The Bookshop at The Oval

In 1933 the shop at 9 The Oval was a newsagent, bookseller, general and fancy stationer. It was also a lending library with music, and it sold toys and games.

According to the Sidcup and District Free Press, “The Bookshop at The Oval, Sidcup, caters for those who like early morning deliveries of the daily newspapers – also those who like the evening editions. There is a most excellent ‘No Subscription’ Lending Library at this Bookshop. Lovers of books have an opportunity there of obtaining real good reading matter. Special books, magazines, music and back numbers are delivered in less than 24 hours.”

This shop must’ve been a really useful one to the early residents of Blackfen and the Marlborough Park Estate, as the library (the old one in Cedar Avenue) was not built until 1937.

And it’s still a newsagent today!

Woodlands Parade 1933

I’ve just acquired a 1933 ‘Sidcup and District Free Press’ which has a page of adverts for Blackfen. Here are R. E. West hardware stores, Woodlands Post Office and H. E. Rowbottom grocers in what was then called Woodlands Parade, opposite Sycamore Avenue. Plus in the house alongside, the rather fabulous Blackfen School of Music, Dancing and Elocution. The photo is 1934. And lastly, the same view today (2019).

Blackfen in 1962

Today would’ve been my dad’s birthday so I was thinking about 1962 – the year he moved to Blackfen from Wandsworth. With his job as an overseas telegraph operator he had saved enough money to get a mortgage on a house in the tree-lined East Rochester Way.

What did Blackfen look like in 1962? Although my dad was a keen photographer he took virtually no photographs of Blackfen which is rather annoying!

Wally Racher, shoe repairer was still in his cabin near the Jolly Fenman, from which he would regularly emerge to see school children across the road. There was a grocery store at 10 Blackfen Road (now converted back to a house), and a newsagent/Post Office at the corner of Fen Grove. In the centre of Blackfen you could find Jackson’s greengrocers, Lintorn Butchers, the Corn Shop, Homepride, Woolworths, Lipton and Sylvia’s Cafe as well as the still familiar names J. Ayre bakers and Copelands the newsagent. One of my dad’s favourite shops was Corbett’s timber merchant and his favourite pub was The Jolly Fenman.

The library was in an austere building in Cedar Avenue. The Odeon Cinema in Westwood Lane had been closed for years but the derelict building still stood in 1962. (Shortly afterwards it was demolished and replaced by Safeway). The A2 flyover had not yet been built and there was just a crossroads with a set of traffic lights. It was in 1969 that the Rochester Way was widened and the grass verges were lost.

There are quite a few photographs from this era in my book ‘Woodmen and Fenmen: Blackfen’s Story’ which you can borrow or purchase from Blackfen Library. It was because of my dad that I wrote the book – I wanted to know why he (and all the other people who came here) chose Blackfen as the place to make a new life.

Blackfen School of Music, Dance and Elocution

Here is Woodlands Parade in Blackfen Road in 1934 (Sycamore Avenue can just be seen on the left). The house just past the shops had been a private school since 1928, where Mr and Mrs Ashdown ran The Blackfen School of Music, Dancing and Elocution. As well as normal school lessons, there were dancing lessons on Saturday mornings and typing lessons in the evenings. The school was very successful, with regular displays and competitions. Apparently for boys it was THE place to go on Friday nights if you wanted to meet a girl!

Woodlands Post Office 1934

Why do people moan about Blackfen?

Happy New Year 2017” created lively discussion on the Blackfen Past and Present Facebook Group. Not everyone is happy with the arrival of Costa or the presence of Tesco because of competition with local independent shops, and there were complaints that there is not enough choice of shops and there is a lack of community spirit.

Why do people talk Blacken down? No, it isn’t glamorous or swanky, but it isn’t meant to be. Blackfen has a wide range of shops, a new community library and a low number of empty premises compared to other town centres. It enjoyed a successful Christmas event with the lights switched on by James Brokenshire, MP. Why do people moan about Blackfen?

It isn’t a new thing. In 1978 the Kentish Times reported that “Blackfen is a thrusting shopping centre, whose character is still changing… Everything needed to support life and leisure is to be found in its shops… Old shops are closing but new ones are taking their place”. But in 1976 the same newspaper had published an article looking at Blackfen’s problems: “Many regard it as an idyllic place in which to live… but Blackfen is not entirely a land flowing with milk and honey. Pensioners have to battle with cars being driven over the pavement in front of the shops… Shopkeepers, finding they cannot make a profit, are closing their stores and non-retail businesses are moving in. Several empty shops await new owners. Residents, making use of the reasonably frequent and convenient bus services, are beginning to do their shopping elsewhere… Traffic and parking seem to be the source of most of the complaints”.

The writer of the article asked local residents for their opinions. Mrs Cahill liked living in Blackfen but said ‘There is not much for the younger people, but I would not like to see discos or coffee bars opened. The cars on the pavement are an eyesore and there are not enough different types of shop’. Mrs May said ‘When you live on a fixed income, you have to shop around’. David Kane, 13, said ‘Blackfen is a boring place. There are no cinemas here. Someone should build a cinema in Blackfen’. His friend Sean Hurley, 12, said Blackfen was ‘all right, but not exciting’. Mrs Miles said ‘there is no excitement here’. Mrs Leonard said that ‘there is nothing for people to do in the evenings but I don’t think we want coffee bars or discos. If we did have them, we would get trouble from gangs.’ Mr Harper said he did not want to see any major leisure developments in Blackfen because of the fear of being chased by gangs of troublemakers. Mrs Watkins had stronger words and said ‘Blackfen is a dump’.

So perhaps nothing changes?

[For the record, Blackfen did have its own cinema until 1956. And it did have a coffee bar in the 1960s but “it was closed down because of trouble with motorcycle gangs”].

Happy New Year 2017

2016 saw quite a few changes in Blackfen, some good and some bad. But let’s look on the bright side and hope that 2017 will see lots more good things!

Bexley Council removed Blackfen Library from its core library service. The library is now managed by New Community Church. It still has a range of groups and activities, plus a community cafe.

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Blackfen lost both of its banks: Barclays Bank at the corner of Wellington Avenue and Lloyds Bank in Gloucester Parade. Customers now have to travel to other town centres or use online banking, and it means there are two large empty premises in central Blackfen.

The good news is that a range of new shops have opened: Costa coffee shop and The Bagel Shop have added a different dimension to the cafés in Blackfen. The Beauty Lounge and The Little Gym might help with your New Year Resolutions. Posh Paws dog grooming parlour and Affix Windows may well bring in customers from further afield as well as from the local area. And opening soon is an indoor play centre and cafeteria.

Blackfen’s micro pub, The Broken Drum, celebrated its first year anniversary. Long may it continue!

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Blackfen Community Association meeting: 6 May 2015

A meeting of the Blackfen Community Association was held on Wednesday 6 May 2015 at 7pm at the Jolly Fenman.

The meeting began with apologies for absence from Cllr Peter Craske, Cllr Brian Beckwith and Joy Barnes (Treasurer).

Karen Mensa Bonsu, Chairman, explained the current situation regarding Blackfen Library. The Blackfen Community Association had submitted an application form to Bexley Council as an expression of interest to help manage the library from April 2016. Its preference would be to manage the library in partnership with another organisation. Four organisations had submitted forms, more than any of the other borough libraries which had been put out for community management. The news just in was that our Association had been shortlisted and we would have to submit a business plan by July. The final decision on who will manage the library will be made in November/December. Karen asked if any of those present would come forward as volunteers and/or had ideas about how they would like the library to operate.

Karen explained that the committee of the Blackfen Community Association had drawn up a constitution and opened a bank account. Those present were asked if anyone would like to become a member of the committee.

Next, those present were asked if they had ideas for improvements to Blackfen or if there were any events that could be held for the community. One gentleman pointed out that there were large numbers of ‘legal high’ gas canisters in alleyways lately and they were dangerous for cyclists. It was asked who might be selling them to under-age children and what could be done about them. A suggestion was made to contact the Safer Neighbourhood Team.

An apology was given on behalf of the Jolly Fenman for the lack of tea and coffee. Four funeral wakes that day had led to a shortage of tea and coffee-making facilities.

A thank you should be given to those people who have responded positively to the Association’s work in applying to help run the library and have expressed an interest in volunteering.

It should be noted that no councillors attended the meeting.