Famous for its beauty and its carrots, Camberwell really was originally a well.
The borough of Camberwell included Peckham and Dulwich, and never mind Peckham spring, Camberwell really was originally a well. The actual well was rediscovered by local historian John Chaple in 2009 in the back garden of a house on Grove Park. It’s been suggested that “Camber” was basically the same word as Cymru (Wales) and Cumbria, all variations of the term that Celtic Britons used for themselves. If that’s right, then Camberwell means “Britons’ Well”.
By the time the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, Camberwell was already a sizeable settlement and had its own parish church. The church’s successor, St Giles’ on Church Street, isn’t actually all that old, as the previous version of it burnt down in 1844, so it had to be completely rebuilt. The alleyway that runs beside it, Churchyard Passage, is said to be haunted by the friendly ghost of an old clergyman.
In the eighteenth century, Camberwell Green hosted an annual fair, first held in 1279, until 1855 when it was abolished by the killjoy Victorians for being too raucous. By late Victorian times however, Camberwell had become famous for its music halls, one of which survives as the Planet Nollywood club on the north side of Camberwell Green. Victorian residents included Karl Marx, who lived in Camberwell when he first came to London (his colleague Friedrich Engels also later had an address here).
Camberwell’s symbol is the Camberwell beauty butterfly, but you’re unlikely to see one fluttering across Camberwell Green. Although it was first identified here in 1748 (hence its name), the butterfly is in fact only a rare visitor to the British Isles from Scandinavia. That didn’t stop the Samuel Jones paper company on Southampton Way from using it as their trademark and having a large mosaic of it on their factory building. When that was demolished in 1982, the mosaic was saved, and currently adorns the side of an old public bathhouse (now a boxing club) just up the road.
In 1965, Camberwell was amalgamated into an enlarged borough of Southwark, of it which it now forms the biggest part. The Bakerloo Line extension to Camberwell, promised since the 1940s, has yet to materialize.