Woolwich, the town that dare not speak its name

Developers, estate agents, chancers, and liars have a long history of trying to pass off Deptford as “Greenwich”. There’s a cycle shop in Creek Road which defies its SE8 postcode to bill itself as being in its more glamorous neighbour, while something called “Greenwich Creekside” is rising up on the Deptford side of the creek, next to the Laban centre. Greenwich’s boundaries are unusually well-defined – a big river, a small river, a big railway line, a little railway line and a park wall form most of it. The only ambiguity is at the top of Blackheath Hill, where a bit of SE10 slips into the borough of Lewisham, faces out onto Blackheath, and messes with everyone’s heads.

Trying to pass off Woolwich as Greenwich, though, isn’t as common. Trying to pass it off as “the heart of Greenwich” is downright deception. So it’s a big, fat raspberry to New Life Living for trying to pretend this pile of bricks on Sandy Hill Road, SE18, is three miles to the west of where it really is. Is this being petty? Not one bit. More than Deptford, Woolwich badly, desperately needs a boost.

It needs to have good things associated with it, so people don’t hear “Woolwich” and think “bloody hell, not there”. Developers like New Life Living just make things worse by having the brass neck to claim that somewhere just off Woolwich town centre is “the heart of Greenwich”.


I doubt many who pass the hoarding will be fooled, mind – especially as the little sign in front of it reads “WELCOME TO WOOLWICH TOWN CENTRE”.

New Life Living aren’t the first to deny the existence of Woolwich, though, In the late 1990s, a block of old Army flats on Baker Road, Woolwich Common were revamped under the dubious title of Greenwich Heights. In those days, with no Jubilee Line or DLR, it was a little out on a limb, with just one bus (terminating at the old military hospital) serving the site, linking it to Woolwich Arsenal station. I remember seeing Greenwich Heights promoted in an estate agent with a map claiming its nearest rail stations were Charlton and Westcombe Park. One word was missing from the map – “Woolwich”.


  1. Given that there’s a borough called “Greenwich”, it’s perfectly defensible to describe Woolwich as Greenwich.

    But geographically speaking, I reckon the heart of Greenwich borough is somewhere along Shooters Hill Road. Woolwich is actually closer to this central spot than Greenwich is. If you see what I mean.

  2. But boroughs are artificial and transient entities. What’s now the borough of Greenwich was nearly called the borough of Charlton (even the Royal Borough of Charlton). You couldn’t say “the heart of Newham” (because Newham’s not a place) or “the heart of Tower Hamlets” (because the Tower Hamlets were something slightly different).

    As you say DG, the “heart” of Greenwich borough is, actually, Kidbrooke. That’s something to ponder.

    I was wondering about the ASA – does their remit stretch to that kind of thing?

  3. Still stunned from when I first saw this last week, nice to see I’ve got a move to Greenwich without the move.

  4. I first met my wife when I lived in Charlton. The first time I persuaded her to come ‘back to mine’ I told her I lived in Greenwich, using the Diamond Geezer defence (mainly because the only place anyone knows in SE London is Greenwich).

    The indignant taxi driver taking us home told me that “this isn’t greenwich, it’s woolwich.” But our fledgling relationship endured . A lesson for any developer, or something.

  5. Like you, 853, I was involved in a recent blog dispute about Greenwich-in-Deptford. It was surprising how many people got a bit spiky when it was pointed out to them that they were actually living in Deptford. Oh dear, property dealers making dishonest money by selling homes puffed up as Greenwich to people who can only aspire to live in Greenwich! It annoys me when it happens in Deptford because it perpetuates the blighting of the area. And now the same thing is happening in Woolwich.

  6. Actually the area west of Deptford Creek is also a bit of an anomaly – I for one was very surprised when I first discovered that Greenwich borough’s boundary extends as far west as Watergate Street, taking in Millennium Quay and even St Nicholas’ Church before looping back to the creek. Although the bike shop has a Deptford postcode, it is actually in Greenwich borough, as is the ‘Greenwich Creekside’ development. I’m not sure why this anomaly exists, there must be a historical reason – anyone know more?

  7. From what I understand (and my memory is a bit hazy), St Nick’s was the original parish of Deptford, along came St Pauls, the 2 parishes were combined to form the borough of Deptford. When they rearranged the boundaries, around 1900 I think, Deptford got split up, the St Paul’s part (which by then had become the richer part) was transferred to Lewisham but the St Nick’s part was farmed off to Greenwich because at the time Greenwich was underoccupied as a constituency. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still Deptford though, whether it’s run from Woolwich or Catford. And Woolwich is still Woolwich even if Greenwich is run from there.

    But I’ll look up the sources when I have the time and drop you the references via your blog.

  8. I think DM is right, too – St Paul Deptford went to the borough of Deptford, St Nicholas Deptford went to Greenwich. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Borough_of_Deptford And, of course, St Nicholas’s church is on Deptford Green.

    Until the mid-1990s, the Greenwich borough boundary went up as far as Grove Street, including Prince Street, the shopping parade on Evelyn Street, Convoys Wharf (the old royal dockyard) and Sayes Court Gardens. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si1993/Uksi_19931276_en_1.htm

  9. The Deptford bit of Greenwich goes back even further than that – going right back the whole of St. Nicholas parish was in Kent, and thus part of Greenwich, while the St.Paul’s was in Surrey.

  10. I remember when they built the block of “Cityview” flats in Lansdowne Lane and the brochure had lovely pics of Greenwich park when the reality was if you bought one at the back your balcony overlooked the winos drinking outside the back of the Coop. Real city living!

  11. Sorry to harp on about Greenwich-in-Deptford but, Edith, I don’t get the ”St Nick’s was in Kent, therefore it’s in Greenwich” logic. Canterbury is in Kent but that doesn’t make it Greenwich too. And I don’t know how far back you’re going, either: There’s a map of the hundred of Blackheath, published in 1797, on Wikipedia. (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ab/Blackheath-Hundred-map.gif) This shows that not only St Nicholas but St Paul’s, or at least the site where it was later built, were in Kent.

    But to return to the Greenwichification of the area: let’s hope property developers never get their hands on this map. Because they will then start claiming Woolwich is in Blackheath and that might suit them even better. ”New Life-Living in the heart of Blackheath!”

  12. Good point. Actually, I knew someone who lived in Greenwich Heights and claimed it was Blackheath.

    On Plough Way, Rotherhithe, there is an old Surrey/Kent boundary stone on the right-hand side of the road as you approach the river.

  13. Marmoset – I’m sorry and I shouldn’t quote things from memory when I don’t have time to go down to the Heritage Centre and research this. There are plenty of people who know about it but I don’t know why and how St.Nicholas parish came to be in Kent or why it was that when St.Paul’s was built the new parish went into Surrey (I know I had to go all the way down to Woking once to research a bit of the Deptford creekside). The only thing any of my easy to hand reference books say is that Domesday and other texts of that time it is generally thought that ‘Greenwich’ means what we now know as Deptford – so, yes I am going a long way back and I also need to know more about the history of Kent itself and how the Hundreds were made up. So I would be better keeping quiet.
    However – while you are on the subject of Woolwich – er er – North Woolwich, now in Newham, was also in Kent, and thus part of what people on the north bank call ‘South Woolwich’ until the GLC was set up.

  14. For a while they marketed the new builds in West Thamesmead as “London SE28” to try to shake off the stigma of the “Thamesmead” tag. The area soon succeeded in building its own reputation … I wonder what they would try now? East East East Greenwich?

  15. Edith, if you ever pop in here again: I still haven’t found the documents I was looking for but the links below are quite interesting for histories of Deptford St Pauls, Deptford St Nicks and Greenwich (you probably already know them, but just in case….)




    There’s quite a lot of ”Deptford, alias West Greenwich” and ”West Greenwich, alias Deptford” in these accounts. The names were more or less at that time interchangeable it seems. But there’s little doubt about where Deptford Strand or Strond or simply ”le Strand” were.

  16. I was a resident in Inetrnational House in 1998 while being a student at Univesity of Greenwich had its Campus in Woolwich town centre, I was under no illusion that it was Greenwich. The place had its own atmosphere and residents should be proud of that (Woolwich Ferry and birth place of Arsenal FC should to begin with)

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