Sunday, September 21, 2008

When was Telegraph Hill invented?

In a previous post about Waller Road, I noted that the designation by some of the area South of New Cross Road and north of Brockley as the distinct area of 'Telegraph Hill' (rather than as part of New Cross) seems to be quite recent. It is not mentioned, other than as the name for the parks, in the memoirs of Eileen Elias, ‘On Sundays we wore white’ (London: WH Allen, 1978) which describe her childhood in the area from 1910 to 1920.

I was delighted to hear this week from Tony Robins, who grew up in the area in the 1930s and 1940s (his war time memoirs are available online here). Tony recalls: 'From 1930, the year I was born, to 1948 (National Service),we lived at 77 Kitto Road, on the corner of Erlanger Road. Nobody could live closer to both parks, and my sisters & I considered they were ours - I think nobody could possibly have spent more time playing in them than we did! We knew our address was 77 Kitto Road, New Cross, S.E.14., and always said we lived at New Cross, or New Cross Gate (or even just the Gate) - not at Telegraph Hill, even though the parks had that name. After the war, coming home by bus or tram either along the Old Kent Road or Queens Road, or the other way from Lewisham or Greenwich, when paying my fare I learned to tell the conductor simply "The Gate, please".

So when was Telegraph Hill invented? I believe that the Telegraph Hill Centre opened in 1968, and there was a community body called the Telegraph Hill Social Council around this time and into the 1970s. But I think these were conceived as serving the Telegraph Hill Ward, part of the Lewisham Council area that extends almost to Honor Oak. I think it was probably the designation of the Telegraph Hill conservation area in 1990 that created a sense of a more narrow boundary, defined by the housing built by the Haberdashers Company in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This is the area focused on by the Telegraph Hill Society, rather than the more architecturally and socially mixed Telegraph Hill Ward.

None of this matters too much, names do shift and after all 'New Cross Gate' was a new name compared with Hatcham, the area's older moniker. But I do think when people make a point of saying they live in 'Telegraph Hill not New Cross' as opposed to 'Telegraph Hill in New Cross' they are kidding nobody but themselves. What worries me more is that the imagined geographic distancing easily slips into a social distancing, with some people perhaps believing that they are somehow superior because they live several metres higher above sea level than the folks down below.

This is what Tim Butler and Garry Robson found in their academic study 'London Calling: The Middle Classes and the Re-Making of Inner London' (Oxford: Berg, 2003), in which they describe ‘Telegraph Hill’ as a middle class ‘enclave’ marked by ‘an element of smugness that is somewhat off-putting’ and a ‘denial of the wider area (New Cross) in which Telegraph Hill is located’. This is something of a stereotype, but a recognisable one nevertheless.

4 comments:

Ian said...

I do now live on Telegraph Hill, went to school at Askes from 1970-78 and moved into New Cross Gate about 1968 (but my family have been there since the 1800s).

When I was a kid it was known locally as Pepys Hill (pronounced pep-ees) and very occasionally Telegraph Hill.

And heaven help anyone who called New Cross Gate just New Cross.

IO was involved with the Telegraph Hill Society in the early 80s and helped out with the local community newspaper, but for the life of me I can't remember what we called it; 'The New Cross Telegraph'?

Anyone remember it? Hell we were up to 6000 copies at one point and delivered all around the area. Gary Bricklebank was running it while I was there.

Bill said...

The 'waterworks map of 1856' has Telegraph Hill on it http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/watermap1856/watermap_1856.html > cell c4

Transpontine said...

Thanks for that Bill - I have now posted something about the map. I don't think there is any doubt that the physical hill was sometimes known as Telegraph Hill from the 19th - and possibly late 18th century. And the Victorian park was named Telegraph Hill park from when it opened. What seems to be much newer - possibly as recent as 1980s and 1990s - is people living in the area referring to where they lived as Telegraph Hill.

sueharold said...

I am trying to find out about the Edric Residents Association and about a campaign to keep New Cross Hospital open.

I have a couple of pages from New Cross & Brockley Telegraph Community Newspaper Iss no 29 Jul/Aug. My friend aged 87 was living there at the time and her late husband retired as Chairman of the Edric RA but she would so like this information as she cannot remember..