Blackheath is common land, the name probably arising from the colour of the soil. It has been managed for public use since 1871 when it was taken over by the MBW, although it has long had public access courtesy of the lords of the manor, an important place for a multitude of events from fairs to actions of highwaymen, royal celebrations to rebellions, battles to religious gatherings. Associations with sporting activities include its early use for golf, cricket and football. Until the C18th and rise of speculative building Blackheath was largely undeveloped and consisted of a few cottages; a number of the ponds are probably the remains of gravel pits. During WWII parts of Blackheath were ploughed and other areas had Nissen huts for the army. The northern part of the heath is in LB Greenwich, the southern part in LB Lewisham.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/07/2005
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
The northern part of Blackheath is in LB Greenwich adjacent to Greenwich Park (q.v.); the southern part is in LB Lewisham, the borough boundary being Shooters Hill Road.
Blackheath has long had free public access, courtesy of the Lords of the Manor. Although Blackheath was important from early times as a result of being the last high point on Watling Street and also due to its proximity to Greenwich Palace, Blackheath village did not develop until the 1680s when house-building began around the heath. By the mid C18th there was only a small cluster of houses known as Dowager's Bottom near the site of Blackheath station today, while towards the river fashionable Greenwich was growing rapidly. Blackheath was still gorse-covered and a dangerous haunt of criminals, a problem that continued into the C19th when police began to patrol the area and most of the gorse was removed, set alight in the 1820s for the amusement of Queen Caroline, wife of George IV. After this house building around the heath began in earnest and it was now deemed a safer place to live. Gravel, sand and chalk extraction took place during the C18th and C19th, the large pits later infilled with rubble from bombed buildings after WWII, apart from Vanbrugh Pits in the Greenwich north-east section, which provides the best impression of what the heath must have looked like with gorse, broom and heathland shrubs, and to a lesser extent Eliot Pits in the south-west.
Blackheath has been managed for public use since 1871 when part was given over to the Metropolitan Board of Works for regulation and management under the Metropolitan Commons Supplemental Act 1871. During the war parts of the Heath were ploughed for food production and other areas had army Nissen huts not all of which were removed until 1953, after which the heath was levelled and re-seeded. Three of the four ponds on Blackheath are in Lewisham, Hare and Billet Pond (named after a nearby pub) and Mounts Pond, which were probably the remains of gravel pits filled with water, and the Prince of Wales Pond, which was probably deliberately created and which has been used for model boating since the 1850s. The management of Blackheath passed in 1889 to the newly formed LCC, and in the C20th to the two boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich although ownership remains with the Lords of the Manor, the Earl of Dartmouth the current owner in the Lewisham section, the Crown in the Greenwich section. From 1993 both Lewisham and Greenwich Councils adopted a management plan that would encourage wildlife and nature conservation, allowing grass to grow longer with less frequent mowing of the heath to encourage wildlife.
Beryl Platts 'A History of Greenwich' 2nd ed. (Procter Press), 1986; Sue Swales, Meg Game, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Greenwich', Ecology Handbook 10 (London Ecology Unit), 1989; John Archer, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Lewisham' Ecology Handbook 30, 2000; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); K D Clark, 'Greenwich and Woolwich in Old Photographs' (Alan Sutton) 1990; Robert and Celia Godley, 'Greenwich: A history of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Deptford and Woolwich', 1999; Kim Wilkie Associates, 'Blackheath: The next 50 years' consultation draft study, February 2003; The Parks Agency, 'Commons, Heaths and Greens in Greater London, A short report for English Heritage' (2005)