Camberwell Local History Books

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History of the Parish of Camberwell, Vol. I, by William Harnett Blanch

This Camberwell local history book was first published in 1875 as “Ye Parish of Camerwell” (note the ancient spelling). History of the Parish of Camberwell, Vol. I includes Peckham, Nunhead, Dulwich, East Dulwich, part of Herne Hill, and of course Camberwell itself. This FamLoc edition has been amended slightly from the original. There has been the inevitable changes to format and structure, and the illustrations have been moved to coincide better with the text. The prose has been faithfully retained, other than changes to a handful of typographical errors and the very few instances where clarity was required.
The footnotes of the original have been incorporated into the new Notes chapter at the end of the book, the annotated text being underlined.
History of the Parish of Camberwell vol I contains more than 500 pages, and has a wealth of interesting facts and info, including the origins of the names of streets and places, geology, parochial history, churches and chapels, population, influential individuals and families, schools, transport, charities, and much more. It will be of great interest to local historians, family historians, and others with connections to Camberwell and its surrounding area.

History of the Parish of Camberwell, Vol. II, by William Harnett Blanch

As mentioned above, this Camberwell local history book was first published in 1875 as the single-volume “Ye Parish of Camerwell” (note the ancient spelling). The Parish of Camberwell was comprised of Dulwich, Peckham, Peckham Rye, Nunhead, part of Herne Hill, and of course Camberwell itself. It lay in the county of Surrey until 1889, when it became a borough in the County of London.
This FamLoc edition has been amended slightly from the original. There has been the inevitable changes to format, and the illustrations have been moved to coincide better with the text. Although some of the punctuation has been changed, the grammar and prose has been faithfully retained, other than changes to a handful of typographical errors and the very few instances where clarity was required.
History of the Parish of Camberwell vol II consists of 430 pages and 43 images. It includes chapters on public houses, buildings of the past, manorial history, local places and their associations, literary associations, and Dulwich College. It will be of great interest to local historians, family historians, and others with connections to the Camberwell district.

The extracts below are from History of the Parish of Camberwell:

Domesday Book

“In the Domesday Book this parish is called “CA’BREWELLE.” Subsequently the B was dropped, and from the eleventh to the sixteenth century the name of the parish is generally quoted in official documents as Camwell, Cammerwell, or Camerwell. In the seventeenth century the B found its way back again, but it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that Camberwell as it is now written was officially and locally recognized.
It is generally supposed that this parish owes its name to a famous well, and Dr. Lettsom, whose villa on Grove Hill is elsewhere noticed, laid claim to the honour of possessing the identical well on his charming estate. Salmon, the Surrey historian, says, “it seems to be named from some mineral water which was anciently in it,” and Bray adopts the same idea.”

The Workhouse

There is plenty of information in History of the Parish of Camberwell on the ubiquitous Workhouse, and the following gives an insight into the politics of workhouse committees as well as life of workhouse inmates:

On the 26th December, 1726, it was “unanimously agreed” by the vestry “that a workhouse shall be built for Lodging and Imploying the poor in work,” and on the 4th January, 1727, a committee, consisting of the vicar (Dr. Tipping), Mr. James Alleyn, “Master of the Colledge,” and fourteen others, were appointed members of a committee to carry out the work, seven members to be a “Corrum.” The committee was instructed

“to inquire into the present state of the poor, how much the parish allows towards the maintenance of each, and payment of their several rents, and also to endeavour to find out a convenient place in the parish where the said workhouse may be built; and to treat with workmen about it, and to receive their proposalls in writting in order thereunto.”

Notwithstanding the appointment of the committee, grave doubts were evidently entertained by many parishioners concerning the radical change proposed:
To give a “local habitation” to the scattered forces of pauperism; to encourage the casual mendicant to qualify into the permanent pauper, and to form a centre of attraction to the passing poor – the “casual” of modern days – all this was carefully considered by the parishioner of 1726. And then it was very properly urged that a paid official staff to take charge of the poor would be an inevitable charge upon the rates if the proposed change were adopted. Numerous meetings were held on the subject, and much attention was given to it by the leading gentry. At length at a vestry held on the 1st of February, 1727,

“the churchwardens with some other parishioners, finding the number of their poor dayly increasing, consulted together how they might not only lessen the parish charge in maintaining them, but also promote their industry, and provide for them in a better manner than had been done before; and observing how successfully these proposales had been effected in other parishes by erecting houses for the reception of ye poor, and setting them to work, were willing to make use of ye same method. In order to which they gave publick notice in the church that there would be a vestry on ye 26th day of December last past to consider this matter. At which time, there being a great appearance of inhabitants, the thing was proposed, and after some debate approv’d of as beneficial both to the parish and poor;”

whereupon all those present unanimously agreed

That a house should be erected for lodging the poor and employing them in work for the better management of which affair, they did in another vestry, held the fourth day of January next following, choose a certaine number of persons to take care about building ye said intended workhouse; but some of them not being present at either vestry, desired that a committee might be appointed further to consider whether such a workhouse would be for the bennefitt of ye parish, which was agreed to in a third vestry held the 18th day of ye same month, when a committee was appointed. The committee met on the 26th of January, and having inquir’d into the state and condition of the poor. They, after mature deliberation, were of opinion that building such a workhouse would be for the benefit of the parish, and declared ye same in writing under their hands, which being now read – Resolved – That this vestry do confirm and adhere to the agreement in vestry on 26th day of December to erect one, and that the said committee be desir’d to treat with some proper person to build the same of such dimensions, and with such convenient rooms as they think sufficient to contain ye poor who shall be received into it; as also to report to the next vestry in what manner and upon what terms ye person whom they treat with will undertake to perform ye whole work, his proposal concerning which to be given in writing under his own hand.

And on the 7th March, 1727, it was “unanimously agreed that Mr. William Norman shall build the workhouse according to his draught and article given in, without the additional part, at the price of £365;” and the churchwardens and overseers were authorized to borrow the sum of £400 “to pay Mr. Norman and other workmen.” In the following year, before the “furnishing and compleating” had been got through, the expenses had reached £500, and bonds to that amount were duly signed. On the 31st June, 1731, William Row was appointed master of the new workhouse, at a salary of £10 a year ; but he was required to “give his attendance as beadle of the parish,” in consideration of which the vestry agreed at a subsequent meeting to give the beadle the sum of £3 5s. per year to buy him a “suit of cloathes.” It is rather remarkable that no mention is made of the workhouse site until December 1731, when it unanimously resolved

“That ye large Pew in the North Isle of ye Church where ye children of the Dancing school formerly use to sett, be for the future appropriated to ye use of ye new house on the Green, the property of Sir Wm Bowyer, Bart, in Consideration of his Benefaction to the Parish in giveing a piece of ground whereon ye workhouse is now built; and that the Parish hereby acknowledge their obligation, and desire their thanks may be returned for the same;”

and at a subsequent vestry, the sum of five guineas ordered to be paid to Mr. William Hester for “drawing the leases in that affaire.”
The management of the workhouse was vested in a committee, elected annually, and no change would appear to have taken place in the mode of management until the year 1756, when, after considerable discussion, Mr. Richard Aslee, of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West, was appointed master of the workhouse, and according to an agreement drawn up the churchwardens and overseers agreed to pay Mr. Aslee the sum of 3s. per head per week for all inmates of the house if the number exceeded 30, and 3s. 3d. per head if the number did not amount to 30. In consideration of receiving the above amount, the said Richard Aslee agreed to provide for the poor of the parish

“meet, drink, fireing, Washing, physick, midwife, cloathing, beds, beding, sheets, and allowances in as good, clean, and ample a manner in every respect as they usually enjoyed; and to give the poor their meals at proper times, and in decent manner, and the said Richard Aslee engaged to employ an apothecary.”

It was further agreed

“that such poor as were capable of working should be employed in winding of silk, knitting of purses, gloves, caps, cauls, and all manner of plain work, and the profits to be derived from their labour were for the sole benefit of the said Richard Aslee.”

This method of providing for the poor has seldom proved satisfactory; and in this particular instance, for six months after his appointment, Mr. Aslee reported to the Vestry that “in consequence of the dearness of provisions, &c. &c., he could not maintaine the Poor of the workhouse upon the Terms agreed upon between him and the Vestry;” and the agreement was determined three weeks after his report, and Mr. Gershon Osborn, the beadle, was allowed ten guineas a year

“to visit the Poor in the Workhouse every day, and the said Vestry to give him full power and authority to act as master of the said workhouse, and that he take care to employ the poor in some kind of manufacture.”

In 1771 the workhouse was reported to be too small for the increasing number of paupers, and the Vestry accepted the plans of Mr. Purkis, for building an additional wing and “an extraordinary poor rate of one shilling in the pound was levied upon the inhabitants” in order, amongst other things, to pay off a debt of £100 incurred in building the above wing.

Map of Camberwell, 1834, Camberwell history books

Map of Camberwell, 1834

Map of Camberwell, 1744, Camberwell history books

Map of Camberwell, 1744

The two maps above are from Ye Parish of Camberwell, proving it to be the best of the Camberwell history books.

Also in Ye Parish of Camberwell is the following extract:

Denmark Hill Grammar School

“At the foot of Denmark Hill, or, rather at the fork made by the junction of that road with Coldharbour Lane, a handsome and imposing structure, with its extensive grounds skirted the parish boundary, and was reckoned among the maisons grandes of Camberwell. Tradition linked the building with Prince George of Denmark, for whom the mansion was supposed to have been built on his arrival in this country. From this supposed fact it is said that Denmark Hill derived its name. Whether in consequence of the common acceptance of the royal origin of the house, or for the reason that the Danish royal family are more pertinently informed on the subject, it is noteworthy that in the year 1870, when the members of the reigning family of Denmark were on a visit to one of their number – the Princess Alexandra, wife of Albert Edward Prince of Wales – the whole cavalcade stopped at the front of the house, and remained there for some time while the different features of the building were dilated upon to the Princess. The appearance of the structure, viewed from Denmark Hill, was somewhat imposing; and although it bore evidences of having been enlarged since its original construction, the primal portion was sufficiently colossal to have served as an abode for a wealthy and distinguished personage in the days when Prince George lived. It. is nevertheless to be regretted that no deeds are in the possession of the owner showing the exact date of the erection, the earliest documents existing dating back only as far as 1656.
Mr. Mason, the last resident of the house, states that he has searched the British Museum and other sources of information, but has found nothing to support the tradition respecting Prince George’s connection with the house. The grounds were enclosed by a high brick wall. The house itself faced Denmark Hill, and stood only a few yards from the road, the front and the back almost resembling each other, the chief, and almost the only, difference being in the porches, those on one side having pillars of the Ionic order of architecture, and on the other the Corinthian. The material was of red and white bricks, panelled and picked out with Portland stone.”

Denmark Hill Grammar School, Camberwell history books

Denmark Hill Grammar School

Other Camberwell Local History Books

We include various Camberwell local history books. Of particular interest are the Godfrey Edition maps, which are printed at a large scale, have street names included, and have the bonus of extracts from directories on the reverse, showing the names and proprietors of shops, doctors, etc.

We are always looking for more Camberwell history books, and welcome suggestions.


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