Above: A wide angle view looking west with New Cross Road (curving round towards the right) and Queen’s Road (at the bottom left) forming a fork in the road. The attractive building with brown coloured paint along the ground floor (towards the left) is the White Hart pub outside which once stood the New Cross Toll-gate.
Having been lecturing on Inner London for many years, I have found that some areas have names that send out ‘good vibrations’ – like Dulwich, Greenwich, Hampstead and Highgate. Others have the opposite effect. Few people seen to warm to the names of Bermondsey, Deptford or Hackney. This is very unfair because those who make up their minds that a place is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are usually those who have never been to see for themselves. Its rather like a person saying I don’t eat cabbage because I don’t like it.
Sadly, New Cross is usually among the localities that many people have made up their mind is a place of ‘bad vibrations’ and, as with everywhere else, it has many things to like as well as some that are less favourable.
Let’s start at the beginning and talk about the name. Until the 17th century New Cross was a very small community living at a fork in the road where New Cross Road (the SE continuation of Old Kent Road which lies on the line of one of the Roman roads out of London) meets a road running via Camberwell and Peckham, now called Queen’s Road. At that point was a large manor house along with surrounding land which was known as the Manor of Hatcham. The name ‘Hatcham’ has almost ceased to exist today because the locality has adopted the later name of New Cross.
Beside the roadway, on the line of the Roman road just mentioned, were several taverns and one of them was called ‘The Cross’. Establishments by this name were often so-called because they stood near a way-side Crucifix – like the ones you still see in the countryside in France. As time passed the hostelry was rebuilt and – you have probably guessed what is coming next – it was then called ’The New Cross’. Gradually the area became known by the name of the pub and, in 1717, the name became more commonly used because a toll-gate was erected which was known as the ’New Cross Gate’.
The old Hatcham House was demolished in the 19th century, so no trace of that can be found today. The area is probably better known for its large bus garage and two railway stations (New Cross Station and New Cross Gate Station) than for anything else.
To the south of New Cross Road the land rises steeply – known as Telegraph Hill because an early semaphore station was built on the summit around 1800. This has led to two communities developing – one on the low ground, called New Cross, and one on the high ground called Telegraph Hill.
For subscription members there is a link that will be sent out for a pdf download (in ‘Bugle’ format) of a two-page history of New Cross and Telegraph Hill.