New Cross

New Cross, Lewisham

A lively and diverse district located south-west of Deptford

New Cross Road

This was the site of a cross­roads on the Kent/Surrey bor­der and New Cross Heath was record­ed in the 15th cen­tu­ry, when the sur­round­ing area was still heav­i­ly wood­ed.

Two City guilds have had a defin­ing influ­ence on New Cross. The Wor­ship­ful Com­pa­ny of Hab­er­dash­ers acquired much of the land in 1614 as an endow­ment for its char­i­ty. The com­pa­ny leased large hous­es to its mem­bers and oth­er gen­tle­men in the 18th cen­tu­ry and devel­oped the land more inten­sive­ly from the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, after the com­ing of the rail­way.

The Roy­al Naval School opened in 1843 and the build­ing was tak­en over by the Gold­smiths’ Company’s Tech­ni­cal and Recre­ative Insti­tute in 1891. The insti­tute has evolved into the arts-ori­ent­ed col­lege that now calls itself Gold­smiths, Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don.

Goldsmiths, seen from New Cross Gate

Dept­ford Town Hall, com­plet­ed in 1907, has mar­itime sculp­tures and carv­ings cel­e­brat­ing the old borough’s her­itage. Anoth­er New Cross land­mark, the Super Kine­ma, opened in 1925 and is now The Venue night­club.

Much of the Vic­to­ri­an hous­ing has been sub­di­vid­ed into flats, many of which are now occu­pied by Gold­smiths’ stu­dents. Oth­er hous­es were replaced in the 1970s by coun­cil estates and by the 15-acre Ford­ham Park.

Over the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry many black peo­ple set­tled in New Cross, at first main­ly from the Caribbean but lat­er increas­ing­ly of African ori­gin. The num­ber of black or black British res­i­dents now exceeds the num­ber of white British res­i­dents, who account­ed for 27 per cent of the ward’s pop­u­la­tion at the last cen­sus.

In 1981 four­teen black young­sters died in a fire dur­ing a house par­ty in New Cross Road. The police repeat­ed­ly reject­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a racist arson attack and 15,000 peo­ple marched through Lon­don to protest. The fam­i­lies held the 25th and final annu­al memo­r­i­al ser­vice in 2006, hav­ing decid­ed to focus on pri­vate remem­brance and key anniver­saries in the future. The may­or of Lewisham has found­ed a com­mem­o­ra­tive bur­sary scheme in con­junc­tion with Gold­smiths.

Former New Cross residents have included Sir Barnes Wallis, who designed the bouncing bomb used in the ‘Dambusters’ raid in the Second World War, and the actor Gary Oldman, who was born here in 1958.

Carter USM’s ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’ was a top ten hit in 1992.

The New Cross scene (or NXS) was a rock music vogue that flourished briefly here in the early 21st-century, primarily because several pubs in the area regularly hosted live music performances by unsigned artists, which in turn related to the local presence of Goldsmiths. Bloc Party and Art Brut were among the bands described as having emerged from the New Cross scene.

Postal district: SE14
Population: 15,756 (2011 census)
Station: London Overground (East London line branch terminus), Southeastern (zone 2)
See also: New Cross Gate

 

* The picture of New Cross Road at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Henry Zbyszynski, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.