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 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.
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.
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.