Well, it looks as though I have failed in my mission. So, as an interlude, I give you this educational post, which I started a while back, after a research trip to my local library. I know, exciting, right?! If it helps, you can imagine that it’s narrated in the voice of David Attenborough. Pictures are chosen from shots I’ve taken since we got here.
I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. Yeah! You tear your history down, man! “Thirty years old! Let’s smash it to the floor and put a car park here!” I have seen it in stories… I saw, coming in, a program on Miami, saying: “We’ve redecorated this building to how it looked over FIFTY YEARS AGO!” People are going: “No, surely not! No! No one was alive then!” — Eddie Izzard, Dressed to Kill
I’m exploring my immediate neighbourhood more, and I decided to do a little research on our area of London. We live in the district of Charlton (postal region SE7), which is part of the Borough of Royal Greenwich, one of London’s 33 boroughs. I couldn’t get population numbers for Charlton proper, but Royal Greenwich has a population of about 260 000, and a density of about 5 400 people per square kilometre. For comparison, in places I’ve lived, Toronto has a density of about 4 100 people per square km, Waterloo (Ontario) has about 1 500, Seattle has about 2 900, and Ottawa has about 1 900 (urban). (Thanks, Wikipedia!) So it’s definitely the most densely populated area I’ve ever lived in.
Having spent my whole life in either Canada or the US, most of what I’ve experienced that is not a natural phenomenon is fairly new. I’m always amazed that anything that is more than a couple hundred years old is still standing and functional. I’m consequently amazed a lot here – there is some OLD stuff around, everywhere.
Charlton was a village in the county of Kent until 1855, when it was absorbed into the metropolitan area of London. However, archaeological evidence has shown that there was a settlement here as early as 50 BCE. Obviously, there isn’t too much documented history before the middle ages, but apparently it was called ‘Cerletone’ in the late 11th century, and it was known as ‘Charlton by Woolwich’ for a long time afterwards, to differentiate it from the other Charletons; since the ‘cerletone’ is a derivation of Old English words meaning something like ‘farmstead of the freemen’, it was apparently a common place name.
The oldest church in the district is St. Luke’s, built in the mid 17th century. However, there has been a church on that site since the 11th century.
It’s a largely residential area now, with a few landmarks – most notably, the Thames Barrier, by the river (which, technically, isn’t Charlton, but New Charlton…), the Valley (home of the Charlton Athletic Football Club), and Charlton House. Most of the roads are along ‘coombe’ lines, which are valleys. It’s a hilly area, and has a great view of the city on clear days.
The centre of the village is the village road (now known just as The Village. It’s the only The Village in London), and the old manor house, Charlton House, is its principal landmark. The house was built in the early 17th century in the Jacobean (whatever that means) style by Adam Newton, who was tutor to Henry, son of James I. It belonged to the Maryon-Wilson family from the late 1700’s until they sold it to the city in 1929. It was used as a hospital during the First World War. The summer house, a separate building on the north side of the property, which, before the area got built up, apparently had a beautiful view right down to the Thames, became a ‘public convenience’ (code word for ‘toilet’) for a while in the 1930’s. An extension, built in 1877 became a public library after the house was sold to the city (the library later got moved into what had previously been the chapel). Now it’s a community centre, with the Charlton branch of the Greenwich library system, a tea room, and meeting rooms for community events. The lawn in front of the house used to be the Village Green. The grounds behind the house, have become Charlton Park, complete with football pitches, a cricket pitch, a workout area (built by Adidas during the 2012 Olympics) and a little coffee shop.
Oh, and Britain’s oldest mulberry tree is here, planted in 1608.
There is still a lot of evidence of the importance of the Maryon-Wilson family in this area – in particular two adjacent parks (Maryon Park, and Maryon-Wilson Park), situated near the sandpits where the original settlements had been. Apparently, the woods there were originally part of what was called Hanging Wood, a known haunt for Highwaymen.
The park reminds me of Waterloo Park at home, with its animal enclosures and hilly terrain. It’s quite lovely, and deliberately overgrown with blackberries, planted there to encourage birds and other wildlife to stay.
I haven’t been able to ascertain yet what year our street, Elliscombe Road, was developed. I’m guessing, from the rest of the development in the area, that it was in the 1850s. What’s interesting is that it’s apparently named after a guy called “Mad Jack” Ellis, according to one history book I consulted – clearly I need to find out more about this guy!
There’s more – the kids school, the Charlton Athletic Football Club among other things, but I’ll research them later.