Behind The Names: London Borough of Lewisham

Have you ever wondered why an area of South London is called what it is? We have, and we'll be damned if we don't find the answers. In this new series, we're going to try to provide you with answers as to why areas of South London are called what they are. We thought about focusing on quite precise area, but it seems that the answers are normally rather short, so we though we'd do it borough by borough. To make things as simple as possible we're, by and large, using the wards that each borough is split into for elections - with the additions of a couple of the other curious names in the area. Sadly we couldn't find the origins for every area name, and those which we could not we did not include.


Originally known during the Anglo-Saxon period as Beringaham, the name apparently translated roughly as 'the homestead or enclosure of the family or followers of a man called Bera'. After the Norman conquest of Britain the name changed to 'Belingeham' due to the change to Norman French. In the centuries after very little of note appears to have happened and the name was only properly revived with the opening of Bellingham station in 1892.


Though there are myths that the name Blackheath comes through association with the Black Death, the name is actually pretty literal. Having initially been Blachehedfeld it eventually morphed into Blackheath, and the name means 'dark-coloured heathland'. The developments around the heath are named after it.


 The Brockley Jack

The Brockley Jack

The first recorded reference to the area is as Brocele, which eventually morphed into Brockley. A possible meaning of the term is 'woodland clearing frequented by badgers', as brocc is the Old English for 'badger' - in fact badgers are still referred to as brocks. Alternatively it could mean 'a woodland clearing by a brook'.


 Catford Cat

Catford Cat

We've discussed the origin of the Catford name previously in our brief history of the Catford Cat, and though some of us still feel like it is a contraction of cattle-ford, but it isn't apparently. The earliest known reference to Catford is as Catteford in 1240, and this became Katford by 1278. The Old English for cat is 'catt', and the area was initially a ford over the mighty River Ravensbourne, so the name translates as a 'ford frequented by wildcats'.


 Chinbrook Meadows

Chinbrook Meadows

The Chinbrook area is named after the Chin Brook, which was another name for the River Quaggy at the turn of the 20th century, and runs through the northern part of the area - you can read more about the history of the romantically named River Quaggy in our article about the rivers of South London.

Crofton Park

 Crofton Park Railway Station

Crofton Park Railway Station

This name is actually rather recent, and its earliest known appearance is in 1892 as the name of the then new railway station Crofton Park, prior to that the area was just included as part of Brockley. Though Crofton Park station is probably the closest to the historic centre of Brockley, next to the Brockley Jack - which we did a history of - it wasn't called Brockley because that name had already been used for a different station.


 Deptford Creek

Deptford Creek

Recorded as Depeford in 1293, it means 'the deep ford' in Old English. Like Catford, it was a ford across the irresistible River Ravensbourne, at the point which is now known as Deptford Creek. 


A relatively simple name origin, having been developed in the 1920s, the Downham Estate was named after William Hayes Fisher, Lord Downham, who was chairman of the London County Council from 1919-20. Previously he had been an MP for Fulham, and Minister for Information during the First World War.


 Sayes Court

Sayes Court

Not many people actually know that there is ward called Evelyn, and not many people refer to that area as Evelyn, if any actually - it's normally referred to as part of Deptford. Despite this, we looked hard to find out why it was called this, and the best reason we could find was that it was named after John Evelyn, who settled in Deptford in 1652, and developed the garden known as Sayes Court.

Forest Hill

 View from Forest Hill

View from Forest Hill

You'd expect the reasons behind this name to be pretty straightfoward, and sadly, that is the case. The first known use of the name is from 1797, and it was named after the tract of woodland that once covered the Borough of Lewisham, which was called le Forest de Leuesham - 'the forest of Lewisham' - in 1292, then Forest Wood in 1520, and eventually Forest Hill in 1797.

Grove Park

Another name with a pretty straightforward origin first recorded on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1905. Grove comes from Old English graf which meant 'a grove or copse'.

Hither Green

One of the most curious names on this list, and its origins do not disappoint. Used on an Ordnance Survey map of 1805, it had been previously spelled as both Heather Green and Hither Green in the 18th century. Don't be dismayed dear reader, this Heather Green nonsense was simply that - nonsense, the name was really Hither Green. The proof for this comes from the fact that was a neighbouring area known as Further Green, and the name was a reference to it being the green nearer to Lewisham, hither meaning 'towards this place'. During the medieval era the area had been known as Rumbergh, which probably meant 'the wide hill or barrow', from the Old English rum and beorg.

Honor Oak

 One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill

Though overlapping Lewisham and Southwark, Honor Oak is principally in Lewisham, so we decided to include it on this list. The name was originally a reference to an oak tree on One Tree Hill, which marked the border between Camberwell and Lewisham (which also formed the historic boundary between Surrey and Kent). The name for the tree had initially been Oke of Honor, and this was apparently because Queen Elizabeth I sat under it in 1602 on one of her many visits to Lewisham. A curious aspect of it is that the name has retained its original Old English spelling. The original Honor Oak was destroyed by a lightning strike in 1884, though it was replaced.


It might surprise some of you that on an Ordnance Survey map of 1816 the area was simply referred to as Well. However, it would appear that on maps before and after this, it was recorded as Ladywell. The origins of the name come from a holy spring located on the west bank of the terrifying River Ravensbourne which was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.


Recorded as Lee in the Domesday Book in 1086, the name for the area has barely changed since - briefly being recorded as Le, Legh, and la Lee at different times. Meaning 'the place at the wood or woodland clearing' coming from the Old English 'leah'. Quite a common place name, and not the only place in the country to be called Lee, the amended name Lee Green comes from 1762 and is from the the Middle English 'grene' which means 'village green, or hamlet'.


The big one, the defining name, the reason? Well, the area was first recorded as Liofshema mearc in 862, Lievesham in 918 (both Anglo-Saxon names) and then Levesham in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name meant the 'homestead or village of a man called Leofsa', Leofsa being an Old English first name, and 'ham' being a homestead or village. The initial name Liofshame mearc would suggest that it was quite an old name for the area even at that point, because it translates as 'boundary of the people of Lewisham - 'heam' being dwellers and 'mearc' being boundary.

New Cross

Recorded in 1675 as New Crosse, probably because it was the location of the crossroads on the historic border between Kent and Surrey. The crossroads were where the road from Lewisham met the east-west road from Dartford to London. The 'new' part of the name may come from the relatively newness of the crossroads at the time of it first being recorded. The name of nearby New Cross Gate comes from a toll gate that was set up on the New Cross Road in 1718, where the Old Kent Road met the road from Westminster - previously the name for the area had been Hatcham, which meant 'the homestead or enclosure of a man called Hæcci'.

Perry Vale

 The Perry Vale pub

The Perry Vale pub

The first known reference to the name Perry in this locality is as Perystrete in 1474, which would eventually become Perry Street by 1762. The initial half is from the Middle Englsh 'perie' meaning 'pear tree', while the second half is 'street of houses'. The name Perry Vale was actually initially a road in the area, however was still a reference to 'pear trees'. There is also a pub in the nearby area called The Perry Vale where South London Club Card holders get 20% off food Monday-Thursday & 10% off food Friday-Sunday.

Rushey Green

Referred to as Rishotetes Grene by 1500, which was a reference to the Old English Russheteteslond - 'a rush bed, a place growing with rushes', and which is explained by the relative proximity of the omniscient River Ravensbourne. The area is low-lying and would essentially have been marsh back in the day. The 'grene' bit is a 'village green', and the area was eventually known as Rushey Green by the 17th century.

st. johns

Which is it named after, the station or the church? Well, technically it's a church constructed in the area, as the station was also named after the church. Curiously, however, the station was actually somehow constructed before the church - something we explored in our Top 10 South London Train Stations.


Back in 1206, Sydenham was actually called Chipenham, which by 1315 had become Shippenham. It is likely that the name derived from 'homestead or enclosure of a man called Cippa'. The change from 'ch' to 'sh' was probably influenced by Norman French.

Telegraph Hill

 Telegraph Hill Park

Telegraph Hill Park

Not the only Telegraph Hill in London, these areas were named so because they were all hills which had telegraph stations built upon them at the beginning of the Victorian era.

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