About a year ago, I was amazed – and deeply touched – when a regular reader sent me a photocopy (in its entirety) of Combe Farm, Greenwich, a book by Barbara Ludlow and Sally Jenkinson so rare I have never seen it anywhere else (I guess there’s probably a copy in the Heritage Centre.)
It tells the story of what is effectively lower-Westcombe Park and parts of East Greenwich and Charlton now, about which, let’s face it, there’s bugger-all else. Written before the advent of computers and DTP, it’s type-written, with little hand-drawings and a few photos, as well as a couple of maps and diagrams.
Sadly I can’t reproduce it here – copyright issues would arise (I wouldn’t do it anyway, but this blog gets archived by the British Library and they’re hot on that sort of thing) – such a shame as it would PDF very well – but I’ll give you a bit of a potted paraphrase, which will have to do for now.
“Combe” is Anglo-Saxon for ‘valley’ – and it was only in the 1970s that the very last bit of ‘the combe’ was finally covered in flats. For the record, it was the bit of ground between Coleraine and Foyle Roads – I make that Webb Road. Locals were most upset at losing it, and it’s just possible that the laws governing ‘village greens’ that have been evoked successfully in some areas recently (sadly not in the case of Mycenae House) could have been used to keep that last bit of combe, if it was open to all at all times.
But I’m off on one again. Back to the book…
Combe’s not in the Domesday Book because it was all part of the Bishop of Ghent’s land (however much I read, I still have difficulties wrapping my head round that one – just why did most of Greenwich end up as owned by a bloke in Belgium? More research is necessary, I see…)
In fact there’s a lot that’s not known about Combe. For starters, that Tudor mansion that was also somewhere around Coleraine and Foyle Roads, but no one’s exactly sure quite where. If any of you who live in those roads ever fancies a little Time-Teamery in your back gardens, I’d like to hear about the results…
After the Norman Conquest, the Bishop of Ghent had his land ‘redistributed,’ which basically meant he lost a whole bunch of places. Combe was broken up into East and West Combes. Combe Farm would have been directly in the middle of the two, which makes me think that it’s possibly somewhere under the A102.
Barbara Ludlow reckons that there’s not much mention of Combe in medieval times. Presumably the scribes of the day were more interested in glamorous Greenwich down the road. All that really survives are records of murderers, thieves and grumpy peasants complaining about taxes. I’m not surprised that when Duke Humphrey appropriated Greenwich Park he built himself a nice big wall between himself and the dodgy burghers of Combe.
Things started to look up in Tudor times. Henry VIII wanted to install his new squeeze, Anne Boleyn, somewhere near the palace at Greenwich, but a little bit away from wagging tongues, so he bought Combe Farm for her. When he got bored and did away with her, he pragmatically just gave the place to whichever queen was in vogue at the time.
I find it quite exciting – and just a little sad that this building, according to Barabra Ludlow, would have been somewhat more than a mere farmhouse. If it was good enough for the resident queen-of-the-month. It would have been quite a special Tudor mansion. Get digging, guys…
It doesn’t sound like the bulk of Combe got much more salubrious though. Sam Pepys didn’t care for the place at all. Whenever he had to go through there (which he really didn’t look forward to and spent considerable time trying to find excuses not to do) there always seemed to be “doggs,” “rogues,” “beggars” or dead bodies knocking around. I guess it doesn’t help that this was during plague time, and that, even by 17th Century standards, Combe Farm’s cleanliness wasn’t much cop.
In the 18th Century, the top bit was bought and turned into Woodlands – a can of worms I’m not going into today. The rest was mainly used for arable farming up until the 19th Century, which forms the second part of the book. But Victorian Combe Farm and the Roberts family is for another day too. This post is long enough already…