Blackheath, Lewisham/Greenwich

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

Blackheath - the Paragon

Most of Black­heath – 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, the heath was exten­sive­ly quar­ried for grav­el, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the 18th 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.

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. South Row (which did not sur­vive the Blitz) and Mont­pe­lier Row were con­struct­ed as three-storey ter­races, while the Paragon is a unique cres­cent of sev­en pairs of hous­es linked by colon­nades, designed by Michael Sear­les and shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of this arti­cle.

Hidden London: The Hare and Billet public house by Bill Boaden

Black­heath Vale was cre­at­ed by the extrac­tion of sand and two wind­mills were erect­ed on its perime­ter in 1770. The mills sur­vived for near­ly 70 years. After the exca­va­tors aban­doned the pit, the Dart­mouth estate grant­ed leas­es for liv­ery sta­bles and cot­tages, and between 1789 and 1810 a small vil­lage grew up in this dry and shel­tered basin. Black­heath Brew­ery pro­duced ales, stouts and porter in Black­heath Vale for around fifty years from the mid-1820s.

To the south-east, Black­heath Park took shape dur­ing the 1820s and 1830s and though it has since been aug­ment­ed the estate has remained remark­ably unspoilt and high­ly supe­ri­or.

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.

The late-Vic­to­ri­an Black­heath Halls and the neigh­bour­ing Con­ser­va­toire 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: 26,914 (Lewisham’s Blackheath ward and Greenwich’s Blackheath Westcombe ward, 2011 census)
Station: Southeastern trains (Zone 3)
Further reading: Felix Barker, Greenwich and Blackheath Past, Historical Publications, 1999
Website: The Blackheath Society
Blog: The Blackheath Bugle
* The picture of the Hare & Billet on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Bill Boaden, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.