Above: The Porcupine in Mottingham – an unusual name for a local pub that closed in 2013 and is likely to be demolished.
Mottingham is an unusual location. In case you are unfamiliar with parts of the old Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich, have a look at a street map – either an old A-Z Street Atlas or on Google Maps. If you find the place-name ‘Woolwich’ (beside the Thames) then work your way due south, eventually reaching Eltham. To the south of that runs Court Road which crosses the A20, called Sidcup Road. The crossroads where those two road cross marks the location of Mottingham. Look again and Mottingham Station is just to the north.
The name of Mottingham was first recorded in AD 862 – the earliest date for any settlement in the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich and, indeed, within the London Borough of Greenwich. The name means ‘Moda’s homestead or farm’. Although it was a settlement – probably the large farmhouse of an estate – the people living there did not increase to the extent that it became a hamlet or a village. The area lay within the Manor of Lewisham until 1290 when it passed for the Manor of Eltham. Like other places in Inner London (and across England), it became a ‘lost settlement’ and its use as a place name virtually died out. Anyone living there in the 18th century would probably have described where they lived as being ‘to the south of the village of Eltham’.
Many locations in London that regard themselves as a ‘place name’ today often developed an identity due to the coming of the railways and the need to give each station a name. Station names have always been geographic and they are responsible for several place names that are in use today. By the 1830s Mottingham was regarded as a hamlet with few houses and mainly farmland all around. When Mottingham Station first opened in 1866, it was called ‘Eltham’ because there was no station near the centre of Eltham. In 1892 it was renamed ‘Eltham and Mottingham’ and it was not until 1927 that it became ‘Mottingham’. To complete the story, there was no station at Eltham until 1895 when it opened as ‘Eltham Well Hall’. A second station called ‘Eltham Park’ opened nearby in 1908. Surprisingly, today’s station called ‘Eltham’ did not open until 1985 when it replaced the other two earlier stations which were demolished.
In a way, although Mottingham was regarded as a hamlet, it was the station name that gave the location a boost. Having already mentioned Sidcup Road, suburban development did not begin until after that arterial road opened in 1923. To the locals, it is often referred to as the ’Sidcup Bypass’.
In terms of development, one thing usually leads to another. Mottingham remained a hamlet until 1884 when the parish of St Andrew was created and the hamlet became a parish. The church was built in 1897 by Edward Clarke. A burial ground was not permitted until a later date. The church stands beside Court Road – the part of Court Road that is to the south of Sidcup Road.
A short distance from the church – in Mottingham Road – is the Ironmongers’ Company Almshouses built during 1912. The original homes were in Shoreditch became the Geffrye Museum after the almshouses moved to Mottingham. The Mottingham houses are now privately owned residences.
Another building that should be mentioned is a large school called Eltham College. It moved to its present site – centred on an 18th-century mansion called Fairy Hall – in 1912.
Finally, the unusually named Porcupine Inn was once the ‘heart of the village’. It is (at the time of writing) waiting to find out its fate. As a pub name, it is very common. There have been few in London. The name probably relates to a family coat of arms. The Porcupine Inn at Mottingham goes back a long way, having existed since the 17th century, probably from 1688. It is shown and named on Rocque’s small scale map of 1746. The present pub was rebuilt in 1922 and continued in use until it was closed in 2013, for the site to be redeveloped. The local residents have put up a good fight against its demolition but, as the picture shows, its chances of survival are slim.