History Lesson

Did you know that Camberwell has it’s own coat of arms? Well, at least the (now-defunct) Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell did.

The various elements of the arms represent the three constituent parts of the Borough. The wells are a ‘canting’ allusion to the name Camberwell, they also represent some of the many wells in the area, of which one was said to have healing properties, and was therefore associated with St. Giles, the patron saint of cripples.

I mentioned this in a comment recently.

The lion represents the Liberty of Peckham, it derives from the badge of Robert Earl of Gloucester, an illegitimate son of Henry I, who was Lord of the Manor of Peckham.

So the Leopard Man of Peckham has an illustrious forebearer!

The wounded hart and crosier, are emblems of St. Giles, to whom the Parish Church of Camberwell is dedicated. He is probably associated with Camberwell because of the well with healing powers, the name Camberwell is said to be derived from the ‘well of the crooked or cripples’ (camber being derived from an old word meaning crooked).

I’ve also tracked down a famous piano piece by Felix Mendelssohn called ‘Spring Song [MIDI file]’; the original title was ‘Camberwell Green’, as it was written when the composer stayed on Denmark Hill. It sounds like the music that would play in a silent movie when the damsel was introduced, shortly before being abducted and tied to a train track by a mustachioed, cape-twirling villain.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

10 thoughts on “History Lesson”

  1. is it wrong that I find the motto “Alls well” to be quite entertaining given the numerous problems that exist in Camberwell?

  2. Why not squat the Black Sheep before it opens in aid of Help a London Child? We could rename it the Blog Sheep or, since we are all independent spirits as befits our SE5ness, the Blog Leopard, Blog Fox, Blog Crow, Blog Magpie or Blog Squirrel. Maybe not the Blog Pigeon.

    That book/booklet by Mary Boast, The Story of Camberwell, has a good array of meanings for Camberwell, the best being that “Camber” has the same root as “Cymru”, Wales, i.e. where the Welsh lived meaning original tribes, Britons. On the other hand, so many of us seek the cure here, heh-heh, hic!

  3. One of the many Wells still exists on Southwell Road which is just before Loughborough Junction where Camberwell ends and Brixton Begins — The site where the well is/was now belongs to EDF Energy who have a sub-station & depot facility there — I think huge monolithic Local Authorities are too large and vast to manage things properly, they lose sight of the small details in life and ultimately they are what make the difference — I am a great advocate of the original parish-based administrations making a comeback (although I don’t want to be too parochial — I’m not advocating A League Of Gentleman type arrangement!) and there were few better than Camberwell if you look at historical archives…

  4. I had an interesting (well, I thought so) conversation a couple of days ago about how many Welsh dairies there were around Walworth/Camberwell/Peckham, and that there were very distinct Welsh ‘villages’ in the area, so perhaps the Camber/Cymru comes from that?

  5. “Welsh” just means original people, “Britons” — the Welsh were left with the name. Talking of parochial, great doings in Lucas Gardens! The pile of subsoil has gone, flattened, and the area made good. That was where I found that metal button from the life-saving jacket made by W.E. Cooper of Camberwell Road. Still, there are other parts of Lucas where archaeological investigations may be made and I am training my daughter Poppy, who is exactly 3 months old when England kick off against Paraguay on Saturday, to hunt for such Camberwelliana, like a truffle pig.

  6. Technically, I’m not sure — improvements certainly, piping, drainage for the buildings in Vanguard Court. I am watching what happens. The new pile of topsoil dumped in the middle of Lucas was taken by dumper truck to where the old pile of subsoil was in the southern corner by the wall of Vanguard Court. The whole thing has now been flattened and I think will be turfed over. This was where I found the W.H Cooper metal button — wasn’t it you, Peter, who discovered on the British Library website that this was from Cooper’s bullet-proof vests which, I think, TommyD said were bought by mothers for their sons in WWI. I have never found anything else in the subsoil since.

    There was a deep trench by the wall by the subsoil and the Night-time People brought along old sofa cushions to bobsleigh down the subsoil, possibly into the trench. There is a wooden pub table with benches. As well as beer cans, ringpulls and homemade cigarette butts, there were also EPNS spoons left there, probably indicating crack use. Recently I found a small bottle of Optimism there. This is a Bach Flower Rescue Rememedy whose main floral constituent is gorse — so when you walk or cycle where there is gorse, you are taking in significant homeopathic doses of optimism. Anyway, like the spoons, this Optimism may have had a more sinister side, because it may have been from the contents of a stolen handbag.

    The two sides of the steep pile of subsoil became a smooth bobsleigh or ski-run over the months. The wooden fence was constantly being pushed over. What with the trench and some barbed wire, it was technically very child unfriendly, which is why I and my 2‑year-old daughter spent a lot of time there last year, often philosophising at the pub table. After the war, the bombed half of Camberwell was similar. I taught her to get herself up and down the slopes and to say new things like “This is barbed wire.” The plant life is still wild and abundant. A fox began a couple of quite deep holes in the subsoil, which was interesting to her. I have told her that if she went inside the foxhole she might meet the fox, who would say, “Why, hello, do come in and sit down. Do you know, only the other day, I had that Henny-Penny here for lunch.”

  7. have you seen the London Borough of Camberwell kerbstones in the north part of soutwark left over from the amalgamation in 1965…there’s a nice one outside Liam Og’s on Newington Butts…and another just over the rd too..very nice

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