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A pretty village and common, separated from Greenwich Park by Shooters Hill Road and originally focused on the junction of roads to Greenwich, Woolwich and Lee. Most of the heath, which got its name either from the colour of the soil or from its bleakness, was in the hands of the earls (originally barons) of Dartmouth from 1673. In addition to its use as pasture, Blackheath was extensively quarried for gravel, particularly in the eighteenth century. This left a terrain of craters and ravines, a few of which survived to be used as landfill sites for bomb rubble after the last war, (a subsidence in April 2002 caused serious disruption for months afterwards). The first street to be completed was the prosperous Dartmouth Row in the 1690s, but with that exception the Dartmouths were slow to grant leases on their freehold and the heath in 1780 had just a few roadside cottages on its southern edge. It was over the next 25 years that a high class settlement appeared, expanding after the Napoleonic wars and acquiring the name Blackheath Village. Its present charm and popularity owe much to the survival of properties dating from this period. North-east of the village’s central triangle, impressive residences went up on land belonging to the speculator John Cator after he began to sell leases in 1793. The North Kent Railway Company opened Blackheath station in 1849 after local objections prevented the cutting of a line through Greenwich Park. The railway stimulated a housing boom in the 1860s and 70s and several of the original cottages were cleared to make way for more salubrious properties. At this time, the heath itself passed into the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works after the Earl of Dartmouth agreed to waive his manorial rights. Its 270 acres are now given over to kite flying, jogging and casual sports.

click for area map (opens in a new window)
The Paragon is a unique crescent of seven pairs of houses linked by colonnades, by Michael Searles

David Copperfield’s Salem House was modelled on a Blackheath school. The late-Victorian Blackheath Halls and the neighbouring Conservatoire of Music and the Arts are on Lee Road.

Blackheath has a proud sporting history. It was the site of the first golf club in England, laid out by James I, and Blackheath was one of the founder members of the Rugby Football Union. The Blackheath Harriers athletics club moved south to Hayes in 1927.

Postal district: SE3
Population: 25,116 (Lewisham’s Blackheath ward and Greenwich’s Blackheath Westcombe ward)
Station: South Eastern (Zone 3)
Further reading: Felix Barker, Greenwich and Blackheath Past, Historical Publications, 1999

The Blackheath Society

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

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