I’m going to be writing about my gander from home, to somewhere between Greenwich and Lewisham and finally ending up in Blackheath. I’m forever running up and down to Lewisham, and am fully aware of how basic and unimaginative it is, but this walk is actually filled with History. Can a flaneur even begin at home? Since this means there’s a beginning and perhaps an end to walk. I decide the answer is no, and automatically retire my hopes and dreams of becoming one.
I begin this journey where I live. Which is within the infamous London Borough of Lewisham, to be more specific, the outskirts of Brockley. Or to be even more specific, or down right exact -Tyrwhitt Road. The road name has always intrigued me because it is so damn unusual, so I decided to do some research even before I had a formal cause. My journey takes me through Lewisham to Blackheath, briefly via Lee. After hearing some of the stories of Blackheath I’ve become very intrigued by what else the village has to offer in terms of history. After speaking to some locals I learn that there’s only one local historian of the area. ‘Potential gap in the market?’ I think to myself.
Back in the mid 1800’s, half of Brockley was owned by the ‘Tyrwhitt-Drake’ family. (This immediately excited me because the road leading into Brockley just off my own is called Drake Road). The family began to build homes to accommodate the new influx of people to the city. One source of mine suggests that ”They built three or four storied houses for the professional classes”(1) Already suggesting that SE4 was an exclusive area, well half of it anyway.
Another source of mine claims that the houses on my road were built in 1859, just prior to the construction of 4 houses on the road just before (2). Meaning this house would have seen every single important change of the 20th Century, which is just thrilling. It could have gone from being owned by some well off white collar worker in the 1860’s to, a maybe not as well off family in the 1970’s. (I heard down the grape vine with the last statement.)
I walk onto Lewisham Way. Of course if you walk the other way toward Hilly Fields then you’ll eventually hit Professor Green’s house (That one hit wonder from 2008(Sorry Pro Green)). Lewisham Way, as we all know has some very significant historical prominence itself, such as being the much desired, yet just out of reach, path for Fascists during the Battle of Lewisham. And it obviously being the main way to get into Lewisham and the surrounding areas for travellers coming in from the North and West. -Since rail travel became second to the car.
Just behind Lewisham way there is St John’s Station. The rattle of trains are constantly within earshot, no thanks to the tracks going underneath the end of my road. The station was built in roughly 1871, and has seen a few tragedies in its time. From the carving into the chalk to put the tracks down in 1864, where 80 tonnes of falling debris killed 2 workmen; to the fatal train crash of 1898. Where, due to extreme foggy conditions, the stations signalman allowed a train to enter the station, thinking the previous train had left. The two collided causing 3 deaths and a large number of injured people, my source suggests that the train already in the platform was used to take the casualties up the line to London Bridge, to be seen at St Guy’s Hospital.
I walk down Lewisham Way to get into town, which is a route I do so often I could do it in my sleep. But, like ‘Tyrwhitt’ a name always gets me thinking. Just past the little Tescos, and between the brand spanking new ASDA, Lewisham Way turns into ‘Loampit Vale.’ I have never heard the word ‘Loampit’ before, and am struggling to find anything anywhere! My best guess is that it is a family name, of a family that has long died out. I did, however discover The Loampit Hill Brickworks (4). Which is estimated to have been 2 roads down from my house (Amazingly the road where I lived in my 2nd year of Uni). The kiln’s chimney and manufacturing site is long gone now, dating from 1820’s. However the site of where it apparently would have been cited is just a couple of roads behind the aforementioned Tesco -on our very same Loampit Vale.
Walking further down past the station on the right hand side, and then the shopping center on the left I eventually end up in Lewisham center. The first thing to be seen in the clock tower, completed in 1900 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria 3 years prior.
I’m always curious as to whether where I currently am was bombed during the second world war. I find it fascinating, how such destruction can be done, but then people and places can recover from it so well, like there’s never any public memory of it even happening.I had one of these epiphanies whilst walking past Lewisham market. In July 1944 Lewisham center was hit by a ‘flying bomb'(6). Very unfortunately it hit directly on top of a street level Air raid shelter, killing 59, and injuring 124. Shops such as Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer were damaged, yet it’s quite nice to know that those companies are still in Lewwy today.(7)
After Lewisham center I bare left and wander up Belmont Hill, towards Lee. I’ve learned just living here, that the River ‘Quaggy’ was used to separate the two different Parishes of Lee and Lewisham. If I’m honest, the walk was the most boring thing. The road was straight and uphill and had barely anything to look at, as peoples 6ft fences touched the pavement. However, just after Brandram road there is St. Margaret’s Church. With the original 1275 tower still intact across the road, in, whats now known as the extended graveyard.(8) The old church was deemed to be dangerous, and in 1837 the committee in charge of the rebuild bought land of the aforementioned Thomas Brandram. I always find churches and their land fascinating to walk around, however, much like Dickens said ”Not that I have any curiosity to hear powerful preachers.”(9)
Further up the road, coming into Blackheath, is Blackheath Hospital. Now owned by ‘BMI’ and operating as a private hospital (Typical for Blackheath). This marks a distinct change in what kind of area I am in. Compared to Lewisham, with its big University/NHS run hospital. (10)
And as I walk a little more I reach Blackheath. I decide this is where I will end my walk as its October and I don’t deal with the cold very well. The road which runs across the top of Blackheath (The A2) was loosely built on the old Roman Road to Dover. The Romans also noticed the heath’s value due to its size and height, which allows you to overlook the city. Great from a military standpoint.(11)
The most obvious urban myth about Blackheath, which I doubt I can skip over, is the belief of some that Blackheath gets its name from the possibility of the heath being used as a plague pit in the 1300’s. Which is undoubtedly true, bodies were buried anywhere you could bury them. HOWEVER: It is more likely that Blackheath’s name is literally from the soil being so dark, almost black in colour.This is more likely as the village has reportedly been called this since the 11th century. (13). I also have a friend who spoke to a local Historian (the name escapes me) who told him, if you dig deep enough, the soil will be dark. So he progressed to dig a 6ft hole in his garden, and found the Historian to be correct.
Since my walk ended here I begin to think if you can even walk without purpose. My take on the matter is no, there’s always going to be something subconscious driving you. For example: Hunger/Boredom/Capitalism. I even think subconsciously I wanted to walk this way because I find Blackheath so mysterious. I am also such a fast paced human that I avoid walking at all costs purely because it takes longer, therefore it leads me to believe that unlike Tester’s opinion on the Flanuers, there is nothing romantic about my gander across Lewwy.(14) On the other hand this walk had absolutely no conscience purpose, nor did I have a defined starting point. I just decided to get up and go and soak in everything of interest along the way; so am I arguably a Flaneur?
(14) ‘The Flaneur’, Tester, Keith.
-‘The Flaneur’, Tester, Keith