SE14 is New Cross. But this area was not always known as New Cross. It was once called Hatcham and this name does still pop up in places as we will see – though no one would call the area Hatcham now.
We start our walk at New Cross Post Office which is at 199 – 205 New Cross Road. Turn left out of the Post Office and our first stop is just ahead on the right.
Stop 1: New Cross Bus Garage
This is possibly the largest bus garage in London. There is apparently space for over 300 buses, although the garage has never been even close to its capacity due to the close proximity of other garages. Because of this, it has sometimes been used to store surplus vehicles.
New Cross Bus Garage was originally a tram depot which opened in 1906. In fact London’s last tram route ran from here in July 1952. Here is a great little piece from Pathe news.
In 1952 with the trams withdrawn, the depot was converted into a bus garage.
Keep walking along the main road and our next stop is in the terrace on the left
Stop 2: two plaques in quick succession
Surprisingly there are two commemorative plaques along here a few doors from each other.
First up is a Blue Plaque for John Tallis (1816-1876) at 233 New Cross Road.
The plaque erected in 1978 by Greater London Council ,
His company, John Tallis and Company, published views, maps and atlases in London from about 1838 to 1851. He also produced an Illustrated World Atlas at the time of the 1851 Great Exhibition.
Then just a bit further along, just before the corner with Nettleton Road, is a second plaque. This one is a Lewisham Borough plaque and is at number 241 New Cross Road
Sir Barnes Wallis (1887 – 1979), pioneer of aircraft design, lived here from 1892 to 1909
He is best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the Royal Air Force in Operation Chastise. This was an,attack on the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II. It was immortalised in the 1955 film The Dam Busters with Wallis being played by Michael Redgrave.
Keep walking along the main road and cross when convenient. You will want to go down a side street called Jerningham Road. Here is our first sign of Hatcham.
Stop 3: Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham Academy
There is a big blue sign at the corner announcing the name of our next stop but we actually want to go the road a bit to the entrance.
We came across the site of another Haberdashers Aske’s School when we were in NW2. As I explained there. Robert Aske left the Haberdasher’s Company £20,000 in 1690 to set up a hospital and home for 20 elderly men and a school for 20 boys at Hoxton
The school really took off in the 19th century. There was reorganisation in 1873 and separate boys and girls schools were established at Hoxton and at Hatcham in south east London. And what we have here was originally the Girls school of the south London branch. The main building here dates from 1891.
The schools north and south of the river went on different paths, with the south London ones staying within the local authority sector and latterly becoming an academy.
Go down the side street and if you look carefully, you will see a plaque by the black gateway.
Well this is a surprise – a plaque to the famous Victorian poet Robert Browning (1812 – 1889). He moved here after he had become well known as a poet.
It was in 1845 whilst living here that he met fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett, who was somewhat more famous than him at the time. She lived as a semi-invalid in her father’s house in Wimpole Street, London. They began regularly corresponding and gradually a romance developed between them, leading to their marriage and a move to Italy (for Elizabeth’s health) in September 1846. The couple never lived in England again.
Fascinating fact: Browning’s voice was recorded in April 1889 on an Edison wax cylinder. He was reciting part of his poem “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”. But he forgot the words!
This is probably the earliest recording of a famous British person and you can hear it on this YouTube link:
Return to the main road and turn right. Our next stop is just across the road.
Stop 4: New Cross Gate station
This first station here was opened by the London and Croydon Railway in June 1839. The London and Brighton railway started running through here in 1841 and the two companies merged to form the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1846.
The station has been rebuilt a number of times. It was moved to the north in 1847 but local pressure apparently caused the railway company to rebuilt it on the original site in 1849. It was again rebuilt in 1858 to allow for the quadrupling of the Brighton Main Line. Further rebuilding was undertaken in 1869 what became known as the East London line opened from New Cross to Whitechapel and Liverpool Street.
More recently it has been rebuilt to create step free access to the platform. This has been done by building a new bridge to serve the platforms.
There is a rather good view back towards the City from here. you can also see the SELCHP waste incineration plant chimney straight ahead.
This plant is actually in SE14 but is a bit far to walk. SELCHP by the way stands for South East London Combined Heat and Power. It is a big energy from waste incineration plant designed to generate both heat and electricity. It opened in 1994.
The station was called New Cross until the formation of the Southern Railway in 1923. The newly formed railway found they had two station named New Cross in close proximity (we shall see the other shortly), so in July 1923 they renamed the Brighton line station, New Cross Gate. It is perhaps a passing reference to the fact that this was near a tollgate on the New Cross turnpike which operated in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Our next stop is along the main road just beyond the corner with Goodwood Road on the left.
Stop 5: Former Woolworth’s store, Numbers 277-281 New Cross Road
Today there is a 1950s row of shops mostly taken up by Iceland but once this was a Woolworth’s store. And the reason why this is a 1950s building is obvious when you read the Lewisham borough plaque to the left of the entrance to Iceland.
We saw in SE13 a plaque to the V1 rocket which hit Lewisham Marks and Spencer in July 1944. Here we have a plaque to those who died and were injured in a V2 rocket attack in November. This was one of the largest, if not the largest, loss of civilian life in Britain during the war.
There is a good piece on the Woolworth Museum site:
Now cross the main road at the crossing and turn back to the side street, which is called St James’s. You will see all the buildings immediately round here are connected to Goldsmiths College.
We are going to focus on a couple. But first a bit about Goldsmiths’.
As the name suggest it has its origins in the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, another of the City Livery Companies. The Company, which originates from the twelfth century, received a Royal Charter in 1327 and ranks fifth in the order of precedence of City Livery Companies. They opened the Goldsmiths’ Company’s Technical and Recreative Institute in 1891 in a former school which we shall see shortly. This became part of the University of London in 1904 and is now Goldsmiths, University of London. They have colonised a large chunk of New Cross and created a campus from a number of disparate buildings.
Now go down St James’s to the end and you will see our next stop, straight ahead
Stop 6: St James, Hatcham
Now part of Goldsmiths, this was once the church of St James, Hatcham. Architectural guru, Pevsner describes this building as “A dull ragstone building notable only for its ambitious plan.”
It was built in the early 1850s and was converted to the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in the 1970s. Laban moved out to purpose built premises in Deptford in 2002 and the space is now used by Goldsmiths. Laban merged with Trinity College of Music in 2005 to form Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
The replacement church is just next door to the right.
Pevsner is silent about this building.
Now return to the main road and turn right. Our next stop is ahead on the right.
Stop 7: Former Deptford Town Hall
The newly created Deptford Borough Council built this rather lovely Town Hall not in Deptford as might have been expected but here in New Cross. It is a flamboyant Edwardian Baroque style completed in 1905.
As befits a location with strong naval traditions, there are lots of nautical references in the carvings and metal work.
There is also a sailing ship weathervane on the clock turret.
This is now also part of the Goldsmiths campus.
Keep walking along the main road. Our next stop is on the right at the corner (The side street is called Laurie Grove).
Stop 8: New Cross House
New Cross is believed to have taken its name from a coaching house originally known as the Golden Cross, which stood close to the current New Cross House pub. According to the wonderful London Encyclopaedia, the diarist John Evelyn wrote how he accompanied Lord Berkeley in his carriage from Evelyn’s home, Sayes Court, through “New Crosse” on their way to Dover, “my lord being bound for Paris as ambassador with a retinue of three coaches, three wagons and 40 horses”. This was in the 1670s.
According the pub website: “The New Cross House has been a staple of the South-East London community for literally hundreds of years. So many years in fact, that the area itself was named after the pub. Also known as Goldsmiths Tavern, it has played host to many well-known bands, comedians, DJ’s and artists. Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer held their first ever show together upstairs in our function space and the legendary spoken-word artist and political activist, Gil Scott Heron performed here in the 90s.”
Our next stop is just over the road.
Stop 9: Venue night club
Today this building hosts a nightclub called The Venue. But this site has a long history as a place of entertainment. According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, it opened as the New Cross Super Kinema in 1925, with a cinema on the ground floor and the New Cross Palais de Danse above, as well as a cafe. The name was shortened to New Cross Kinema from 1927, the plain Kinema in 1948, and finally Gaumont in 1950. It closed in August 1960, and remained derelict for some time.
Much of the building was demolished but the old dance hall became a club which took the name of The Venue in the late 1980s. The remaining part of the ground floor became a supermarket and then a furniture store. At some point the exterior was painted black, but in 2006 the building exterior was restored and cleaned to reveal the original tiling.
The Venue Nightclub now occupies the whole building.
Ahead the road forks. Take the right hand road which is Lewisham Way. You will pass a rather grand building on the right – another bit of Goldsmiths.
This building was originally the Royal Naval School built in 1843 and designed by architect John Shaw Jr to house “the sons of impecunious naval officers. The school relocated further south-east to Mottingham in 1889, and the building was bought by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, who opened the Goldsmiths’ Company’s Technical and Recreative Institute here in 1891. And as I have already explained, this became part of the University of London in 1904 and is now Goldsmiths, University of London.
The Goldsmiths’ connection can be seen in the crest with the Latin motto of the Goldsmiths Company: Justitia Virtutum Regina which translates as Justice is Queen of Virtues.
It is good to see how Goldsmiths have managed to incorporate a number of New Cross’s old buildings into its campus.
Take a left down Parkfield Road and then left again into Amersham Road. then right at New Cross Road. You will see a railway bridge ahead and our next stop is just here.
Stop 10: New Cross Station
The railway first came through here in 1839 but it was not until 1850 that the station was opened on this site. It was called New Cross & Naval School but was renamed plain old New Cross in 1854. The original station building was on the road bridge but was demolished in the 1970s to be replaced by a station building in the side street. This was in turn replaced in the 1980s and more recently the station has been given step free access.
One quirk of this station is that the platforms are lettered not numbered, so they go Platforms A to D rather than 1 to 4.. This is said to be to avoid confusion with the nearby New Cross Gate station. There are actually two other stations in London which have lettered platforms. Waterloo East has A to D to avoid confusion with the much larger Waterloo main line station. and St Pancras International which has platforms A and B, for the Thameslink trains. This was apparently a hangover from the now closed Kings Cross Thameslink station which had platforms A and B to avoid confusion with the rest of the Kings Cross station.
Keep walking along New Cross Road, and you will soon reach our next stop on the left.
Stop 11: Number 439 New Cross Road
Number 439 has a blue plaque, but not an English Heritage one.
This plaque is credited to the Nubian Jak Community Trust and Lewisham Borough Council. The Nubian Jak Community Trust was set up by Jak Beula, who initiated a scheme to commemorate historic black figures in 2004, starting with a plaque for Bob Marley in Camden. Since then, the organisation has erected over 15 plaques around the UK. We saw one to Tottenham MP, Bernie Grant, in N15.
This one commemorates a terrible fire that occurred during a party at a house in New Cross, south-east London, in the early hours of Sunday 18 January 1981. The blaze killed thirteen young people aged between 14 and 22, and one survivor committed suicide two years later.
No one has ever been charged in connection to the fire, which forensic science subsequently established was started from inside the house, either by accident or deliberately.
We saw a plaque at the council offices in Catford but this is where the fire actually happened.
Now our final stop is a little further along the main road.
Stop 12: Numbers 483 – 485 New Cross Road (Site of Empire theatre)
This new building has been built on the site of a variety theatre
The Empire Theatre of Varieties was designed by noted theatre architect Frank Matcham, it opened in July 1899. It was located on the boundary of Deptford and New Cross. Initially it was called the Deptford Empire Theatre of Varieties but for most of its life it was referred to as the New Cross Empire Theatre.
New Cross Empire one of the most popular of London’s suburban variety theatres. Many stars appeared here including Old Mother Riley, Max Miller and Tessie O’Shea. Todd Slaughter came several times with his melodramas such as “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, “Maria Marten, the Murder in the Red Barn” and “Jack the Ripper”.
The New Cross Empire Theatre closed in July 1954. The theatre then became a location film set for three British made films; one of which was the film version of Ivor Novello’s “King’s Rhapsody”,
The building was demolished in 1958 and replaced by a petrol station which in turn has been replaced by this apartment building.
There is a wonderfully detailed piece on the Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/NewCross.htm#empire
This also covers the Venue, which we saw just up the road, as well as another theatre further down New Cross Road.
We are now at the end of our SE14 walk. It is interesting how this area was shaped by roads and railways and how the original name got lost. It is also fascinating to see how Goldsmiths’ has created a campus and incorporated some of New Cross’s historic buildings.
We are almost in Deptford. For onward travel, you can keep walking along the main road to Deptford Bridge DLR station or turn back to New Cross or even New Cross Gate stations.