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Guide to South East London
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South East London History

South East London History Both the history and geography that outlines South East London begins at the Southwark.

London owes its important position to Southwark’s early landscape. As the first crossing place on the river, Roman Southwark grew rapidly, covering up to 45 acres.

During Anglo Saxon times Southwark became the greatest traffic and trading centre in the country. Such was its importance by 1295 that it was the only town outside of the City permitted to send two representatives to Parliament.

The Southbank, which is now a bastion of art galleries and cultural centres, was for many years a stretch of wasteland sitting beside the River Thames. Difficult to build on, it was largely untouched until the 18th century, when drainage techniques had improved to the extent that it became a viable site for development. This took the form of industry and slum housing, and the area soon became a place of ill repute. Thankfully creative fractions began to appear and by the 1900s art galleries and art traders began to use the Southbank. The Southbank was again rejuvenated by the staging of The Festival of Britain in the 1940s to celebrate the end of World War II and many new buildings sprang up around this time. The Royal Festival Hall still stands to this day as a monument to that festival.

Head to Lewisham for an equally fascinating history that was ravished by the plague and the Black Death. Contrary to popular belief Blackheath was so called because it appeared a darker colour than the green fields beside the Thames which it overlooked and is not, in this case, connected to the Black Death.

By the 1500s the Heath was a lonely place where travellers along the London to Dover road (now the A2) were in danger from highwaymen. But it was also a place for recreation. With a strong sporting past it comes as no surprise that The London Marathon now begins from this point.

The Heath became a public open space in 1871, and is now administered by Lewisham and Greenwich councils since it falls within both boroughs.

There were hardly any houses on the Heath until about 1700. A few were built in the 18th century, but the main development of Blackheath Village took place after 1803 when John Cator began building the houses now called the Cator Estate. Nowadays Blackheath Village is known for high quality shops and restaurants, as well as an ever-expanding range of cultural events and activities.


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