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.

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”].