It may seem rather obvious, but not being able to run for a while has slowed my wanderings down a bit. As a result, I noticed, for the first time, something on a footpath I have run along probably hundreds of times – some 18th century graffiti on a wall along St Margaret’s Passage.
St Margaret’s Passage was part of an old route from St Margaret’s Church and almost certainly northwards to Blackheath (the open space, not the ‘village’) via Love Lane, now Heath Lane, and Lee High Road.
The alley has gone through a variety of names – I have a series of Ordnance Survey maps referring to it over time by different names ‘The Arches’ (1863), ‘Church Passage’ (1894) and ‘Royal Oak Place’ (1914). The change to ‘St Margaret’s Passage’ seems to have come around 1920.
South of what is now Kingswood Place, the alley more or less followed the course of a field stream, which I called Annesley’s Stream, and still seems to be audible, if not visible, which flowed into the Looking Glass of Lee.
Beyond the former Royal Oak, which was at the boundary of the Boone and Fludyer estates, the path presumably joined what is now Dacre Park to join Lee High Road – Lee Church Street wasn’t developed until the 1820s.
One of the reasons I have never noticed the graffiti is that they are around knee height – the ground level has presumably changed in the intervening 240 years. When trying to find out a bit more about the graffiti I discovered that another blogger had noticed them too, the fantastic and inimitable Edith’s Streets blog – which is painstakingly documenting the history of London streets and buildings in Ordnance Survey grid square by grid square. ‘Edith’ visited in 2010 and suggests that there was probably a stile into the field with which contains the present St Margaret’s church – the old was on the opposite side of the field in Belmont Hill.
Edith suggests that the ne’er-do-wells seemed to congregate around the likely stile and scratched dates and initials in to the wall belonging to the Fludyer estate. The front of the house (generally now known as Dacre House) was around 100 metres away to the south-east and the wall would have offered some privacy.
The requirement for privacy probably pre-dated the graffiti though. By the 1770 the House was home to Lady Mary Jane Dacre (formerly Fludyer) and Lord Dacre, who died before his wife. The following is a description of the area relating to that time (albeit written sometime later)
The whole of these beautiful views of Lady Dacre’s park and the Boone estate were open to the public gaze on all sides, either by low hawhaw fences or dwarf thorn hedges.
However, the high walls and secluded environment for the graffiti artist remain and a metre above the 18th century graffiti is a late 20th or early 21st counterpart.
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The slower you travel, the more you notice and appreciate. David Byrn of the Talking Heads wrote a book, Bicycle Diaries, in which he talks about the best way to see a city is to cycle. The same goes with running and even more so with walking. I’m doing a piece right now about the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program which started out as the Anti-Grafitti network and now decades later has created hundreds of colorful murals throughout the city. The program has received international attention.
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