Digging into historical Blackheath
Having called our opticians Blackheath Eyecare we wanted to write about this great area we work and live in.
Blackheath has a long history of myth surrounding its name. Its origins have been linked to the Black Death during medieval times, with claims that this town was home to a large burial pit for the dead. However, this is only a myth. Instead, Blackheath gets its name because its landscape—the soil, brush and other plants—were of a much darker colour than the greener fields near the Thames. The soil of Blackheath was rocky and not good for cultivating growth like nearby farmers’ fields. The rocky soil was used for its gravel and stones. Where it had been dug up and pits formed, have now become ponds.
In times past, the London road towards Dover that wound through the heath was an isolated area and travellers had to be watchful not to fall prey to highwaymen. Now that was only one aspect of this dark, yet beautiful landscape. Blackheath was a place of leisure and refreshment. Historically, many fairs were held in this town and still are to this day. 1871 marked the declaration that the heath became an open space for the public.
During the latter part of the 17th Century, Blackheath grew to become one of the wealthier suburban areas surrounding London. More houses and townhomes were built in the northern west section of the town and the ‘well-to-do’ area known as Dartmouth Row was built. More landowners began building homes and around 1805 Blackheath came into its own with a shopping district centre which drew new patrons to the area.
During the beginning of the 19th Century, several estates in Blackheath saw monumental development so more domestics and labourers were needed to staff this expansion. They also needed housing, so a burgeoning community of the working and middle class came to live in the back of the main area of the centre village square—known as Blackheath Vale. By the end of the 19th Century, the middle class started moving into larger houses and out of the more working class sections of the town.
Development in Blackheath
One of the larger estates in Blackheath Park was first built in the latter part of the 18th Century and underwent renovations during the early part of the 19th Century. Lovers of architecture will appreciate the various aspects of both Georgian features and Victorian features placed strategically throughout the estate.
A feature of note is a section of the estate which is partially detached from the main structure. This section of promenade housing is in the shape of a crescent moon and connected by porticoes. This addition took 14 years to build, with work beginning in 1793. Several embellishments were added in 1930 and during the ensuing years. The local parish church nearby was finished in 1830. Its spire was extremely tall and very thin. Locals gave it the nickname of a toothpick for the devil.
Sports in Blackheath
Tradition claims that the great sport of golf was made known to the English in 1608. Blackheath also played a role in establishing England’s premier hockey club in the middle of the 19th Century. The most celebrated sports fact about Blackheath is that their rugby club was started in 1858 and it was the first recorded one in England. Their rugby club organised the world’s first international game in 1871.
The long sporting dynasty of Blackheath continued. On the actual health landscape, Cricket was first played there in the early 1820’s. For over 150 years from that point, Blackheath hosted many feature cricket matches. Flying kites had been a popular pastime at the heath for many years. This tradition of flying kites in Blackheath continues to the present day.
The London marathon has had its initial starting point in Blackheath since 1869.