The origin of the name Nunhead is uncertain. However, it may be connected with the nunnery of St. John the Baptist, Halliwell (Shoreditch), which acquired lands in Camberwell and Peckham in the 12th century, which later formed the manor of Camberwell Friern. The name is mentioned in a deed of 1583, in which Edgar Scott sold to Thomas and William Patching a fifth part of the manor of Camberwell Buckingham, including estates “lying at Nunn-head”. The name “None Head” appears on John Rocque’s Topographical Map of the County of Surrey published in 1762.
Rocque’s 1762 map shows the area as still largely rural with the settlement at None Head no more than a small group of scattered houses on the northern and western sides of what today is Nunhead Green. During the next 80 years this situation only changed slowly. In 1842, Dewhirst’s map of the parish of Camberwell shows Nunhead as still a small hamlet surrounded by market gardens and open fields. However, it also shows the recently consecrated Nunhead Cemetery, which had been laid out on a 52 acre site on Nunhead Hill to the south of the Green in 1840, and it was this that marked the beginning of the area’s urbanisation.
At this time, Nunhead was still far enough from the bustle of the Metropolis to afford a quiet retreat for the retired. Two establishments took advantage of this to erect almshouses. In 1834 the Girdlers’ Company built a range of seven houses in Albert (now Consort) Road for freemen of the Company or their wives, to commemorate Cuthbert Beeston, who had been Master of the Company in 1570; and in 1852 the Metropolitan Beer and Wine Trade Society erected a range, also of seven houses, on the north side of Nunhead Green (see below).