Underground Greenwich (5) The Stock Well

I am probably disproportionally excited today, folks, as one particular Very Long Search has ended for me. A tiny pamphlet has just arrived by registered mail, from an obscure bookshop in god-knows-where, stiffened by a piece of broken board from some long-dead hardback, and it has quickened my heart.

Perhaps one or two of you will already have this slim volume, but judging from the fun and games I had trying to get hold of a copy, the chances are it won’t be on many people’s bookshelves.

The Underground Passages, Caverns &c., of Greenwich and Blackheath, is the lecture notes from a talk given by John M Stone, MA, before The Greenwich Antiquarian Society on the 26th February 1914.” No prizes for guessing the content.

I’m only a few pages in but already I’m learning fabulous new stuff. Not least that it was more or less a jolly jaunt for people to ramble in and around the various conduits of Crooms Hill, Greenwich Park and pretty much everywhere else in Edwardian times – albeit coupled with an “unpleasant feeling of going down into a grave as you descend through a hole in the grass” where “many ladies visiting the place for the first time have to repress an inclination to scream…”


I’m learning about all kinds of underground places in the area I didn’t even know about but the most pressing so far ( just 7 pages in), given the imminent development in the area, is the old Stock Well. It was, of course, given the name, at the bottom of Crooms Hill, around the end of Nevada St, where it becomes Stockwell St.

This ancient well was already established in Duke Humphrey’s time. Humph had to get a Royal Licence in 1434 to run a conduit from there to his new gaff in the park because it would cross under the King’s Highway and there weren’t any statutory rights for utilities companies to dig up roads whenever they liked in those days.

The well was, by all accounts, the principle source of water for Greenwich – it seems The Point was honeycombed with little springs which filtered down towards the river. The water was helped on its way by a conduit which twists and turns underground – but which, if you lay a plan of it on top of an Ordnance Survey map, makes sense – it follows the ancient road. (It’s not, apparently, the oldest conduit in Greenwich, but I haven’t read that bit properly yet. I’m like a kid in Mr Humbug’s shop right now…)

There exists a rather indistinct map from 1777 that implies the position “within a foot” of a pump which was probably the Stock Well, and what John Stone says next is, I think, quite pertinent to the major development to come. He writes:

“I trust that should opportunity occur it may some day be opened up. Think what archaeological treasures may there be reposing at the bottom of the well, dropped down from the earliest days of Greenwich in the daily and hourly user of the inhabitants through many centuries, and what chapters of local history might be opened up, could they be recovered.”

Now, I don’t know. Nearly 100 years have elapsed since this was written – and it’s possible that this has already been done. If so I haven’t heard of it. Maybe someone can set me right. But if it hasn’t, surely the new building around there that’s just about to come would provide an excellent excuse for a dig? And I’m sure, given the amount of times Thames Water have dug and re dug that bloomin’ road recently, could there be a little extra excavation next time there’s a suitable hole? A Section 106 project for the new developers, perhaps?

Actually, reading on, it’s possible that the pump is underneath the theatre (called The Hippodrome in 1914.) I can’t quite tell. That would make it next to the old Rose & Crown and almost opposite the Spread Eagle, slightly away from where the development is due to take place. But even so, it would be worth the developers being made aware that there is a possible ancient tunnel, maybe paved and walled in brick to look out for. Since this is such an old, old part of Greenwich, perhaps they should be employing an archaeologist on site anyway.

But I digress. I am a giddy Phantom today, hardly able to concentrate for all the goodies to discover in this floppy little pamphlet.

I’m reading on with a greedy eye. Some of this stuff is eye-popping (a comment I made in jest a few weeks ago, enjoying a flippant flight of fancy, seems to be rather nearer the truth than I had originally thought…) More gems from this fantastic new (old) source another day…

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