The Legacy of Slavery

Yesterday I visited the ‘Slavery, culture and collecting’ exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands which investigates the relationship between European culture and transatlantic slavery. It’s an uncomfortable truth that many ‘philanthropists’ commemorated for their associations with charitable causes generated their wealth from slavery.

And Blackfen is directly affected by this. Danson House was the lavish country home of Sir John Boyd who owned sugar plantations on St Kitts. He acquired the freehold of Danson Hill in 1759, had a new Palladian villa built and set about greedily acquiring parcels of land to enlarge his estate to display his wealth and social status – this took the boundary up as far as Westwood Lane and south of Blackfen Road, including the cottage which became the ‘Chapel House’. He travelled abroad, purchasing works of art for his villa. In later life he focused ‘on religious subjects and good deeds and administering local charities’.

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Neill Malcolm inherited the Malcolm family fortune made in Jamaican sugar plantations and through marriage inherited Lamorbey House (now Rose Bruford College) in 1812. He extended Lamorbey’s estate by buying up surrounding parcels of land. The Malcolm family went on to endow the chapel at Holy Trinity, provided land for a new vicarage, supported the church school in Hurst Road, established another school in Burnt Oak Lane and built cottages for workmen. Although the family moved away from the area, it was Lt-Col G. I. Malcolm of Poltalloch, a descendant of the Malcolms of Lamorbey, who laid the foundation stone for the Church of the Good Shepherd in Blackfen Road in 1967.

Cycling in Blackfen

Once the Christmas excess is over [I say as I’m tucking into a Chocolate Orange!], will you start to think about New Year’s Resolutions? Perhaps you’re aiming to take up more exercise? 100 years ago cycling was very popular. Cycling clubs were established and the working class found freedom on their bikes in the countryside. Of course, stop-off points for refreshments were needed, and on the north of Blackfen Road opposite Days Lane stood the Cyclists’ Rest tea room and dining salon. In the photo below which has the RACS Stores and Days Lane on the left, you can just make out the sign for ‘Teas’ on the right hand side.

Blackfen Road 1935_RACS

By the 1930s the residents of Blackfen cycled out of necessity rather than pleasure, as it was cheaper than paying for trains or trams. Garth Groombridge sold bicycles from his home at the Chapel House. In Blackfen Road close to Sycamore Avenue, Alfred Lockyer had a shop selling bicycles and electrical goods, and opposite was Wrights’ radio, cycles and electrical. Charlie Ryan had a cycle shop at 21 Wellington Parade (later Argent’s, and in 1974 it became Garozzo; it is now Sondel Yamaha). Bicycles were also used in the 1930s for deliveries of newspapers and bread, and tricycles were used to sell ice-cream.

Groombridge 1949

A Cycle Speedway was set up on a field next to Blackfen’s cinema in Westwood Lane around 1951. The Blackfen Wheelers Cycling Club was formed in 1952 and their club runs into Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex started at the Woodman Inn. But both had folded by the late 1950s.

And then of course cars came along…

George William Staples

Blackfen’s oldest pub is re-opening on Thursday after a refurbishment. But who was George Staples (the pub name since 2008)? George William Staples was born in Knockholt, Kent in 1791. In 1814 he married Jane Maria Godsave and they had three children. George worked as an inn keeper and a wood dealer. He rented woodland in Bexley and was the landlord of the Blue Anchor pub in Bridgen 1838-1841.

In 1838 George Staples bought a cottage on the north side of Blackfen Road which he rented out. In 1845 he built the Woodman Inn (naming it after his occupation) and he lived there with his wife, a domestic servant and two lodgers. He also built more cottages alongside the pub which were rented out, providing an income for his family.

George Staples died on 24 January 1859. His widow Jane and their son William continued to run the Woodman for some years afterwards. Their son Michael ran the Tower Inn (later the Railway Tavern) in Bexley village.

In 1931 the Woodman Inn was rebuilt to serve the large number of new residents who had just moved to the area.

The Three Blackbirds

Public houses are often the oldest surviving buildings. Someone recalling a walk from Danson Road to Avery Hill in 1913 said, “we walked along the Blackfen Road, which seemed to be in the heart of the country. There were fields on each side of the road where sheep were grazing and on the left we could see the countryside for quite a distance. Apart from a few small cottages, the only buildings we passed were two public houses, The Three Blackbirds and The Woodman”.

The Three Blackbirds was licensed as far back as 1717 (says Jim Packer in his book, Bexley Pubs) but was virtually rebuilt after a fire in the 1890s and has had later extensions.

The bus is going from Bexley to Piccadilly Circus. This route was not meant for local journeys but for excursions for Londoners into the countryside.

Three Blackbirds 1900

Leechcroft in Carshalton

Look familiar? These roads are actually in Carshalton, Surrey. This estate was built by Charles Richard Leech who was also a linoleum maker. He had designed a floor-covering which was of improved quality and cheaper to manufacture than before, and his success meant that he could buy up large areas of land for redevelopment in the early 1930s. In Blackfen he built hundreds of houses on what had been Westwood Farm, Heaslip’s Farm and Queenswood and he also built houses in Old Farm Avenue, Sidcup and the Kingswood Estate in Swanley.

Leech’s 1930s houses and bungalows are still serving us well in Blackfen – although many have been extended and altered, but I would think the original lino flooring in the houses he built is long gone!

Lamorbey House

The history of the Lamorbey Estate is closely intertwined with the history of Blackfen.

In 1608 the Goldwell family’s Lamorbey estate included a 54 acre farm at Blackfen. This later got passed around as fortunes rose and fell. In the 18th century landowners bought up parcels of land to convey their wealth, political power and social status. William Steele enhanced his Lamorbey estate by buying up land in Blackfen in 1745. But it worked both ways: when Robert Owen Jones died and his Blackfen home was put up for auction in 1861 a key selling point was the fact that the property adjoined big estates like Lamorbey and Danson. Estate agents were at work even then!

And when Blackfen’s Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1967 it was Lt-Col G. I. Malcolm of Poltalloch (a descendant of the Malcolms of Lamorbey) who laid the foundation stone.

The Grade II listed Lamorbey House (now the home of Rose Bruford College) is open to visitors as part of Open House next Saturday 22 September 10am-3pm. https://www.bruford.ac.uk/news-events/events/lamorbey-house-part-of-open-house-london/

Lamorbey_House