Blackheath: A middle class estate of the 18th and early 19th centuries

by Neil Rhind

Battles and Pageants

In 1381 the Crown on Blackheath effectively crushed the Peasants Revolt, led by Wat Tyler and Jack Straw. In 1415 Henry V processed with his victorious army to Blackheath to be met by the City dignitaries and courtiers and welcomed to London. Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450 was frustrated at Blackheath by Henry VI. In 1497 Cornish rebels, angry at having to pay taxes to support the King’s wars with Scotland, met the Crown’s forces in battle on Blackheath and were routed. Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) and Shakespeare (Henry VI Part II) knew Blackheath and stitched its location in to their works.

Not all events were hostile. From the time of Richard II (1367 - 1400) to George III (1738 - 1820) Blackheath was used for military pageants or as a place to hold welcoming ceremonies for visiting foreign dignitaries. Until the end of the 17th century there was virtually no local population; just a few cottages housing agricultural labourers and those who worked in a handful of manor houses, such as the Manor house at Westcombe Park, Wricklemarsh (on the south side of the Heath, and now known as the Cator Estate), and Charlton House. Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich – despite enjoying industrial purposes – were relatively small towns. Charlton and Lee were hamlets rather than villages.