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  • Writer's picturePeter M Frost

Peckham Rye through the ages

My explorations of the early history of “The Rye” area made me realise just how dynamic the relationship has been between the original, rural landscape of Peckham and its modern, urban environment.

The original farms, estates and homesteads, which once dotted the local landscape, have persisted until surprisingly recent times. In the southwest the last buildings of Friern Manor House were only finally demolished 15 years ago, despite local societies trying to save it. The site now hosts a block of flats.

Friern Manor House was part of a wider complex of farms which made up the Borough of Camberwell, including Placquett Farm in the northwest and Priory Farm to the southeast.

What we now see as Peckham Rye Park used to be Homestall Farm which sat close to Peckham Rye Common, and was recorded as far back as the Domesday Book.

In the South West there was a tile works that created bricks from local clay meaning that Peckham clay was used to build the Victorian suburbs which can still be seen today.

Peckham was literally one of the building blocks of London

Community action has helped preserve these environments: Camberwell Vestry purchased Peckham Common, Goose Green and Nunhead Green in 1868 to preserve the landscape from total development. Now part of Peckham Rye Park, the Common is a reminder of the area’s substantial rural legacy.

We encounter the area’s rural beginnings every day. ‘Peckham’ itself derives from the Peck stream, which flowed north towards the Thames from One Tree Hill. The Peck has long played host to settlement, from a Mesolithic flint industry to the vibrancy of modern Peckham. Those wishing to follow its course encounter further evidence of urbanisation, as Joseph Bazelgette, pioneer of London’s sewer network, incorporated storm drains in 1823. Its course ran to the west of Peckham Rye Park and the Common. The Peck then curved towards the Thames, joining Earl’s Sluice (a sister river passing through Camberwell), and meeting the Thames at Surrey Docks.

Peter M Frost

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