History of Belvedere

The word Belvedere means "beautiful view" in Italian. When settlement began on top of hill to the west of Erith the view down towards the River Thames and over it to Essex and beyond must indeed have been very beautiful.

The origins of the town owe much to the presence of an ancient estate. The Belvedere estate was first recorded in 1654. Thomas Cawstin, a wheelwright of Welling who owned property in Bexley as well as in Erith, bought two fields called Great and Little Brights, and two houses next to one of them and near the road "from the marshes to Lessness Heath", in a place known as Blinks Hill.

By 1689 one of the two houses had been demolished. In the early 1700s Thomas Hayley bought the lease, demolished the second house and built another, although not on the same site. The new house was also mostly demolished in the 1760s, when the last Belvedere house was built. It became home to such luminaries as Sir Sampson Gideon MP (a fabulously wealthy financier), Lord Say and Sele (a leading Whig politician) and Sir Culling Eardley (a religious reformer and philanthropist) before the estate was broken up in 1864 and the house sold to the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society as a seamen's home. The house was pulled down in 1959.

The village of Belvedere grew up around Lessness Heath, which was common grazing land for the farms that surrounded it. Several roads and tracks met here, including Heron Hill (coming up from Belvedere marshes), the main Woolwich to Erith road (now Woolwich Road) and the main route from Bexley and Bexleyheath, formerly known as Bexley Road (now Nuxley Road).

Gradually the village established itself in the triangle made by Woolwich Road, Nuxley Road and Albert Road, at the tip of which stood All Saints' Church, built by Sir Culling Eardley and opened in 1853.

The railway came in 1849 with the opening of the North Kent line. The Belvedere station, opened in 1859, was situated at Lower Belvedere, a portion of the settlement detached from the main village and reached via Heron Hill and Picardy Road. Both Upper and Lower Belvedere benefited from the presence of the railway.

In 1856 Sir Culling laid out his land in Lessness Heath in preparation for the invasion of commuters. From that period onwards the area rapidly developed into the suburb that it is today. Historically the Belvedere area had always been linked with Erith, and Victorian local government continued this connection when the local board of health and later the urban district council assumed responsibility for the area.

Upper Belvedere became a much sought-after area for wealthy city commuters. Some of the large villas built for these new residents still survive in areas such as West Heath on the borders with Greenwich at Bostall Heath.

In contrast Lower Belvedere attracted a smaller, less wealthy population, perhaps because of the presence nearby of marshland and the Crossness Sewage Works (opened in 1862; see Thamesmead).

Much of the marshland around the station was occupied by travellers and gipsies. However, the community of Lower Belvedere grew enough to justify the establishment of a church, St Augustine's, first built in 1915.

For many years the area remained largely unchanged, apart from a period of development during the 1930s towards the Bostall area. In the Second World War Belvedere, together with many other local areas, suffered from its proximity both to the river, which was used as a guide by German bomber pilots, and to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich (see Thamesmead), which was of course a major target. Bomb damage led to redevelopment of affected areas.

The large villas on the Woolwich Road and nearby were gradually demolished or divided into flats to suit the less grandiose needs of the 1960s homeowner. Similarly the Victorian shops in Nuxley Road were in most cases converted or rebuilt to cater for more modern tastes. However, the central part of the district along Nuxley Road from All Saints' Church retains a "village feel" and it is still possible to imagine what it must have looked like as a semi-rural Victorian community some 150 years ago.

See historic maps of Belvedere