Trip to Nunhead Cemetery, Southwark Local History Library and St Mary's Rotherhithe

Nunhead Cemetery

We set of at about 7:30am for a planned trip to Nunhead Cemetery, South London, one of the great cemeteries of Victorian times to look for the final resting place of Dr William Murdoch. An early start and not a particularly good one as we sadly witnessed a fatal car accident on the journey. We drove in as far as Newbury park where we dumped the car and caught the Central line to Stratford, changing there for the Docklands Light Railway to Lewisham. Unknown to us a train had derailed at Deptford Bridge the previous day, so we had to catch the replacement bus service between Greenwich and Lewisham, which although inconvenient, wasn't really that bad at all. From Lewisham we caught the overground train to Nunhead, arriving there at around 10 o'clock. As we walked down Linden Grove we got an idea of just how large and overgrown Nunhead was. We could see through the metal railings masses of undergrowth and broken, damaged stones. I was very excited about being there but anxious to start looking. I was half expecting to not be able to find what we were looking for due to the general state of a lot of the memorials. As we entered Nunhead cemetery from the Linden Grove gates we were amazed at the view looking towards the chapel.

Nunhead Cemetery, Nunhead, South London

  • #1 Looking up towards the chapel from the Linden Grove entrance.

  • #2 An imposing memorial to the right of the Linden Grove entrance.

  • #3 A view of the chapel from the right hand side.

  • #4 The path down the right hand side of the chapel.

  • #5 Looking into Square 94 to the right of the chapel. Dr Murdoch's resting place.

  • #6 The pathway leading away from the chapel to the right.

We had the location of Dr Murdoch's grave as Plot 910, Square 94, which narrowed it down to a roughly 15 metre square patch immediately to the right of the chapel. There were a few large memorials lining the pathway either side of square 94 but none of them belonged to Dr Murdoch. We noticed the warning sign that read something along the lines of "Warning: The stones in this area have been identified as unstable. Please stick to the path and phone the cemetery manager if trying to locate a grave." After two unsuccessful attempts to speak to the manager we gave up and ventured in anyway. I wasn't leaving without finding something. In the end it took me about ten minutes to find it and I was starting to get worried that there'd be no physical trace of a memorial left. Eventually I saw the name Murdoch on a headstone hidden in one of the most overgrown areas of square 94. At first I was worried when I noticed the first name wasn't William, but more than happy when I realised the first name was Peter. It was Dr William Murdochs father and my fifth great-grandfather. Even better was that there were a few other family members there also. We managed to hack our way through the undergrowth to get some pictures.

The Murdoch family headstone
The memorial stone for Dr William Murdoch and family.

So, quite a large stone (although not the massive memorial I had dreamt of seeing!) and a pleasant suprise in getting more than I bargained for in terms of quantity.

Southwark Local History Library

From Nunhead it's an overground service to Elephant and Castle and a Northern Line train to Borough High Street. Unfortunately, second delay of the day - Northern Line was closed. After being totally confused by the bizarre bus system at Elephant and Castle roundabout, we gave up and walked the five minutes to Borough. The local history library is only open from 10-1 on Saturdays; we finally made it to the library at quarter past twelve, just forty-five minutes before the place closed.

Although we only had a short time at the library we did managed to find a few documents or interest; the deeds to the China Hall Pub and another property in Princes Street, Rotherhithe, and an excerpt from a book entitled "A history of the Public Health department in Bermondsey" which is listed in the documents section. (You can see that here.) In fact, there's enough there to plan a trip back when I have more time.

The Mortgage Deeds to the China Hall Public House
The mortgage deeds to the China Hall Public House (click for large version).

At some point when I get more time it's my intention to transcribe the deeds. When I get around to it I'll post the results somewhere here on the website.


After leaving the Local History library in Southwark we walk up the High Street to London Bridge station to catch the Jubilee line to Canada Water. Unfortunately we couldn't catch the tube to Rotherhithe as that line is closed until 2010 for expansion, so we walk the rest of the way from Canada Water. It's apparent that pretty much everything in Rotherhithe has changed in the past 150 years. The present day parish is very different to the one William Murdoch would have served. Almost all of the buildings along the entire length of Rotherhithe street, one of the only remaining original streets on the peninsula, appear to have been built within the last thirty of fourty years.

Historically, Rotherhithe took a severe bombing in the blitz of the Second World War. Although the China Hall public house is still standing, Dr Murdoch's own residence no longer exists at 321 Rotherhithe Street. Likewise, another property he owned at 20 Princes Street no longer stands either. In fact, Princes street has disappeared altogether, to be replace by a much more modern Mayflower Street, perhaps named after the ship that the Pilgrim fathers left on from Surrey Docks in 1620.

A modern day 321 Rotherhithe Street
A modern day view of 321 Rotherhithe Street on the left of the picture.

There are other pointers of the areas history in the street names in Rotherhithe. Not far from where Bullheads Wharf used to stand is a small street named "Beatson Walk".

Beatson Walk road sign
Beatson Walk, one of many telling road signs.

If you look at a map of 1868 Rotherhithe, the entire area is devoted to Surrey Commercial Docks. The docks remained in operation in some form or another until around 1969 at which point they closed due to a drop in business mainly caused by their inability to accomodate modern day container ships. After that period, much of Rotherhithe lay derelict for about a decade until in 1981, Margaret Thatchers Conservative government established the London Docklands Development Corporation. Since then, the area has been converted into a residential estate called the Surrey Quays. Greenland dock is the only dock that managed to survive completely and is now used purely for recreational purposes.

Rotherhithe Peninsula, South London

  • #1 An ordnance survey map from 1868.

  • #2 A modern day map from 2008.

  • #3 An ariel photograph from 2008.

After a small tour of Rotherhithe we were running out of time and decided to call it a day, catching a bus to Bermondsey Station and following the Jubilee line back to Stratford to catch the Central line back to Newbury Park.

Until the next field trip....