The West Wood

Dominating the north west part of Blackfen used to be The West Wood, a surviving section of much more extensive ancient woodland. In the 1200s it belonged to the Lord of the Manor of Bexley, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was valuable, providing wood for fences, poles and gates, logs for fires and charcoal for fuel, and a great pond was stocked with 4000 fish. In earlier times local tenants would have taken their pigs to feed in the woods, but in 1284 there were complaints that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s systematic use of the woodland had taken away their ancient rights.

Labourers were employed to cut the wood and a ‘woodward’ was in charge of selling the wood to shipmen, coopers and brewers, transporting it overland to Woolwich or Erith to be sent up the river to London. The aerial view below (dating from 1932) shows the proximity of the River Thames (across the top). Also below are images of the Thames at Erith.

After the Reformation, ownership of the West Wood passed to Henry VIII. After being passed around a few times it was granted in 1621 to the University of Oxford to provide endowment for a professorship of history. By 1854 foreign imports of timber had made the woodland unprofitable and all the trees were dug up so the land could be used as a farm instead – Westwood Farm, which remained until 1930s housing redevelopment.

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!

 

Gamble North and the Avery Hill Winter Gardens

Living on the western side of Blackfen, trips to Avery Hill Park were a regular thing as a child. Just a walk away and we were in a huge expanse of green. There were the swings in the playground, but the best bit was the steamy exotic greenhouse of the Winter Gardens. Even as an adult, I still enjoy the occasional walk through the park and around the tranquil greenhouse.

Avery Hill Winter Gardens in February 2014

Avery Hill Winter Gardens in February 2014

In fact Avery Hill has a link with Blackfen in its history. Avery Hill Mansion was created by Col John Thomas North ‘Nitrate King’ and the Winter Garden was completed in 1890. His brother, the mine engineer Gamble North, was married to Leila, daughter of the tenant of Westwood Farm in Blackfen, John Hunt. After Col North died and his widow sold Avery Hill, Gamble North resided at Queens Wood, Blackfen.

The question is, of course: was the fertiliser produced by Col North’s Chilean business used for the benefit of Westwood Farm?!

Avery Hill Winter Gardens in February 2014

Avery Hill Winter Gardens in February 2014

I was dismayed to hear recently that Greenwich University, the current owner, has announced its intention to sell the entire Mansion House campus in 2015.

A Facebook Page ‘Save Avery Hill Winter Gardens’ has been created by the Friends of Avery Hill Park www.averyhillpark.org.uk to monitor the process and ensure that the concerns of local residents and the wider community are represented. “While we understand that Greenwich University is primarily an educational institution and has determined the need to sell this property in order to fulfill its primary aim. However, we are determined to ensure that whoever buys the property takes on the responsibility of restoring the Winter Gardens and maintaining public access as Greenwich University had started to do.”

“In 2012 Greenwich University was awarded £192,000 Development Fund to help the university progress its plans to apply for a full grant at a later date. It is curious that the announcement to sell the property was made on the same day the final stage of the lottery grant application was to be submitted. The application was withdrawn. This means that at least any restoration will be delayed until the new owners apply for funding and if successful start preserving the decaying building. In the mean time the problems will only get worse.”