9 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Lewisham

By Zoe Craig Last edited 65 months ago
9 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Lewisham
Lewisham. Photo by Matt Brown.

The modern borough of Lewisham stretches from the Thames, down to Beckenham Place Park in the south, and across from Forest Hill in the west of the borough to Grove Park Cemetery in the east.

It's probably most well known for being home to a massive cat statue, the Horniman Museum and Millwall FC. But here are some other things you might not know about the borough.

1. Famous Folk from Lewisham

Famous people who were born in Lewisham include Gary Oldman, Alexander McQueen, Jessica Hynes, Maxi Priest, Louise Redknapp, Danny Baker and Sid Vicious.

Louise Redknapp, born in Lewisham.

Other celebrity residents include Robert Browning, Jude Law, Ian Wright, Mica Paris, Steve Wright, Edith Nesbit and Kate Bush.

2. It's home to a rare surviving 1950s ballroom

You probably know about the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park.

But did you know that it used to be a cinema?

It's pretty rare that a London cinema is turned into a ballroom (it's usually the other way round), but that's just what happened. The building first opened as the Crofton Park Picture Palace in July 1913; the last film was shown on 2 March 1957, after which the building was converted to a dance hall by local businessman Leonard Tomlin.

It reopened as The Rivoli on Boxing Day, 1959 with a large Canadian sprung maple dance floor.

The Rivoli Ballroom. Photo by Travelling Miles.

In 2007 the Rivoli Ballroom was given Grade II listed status. Its unique interior makes it a popular place for films, videos and photoshoots.

Tina Turner, Elton John and Oasis have all made music videos using the space; notable live performances include The White Stripes in 2007, and Damon Albarn in 12014.

3. Lewisham is home to a new, ancient stone circle

Wait, ancient and new?

Well, the stones that make up the Hilly Fields Stone Circle are indeed, ancient.

The 12 granite boulders (from Mount Struie, near Scotsburn) are around 400 million years old; the Caithness flagstones that form St Norbert’s Gate and the central flagstone are around 350 million years old.

The Hilly Fields Stone Circle. Photo by Cath Dupuy.

But the stone circle itself is relatively new: it was installed to mark the millennium.

But it's more than just a local art project undertaken in the run up to the year 2000. Stand in the right spot, and the circle works as a sundial, with you acting as a gnomon.

4. Lewisham has Europe's largest police station

Lewisham is home to Europe's largest police station, which opened in 2004 on Lewisham High Street. It's about 10,000m2.

Lewisham Police Station. Photo by RachelH.

5. The borough has suffered three significant train disasters

Through the decades, Lewisham has seen more than its fair share of rail accidents.

The Lewisham rail crash in 1857 occurred just east of Lewisham railway station on 28 June 1857.

11 people were killed when one train ran into the delayed train in front, which had stopped just 200 yards from the station. The driver and fireman of the second train were charged with "neglect of duty causing the deaths of 11 persons", along with the Blackheath signalman who had failed to send the appropriate signals.

In December 1957, a crowded passenger train to Hayes stopped at a signal under a bridge. In the dense fog, the following steam train to Ramsgate failed to see the train, and crashed into it. The collision causing the bridge to collapse onto the steam train.

Now known as the Lewisham Rail crash, 90 passengers and crew were killed, and 173 injured.

The rail-over-rail bridge being dismantled after the crash at St Johns, Lewisham.

A decade later, in November 1967, a packed Sunday evening train service from Hastings to Charing Cross derailed between Hither Green and Grove Park railway stations.

Of the 12 carriages, 11 were derailed and four turned onto their sides. There were 49 fatalities and 78 people injured.

6. Ever heard of the Battle of Lewisham?

In 1977, the Battle of Lewisham saw the biggest London street battle against fascists since the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

It all kicked off on 13 August 1977, when 500 members of the far-right National Front (NF) attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham. The march was organised on the back of increasing electoral success at that time.

Various counter-demonstrations, by around 4,000 people led to violent clashes between the two groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police. 5,000 police officers were present; 56 officers were injured (11 were hospitalised) and 214 people were arrested.

The Battle of Lewisham. Photo from the Goldsmiths website.

It was the first time police had used riot shields in England.

The event is to be commemorated with a plaque in August 2017; read more about it here.

7. Home to an idiosyncratic house

The Stone House in Deptford is a Grade II* listed building, built between 1771 and 1773 by George Gibson the younger.

Stone House as seen from the entrance in Lewisham Way, Deptford.

It's made of Kentish Ragstone, a limey sandstone dating from the Cretaceous period, which gives the building its rustic appearance.

Side view of Stone House, Deptford. The column portico is visible to the left.

In the 19th century, the distinctive house acquired the nickname the Comical House: maps from the time show it labelled as such.

8. It's a bit of a wasteland for cinema fans

For 14 years from 2001 and 2015, Lewisham was the only borough in London without a cinema.

In 1930 there were 30 venues in the borough showing films; lewishamlostcinemas website has pictures of some of the most well-known superimposed over modern images which makes a nice resource for social history nerds.

Since 2015, Lewisham has boasted two cinemas: the independent, not-for-profit Deptford Cinema; and Curzon Goldsmiths, located inside the campus of Goldsmiths College in New Cross.

Deptford Cinema

9. There's a Lewisham in Sydney too

The Lewisham down under was named in 1834, after the estate of Joshua Frey Josephson, a businessman and judge.

He named the Sydney suburb after the London Borough of Lewisham.

The other Lewisham, looking rather lovely on this property website.

Did we miss any other interesting Lewisham tidbits? Let us know in the comments below.

Last Updated 02 May 2017