On Blackheath

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Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? ‘On Blackheath’? What’s on Blackheath? Quite a bit, it turns out. And not just one of London’s newest and most exciting music festivals. Ollie Pickup finds out…

Blackheath, or Blachehedfeld as it was first named in the finest Old English of 1166, meaning ‘dark-coloured heathland’ (which you probably worked out, admittedly), is utterly buried in history.

According to legend the South-East London parkland is where hundreds of Black Death victims were laid to rest in the mid-14th century, and where many 1665 plague sufferers were entombed.

The vast, open plain was also the scene for many a scrap and rebellion. In 1381 it was the rallying point for The Peasants’ Revolt, led by the soon-to-be-decapitated Walter ‘Wat’ Tyler, one of many disgusted at King Richard II’s poll tax. Tyler may have lost his head, but his name lives on, with a nearby road bearing it.

“In past times [Blackheath] was planted with gibbets,” reported Edward Walford in his 1878 publication, Old and New London, “on which the bleaching bones of men who had dared to ask for some extension of liberty, or who doubted the infallibility of kings, were left year after year to dangle in the wind.”

But that’s enough grisly stuff. Blackheath is additionally where golf was supposedly first introduced to England in 1608, and the nearby Royal Blackheath Golf Club, established in 1766, was one of the first of its kind outside Scotland. Further, Blackheath Rugby Club (1858) is the oldest in England, and hosted the inaugural international between England and Wales in 1881.

On Blackheath village stage

And – bringing us right up to date – it’s also where On Blackheath, one of the most eye-catching of the capital’s weekend festivals, made its bow last year and is continuing to make yet more history at the famous site. Last year’s inaugural edition attracted some 25,000 folk, and with more edge-smoothing than a stone mason’s sandpaper this one should be even more entertaining.

Stretching the summer out for as long as possible, particularly following August lacklustre turn, this year’s two-day, family-friendly, music-food-and-arts fest is open for service on September 12th and 13th (midday to 10pm on both days). And, as you would expect an event sponsored by John Lewis to be, it’s oh-so splendid, replete with celebrity cooks (including Ceviche’s Martin Morales and Dan Doherty from Duck & Waffle), pop up stalls and street nosh all serving up fuel for revellers.

And what a party line-up. On Saturday, headliners – in descending order – include Elbow, Manic Street Preachers, Anna Calvi, Jack Savoretti and there is a trio of other stages to consider: Make Noise – electric recycling tour; Heavenly & Friends (boasting showings from Hooton Tennis Club and Stealing Sheep, among others); and Meantime Sessions.

On Blackheath Madness

On the Sunday, which has – to this scribbler’s tastes – an even more appealing collection of musicians, one can bop to Madness (in their only London gig in 2015), Kelis, Laura Mvula, David Rodigan and Jerry Dammers, with the latter two performing separate DJ sets. Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide stage also hosts a clutch of excellent artists for something away from the mainstream.

Madness said, “We thought we’d left no stone unturned in London: palaces, parks, stadiums…and now the kind people of Blackheath are letting us play there. Let’s hope we don’t cause an earthquake south of the river.”

With all the skeletons reportedly underneath the venue, it would certainly be wise not to. And, in a, er, nod to Wat Tyler, let’s hope they – and the thousands of On Blackheath party people – don’t lose their heads.

After all, it’s history in the making, so make sure you don’t miss out.

For more information, including ticket prices and further details of the line-up, visit www.onblackheath.com.

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