William Willett (1856-1915), builder and inventor of daylight saving

Did you know that it was a Chislehurst house builder, William Willett, who first proposed daylight saving hours in this country?

When most people lived in agricultural communities, the sun rising earlier in the summer than in winter had not been a problem as people just shifted their habits according to the daylight. But by the end of the 19th century more people were living in towns and cities and working in offices and shops, and their daily routines were determined by the clock. On his early morning horse rides over Chislehurst Common William Willett noticed how many window blinds were still down. He realised that warm spring evenings were being wasted because it got dark early, so he came up with the obvious solution – to change the nation’s clocks, and in 1907 he wrote a pamphlet, ‘The Waste of Daylight’. This would also benefit golfers playing in the evening (he was a keen golfer!).

But it took nine years and a world war to persuade the Government to adopt his proposal. In 1916 an emergency law was passed to change the clocks twice a year, increasing war production, and this became permanent by the passing of the 1925 Summer Time Act.

Sadly William Willett died from influenza in 1915 before his idea was enacted. He is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chislehurst. There is a blue plaque on the wall of his house, The Cedars and a Willett Memorial sundial in Willett Wood. There is even a pub named after him in Petts Wood, the Daylight Inn.

It’s worth mentioning that the link between Blackfen/Sidcup and Chislehurst was once much stronger than it is now. The A20 cut them adrift, but large areas of Blackfen were owned up to 1915 by the Townshends of Frognal and Scadbury.

 

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From Ireland to Blackfen

On St Patrick’s Day, let us remember the most prominent Irishman in Blackfen’s history, Michael Heaslip, who was born in Newmarket, Co. Cork and came to England with his young family in the 1890s. He worked as a haulage contractor in north Woolwich and he bought a farm in Blackfen as grazing for his horses which he liked to use as his weekend retreat! His son, also Michael, served at the Woolwich Arsenal during WWI and his picture (see below) was part of the WWI display at Sidcup Library.
The farm was sold off for 1930s housing development, but Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Church was later built on land next to the site of Heaslip’s farmhouse. The Catholic Church was in high demand in the 1930s while house-building was active in Blackfen as there was a large Irish population who came to find work.
And when Irish people in Blackfen married their weddings were often announced in Irish newspapers. The Ballina Herald reported on 14 April 1951 the marriage of John Bradley, only son of Mr and Mrs John Bradley, Glasgow, to Breedge, youngest daughter of the late Mr John Granahan and Mrs Mary Granahan, Creevy, Castlehill, Ballina, which took place on Easter Monday at the Church of the Holy Rosary, Blackfen Kent. Meanwhile the Irish Independent of 20 November 1962 p13 reported the marriage (pictured) of Mr Thomas Sullivan, Rosmuck, Co. Galway and Miss Elizabeth Dunne, Sidcup Kent, who were married in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, Kent.

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.

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

 

British Legion, Blackfen and Lamorbey branch

On Remembrance Sundays the British Legion would hold a parade at the Woodman before marching to the Holy Redeemer Church for a service. The Blackfen and Lamorbey Branch of the British Legion was formed in April 1937 to stand for the interests of ex-servicemen and at its peak membership was over one thousand. The branch finally closed in 2001 when membership had fallen to sixteen. There is still a Royal British Legion cross at Holy Redeemer Church in memory of those who fell serving their country.

A long way to go to church

Until the late 19th century Blackfen was in the parish of St Mary the Virgin, Bexley (pictured here). Those who lived in Blackfen had to travel (most likely on foot) to Bexley village for baptisms, marriages and funerals and to attend services if they wished. That’s quite a hike!

The parish records show that on 4 April 1638 John Philips de Blackfen was buried at St Mary’s Bexley.

It was only when Holy Trinity Lamorbey was built in 1880 that people didn’t have to travel quite so far to get to church. Meanwhile, the north side of Blackfen became part of the parish of Christ Church, Bexleyheath.

St Mary's Church Bexley 1910

Michael Heaslip of Blackfen Farm

Michael Heaslip was born in Newmarket, Co. Cork and came to England with his young family in the 1890s. He worked as a haulage contractor in north Woolwich and also ran a pub there with his wife Margaret. He bought a farm in Blackfen as grazing for his horses and liked to use it as his weekend retreat! His granddaughter Kathleen used to help pick the strawberries (which grew where Bargain Booze is now!) and said they were the best she’d ever tasted. As they were Catholics they went to Mass in Sidcup on Sunday mornings, bringing back Father O’Knight for lunch and later playing cards round the dining table.

The farm was sold off for 1930s housing development, but it is fitting that Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Church was later built on land next to the Heaslip farmhouse. The Catholic Church was in high demand in the 1930s while house-building was active in Blackfen as there was a large Irish population who came to find work.