Local History

A Brief History of New Cross

Carl Evans HMO Lettings   Carl Evans

I moved to London in 2008 and one of the reasons I enjoy living in London so much is because of the history. Currently I live in New Cross and as I own a specialist HMO Letting agent that lets HMOs in New Cross, London I thought I’d pen a quick article on the history of New Cross.

The Normans
After the Roman administration and military left Britannia in the early 5th century, the population of London severely receded to just over 10,000 citizens by the early 11th century, down from 45,000 in 100 AD. It can be hard for us to imagine London being populated by such a small number of people.

In 1086, William The Conquer commissioned the publication of the famous Domesday Book – an economic report of the amount of assets and land value of William’s newly annexed kingdom. It is in the Domesday Book that New Cross was first mentioned.

The Normans called the area Hacheham, meaning “Haecci’s Homestead” or “Haecci’s Estate”. Haecci was presumably the name of one of the Anglo Saxon 11 households that lived in the area at the time. Unfortunately for the Haecci clan, the new Norman government transferred ownership of Haecci’s Homestead to one of William the Conqueror’s generals; Gilbert de Maminot.

Gilbert de Maminot was a major player in William’s inner-circle and was once Marshal of Dover Castle. Because of his military prowess, he gained titles to several pieces of land that became known as the ‘Maminot Barony’. Whilst living in the area he built a castle which was situated where Sayes Court Park is now, this became known as Hacheham Manor.

Haberdashers and the 17th Century
Over the next few centuries, Hacheham gradually became known as “Hatcham” and whilst the deed to the land changed from de Maminot’s descendants to many families unrelated to the Norman baron, even including members of the English crown (such as Elizabeth I), the area remained dominated by agriculture. Finally, in the 17th century, a pivotal transfer of ownership occurred which would alter the course of Hatcham’s development.

100 Wishes of Hatcham

Some areas in New Cross are still considered to be Hatcham today

On the first day of November 1613, a well-known guild of Haberdashers purchased Hatcham for just over £7,000. This guild, which is now known as The Haberdashers’ Company, has held a royal charter since the mid-1400s. Predominantly being involved with regulating the trade of textiles in England it seems as though they purchased Hatcham simply for investment purposes.

The Haberdashers leased some of Hatcham to various clients including Thomas Pepys, the brother of famous diarist Samuel Pepys, and after whom Pepys Street in New Cross is named. Samuel Pepys first mentions Hatcham in his diary on Sunday 19 July 1663 and at one point even refers to his brother as ‘Hatcham Pepys’. During this time, in the 17th century Hatcham gradually became known as New Cross. The first mention of this was in 1675 by writer John Evelyn who wrote that he met a friend at “New Crosse”. Apparently New Cross was named after a famous pub in the area, The New Cross House perhaps.

Napoleon and the Industrial Revolution
When war broke out with Napoleon in the late 1790s, parliament commissioned the building of a communication center atop of what was then called Plowed Garlic Hill. The purpose of this communication center was to be part of a system that used smoke signals to convey information from the front lines in Europe to the military command center in London.

Dover Castle would receive messages from ships out at sea – who would have received signals from inland Europe. Dover would then relay smoke signals onto Deal, who would then illustrate the message to a communication tower in Shooters Hill, South London who would then signal to Plowed Garlic Hill, New Cross. Plowed Garlic Hill which later became known as Telegraph Hill, would then telegraph the information onto Westminster. This signaling system was how the Admiralty first heard the news that Wellington defeated Napoleon.

Telegraph Hill

The view of The City from Telegraph Hill

In 1800, New Cross had just over 700 residents, but was poised to grow in tandem with the rapid development brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The population started to grow when in 1809 the newly built Croydon Canal started transporting materials into the area. The canal was then drained for the more efficient railway system.

In 1839 and 1849, two passenger railroad stations commenced business: New Cross and New Cross Gate Station. After this, industry flourished and housing construction accelerated, much of it funded by the Haberdashers. By the mid-1860s the population of New Cross swelled to over 17,000 residents.

The Victorians
During the Victorian era, many new buildings popped up in New Cross, some of which are still here today. One of the most notable buildings erected is The Royal Navy School which opened in 1843 and is a magnificent building. It has been renamed and repurposed several times since then but remains an educational establishment. Today it is Goldsmiths, University of London. The university specializes in the arts and design and is one of the reasons that New Cross is such an exciting vibrant and creative area today.

Goldsmiths University

The old Royal Navy School building

Deptford Town Hall New Cross

Deptford Town Hall

Another is Deptford Town Hall, built at the end of the Victorian period, which has statues on the front boastfully displaying some of the great figures of Britain’s maritime tradition; Sir Francis Drake, Admiral Robert Blake, Lord Horatio Nelson and an unknown admiral. Other notable constructions include the three Haberdasher Schools in the area, New Cross Fire Station and the Early English Gothic style St Catherine’s Church.

During the Victorian age historically significant people resided in New Cross as well. Prominent poet and playwright Robert Browning “Our aspirations are our possibilities” resided here in the 1840s. From an apartment close to the The Five Bells pub Charles Dickens wrote Our Mutual Friend, his final complete work. In this work, Dickens used idyllic imagery inspired by New Cross to illustrate the setting. From the 1892-1909, scientist Sir Barnes Wallis also resided in New Cross. After German bombing raids destroyed his beloved Millwall football ground during the Battle for Britain, Wallis vowed revenge. A few years later, he invented the world’s first bouncing bomb, which destroyed German damns during the Dambusters raid. A plaque dedicated to Wallis sits at 241 New Cross Road.

Robert Browning plaque

Robert Browning plaque, notice the Haberdashers coat of arms on the right hand side

The Post-War Years to Today
While the area continued to grow into the 20th century, New Cross sustained damage from the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign in World War II. In the first 24 hours of The Blitz 30 bombs were dropped on New Cross, yet the biggest tragedy happened towards the end of the war; on November 25, 1944. At 12:26pm a V-2 bomb landed on Woolworth’s department store. It killed 168 people and injured another 123. It was the most devastating V2 attack of the war.

New Cross again found itself in a hotbed of distress when in 1977 several hundred members of the far-right National Front party attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham, in hopes of propelling their racist and fascist platform. Many thousand residents of New Cross took to the streets and blocked the demonstrators from proceeding. Fights broke out between the National Front and the counter-protestors, and only after 5,000 officers arrived at the scene did this battle conclude. This was then known as the ‘Battle of Lewisham’.

Battle of Lewisham mural

Battle of Lewisham mural

First mentioned in the seminal Domesday Book as a sleepy agrarian area, spanning through the years to modern times New Cross is now a vibrant, friendly and creative area with a flourishing music, art and design scene. With a backdrop of rich history, beautiful Victorian buildings and community feel, I’m proud to live and work in Hatcham, New Cross.

I hope you enjoyed reading my short article on the history of New Cross. If you have any suggestions or think I missed anything feel free to contact me on our Contact Us page. Furthermore, if you’re a landlord with a HMO in New Cross, call the office on 0208 895 6195 and ask for me, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Carl Evans

Carl Evans

I live in New Cross and am the Managing Director of HMO Letting Agent. My hobbies include combat sports, exploring the beautiful landscapes of Kent and Surrey with my dogs, teaching my son to play the piano and reading and writing about history.

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