Those who live at Catford or who pass by in a car or on the bus either love or hate that large cat which is mounted at first floor level above the shopping centre name. Those who live in North London are for ever saying ’South London looks all the same to me’ and for those who live in South London they always complain ‘North London looks all the same to me’. In a sense they are both right. Many parts of London do look the same as others – for the simple reason that they have no distinguising landmarks or big shops any more. In days gone by, as the bus approached Peckham the conductor shouted out ‘Jones and Higgins’ and at Lewisham the cry was ‘Chiesmans’. Those departmental stores closed down a long time ago, leaving the high streets with the same old endless stream of similar shops all bearing the same names – Boots, Superdrug, Costa, McDonald’s or Starbucks – wherever you happen to be.
What makes a location interesting is what is different about it – a sense of individuality. It does not have to be posh or an expensive area, it is worth visiting if it has some characteristic that makes it interesting. It was with these sentiments that the local Council decided to make ‘beautiful down-town Catford’ stand out. Even those with no interest in the area could not help but notice that cat!
Above: Part of John Rocque’s small scale map of 1746, showing the lanes around Catford. At the time of the map it was known as ‘Rush Green’ where rushes grew on the marshy land near the River Ravensbourne. The street name is now ‘Rushey Green’.
Its corny but its true – Catford derives its name from a small ford across the River Ravensbourne. The evidence is on John Rocque’s map of 1746. To help you get your bearings, a few modern names have been added to his original small scale map for this part of SE London. Today, the road coming from Forest Hill is called Stanstead Road. In Rocque’s time it was known as ’Steucer’s Lane’. That road now passes over a hump-back bridge as it approaches Catford. Under the bridge flows the River Ravensbourne and there are also two railway lines. The eastern side of the bridge leads to today’s Catford and the shops are beside Rushey Green (‘Rush Green’ on Rocque’s map).
Another route to Catford leads from Sydenham via Bell Green and part of that road, now called Perry Hill, was also in existence at the time of Rocque’s map. In his day there was a lane running east at ‘Place House’ which met up with the main road between Rushey Green and Bromley. That lane was truncated when a railway line was laid out on the land. Part of that lane still exists, it is called elm Lane. In the days when all of it was in existence it crossed the River Ravensbourne by a ford and it was that ford that gave the area its name. While looking at the map, try to count the houses. There are hardly any! Today nearly all of this part of Rocque’s map is covered with streets full of houses and small shops.
Inner London has very few place names with ‘ford’ in the name. Deptford springs to mind – derived from being at the site of a ‘deep ford’. Old Ford in East London was indeed the site of ‘an old ford’, possibly Roman. Other ‘ford’ names are to be found in Outer London and also around the rest of Britain.
The large figure of a cat representing a location may not be to everybody’s taste but at least it makes people remember how this little piece of SE London derived its name. The idea of a very visual sign to represent a locality would not be possible for many place names but, like many pub signs, a visual link could easily be found to suit many other localities in London.