On 16 March 1819 the London Gazette announced the bankruptcy of Richard and Robert Day. Their father, Richard Day, had purchased Blackfen Farm in the 1790s and rented it to the farmer, John Solomon, for £200 per year. But in 1819 the brothers, who were also co-partners in a seed-crusher and oil-broker business, got into financial trouble and the farm was put up for auction. The four-bedroom farmhouse was in 134 acres of land which was ‘abundant with game’. The farm was located to the west of Days Lane. However, ‘Dayes Lane’ is referred to in the records as early as 1681, long before the Day family’s association with Blackfen.
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:
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!
Sir John Kirkland, a wealthy army agent who purchased the Blackfen Farm in 1861, lived in some very grand houses. His London homes had included 10 Portman Square and 80-82 Pall Mall, while his country homes had included The Priory in Roehampton, Surrey (now the Grade II listed Priory Hospital) and Dulany House in Patching, Sussex (destroyed by fire in 1945).
From 1869 he was a tenant of Beckenham Place. This mansion had been built by John Cator, MP around 1763. The layout and design is strikingly similar to that of Danson House, Bexley, built around the same time. A portico with four Ionic columns was added to the frontage in the 1780s, and this element is a reminder of Foots Cray Place in Bexley which Sir John Kirkland had rented previously. (The only homes he actually owned were Avoch in Ross-shire and Queens Wood in Blackfen.) Not many people were wealthy enough to pay the rent on such properties, and Beckenham Place lay empty for some years after his death in 1871.
In the early 1900s Beckenham Place was used as a boys’ school and then as a sanatorium, while the grounds became a golf course. The whole estate was acquired by London County Council in 1927 and has been managed by the London Borough of Lewisham since 1971. The stable block was destroyed by fire but the formal gardens are still glorious.
Today, Beckenham Place Park is an area of over 200 acres of beautiful open space, ancient woodland, meadow areas and a public golf course. There is a nature trail, a sensory garden and a children’s playground. The visitor centre (open Sundays 1.30-3.30pm) is run by volunteers and contains a fantastic collection of history on the park and mansion, information leaflets and books, plus the chance to see some of the 18th century-style interior.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Beckenham Place Park. But it appears to be under a degree of threat, as a lottery bid for ‘improvements’ to the park by Lewisham Council includes the closure of the golf course and there is a campaign against it. I just hope that future generations will be able to enjoy the beautiful open space that I saw today and that Sir John Kirkland enjoyed until his death in 1871.