Poole River at Lower Sydenham

Above: The Poole River, sparkling in the sunshine, flowing beside newly laid out bank, with wild plants establishing themselves.

We always talk about the River Thames as ‘London’s River’ – mainly because it flows through the centre of the capital. What many people fail to realise is that the large conurbation that we call London is actually the land from which the Thames derives a large amount of its water. That water drains off the land via smaller streams which are tributaries of the Thames. Over the centuries many of those streams have been culverted and now flow underground through sewers.

One of the tributaries of the Thames – flowing through parts of SE London is the River Ravensbourne. Nearly the entire length of the river flows at ground level and can easily be seen on a map or, better still, by walking beside it. The Ravensbourne meets the Thames at Deptford Creek whose mouth is just west of the ‘Cutty Sark’ at Greenwich. As is often the case, tributaries of the Thames also have their own even small tributaries. One of the streams flowing into the Ravensbourne is the River Quaggy – an incredibly long tiny stream that meets the Ravensbourne near Lewisham Station. Further south is another tiny stream called the Poole River which meets the Ravensbourne just south of Catford and Catford Bridge stations. The Poole derives its source from even smaller streams and rivulets in the West Wickham and Beckenham areas (in the London Borough of Bromley). One stream that feeds into the Poole River is The Beck which is why Beckenham is so-called.

Above: A heron wading in the cold stream on an autumn morning.

The Poole River flows via Penge and Lower Sydenham. It crosses Southend Lane under a bridge near the large Sainbury’s supermarket. That site had been covered by a very large gas works until the 1980s. When a new commercial estate was laid out, including Sainsbury’s, the course of the Poole River was cleaned up and new reed-beds were planted to encourage wild life. The project, which also included a new linear park extending from Southend Lane all the way to Catford, was very successful. Kingfishers are often to be seen on the banks of the stream and herons can be seen wading in the water.

East of the old gas works site, much of the land through which the Poole flowed had been used as a dumping ground for waste materials. It was cleaned up in the 1980s and became a place of recreation as well as a useful footpath linking Lower Sydenham with Catford and Bellingham. Many local people can now enjoy the pleasant rural environment – free from the noise of busy traffic and the associated air pollution – on land that nobody would have ever walked across a few decades ago.


Posted in /Lewisham, Sydenham | Leave a comment

Honor Oak

Above: Looking east at the ‘Oak of Honor’ on a summer’s day at the top of One Tree Hill.

Honor Oak is a quiet ‘unsung’ part of the SE23 post code area of Forest Hill. Those who live there know that they live in what is technically Forest Hill but they often say that they live in Honor Oak. Over the other side of the Forest Hill post code is Perry Vale which is also referred to as if it was a separate area which it is just another part of Forest Hill.

So why is it called ‘Honor Oak’ and not spelt ‘Honour Oak’? There is a simple reason and that is because early maps spelt the first word in that way. In the UK, we usually keep the letter ‘u’ in words like colour and honour because it is preserving the French aristocratic spellings. If you go back to the 16th century, however, the letter ‘u’ was not included. Shakespeare wrote ‘honor’ rather than ‘honour’. Today there are streets called ‘Honor Oak Park’ and ‘Honor Oak Road’. The next stop on the railway line from Forest Hill Station, travelling towards London, is Honor Oak Park Station. In Victorian times there was also an Honor Oak Station – near the junction of Wood Vale and Forest Hill Road, on a line that ran from Nunhead to Crystal Palace.

So, does the name have any meaning and was there a special oak tree? The short answer is ‘Yes’. It all centres around an open space – spread over a small hill – on which the ‘Honor Oak’ stands. The open space is now called One Tree Hill.

Until the 1500s, most of the land – from Croydon in the south to land near Deptford in the north – was a large extensive forest known as the Great North Wood. Its name was because the wood was north of Croydon – the only major place name in the area. It extended for several miles (aligning on an axis from SW to NE) but it was seldom more than about two miles wide. The terrain was, in the main, hilly with some of the hills rising to about 300 feet (95 metres). The highest point was what we now call Crystal Palace but other hills are Sydenham Hill which is a long ridge where a road of the same name runs; the rising land where today’s Horniman Gardens are to be found; and the high ground now called Telegraph Hill, which was the most northerly extent of the forest. It was no coincidence that the area of Forest Hill derived its name.

Within the forest was another steep-sided hill that is now a small open space. It is now called One Tree Hill and its peak rises to 300 feet (91 meres).

In the Chamberlain’s papers for 1602 is an entry concerning Queen Elizabeth I. It was an entry for almost the end year of her reign. It states that ‘on May Day the Queen went a-maying to Sir Richard Buckley’s at Lewisham, some three or four miles off Greenwich’. This could well have been where the local tradition originated that ‘Elizabeth sat beneath an oak on the summit of a hill when she came hither’. It would seem that the location was so remote that the only way to describe it was to explain that it was ‘some three or four miles off Greenwich’. To anyone living at the time, the nearest well-known place would have been Greenwich.

The oak under which the Queen sat was known as ‘the oak of honor’ or sometimes ‘the honored oak’ . The earliest detailed map to show this part of London was published by John Rocque in 1746. It shows the forest and the hills clearly. The site of the famous tree is erroneously labelled ‘Oak of Arnon’. The surveyor walking round, preparing drawings for the map, probably mis-heard the local when he asked its name.

Above: Looking west at the same oak tree on an autumn morning. Notice the railings around the tree. To the right of the tree is the iron parish boundary post.

The ‘Oak of Honor’, a boundary tree, was destroyed in 1888 by lightning. It is said that an acorn from the old tree was then planted nearby. That tree is now a large oak and there is a plaque on the railings explaining the story. The old stump of the original tree could be seen in the 1950s but all remains have since rotted away.

What had once been a thickly forested area had been extensively cleared by 1800 but there were ‘pockets’ of forest, especially on hills in the area. After lying unused for many decades, the hill was fenced off as a public space on 7 August 1905 and given the name ‘One Tree Hill’. The small park, which has deliberately been left uncultivated, provides fine views of the City and of Westminster. The ‘one tree’ refers to the oak tree at the top of the hill.

In terms of situation, One Tree Hill has the ancient parish boundary (of St Mary, Lewisham, and St Giles, Camberwell) running across it. An iron boundary post, bearing the parish names, is to be seen near the oak tree. The old Metropolitan Boundary of Camberwell fully enclosed One Tree Hill which is today within the London Borough of Southwark.

It might be interest to mention that the banner across the top of this blogging Website was taken from the top of One Tree Hill.


Posted in /Camberwell | Leave a comment

Hill House, Honor Oak Road

Above: Hill House standing beside Honor Oak Road.

Forest Hill is among the last places in London to be named. The name seems to have appeared in the 1790s due to a group of large houses that were built around that time in Honor Oak Road, near the T-junction with a steep hill called Westwood Park. In the 18th century, the land was quite densely forested and the area was often used for hunting. Anyone who knows the area today will be aware that the streets are still lined with more trees than in other parts of London. One of the houses that were in the group on Honor Oak Road was Hill House. It was probably built about 1796 and extended over the following two decades.

AboveL View of Hill House from the junction with the steep hill called Westwood Park. Honor Oak Road at the bottom right.

There is every indication that the house was used as a hunting lodge. It was owned for many years, from 1807, by the Southwark warehouseman and corn factor Henry Dudin. He was master of the Old Surrey Hunt which met frequently at Sydenham and Forest Hill during this time. There are indications that the north wing of Hill House was originally a stable block and an unexpectedly large one for a house of that size.

Rumours abound about the history, related to Hill House and also of Ashberry Cottage (next door), that the house was used as a royal hunting lodge – frequented by William IV, then the Duke of Clarence. Nothing has ever been established for certain but that is not for the want of trying. A plaque was placed on Asberry Cottage by its owner in the 1980s stating that the Duke of Clarence lived in the building but, although his story was researched by as high an authority as Buckingham Palace, no definite evidence could be found to substantiate his claims.

The large Georgian house stands at No 64 Honor Oak Road, at the junction with Westwood Park. Its impressive doorway opens almost directly onto the side of the road and the side of the house runs parallel with the road. Hidden behind the bushes is a charming ‘old world’ garden at the western side and around the back.



Posted in /Lewisham, Forest Hill | Leave a comment

Norwegian Church, Rotherhithe

Above: The present Norwegian church, looking splendid at the end of its newly opened garden. The approach road to Rotherhithe Tunnel is on the far left and Albion Street is to be seen on the far right.

Although there was a Norwegian church in Rotherhithe from 1871, it was rather ‘tucked away’ within the Surrey Commercial Docks, beside Rotherhithe Street, towards the eastern end. The Norwegian Mission Society opened a mission in Rotherhithe in 1868, originally in a temporary church until a permanent building, called the Ebenezer Church was opened. It stood at the area called Downtown – at Rotherhithe Street, near Odessa Street. On the corner of the church nearest the pavement, the foundation stone was inscribed ‘Laid by Prinds Osgar on 26 July 1871’.

Above: Photograph (in 1981) of the old Norwegian Church (in Rotherhithe Street) and the house beside it, once used by the Norwegian pastor. At that time the Dockland Settlement as a young people’s club.

The countries of Norway and Sweden had united in 1814 so the Ebenezer Church ministered to both Norwegian and Swedish sailors. The Union between the two countries was dissolved in 1905 and a separate Swedish Seamen’s Mission was then founded. The old building remained in use until the 1920s when the new church (described below) was opened. The old church remained standing for many years and was used as a Dockland Settlement Community Centre. The old church was taken down about 2013 and its foundation stone was carefully removed. A new development has now been built on the old site.

Above: The foundation stone, dated 1871, on the wall of the old church in Rotherhithe Street.

In 1926 a new plot of land was purchased just next to the entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel for a new church in a more central location. The foundation stone for that building was laid by Norwegian Crown Prince Olav. The new church was consecrated in June 1927. In front of the church were a few streets which had very little use because they were beside the approach to Rotherhithe Tunnel and there was limited access. Part of the area was known as St Olav’s Square, which was at one end of the adjacent Albion Street. The street layout did not contribute to the surroundings of the church in any way.

In March 2016 planning permission by Southwark Council was granted to transform St Olav’s Square into a flexible, safe and attractive public space that could be used by all of the community throughout the year as well as the potential for accommodating street markets and community events. The square was officially opened on 9 July 2017 and it has greatly improved the look of the front of the church. The new open space has been planted with shrubs and also contains a few wall plaques and statues. The foundation stone, once to be seen on the old Norwegian church, has been mounted on the wall of the new garden.

In the days of the Surrey Commercial Docks, one of the main imports was timber – of which large quantities arrived from many parts of the world, including Norway. The church acted as a seamen’s mission. With time, some of the seamen married English brides and the church took on an additional role as a focus for Norwegian people resident in London. With the closure of the docks, the church has continued to fulfil its role as a church for the Norwegian community right across London and even some places outside London.

In passing, it should be mentioned that a Scandinavian Christmas Market is held every year in the Norwegian Church. This year (2017) it will be held on 24–26 November 2017.


Posted in /Bermondsey, Rotherhithe | 4 Comments

His and Hers (Mural)

Above: The unusual mural at the junction of Giffin Street and Deptford High Street.

We are never far from remarkable forms of art in London – statues on buildings, free-standing statues of famous people, large murals on the end of a terrace and many other examples that could be mentioned. Some of it is very grand – like a famous statue or the decoration on an important building – but some of it is quite intimate and often very original.

Thanks to the bombing during the Second World War and also to what public bodies call ‘improvements’ to town centres, there are many end walls distributed all over London. Some of them are rather ugly and they often make the locality look rather stark. Even someone who does not know the area will easily notice that an end wall is the result of some kind of action that has changed the layout of the place they are looking at.

A good example is an ‘end wall’ near Deptford High Street. For many years it remained rather an eyesore and made the open space look rather untidy. In 2002 the Deptford X Festival was held and Patricio Forrester, from the South London public art company Artmongers, created the striking work in pink overlooking Deptford Market, which is at its largest on Saturdays when it occupies Deptford High Street, Douglas Way and part of Giffin Street.

It was Patricio’s first mural, created using water based masonry paint. Unlike many of London’s murals which have a strong narrative element, Patricio took an interventionist approach taking the physical circumstances of the site as the starting point and aiming not so much at creating a statement as an atmosphere of surrealism. His initial idea involved hanging physical objects by chains around the chimneys at the top of the wall but, when this proved impractical, he decided to paint the necklaces and tie – an ironic take on an area traditionally viewed as deprived.

Whereas Deptford was once a traditionally working class area, as the small factories and workshops have all closed down, the locality is gradually being gentrified. This is mainly because it is so well connected with the City of London and the West End – by railway trains running into London Bridge Station and Charing Cross Station. It is also well connected to Canary Wharf – using the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the nearby stations.

After 15 years of Deptford weather, the His and Hers mural on Deptford High Street has enjoyed a makeover. This was due to the London residential developer, Anthology, who sponsored the recent restoration which took place between the 5th and the 9th of September 2016.


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Kingsland Road in the 1930s

Above: Hoarding surrounding a development at the Elephant and Castle.

Reminiscing the Past

I was waiting for a bus at the Elephant and Castle traffic interchange a few months ago and I noticed a large drawing of a pink elephant on the protective hoarding of a new development beside one of the roundabouts. For some reason it reminded me of a story told to me some time ago – in the 1980s – which was about real elephants.

My father was a pharmacist at the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children. One of his best friends was a consultant dentist at Guy’s Hospital who spent one day each week at the Evelina – to carry out work on the children’s teeth. His name was Mr James Mansie. I also knew him well and one day he told me the following story.

It relates to when he was a student which would have been around the 1930s. When I knew him, he was a distinguished consultant dentist, usually dressed in a morning suit. To anyone other than my father and me he probably looked rather intimidating. It was hard to ever picture him as a young student. He told me that one evening he had gone to a party in the West End with some of his student friends. They were all enjoying the party and, by the end of the evening, they were all a little tipsy. It was then time for them to make their way home. It was the ‘early hours’ before they left the party and they suddenly realised that it was far too late for them to catch any form of public transport. Most of them lived in digs – either in Southwark, near Guy’s Hospital, where they were students, or just north of the City of London. James Mansie was then living with his parents where his father (who was a doctor and the local GP) lived in a house which he also used for his General Practice somewhere near Shoreditch, possibly on Kingsland Road.

The group set off on foot, ready to walk home together and then split up and go their separate ways as they got nearer to their digs. He said that the night was dry but inclined to be slightly foggy and it took them some hours to walk home. After they had been walking for some considerable time, one of the group announced that he thought he could see elephants in the distance. We all know about people who have had too much to drink and how they often claim to see strange objects. The group took little notice of the claim and continued walking and chatting. Within a short distance they all began to see elephants!

Being in the middle of the night, the roads in those days were really very quiet, with almost no traffic at all to worry about. It turned out that a travelling circus was taking advantage of the quiet roads at night to move their troop of circus elephants from one site to another one being set up a few miles away. The line of elephants was to be seen walking along Kingsland Road or Shoreditch High Street under the supervision of their keeper!

It is a good story and for me, it is all the more amusing to have heard it from a man who, when he told the story, had been a highly eminent consultant dentist well into his eighties! London, obviously, was a different place in the 1930s.


Posted in /Shoreditch | Leave a comment

Spur Inn, Borough High Street, Becomes an Inn Once More

Above: The entrance yard off the east side of Borough High Street that was once the site of the old Spur Inn.

The east side Borough High Street is an area where the layout of the buildings is under strict rules regarding development. This is mainly because it is the site of over a dozen inns that once lined the street. The George Inn is still a well-known tourist destination. Further south of the George Inn was a collection of shops which had been left to fall into a terrible condition. Only the alleyways between them still retained the names of a few of the original inns. Of particular interest was Spur Inn whose entrance from Borough Street Street had walls still lined in part with the remains of 16th century timbers.

In 2015 new plans were agreed for a new development on the site. It probably involved the removal of all the old buildings which were in a very poor state. By December 2016 hoardings surrounded the new buildings, faced with brick. One part of the new development will be a new Premier Inn. The opening of the new 100-room hotel so close to the nearly completed London Bridge Station is obviously a good choice of location. With the station about to provide more trains than ever to many more destinations, via Thameslink, business people will make good use of the new hotel for a short term stay while doing business in the capital. Because of the many attractions nearby – not least Tower Bridge, the Shard of Glass viewing gallery, Southwark Cathedral, the Globe Theatre and the Borough Market – there will be many who take advantage of the hotel for short leisure breaks as well.

While the new buildings will bring change to this part of Borough High Street, it will also ‘tidy up’ what has been a very ugly sight of dereliction for probably two or three decades. There seems to be a certain poetic justice that the site of an ancient inn in Southwark has been finally removed to make way for a 21st century modern inn – a Premier Inn !

Above: Low angle of view of the present yard – showing the stone cart tracks (newly laid) and the timbers (now in a modern wooden frame) on the north wall (on the left).

The remains of the high entrance arch to the old Spur Inn have been removed. The high arch was an interesting feature because it was much higher than most arches leading into the yards of other inns. On the side wall on the south side, just a few feet from the ground, were the remains of an ancient wall from the 17th century. It is possible that it was listed but, sadly, it has completely vanished. On the north side wall were several large pieces of timber, probably originally erected to prevent carts and coaches from damaging the archway as they passed through. That large timber has been re-erected at its original position, now within a new wooden frame.

One other feature that has been retained is the pair of stone cart tracks, which remain from the days of the horse and cart or the ‘coach and four’. They are to be seen amid stone sets which have been newly laid but at least give the impression of an ancient yard of an old coaching inn.

Although the new entrance yard to the Premier Inn is perfectly serviceable, the new layout and modern buildings are one more example of how developers completely sanitise the location so that any feel of history and of the place once having been an ancient site have been ‘airbrushed’ out of existence. The one reason why visitors come to Southwark is to enjoy the history of the place. At the rate that developers are ‘marching onwards’, they will have ‘killed the goose that laid the golden egg’ if they pay only scant regard to the area’s past.

The original Spur Inn has little history to be recounted, with very few prints remaining that show the yard in centuries past. Along with the other nearby inns that once stood beside Borough High Street, the origins of the Spur Inn probably date from the 15th or 16th centuries. During Elizabeth I’s reign, Spur Inn was owned by William Emerson whose son Thomas is recalled by Emerson Street – whose name is still to be seen on modern maps of Bankside.

Note: This is the third blog about the Spur Inn. There is a blog titled Spur Inn, Borough High Street dated 4 March 2015 which contains pictures of how the entrance to the old Spur Inn used to look. There is also a blog titled Borough High Street, Nos 127-143 dated 16 January 2017 describing an unusual find on the site.


Posted in /Southwark | 4 Comments