Peckham - situated between Rotherhithe in the north and Forest Hill in the south - was mentioned in the Domesday Book (1087) where it is called 'Pecheha'. The name is probably Anglo Saxon, meaning 'village among the hills'. The old English word for hill being 'peac' and 'ham' meaning village. The nearby hills would be Honor Oak, Forest Hill and Telegraph Hill. Rye comes from the Old English 'brook' and would have been named after the little river Peck that once flowed across the Rye. Part of this stream can still be seen on the West side of Peckham Rye Park today.
The land passed through many manors dating back to the reign of Henry I when Peckham belonged to the King and he gave it to his illegitimate son, Robert the Earl of Gloucester, who became the Lord of the Manor.
Peckham was mostly a farming community. On a 1746 map fields and small farms are shown with the main development being at the junction of South Street and Peckham Lane (now known as Rye Lane) and the Peckham Road in the north. The boundaries of the Common seem to be almost unchanged today. Goose Green and Nunhead Green were then extensions of the Common. Cattle drovers used Peckham Village as it was known then, as a stopping place before going onto the markets of London. Their herds were put out to graze on the Common while they took refreshments at the various inns.
The area would have changed little from when, as a child in 1767, the poet William Blake walked from the City of London to Peckham Rye and saw a vision of a cloud of angels in a great oak tree. The Angel Oak, as it was later called is no longer on the Rye. Another famous poet John Donne often used to stay in Peckham with friends, and poet and playwright Oliver Goldsmith lived for a time in Peckham, as did John Wesley, founder of the Methodists.
From the late 18th century the district became more developed. In a map of 1842, housing can be seen along Rye Lane, East Dulwich Road and the east and west side of the Common. Thomas Tiling introduced a new bus service in 1851 that took passengers from Peckham to the West End and in 1865 the railway station opened in Rye Lane. With the railways came the speculative builders and soon the remaining fields and market gardens were built over and lost forever.