Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Do we have more in common with Beckenham than we think?

An article included in the programme of the recent “Fanfare for Beckenham Concert” points out the very strong and often neglected historic links between our own area and Beckenham:

Where do you think you are?

Earlier this year, the Deputy Chairman, of the Bromley Local History Society, Michael Rawcliffe told members that the evolution of place and street names over time make it very difficult for family and local historians to locate where their ancestors lived in the past.

Today, it is similarly difficult for many of us to offer a definitive reply if asked “Where do you think you are?”

In June last year those eligible to vote among the 44,000 inhabitants of the Crystal Palace, Penge and Cator, and Clock House wards of Beckenham found that they were voting for a Lewisham MP. By this definition they were no longer part of Beckenham. For those with a sense of place and very happy with being part of the community in Beckenham, this change came as a great shock, even though the change to the parliamentary boundary had been muted for almost ten years.

The irony of this change was that another huge part of the former Cator estate lands is now in the Parliamentary constitution of Lewisham. It required an Act of Parliament in 1773 to legally transfer the ownership of most of Beckenham to the 5th John Cator. He adopted the title of Lord of the Manor and built a Mansion in the 100 acres or so of his private lands, now known as Beckenham Place Park. With the formation of London County Council in the 1930s, the Park was divided between Lewisham and Beckenham. With the coming of the Greater London Council and Boroughs in 1965, the whole of the Park became part of the London Borough of Lewisham.

But if you live in the road called Beckenham Place Park which is the route from the Beckenham end of Southend Road, you live in Beckenham.

Even before the Parliamentary boundary change, some people moving into parts of West Beckenham have been confused as many roads have either an SE 20 postcode (instantly thought of by outsiders as being in Penge) or SE 26 postcode (in Sydenham).

The biggest annoyance to many in Penge and Beckenham today, is the repeated reference to the Crystal Palace having been built in Sydenham. The map below shows clearly that grounds of what is today called Crystal Palace Park to where Paxton’s Palace of the People was transferred in 1854 was 70% in Penge and 30% in Beckenham.

Since I retired in 1998, I have advocated that Beckenham’s heritage and its community groups offer the best of everything. I have mellowed my views and increasingly I am reminded that Beckenham is not an island and that its history and future are interwoven with its neighbours.

Beckenham and Penge have been closely linked since the early 1900s. Until 1910, Penge’s main shopping area was in Beckenham Road (i.e. in the road to Beckenham). Penge people would travel to Beckenham to the library, to the swimming baths, to see international tennis at the pre-Wimbledon tournament in Foxgrove Road. Beckenham folk went to Penge for its three department stores, choice of cinemas and to be educated: the Beckenham Boys County School (now Langley Park boys) was in Penge.

Many Beckenham boys won scholarships which entitled them to places in public schools like Dulwich College or St Dunstan’s College in Lewisham.

In the north of Lewisham is Deptford named after a ‘deep ford’ across the river Ravensbourne where it meets the Thames. Most of Lewisham’s waterways are fed from the rivers of Bromley, including the Beck and the Chaffinch, so important in the childhood of Carey Blyton and his aunt, Enid Blyton whose father was born in Deptford.

Henry VIII established the royal dockyard in Deptford in 1512. The yard built and refitted the ships of famous seafarers like Captain Cook, Captain Kidd and Sir Francis Drake. Queen Elizabeth 1 knighted Drake aboard the Golden Hind on completion of his voyage round the world in 1581.

Admiral Sir Peircy Brett of the Clock House, Beckenham, gave Lieutenant Cook the orders for his first circumnavigation of the globe in 1768. As a Lieutenant, Brett had sailed round the world in Anson’s voyage 1740 to 44.

Other famous seamen associated with the Beckenham neighbourhood were Shackleton, who lived in Sydenham, and Fitzroy who moved to Crystal Palace after navigating Darwin’s Beagle. In his years at Down House, Downe, the first of Darwin’s 9,000 letters to the UK and abroad were routed through the Albemarle Road Post Office in Beckenham. To avoid the long delays due to his incoming post being sent to Northern Ireland, Darwin changed his letter headings to read Down House, Beckenham, Kent ….. so his colleagues knew where he was.

After WW2, Joseph Procter opened a music shop in Bromley High Street and in 1967 he formed the Lewisham Concert Band which found fame on BBC radio during the 70’s and 80’s. Now it is under the musical direction of Leslie Lake (formerly bass trombonist with ENO). Les attended the Beckenham County School, cycling both ways from Bromley South. He conducted the superlative playing by the band in the Fanfare for Beckenham grand charity concert in St George’s Parish Church, on March 26th.

The concert raised over £900 for charity and thanks are due to the Sydenham Society who, among others, publicised the event in their E-newsletter. One of the recpients of the funds raised was St Christopher’s Hospice which was opened in that part of Beckenham, now Bromley, which has a SE26 postal address.

This is yet another example of this thesis about where we think we are. I am proud to have lived in my town since 1965 but I believe that Beckenham is not an island and that its history and future are interwoven with its neighbours.”