The route of Old Kent Road
is one of the oldest trackways in England and was first metalled by the Romans as the road from Dover to Londinium. The Saxons later called this Watling Street
. Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled along this route from London and Southwark on their way to Canterbury.
Although the name appears as simply Old Kent Road
on maps, it is usually referred to by Londoners as The Old Kent Road
. The Old Kent Road
runs from the Bricklayers’ Arms roundabout, where it meets the New Kent Road, Tower Bridge Road
, and Great Dover Street, to New Cross Road, which begins a little to the east of the mainline railway bridge - the change in street-name is coincident with the border with Lewisham borough. Before the county of London was created this would have been the boundary between Surrey and Kent, hence the change in name.
At the junction with the presently named Shornecliff Road (previously Thomas Street) was the bridge crossing of St Thomas-a-Watering over a small brook, which marked a boundary in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s authority of the nearby manors in Southwark and Walworth. The landmark pub nearby, the Thomas a Becket
, derives its name from this connection. It was a place of execution for criminals whose bodies were left in gibbets at this spot, the principal route from the southeast to the City of London. The burning to death or hanging, drawing and quartering of religious dissenters, both Catholic and Protestant, also occurred here. In 1540 a priest ’Sir’ (ie ’father’) Godson was executed here for denying Henry VIII’s supremacy. The Welsh Protestant martyr John Penry was also executed here in 1593 and a small side street nearby, named after him, commemorates this. The Catholics John Jones in 1598 and John Rigby met their end here in 1600.
The same point was regarded as the limit of the City of London’s authority from 1550, there being a boundary stone set into the wall of the old fire station indicating this.
Following from the sale of local monastic properties in the Reformation period the Crown let out many long-leases which were acquired by local people. Most prominently was those held by the Rolls family along the route from Bricklayers Arms
to New Cross Road. With the urban expansion of the metropolis these holdings were in turn let out on building licences or shorter leases to others by the Rolls family at considerable profit to them, notably the desirable residencial development in the 1750s in the area of what is now Surrey Square
and the Paragon which were designed by their Surveyor Michael Searles (a road near this is named after him). Their family tomb is in the St Mary Magdalen Bermondsey
By the third quarter of the nineteenth Century the family had accumulated so much wealth that they acquired a home at The Hendre (another local street name to show their connection) and a castle at Llangattock-Vibon-Avel in Wales and then through politics in Monmouth as MPs and High Sheriffs for that county, acquired a Peerage of the same name. Locally. they started to support the local communities by letting or granting for free some of their lands for social purposes:- the Library at Wells Way Burgess Park
now a youth club, the Peabody Estate (Dover Flats) and the St Saviour’s Grammar School for Girls site being the most obvious. This is why the road parallel to the main route is named ’Rolls Road
’. The last real local remnant of their involvement is the large detached ’White House’ between the Peabody Estate buildings, of the 1750s which was their home, then Searle’s and then the management office of their trust estates. These were vacated in 1990 and the building has seen use as a Pentecostalist Church centre since then. The last of the male Llangatocks was the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls who was the pioneer motorist and aviator who formed the partnership with Henry Royce.
Apart from piecemeal residential schemes very little change along this route was made until the late 1960s with the London County Council plan of ’Lungs for Londoners’ led to the creation of new open spaces and public parks by demolition of heavily urbanised areas; the eastern entrance to one of these, Burgess Park
, is also located here at the junction with Albany Road
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|ADD A STORY TO OLD KENT ROAD|
The major streets in Walworth are the Old Kent Road and Walworth Road. It once had a common surrounded by streets with houses on one side, the Common on the other. This whole area is now covered by housing.
St. Peter's Church, Walworth's altar
St. Peter's Church, Walworth, built circa 1825, is an excellent example of the neo-classical style of church built by Sir John Soane. It is an indication of the wealth of the middle-class merchants who then lived in the vicinity that they could afford an architect of such prominence. Charles Upfold was born at Walworth Common and baptised at St. Peters. The church is home to the Monkey Park - which was once home to a menagerie kept by a past Reverend of the Church, but is now a garden.
Walworth is also home to the Pullens buildings - a mixture of Victorian live/work spaces and yards. Many of the flats are 1 bedroom, and some of the flats still connect to the Workshops of any of the three yards (Illife Yard, Peacock Yard and one other). They all share communal roof terraces with extensive views over to the West End.
Walworth also used to have a Zoo, in Royal Surrey Gardens, which was visited by Queen Victoria.
East Street market is a major street market.