Walk 12: Blackheath walk to Falconwood

Walk 12 BLACKHEATH to FALCONWOOD

 2 1/2 hours

The train line opened in 1895 on the basis of an Act of Parliament from 1883. The long delay was due to difficulties securing funding because the line had to be built and operated by an independant train company. It would have been logical for the operator of the two train lines to Kent to open this third line, but the company refused to spend the money.

This was typical policy by this company well known at the time for putting profit way before convenience of travellers and security -private train operators have not changed much in this respect. By not building the third line, the company inconvenienced greatly the people who lived on Bexley Heath, including several influential and rich people, as these fine people had to travel up to two hours on unpaved tracks to the station at Woolwich to catch a train.

In the end, the rich people built the new train line themselves, but their company soon went bankrupt and the main Kent operator got the infrastructure of the new line for nearly free (although it complained a bit about the costs of actually operating the trains). The reason for the bankruptcy was probably both a problem of scale and the fact that the area beyond Eltham was still quite rural.

The trains originally stopped at Kidbrooke and Well Hall (later Eltham Well Hall) before continuing towards Welling. A station called Eltham Park was added in 1908 and Falconwood station opened in 1936. Both Well Hall and Eltham Park closed in 1985 and were replaced by the present Eltham station located half way in the middle.

Routing note: This walk connects in Blackheath with walks 6 and 7. It connects in Falconwood with walk 13.

BLACKHEATH

The station was opened in 1849 on the main line to Kent going to Charlton via a very long tunnel (about 1 mile, which is very long for the time it was built). As mentioned above, the branch line towards Eltham was opened in 1895 by a separate company.

Blackheath train station

The station has a so-called bay platform where a train can terminate. This was first used for suburban services initiating in Blackheath and later for special purpose trains. A very popular special train to watch was the yearly train bringing a circus to the Black Heath. Only one incident is recorded, when an elephant panicked and attacked a bus.

The station building dates back to 1879 and was built by the architect who also designed Greenwich train station (on my walk 5). He had a very elegant taste and kept to simple shapes and classical colours at a time when mock-medieval bombast was very fashionable. I haven’t been on the platforms but I have read that the awnings are the original 1849 ones.

Exit the station and turn R on Blackheath Place

Climb ahead Lee Road along the concert halls

Blackheath concert halls

Blackheath halls were built in 1895 as part of a triad of cultural institutions. It was customary for music students to be taught in private homes or in their teacher’s home at the time and concerts were given in any more or less appropriate place willing to rent the room for a reasonable fee. Building a sort of cultural centre was seen as an exciting innovation.

The buildings were nearly demolished by speculators in the 1980s but ended up being renovated. They are now used by the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music, the leading high-level university for music in the UK, for student concerts. Most concerts are fundraising events with free entrance and a collection at the exit. Here is the internet link: http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/whats-on/upcoming-performances/blackheath-halls-events.aspx

L Priory Park

House on Priory Park

You are entering one of the nicest and poshest areas in the whole of London transport zone 3. This was originally a large estate centred on a mansion called Wricklemarsh House, but the house was abandoned after the death of its owner in 1775 and a speculator called John Cator bought it in 1783. As he found no buyer for the mansion, he demolished it and sold develoment plots on the estate. Most plots were built upon in the 1820s.

House on Brooklands Park

The Cator trust wanted to keep it an exclusive resort and there were gatehouses to prevent peddlars and beggars from disturbing the distinguished residents. In other words, it was a gated community. The borough had a policy of compulsorily purchasing vacant plots in the 1950s and this has diluted the exclusiveness, but the oldest roads like Priory Park have remained very posh. The council-built houses on Brooklands Park are quite pleasant as council housing goes, but residents were up in arms at potential further developments such as demolishing more Victorian houses.

R The Park

R Park Gate

L Manor Way

Quaggy River Sports Grounds

The road marks the southern limit of the elegant area. On the other side of the fence, the green space remains open due to flooding problems. It is used as sports grounds along the Quaggy River, a watercourse also known as Kyd Brook that ends later in Lewisham. A “quag” is a bog or marsh in medieval English (I just had to look up as the name looks so strange). The river was canalised in a concrete bed in the 1960s and this caused very serious flooding until a whole series of green spaces were used to let the river spread naturally when needed in Chinbrook Meadows, Sutcliffe Park and the sports grounds.

L Brooklands Park

R Casterbridge Road

Casterbridge Road Pond

The pond in the middle of this small estate is most probably a remnant of the ornamental gardens for Wricklemarsh House. The pond was fed by an arm of the Kyd Brook.

Continue ahead on a footpath to Moorehead Way

Western edge of Ferrier Estate

In stark contrast with the previous leafy area, you are entering here Ferrier Estate. It was one of the very few places in London where you could genuinely feel uncomfortable even in plain daylight (I know I did in 2010, to the point that I did not dare take pictures). I was pleased to read that this is changing currently.

Ferrier Estate seen from the East

The estate was built around 1970 in the typical style of that period, tall concrete towers and long stretches of featureless passages between the buildings. Other examples include Broadwater Farm in Tottenham and Thamesmead. At the time, planners thought that towers would be a way to build housing quickly and efficiently while offering residents much better living conditions such as lifts, electrical appliances, playgrounds and nearby schools.

Ferrier Estate

But they did not realise that society had changed since the 1930s and that many residents would be immigrants with little in common, who would be tempted to take refuge in small networks of homesick friends. Worse, they also could not anticipate that the children growing up on these estates would never get any stable job as industrial plants closed. Masses of jobless young men are a recipe for problems as crime soon appears to be the easiest way to get a better life. Ferrier Estate was no exception and became known for major burglary gangs and even terrorist cells.

Most of Ferrier Estate has been demolished in 2011 and will be replaced with low-rise, less conspicuous council housing. Because of the building works, you might be forced to a detour if my route is blocked temporarily.

Cross the council estate straight ahead or walk L along Moorehead Way, whereby the road soon turns R

Cross the main road for

KIDBROOKE

Kidbrooke station

The station was one of the original stations when the train line opened in 1895.

The original station building was a quaint wooden blockhouse demolished in 1970 when the construction of Ferrier Estate justified larger platforms. The present building is a boring brick shed avoiding any attempt at remarkable architecture.

Ahead along the tracks on a new footpath (not marked on maps) to Eltham Green Road

Cross this road into

Ahead Edgeworth Road

Ahead Pinnell Road

Ahead Horsfeld Road

L Froissart Road

L Foxhole Road, actually a footpath under the motorway

R on a footpath along the north side of the motorway until you reach a gate for Well Hall Pleasaunce.

Tudor Barn in Well Hall Pleasaunce

The word pleasaunce was used in Platagenet and Tudor times for the park of a palace and comes from the French word “plaisir” for “enjoyment”. The Royal palace at Greenwich was called “Placentia”, the latin word for pleasaunce. But Well Hall Park was actually only the grounds of a normal manor house and the name pleasaunce was given in 1930 when the borough bought Well Hall itself. Well Hall has had distinguished residents over time such as the daughter of Sir Thomas More, chancellor to Henry VIII, and popular writer Edith Nesbit.

Tudor Barn in Well Hall Pleasaunce

There is no remnant of the mansion, but there is a large historic building at the bottom of the park, the so-called Tudor barn. It is located along water because the original manor was a moated castle. The barn was built in 1525 and has interesting features such as large chimneys. It was converted by the borough in 1930 from 3 to 2 storeys; part was first used as an art gallery and community centre while the rest of the building was turned into a restaurant. You can still have lunch or dinner here on weekends. The rests of the moat on one side of the building are still crossed by a medieval bridge.

Wilderness pond

The park is impressive and has a whole series of attractions building rather a string of small gardens than a continuous park. There is a pretty woodland along the river and a bowling ground with a small rookery above it. Above the rookery, you can have a look at a wilderness pond if you are interested in mosquitos and creepy crawlies.

Walled Garden in Well Hall Pleasaunce

Rose garden in Well Hall Pleasaunce

Then, there is a former walled garden which has been turned into a lovely orchard with rose beds.

Flower beds at entrance of Well Hall Pleasaunce

Between the enclosed garden and the road, the borough usually has an impressive display of flowers in flashy colours.

Italian Garden in Well Hall Pleasaunce

At the top of the park nearer to the motorway, you can find the Italian garden. The flower beds are less impressive here as Italian gardens put more worth on lines of view, interesting stone settings and water elements. I consider Well Hall to be the most charming garden in Italian style in London.

Italian Garden ornamental pond

The stone-lined pond at the west end of the garden is beautiful and you cannot ignore the magnificent wisteria on the Edwardian pergola at the end of the Italian garden when it blooms in early May.

Entrance to Well Hall Pleasaunce

At the other end of the Italian garden near the park exit, there is a superb round flower bed.

Visit the park and exit at the SE corner

Cross underneath the motorway

L approach to

ELTHAM

The station opened in 1985 half way between the locations of two older stations, Well Hall opened in 1895 and Eltham Park in 1908. The distance between the two station was only 700 yards, which was wasteful in terms of train operations, and it was convenient to demolish them in order to built the motorway more easily.

Eltham station

The station building is downright weird in comparison with other London suburbs. It is T-shaped with an extremely long glass gallery jutting away from the platform access. This protrusion is meant as an integrated bus station although bus services from the station are neither very numerous nor very busy. There is something strange about the proportions of the glass roof as the sloping section is very steep and much higher than you would expect for the purpose: it seems the roof actually hides a second storey.

Go back to the main road

L (uphill) Well Hall Road

This road was the location of a very shocking hate crime in 1993 when a young Black student was stabbed to death by local teenagers. The crime was all the more shocking because the five supposed culprits escaped conviction due to lack of evidence. Two of the teenagers were finally convicted in 2012 a full twenty years after the crime.

This raises very interesting questions about what justice actually means if it can only be achieved 20 years later: if the two guys are now law-abiding fathers with a stable professional activity and a loving family, sending them to prison now means punishing their innocent families as well and this is not an easy decision. If the two guys have remained criminal hooligans, this is an other story. The family of the victim also had to relive through the trauma of the murder whether they were keen on revenge or not. Don’t read me wrong, I do think that gratuitous racist murders are among the most horrible crimes and that it is essential to show would-be hooligans that some lines are not to be crossed.

Conveniences with Eltham parish church in the background

The parish church at the corner of Well Hall Road and High Street is an 1875 building is bland neo-gothic style. It is normally closed. You might notice on Well Hall Road “public conveniences” built in a suitably neo-gothic style fitting well with the church. It was considered at the end of the 19th century that towns should try to offer amenities of good architectural quality in areas where people of corresponding standing could be expected to pass by frequently. We tend nowadays to hide toilets in subterranean shopping malls and we should not be surprised that some are also used for shady dealings.

On the corner opposite the church, there is a large pub in a building built in the 1720s, the only 18th century building on High Street.

L Eltham High Street

Something peculiar happened on this road during the 2011 London riots. A posse of concerned local citizens became convinced that rioters would descend on Eltham and smash the shops. According to media, they were excited by chatter on the social networks for footbal fans. There was no sign of upcoming riots in Eltham, but police had to send a strong troop to send the vigilantes home before they could be seen by hooligans as tempting provocation.

Former library on Eltham High Street

The nicest building on High Street is the former library from 1906, a typical example of the numerous public libraries built in Edwardian times with a bequest by American billionaire Carnegie. As usual with Edwardian architecture, the ornaments are too numerous and too heavy, but this particular example is a funny mix of baroque (at ground level), Palladian (first floor) and classical (the top part). We also would not want to mix at the same level a half-round above the doorway with triangles above the windows.

R Pound Place

Alternative if you do not like walking along busy roads: take a minor footpath at the back of the train station parking lot into Strongbow Road

At the top end of the road

L Dobell Road

R Archery Road

cross High Street into Pound Place

L Messeter Place

R Footscray Road

Cross Southend Crescent at the roundabout into sports grounds

Capital Ring signpost

These sports grounds are a small corner of Avery Hill Park, a very large green space extending further east. It was the core of a considerable estate owned in the 1880s by a businessman who had become filthily rich through dealings in South America. The property was sold after his death in 1903 with the council buying a large part to keep it as woodlands and green spaces. You will cross later Eltham Park and Sheperdleas Wood which were also part of the same estate.

Priory for Holy Trinity Church

The church on your left is hardly visible behind the trees; it is Holy Trinity, of which the oldest parts are from 1868. The more interesting building is the imposing priory. I always wonder whether Anglican clerics needed such huge houses, possibly for offices, social events or schools, or whether it was just the established Church of England showing off.

Cross the sports grounds ahead to the hedge and cross the hedge

L at the pavilions Butterfly Lane

Ahead Glenesk Road

R paved footpath along edge of Eltham Park South, turns later L

Eltham Park South

Some websites are enthusiastic about this large green space because of the alleys with old trees, in particular chestnuts. I must honestly say that I remember this particular park as being dull and the paved path along the golf course as being rather long. The park has a popular tennis club.

You are following here the Capital Ring, a well signposted long-distance trail; follow the markings to the end of the park and across the motorway and the train tracks.

The train line cuts across Eltham Park and it was tempting to build the motorway along it, reinforcing the division. The northern part of the park was bought by the borough in 1926.

For direct access to Falconwood station, turn R on the path along the tracks.

For a detour in the woods, you can also turn L along the Capital Ring, reaching a pond.

Path in Sheperdleas Wood

The “Long Pond” was a private boating lake for the nearby mansion. It is now a nature reserve where you might see a few turtles (correctly terrapins, the word applied to turtles living in sweet water). The lush wood around the pond, Sherperdleas Wood, is interesting for experts because some of the plants found here imply it was not disturbed since the Ice Age.

You should then turn R on any convenient path, first northwards and then R again eastwards. All eastbound paths lead to the station or to a road. If you reach the road, turn R within the wood without crossing the road and you will necessarily reach the station.

FALCONWOOD

Falconwood station

The station was opened in 1936 on the existing train line as population had been rising quickly due to suburban development.

The building is a utilitarian brick block although it is substantial enough and there was no attempt done to make it look interesting. I point this out because many tube stations built in 1936 are considered to be stellar examples of Art Déco. Train stations obviously don’t belong in the same category.

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1 Response to Walk 12: Blackheath walk to Falconwood

  1. Milly says:

    My goodness, your website is full of gems! Well Hall Pleasaunce looks like a stunning place to visit! onto the “to visit” list it goes! 🙂 Thank you so much!

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