Politics in Blackfen

Bexley’s Local Elections take place on 3 May. Use your vote! This year’s 100th anniversary of votes for (some) women reminds us that we didn’t always have the opportunity. We don’t have any Suffragettes in Blackfen but Dame Ethel Smyth, OBE lived in nearby Sidcup and she devoted herself to the cause of women’s suffrage; she was also a female composer in a musical world dominated by men, and a prolific writer.

As the community in Blackfen developed in the 1930s a number of political organisations were established as the Labour Party and trade unions were growing in importance and the Conservative Party reacted to their rise.

The Blackfen Constitutional Association began with a meeting at the Woodman in April 1932. Mrs Packham, Chairman of the women’s branch, proved herself a great leader, starting with 15 members in early 1932 and almost 1,000 members by the annual dinner in November 1937. They held meetings, socials, whist drives, outings and talks.

Many of the early residents of Blackfen, who had often moved out from London, wanted to improve their lot in life through politics and trade unions. In 1931 there was no Bexley Labour Party group and John Cronin became committed to establishing one (he later became a Councillor and Mayor). The Ridgeway Residents Association tried to get people elected to the local council. The Ridgeway Estate became known as ‘Little Moscow’ because of all the Labour posters in the windows of houses.

The Blackfen Co-operative Men’s Guild and the Blackfen Co-operative Women’s Guild (men and women were always separate at that time!) met in the hall above the RACS Stores. They held horticultural shows, cake-making competitions and dinners.

I always think this must’ve been quite an exciting time in Blackfen’s history. Thousands of families had arrived in a new place in a very short space of time. They all wanted a new life and they worked together to make it happen.

The candidates for Bexley’s Local Elections on 3 May are shown here: http://www.bexley.gov.uk/sites/bexley-cms/files/2018-04/Statement-of-Persons-Nominated-for-Thursday-3-May-2018.pdf

 

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Doris Shipway and her photographs of the world

Doris Shipway was born in 1918 and lived in Burnt Oak Lane until she sadly passed away in 2014, but not before she had seen as much of this earth as possible. For anyone interested, here is a site put together of a collaboration of her travels.

Doris enjoyed travelling and photographing her trips. When she died, she left about 50 year’s worth of slides and various related documents. These have all been organised, scanned and publish here: https://wdeod.com/ What a lovely thing to do!

Forbidden Fruit at Blendon Hall

Just along the road from Blackfen stood Blendon Hall, a large country villa built in 1763 on the site of a much earlier building. When the banker John Smith, MP lived there he decided in 1816 to redesign the hall and re-landscape the gardens. Fences were erected around the estate, but around the new fruit garden “a more substantial guard against man must be provided and brick walls are the best security”. Was he worried about the people of Blackfen helping themselves?!

Incidentally, there were reports around 1900 of people in Blackfen being caught blackberry-picking – it was an offence to trespass and take the fruit!

Blendon Hall was demolished for a housing estate in 1934.

Blackfen School of Music, Dance and Elocution

Here is Woodlands Parade in Blackfen Road in 1934 (Sycamore Avenue can just be seen on the left). The house just past the shops had been a private school since 1928, where Mr and Mrs Ashdown ran The Blackfen School of Music, Dancing and Elocution. As well as normal school lessons, there were dancing lessons on Saturday mornings and typing lessons in the evenings. The school was very successful, with regular displays and competitions. Apparently for boys it was THE place to go on Friday nights if you wanted to meet a girl!

Woodlands Post Office 1934

First Aid Post

In 1939 a First Aid Post was built on the triangular plot of land at the corner of Sherwood Park Avenue. Kent County Council had already planned to erect a Maternity and Welfare Clinic in the Blackfen area and so it was agreed that they could be permitted to use it as a clinic in Peace Time. Not far away a Cleansing Station and Ambulance Station was built at Willersley Park.

There were quite a few public shelters, including trenches underneath the gardens of The Oval for 316 people. I spoke to someone who remembered chasing his friends around the tunnels as a boy, but it seems no-one ever actually used them as a shelter during air raids. Like many shelters dug in the ‘Black Fen’, they frequently flooded!

Sir Charles Martel visits Sir William Pryn

On this day, 15 April, in 1930 Brig.-Gen. Sir Charles Martel, CB and his wife Lilian, of Queenswood, Blackfen visited the home of Surgeon Rear Admiral Sir William Pryn of 3 Christchurch Road, Sidcup. Martel signed Pryn’s visitors’ book and indicated that the day on which the Martels were themselves ‘at home’ to visitors was Saturday.

In the early 1900s our area was a popular place to live for retired military families. I am always fascinated by the networking and friendships between them!

 

James Lee of Strawberry Gardens

It’s difficult to imagine these days, but in the 1880s there were just fields here at what is now the junction of Westwood Lane/Blackfen Road. James Lee, a market gardener and florist kept ‘Strawberry Gardens’ here, and he lived in a rather run-down cottage with his wife Elizabeth. At that time it was still part of the Danson Estate. But the soil was heavy and three years of wet weather led to bad crops… and when his wife died he started to get behind on his rent – it was his wife who had kept the accounts. In April 1906 he went bankrupt, and Strawberry Gardens was taken over by Walter Cook.

Westwood Lane_Blackfen Rd 2018