Hanging Wood

Someone, whose email, I have to ‘fess up, I’ve lost, so I can’t name (sorry) asks a seemingly obvious question:

Where were the gallows in Hanging Wood?

It’s such an atmospheric name; you’d think there would be loads of investigations into it, but I’m drawing quite a blank here. I’ve checked out all my books, maps etc. dealing with Charlton, but no one really talks about it except to talk about it in terms of what’s left of it; which in London terms, is quite a lot really.

The best I can do is Darrell Spurgeon’s highly enjoyable Discover Greenwich and Charlton, from which I’ve drawn this rather wobbly (and probably very inaccurate) map of more or less where the Hanging Wood would have been (the 1746 map above is borrowed from the excellent Ideal Homes website.)

It would have included all manner of different terrain – from what we call Gilbert’s Pits – an old sand mine I’ll talk about another day, Maryon and Maryon-Wilson Parks, plus other sections now subsumed into suburbia.

So where Hanging Wood was isn’t really a problem. But my mystery emailer didn’t ask me that. He (I’m pretty sure it was a ‘he’) asked where the gallows would have been. I have never seen this issue addressed. If there were gallows anywhere, there seems to be no record of it now.

One thing the place wasnotorious for, though was highwaymen and footpads. In 1661 Samuel Pepys wrote about seeing the  “filthy remains” of a man hanging on a gibbet at Shooters Hill; perhaps there was a set of gallows at Hanging Wood too, to deter would-be robbers. There was certainly no shortage of gibbets around town - Greenwich pensioners used to make a few coppers hiring out telescopes to park visitors so they could peer at the grisly remains of crow-eaten pirate carcasses from Execution Dock being ‘exhibited’ at Bugsby’s Hole on the Peninsula.

Of course, this always assumes that  ’Hanging’  is of the ‘from the neck until you are dead’ variety. It could just be that the woods, being situated at the top of a precipice, the land falling steeply down to the river, ‘hang’ from the ‘cliffs’ that form Charlton’s backbone. Who can tell…

the attachments to this post:

Hanging Wood map
Hanging Wood map

7 Comments to “Hanging Wood”

  1. Just to prove that I have interests other than the War, I have been having a browse through John G Smith’s ‘History of Charlton’ and the only reference I can find re Hanging Wood is in the contract of sale from the estate of Sir William Ducie to Sir William Langhorn in 1680. This contract refers to:

    “all that titled Hangeing (sic) Wood of 150 acres, lately grubbed and stocked, the greatest part being divided and seperate from the main ground of Hangeing Wood in the east and west parts thereof by a hedge and a ditch. Other parts on the west side of Hangeing Wood to a lane leading from Charlton Town towards the Marshes and Woolwich.”

    I think that the lane follows the path of what we now call Charlton Lane whcih leads down the hill from Charlton Road down to Woolwich Road – maybe a bit different to the present course of this road but a possibility.

    This was all sold for the vast sum (in 1680) of £5,468.8s.0d and apart from the area mentioned above also included Charlton House and the entire Manor of Charlton which in those days went down to the River Thames in the region of what is now Anchor & Hope Lane in the west and Hardens Manor Way in the east and as far as Shooters Hill Road in the southern direction and which was in excess of 500 acres in total.

    Unfortunately, I cannot find the exact location of Hanging Wood, neither do I know the origin of the name but thought you might be interested in the above.

  2. Otter says:

    I’ve seen the name attached to somewhat precipitous woods elsewhere (can’t remember where) so I guess your alternative version is right.

  3. valley_girl says:

    I would venture that the ‘hanging’ in Hanging Wood comes from the Old English ‘hangra’, a wooded slope. it still survives in the word ‘hanger’, used to describe, as TGP alludes, a wood that overhangs a steep slope. These can be found in chalk areas in places such as Hampshire.

  4. Andy says:

    I found this “Hanging Wood Charlton” and other poems by William Bance 1844, Bit long, 27 verses, but interesting reading. Nice prints of Hanging Woood looking towards Woolich and Greenwhich.



  5. Andy says:

    Sorry, cut and paste the link.

  6. carol says:

    A question for Andy, I followed his link to google books but found no way of downloading ‘Hanging Wood, Charlton’ by William Bance in the format printed on the web. I queried googlebooks for a copy but was told it is out of print. Can you give any advice. This would be a perfect candidate to add to the Charlton Parks reminiscence project web site, particularly interesting in its original printed format can you help please? Carol

  7. valley_girl says:

    Hi Carol,

    I’ve just downloaded it as a PDF file. If you look on Google Books you’ll see the pdf link on the righthand side. Click on this and then put in the required verification word in the box. You should then get the Adobe Acrobat window which will let you save a copy.