From country to suburb: The why and the how of suburban development. A universal phenomenon with examples from south-east London.


New work

The availability of work was also a key driver in suburban development. In south east London this happened in two ways: the expansion of Londonís industries and the development of Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich as major industrial towns in their own right. Deptford and Woolwich had important royal dockyards from the 16th century and the former also had a victualling yard to supply the East India Company and the Royal Navy. Woolwich had other functions associated with the military. To the east of the town was the Woolwich Arsenal, which in the 19th and early 20th century was the countryís principal producer of armaments; in the Arsenal there was a training centre for offices that evolved into the Royal Military Academy. It moved to its own premises on Woolwich Common in and remained there until 1945. Woolwich was also a major garrison; the Common was home from of the Royal Artillery and there were other barracks for the Royal Marines. East Greenwich was also a major industrial centre for cable making and gas production. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the riverfront between Greenwich and Woolwich and near Erith also became increasingly industrial. Siemens electrical works at Charlton and Easton Amos and Anderson at Erith (who relocated from the near Southwark Street) were major presence.

These activities spawned their own suburbs. Grand houses on Woolwich Common and Shooters Hill were home to senior military officers and to Arsenal scientists; the Lesney Park Estate in Belvedere was home to the Erith industrial bosses. Workers were housed in developments of smaller homes near the river such as the Pelton Road Estate in East Greenwich or developments in lower Charlton and Lower Belvedere. Further industrial expansion in the 20th century along the Thames, especially near Erith and along the Cray valley, contributed to building in Bromley and Bexley.

Suburbs also spawned suburbs of themselves, as the service sector of living out servants, tradesmen, crafts gardeners and all the largely ignored contributors to a respectable middle-class life needed to live somewhere. This was, as in the case of Dulwich or Bexley, generally a safe distance from their employers or often in one of south London many New Towns: Peckham, Deptford, Norwood or Lee.