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.

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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

Listed buildings of Blackfen

LOCAL LIST

A locally listed heritage asset is a building or structure which is deemed to be of local architectural or historic interest and is included on the local heritage list drawn up by Bexley Council. There are several in Blackfen, and a few just outside which are so close it seemed a shame to omit them here. They make a positive contribution to the area’s local character and sense of place, and they are offered some level of protection by the local planning authority.

177-179 Blackfen Road (corner of Burleigh Avenue). Known as Westwood Cottages, or Maxwell’s Cottages, they were built in 1890 to house workers on Westwood Farm. A footpath led to the farmhouse which was at the site now occupied by the children’s playground at The Green.

George Staples pub, 271 Blackfen Road (formerly The Woodman). Built in 1931 by the architect, Kenneth Dalgliesh, it replaced an earlier pub on the site.

Edward VIII pillar box, Tyrrell Avenue. Only a small number of letter boxes were made during the short reign of Edward VIII in 1936 and after his abdication, most boxes bearing his cypher were modified or replaced. So a surviving one is a rare sight.

ARP warden’s shelter, Wellington Avenue, near The Oval. Used during the Second World War as part of a network of shelters for ARP wardens.

The Three Blackbirds pub, 118 Blendon Road. Licensed as far back as 1717, it was rebuilt after being gutted by a fire around 1900.

Blendon Lodge, 167 Blendon Road. The West Lodge, built in 1855/56 stands at the corner of Blendon Road and The Drive. It had four rooms and a garden and housed various staff of Blendon Hall which was demolished in 1934. (The East Lodge, built at the same time as the West Lodge, was at the corner of today’s Beechway and was demolished in the 1930s).

STATUTORY LIST

Listing of a building or structure on the national Statutory List marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations.

The Chapel House, 497 Blackfen Road – Grade II listed. Decoration giving the impression of a ‘chapel’ was added to the cottage when John Boyd of Danson acquired the parcel of land on which it was sited.

Jay’s Cottages, 1, 2, and 2a Blendon Road – Grade II listed. Jay’s Cottages, originally known as Blendon Villas, have stood in Blendon Road since the early 18th century to house workers on the Blendon Hall estate. They still have a lack of rear windows which was intended to stop the inhabitants gazing over the grounds of the Hall and invading the privacy of the Hall’s wealthy residents!

 

Danson House in 2016

Changes have been made to the management of Danson House. Bexley Council has taken over responsibility for Danson House from the Bexley Heritage Trust. According the Council website it will re-open spring/summer 2016 but it looks likely it won’t be open for as many days of the week as it used to be. Not sure where that leaves the tea room! It is proposed that the Borough’s civil ceremonies and registrations will be held at Danson House from September 2016 instead of at Sidcup Manor House.

Meanwhile here is Danson House in 1950.

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Danson House, 1950

Blackfen in 1822

While carrying out my New Year’s Resolution of having a bit of a tidy up/clear out, I was looking over my Blackfen research papers (I have boxes and boxes of them…), and I came across a copy of the Survey and Valuation of all the Rateable Property in the Borough of Bexley taken on 11 April 1822. It provides a fascinating snapshot of the Bexley area at that time.

Blackfen at that time was just a tiny hamlet. Its inhabitants consisted of:

BLACK FENN

James Townsend: house, garden and orchard (owned by James Townsend)

Edmund Newsted: house, garden and orchard (owned by James Townsend)

Thomas Tyler: farm house, barn, yard, stables, garden, orchard, arable and meadow land (owned by Lord Sidney)

Robert Ingram: farm house, yard, barns, stable, garden, arable and meadow land (owned by Messrs Day)

Thomas Warde: house and garden (owned by John Johnston, Esq.)

William Smith: house and garden (owned by John Johnston, Esq.)

Staples: house and garden (owned by John Johnston, Esq.)

Newsted: house and garden (owned by John Johnston, Esq.)

Foster: house and garden (owned by John Johnston, Esq.)

Near Black Fenn, on Danson land, were the Whale family living in a cottage with stable and garden. This fascinated me at the time because whale jaw bones had been discovered when Westwood Lane was made up in the 1930s. I had no idea what whale jaw bones were doing there and wondered if it was anything to do with this family named Whale!

Tombstone at the Chapel House

The Chapel House is a well-known landmark in Blackfen Road, near Blendon. Originally a small cottage, it was modified into a folly in the 1760s when John Boyd of Danson acquired the land on which it was sited. The turret, spire and pointed windows give the impression of a chapel, but it has always only ever been a dwelling house.

The Chapel House in 2010, now looking neglected

The Chapel House in 2010, now looking neglected

In the garden of the Chapel House was a well. Garth Groombridge, who wrote a history of the building in 1955, asserts that “the well was some sort of pilgrim’s halting place in medieval times”. But then Groombridge did have some eccentric views…. [See ‘comments’ below]

The Chapel House in 2010, with its tomb-covered well

The Chapel House in 2010, with its tomb-covered well

A mock tomb was built to cover the well, and on the ‘tombstone’ was a skull and crossbones. According to Groombridge the skull and crossbones was a joke and was meant to deter people from trying to drink from the well. This was either because the water had become unsafe to drink or (more likely) John Boyd didn’t want riff-raff venturing onto his newly-acquired land which he had incorporated into his Danson estate.

Not much remains of the skull and crossbones on the 'tombstone', 2010

Not much remains of the skull and crossbones on the ‘tombstone’, 2010