Abbey Wood, Greenwich/Bexley
A hitherto unfashionable locality situated south of Thamesmead, soon to be affected by the impending arrival of the Elizabeth line (Crossrail)
Abbey Wood is named after the ancient woodlands that surround the remains of Lesnes Abbey, founded in 1178. The abbey’s site was close to a marsh that was prone to frequent flooding when the Thames overflowed its banks. The monks had to maintain the river wall to prevent the floods, which allowed the development of a small settlement here. The hamlet had only a hundred inhabitants when the North Kent Railway arrived and a small station opened in 1850, and its setting remained rural for the rest of that century.
To the south, the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society began building the Bostall estate from about 1900. Further expansion came with the construction of a tram depot, which was subsequently converted to a bus garage.
In the 1950s land sales by the shrinking Woolwich Arsenal allowed the council to build the Abbey Wood estate on land west of Harrow Manor Way. For a while the estate was a boom town, with industry and more housing piling in.
Local amenities followed, but only after pressure from community activists. More than half the households are now owner-occupied and Abbey Wood has historically constituted a useful first step on the ladder for cash-strapped home buyers, especially those with children. However, house prices have been increasing as the arrival of Crossrail draws nearer.
In August 2102 Development Securities PLC announced plans for an £85 million project called the Cross Quarter scheme, which will transform a 10-acre derelict industrial site adjacent to Harrow Manor Way and Felixstowe Road.
Cross Quarter will incorporate a small public square, a hotel, a Sainsbury’s supermarket and around 200 homes. The CGI image at the top of this page indicates the scheme’s proposed appearance, which makes plentiful use of colourfully tinted panels – presently much in vogue for such projects. The hotel’s ‘facade patination’ is supposed to resemble a pixelated view of Lesnes Abbey Woods in autumn. (Some might call this pretentious but Hidden London approves.) Elsewhere, silhouettes on mesh screens also take their inspiration from the woods. Public and local authority reaction to the scheme has been broadly supportive and it seems likely to go ahead roughly as proposed – perhaps heralding more to come in other under-exploited parts of this hitherto lacklustre locality.
In 2013 the London Borough of Bexley secured monies from the Heritage Lottery Fund that will be used to make Lesnes Abbey Woods more accessible and appealing to residents and visitors.
Postal district: SE2
Population: 15,704 (2011 census)
Station: Southeastern (zone 4) plus Elizabeth line (planned for c.2018)
Further reading: Darrell Spurgeon, Discover Woolwich and Its Environs: A Comprehensive Guide to Woolwich, The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Common, Plumstead, Shooters Hill and Abbey Wood, Greenwich Guidebooks, 1996
Blog post: From the Murky Depths on the Cross Quarter scheme