Blackheath: A middle class estate of the 18th and early 19th centuries

by Neil Rhind

Strategic Location

Lewisham Hill, Blackheath, 1823

Blackheath has provided the name since at least 1160 not only for a 275-acre green space in southeast London but also for the contiguous residential suburb that developed around its boundary.

The Heath is a rare survival within the built up area of Greater London. Its location and the accompanying factors of position, with good communication networks, climate, and prevailing weather patterns, ensure that it is a desirable place for a modern residential suburb.

Its attractions, as far back as Roman times, made Blackheath a necessary part of outer London to retain. From its height: 125 feet above mean sea level - and particularly from The Point at the north east corner, there are commanding views over the Thames and to the Tower and City of London. From the heights of Shooters Hill watch can be kept on a long stretch of the river and the roads leading from the Channel ports. From a military standpoint Blackheath was strategically necessary to occupy.

The Heath is not legally a common (despite captions on old maps). It constitutes manorial waste and its acres are still owned by absentee Lords of the Manor: about two-thirds by the Earls of Dartmouth, and, to the north of the A2 traffic artery, about one third by the Crown as part of the Royal Manor of East Greenwich. Although Blackheath is now safely in public care and unlikely to be taken for any form of development this was not always the case.