Eltham is a suburban district of South East London, England, located in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. It is situated east south-east of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.
Eltham was originally developed along part of the road from London to Maidstone and lies almost due south of Woolwich. Mottingham, to the south, was originally part of the parish, explaining why Eltham College is not actually in Eltham any more.
Eltham was a civil parish of Kent until 1889 when it became part of the County of London and from 1900 formed part of the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich. The metropolitan borough was abolished in 1965 and Eltham then became part of the then London Borough of Greenwich.
Eltham today is one of the largest suburban developments in the borough with a population of almost 88,000 people.
Eltham lies on a high, sandy plateau which gave it a strategic significance. That, and the fact of its position close to the main route to the English Channel ports in Kent, led to the creation of the moated Plantagenet Eltham Palace, still its most notable landmark.
The nearby manor of Well Hall was home to Sir John Pulteney, four times Lord Mayor of the City of London, and later to wealthy Catholic William Roper and his wife Margaret (daughter of Sir Thomas More, known to Catholics as Saint Thomas More, Chancellor to King Henry VIII). In 1733 Sir Gregory Page bought this estate for £19,000 and demolished Roper House, building Page House – later known as Well Hall House – on the site. Until its demolition in 1931, Well Hall House variously served as a home to watchmaker John Arnold, and later to socialist Hubert Bland and author Edith Nesbit.
Also of note is Avery Hill Park and its former mansion, accessed from Bexley Road and at various points along the three miles (5 km) of other streets that surround the park. Today the mansion is part of the University of Greenwich, which has a significant presence on two sites in the area. Avery Hill was the home of Colonel North, who made his fortune working in the Chilean nitrate industry. A hothouse is still open to the public and contains temperate and tropical plants. There are also remnants of the formal gardens in the public park.
Development after 1900
The village streets adjacent to the Palace, and the surrounding land, remained rural until Archibald Cameron Corbett bought the Eltham Park Estate and developed it with well-built suburban housing between 1900 and 1914. The Bexley Heath Railway (see below) had opened what came to be known as the Bexleyheath Line in 1895. Suburban development of the district really began when the Government, through His Majesty's Office of Works, built the Progress Estate and large estates of temporary hutments in 1915, to house the vastly increased numbers of wartime workers in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. In the early years this was called, rather pretentiously, Well Hall Garden City, but it compares well with later groups of municipal housing in south London – which is surprising given the fact that it was constructed rapidly between February and December 1915 and its sub-division by the South Circular Road and, until about 1988, by the even busier A2 Trunk Road.
After World War I the building of housing estates continued unabated. By the beginning of World War II, three large estates were in existence: the Page Estate (1923), Middle Park (1931–36), and Horn Park (begun 1936, completed 1950s). The latter two were built on Eltham Palace's former hunting parks. Coldharbour Estate was built in 1947. In the 1990s the defence of Oxleas Wood to the east of the town became a focus for a pan-European campaign to resist high capacity urban roads. Significantly the European Court of Justice found the UK government at fault for not adequately assessing the environmental impact of the planned road, that would have joined Beckton to Falconwood and perhaps – if objectors' fears are to be believed – been a first stage of a wider orbital road through Catford (a revival of a Greater London Council-backed Ringway Two). In 2007, the new Eltham Centre opened just off the High Street including council offices and a new swimming pool and incorporating the early 20th century library.