Cycling in Blackfen

Once the Christmas excess is over [I say as I’m tucking into a Chocolate Orange!], will you start to think about New Year’s Resolutions? Perhaps you’re aiming to take up more exercise? 100 years ago cycling was very popular. Cycling clubs were established and the working class found freedom on their bikes in the countryside. Of course, stop-off points for refreshments were needed, and on the north of Blackfen Road opposite Days Lane stood the Cyclists’ Rest tea room and dining salon. In the photo below which has the RACS Stores and Days Lane on the left, you can just make out the sign for ‘Teas’ on the right hand side.

Blackfen Road 1935_RACS

By the 1930s the residents of Blackfen cycled out of necessity rather than pleasure, as it was cheaper than paying for trains or trams. Garth Groombridge sold bicycles from his home at the Chapel House. In Blackfen Road close to Sycamore Avenue, Alfred Lockyer had a shop selling bicycles and electrical goods, and opposite was Wrights’ radio, cycles and electrical. Charlie Ryan had a cycle shop at 21 Wellington Parade (later Argent’s, and in 1974 it became Garozzo; it is now Sondel Yamaha). Bicycles were also used in the 1930s for deliveries of newspapers and bread, and tricycles were used to sell ice-cream.

Groombridge 1949

A Cycle Speedway was set up on a field next to Blackfen’s cinema in Westwood Lane around 1951. The Blackfen Wheelers Cycling Club was formed in 1952 and their club runs into Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex started at the Woodman Inn. But both had folded by the late 1950s.

And then of course cars came along…

Blackfen gets Christmassy!

Blackfen’s Christmas event takes place on Saturday 8 December at Blackfen Community Library: Christmas Choir from 12pm, Christmas crafts and face painting from 2pm, Santa’s Grotto 2.15-4.15pm. And at 4.30pm the Mayor of Bexley will switch on Blackfen’s Christmas lights. Don’t miss it!

George William Staples

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 Three Blackbirds

Public houses are often the oldest surviving buildings. Someone recalling a walk from Danson Road to Avery Hill in 1913 said, “we walked along the Blackfen Road, which seemed to be in the heart of the country. There were fields on each side of the road where sheep were grazing and on the left we could see the countryside for quite a distance. Apart from a few small cottages, the only buildings we passed were two public houses, The Three Blackbirds and The Woodman”.

The Three Blackbirds was licensed as far back as 1717 (says Jim Packer in his book, Bexley Pubs) but was virtually rebuilt after a fire in the 1890s and has had later extensions.

The bus is going from Bexley to Piccadilly Circus. This route was not meant for local journeys but for excursions for Londoners into the countryside.

Three Blackbirds 1900

Leechcroft in Carshalton

Look familiar? These roads are actually in Carshalton, Surrey. This estate was built by Charles Richard Leech who was also a linoleum maker. He had designed a floor-covering which was of improved quality and cheaper to manufacture than before, and his success meant that he could buy up large areas of land for redevelopment in the early 1930s. In Blackfen he built hundreds of houses on what had been Westwood Farm, Heaslip’s Farm and Queenswood and he also built houses in Old Farm Avenue, Sidcup and the Kingswood Estate in Swanley.

Leech’s 1930s houses and bungalows are still serving us well in Blackfen – although many have been extended and altered, but I would think the original lino flooring in the houses he built is long gone!

Lamorbey House

The history of the Lamorbey Estate is closely intertwined with the history of Blackfen.

In 1608 the Goldwell family’s Lamorbey estate included a 54 acre farm at Blackfen. This later got passed around as fortunes rose and fell. In the 18th century landowners bought up parcels of land to convey their wealth, political power and social status. William Steele enhanced his Lamorbey estate by buying up land in Blackfen in 1745. But it worked both ways: when Robert Owen Jones died and his Blackfen home was put up for auction in 1861 a key selling point was the fact that the property adjoined big estates like Lamorbey and Danson. Estate agents were at work even then!

And when Blackfen’s Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1967 it was Lt-Col G. I. Malcolm of Poltalloch (a descendant of the Malcolms of Lamorbey) who laid the foundation stone.

The Grade II listed Lamorbey House (now the home of Rose Bruford College) is open to visitors as part of Open House next Saturday 22 September 10am-3pm. https://www.bruford.ac.uk/news-events/events/lamorbey-house-part-of-open-house-london/

Lamorbey_House

 

Townshends of Scadbury and Frognal

Glamorous landlords! One of Blackfen’s farms, on the east side of Days Lane, was owned from the early 1800s by the Townshends, including the politician John Robert Townshend, 3rd Viscount and later 1st Earl Sydney. The family also owned fields in what is now the Boundary Road area. They lived at Scadbury in Chislehurst and later at Frognal House. All the land was sold off as part of the vast Frognal and Scadbury estate in September 1915.

Each year there is an Open Weekend at Scadbury. You can see excavations of the ruined remains of the medieval manor house and moat, plus WWII defences. There is a self-guided tour of the site and there is a bookstall and refreshments. It takes place this year on 15 and 16 September 2pm-4.30pm. Well worth a visit. http://www.odas.org.uk/open-weekend/

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

 

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!

Forbidden Fruit at Blendon Hall

Just along the road from Blackfen stood Blendon Hall, a large country villa built in 1763 on the site of a much earlier building. When the banker John Smith, MP lived there he decided in 1816 to redesign the hall and re-landscape the gardens. Fences were erected around the estate, but around the new fruit garden “a more substantial guard against man must be provided and brick walls are the best security”. Was he worried about the people of Blackfen helping themselves?!

Incidentally, there were reports around 1900 of people in Blackfen being caught blackberry-picking – it was an offence to trespass and take the fruit!

Blendon Hall was demolished for a housing estate in 1934.