Dominating the north west part of Blackfen used to be The West Wood, a surviving section of much more extensive ancient woodland. In the 1200s it belonged to the Lord of the Manor of Bexley, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was valuable, providing wood for fences, poles and gates, logs for fires and charcoal for fuel, and a great pond was stocked with 4000 fish. In earlier times local tenants would have taken their pigs to feed in the woods, but in 1284 there were complaints that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s systematic use of the woodland had taken away their ancient rights.
Labourers were employed to cut the wood and a ‘woodward’ was in charge of selling the wood to shipmen, coopers and brewers, transporting it overland to Woolwich or Erith to be sent up the river to London. The aerial view below (dating from 1932) shows the proximity of the River Thames (across the top). Also below are images of the Thames at Erith.
After the Reformation, ownership of the West Wood passed to Henry VIII. After being passed around a few times it was granted in 1621 to the University of Oxford to provide endowment for a professorship of history. By 1854 foreign imports of timber had made the woodland unprofitable and all the trees were dug up so the land could be used as a farm instead – Westwood Farm, which remained until 1930s housing redevelopment.
Blackfen’s oldest pub is re-opening on Thursday after a refurbishment. But who was George Staples (the pub name since 2008)? George William Staples was born in Knockholt, Kent in 1791. In 1814 he married Jane Maria Godsave and they had three children. George worked as an inn keeper and a wood dealer. He rented woodland in Bexley and was the landlord of the Blue Anchor pub in Bridgen 1838-1841.
In 1838 George Staples bought a cottage on the north side of Blackfen Road which he rented out. In 1845 he built the Woodman Inn (naming it after his occupation) and he lived there with his wife, a domestic servant and two lodgers. He also built more cottages alongside the pub which were rented out, providing an income for his family.
George Staples died on 24 January 1859. His widow Jane and their son William continued to run the Woodman for some years afterwards. Their son Michael ran the Tower Inn (later the Railway Tavern) in Bexley village.
In 1931 the Woodman Inn was rebuilt to serve the large number of new residents who had just moved to the area.
The Woodman in 1931, shortly before it was replaced by the new Woodman Inn.
The Woodman in 1906
George Staples pub, 2010
The Woodman in the 1950s
In 2007 funding from Natural England and Design for London provided for two studies on improving public access and enhancing the flow and wildlife habitats of the River Shuttle in Parish Wood Park. In Phase One 2008-09, access routes for residents were improved, making them clean, dry and safe. For Phase Two 2009-11, £400,000 was secured from the Mayor of London’s Priority Parks Scheme, in which Parish Wood secured the most votes in the London South East region.
On 10 November 2011 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, visited Parish Wood Park to see the improvements made to the park and how the wetlands area is being used. Pupils from Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School demonstrated the fun to be had in the new playground and took part in a pond dipping activity with the Mayor.
Boris Johnson visits Parish Wood