Search This Site

24 March 2024

The historic topography of Royal Hill, Greenwich – repurposed railway lines and ghostsigns

I was wandering the lovely back streets of Greenwich last week, past the theatre and the fan museum (both marvellous, and I found myself in Royal Hill. I looked to see if the building that used to be home to The Cheese Shop, a business that used to be run by a lovely guy I met on a plane coming back from Zakynthos in the late 1980s, was still there. The terrace of shops hasn't changed much, I think his shop was one of these next to the butcher. I continued up the street, admiring all the lovely houses, and stopped to look at the fab tiles on the Barley Mow pub at the corner of Point Hill, now a restaurant. 

Barley Mow pub, Royal Hill greengrocer, Royal Circus tea merchant

Realising that I was supposed to be meeting a friend in the Oxford Street in thirty minutes, I started making my way down the hill via Prior Street towards the station. I looked to the right and noticed that there appeared to be quite a wide angular gap between the houses here behind this tree, and I looked back and forth at that and at the twentieth century flats behind me, considering that there must have been a railway line here.

A couple walking their small friendly dog saw my quizzical face and asked if I was lost. I explained my thought process to them. Well, what a delightful interlude it turned out to be. John said yes, that he had wondered that too, but he hadn't been able to find out any info. The conversation progressed and I said I'd look into the things we discussed. I cave him my card and asked him to keep in touch. But I have decided to write it up here. Just shows how one bit of 'perhapsing' can evolve into a half a day of sleuthing! I do hope John is reading this. And I hope I have remembered his name correctly as I tend to forget what you'd call 'normal' names. His wife, who has lovely eyes, is called Della. Nice people. 

Here's the Google view of the area today – I was standing were the word Vina [Launderette] is:

As you can see, there are allotments here which are often a hint at old railway lines or sidings, indeed that's what John thought, that this was sidings. I thought it was more likely to be a connecting line from/to Lewisham, which was confirmed when I found this 1890's OS map available on Layers of London – many of the road names have changed and this isn't exactly the same proportion and crop as the pic above, but it's easy to make the comparison:

I had assumed the railway line then fed into into the eastbound service towards Maze Hill but, no, it ended at 'Greenwich Terminus' on Stockwell Street, site of the Ibis Hotel today. 

John also mentioned that he was intrigued by an old sign near the old Old Barley Mow pub which he wondered might have been a coal merchant. Ooh I thought... lets go and have a look! By this time I realised I was going to be even later for my appointment in central London but, luckily, I was meeting a friend who is as fascinated by these things as I am, so he'd understand! 

I turned to look back past the pub where there is a hand-painted ghostsign on a building that looks to be No.1 Point Hill, but is actually constructed in the back garden of No.1 King George Street. I took a few  photos:

There are multiple layers on this sign. Looking my the phone screen we found it was easy to make out CORN & COAL MERCHANTS through the middle but the names were hard to decipher. For instance, there's a name in a curve at the top that looks to begin 'J. S. PE..' and another name in a straight line over/under that. The last word at bottom right could be RAIL, perhaps making use of the adjacent railway line. 

Having googled, I'm surprised to discover that other ghostsigns fans haven't snapped any photos of this, especially as it has been clearly visible since at least 2008 when I first noticed it myself, although I must admit that I didn't photograph it back then. And I am pretty sure I noticed it back in the '90s when my friend had that cheese shop. All I can find is this listing on eBay
A quick look at the old directories leaves me struggling to find a reference to coal. The earliest reference I have to hand is South London Suburbs 1896 which shows Mr Samuel James Perren listed at 1-3 King George Street as a corn merchant. This correlates with the with what we can see here. This street links through to Croom's Hill, the other main road in this area, and it's interesting to read how many other traders and merchants were here in the 1890s, including a baker, an undertaker, a builder, music teacher, a decorator and a few dressmakers.
By 1911 Mr Walter Gibbins is at this address, also trading in corn. But barely anything is listed along the whole street during WW1 or the pre-WW2 years.
Until further information becomes available, I am going to conclude that either a coal merchant was here pre- the 1890s, or that the word we are seeing as 'coal' (middle left on the sign) is actually something else. Though it could simply be that it was usual for a corn merchant to also sell coal back then.
Any further info is most welcome via

For more of my ghostsigns observations, simply use the search box or click here.


  1. The railway line was built as part of the LCDR (London, Chatham and Dover Railway). This branch line ran from Nunhead, via the northern part of Lewisham, to the terminus you mention. This terminus was originally called Greenwich, and opened on 1 Oct 1888. On 1 July 1900 the terminus was renamed as Greenwich Park (to distinguish it from the other station, which had been built in 1838 by a different railway company, but also called Greenwich). And the terminus finally closed on 1 Jan 1917, when the passenger service (from Nunhead) was withdrawn. The line was abandoned in 1929.

    I think I remember being told that the bomber in Joseph's Conrad's 1907 novel "The Secret Agent" is said to have used Greenwich Park station, on his way towards the Observatory. (And that novel was inspired by the actual anarchist bomb in the Park in Feb 1894.)

    Regards, Ash

  2. Thanks for all the extra information Ash. TBH, I stopped the narrative at the terminus because I had to 'protect' myself from delving any further – once I start looking at old maps I enter a time warp, and I'd have ended up in a Greenwich wormhole! Thanks again.


Please note that comments are vetted by me personally to check for relevant content before they are published, so don't panic when your feedback isn't immediately visible.
If you write anything perceived to be an ad, spam or self promotion, your comment will be deleted and/or marked as spam/blocked.
Thanks, Jane