There is a long tradition of celebrating royal jubilees, weddings and coronations with the lighting of beacons. Over 2000 beacons will be lit throughout the UK and Commonwealth to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 70th year as our Monarch. Blackfen is taking part by lighting a beacon at 9.45pm on 2 June at the front of Premier Autocentres, 184-214 Blackfen Road. Join us for this historic occasion and pay tribute to her long service.
The 1933 Sidcup and District Free Press has an advert for Barber & Son bakers in Blackfen Road. William Barber opened this bakery with his son Andrew in 1932, and customers were enticed by the warm yeasty smell and the sight of iced buns. Bread was delivered to local residents on a bicycle-powered cart. The business was bought in 1949 by Frederic John Ayre and he installed his son Jack to run it. Eventually Jack bought the shop and named it J. Ayre.
I wonder how many loaves of bread and iced buns have been sold since then!
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.”
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).
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.
“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”].
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.
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!
The premises at 226 Blackfen Road (at the corner of Sycamore Avenue) has been a newsagent for almost its whole history. Most recently named ‘The Card Shop’, it closed earlier this year and is now being renovated.
H. Taylor Dining Rooms opened in 1931/2 when the parade of shops was built on Blackfen Road from Days Lane up to Sycamore Avenue. This was a pivotal moment in Blackfen’s history, as the farmland was sold up to developers for vast estates of houses to be built and, of course, shops were needed to serve the needs of new residents.
By 1933, the premises was called Taylor’s Dining Rooms and Taylor’s Newsagent, but by 1937 it had become just Taylor’s Newsagent. It was still there in 1944 and into the 1950s. The newsagent was run by Bob and Maureen in the 1960s (does anyone remember them?), later becoming known as ‘The Card Shop’. It is now being renovated by Affix Windows for a new showroom, and so starts a new era in the premises’ history.
And we have been treated to a rare glimpse into the shop’s history when the old shop sign was revealed!
The former builders’ merchant Homepride, which had closed, re-opened as The Beauty Lounge in April 2016.
Bexley Times reported on 6 June 2016: “A clock dating back to the 1940s has been put back into working order as a new business moved in. The Beauty Lounge moved into the former home of Homepride Builders on Blackfen Road at the turning for Sycamore Avenue earlier this year.
As locals showed concern for the building’s heritage, the new owners continued their redevelopment of the site by not only preserving the clock, but by getting it back in working order. Owner Claire Cousins said: “The clock has been there for so long and it has become quite a feature for everyone in the town. Once we took over there were people commenting on social media asking what would happen to the clock, so we told them that were renovating it with the rest of the building. It has the same clock face as before but changed the workings so that it can tell the time.”
The business owner, who has lived in Sidcup for nearly 30 years, originally opened the beauty parlour along the same road in 2013, but moved in to the new shop in April.