Bellingham, Lewisham

An interwar municipal estate situated beside the River Ravensbourne south of Catford

The Fellowship public house - Bellingham - geograph-2017419-by-Stacey-Harris

This place was first identified in 10th-century Anglo-Saxon charters as Beringaham. The name probably denoted ‘the homestead or water meadow of Bera’s people’ – and Bera (or Beora) may have been a nickname meaning ‘the bear’. By 1198 it was Belingeham. The change from ‘Ber-’ to ‘Bel-’ was influ­enced by Norman ortho­graphy.

Alfred the Great’s daughter Elfrida gave the whole of the manor of Lewisham to the abbey of St Peter at Ghent – and the sub-manor of Bellingham was later sold on to the Cistercian abbey of Stratford Langthorne. For many centuries very little activity occurred here other than riverside milling and inland farming. The nearest hamlet was Southend, which lay a little to the south-east.

The opening of the station in 1892 revived the almost forgotten Bellingham identity but failed to stimulate any devel­opment in its immediate vicinity. Leland Duncan listed centuries of local landowners in his History of the Borough of Lewisham, published in 1908, but found very little to actually see here: “At Bellingham the altitude of the valley-plain is 70 feet. The slope on the arable land to the east rises sharply to 100 feet. At the top of the ridge which there forms the sky-line a solitary tree is seen a little to the north of a wood.”

Hidden London: Bellingham station by Stephen Craven
Bellingham station (2010)

In an early sign of life in the neigh­bourhood, Bellingham bowling club was estab­lished on Bellingham Road in 1912 – and the Forster estate was begun to its north around the same time.

After the First World War, Lewisham council planned to build housing on the farmland south of the confluence of the Pool and Ravensbourne rivers. The prime intention was to ease inner-city overcrowding by moving people here from Deptford and Bermondsey.

The borough’s subsequent failure to deliver on its commitment prompted the London County Council to step in and construct a ‘cottage estate’ between 1920 and 1923. St Dunstan’s church was built on the east side of the hexagonal Bellingham Green in 1925 – but was never completed as originally planned.

The 17th-century weather­boarded and timber-framed farmhouse of Bellingham Farm was demol­ished in 1932 and its site disap­peared beneath Allerford and Waterbank Roads. Blocks of flats were erected south of Southend Road in the late 1930s. The archi­tects Shepheard Epstein Hunter were responsible for a final phase of municipal infilling in the mid-1970s.

By the late 20th century the estate was suffering from neglect and the Bellingham Community Project was estab­lished to co-ordinate a variety of neigh­bourhood activ­ities and renewal projects. The most signi­ficant permanent results have been the construction of a ‘leisure and lifestyle centre’ (opened 2004) and the Gateway youth and community centre (2006).

Hidden London: logo for the Fellowship Inn restoration project

In 2014 Phoenix Community Housing announced its plans to reinvig­orate the estate’s run-down grade-II listed public house, the Fellowship. With generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Heritage Enterprise programme, the main bar area has been restored and will open on 14 June 2019 as the Fellowship and Star. Other parts of the mock-Tudor building will be converted to the Milky Way Cafe, the Bellingham Film Palace and the Space (available to hire for parties and other events).

The Fellowship Inn is shown (before restor­ation) in the photo­graph at the top of the page* and its location is marked with a pin on the map below.

The boxer Henry Cooper lived on Farmstead Road from 1940 to 1960. In 1963 he trained for his fight with Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) in the Fellowship Inn’s ballroom, which was temporarily converted into a gymnasium. “It was quite an event in Bellingham,” Cooper later recalled.

Postal district: SE6
Population: 14,775 (2011 census)
Station: Southeastern (zone 3)
Website: Bellingham Online
Tumblr gallery: Fellowship Inn
See also: Downham and Beckenham Hill
* The picture of The Fellowship at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Stacey Harris, and the picture of Bellingham station is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Stephen Craven, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.