In former times when maps were rare, it was usual to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during that week, on what were known as Rogation Days. Knowledge of the limits of each parish needed to be handed down so that such matters as liability to contribute to the repair of the church or the right to be buried within the churchyard were not disputed. The ceremony also had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbours; sometimes boundary markers would be moved or lines obscured, and a folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders by embedding knowledge in oral traditions.
The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who beat the parish boundary markers with green boughs, usually birch or willow. Sometimes the boys were whipped or violently bumped on the boundary stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys along was to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. The priest would pray for protection of the parish over the forthcoming year, and might also make declarations such as "Cursed is he who transgresseth the bounds or doles of his neighbour".
Parish markers were traditionally made of stone, often replaced in the 19th century by cast iron. They are known to have been used in Ancient Egypt and in Greece; in the Iliad Athena throws one! The oldest known stone is in China and dates from AD 12; the 1731 stone in Stratford is thought to be the oldest surviving dated boundary marker in London.
Many parish and estate boundaries were also marked with trees, in particular oaks, and some survive. We believe that the parish and estate boundary has left its mark in several lines of trees. Members may know the recent Vicar’s Oak installation at the south west entrance to Crystal Palace Park, with an oak tree stump from Dulwich Woods and a very instructive story board [invisiblepalace.org.uk]: it is well worth a visit. Also worth a visit, although beyond Dulwich, is a fine boundary oak where Lawrie Park Avenue meets Sydenham Avenue, with a seat attached.
Parish and manor boundaries tended to follow natural features, such as the ridge of hills such as Herne Hill/Denmark Hill and Sydenham Hill, or possibly ancient tracks like Crokestrete, or Lordship Lane. Water courses such as the Upper Norwood branch of the River Effra which rose near the Vicar’s Oak defined a lengthy stretch of the Camberwell/Lambeth parish boundary. The boundary followed the route of the stream from Farquhar Road into Jasper Road; boundary marker C12 is by the dip where the stream crosses Jasper Passage. Along South Croxted Road it also followed the edge of the Dulwich Estate and joined the Lower Norwood branch just north of Thurlow Park Road. The Effra was gradually culverted between the 1830s and 1890s.
The odd indentation in the boundary between Ruskin Walk and Danecroft Road arises from this land being alienated prior to Alleyn's purchase of the manor in 1605, probably by the Priory of Bermondsey or the Caltons. In 1900, this area was incorporated in the newly created Borough of Camberwell, creating a straighter boundary along Herne Hill and Denmark Hill.
There were significant changes to the boundaries through the 19th century. In 1858, the Dulwich Estate purchased 60 acres of land to the west of Croxted Road, which once formed part of Lord Thurlow’s Knight’s Hill Estate. It was able to do this with money recently received from the sale of a small portion of land to the Crystal Palace Company. Around 1886 the Estate exchanged land comprising what is now Beauval Road for a freehold property in the centre of the village. The 20th century also saw changes, some as a result of compulsory purchase. Beating the bounds of the Estate would not be a simple exercise!
One of the earliest maps of the parish of Camberwell, Poole’s map of 1834, shows the boundary markers then in place and states that it follows a perambulation of the parish that year. A number have been identified as still standing in the Dulwich area, notably around Sydenham Hill. Most are dated 1870 and replace earlier markers; the figure on many of the Camberwell posts represents St. Giles, to whom the parish church is dedicated, holding his crozier and stroking his tame hind.
Two markers are on the local list of historic buildings and monuments and it is hoped that others will be added as a result of this survey. There are many other Camberwell boundary markers shown on large scale Ordnance Survey maps, including that on One Tree Hill, dated 1870, and a stone one on Westwood Park dated 1858 and 1896: but this survey covers only those in Dulwich. The authors would be delighted to receive corrections or additions, particularly of any markers seen in private gardens, and we will be maintaining an up to date list.
Camberwell Parish Boundary Markers
C1 36 Champion Hill, at crossroads: flat metal Camberwell post 1874, next to D3
C2 Sydenham Hill, west side, near the junction with Eliot Bank and Kirkdale. Stone with Camberwell parish on front, Dulwich Manor on side, very rubbed (also listed as D5 below)
C3 131/133 Sydenham Hill driveway, 1870 Camberwell post, traces of painting (possibly moved from another position)
C4 Top of Cox’s Walk, to west of gateway, 1870 Camberwell post, partially submerged
C5 Crescent Wood Road, junction with Sydenham Hill, inscribed Camberwell Parish, metal bollard, undated (older than C5A)
C5A Stone inscribed “27ft S.E. from this point is the boundary of the Borough of Camberwell”
C5B Wood House car park, 39 Sydenham Hill, stone half submerged, similar to C5A. Inscribed “ 39 ft S.E. from this point is the boundary of the [Borough of Camberwell]”
C6 Rock Hill junction with Sydenham Hill, in hedge on roadside: Camberwell 1870 post
C7 Sydenham Hill west side outside No 9 Sydenham Hill, Camberwell 1870 post
C9 Crystal Palace Parade opposite garage: Camberwell 1870 post
C10 Crystal Palace Parade opposite garage entrance, 15 metres south of C9: Camberwell 1870 post
C11 Crystal Palace Parade, on north side of railings around subway entrance to former High Level station: Camberwell 1870 post
C12 Jasper Passage, halfway between Jasper Road and Woodland Road: 1870 flat marker, partially submerged
C13 Gipsy Hill, opposite No 7 Grazeley Court, 10 metres south of gateway to Green, Camberwell 1874 post, partly submerged
C14 Gipsy Hill, at junction with Gipsy Road, Camberwell ?1874 post, partly submerged
C15 Thurlow Park Road, between 120 and 122A: Camberwell 1870 post
C16 Thurlow Park Road, opposite C15, metal plate on wall inscribed CP 1874, Berry of Westminster
C17 Ruskin Walk corner with 119 Herne Hill, 1870 flat Camberwell post removed in 1926 from a point 25 foot north east: near D8
C18 1 Warmington Road, metal wall plaque on side wall, marked CP 1889
C19 3 Warmington Road, metal wall plaque on front wall, marked CP 1888
C20 11 Red Post Hill, stone set in gatepost marked C P 1870, very rubbed
C21 169 Denmark Hill, best example of free-standing Camberwell 1870 post
D1 Champion Hill, south end of Ruskin Court fence, stone at ground level, inscribed “Dulwich Manor extends from this stone eastward 27ft”: recut 1846 and 1928
D2 Champion Hill, on gatepost of KCL Champion Hill Residence (The Platanes) inscribed “ Dulwich Manor extends from this stone eastwards 24(?) feet 4 inches 1806”, recut 1846 and 1883
D3 36 Champion Hill, granite stone at the crossroads, inscribed “Dulwich Manor extends from this stone eastward 9 ft”, recut 1846 and 1928: next to C1.
D3A Alleyn’s School at Lytcott Grove entrance, inscribed plaque set in wall indicating that the face of the wall is boundary of the Dulwich College Estate
D3B Alleyn’s School playing field edge, stone block inscribed Dulwich Manor
D4 Lordship Lane, west side opposite Wood Vale, stone largely buried in tarmac
D5 Sydenham Hill, west side: same as C2
D6 Behind 2 Crescent Wood Road, dated 1798
D7 234 Rosendale Road at pavement edge, inscribed “Alleyn’s College Dulwich 1908”, partly submerged
D8 Ruskin Walk, near C17, inscribed “Dulwich Manor extends from this stone north eastward 25 ft 1792”, recut 1928
M1 Milestone outside 18 Red Post Hill, inscribed “4 1/2 Miles from Treasury Whitehall/ Standard Cornhill (listed Grade 2)
M2 Milestone at Dr Webster’s Fountain in Dulwich Village, inscribed “ V miles from Treasury Whitehall/Standard Cornhill 1772”, reverse “Siste Viator[ ie Stop,Traveller] T.T. 1772.- (Thomas Treslove was the surveyor of roads in Camberwell Parish.)