Legend has it that the area was named after a brave Mother Superior who defied Henry VIII as her convent was being closed down during dissolution of the monasteries, she was beheaded and her dismembered noggin put on a pikestaff on the village green. However as gripping and as gory as this tale is, it isn’t true. While there is some suggestion that the area may have been owned by a nunnery at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (between 1536 and 1541) there is no record of a nun being executed for her trouble. The earliest mention is said to be from deeds from March 1583 when Edgar Scot sold Thomas and William Patching part of the manor of Camberwell, including estates at Nunn-head. At the time it was a small hamlet with an inn set around a green. As for the name Nun’s Head it suggests that the area was a messuage, or a dwelling-house and all the domestic land (such as gardens or orchards) around it. Such a small plot of land would be an extremely common gift for a pious mediaeval person to give to the church. In Nunhead’s case, it may imply a connection with the Augustinian priory of St John the Baptist, Holywell, which received rents from various tenants in the parish of Camberwell. The area was first recorded in 1680 as Nunhead and later None Head sometime around the middle of the 18thCentury, becoming Nonehead Hill in 1789, and Nun Head in 1816. That said a plaque outside The Old Nun’s Head on Nunhead Green maintains the legend. According to Old and New London by Edward Walford, published in 1878, the Nun’s Head had “been an institution in the locality for above 200 years, was an object of attraction, through its tea-gardens, to worn out citizens”.
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