The 1603-4 description of the boundary of Penge hamlet starts from the ‘common of Rockhills’, so that’s where I’ll start.
The name is still remembered today. Rock Hill is a steep road running down from Sydenham Road to College Road. Old Cople Lane used to be the ‘Rockhills Entrance’ to the Crystal Palace site, and some contemporary maps still show it as such. And at the top of Westwood Hill is a plaque marking the site of the house ‘Rockhills’ where Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, used to live.
John Rocque’s ‘Survey (i.e. map) of London, Westminster, Southwark and the Country Near Ten Miles Round’, published in 1746, shows a road which is clearly Sydenham Hill, running up from its junction with Westwood Hill to its junction with Kirkdale. And right along its length, the wooded hillside to the west is marked as ‘Rockhills’, at the northern end of the ‘North Wood’.
The original Rockhills therefore seems to have been a stretch of woodland running for about a mile along the hillside just below the ridge of Sydenham Hill. The 1603-4 document calls it a ‘common’ so maybe locals used it to gather firewood and graze livestock. One part of it – Dulwich Wood – still survives as a fragment of ancient woodland.
The southern end of Rockhills is where we start tracing the boundary of Penge hamlet. At this point it meets the old Kent-Surrey county boundary, which is also the boundary between two ancient parishes.
Old Cople Lane today is a short access road off Crystal Palace Parade, leading to the TV transmitter site and caravan park. But in the eighteenth century, and possibly for centuries before that, it was part of the main road to London which ran from Bromley and Beckenham, through Penge, up and over the hill, and on through Dulwich. It is shown on Rocque’s 1746 map as ‘The Old Cople Lane’.
The county boundary came down from the north along Sydenham Hill, between Camberwell parish in Surrey to the west, and Lewisham parish in Kent to the east. Old Cople Lane marks the point at which this boundary encountered Battersea parish in Surrey, as represented by its detached hamlet of Penge. And there are still visible markers to make the point. A few yards west of the Lane, on Crystal Palace Parade, is this metal post showing the boundary of Camberwell parish:
And a few yards to the east is this one, representing Lewisham parish:
So, we’ve established our starting point.
Just a couple more things. As part of this project I’ve drawn – literally – my own map of eighteenth century Penge. It’s based on eighteenth century maps, but with support from nineteenth century maps which are much more precise, and which often show details which clearly date from the previous century. On my map eighteenth century features are shown in black ink, with a few modern features (road names, railway lines etc.) in red ink to help you get your bearings. Here is the Rockhills and Old Cople Lane area (the red numbers 1. and 2. are the parish boundary markers):
As you can see, the old manor house of Penge Place stood close to Old Cople Lane. Melvyn Harrison of the Crystal Palace Foundation is currently researching Penge Place, and also Paxton’s ‘Rockhills’ house. For more information go to http://www.crystalpalacefoundation.org.uk/
In the next post we ponder Penge’s ‘shire ditch’, and take a walk in the Park.