William Willett (1856-1915), builder and inventor of daylight saving

Did you know that it was a Chislehurst house builder, William Willett, who first proposed daylight saving hours in this country?

When most people lived in agricultural communities, the sun rising earlier in the summer than in winter had not been a problem as people just shifted their habits according to the daylight. But by the end of the 19th century more people were living in towns and cities and working in offices and shops, and their daily routines were determined by the clock. On his early morning horse rides over Chislehurst Common William Willett noticed how many window blinds were still down. He realised that warm spring evenings were being wasted because it got dark early, so he came up with the obvious solution – to change the nation’s clocks, and in 1907 he wrote a pamphlet, ‘The Waste of Daylight’. This would also benefit golfers playing in the evening (he was a keen golfer!).

But it took nine years and a world war to persuade the Government to adopt his proposal. In 1916 an emergency law was passed to change the clocks twice a year, increasing war production, and this became permanent by the passing of the 1925 Summer Time Act.

Sadly William Willett died from influenza in 1915 before his idea was enacted. He is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chislehurst. There is a blue plaque on the wall of his house, The Cedars and a Willett Memorial sundial in Willett Wood. There is even a pub named after him in Petts Wood, the Daylight Inn.

It’s worth mentioning that the link between Blackfen/Sidcup and Chislehurst was once much stronger than it is now. The A20 cut them adrift, but large areas of Blackfen were owned up to 1915 by the Townshends of Frognal and Scadbury.

 

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.

First Aid Post

In 1939 a First Aid Post was built on the triangular plot of land at the corner of Sherwood Park Avenue. Kent County Council had already planned to erect a Maternity and Welfare Clinic in the Blackfen area and so it was agreed that they could be permitted to use it as a clinic in Peace Time. Not far away a Cleansing Station and Ambulance Station was built at Willersley Park.

There were quite a few public shelters, including trenches underneath the gardens of The Oval for 316 people. I spoke to someone who remembered chasing his friends around the tunnels as a boy, but it seems no-one ever actually used them as a shelter during air raids. Like many shelters dug in the ‘Black Fen’, they frequently flooded!

British Legion, Blackfen and Lamorbey branch

On Remembrance Sundays the British Legion would hold a parade at the Woodman before marching to the Holy Redeemer Church for a service. The Blackfen and Lamorbey Branch of the British Legion was formed in April 1937 to stand for the interests of ex-servicemen and at its peak membership was over one thousand. The branch finally closed in 2001 when membership had fallen to sixteen. There is still a Royal British Legion cross at Holy Redeemer Church in memory of those who fell serving their country.

Public air raid shelters in Blackfen

During 1938/39 there was a real fear by the authorities that if war broke out, bombing raids would cause mass casualties. Trenches were dug in parks to protect the public if they were caught out in a raid and couldn’t get to their own shelters.

Trenches were dug at right angles to each other, with earth walls reinforced with sandbags and a corrugated iron roof covered with a layer of soil. The roof was raised about a foot above ground level. They were not particularly safe. A direct hit or even a nearby bomb would probably collapse the whole shelter. They were also very unpleasant – smelly, unsanitary and waterlogged.

By October 1939 there were public shelters built or planned at The Oval, Penhill Park, Marlborough Park, Holly Oak Park and Willersley Park. The shelter at The Oval was designed for 316 people, but it immediately flooded and extra drainage had to be constructed. However, it seems no-one ever actually used the shelter during air raids. In Blackfen, people tended to have gardens with Anderson shelters (or if not, Morrison shelters), so they were much less likely to have to use public shelters in parks, unlike in London where most people didn’t have gardens. And most shelters dug in the ‘Black Fen’ were never going to be much use as they were often flooded.

As always, vandalism was a problem. There was damage and thefts from trenches in Holly Oak Park on 5 and 6 February 1940. Tools were stolen by five boys who were caught and charged, appearing in court on 20 February.

Today there is no trace on the surface of the trenches at The Oval. The entrance, which would have been in between the two rectangle sections, was blocked up.Oval_google satellite 2018_shelter

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

Listed buildings of Blackfen

LOCAL LIST

A locally listed heritage asset is a building or structure which is deemed to be of local architectural or historic interest and is included on the local heritage list drawn up by Bexley Council. There are several in Blackfen, and a few just outside which are so close it seemed a shame to omit them here. They make a positive contribution to the area’s local character and sense of place, and they are offered some level of protection by the local planning authority.

177-179 Blackfen Road (corner of Burleigh Avenue). Known as Westwood Cottages, or Maxwell’s Cottages, they were built in 1890 to house workers on Westwood Farm. A footpath led to the farmhouse which was at the site now occupied by the children’s playground at The Green.

George Staples pub, 271 Blackfen Road (formerly The Woodman). Built in 1931 by the architect, Kenneth Dalgliesh, it replaced an earlier pub on the site.

Edward VIII pillar box, Tyrrell Avenue. Only a small number of letter boxes were made during the short reign of Edward VIII in 1936 and after his abdication, most boxes bearing his cypher were modified or replaced. So a surviving one is a rare sight.

ARP warden’s shelter, Wellington Avenue, near The Oval. Used during the Second World War as part of a network of shelters for ARP wardens.

The Three Blackbirds pub, 118 Blendon Road. Licensed as far back as 1717, it was rebuilt after being gutted by a fire around 1900.

Blendon Lodge, 167 Blendon Road. The West Lodge, built in 1855/56 stands at the corner of Blendon Road and The Drive. It had four rooms and a garden and housed various staff of Blendon Hall which was demolished in 1934. (The East Lodge, built at the same time as the West Lodge, was at the corner of today’s Beechway and was demolished in the 1930s).

STATUTORY LIST

Listing of a building or structure on the national Statutory List marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations.

The Chapel House, 497 Blackfen Road – Grade II listed. Decoration giving the impression of a ‘chapel’ was added to the cottage when John Boyd of Danson acquired the parcel of land on which it was sited.

Jay’s Cottages, 1, 2, and 2a Blendon Road – Grade II listed. Jay’s Cottages, originally known as Blendon Villas, have stood in Blendon Road since the early 18th century to house workers on the Blendon Hall estate. They still have a lack of rear windows which was intended to stop the inhabitants gazing over the grounds of the Hall and invading the privacy of the Hall’s wealthy residents!