Eltham, Lee and Lewisham

Pages 236-248

Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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"Stant ibi regifico constructa palatia luxu."—Ovid.

Situation and Derivation of the Name of Eltham—Descent of the Manor—The Palace—Henry III. keeps his Christmas here—Edward II. and his Court—John, King of France—Richard II. and Anne of Bohemia—Froissart here presents the King with a Copy of his Works—Henry IV. and his Court—Royal Christmas Festivities—Eltham Palace abandoned by the Court—The Palace during the Civil Wars—Dismantling of the Parks—Description of the Palace—Sale of the Middle Park Stud of Racehorses—Eltham Church—Well Hall—Lee—Lewisham—Hither Green, Catford, and Ladywell—Loam Pit Hill—New Cross—Royal Naval Schools—Hatcham.

Eltham is situated on the high road leading from London to the Crays, and thence to Maidstone, at a distance of about two miles south-eastward from Greenwich. The place was anciently called Eald-ham (the old home or dwelling-place), and was formerly a market town of considerable importance; the markets, however, were discontinued temp. James I., shortly after the palace ceased to be used as a royal residence. The manor, in the time of Edward the Confessor, belonged to the Crown, of whom it was held by one Alwold. William the Conqueror granted it, together with many other estates in the county of Kent, to his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, Earl of Kent; and at the time of the Domesday survey it was held of him by Hamo, Sheriff of Kent. On the confiscation of Odo's estates, however, some four years later, this manor reverted to the Crown, and, becoming divided, one part of it was retained by the sovereign, and the other part was given to the family of De Mandeville, whence the place obtained the name of Eltham Mandeville. The part held by the Crown was afterwards granted by Edward I. to John de Vesci, Lord of Eltham, who subsequently obtained the whole by exchange with Walter de Mandeville.

The manor was afterwards granted to Anthony Bec, Bishop of Durham and Patriarch of Jerusalem, to hold in trust for his natural son, who was called William de Vesci, of Kildare. Through a betrayal of the trust reposed in him, however, the bishop, on the death of the last Lord de Vesci, appears to have obtained possession of the estates, and to have bestowed great cost on the buildings at Eltham. He died here in the year 1311, having bestowed the estate on Queen Eleanor, the consort of Edward I. The manor was next granted to Sir Gilbert de Aton, and afterwards to Geoffrey le Scrope, to hold by the accustomed services. It subsequently again reverted to the Crown, having, it is said, been given to Queen Isabella, consort of Edward II. It has remained in the possession of the Crown since that period, having been occasionally granted for terms of years on lease to various persons. It may be mentioned that the title of Lord Eltham has been more than once refused to individuals who were anxious to assume it on being raised to the peerage, on the express ground that the Barony of Eltham belongs to the sovereign. The precise date of the erection of a palace here is quite a matter of uncertainty; the earliest mention of it by our old historians as a royal residence is in the continuation of the "Historia Major" of Matthew of Paris, ascribed to William Rishanger, a monk of St. Albans, who brought it from the year 1259 down to the close of the reign of Henry III. Lambarde's allusion to this work runs as follows:—"King Henrie the Third (saith Mat. Parise), toward the latter ende of his reigne (1270), kept a Royall Christmas (as the manner then was) at Eltham, being accompanied with his Queene and Nobilitie: and this (belike) was the first warming of the house (as I may call it) after that the Bishop had finished his worke. For I doe not hereby gather that hitherto the king had any propertie in it, for as much as the Princes in those daies used commonly both to soiourne for their pleasures, and to passe their set solemnities also, in Abbaies and in Bishops' houses."

In 1315, the queen having taken up her residence at Eltham Palace, there gave birth to a son, who was called, from the place of his nativity, John of Eltham, and who was afterwards created Earl of Cornwall. Edward II. frequently resided at Eltham, and in 1329 and 1375 Edward III. held his parliament here; and it was at the last-mentioned period that a petition was presented by the Commons, requesting the king to make his grandson, Richard, Prince of Wales. In 1347 the Duke of Clarence, the king's son, in the absence of his father, kept a public Christmas here.

In 1364, John, King of France, Edward III.'s prisoner by conquest, came as an unwilling guest to England, and was entertained by the king and queen at Eltham. Froissart mentions how that on a Sunday afternoon King Edward and Queen Philippa waited at the gates of the palace to receive the fallen monarch, and how, "between that time and supper, in his honour were many grand dances and carols, at which the young Lord de Courcy distinguished himself by singing and dancing." This entertainment must have appeared strange indeed to the feelings of the captive prince, who, when asked to join in the conviviality, pathetically replied, "How can I sing in a strange land?" Captive as he was, he seems to have had but little cause for regret on his own account, for, becoming enamoured of the Princess Royal, he urged his suit, and was fortunate enough to succeed in obtaining her as his bride.

Eltham Palace was one of the favourite residences of Richard II. and Anne of Bohemia. In Holinshed's "Chronicles," under date of 1386, it is recorded that "King Richard II. holding his Christmasse at Eltham, thither came to him Leo, King of Armenia, whose countrie and realme being in danger to be conquered of the Turks, he was come into these west parts of Christendome for aid and succour at the hands of the Christian princes here. The king honourablie received him, and after he had taken counsell touching his request, he gave him great summes of money and other rich gifts, with a stipend, as some write, of a thousand pounds yearly, to be paid to him during his life."

Froissart, the famous poet and historian, in his "Chronicles," makes several allusions to the royal palace of Eltham; in 1395 he came to England for the purpose of presenting to Richard II. a volume of his writings. The details of this visit are thus given by Froissart himself:—"The king arrived at Eltham on a Tuesday; on the Wednesday the lords came from all parts. There were the Duke of Gloucester, the Earls of Derby, Arundel, Northumberland, Kent, Rutland, the Earl Marshal, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of London and Winchester, in short, all who had been summoned arrived at Eltham on the Thursday by eight o'clock in the morning.

"The Parliament was holden in the king's apartment, in the presence of the king, his uncles, and the council. The matter in deliberation was the solicitation of the chieftains in Aquitaine that they might remain attached to the crown of England. Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, the king's brother, opposed their petition, with a view to keep his brother, the Duke of Lancaster, abroad; and to show that he was the man who governed the king, and was the greatest in the council, as soon as he had delivered his opinion, and saw that many were murmuring at it, and that the prelates and lords were discussing it in small parties, he quitted the king's chamber, followed by the Earl of Derby, and entered the Hall at Eltham, where he ordered a table to be spread, and they both sat down to dinner, while others were debating the business.

"On the Sunday the whole council were gone to London, excepting the king and Sir Richard Sturry; these two, in conjunction with Sir Thomas Percy, mentioned me [Froissart] again to the king, who desired to see the book I had brought for him. I presented it to him in his chamber, for I had it with me, and laid it on his bed. He opened it and looked into it with much pleasure. He ought to have been pleased, for it was handsomely written and illuminated, and bound in crimson velvet, with ten silver-gilt studs, and roses of the same in the middle, with two large clasps of silver-gilt, richly worked with roses in the centre. The king asked me what the book treated of; I replied, 'Of Love!' He was pleased with the answer, and dipped into several places, reading aloud, for he read and spoke French perfectly well, and then gave it to one of his knights, Sir Richard Credon, to carry it to his oratory, and made me acknowledgments for it."

Parliament met here to arrange King Richard's second marriage with Isabella of Valois; she was brought hither after her bridal, and from the gates of Eltham Palace she departed in state to her coronation. Henry IV. was frequently at Eltham with his Court. Here he was espoused to Joan of Navarre, in the presence of the primate and the chief officers of state, Antonio Riezi acting as the lady's proxy, and actually having the ring placed upon his finger. In 1409, according to Stow, Henry kept his Christmas here with his queen, and Lambarde tells us that in 1412 he kept his last Christmas at Eltham. His son and successor, Henry V., also resided here, and in 1414, "the king keeping his Christmasse at the manor of Eltham, was advertised that Sir Roger Acton, a man of great wit and possessions, John Browne, Esquire, John Beverlie, priest, and a great number of others, were assembled in armour against the king." This report, it seems, had some effect on the king, for, as Lambarde states, "he was faine to depart suddenly, for feare of some that had conspired to murder him." The meeting, which took place in St. Giles's Fields, under the instigation of Sir John Oldcastle, notwithstanding the treasonable character that was given it by most writers of the period, appears to have been nothing more than a convention of the inoffensive people styled Lollards, to hear the preaching of one of their pastors.

Henry VI. once kept his Christmas festivities at Eltham; and here, unconscious of his critical position, this unhappy prince forsook his studies to hunt and join in the sports of the field under the watchful eye of his keeper, the Earl of March, while his wife and son, for whom he had restored the palace, were sheltering in Harlech Castle.

Edward IV. resided much at Eltham Palace, and on the 9th of November, 1480, his third daughter, Bridget, was born here. She was christened in the chapel in the palace, by the Bishop of Chichester, and subsequently assumed the garb of a nun at Dartford. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Edward IV. kept his Christmas here in great state in the year 1482–3, on which occasion, it is stated, more than two thousand persons were there daily entertained. This king is recorded to have laid out large sums on the buildings here, and, as will be presently shown, is supposed to have entirely rebuilt the great hall as it now stands.

Lambarde, in his "Perambulation of Kent," published in 1576, states that "it is not yet fully out of memorie that King Henry VII. set up the faire front over the mote there; since whose reigne, this house, by reason of the neerenesse to Greenewiche (which also was much amended by him, and is, through the benefite of the river, a seate of more commoditie), hath not beene so greatly esteemed: the rather also that for the pleasures of the emparked groundes here, may be in manner as well enjoyed, the Court lying at Greenwiche, as if it were at this house it selfe." Henry VII., like his predecessors, generally resided here, and was wont to dine every day in the hall surrounded by his barons. The "faire front," alluded to by Lambarde, was, no doubt, the north face of the moated square, approached by the Gothic bridge of three arches.

Although Henry VIII. preferred the palace at Greenwich, he appears sometimes to have resided at Eltham, and in 1515 he kept his Christmas here. Holinshed thus records the entertainment on this occasion:—"In the year 1515 the king kept a solemn Christmas at his manor of Eltham, and on the Twelfe Night, in the hall, was made a goodlie castle, wonderouslie set out, and in it certaine ladies and knights, and when the kinge and queene were set, in came other knights, and assailed the castle, where many a good stripe was given, and at last the assailants were beaten away, and then issued knights and ladies out of the castle, which ladies were strangelie disguised, for all their apparel was in braids of gold, fret with moving spangles of silver-gilt set on crimson satin, loose and not fastened; the men's apparell of the same suite made like julis [sic] of Hungary, and the ladies' heads and bodies were after the fashion of Amsterdam; and when the dancing was done the banket [banquet] was served in of two hundred dishes."

Towards the close of the year 1526 the plague raged so fiercely in London that the king and his Court removed to Eltham. Henry VIII. again kept his Christmas here in that year, and in 1556 Queen Mary paid a visit to the palace, attended by Cardinal Pole and the Lord Montagu. In the first year of Queen Elizabeth's reign Eltham Palace was for a few days the royal abode; but an idea having arisen that the stagnant waters of the moat rendered the palace unhealthy, it was thenceforth but little frequented by royalty. Sir Christopher Hatton was keeper of Eltham Palace in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In 1606 James I. was visited at Greenwich by his brother-in-law, the King of Denmark, and the two kings went together to Eltham, where they hunted with "greate pleasure, and killed three buckes on horsebacke."

During the Civil Wars, Eltham Palace was occupied by the Parliamentary General, Robert, Earl of Essex, who died there in September, 1646.

After the death of Charles I. the royal residence was seized by the Parliament, and in a survey made by the commissioners in the above year it is stated that the palace was built of brick, wood, stone, and timber, and consisted of one fair chapel, one great hall, thirty-six rooms and offices below stairs, two large cellars, seventeen lodging-rooms on the king's side, twelve on the queen's, nine on the princes', seventy-eight rooms in the offices round the court-yard, which contained one acre of ground.

There were three parks attached to this mansion, covering a very extensive tract of ground. The Great Park contained 596 acres; the Little, or Middle Park, 333 acres; and Home, or Lee Park, 336 acres; the whole of which were well stocked with deer. The deer, as may easily be imagined, were well hunted and destroyed by the soldiery and others during the time of the Commonwealth; besides which most of the trees were cut down.

In 1648, the parks having already been partly broken up and the deer destroyed, Nathaniel Rich purchased the house and a great part of the lands attached to it. Evelyn describes its condition a few years later; under date of April 22, 1656, he writes in his "Diary," "Went to see his Majesty's house at Eltham; both the palace and chapel in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel."

After the Restoration, the manor of Eltham was bestowed by Charles II. on Sir John Shaw, in recognition of his friendship to him when in exile at Brussels and Antwerp; and, with the exception of certain portions of land originally in the royal park which are still vested in the Crown, it continues in the possession of his descendants.

Like most of the moated manor-houses of the Middle Ages, the palace of Eltham was nearly square in plan, and embraced four courts or quadrangles enclosed by a high wall. The moat which surrounded it was of great width; the principal entry was over a stone bridge and through a gateway in the north wall. There was also another gateway and bridge on the opposite side of the enclosure. The most important part of the buildings consisted of a high range which crossed the court from east to west, and included the hall, the chapel, and the state apartments. The principal courts were spacious and befitting the abode of royalty, and lodging-rooms and offices, as notified in the above survey, were very numerous; of these, however, not a vestige now remains, save the foundations, some of which are traceable round the sides of the area enclosed by the moat. Of the chapel, not even the site can now be ascertained. In fact, the only parts now remaining are the banqueting-hall; an ivy-covered bridge of three ribbed arches which spans the moat on the north side, and still forms the entrance to the building; part of the embattled wall, flanked with loopholed turrets; some curious drains, supposed formerly to have been used as sallyports on occasions of emergency; and a building at the east end of the hall, with fine corbelled attics and ancient gables, formerly the buttery, but now a private residence, called the Court House. This latter building was thoroughly restored, and a new wing added to it in 1859, at which time the great hall, which had been for many years used as a barn, was cleared out, and the eastern end of it considerably altered, being made to serve as the entrance to the house. By far the most interesting of these remains is the magnificent banqueting-hall, with its beautiful high-pitched roof, entirely constructed of oak, in tolerable preservation, with hammer-beams, carved pendants, and braces supported on corbels of hewn stone. Its dimensions are 100 feet in length, 55 in height, and 36 in breadth.

"The hall," writes Mr. Buckler, in his "Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Palace at Eltham "(1828), "was the master feature of the palace. With a suite of rooms at either extremity, it rose in the centre of the surrounding buildings, as superior in the grandeur of its architecture, as in the magnificence of its proportions and the amplitude of its dimensions. This fair edifice has survived the shocks which, at different periods, laid the palace low. Desolation has reached its very walls, and the hand of wanton mischief has dared to injure where it could not destroy; but still the hall of Eltham Palace has not, with the exception of the louvre, been entirely deprived of its smallest constituent feature.


"Its north and south sides were both open to quadrangles. Their architecture corresponded precisely, excepting that the south parapet was plain, while that on the other side, facing the principal gate of entrance, was embattled, and the cornice enriched with sculptured corbels.

"In this majestic structure the architect scrupulously avoided the frequent use of carvings, which, it is evident, would have destroyed the elegant simplicity of his design; and, besides its intrinsic excellence, this specimen of the palace will abundantly prove how well the ancients could apply the style to domestic purposes, how far removed from gloom were their habitations where defensive precautions could be dispensed with, and how skilfully they prosecuted whatever they undertook in architecture.

"The proportions of Eltham Hall, and the harmony of its design, attest the care and skill which were exerted in its production. Other halls may surpass it in extent, but this is perfect in every useful and elegant feature belonging to a banqueting-room. It was splendidly lighted, and perhaps required painted glass to subdue the glare admitted by two-and-twenty windows. There are no windows over the high pace or the screen, and there were none in the majority of examples, though, from unavoidable circumstances, Westminster and Guildhall receive their light in these directions."


The windows of the hall are ranged in couples, in five spaces on both sides, occupying the length of the building, from the east wall to the angle of the bays; every window is cinquefoil-headed and divided by a mullion without a transom, around which in some instances the thick trails of ivy impart a highly picturesque effect, which is heightened by the broad streams of cheerful sunlight that fall through the empty panels; and every space is divided by a buttress, which terminates below the cornice, and at the foot of the windows has twice the projection of the upper half. Altogether, however, these supports are slender, and partake of the same light and elegant proportions which characterise the whole building. The walls alone are adequate to the weight which presses on them, but their strength is increased by the buttresses—features which are almost inseparable from the ancient style of architecture, and were frequently used for ornament even when their strength was superfluous. The buttresses at Eltham are, however, both useful and ornamental; and, as if to determine for which purpose they were most required, several of those facing the south are mangled or destroyed.

At the eastern end of the hall were three doorways communicating with the buttery above mentioned, and also other arched doorways leading into the court-yards. These entrances were concealed by a wooden screen ornamented with carved work, over which was the minstrels' gallery, the framework of which remains to this day. At the western or upper end, where the daïs was placed, is on either side a bay, or recess, the ceilings of which are composed of very elegant groining and minute tracery, and which were illuminated by two windows of the lightest order of Gothic. In these recesses it was customary, on state occasions, to display the rich and costly vessels then in use. The recesses are now in a sadly mutilated condition, but the main body of the hall was rescued from speedy decay by order of Government in 1828, when £700 were expended on it. When it was first used as a barn, now more than a century ago, most of the windows were bricked up, and three pairs on the north side remain in that condition at the present time. The holes for the timber supports of the elevated platform, or daïs, are still visible in the western wall; and above the same spot, at a considerable elevation, was a window whence the king might look from his own private apartments on the revellers in the hall, an arrangement commonly in use in old houses of this description.

The date of the erection of the banqueting-hall unquestionably corresponds with the time of King Edward IV. Not only is this opinion borne out by the depressed Gothic arch of the roof and the double ranges of windows, which much resemble those in the hall at Crosby Place, Bishopsgate, and in a building at Nettlested, now used as a malt-house, both known to have been erected temp. Edward IV., but there is also in the northeast doorway the device or badge of Edward IV., in very good preservation, namely, the rose en soleil, or blazing sun in conjunction with the rose. This doorway, headed by a label moulding (characteristic of the architecture of the latter end of the fifteenth century), was formerly for many years protected from the weather by a shed, to which is to be attributed its excellent preservation. The badge appears on one of the spandrils, between the label and the arch. Besides this, the falcon and fetterlock, another device of Edward IV., may be observed among the carvings of the oriel windows.

The great hall has for ages gone by the name of "King John's Barn," probably from some confusion between King John and a son of Edward II., who was born here, and who, as already stated, was called "John of Eltham."

Subterranean passages have been traced for some distance in a south-easterly direction, but these are now converted into drains. It appears to have been about the year 1836 that the discovery of these passages was made; and from a pamphlet published a few years ago we learn that a trap-door under the ground-floor of one of the apartments led into a room below, ten feet by five in dimensions, from which a narrow passage about ten feet in length led to a series of passages, with decoys, stairs, and shafts, some of which were vertical and others on an inclined plane: these were once used for admitting air, and for hurling down missiles and pitch-balls upon the heads of those below. These passages were explored to a distance of nearly 500 feet, 200 of which lay under the moat. In a field between Eltham and Mottingham the arch had been broken into, but still the passage could be traced further, proceeding in the same direction. In that part immediately under the moat two iron gates were found, completely carbonised, whilst large stalactites, formed of super-carbonate of lime, which hung down from the roof of the arch, sufficiently indicated the lapse of time since these passages had been previously entered. The passages now serve as drains in connection with the dwelling-house which now stands upon the site of the ancient buttery at the eastern end of the great hall.

The moat, which still surrounds the entire building, has been partially drained and turfed, and that part lying on the north side, which is spanned by the ancient bridge, is exceedingly picturesque, the effect being heightened by the herons and other species of water-fowl that adorn its banks. The old tilt-yard or tilting-court in the palace "pleasaunce" was for many years converted—alas! for this prosaic age—into a market garden; its high wall and archway of ruddy brick, which alone remain to mark its site, are well worthy of notice.

We have already spoken of the three parks which formerly belonged to Eltham Palace, and of the havoc made in them by the Parliament during the Civil Wars. The Middle Park, however, has remained to this day, and has gained some notoriety—at least, in the racing world—as the home of the famous stud of racehorses belonging to the late Mr. William Blenkiron. After the death of this gentleman, the "stud," which included the celebrated horses Gladiateur and Blair Athol, was sold by auction in 1872, realising a sum of £107,100. The Middle Park establishment is kept in remembrance by the "Middle Park Plate," founded in 1866, and which is one of the chief races at the Newmarket Second October Meeting. The memory of the Horn Park is still preserved in Horn Park Farm, at some little distance to the west of the palace.

On the east side of Eltham Palace a broad thoroughfare, called the Court Road, in which are numerous neat-built villas, leads to the Eltham Station of the South-Eastern Railway (North Kent line), which is situated at Mottingham, about a mile from the village. The latter lies at a short distance northward of the palace, and has a quiet, old-fashioned air. The church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is a large Gothic edifice of stone, comprising nave, aisles, transepts, and chancel. It was erected in 1876–7, to supersede an old parish church which stood on the same spot. The latter building was a singular brick-built structure, which had been patched up at different times and in so many ways that in the end it had a somewhat unsightly appearance. On a tablet over the doorway on the north side was the date 1667. The wooden tower and shingle spire of the old church have been left standing at the south-west corner of the new church. In the churchyard is the monument, surmounted by an urn, of George Horne, Bishop of Norwich, author of the "Commentary on the Book of Psalms." He was a native of Kent, and died in 1792. He was buried in the vault of the Burtons, into whose family he had married. Thomas Dogget, the comedian, and founder of the "coat and silver badge" which bears his name, and which is rowed for on the Thames by London watermen's apprentices annually on the 1st of August, was buried here September 25th, 1721. We have already in a previous volume (fn. 1) spoken at some length of Tom Dogget as an actor, and also of the aquatic contest which he instituted. We may add here that the only portrait of him that is known to exist is a small print representing him in the act of dancing "The Cheshire Round," with the motto "Ne sutor ultra crepidam." Here, likewise, lies buried, among many others, Sir William James, the captor of Severndroog, on the coast of Malabar, in 1755, of whom we have spoken in the preceding chapter. (fn. 2)

In the hollow, on the north side of the church, by the side of the road leading to Woolwich, and near the footpath across the fields of Kidbrook, stands a long red-brick farmhouse, of Elizabethan architecture; it is known as Well Hall, and is said at one time to have been the residence of Sir Thomas More's favourite daughter, Margaret Roper. "Among other notables who have dwelt in Eltham," writes Mr. James Thorne, in his "Environs of London," "was Vandyck, the painter, who lived here in the summer, tempted, it may be, by the residence in the Park Lodge of his friend, Sir Theodore de Mayerne, the king's physician, who was chief ranger of the park before it was seized by the Parliament." According to a statement of Walpole, in his "Anecdotes of Painting in England," "in an old house at Eltham, said to have been Vandyck's, Vertue saw several sketches of stories from Ovid in two colours, ascribed to that great painter; but if they were his, all trace of them has long been lost, and of the house also. The quarrelsome Commonwealth major, John Lilburne—'Freeborn John,' as he was styled—Cromwell's opponent in the army and in the House of Commons, here spent his last years 'in perfect tranquillity.' Having joined the Quakers, 'he preached among that sect in and about Eltham till his death' there, August 29th, 1657." Here Dr. James Sherard formed his famous botanic gardens, of which he published an account under the title of "Hortus Elthamensis." In the preparation of this work he was assisted by Dillenius, who came to England in 1721 specially to superintend Dr. Sherard's garden, an event which, Dr. Lindley says, "forms an important point in the history of botany in this country." Lysons speaks of Dr. James Sherard as the founder of the botanical professorship at Oxford; and in this he is followed by most subsequent writers on Eltham. "The founder of the professorship," writes Mr. Thorne, "was William Sherard, the Oriental traveller, the brother of James, who, however, was a zealous promoter of the science and patron of botanists."

Passing on our way along the high road towards London, a short walk brings us to the rapidlyincreasing village of Lee, the principal part of which is built on the rising ground sloping up towards Blackheath. Since the formation of the branch line of the North Kent Railway through the parish, a considerable increase has been made in the number of dwellings, which are now springing up in every direction, in consequence of the easy facility of reaching town afforded by the railway. A small rivulet takes its rise in this parish, and, after watering the village, flows into the river Ravensbourne, in the adjoining parish of Lewisham. The church, dedicated to St. Margaret, dates its erection from the year 1841, and stands on an eminence near Blackheath, on the opposite side of the road to the old church, which has been demolished, with the exception of a small portion of the tower. The new church is a florid Gothic structure, consisting of nave, chancel, side aisles, with tower and spire; it is built of brick, and cemented, and ornamented with stone facings. The graveyard is crowded with monuments and tombs, among which is a plain tomb for Dr. Halley, the celebrated astronomer, who lies buried under it. Nathaniel Bliss, who succeeded Dr. Bradley in the post of Astronomer-Royal, also lies buried here.

At Lee lived Mr. Bohun (or Boone), the friend of John Evelyn and tutor to his sons; and here he was often visited by the genial old gossip. His house was a cabinet of curiosities, mostly Indian, Japanese, and Chinese, and adorned with carving by Grinling Gibbons. Mr. Bohun must have been more fortunate than most tutors, if he was able, as recorded by Evelyn, to build here and endow a hospital for eight poor persons, with a chapel attached. The almshouses, which are situated at the west end of the village, by the side of the high road, were rebuilt in 1874. At the back of these are thirty comfortable-looking houses, erected by the Merchant Taylors' Company, in which a number of widows of freemen belonging to that company are supported. At the south end of the parish, down to a comparatively recent date, were the remains of an ancient moated mansion, said to have been contemporary with the palace at Eltham; a fine avenue of lime-trees, some of which still remain, formed the approach to the entrance, and over the moat a strong brick arch is thrown. Dacre House is described in Hasted's "Kent" as "an elegant modern-built seat, late belonging to Sir Thomas Fludyer;" it was long the seat of the Dacre family, whose name is perpetuated by one of the streets in the village being named after them. John Timbs, in his "Autobiography," in describing a visit he once paid in his younger days to the then rural village of Lee, says:—"Here I often saw the devout Lady Dacre crossing Lee Green in her daily pilgrimage to her dear lord's tomb in Lee churchyard. She usually rode there from Lee Place on a favourite pony, and wore a large drab beaver hat, and a woollen habit nearly trailing on the ground. At the foot of her lord's grave she was accustomed to kneel and pour forth a fervent prayer, beseeching the Creator again to join her in blissful union with her beloved husband in the realms above. At home she cherished her affection by placing his chair at the dinner-table as during his lifetime. After fourteen years' widowhood, Lady Dacre died, in 1808, and was buried with her husband."

"During our stay at Lee," adds Mr. Timbs, "the Green was my favourite resort: here the village stocks excited my curiosity, and I soon understood the wooden machine to be used for the punishment of disorderly persons by securing their legs." Mr. Timbs tells how that he remembered the stocks in many an English village, and also in many parts of London, that in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn, being the last to disappear. He then reminds us how that "the rustic beauty of Lee has been sacrificed to the railway, and its rural sounds and songs to the noisy steam-horse; though the village possesses attractions for riper years, in its beautiful pointed church, rebuilt upon much older foundations; it is famed, too, for its brasses, and tombs of marble and alabaster; and for the resting-place of Halley, the Astronomer-Royal, who wrote a treatise on comets when he was nineteen years old."

From its proximity to Blackheath, and its easy distance from London, Lee has of late years become a favourite place of residence for City merchants and men of business, and every available plot of ground has been covered with terraces of detached and semi-detached villas and genteel cottages for their accommodation; and such names as Belmont Park, Manor Park, Dacre Park, Grove Park, &c., in which the more respectable class of houses are built, imparts a somewhat pretentious air to the locality. New churches, too, have also sprung up, consequent upon the increased growth of the place. One of these is Christ Church, in Lee Park, a building in the Early English style of architecture, erected in 1855; another, and still more handsome edifice of similar architecture, is the Church of the Holy Trinity; this was built in 1864.

Continuing our course westward along the main road, we soon arrive at Lewisham, a parish and pleasant village situated on the Ravensbourne, a stream which, as we have already seen, flows through Deptford into the Thames. With regard to this stream, the "Kentish Traveller's Companion" (1789) says: "The river Ravensbourne directs its course through this parish; at the hamlet of Southend it moves the engine by which the late Mr. How made those knife-blades now so famous throughout England." The name of this place is supposed to be derived from the Saxon leswe, a meadow, and ham, a dwelling. In the village and its vicinity are many handsome houses and detached villas, inhabited by opulent merchants and retired citizens, attracted hither by the salubrity of the air and the beauties of the surrounding country.

Lying along the valley of the Ravensbourne, with the land rising gently on either side, Lewisham, down to a very recent date, was a pleasant rural district; but, like all the other outlying districts of London, the green fields which hemmed it in are fast giving place to bricks and mortar. Granville Park occupies the sloping ground on the north, between Lewisham and Blackheath.

The old parish church, dedicated to St. Mary, was taken down in 1774, when the present edifice was erected on its site. The church is a plain oblong structure of stone, with a shallow, semicircular recess instead of a chancel at the east end, a square tower at the west end (the lower part of which is ancient), and a portico on the south side supported by four Corinthian columns. This church, which was heated by means of a large stove and flues, having been opened for divine service on Christmas Day, 1830, it is supposed that the flues becoming overheated, set fire to some portion of the woodwork of the interior, as at a very early hour on the following morning the building was discovered to be in flames, and notwithstanding every exertion, the conflagration continued till the interior of the church was almost entirely destroyed, leaving only the walls and roof standing. The inhabitants of the parish shortly after raised a handsome subscription to repair the injury thus occasioned. The church contains a few interesting monuments, particularly one by Banks and another by Flaxman; the former, which has a poetical epitaph by Hayley, is in memory of a daughter of Mr. William Lushington; it represents an angel directing the mourning mother to the text inscribed above the tablet, "Blessed are they that mourn," &c. In the churchyard is a monument, inscribed with some verses from his own "Fate of Genius," to the unfortunate young poet, Thomas Dermody, who was buried in 1802, at the age of twenty-eight. Dermody, whose early death reminds us, in a certain sense, of the fate of Chatterton and Keats, was a native of Ennis, in Ireland, and was born in 1775. He displayed poetical powers at an early age. In 1792 he published a volume of poems written in his thirteenth year. In the following year appeared "The Rights of Justice," a political pamphlet. In 1801 and 1802 he published "Peace," "The Battle of the Bards," and other poems. Soon afterwards he became a soldier, but disgraced himself by intemperance, and died in poverty in the adjoining parish of Sydenham. In 1806 Mr. G. Raymond published his life, &c., in two volumes, and subsequently his poetical works, under the title of "The Harp of Erin."

The parish of Lewisham contains several other churches, but only two of these come under our notice here, namely, St. Stephen's and St. Mark's. The former was built and endowed in 1865 by the Rev. S. Russell Davis; it was erected from the designs of Sir Gilbert Scott, and is in the Early English style of architecture. The church of St. Mark the Evangelist, in College Park, a rapidly rising district on the east side of the Bromley Road, is a handsome Decorated edifice, built in 1870, from the designs of Mr. W. C. Banks.

Down to a very recent date Lewisham consisted chiefly of one principal street, and the road for the most part was bordered with lofty elms, many of which still remain in all their freshness. The salubrity of the air made the locality, at one time, a favourite place of abode for London merchants and wealthy families, and it still retains a few good old houses. We learn from Hasted and other historians that the manor of Lewisham, with its appendages of Greenwich and Coombe, was given by Elthruda, King Alfred's niece, to the Abbey of St. Peter, at Ghent, to which Lewisham then became a cell, or "alien" priory; this grant is said to have been confirmed by King Edgar, and by Edward the Confessor. Kilburne tells us that Lewisham Priory was founded during the reign of Henry III., by Sir John Merbury; but it is more probable that he added to its endowments, and thus became its second founder. Priory Farm, at the south end of Rushey Green, on the Bromley Road—now, in effect, a southern extension of Lewisham village—marks the site of the Benedictine priory.

On the suppression of alien priories by Henry V., this priory was transferred, together with the manor of Lewisham, to the monastery of Sheen, or Richmond. In 1538 it reverted to the Crown, with the other conventual property throughout the country; and ten years later it was granted for life to Thomas, Lord Seymour. John, Earl of Warwick, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland, next possessed the manor, but on his attainder, in the year 1553, it again reverted to the Crown. Queen Elizabeth, however, re-granted it to the earl's brother, Sir Ambrose Dudley, who had been restored in blood, and created Baron L'Isle and Earl of Warwick. James I. granted the manor to John Ramsay, Earl of Holderness. In 1664 it was sold to Reginald Grahame, who in turn conveyed it to Admiral George Legge, who was shortly afterwards created Lord Dartmouth. His son William was, in 1711, created Viscount Lewisham and Earl of Dartmouth, and with his descendants the property has since continued. Lord Dartmouth resided at his seat on Blackheath, in this parish, for which place, as we have already seen, (fn. 3) he procured the grant of a market,

Two charity-schools in Lewisham, one of which is a free grammar-school, were founded by the Rev. Abraham Colfe, vicar of this parish, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and are under the patronage of the Leathersellers' Company. The intentions of the founder were extended by a scheme settled by the Court of Chancery in 1857. There are also almshouses for six poor women that owe their foundation to the same benevolent individual. Other almshouses have lately been erected in the village, under the will of Mr. John Thackeray, for six poor females.


Half a mile to the south-east of the village is Hither Green, which, together with Catford and Catford Bridge, on the Ravensbourne, and also Rushey Green (mentioned above), are hamlets belonging to Lewisham.

A narrow lane turning out of the main road by the side of the parish church, leads our steps to Ladywell, a spot doubtless so called from a well or spring whose waters were at one time held in veneration by the "faithful." Here there is a station on the Mid-Kent Railway. Close by is Brockley Hill, across which are pleasant walks to Dulwich, Peckham, and other outlying places which we shall presently visit. Between Ladywell Station and Brockley Lane is the cemetery belonging to the parishes of Deptford and Lewisham; it covers a large space of ground, and is tastefully laid out.

Retracing our steps through the village, and leaving on our right the station on the North Kent Railway, we make our way up Loam Pit Hill, passing the church of St. John's, lately built, and soon find ourselves at New Cross, an outlying district belonging to the parish of Deptford. This noted locality, which takes its name from the old coaching-house and hostelry bearing the sign of the "Golden Cross," has been famous for at least a couple of centuries; for John Evelyn tells us in his "Diary," under date of 10th November, 1675, how he went to "New Crosse" from Saye's Court, in his coach, to accompany his friend, Lord Berkeley, as far as Dover, on his way to Paris as ambassador. It may amuse the reader to learn that his lordship's retinue consisted of three coaches (exclusive of Evelyn's), as many wagons, and "about forty horses." Our diplomatists move about now-a-days with less state and less incumbrance.

On Counter Hill, Upper Lewisham Road, the rising ground in the rear of the tavern, stands the Royal Naval School, a good substantial-looking brick building, with white stone dressings, the "first stone" of which was laid by Prince Albert, in 1843, on the "Glorious First of June," the anniversary of Lord Howe's victory. To the traveller who steps from the New Cross station to the main road, it presents an imposing appearance, with its long line of red-brick frontage, its numerous windows, its sweep of green turf before the house, its iron outer gates, and its great gates of oak, which, when open, disclose the quadrangle and the arcades under which the boys wander after school-hours when not disposed for play in the spacious grounds beyond. The school, which was founded and provisionally opened at Camberwell in 1833, has an average of 200 pupils, mostly the sons of naval and military officers in necessitous circumstances; and the object of the school is to qualify them, at the least possible expense, for any pursuit, giving a preference to the orphans of those who may have fallen in their country's service. Since the opening of the school, in 1833, upwards of 2,500 boys have partaken of its advantages, many of whom had distinguished themselves, and several had lost their lives in the service of their country. During the twenty years previous to 1877 more than 300 pupils had become naval officers, many of them distinguished men. During the same period eighty pupils had entered as officers in the Royal Marines, one-third of that number having gained the Artillery, and eleven having passed first in their entrance examinations. Captain Sir George Nares, who lately commanded the Arctic Expedition, won his way into the Royal Navy by gaining in this school the Admiralty Prize Naval Cadetship in 1845. Colonel Sir F. W. Festing, who so gallantly distinguished himself in the Ashantee campaign, also passed direct from this school into the Royal Marine Artillery. These are but two out of the many pupils who have distinguished themselves in the service of their country.


At New Cross are important stations and works on the South-Eastern, and also on the London, Brighton, and South-coast Railways.

The manor of Hatcham, in the immediate neighbourhood of the above-mentioned station, was at one time part and parcel of the parish of St. Paul, Deptford; but, pursuant to an Act of Parliament, it has been created a distinct parish, called Hatcham New Town. The church, dedicated to St. James, is a large and lofty Gothic edifice; it was consecrated in 1850, but was only recently completed. In 1877 this church acquired considerable notoriety from the ritualistic practices of its incumbent, who was suspended on that account from his spiritual functions by order of the Arches Court of Canterbury, under Lord Penzance.


  • 1. See Vol. III., p. 308.
  • 2. See ante, p. 236.
  • 3. See ante, p. 227.