Tag Archives: history

An infographic from 1697…

A description of the army camp on Blackheath 1697
Nice find over on British Army Lineages – a description of the army camping on Blackheath from 1697:

Partial transcription from my squinting at the text (shout if you see mistakes, or manage to transcribe the rest!):

A description of the camp on Blackheath which begun on Thursday the 1st of July 1697.

On Tuesday the 1st day of July 1697, the 7 Regiments of Foot marcht to Black-heath in the County of Ken, about 6 Mile from London’ in order to Encamped, and having the Ground set out for the setting up their Tents’ and on Thursday and Friday the 1st and 2d Days of July, the 7 Regiments of Foot came all into the Camp, then the Camp was full, which consisteth of 7 Regiments. Lieutenant Colonel Withers Brigadier for this Camp, acteth as chief. The distance of each Regiment as they are Encamped on the Heath is 24 Paces; and between the Regiments they are xx Paces. The distance of the Foot Companies one from another, is about 4 Paces in the Front, and 12 Tents in File, two Foot between every Tent; in length 813 Paces from thence to the Brigadiers Tent.
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Bin Laden’s Death: The Blackheath Connection

James Abbott dressed as an Indian noble. (B. Baldwin, 1841)
Abbottabad (the city where Bin Laden was killed late last night) has a strong connection with Blackheath. From Neil Rhind (author of the seminal books about Blackheath):

Bugler – Good morning. Thought your readers would like to know the following before the national press get it wrong.

Abbottabad. in Pakistan, now famous/notorious for being Osama Bin Laden’s place of execution, was named after a Greenwich man: General Sir James Abbott (1807-1896) who was born at No 5 The Paragon. He was one of three illustrious sons of the family of Henry Abbott, navy agent and Calcutta merchant. James was commissioned in the Bengal artillery in 1823; in 1839 he was sent to negotiate a treaty between Khiva and Russia, signing the terms in St Petersburgh, in 1840. He was Commander of the garrison at Hazara, in the Sikh War of 1849-50, and held it so tenaciously that he enjoyed the thanks of both houses of Parliament. Abbottabad was named after him. His memoirs of the Khiva campaign were published in 1843. His brothers, Augustus and Frederick, were also promoted to Major General and were knighted for their services in India and Afghanistan. The Abbott family lived in Blackheath from the 1790s to 1820. Abbottabad “ … a remote city in a valley …” suffered dreadfully in the earthquake in October 2005.

Many thanks to Neil for sending this in. If you live in Blackheath, then buy his books. They’re really, really excellent.

Image above is of Sir James Abbott (from Wikipedia). For more terrorism-related links about Blackheath, you might enjoy the shoe-bomber post, from a little while ago…

UPDATE: Below are two images, showing Abbottabad in the 1860s, and in the present day (also from Wikipedia) (thanks to Michelle!)
Abbottabad in the 1860s from WikipediaAbbottabad City at Night from wikipedia

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Blackheath: The expert speaks


Neil Rhind is going to be speaking about Blackheath’s history at the Old Royal Naval College on 1st May. If you haven’t heard of Neil Rhind, then you surely haven’t being paying attention to this blog.  It would be no exaggeration to say that he is the authority on Blackheath’s history. If you’ve never read his books, then I urge you to check them out. Reading Blackheath Village and Environs is like peeling back the layers of time. It’s a forensic examination of every little nook and cranny of the area. You can pick it up in the Bookshop on the Heath, in Blackheath Library (look, it’s on the shelf!), and they even sell it in the Clarendon Hotel.

The talk is on Saturday 1st May, at the Old Royal Naval College, in Greenwich (map and full address here), from 6pm-8pm. It costs £20. To book your place, telephone Rachel Wiltshire on 020 8853 7037.

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Memories around the Mysterious Pond

pond-old
I’ve been meaning to act on this wonderful piece sent in by Tony. I’ve just not had time… At some point I will go and take photos of all of the places he mentions:

Hi – I used to live in Blackheath (on the Lane, in Blackheath Park/Cator Estate, then Southvale Road) and although I don’t any more, I have a great fondness for the place and I love reading your blog.

I saw your comment about the Mysterious Pond – apologies if you know all this already, but if not I might be able to shed some light on it.

Living in Blackheath Park, I was always fascinated by the story of Wricklemarsh House (Neil covers it at length so I won’t give the whole story!) and used to spend time trying to track down any remnants of it.

Take a look at this map

Right slap bang in the middle, you’ve got the Grand House – and a wonderful piece of Georgian bling it was too, as these pictures will show.

It must have had great views up there at the top of the hill, although interesting it faced away from London, not towards it.

What we’re interested in are its formal gardens and especially the round pound to the north of the house. Although the house was demolished, the pond remained for many years after – hence ‘Pond Road’, and the kink in the road, as it travels round it just north of the railway bridge. The pond was drained at some point in the 20th century, not sure when, but it’s still very obvious where it was.

If you stand at the junction of the South Row and Pond Road, you’re at the entrance to the grounds of the old house, and I enjoyed standing there, picturing the grand avenue leading up the hill, with the road to the house following Pond Road up the hill, with the avenue of trees on either side. Once you’ve over the bridge, Pond Road is still a grand road, and I used to wonder if some of the ancient trees on either side might pre-date the houses and have come from that avenue.

When you reach the junction of Pond Road and Blackheath Park, you’re standing exactly where Wricklemarsh stood. Another avenue of trees would continue down what is now Foxes Dale, and another would run east-west along Blackheath Park Road itself – again, I look at the ancient trees along there, and I wonder if they were planted at the time of the grand house.

However, even more interesting is the *other* pond. Looking back at the old map, you’ll see another pond to the south, fed by a small stream called the ‘Kid’ (hence Kidbrooke). ‘Brookway’, off Foxes Dale, is another clue to its path.

Now, that pond has *mostly* been drained, but a small ornamental area of it still remains. Go east, along Brookway, to the Casterbridge estate – and there, in the middle, is a pond – a pond I’m quite confident that was part of the grounds of Wricklemarsh. Look closely at the island – you’ll see there’s a still a bit of decorative statuary remain, and there’s an ornate little bridge too (I hope, anyway, it’s been a while and my memory isn’t 100% reliable). It’s all still there on this Google map.

And what of the Wricklemarsh – well, James Cator knocked it down and developed the estate, but he did keep that wonderful collonnaded front for his own house.

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A teaspoon of Blackheath, and an open mind

A TARDIS police box lands in Blackheath

An interesting coincidence:

Bob (writer of the wonderful reminiscence piece published earlier), asked yesterday:

The Blue Police Box (now called a TARDIS in the Dr. Who series) was once outside the Blackheath Bookshop, Tranquil Vale side.

Is it still there ?

It certainly isn’t there, although I wish it was! Does anyone know when it dematerialised?

Now for the coincidence: – at almost exactly the same moment, this piece of Doctor Who Fan Fiction was published!  A story about The Doctor appearing in Blackheath: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=28721

Can I point out the site’s wonderful disclaimer: “Doctor Who and its accoutrements are the property of the BBC, and we obviously don’t have any right to them. Any and all crossover characters belong to their respective creators. Alas no one makes any money from this site, and it’s all done out of love for a cheap-looking sci-fi show.”  Brilliant!

The animation above was by me, except for the TARDIS, which was from Wikipedia.

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Blackheath Postcard from 1905

Bought this lovely old postcard from eBay a while back..  When I find a scanner I can borrow, I’ll upload some really high resolution scans of it, and possibly try removing the handwriting over the photo.

blackheath-postcard-front

postcard-back

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Memories of Blackheath 1944-1958

Blackheath All Saints Church by flickr user littlestar19

Below is an amazing recollection of Blackheath at the end of, and just after World War 2. Please click on the post to read the full piece.

It was written by Bob Land, who now lives in The Netherlands, but found this site, and (luckily for all of us) was willing to share his memories.  I think it’s great, and I urge you all to read it, especially to visualise the antics of the milk carts.  It makes picking up half a pint of semi-skimmed in Shepherd Foods seem incredibly dull in comparison.  Now, if we could only reinstate the bakery and the toy shop…

Recollections/memories of Blackheath 1944-1958

By Bob Land

Wartime Blackheath

I was born in 1939, so my recollection of the war years are very limited.

One night looking out of the front bedroom window I saw a doodle bug passing overhead, on its way towards London, with its typical spluttering sound and flames coming out of the rear exhaust.

One day, around about midday, we were at school (All Saint’s), and there was a huge explosion, all the windows at the rear of the school fell out of their frames, I am led to believe, that this was the result of the flying bomb, which had a direct hit on the Weslyan Church in Blackheath Grove, although it is doubtful, that this was the cause.

On another occasion, towards the end of the war, there had been extensive damage to a few shops in Tranquil Vale, and having taken my Grandmother’s broom, I helped the Fire Brigade sweep up the glass which was lying on the pavement from all the shattered shop windows. I can still recall the smell of charred timbers, iodine and broken plaster board.

We spent many, many nights in the air-raid shelter in the garden, during the Blitz and later on with the V1 and V2 rockets

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Blackheath – playground and breathing place for Londoners

Nathaniel Hawthorne between 1860 and 1864

Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer who lived in Blackheath in 1856. There’s a blue plaque dedicated to him on Pond Road, and Gloria emailed me (ages ago) to suggest a post about him. I’d intended to read his novel “The Scarlet Letter”, as it was recommended, and is available for free at Project Gutenburg… But as usual, I haven’t managed to get around to it.. I will one day, (and read The Blackheath Poisonings too).

Here is his description of Blackheath from the Squashed Writers website:

One summer we found a particularly delightful abode in one of the oases that have grown up on the wide waste of Blackheath. A friend had given us pilgrims and dusty wayfarers his suburban residence, with all its conveniences, elegances, and snuggeries, its lawn and its cosy garden-nooks. I already knew London well, and I found the quiet of my temporary haven more attractive than anything that the great town could offer. Our domain was shut in by a brick wall, softened by shrubbery, and beyond our immediate precincts there was an abundance of foliage. The effect was wonderfully sylvan and rural; only we could hear the discordant screech of a railway-train as it reached Blackheath. It gave a deeper delight to my luxurious idleness that we could contrast it with the turmoil which I escaped.

Beyond our own gate I often went astray on the great, bare, dreary common, with a strange and unexpected sense of desert freedom. Once, about sunset, I had a view of immense London, four or five miles off, with the vast dome in the midst, and the towers of the Houses of Parliament rising up into the smoky canopy–a glorious and sombre picture, but irresistibly attractive.

The frequent trains and steamers to Greenwich have made Blackheath a playground and breathing-place for Londoners. Passing among these holiday people, we come to one of the gateways of Greenwich Park; it admits us from the bare heath into a scene of antique cultivation, traversed by avenues of trees. On the loftiest of the gentle hills which diversify the surface of the park is Greenwich Observatory. I used to regulate my watch by the broad dial-plate against the Observatory wall, and felt it pleasant to be standing at the very centre of time and space.

Lovely scratchy photo from wikipedia, or even more spectacular 20MB original scan can be found here.

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Are people buried beneath Blackheath?

Uneven surface, as if you didn't know...

A lot of people come to this blog hoping for an answer to this question. I really am not sure how best to approach it, as there seem to be many different answers. On the one hand, there is a huge amount of mythology about Plague victims being buried there, with little or no historical evidence to back it up, that is apart from this page from a Channel 4 TV programme about The Plague:

Plague Victims Blessed by Priest

The idea that Blackheath got its name from its use as a burial pit goes all the way back to the medieval period, when it was almost certainly used for the disposal of the dead during the ‘Black Death‘. Virtually every part of London has a local tradition about plague pits under, say, the local school or the bakers. Certainly there were pits dug all over the place. The sheer number of bodies meant that the traditional church yards became, as one contemporary put it, ‘overstuft’ very quickly.

Lewisham Council says completely the opposite:

The name ‘Blackheath’ is popularly but erroneously held to derive from its reputed use as a mass burial ground for victims of the Black Death in the 1340s. Less grisly, but more plausible suggestions for the origin of the name, which was recorded as early as the 11th century, are that it stems from Old English words meaning ‘dark soil’ (although the soil is not particularly dark except when wet), or that it is a corruption of ‘bleak heath’. The latter seems the most likely derivation.

I’m more inclined to go along with the Lewisham Council version of events, and also as there is nothing mentioning burial pits in the superb “Blackheath Village and Environs” Volumes 1 or 2 by Neil Rhind (I finally managed to find Volume 2!).

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people buried beneath the heath… It just means that they weren’t plague victims. When you look at how long the heath has been in existence for, and the number of battles, raucous fairs, duels, roman remains, highway robberies, murders, etc that have happened upon it, there can’t possibly NOT be bodies under there…

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Old Maps of Blackheath

Old Map of Blackheath, London, section

I do like a vintage map or two, as you may remember. I’ve just found two amazing sites full of lovely antique London maps… You can almost smell the fustiness of the pages. I’m sure I’m not the first to find them, but nonetheless they’re worth a look.

The image above is a tiny section of the Blackheath map on mappalondon.com. The map was made by Edward Stanford in 1862 (now better known for their travel bookshop in Covent Garden). Stanford’s still sell the whole thing as a paperback for £33, or amazon sell the CD-ROM for £27.50. If only the map just went slightly further to the east!

Here’s a slightly earlier map showing a larger scale view of the whole of London at londonancestor.com. This site has much more than just maps, with loads of old newspaper clippings and other ephemera. The map is called “The Environs of London”, and was published by Baldwin and Cradock under “the Superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful knowledge”. It’s always nice when useful knowledge is diffused, I say…

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