Heath)’ because the name Blackheath applies to several quite different concepts which will be defined here (in chronological order) –

Blackheath, Hundred of • the large pieces of land we call counties today were mainly formed in Saxon times. Each county was divided into ‘Hundreds’ which is a division of land that has long been discontinued. On the western side of the County of Kent was a large administrative area called the Hundred of Blackheath. Each Hundred had a location where those in charge of its administration used to meet. The gathering was held in the open air and it is believed that the heath was the site where they met.

Blackheath (Derivation) • it is likely that Blackheath (Heath) gave its name to the Hundred of Blackheath and, eventually, to the village. The name ‘Black Heath’ comes from Old English meaning ‘a dark or black heath’ – probably referring to the dark effect of gorse bushes that grew all over the high ground of the heath itself.

Blackheath (Heath) • a large expanse of mainly open land, extending east from the top of Blackheath Hill to St German’s Place. In earlier times, it was an even larger piece of land, extending east as far as Shooter’s Hill.

Blackheath (Village) • the village called Blackheath is essentially clustered around the station of the same name. In parts, the village extends some distance from the station. Adjacent to the village is a district known as Blackheath Park. Unlike Dulwich or Hampstead, the village of Blackheath is not ancient. A village did not start to form until the 18th century.

Blackheath (Heath) Chronological Dates

The heath itself has a long and illustrious history. It may be a place of recreation today but, in its time, it has witnessed some of the most important events in history –

60 • Within a few decades of the Roman occupation of England, a Roman road – called Watling Street by the Saxons – crossed the heath. Its line has never been established for certain. The route led from the approximate site of St George the Martyr, at Borough High Street. The route was near the line of today’s Old Kent Road, crossing the River Ravensbourne at the site of today’s Deptford Bridge. While the route across Blackheath is unclear, it is known that the Roman road crossed Shooter’s Hill on its way out of London via Dartford, Rochester and Canterbury ending at Dover.

1011 • The Danes are known to have camped on the heath in 1011.

1086 • The Hundred of Blackheath is often mentioned in the Domesday Book because each manor is listed under the Hundred in which it was situated.

1381 • During the Peasants’ Revolt, on 11 June, about 100,000 men assembled on the heath under the leadership of Wat Tyler and John Ball.

1400 • Henry IV and the Emperor of Constantinople met on the heath.

1415 • The citizens of London met Henry V on Blackheath when he returned triumphant from Agincourt.

1416 • Henry V met Emperor Sigismund on the heath to negotiate peace between England and France.

1431 • The Lord Mayor and citizens of London welcomed Henry VI on Blackheath when he returned from his coronation in Paris.

1433 • The land now called Greenwich Park, which extended onto the heath, was enclosed by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

1450 • John ‘Jack’ Cade led a rebellion caused by high taxation and anger at the mismanagement of the war in France. His men camped on Blackheath and marched towards the City on 5 July.

1452 • Henry VI camped on the heath with his army of Lancastrians.

1474 • Edward IV met the Lord Mayor and citizens of London on the
heath on his return from France.

1497 • During the Cornish Uprising, James Touchet, Lord Audley and a body of 15,000 Cornishmen marched from Taunton to London to protest at taxes levied to pay for the Scottish Wars. With their leaders, Thomas Flammock and Michael Joseph, 600 men camped on the heath and fought the army of Henry VII on 22 June. Many were killed, the remainder were forced to surrender. Their leaders were executed.

1540 • Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves on 3 January 1540 at an encampment on Blackheath.

1645 • Colonel Edward Blount exercised two regiments of foot soldiers in a sham fight on the heath.

1660 • On 29 May Charles II, who was restored to the throne of England that year, was welcomed back to England on Blackheath by the Lord Mayor and citizens of London.

1685 • James II reviewed six regiments that were encamped on the heath. They had been recalled from the Netherlands because of Monmouth’s rebellion.

1780 • During the Gordon Riots, in June 1780, troops, brought in to defend London, were camped on the heath.

1871 • The freehold of the heath is still held by the lords of the manors of Blackheath. In 1871 free use of the heath was given by Lord Dartmouth and Lord St Germans. Management of the heath was taken over by the Metropolitan Board of Works by Act of Parliament. The common land was secured as an open space for ever.

Now • The heath extends across 220 acres (89 hectares), crossed by the busy Shooter’s Hill Road. Part of it is inside the boundary of the London Borough of Greenwich and the remainder is in the London Borough of Lewisham.

Above: View taken in 2000 of traffic thundering across Blackheath on Shooter’s Hill Road.

The heath has become a sort of less formal extension to Greenwich Park. The enormous open area is a place where many people head for as a place of peace and quiet – so long as they keep well away from the busy main roads crossing the heath. There is usually a fair that visits the heath in the summer months. Another attraction is a travelling circus that makes part of the heath its base while it visits for a week or maybe longer. The village community hold a village fair on the heath, on one Saturday in June or July.

Many visitors from the Continent, visiting or passing by in their cars or by coach marvel that such a large open space remains undeveloped so close to the centre of London. Those who are Londoners and live nearby tend to take it for granted. The fact of the matter is that the Victorians realised that the heath was in danger of being built on by rogue developers and passed draconian laws in Parliament to prevent any building of any type on the land. Even kerbstones were not allowed to be laid at the edge of the grass. It is thanks to the far-sighted planning of those who lived in the 19th century that we can enjoy this heath today – along with other commons across London.


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Rushey Green

Above: Lewisham Council decided some years ago to add place names to their roadside bins. The object of this picture was to photograph the name with a green background provided by the wide grass verges.

The road leading south from today’s Lewisham High Street is called Rushey Green. This ends at Catford and continues south under the name Bromley Road. The name Rushey Green derives from an open space at Catford in the 18th century – called Rush Green on John Rocque’s map. The open space is now covered by roadway and buildings like Lewisham Town Hall. In London, there are still a few village greens to be found. Examples of actual greens remaining today are Camberwell Green, Newington Green and Parsons Green. Street names like Knightsbridge Green hark back to a time when there was a green that has long since been built on.

Rushey Green is now only a roadway and the point where it joins Lewisham High Street needs to be stated. The elegant rubbish bins like the one shown in the top picture have been installed by Lewisham Council beside Rushey Green and also beside the southern part of Lewisham High Street. This can easily confuse people as to where the two roadways join. It is where the George Inn used to stand, a pub that was closed and later demolished a few years ago, becoming the site of a Tesco Store. Although the pub is no longer there, the turning beside which it stood is called George Lane. Putting it simply, Lewisham Hospital, which lies slightly further north, stands beside Lewisham High Street when many people will tell you the hospital is at Rushey Green.

Above: All of the land seen in this view was part of Rush Green in the 18th century.

Although the actual open space at Catford has been lost, the roadway called Rushey Green and its continuation into Lewisham High Street is relatively wide because there are still green verges as well as the pavements. At the Catford end of Rushey Green, there are green verges on the eastern side of the roadway. Towards the north of Rushey Green, the ribbons of grass are situated on the western side and this continues into Lewisham High Street, especially in front of Lewisham Hospital.

The verges on the western side of the roadway are a remnant of much more marshy land that lay between them and the River Ravensbourne. It is said that the land was so marshy in parts that watercress grew in beds beside the roadway. The river flows beside the large open space of Ladywell Fields which in Norman times was part of the land owned by the Lord of Manor for his own use.

Rushey Green is part of the busy A21 that leads out of London through Bromley into Kent. In the days of coaching, it was a well-known coaching route from Southwark, via New Cross and Lewisham to Farnborough and further south to towns in Kent like Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells. For pedestrians walking beside Rushey Green today, the small amount of ‘green’ which is now a narrow strip of grass makes all the difference. It means that the busy traffic is separated by a vital stretch of green on one side of the road at least. It is also a reminder of the days where everything was travelling at a slower pace.

This road is by no means unique in Inner London in having grass beside it but its layout and its name are a reminder of when many arterial roads into the capital had wide verges. One particular use for them was when drovers passed by with their animals. It was where a drover and his animals could rest for a while on the long journey from the farms in Kent to the markets, like Smithfield, in London

As well as being a good amenity today, the grass verges have plenty to teach us about the early history of the long road of which Rushey Green is now a part. Although we scurry about, looking for shops or buses – or maybe Lewisham Hospital – it is worth taking note of these little ‘islands of tranquillity. They have come down to us over the centuries and make today’s crowded environment a better place.


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Lewisham High Street Pump

Above: Looking north in Lewisham High Street at the pump now mounted on one of the wide verges beside the roadway.

Now and again, you stumble across something in London that is a reminder of a distant time when all the modern conveniences that we enjoy today just did not exist. Standing on the green verge in front of Lewisham Hospital is a large public hand-pump. Many people passing by have probably never noticed it. Surprisingly there are two hand-pumps to be seen in the area – one shown here beside Lewisham High Street and another one further to the south, beside Rushey Green, in Catford.

The pump stands on the west side of the road. This long road, formed of Lewisham High Street and its continuation south called Rushey Green, has been a main road for several centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was a coaching route to and from Kent. At the point where the pump stands, the River Ravensbourne is only a short distance further west. In those times, the land was so marshy that watercress was grown beside the road in beds of running water. Lewisham High Street in the 18th century was lined with large houses, lived in by wealthy merchants. It was quite a genteel area. Sadly all that has changed and the locality is decidedly scruffy and down-at-heels today. Nevertheless, the west side of the road is lined with wide grass verges and still conveys an air of grandeur even if the reality does not quite meet up with first impressions.

Above: Detailed view of the inscription on the pump.

Getting back to the pump – it is one of great interest and is worth a look next time you happen to be passing. The large pump was made by George Turner of Dorset Street, Fleet Street in the 1830s. It is believed that it was erected for the residents of Exchequer Place, a group of houses which was demolished when the adjacent workhouse – now part of Lewisham Hospital – was expanded about 1891.

The pump was restored by Lewisham Regeneration in 2001 as part of a series of environmental improvements to Rushey Green, which is listed in the London Squares Act of 1932. Funding was provided by Transport for London. The restoration work was researched and carried out by Acorn Restorations Ltd. On the lower picture it is just possible to make out the names on the plate on the pump – Turner – Dorset Street – Fleet Street. The wording of their trade card says “G. Turner, Smith, Iron Founder, Pump & Engine Manufacturer. Single & Double Barrel Pumps, to Let on Hire. Small Pumps for Gardens & Farm Yards.”

Finally, notice the curved moulding on the end of the water spout. That was where the user hung the bucket while water was pumped to fill it. You probably knew that anyway!


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Lewisham Overview

Above: The old Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham and related place names.

The old Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham took its name from the ancient village of Lewisham, mentioned as a manor in the Domesday Book (1086). Lewisham also had a parish church with a large parish. It extended north to Blackheath and west to Brockley and Honor Oak. Its southern boundary extending from the road called Sydenham Hill (at the western end ), via the hamlet called Southend (for obvious reasons) and running almost as far east as Mottingham (which is part of the London Borough of Greenwich).

By the time the metropolitan borough had been created, it had become a collection of districts that remain the same today. They each have their own identity and will be listed with brief notes about them. We start on the eastern side of the Lewisham boundary –

Blackheath • This was originally the name of the large open heath that acts as a large unofficial park today. In a hollow next to heath, a village gradually developed from the 17th century onwards, It is also called Blackheath. Most of the village is within the Lewisham boundary with a smaller part within Greenwich.

Lee • This was a separate ancient manor with its parish and church of St Margaret. Lee Green is some distance east from both the old manor house and the parish church. The railway station stands even further away – to the SE. The area now called Lee covers quite a large area.

Hither Green • It was just a rural area that grew into a housing suburb in Victorian times, mainly due to a new station being built with the same name.

Grove Park • Another location with a name deriving from its situation being among trees. The area also started to grow and became an urban suburb due to the coming of the railway and a new station.

Running through the centre of the old Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham was (and still is) the River Ravensbourne. Several place names owe their existence to communities that developed beside that river. They are –

Lewisham • The village developed in a ribbon along an ancient thoroughfare now known as Lewisham High Street, with the parish church of St Mary at the southern end – where it still is. The shape of the development was, no doubt, influenced by the River Ravensbourne beside which it was situated. The river caused the land to be marshy – hence the street name Rushey Green. The area around the church is known as Ladywell.

Catford • A hamlet existed to the south of Lewisham which is called Catford. The hamlet owes its existence to being the site of a ford across the River Ravensbourne. The place-name may derive from it being a ‘cattle ford’. It is unlikely the location had much to do with cats.

Bellingham • Just south of Catford is an area called Bellingham, also beside the River Ravensbourne.

Southend • An obvious name for a hamlet that was at the southern end of the parish of Lewisham. The hamlet, later a parish itself, became famous for its two large mills powered by the River Ravensbourne. The large piece of water in front of the modern Homebase store was once a mill-pond for the more northerly mill. The second mill stood only a short distance to the south.

Downham • This is the odd one out. It did not develop over centuries, like the other names on the map and it is not related to the River Ravensbourne. Downham was created in the 1920s when an enormous housing estate was built by the London County Council (LCC). The area was named in honour of Lord Downham who was Chairman of the LCC in 1919 and 1920.

Finally, there are a few more place names near the western boundary of the old Metropolitan Borough –

Brockley • It was originally a hamlet on the western edge of the old metropolitan borough, just south of the Deptford-Lewisham boundary. Until the end of the 19th century, the area was characterised by farms.

Forest Hill • The area lies towards the south of the old borough boundary, adjacent to Sydenham. The clue, as they say, is in the name. Until the late 18th century, the whole area consisted of heavily wooded hills which were ideal territory for hunting. As for the houses, there were no houses until the end of the 18th century. Gradually, large residences were built ‘in the forest and on the hill’, mainly around the western end of Honor Oak Road. When Forest Hill Station was built a few decades later, in 1839, the centre of gravity shifted to land around the railway. The Forest Hill postcode includes large parts of the district known as Honor Oak which extends north into the London Borough of Southwark.

Sydenham • This was another hamlet on the southern boundary of the original parish of Lewisham. The first parish church in Sydenham was created in the 17th century where the original village began – at the lower part of Sydenham Road, at the junction with Trewsbury Road. The more well-known parish church of St Bartholomew was consecrated in 1832. Although Sydenham had been a settlement for centuries, there was rapid growth nearby due to the coming of the railway and Sydenham Station in 1839. The opening of the Crystal Palace on a new site at Sydenham Hill in 1854 was another factor. Walter Cobb opened his famous store in 1860 as a direct result of wealthy families moving into the area to be near the Crystal Palace.

It should also be pointed out that the entire southern boundary of the old Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham bordered on what is now the London Borough of Bromley which has become an Outer London borough.


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