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Coordinates: 51°28′12″N 0°00′32″E / 51.47°N 0.009°E / 51.47; 0.009

Blackheath Church.jpg
All Saints' Church
Blackheath is located in Greater London

 Blackheath shown within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ395765
London borough Greenwich
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district SE3
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Lewisham East and Greenwich and Woolwich
London Assembly Greenwich and Lewisham
List of places: UK • England • London

Blackheath is an area in southeast London, centred on a section of open public grassland ('the Heath') and straddling the boundary of the London Borough of Lewisham and the London Borough of Greenwich. The focal point of Blackheath is its centre which is known as the Village. The borough boundary runs across the middle of the heath; much of Blackheath Village on the south side of the Heath lies in Lewisham, while the Blackheath Standard area and that part of the Village around Blackheath Halls lie on the north and eastern side respectively, in Greenwich. Blackheath was the centre of the ancient Hundred of Blackheath.[1]

The Prime Meridian runs across the western side of Blackheath.





There are several theories as to how Blackheath got its name. One popular theory is that it derives from the heath's use as a burial ground in the 14th century for many of the London-based victims of the Black Death plague. An alternative theory derives from a local myth, which claims that Blackheath is so-called because the Heath appeared to be a much darker colour than the green fields beside the Thames that it overlooked - the soil was dark and so were the plants that grew there. Other sources suggest that a combination of the words 'bleak' and 'heath' led to the area's name. Being that it supported heathland, the local soil was considered to be of poor quality and was not cultivated; instead, chalk, gravel and larger pebbles for ballast were dug out of it, leaving deep pits all over the heath. Some are now ponds and some were filled in with rubble from bomb sites in the Second World War, and now support rich plant and animal life as well as providing picturesque focal points.


The ancient road that later became known as Watling Street crosses the northern edge of Blackheath (almost in line with the A2), probably heading for the mouth of Deptford Creek (rather than Deptford Bridge like the modern A2) past the archaeologically excavated temple site in Greenwich Park where many Roman coins were found. Indeed, many small, conical Romano-British tumuli lie beside Watling Street in this area, and were opened towards the end of the 18th century to reveal artefacts including a lock of well-preserved auburn hair, spear-heads, knives, nails, glass beads, and woollen and linen cloth [2]. In the reign of Ethelred the Unready, the Danish fleet anchored in the river Thames off Greenwich for over three years, with the army being encamped on the hill above and from here they attacked Kent. Known locally as Jack Cade's Cavern,[3] underneath 'The Point', near summit of the hill, a cavern was (re)discovered in 1780 that extends several hundred feet underground and comprises four 'irregular apartments', one of which contains a water well - this cavern is presumed to have been used as a hiding place during the Saxon and Danish invasions[2]. Some vestiges of the Danish camps may be traced in the names of Eastcombe and Westcombe, on the borders of Blackheath, where 'coomb' refers to the Saxon for 'camp'.[4] Blackheath was later a rallying point for Wat Tyler's Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and for Jack Cade's Kentish rebellion in 1450. Wat Tyler is remembered by Wat Tyler Road on the heath. After pitching camp on Blackheath, Cornish rebels were defeated in the Battle of Deptford Bridge (sometimes called the Battle of Blackheath), just to the west, on 17 June 1497. With Watling Street crossing the heath carrying stagecoaches en route to north Kent and the Channel ports, it was also a notorious haunt of highwaymen during the 17th century. As reported in Walford's 'Old and New London' (1878), "In past times it was planted with gibbets, on which the bleaching bones of men who had dared to ask for some extension of liberty, or who doubted the infallibility of kings, were left year after year to dangle in the wind." [2] Many years later, Blackheath also had strong associations with the campaign for women's suffrage, the suffragette movement.


All Saints' parish church on the heath

The sizeable prestigious private estate of Blackheath Park, created by John Cator and known as the Cator Estate, is situated east of Blackheath village. Built in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it contains many fine examples of substantial Georgian and Victorian houses - most notably Michael Searles' The Paragon crescent - as well as some 1930s and 1960s additions. St Michael and All Angels Church, designed by local architect George Smith and completed in 1830, was dubbed the Needle of Kent in honour of its tall, thin spire (it is also nicknamed the Devil's Pick or The Devil's Toothpick). All Saints Church, situated on the Heath, dates from 1857 and was designed by the architect Benjamin Ferrey. The Cator Estate was built on part of the estate formerly owned by Sir John Morden, whose Morden College (1695) is another notable building to the south-east of the Heath. The Cator Estate also contains innovative 1960s 'Span' houses and flats by the renowned Span Developments (architect Eric Lyons), and the Blackheath High School buildings on Vanburgh Park include the Church Army Chapel (architect E.T. Spashett).

Social life

An aerial view of the heath looking south with All Saints Church in the centre rear of the heath

The main centre of Blackheath - 'the village' - lies to the south side of the heath in the vicinity of Blackheath railway station, and is home to numerous shops, restaurants and pubs. All Saints' parish church stands on the heath itself, apart from the other buildings of the village. Approximately one mile to the north-east, Blackheath Standard is another shopping area, taking its name from the 'Royal Standard' pub.

Just south of the railway station, on the edge of the Blackheath Park estate, is the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and the Arts. Next door is Blackheath Halls, a concert venue today owned and managed by Trinity College of Music (based in nearby Greenwich).

The heath is host to a free annual fireworks display on the Saturday in November closest to Guy Fawkes Night, jointly organised and now financed by the London Boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham. The show has become one of the UK's most popular and largest fireworks displays with over forty thousand spectators.[5]

Sporting associations

In 1608, according to tradition, Blackheath was the place where golf was introduced to England - the Royal Blackheath Golf Club (based in nearby Eltham since 1923) was one of the first golf associations established (1766) outside Scotland. Blackheath also gave its name to the first hockey club, established during the mid 19th century.

However, Blackheath is perhaps most famous as the home of the Blackheath Rugby Club, founded in 1858, which is the oldest documented rugby club in England. The Blackheath club also organised the world's first rugby international (between England and Scotland in Edinburgh on 27 March 1871) and hosted the first international between England and Wales ten years later — the players meeting and getting changed at the Princess of Wales public house. Blackheath were one of the 12 founding members of the Football Association in 1863, as well as Blackheath Proprietary School and Percival House, from Blackheath too.

Panorama of the heath

Cricket has been played on the 'Heath' itself since the 1820s. By 1890, London County Council was maintaining 36 pitches. Blackheath Cricket Club has been part of the sporting fabric of the area, joining forces with Blackheath Rugby Club in 1883 to purchase and develop the Rectory Field as a home ground. As well as hosting quality club cricket for getting on for 150 years, Blackheath CC hosted 84 first class Kent County matches between 1887 and 1971. For a list of these see: [1]

There is also a long history of kite flying on the heath. Growing popularity of the sport in recent years has attracted many kite flyers and kitebuggying is also a common sight on the heath.

With neighbouring Greenwich Park, Blackheath is also well-known as the start point of the London Marathon. This maintains a connection with athletics dating back to the establishment of the Blackheath Harriers (now Blackheath and Bromley Harriers) in 1869.

British Military Fitness runs its evening classes on the heath during the winter months, when Greenwich Park is closed.

Blackheath emerged on 26 August 2009 as the location of the 2009 Climate Camp. It was chosen for its association with the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

Notable residents


  1. ^ Mills, A., Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names, (2001)
  2. ^ a b c 'Blackheath and Charlton', Old and New London: Volume 6 (1878), pp. 224-236 accessed: 04 November 2009
  3. ^ The location of the last known entrance to Jack Cade's Caverns.
  4. ^ 'Greenwich', The Environs of London: volume 4: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent (1796), pp. 426-93 accessed: 26 May 2007
  5. ^ Blackheath Fireworks 2006: safe and spectacular accessed 11 Jul 2007

Transport and locale

Nearest stations

Nearest places

External links


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