Above: John Cary’s map of London (1786) showing the Surrey and Kent county boundary – a dotted line which Cary highlighted in GREEN. Surrey is on the left. The boundary is shown crossing New Cross Road and then crossing Plow Garlick HIll (later to be called Telegraph Hill).
Until the 19th century, if anybody wrote about London, it could only mean one thing – the City of London. Everywhere else in what we now call ‘Inner London’ was part of an English county. Take a date like 1850, if Aunty Flo lived in Camberwell, she would have said that it was in Surrey. If she happened to move to live in Eltham, she would then have said she had moved to Kent. If her sister was living in Islington, she would write letters addressed to ‘Islington, Middlesex’.
All that changed when the London County Council (LCC) was established in March 1889. It was the principal local government body for the County of London throughout its existence from 1889 until 1965. Another change came in 1900 when the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs came into existence. Apart from the City of London which remained a separate administration (and still is today), all 28 Metropolitan Boroughs were created as part of the new County of London – with a ‘County Council’ (the LCC) to administer them.
The new County of London was created by taking a large part of Middlesex and smaller parts of Surrey and Kent and drawing a boundary line around them. From that time onwards Aunty Flo would say that she was still living in the same place but that it was now ‘Camberwell, London’. All that was a long time ago and many people tend to forget (or maybe never knew) that the County of London was not created until late into the 19th century.
The place that noticed more than most was Deptford where the Surrey-Kent boundary was something that had to be understood because it ran through the parish and also divided the land we know as New Cross. As can be seen from the map at the top of the page, the border joined onto the Thames. At that point, knowing where the boundary ran was simple because it followed a stream known as the Earl’s Sluice. Shortly after coming inland, the border took a turn to the south and meandered somewhat as it continued south, crossing New Cross Road and then over Telegraph Hill.
Above: One side of the post is inscribed ‘SURREY’.
Above: The other side shows the name of ‘KENT’.
There was no line drawn on the ground to show people where the Surrey-Kent boundary lay but iron posts were erected along the boundary. There is still an iron post in Vesta Road marking one point where the boundary passed. One side is marked ‘Kent’ and the other has ‘Surrey’ inscribed on it. This humble post is one of the very few objects which show any evidence of the border between the two counties is shown.
Above: View from Telegraph Hill, looking towards Westminster. The approximate position of the Admiralty is slightly to the right of Big Ben.
These days we pick up a land-line telephone or use a mobile phone without really thinking about the amazing technology behind the process. Before there was a telephone (of any sort) there was the electric telegraph which only transmitted coded characters (representing letters and numbers) it could not transmit speech. That was first used in 1837 – devised by the English inventor William Fothergill Cooke and the English scientist Charles Wheatstone – and known as the five-needle telegraph. At almost the same time, the American Samuel Morse devised his famous code, using a slightly different form of the electric telegraph which he standardised in 1844.
So what did they use before the electric telegraph? The answer to that question is related with the history of Telegraph Hill, in New Cross. Towards the end of the 18th century, experiments were carried out to send messages using a visual telegraph – from the top of one hill to another. The experiments led to a system – constructed by the Admiralty – to send signals along a line of hills and thus transmit information over very long distances. The process was ‘line of sight’ and was constructed across hills all spaced less than 10 miles apart.
Above: Drawing based on the Admiralty Shutter Telegraph station on Telegraph Hill.
The first system was known as the Admiralty Shutter Telegraph which was set up in 1786 for transmitting signals to and from the Admiralty building which stands in the street called Whitehall, in Westminster. The Shutter Telegraph was a huge wooden frame mounted on top of a building (sometimes built in brick but often just in wood). The frame supported six large wooden boards (called shutters) mounted in two vertical columns of three (see the drawing above). Each shutter was square with a side measuring about six to eight feet, operated by a man standing in the building below who moved it by a rope. The shutter could be moved from a horizontal position to a vertical position. From a distance, each shutter would become visible when moved to the vertical position and almost invisible when horizontal. The six shutters could transmit letters of the alphabet and numbers using a code. It was very cumbersome and operating the shutters was slow work.
Above: An unknown semaphore station.
In 1816 a new process called the Admiralty Semaphore Telegraph was devised which replaced the shutters and was in use until at least 1847. By that time the electric telegraph had been invented and the mechanical process became obsolete. Using the semaphore system there was one tall mast, usually supporting four arms (only two are to be seen in the above picture). Each arm was able to be held in one of three positions – the ‘up’ position, the horizontal position or the ‘down’ position (rather like old railway signals that had arms instead of lights).
In the case of shutters and semaphores, the mechanism at each station had to be large enough to be seen using a telescope from a distance of about 10 miles. The operator of one station, set up a code (using the shutters or the semaphore arms) and the operator of the next station watched for that code, using a telescope. The same code was set up at that station which was seen by the next station along the line and so on until the last station was reached.
One route from the Admiralty transmitted to an end station at Deal, in Kent. Another route was from the Admiralty to Portsmouth, in Hampshire. It is known that a signal took about 20 minutes to send from end to end. This low technology solution made transmission of a signal very much faster than the previous method which had been to send a dispatch rider on horseback to cover the distance, often taking many hours.
The telegraph route sending messages to Deal was by sending a signal from the Admiralty across the Thames to a hill in Deptford originally called ‘Plow’d Garlic Hill’. The name is shown on John Rocque’s small scale map (1746) which was produced about 40 years before the Admiralty set up their first telegraph route. The name probably referred to market gardens in the area which included the growing of garlic. A signalling station was built on top of the hill – where the upper part of Telegraph Hill Park is today. The name of the hill has been known as Telegraph Hill ever since. It only rises about 160 feet (50 m) but from that point, it was possible to see the telegraph mounted on the Admiralty building. A similar view is shown above but, of course, there are many tall buildings in London today and the Admiralty building is no longer visible.
From Telegraph Hill in Deptford, the Shutter Telegraph signal was transmitted to Shooter’s Hill which is 433 feet (132 m) high. When the later Semaphore Telegraph was brought into use, the signal was also received on Telegraph Hill but it was transmitted along a different route with the next station being on Red Hill, near Chislehurst – a slightly greater distance. On a fine clear day, each of the two telegraph systems worked well but, of course, on foggy days the system was completely out of action. Only a government organisation like the Admiralty was able to justify the enormous outlay and also the considerable running costs in manpower of such an extravagant system.
The name of Telegraph Hill is a reminder of the remarkable days of mechanical telegraphs. Sadly, there is no evidence for either system on the hill today. The exact layout of the site on the top of this hill, which now a public park, is not even recorded which is a great pity. There is a sign board to inform the visitor of the historic site. To clarify the place names if you do not happen to know the area, Telegraph Hill is a humped hill with Drakefell Road almost crossing at the highest point. On the hill, part of the land is covered by a park which is in two parts – the higher part is called Telegraph Hill Upper Park and another part further down, towards New Cross, is called Telegraph Hill Lower Park. The nearest rail connection is at Nunhead Staton.
Above: The old Deptford Town Hall building stand beside New Cross Road.
When the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs came into existence, in 1900, a decision to build a Town Hall within the borough was taken almost immediately. Not only was one built for each borough but the building was sited in the prominent place possible. Each one was built with civic pride in a way that just would not happen these days. Now it is almost as though civic pride is something to be ashamed of.
Most of the Town Halls were built within the first decade of the 1900s. They were not to know that the First World War would break out within a decade or so of their completion. During that war, there was some bombing in London but nowhere near as devastating as during the Second World War when several Town Halls were completely wiped out.
Today, as we look back on the establishment of Metropolitan Town Halls the count is nowhere near the original number of 28. It is, therefore, all the more interesting to find a Town Hall still looking as elegant as when it was first built. That is certainly true of Deptford Town Hall – built to serve the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford.
Deptford Town Hall stands on the south side of New Cross Road. The building was commissioned to replace the ageing Vestry Hall of St Paul’s and the new site that was chosen had previously been occupied by a row of residential properties with public baths behind. The new building was designed by Henry Vaughan Lanchester, James Stewart and Edwin Alfred Rickards in the Baroque style and built by Holloway Brothers. It was officially opened by the mayor, Councillor Joseph Pyne, on 19 July 1905.
During the Second World War, a V-2 rocket destroyed a Woolworths store on the opposite side of New Cross Road, killing 160 people in the shop. The tragic incident is recorded by a plaque on the wall of the present shop on the site. The blast caused only superficial damage to the Town Hall.
In 1965, Deptford was combined with Lewisham to form the London Borough of Lewisham which meant that it inherited two Town Halls. The building at New Cross was used as a workspace for some council departments until it was acquired by Goldsmiths College in 2000.
Above: The pediment decorated with the scene of a naval battle.
The exterior design of the elegant building has a symmetrical main frontage with seven bays facing onto New Cross Road. The central section features a round-arched doorway flanked by figures of Tritons as corbels on the ground floor. On the first floor, there is an oriel window with a carved relief of a ship’s prow and a pediment containing a tympanum depicting a naval battle above. Deptford has had many associations with the sea, in particular in the founding of the Royal Naval Dockyard on the Deptford riverfront.
On the building are the statues of four naval figures – Sir Francis Drake, Robert Blake, Horatio Nelson and an unnamed contemporary admiral. They were designed by Henry Poole and placed on the front wall at the first-floor level. On the roof is a clock tower with a weather vane in the shape of a galleon. It all very nautical! However, all the detail is probably missed by those scurrying along the road, trying to avoid being hit by the ever-present heavy traffic on the busy main road.
The building is listed Grade II which means that although it was acquired by Goldsmiths’ College to provide extra space for their college, most of the interior of the building has to be kept in its original state.
Above: Photograph of the toll gate. It was taken with a camera on a tripod. Notice how everyone in the picture is looking at the camera.
While it is believed that the New Cross House gave the district of New Cross its name, it was the toll gate called the New Cross Gate that is responsible for the name of the western part of the district. Those who live in and around New Cross Road regard the two locations as quite distinct and separate from one another. Due to having two stations with the names New Cross and New Cross Gate, they tend to reinforce the theory. The postcode for the area is SE14 which covers the entire area.
So, why was there a gate across the road? By the 17th century, England’s roads were in a very poor state. The land that is now Inner London was crossed by a large number of main roads leading from the City of London and from Westminster. They ran to various town and cities far from the capital across many parishes. The City of London maintained the streets within its boundary and on the south side of London Bridge Southwark maintained its streets. When a road extended outside a town or city boundary, it was the parish through which it passed that was expected to keep the road surface in good order. The idea was all well and good but it has to be remembered that when we say “main road” we are talking about nothing more than a rough track.
In wet weather, some of the roads became just marshy ground and when it froze in wintry conditions the ruts were so deep that they were almost impassable. The well-constructed roads by John McAdam did not appear until after 1816. In any case, parishes did not have the money to maintain a long stretch of road running through it and those serving on parish councils usually objected to paying out much money for road repair for the benefit of those who passed by. After all, it was those not in the parish who used the main roads. Parishioners seldom went outside the parish in which they lived.
The solution to raising the money to repair these main roads was solved in 1663 when the first Turnpike Act was passed. This Act allowed companies to be set up, to take control of the main road or a section of it and keep it in good repair. To raise the money for the work, toll gates were authorised and those who used the road had to pay the tolls. The idea was good in theory but in practice, there was not sufficient money raised by the tolls to meet the costs of the labour-intensive work to repair the roads and also pay dividends to shareholders.
There were turnpikes all across what is now Inner London as well as many other turnpikes throughout Britain. New Cross Road became part of the New Cross Turnpike Trust, established in 1718. The toll gate was erected across the road opposite the end of Clifton Rise and took its name from the nearby New Cross House – a local hostelry. It was known as the New Cross Gate. John Rocque’s small scale map (1746) clearly shows the gate at that position.
In 1818, a new turnpike was authorised by the Act of Parliament linking Vauxhall in the west, running through Camberwell and Peckham to join onto New Cross Road. The western part of that route is now known as Camberwell New Road which was newly laid out. The eastern part of the road is today’s Queen’s Road. Due to the increase in traffic using that route, the New Cross Gate was moved west to today’s junction of Queen’s Road and New Cross Road in 1819.
The New Cross Gate was finally closed in 1865 and removed. As well as the gate – to prevent those using the road from passing through without payment of tolls – there was a toll-house beside the road. Everything was swept away and its only evidence is to be seen on old maps and old prints. It would seem that this particular gate was quite a well-known institution because there are several prints of how it all looked. There is even a photograph! It is shown at the top of the page. In the 1860s, photography was in its infancy.
These days, if you mention New Cross Gate, most members of the public would probably associate it with the station by that name. Only a few people are likely to link the name with a busy toll gate on the main road out of London that led to Dartford, Rochester, Faversham, Canterbury and eventually to Dover.
Above: The pub stands on the south side of New Cross Road.
Rather confusingly, there are two pubs in New Cross that are each called ‘New Cross’. The New Cross House stands on the south side of New Cross Road (at the junction with Laurie Grove) and the New Cross Inn stands almost opposite on the north side of New Cross Road (at the junction with Clifton Rise).
The older of the two is the New Cross House. The address is No 316 New Cross Road. It is believed that the district of New Cross took its name from this hostelry. It was a coaching inn originally known as the Golden Cross, which stood close to the site of the current New Cross House pub.
The Manor House at Hatcham and the environs were bought by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers in 1614. It was probably at that time that the area’s name changed. John Rocque’s small scale map (1746) has both names written across what is now New Cross Road. It shows ‘The Hamlet of Hatchen’ (note Rocque’s spelling) and then beside it is written ‘New Cross’. It may be that the name of the coaching inn was beginning to be recognised as an important stop on the journey from London to Rochester and Dover and it became used as a place name. This also happened at pubs like Elephant and Castle (in SE London) and Swiss Cottage (in NW London) but at different times.
While on the subject of Rocque’s map, the original New Cross Turnpike Trust was formed in 1718 with a toll gate adjacent to the New Cross House Inn opposite Clifton Rise. It is mentioned by Daniel Defoe in his diary of 1724. In 1819 the toll gate was moved further west to the junction of what is now Queen’s Road and New Cross Road – following the opening of the Camberwell New Road from Vauxhall.
The diarist John Evelyn, who lived in Deptford, wrote in 1675 that he met a friend at ‘New Crosse’ in his coach before travelling down through Kent and on to France. At the time of Evelyn, the coaching house stood inside the boundary of the old Manor of Hatcham.
Records of the names of publicans can be traced back to 1822. The old building is shown on the first OS map (1862) beside the road. It is marked ‘PH’ (Public House) with other buildings extending south beside a yard that runs south from New Cross Road, on the east side of the pub.
In 2009 the pub was named Goldsmith’s Tavern but it has since been returned to its original name. Regardless of the name above the doorway, the original name of the hostelry is set in stone in more ways than one high up on the exterior masonry of the building. The large pub has the appearance of a Victorian building. One interesting feature is another piece of masonry facing New Cross Road that bears the shield of the City of London. It might indicate that the building was owned at one time by the City of London or at least connected in some way with the City.
Above: The older street name ‘Hatcham Park Rd SE’ above the metal plate ‘Hatcham Park Rd SE14’. They are both on the Five Bells pub.
The early history of the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford (which includes the Manor of Hatcham) is not fully understood because there are very few documents to provide useful information. Deptford was so-named because of the deep ford at the point where the old Roman road crossed the River Ravensbourne. No bridge was built at that point until 1628. There is now a wide road called Deptford Bridge (linking Deptford Broadway and Blackheath Road). Nearby is Deptford Bridge DLR Station. As a name, Deptford is not recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) and it does not appear in any documents until 1334 when it is written ‘Depford’. In 1386 the name appears as ‘Depeford’ in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.
At the time of the Domesday Book, the history of the land we know as Deptford is not at all clear. It was probably part of the Manor of West Greenwich – meaning that it was on the west side of the River Ravensbourne. On the east side of the river was the Manor of East Greenwich which became what we call Greenwich today.
The Manor House for West Greenwich may have been the house that later became known as Sayes Court – named after a 12th century Say family who lived there. If you are thinking that all this is rather vague, you would be right. There are many questions about place names and land ownership to which we just do not know the answers.
Not far away was the Manor of Hatcham which is also recorded in the Domesday Book (1086). It contained land for three ploughs, nine villagers and two smallholders, 6 acres (24,000 square metres) of meadowland and woodland for 3 pigs. As a place-name, Hatcham may mean “Haecci’s estate”– the syllable ‘ham’ at the end comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘home’, ‘homestead’ or ‘estate’. Another theory is that the name may mean “the village in the clearing in the woods” because the land was on the edge of the Great North Wood.
Hatcham Manor House stood a short distance north of the fork in the main road formed by the roads now called New Cross Road and Queen’s Road. The boundary of the Manor of Hatcham is known. Hatcham tithes were paid to Bermondsey Abbey from 1173 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536). A series of individuals then held the manor until 1614 when it was purchased by the Haberdashers’ Company – one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies. It is 8th in precedence.
Above: The manor house in the 1800s.
The site of Hatcham Manor House was where Hatcham Park Road lies today., being so-named because the manor house was also known as Hatcham Park. The house is shown on Rocque’s small scale map (1746) and named ‘Hatchan House’ (with an ‘n’ at the end of the place name). The house is shown to the north of what is now New Cross Road. Around the house is shown a large ornamental garden. On the map, Rocque has written ‘The Hamlet of Hatchen’ (note his spelling with ‘en’ at the end) and then beside it is written ‘New Cross’. It probably indicates that people were calling the land by both names by the time of the map. Believe it or not, this part of the world was in the heart of the countryside at the time of Rocque!
The manor house was leased to Thomas Pepy’s (cousin of Samuel Pepys) in the 17th century. Hatcham Manor House stood until 1869 when it was demolished and no trace of the house or the extensive garden remains today. The Manor of Hatcham extended to the north of New Cross Road and also to the south where it included the land covering Telegraph Hill. That land was developed in the 19th century by the Haberdashers’ Company. The boundary line of the counties of Kent and Surrey runs across New Cross Road and over Telegraph Hill.
The name New Cross replaced that of Hatcham in the 18th century, deriving from a local hostelry called the New Cross House which still stands on the south side of New Cross Road. In 1718 New Cross Road became part of a privately maintained road with a toll-gate across it to collect tolls near the same hostelry.
If you go in search of the place name Hatcham, you are in for a big disappointment. The name has been almost completely replaced by the later name of New Cross. Looking on a modern street map, there is Hatcham Road and Manor Road. They run parallel to each other on the west side of Ilderton Road but they are not even near the site of the old manor house. Hatcham Park Road has already been mentioned. Not far away is Hatcham Gardens which a large open space for recreation, but that is a modern feature.
There was a pub at 94 New Cross Road called the Hatcham Arms until about 2001 or maybe later. The name was then changed by a witty new publican to ‘Down The Hatch’, a name that completely lost track of its original relationship with the district. That name remained until it closed possibly about 2010. The building remains but is now in use as a Dominos pizza outlet.
The local churches have retained Hatcham in their name. All Saints, Hatcham Park – standing on the north side of New Cross Road. St James, Hatcham – standing a short distance south of New Cross Road and now in use as an annexe to Goldsmith’s College. St Catherine, Hatcham – on Telegraph Hill.
The two local state schools with Academy status (one for boys and one for girls) are called Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, retaining the old name of the manor. Over the years there has been the Hatcham Liberal Club and Hatcham Fire Station. However, if you got off a bus in New Cross Road and asked someone in the street where Hatcham is, it is quite likely that you would just get a blank look.
Above: Albury Street with the fine terrace of restored Georgian houses.
Deptford started as a tiny village – but do you know where? Do you know where the original village centre was situated? The reason for the questions is because most people think of Deptford as Deptford High Street and the church of St Paul standing beside it. If you had assumed that was the original centre of Deptford, you would be in the wrong position.
The ancient village developed beside the Thames. There is no record of its name but it was a fishing village clustered around Deptford Green – which is now the name of a street – and the old church called St Nicholas. The ancient village centre lies between the thoroughfare known as Evelyn Street and Creek Road and the Thames. In Tudor times, the Royal Naval Dockyard was founded on the riverside (with a second one being established at Woolwich) and that led to a huge increase in the population as people lived nearby and worked in the dockyard. With so much of the land being taken up with the dockyard and trades related to shipbuilding, there was little room for houses for the workers. Gradually, Deptford expanded inland and the old Butt Lane, leading north from the old Dover Road (now called New Cross Road at this point) became the centre of a ‘new town’. That also led to the building of a new parish church – St Paul, Deptford. Butt Lane is now known as Deptford High Street.
If you are a keen walker and have explored the Thames Path, you have probably walked through Deptford at Watergate Street and Borthwick Street. The latter street is joined by the street called Deptford Green. At the junction of Deptford Green and the curiously named Stowage stands the original church of St Nicholas. This older part of Deptford has a history going back to the Domesday Book (1086) when it was probably part of the Manor of West Greenwich. We say ‘probably’ because the exact details of who owned the land in the 11th century are by no means certain.
Above: The Metropolitan Borough of Deptford (in PURPLE) was relatively small out of the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs. It had a short boundary with the Thames. The location of the old village of Deptford is shown. Deptford High Street lies to the south of the ‘dot’.
Eventually, in 1899 the land just described – as well as additional land to the south – became the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford. It includes land by the Thames and further south, around where today’s New Cross Road forms a fork with what is now called Queen’s Road. New Cross Road is, of course, the SE continuation of Old Kent Road. Old Kent Road was originally in the County of Surrey and was so-called because it led to the County of Kent. The Surrey-Kent border crossed New Cross Road between the fork with Queen’s Road and the other fork with another ancient route now called Lewisham Way. The land we think of as Deptford, therefore, developed over the centuries being partly in Surrey and partly in Kent.
Just to the north of the fork of New Cross Road and Queen’s Road was the Manor House of the Manor of Hatcham. Its manor boundary not only included land to the north of New Cross Road but also included land to the south where the road called Telegraph Hill crosses a real hill by the same name. As a place name, Hatcham dropped out of use and is known today as the district of New Cross, deriving its name from a local hostelry beside New Cross Road.
Until the 1960s, Deptford was a large area filled with factories large and small, accompanied by rows of houses in which the workers and their families lived. Gradually, the factories have closed down and, as with many parts of Inner London, the area has become ‘gentrified’ – with office-workers and those employed in high-tech design companies moving into the locality. The Royal Naval Dockyard was mainly inactive after about 1830. Beside it was the Victualling Yard which supplied all manner of parts for ships being constructed in the dockyard, as well as food provisions for those who sailed in the ships, not forgetting the generous amounts of rum for the navy. In Victorian times, the Victualling Yard was in use importing livestock to provide meat supplies across London. It continued its activities until the 1960s when it was closed and the enormous site became the Pepys Estate, laid out by the Greater London Council (GLC).
Today, Deptford is part of the London Borough of Lewisham (created in 1965). Deptford is crossed by the A2 – the route of Old Kent Road, New Cross Road, Deptford Broadway. Another busy route is the road nearer the Thames – formed by Evelyn Street and Creek Road. Deptford is served by Deptford Station, one of the first stations ever built in Inner London. Not far away is Greenwich Station. In addition, the residents of Deptford have access to the Dockland Light Railway (DLR) – at Cutty Sark DLR Station, Greenwich DLR Station and Deptford Bridge DLR Station. As a result of the good rail links, high-rise blocks of flats are springing up all over Deptford, on sites that were once factories.
Flowing through Deptford is the River Ravensbourne. At the point where it flows under Deptford Broadway was once a deep ford from which the name of Deptford derives. A bridge was eventually built to cross the river and in the 1980s an even wider bridge was constructed. That was soon followed by an adjacent bridge on which Deptford Bridge DLR Station was constructed, providing a convenient station on the line that opened in 1999 with a terminus at Lewisham. The DLR line has meant that flats in Lewisham and Deptford have provided cheaper accommodation for those working at Canary Wharf.
The Ravensbourne meets the Thames at Deptford Creek where small cargo ships dock. To allow for this there is a lifting bridge spanning Creek Road. In addition, to allow walkers and cyclists to enjoy the riverside, there is a recent bridge spanning the creek within yards of the riverside that opened in 2015. It is called Deptford Creek Pedestrian Swing Bridge.
By the 1980s, Deptford High Street was in serious decline as a shopping centre and everyone thought that its shops would vanish completely. Lewisham Council has the brilliant idea of pedestrianising the thoroughfare and inaugurating a street market on several days of the week, including Saturday when the market is at its busiest. The influx of people attending the market led to other shops opening up and the street became busy once more.
Few people ever set out to visit Deptford as a destination. It has always suffered from being beside the more attractive attractions of Greenwich. Everyone who visits London wants to take a river trip from Tower Bridge and to visit Greenwich and see the Royal Observatory. Deptford cannot compete with such high profile venues. However, Deptford should not be cast aside. It has plenty to offer in the way of history with several pieces of evidence of its illustrious past remaining to be seen.
The picture at the top shows an elegant terrace of houses in Albury Street. For overview pages, places have to be on ‘their best behaviour’. Not all the streets in Deptford are anywhere near as elegant as this one!
Comment – Deptford and Lewisham
Having recently looked at the old Metropolitan Boroughs called Southwark and Camberwell, we turn our attention to the London Borough of Lewisham. That was formed by combining the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford with the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham. The next month will be spent looking at places of interest in Deptford with the following month spent on Lewisham.
Above: The large shop with the blue name above it was once Holdron’s store. Alongside, the name is clearly still in use but there is no connection with the original owner. You would have to be over 85 years old to remember the original store.
London has been famous in the past for its big stores. Selfridge’s in Oxford Street is often quoted as being Britain’s first large departmental store. As a result, many other famous large up-market stores came to line Oxford Street and some of them are still there today. Chelsea has a large well-known shop – Peter Jones – which is still going strong. There was, of course, Kensington High Street which once had three large stores – Barkers, Derry and Toms and Pontin’s. In their case, none of them is still in business today. Knightsbridge has Harrod’s which is known around the world. The list could go on, with many areas of London having a large store which acted as a ‘magnet’ for shoppers and made the local area prosperous.
There was also Peckham. Peckham? Yes, Peckham. For many people today Rye Lane is well known for being lined with endless shops but few locals know just how important a shopping area Peckham once was. In the days before the Second World War Peckham was considered to be the best shopping centre in South London. In the early half of the twentieth century, it was known as London’s ‘Golden Mile’. At one end of Rye Lane was the large departmental store called Jones and Higgins. Near Rye Lane Station (but on the opposite side of the road to the station) was another large store called Holdron’s.
The firm started trading in about 1882 when Henry Holdron opened his market at 53 Rye Lane. Between 1885 and 1888 this had expanded to include existing shop premises on both sides of 53 – at numbers 51-57. Holdron’s had very long opening hours and there was competitive marketing with frequent sales and special reductions. It was later acquired as part of Selfridge’s. In 1940 it was taken over by John Lewis partnership and eventually sold off in 1949. The result was that the store closed.
While in business, Holdron’s had a grand facade at pavement level in Rye Lane and the building rose to several storeys in an Art Deco style. To make the interior useful for use as shops in later years, false ceilings were incorporated and, apart from the exterior, all other clues as to its one-time grandeur have been lost. During interior improvements a few years ago, parts of the interior Art Deco shop ceiling were discovered and in 2016 it was restored to its former glory. Plans are afoot to restore the exterior which is now in need of considerable restoration.
Above: The truncated stump of Holdron’s original chimney at the back of the original store, near the railway viaduct.
Rye Lane, once being such a prosperous shopping centre, has about a dozen ailing Art Deco buildings. They are now lacking any love and attention but they survive from their grander days of a shopping centre. Plans are at an advanced stage to create what is being called the ‘Art Deco Quarter’ in the centre of Peckham’s bustling shopping centre. Sadly, while the numbers of people still shopping in Rye Lane have not diminished since its ‘Golden Mile’ days but the status of the shops has rather declined.
If you travel by train along the railway line that approaches Peckham Station from the east, you can still see the truncated square chimney with the name ‘RONS’ picked out in white bricks. When the chimney was at its full height, the name of ‘HOLDRONS’ could be seen. Its remains now act as a marker for the once-famous store.
Dulwich Park is a park for everyone. As well as plenty of space for games of football or cricket, there is a bowling green, a track for horse-riding and even a lake with rowing boats. If all that is too exhausting, you can visit the tea-rooms serving light meals or perhaps just sit on the lawns and let the world go by.
The layout of the park was started by Charles Barry (Junior) in 1884 but it was taken over and refined by Lt. Colonel J.J.Sexby in 1887. He was the Chief Officer of Parks for the London County Council (LCC). Dulwich Park was opened to the public in 1890. The land had been Dulwich Court Farm and Ruston’s Farm or Fields. The seventy-two acres were presented to the former Metropolitan Board of Works by the Governors of Dulwich College, on condition that the Board would lay it out as a public park.
One of the more unusual features that Sexby added to Dulwich Park was the ‘American Garden’. It was designed around sweeping lawns lined with Azaleas and Rhododendrons plus other acid-loving plants which were then arriving from the eastern United States at that time. Many of the plants to be seen today date from the original planting.
One of the well-known facts about Dulwich Park is that it was visited annually by Queen Mary who came to see the Rhododendrons and Azaleas. Queen Mary was consort to George V which means that she was Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother. Queen Mary visited every year in May and although she made many visits, Dulwich Park is not one of the eight Royal Parks in London. As its name implies it is a local park in Dulwich, which was in the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell which is now part of the London Borough of Southwark. In her honour, the park has a Queen Mary Gate named after her which stands beside the road called Dulwich Common. The gates are nearest to the American Garden.
In the above picture, the house in the background is one of two almost identical elegant lodges that were built in the park to be lived by park-keepers. That practice ended many years ago, probably in the 1960s. They are now used for educational purposes for small groups.
Above: Grove Tavern in 2008 when it was in use as a Harvester Inn.
The address of the Grove Tavern is 520 Lordship Lane, SE22. The premises are situated at the junction of Lordship Lane and Dulwich Common which is no longer open land but a road running west towards the southern end of Dulwich. The large building is quite attractive. It was named after a grove of trees and speaks to us of a different time when the location was far more rural. In fact, until the 1900s most of the southern part of Camberwell – which includes all of Dulwich – was just farms, estates and open land. It is a concept that is hard to imagine these days.
The site is a busy one because, at that point, there is a constant flow of traffic, negotiating the corner where the South Circular Road turns through almost 90 degrees as it changes from Lordship Lane into Dulwich Common. The pub has had several names since it first came into existence and its history will be considered under the different headings.
1690 – Green Man Tavern, Dulwich
The earliest reference to a tavern on the site was in 1690 as ‘greenman at Dulwitch’ [Lillywhite; n7941 p248]. The name was most likely to have been due to the suit of green worn by local woodmen, foresters or gamekeepers who frequented the woods of Dulwich.
About 1730 the tavern was let to a Francis Cox. Cox’s Walk was laid out as a formal avenue of oaks planted in the 1740s by Francis Cox to connect his Green Man Tavern and Dulwich Wells with Sydenham Wells. It is still in existence and the public footpath runs from a point on the opposite side of the road (called Dulwich Common) to the pub. It ends on the high ground of Sydenham Hill and is owned by Dulwich Estates.
1670s – Dulwich Wells
Not far away – to the west of the Grove Tavern – medicinal springs were discovered by at least the 1670s. In his famous diary for 5 August 1677, John Evelyn writes that he took the waters at Dulwich. They are shown on Cary’s map of 1786, William Faden’s map of 1789 and also on Stanford’s map of 1862 indicating that they were a feature of this part of Dulwich long after wells were fashionable watering places.
1799 – Glennie’s Academy
About 1799 the tavern was demolished and the site became used for Glennie’s Academy. The school was run by Dr Alfred Glennie, until his death, using Grove House, built on the site of the Green Man Tavern. As a boy, George Gordon Byron attended the Academy for two years, 1799-1801, before going on to Harrow School.
Above: Victorian print showing Bew’s Tea Garden.
1820 – Bew’s Tea Garden
When the owner of Glennie’s Academy died, the school closed and an old woodman, in the service of the College called Francis Bew, became the tenant. He converted the building, known as Grove House, into a place of entertainment that developed into the present Grove Tavern.
1830 – Grove Tavern, Dulwich
From about 1830 Bew’s Tea Garden became known as the Grove Tavern [Lillywhite;n17131 p683] a name that has continued until the present day. In 1862 the Grove Tavern was taken over by Courage Breweries. The building was extended at some point – probably in the 1900s – and an exclusive restaurant was built onto the already flourishing pub.
By the 1960s, the restaurant was so exclusive that only wealthy patrons could afford to enjoy lunches or dinners in the up-market surroundings. Whether the story that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor dined at the establishment in the 1960s is true is not known but it is quite possible. It was that kind of place. The establishment was continuing a way of life that was rapidly changing and the posh restaurant eventually closed in the 1980s, giving way to an altogether different clientele in the form of a Harvester Inn. The new style of eating was a great success and the place was always packed, operating alongside the pub.
From 2011 the premises were owned by the Stonegate Pub Company and it is said that the quality of food and service declined rapidly. In 2014 a fire broke out in the kitchen and Stonegate chose not to refurbish the pub. It has remained closed and derelict ever since.
The pub is in a ‘hostile’ location with the endless traffic from the South Circular Road thundering past. With an annual rent for the property said to be £250,000, it is unlikely that it will ever open again. There is continuing discussion about new plans but so far, they have come to nothing. Southwark Council is determined that the pub should stay. If implemented, it would preserve a well-known landmark which has been an important part of the history of the area.