Politics in Blackfen

Bexley’s Local Elections take place on 3 May. Use your vote! This year’s 100th anniversary of votes for (some) women reminds us that we didn’t always have the opportunity. We don’t have any Suffragettes in Blackfen but Dame Ethel Smyth, OBE lived in nearby Sidcup and she devoted herself to the cause of women’s suffrage; she was also a female composer in a musical world dominated by men, and a prolific writer.

As the community in Blackfen developed in the 1930s a number of political organisations were established as the Labour Party and trade unions were growing in importance and the Conservative Party reacted to their rise.

The Blackfen Constitutional Association began with a meeting at the Woodman in April 1932. Mrs Packham, Chairman of the women’s branch, proved herself a great leader, starting with 15 members in early 1932 and almost 1,000 members by the annual dinner in November 1937. They held meetings, socials, whist drives, outings and talks.

Many of the early residents of Blackfen, who had often moved out from London, wanted to improve their lot in life through politics and trade unions. In 1931 there was no Bexley Labour Party group and John Cronin became committed to establishing one (he later became a Councillor and Mayor). The Ridgeway Residents Association tried to get people elected to the local council. The Ridgeway Estate became known as ‘Little Moscow’ because of all the Labour posters in the windows of houses.

The Blackfen Co-operative Men’s Guild and the Blackfen Co-operative Women’s Guild (men and women were always separate at that time!) met in the hall above the RACS Stores. They held horticultural shows, cake-making competitions and dinners.

I always think this must’ve been quite an exciting time in Blackfen’s history. Thousands of families had arrived in a new place in a very short space of time. They all wanted a new life and they worked together to make it happen.

The candidates for Bexley’s Local Elections on 3 May are shown here: http://www.bexley.gov.uk/sites/bexley-cms/files/2018-04/Statement-of-Persons-Nominated-for-Thursday-3-May-2018.pdf

 

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Doris Shipway and her photographs of the world

Doris Shipway was born in 1918 and lived in Burnt Oak Lane until she sadly passed away in 2014, but not before she had seen as much of this earth as possible. For anyone interested, here is a site put together of a collaboration of her travels.

Doris enjoyed travelling and photographing her trips. When she died, she left about 50 year’s worth of slides and various related documents. These have all been organised, scanned and publish here: https://wdeod.com/ What a lovely thing to do!

Sir Charles Martel visits Sir William Pryn

On this day, 15 April, in 1930 Brig.-Gen. Sir Charles Martel, CB and his wife Lilian, of Queenswood, Blackfen visited the home of Surgeon Rear Admiral Sir William Pryn of 3 Christchurch Road, Sidcup. Martel signed Pryn’s visitors’ book and indicated that the day on which the Martels were themselves ‘at home’ to visitors was Saturday.

In the early 1900s our area was a popular place to live for retired military families. I am always fascinated by the networking and friendships between them!

 

The Woodman, 1845-1931

The original Woodman Public House was built by George Staples, a publican and wood merchant, in 1845. At that time there were only nine families living in the hamlet of Blackfen, so he must have been catering for the passing trade on the road from Eltham to Bexley. After his death in 1859 his wife and son took over the running of the pub. There was a tradition that Charles Peace, a notorious burglar around southern London, frequented The Woodman and treated all the customers to a drink. (He was put on trial and executed in 1879).

From 1914 the landlord was John Alfred Harvey, a retired slaughterman who was known for keeping a pet goose. By 1930 it was clear that the old pub no longer met the requirements of the district – farmland was being sold off and hundreds of houses were being built. The new Woodman Inn was built in 1931, erected behind the old one so that business could continue – this explains why the present pub is at an angle facing the crossroads.

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’.

Michael Heaslip of Blackfen Farm

Michael Heaslip 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 also ran a pub there with his wife Margaret. He bought a farm in Blackfen as grazing for his horses and liked to use it as his weekend retreat! His granddaughter Kathleen used to help pick the strawberries (which grew where Bargain Booze is now!) and said they were the best she’d ever tasted. As they were Catholics they went to Mass in Sidcup on Sunday mornings, bringing back Father O’Knight for lunch and later playing cards round the dining table.

The farm was sold off for 1930s housing development, but it is fitting that Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Church was later built on land next to the Heaslip 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.

Cllr John Cronin

John Cronin was one of many people who came to live in Blackfen in 1931. He had lived in Islington but rents there were rising dramatically. At that time there was no Bexley Labour Party group and Cronin became committed to establishing one. This was a time when the trade unions were growing in importance and many of the new residents had an interest in politics.

Cronin became councillor for the Falconwood Ward in 1937 and later for St Michael’s Welling. He worked hard to assist those in need – some people who moved to Blackfen had over-reached themselves and couldn’t afford rents, food or clothing. When Cronin became Mayor in 1947 he and his wife Ellen regularly had to attend ceremonies and dances but they couldn’t afford extravagant clothes and as Mayoress, Ellen held her ‘at home’ at Danson Mansion rather than at their bungalow.

During the Second World War Cllr Cronin’s home became a centre for the distribution of gas masks and his garage was used by teams of builders repairing house roofs to store their tools. As one of the few people in the area with a telephone, he placed it by an open window so people could stick their hand in and use it. He was an ARP Warden and his duties included enforcing blackouts, directing people to shelters when the sirens sounded, reporting bombings and helping with the aftermath of an air raid.

John Cronin died in 1986 aged 84.

ARP warden recruit