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Plumstead Common in C19th

Plumstead Common in C19th

In a corner of South East London is Plumstead Common once the site of “disgraceful riots” that generated the headline in the Kentish Independent:

“Can this be England?”

Well, it very much was England as commoners had ancient rights to cut furze, graze cattle and cut turf for fuel on common land. It looked different in those days a more rugged terrain with gravel and sand pits. In 1871 the military, based in Woolwich, had rights to exercise on the common. The nearer Woolwich Common was thought to be too soft and swampy. Over time the furze and brambles disappeared. To top this the developers moved in.

Plumstad Common today

Plumstad Common today

Plum Lane

Plum Lane

In the C17th Queen’s College, Oxford inherited the rights to the land. Over a period of time there had been encroachment of the common land and areas had been enclosed sometimes for the benefit of the poor or for individual gain. A local builder Mr Tongue was responsible for many of the encroachments as was Edwin Hughes who later became the first Member of Parliament for Woolwich. The building of Central and Slade schools on the common were done with the permission of the College.

The real threat to the common came in 1876 when Queen’s College wanted to develop a new housing estate. The people of Plumstead took direct action to protect their common and began to rip down and burn the fences of the enclosed land. The properties of Hughes and Tongue were a particular focus. They were led by John de Morgan who called himself a Champion for the Common Rights. He also boasted that he was “an irishman, a rebel and had been in prison several times”. He was obviously a persuasive speaker as 700 men from The Royal Arsenal lost pay and took the afternoon off work to hear him speak.

Old Windmill

Old Windmill

Local opinion, of the time, including the liberal Woolwich Gazette, was in favour of the preservation of the common. The rioters included family groups, women and children and the “respectable working classes”. The more critical Kentish Independent described the rioters as “roughs and hobble-de-hoys.” The riots started on Sunday 1st July and went on well into Monday evening. The demonstrations did have an impact and in 1878 The Plumstead Common Act ensured that about one hundred acres of land remained as public open space.

RACs Store Plumstead Common

RACs Store Plumstead Common

Today the Common is effectively divided into two as roads were built before the Act. Along Plumstead Common Road still stands The Ship public house, now painted a Germoline pink. Some two hundred metres along the road is the historic Prince of Wales where, in October 1886, the Arsenal Football Team was formed. It’s now flats.

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales

Mill Pond Road dissects the common and the original mill can still be seen. At the time of the riots it was a public house and remains one.

Plum Lane

Plum Lane

The Old Mill  today

The Old Mill today

The original common was much larger and extended along Plum Lane to Shrewsbury Park and Shooters Hill. There is still an amazing amount of green space at the top of the hill and well worth the climb as the views are remarkable, overlooking London to the West, Dartford to the East and Essex to the North.

View across the Thames from Shrewsbury Park

View across the Thames from Shrewsbury Park

A Bronze Age Tumulus still survives and hidden in Shrewsbury House is a Cold War bunker: though not open to the public. The original manor house is now a community centre.

Shrewsbury House

Shrewsbury House

The houses around the common and the streets leading to Shrewsbury park tell you that this was not a place for the hoi polloi, there are some seriously posh houses. Large “tea caddy” houses, enormous three storey Victorian mansions overlooking the common. It may have lost some of its sparkle but with the advent of Crossrail this could well be a place on the up.

 

Note:  I first published this post two years ago but decided to re-post at the time of the anniversary of the riots.  It remains one of the most popular posts I have done.

Plumstead Common in C19th

Plumstead Common in C19th

In a corner of South East London is Plumstead Common once the site of “disgraceful riots” that generated the headline in the Kentish Independent:

“Can this be England?”

Well, it very much was England as commoners had ancient rights to cut furze, graze cattle and cut turf for fuel on common land. It looked different in those days a more rugged terrain with gravel and sand pits. In 1871 the military, based in Woolwich, had rights to exercise on the common. The nearer Woolwich Common was thought to be too soft and swampy. Over time the furze and brambles disappeared. To top this the developers moved in.

Plumstad Common today

Plumstad Common today

Plum Lane

Plum Lane

In the C17th Queen’s College, Oxford inherited the rights to the land. Over a period of time there had been encroachment of the common land and areas had been enclosed sometimes for the benefit of the poor or for individual gain. A local builder Mr Tongue was responsible for many of the encroachments as was Edwin Hughes who later became the first Member of Parliament for Woolwich. The building of Central and Slade schools on the common were done with the permission of the College.

The real threat to the common came in 1876 when Queen’s College wanted to develop a new housing estate. The people of Plumstead took direct action to protect their common and began to rip down and burn the fences of the enclosed land. The properties of Hughes and Tongue were a particular focus. They were led by John de Morgan who called himself a Champion for the Common Rights. He also boasted that he was “an irishman, a rebel and had been in prison several times”. He was obviously a persuasive speaker as 700 men from The Royal Arsenal lost pay and took the afternoon off work to hear him speak.

Old Windmill

Old Windmill

Local opinion, of the time, including the liberal Woolwich Gazette, was in favour of the preservation of the common. The rioters included family groups, women and children and the “respectable working classes”. The more critical Kentish Independent described the rioters as “roughs and hobble-de-hoys.” The riots started on Sunday 1st July and went on well into Monday evening. The demonstrations did have an impact and in 1878 The Plumstead Common Act ensured that about one hundred acres of land remained as public open space.

RACs Store Plumstead Common

RACs Store Plumstead Common

Today the Common is effectively divided into two as roads were built before the Act. Along Plumstead Common Road still stands The Ship public house, now painted a Germoline pink. Some two hundred metres along the road is the historic Prince of Wales where, in October 1886, the Arsenal Football Team was formed. It’s now flats.

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales

Mill Pond Road dissects the common and the original mill can still be seen. At the time of the riots it was a public house and remains one.

Plum Lane

Plum Lane

The Old Mill  today

The Old Mill today

The original common was much larger and extended along Plum Lane to Shrewsbury Park and Shooters Hill. There is still an amazing amount of green space at the top of the hill and well worth the climb as the views are remarkable, overlooking London to the West, Dartford to the East and Essex to the North.

View across the Thames from Shrewsbury Park

View across the Thames from Shrewsbury Park

A Bronze Age Tumulus still survives and hidden in Shrewsbury House is a Cold War bunker: though not open to the public. The original manor house is now a community centre.

Shrewsbury House

Shrewsbury House

The houses around the common and the streets leading to Shrewsbury park tell you that this was not a place for the hoi polloi, there are some seriously posh houses. Large “tea caddy” houses, enormous three storey Victorian mansions overlooking the common. It may have lost some of its sparkle but with the advent of Crossrail this could well be a place on the up.

 

Note:  I first published this post two years ago but decided to re-post at the time of the anniversary of the riots.  It remains one of the most popular posts I have done.

St George's Church

The sign above the indoor Borough Market said 1268.  A market dating back to the thirteenth century was very appealing but I’m afraid it was a forlorn affair.  The few stalls that were open looked bare and uninviting.  I wanted to do my bit to keep this market going but struggled until I saw a stall in the far corner selling out of date glossy magazines.  There is a space set aside for members of the community to do their own vision board.  No one was there and the boards that had been pinned up were uncared for and deeply depressing. The market opens Monday to Saturday 9 until 5pm it is in the centre of the Heritage Quarter.

Heritage Quarter

The High Street climbs from the Town Pier and has Georgian shops on either side.  Sadly, many of the shops were empty.  At the top of the hill there is an impressive Town Hall dated 1573. The market is set back from the Town Hall.

At the bottom of the High Street you will find the Town Pier which is the oldest remaining cast iron piers dated 1834. It was the subject of local controversy at the time as the local waterman thought it a threat to their livelihood and they rioted in 1833. More recently a Town Pier Pontoon has been added and there are a range of trips available for visitors. The Three Daws is close to the pier and boasts to be the oldest pub in Gravesend and possibly Kent dating back to 1488. It offers standard pub fare and does have great views.

In St George’s Church you can find the statue of Princess Pocahontas.  A native American she left Virginia 1607 to marry an Englishman John Rolfe. She died on a ship anchored off Gravesend and it is believed that she is buried in the church grounds.  Apparently, there was a surge of tourists to the town when the Walt Disney film was released.  Once you have left the Heritage Quarter the town is not that pedestrian friendly.

This town has got a lot going for it, as well as the Heritage Quarter and Pocahontas they have two forts and a Cold War bunker.

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