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Beckenham Heritage Group (Club/Society)
21 Broomfield Road,
Beckenham, Kent
tel: 020 8650 7347


Beckenham - The Home Front 1939-45
Beckenham has a rich heritage. Iron Age, Roman and Saxon remains exist. The Roman road, which took supplies from Lewes to London passed through Beckenham. Traces of the road can be seen in Kelsey Park and adjoining Beckenham Place Park.

Saxon remains have been unearthed in the High St. and Beckenham's Parish Church, St George's, stands on a 6th Century Saxon site rebuilt by the Normans. At that time we were close to royalty as the Domesday Book of 1086 shows that Beckenham was owned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, half brother of William the Conqueror.

Relationships with the monarch changed over the centuries and it was not only this year that we delivered a snub to the Royat Family. In 1450, local people joined the Jack Cade rebellion of 30,000 Kentish men against Henry VI. Among 22 men from Beckenham were a Robert Pain who became the Constable of Beckenham and Robert and Richard Langley son of the wealthy Robert Langley who bequeathed funds for the upkeep of St George's Church. This included a stretch of Bromley Road.

Loyal Beckenhamites fought for Henry Vfl at the battle of Bosworth Field in and entertained Henry VIII who would stop at Beckenham on his way to see Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle. The greatest landowner in Beckenham at that time was Sir Humphrey Style of Langley and a mansion, Langley Court, still stands.

In the 18th Century, Beckenham, just 10 miles from London, became the place of retirement of opulent merchants, bankers and persons of fame and fashion who bought, or moved into, some of the 14 mansions of the manors and estates.

The Clock House was owned by Sir Peircy Brett, who became Admiral of the Blue after a naval career which included seeing off Bonnie Prince Charlie. Later, Lady Byron lived in the mansion where she heard in 1824 of the death, in Greece, of her husband Lord Byron.

In the Manor Houses of Beckenham Place, Kelsey and Langtey, located on slopes of hills to avoid the regular floods in the village below, lived the Bunrell, Hoare and Cator clans. A Catherine Cookson type novel waits to be written about the lives, loves and cross breeding of these families.

Following the arrival of the railways, Beckenham's importance grew as it changed from village to town with London's middle classes moving in, buying plots of building land from local landowners. Between 1850 and 1900 Beckenham's population grew from 2,000 to 26,000. Charles Darwin's correspondence was addressed from Beckenham which chosen for the first airmail postal delivery by balloon in 1902. But parts of the old village remain: Beckenham's oldest school, Bromley Road infants: the adjoining almshouses; the Chancery Lane conservation area; the Copers Cope farmhouse and the George Inn.

In 1897 Enid Blyton's family moved to the town and in her formative years young Enid enjoyed exploring the Chaffinch Brook while her father related stories of fairies and leprechauns. Enid's early books were all written in Beckenham. In 1923 Beckenham's local hero, Torn Thornton, used his newspaper to rally support to save the town's showpiece, Kelsey Park, from developers. In 1932, Enid's nephew Carey was born in Beckenham and became a composer and writer whose work, like Enid's, is loved world-wide. Post war, two other world renowned artists, writer Jean Rhys and rock star David Bowie, both lived in Beckenham for five years.

Beckenham' glory years were between 1935 and 1965 when ft enjoyed municipal status, extended from the Crystal Palace to West Wickham, and its 60,000 population was greater than Bromley's. Major industrial companies like Wellcome, Muirhead and Twinlocks had factories. The High Street had a rich range of shops and the pavements thronged with people. Local swimmers represented Britain in the Olympics and world class stars warmed up on the courts of the Beckenham Tennis Club in the week before Wimbledon. Beckenham had its new Town Hall, cinemas, two hospitals. Notable people buried in the Beckenham Cemetry include the cricketer Dr W G Grace, the plumber Thomas Crapper, and Wolseley the car manufacturer.

Led by its Council made up of well known local people, Beckenham was well prepared for the six years of World War 2. Ten miles from the London, Beckenham itself suffered heavily during the Blitz and its firemen were to the fore in protecting the City when Hitler launched his blitz on the capital in an attempt to destroy the nation's morale. A moving account of the experiences of local residents in wartime Beckenham is given in Beckenham - The Home Front 1939 - 45 (see Books)

The bells tolled for Beckenham in 1965 when it was subsumed into the new London Borough of Bromley. Leisure is now the key to Beckenham's future. The new Spa complex is popular, local interest groups thrive and restaurant and pub chains have taken over the High Street. Beckenham has a rich heritage and, now, the tram link to entice visitors. A website, www.beckenham.net keeps an international readership informed about whats on in Beckenham.


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