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.

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!

Thomas Walter Gwillim

‘Gwillim Close’ is named after Thomas Walter Gwillim. He had been a newsagent in Woolwich but when his father died he had money to buy some land in Blackfen. In 1927 he wanted to build a huge development of houses on the north side of Blackfen Road but planning permission was denied because of access and drainage issues.

Instead he built a row of just seven houses in Blackfen Road approximately where the east part of Wellington Parade is now. He moved into one which he called Gwenlliant (after his sister), and this is the only one which survives, incorporated into the 1930s Wellington Parade. Its roof can be seen above the shop roof line.

For some years a dilapidated ‘haunted house’ remained where children would explore and scare each other! Gwillim’s land was later sold off but he is remembered in the road name ‘Gwillim Close’.