Beckenham in old picture postcards volume 1

Beckenham in old picture postcards volume 1

:   Muriel V. Searle
:   Beckenham
:   Greater London
:   United Kingdom
:   978-90-288-4541-1
:   80
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

Levertijd: 2-3 weken (onder voorbehoud). Het getoonde omslag kan afwijken.


Fragmenten uit het boek 'Beckenham in old picture postcards volume 1'

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Postcards were the telephone calls of yesterday; a universal medium for conveying short everyday messages. Most householders kept a stock always to hand for this purpose, showing the fanrily's home town, or even their individual street; ideally, a card including their own house, marked with a cross by the sender in ink. Because these individual road views sold well, and therefore were extensively published, collectors can now build up a more comprehensive survey of any given town than would be possible through modern cards, limited to town eentres. Post Office practiee encouraged frequent use, with many collections and deliveries daily, It was possible to write a card in the morning and know it would be received within hours, especially on local services. For places like Beokenham and Shortlands one can thus build up a comprehensive record of their fermer appearance as country villages, and their later growth into suburbs. It is these two phases which are surveyed here; the third (their appearance since the Secend World War) lies outside the scope of this series of books. A suburb has been unkindly described as 'a town without a history' , but this is far from true. Every square mile of land has some sort of past, based on the principal landowners, and the farmers who tenanted the fjelds before they were built over. The very trees sometimes speak of history , by originating placenames. Family narnes and village landmarks also helped create the modern Beckenham street map by perpetuating such terms as Village, Eden, Foxgrove, Kelsey, Gwydyr, Cator, Albemarle, Copers Cope, Elmers End, Manor or Reetory ,

Beckenham's town name is variously attributed to its location: a ham or place by a beek or small stream; or else to one Beohha (Beohhahema), possibly pronounced as Becca - Becca's home or settlement, From a wild and lonely Saxon territory, where a handful of rough men lived by hunting and fishing. it progressed into a hamlet worthy of inclusion in Domesday Book, given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother, the odious Odo. By then it numbered a population of thirty and was worth f.9 in rates, Thereafter its growth was predictabie for an English country village; centred on the manors of Foxgrove and Beckenharn, and on a ehurch that was rebuilt more handsomely in the fourteenth century and dedicated - like its modern successor - to our patron saint, St. George, The powerful Cator and Burrell families emerged, leaving their mark in further modern placenames. But not until the 19th century did it really begin to move towards township, after the coming of railways; suddenly, it was too near Londen to escape progress, and its picturesque main street and lush meadows were doomed.

At the 1871 census the population was already 6,090 and the parish covered 2,881 acres: a 'pleasant suburban village (that) has lost much of its old-fashioned rusticity and seclusion since the opening of the railways'. A report of 1873 put the town's rateable value at f.72,373, and still rising; it added with accurate foresight: 'In all probability building would go on for many years in each of the four building eentres. ' The roads, in poor condition, urgently needed attention, not to mention sanitation, as local ditohes were

'frequently used for the reception of sullage' .

The half-town, half-country state lasted until the second great building boom of the 193Ds, again based on easy railway access: in this case, on recent electrification, bringing Beckenham even nearer, in journey time, to London. lts range of stations rivalled Croydon in number, including Beckenham Junction, New Beckenham, Beokenham Hill, Ravensbourne, Kent House, Clock House, Elmers End and Eden Park. The last countryside sank under a netwerk of new genteel suburban villas, many in mock- Tudor style, selling for between 1:600 and 1:800, compared with a mere 1:400 down in 'poor class' Catford. Some cost fl,ooo; 'They'll never sell them at that price,' said the critics, but sell they did, and now fetch anything up to 1:250,000.

The former surrounding hamlets likewise grew and were linked up, notably at Shortlands, Elmers End and Langley, whose separate identities disappeared. This great explosion of house building joined them to each other, and also to Beckenharn and Bromley, in one suburban sprawl, Of these, only Shortlands miraculously keeps something of its old character, where the main street is still called The Village. Though it straddles the former Beckenham/Bromley borders, with Oueen's Mead and The Village on 'the wrong side of the railway', this is only a matter of yards inside the surviving Bromley boundary stones (one placed hard against the north side of Hillside Road footbridge, and another against a house in Bromley Gardens), and Shortlands as a whole keeps a subtle allegiance to Beckenham. It grew very much in the spirit of the latter

emergent suburb, genteel and möneyed, and rich in huge Victorian mansions, quite different from the roads of artisan villas north of the railway.

Tradition even aseribes the pavements walked by Shortlands people to this old rivalry between two towns that are now one. Streets here and in Beokenham still tend to be pink paved, compared with commercialised Bromley's grey. Until modem local govemment changes, residents of such borderline areas as Valley Road and Oueen Anne Avenue paid some official bills to Beckenham Town Hall and ethers to Bromley, keeping a foot in each camp.

All these faoets of local life can be followed by colleering historie picture postcards, whose heyday Iasted from the accession of Edward VII through to the Second World War. After the war, the new universality of telephones, previously limited mainly to commerce and the newly-rich, eliminared their purpose as carriers of simple daily messages, and therefore also the wide scope of scenes portrayed. Which seems good enough reasen for turning back to that fascinating heyday period when rural Beckenham was changing faster than ever before, and its surrounding hamlets were caught up in its race towards modernity, destroying in a eouple of decades almost everything of historie worth in favour of road after wad of all-alike villas. Only through surviving pictures can we now savour the sight of horses and carts in these streets, pedestrians in flowing skirts and tight eorsets, and a pace of life that our generation has never known, and probably never will.


1. Modern residents sometimes find it difficult to visualise this place as a pretry little country town that might have been a hundred miles from London; yet this was its face within some old people's memories. This card shows not only the old woeden cottages (a fairly common postcard subject, but usually taken from the opposite angle), but also some of their mellow and gracious neighbours. The notion of commercialised shopping parades the whole length of the old High Street, with traffic and buses roaring past, would have seemed like a nightmare science fiction to the handfui of villagers gathered here. However, there are certain signs of change. The raad surface is comparatively smooth, and there are even pavements; yet a few decades earlier one Mr. Kick had needed to petition the local Works Committee for a pavement outside his shops; the work, costing all of i20, wasagreed.


2. 'Beckenham is rapidly developing into a great and populcus centre of modern suburban life and enterprise " wrote a journalist of 1892. Though plenty of countryside remained between here and West Wickham, westward towards Penge and eastward towards Bromley its suburbanisation was by then well-advanced. Here the mam street appears much as it looked up to the bombing of the 19408, whose aftermath of replacement buildings began the modem breaking down of traditional Beokenham. Waiting at the left is a breed now virtually extinct outside the newspaper trade: the suburban errand boy with his cycle, which carries a sign advertising his employer's name and business. The little shops and background block at right are intact; apart from something of the left foreground shops, everything else on that side is gone.

3. Modemism has destroyed much oftraditional Beckenham, but here it never had a chance: Hitler struck first, blitzing most of the right-hand side to nothing. The large bomb-site adjacent to St. George's - itself heavily damaged - long remained undeveloped, but has recently been grassed over and planted, under the old-world name of Beckenham Green. Part of the more distant block was replaced by modem concrete; a sectien of the new ground floor was until about 1984 ca1led The Golden Arrow: a public house named after the immortal glamour-train which once whizzed, under steam, beneath the adjacent bridge. It boasted the biggest pub sign for miles around, the complete top part of a genuine old style semaphore signal.

4. The two top pictures show best how Beckenham has changed; the High Street scene is unrecognisable now. The old arched building was then a popular curio shop. Charmingly dressed figures outside a Cottage Hospital that still looks cottage-like again suggest a distant country town rather than one barely ten miles from centra! London. This was a very early Cottage Hospital, opened in 1872 with just four beds to serve a tiny community of six thousand people; it admitted just twenty-six patients in its first year. For a mere sixpence (2lhp) a day all but the poorest could afford advice and treatment 'combined with a more Iiberal diet, ampler space, fresher air, and greater comforts than would be possible in their own homes'. By 1895 it boasted an operating room and seventeen beds. Even now, patients enjoy a pleasant outlook; as some wards overlook Croydon Road Recreation Ground (bottom right view).


5. A townscape filmed shortly after 1900, reasonably familiar still in its essentials: except for the total lack of traffic. A plaque here records the date of building the Public Hall, reading: 'This foundation Stone was laid by Sir C H Mills.Bart., MP, on the 13th October 1883.' At that period Local Government was expanding continuously to keep pace with the first of Beckenham's times offast growth. Untill872 the customary Vestry acted as a town council, after which civic affairs passed to a Rural Sanitary Authority, a Parochial Conunittee of 1874, and then to the more powerful Beckenham Local Board in 1878.

6. A leafy and more romanticinterpretation ofthe Public Hall and Old Council Hall, made specially interesting by horse traffic. The unusually tall stone milepost on the corner was almost wrecked some years ago by a nonstop vehicle, hit so violently as to be cut off below ground level. Being such a prized piece of local history , in a town that has let so much of its past vanish, it was replaced on a slightly less vulnerable site, on the opposite corner. At the time of this picture much of the old Beckenham remained which is lost today, including the stately Village Place and picturesque Parish Clerk's House.

7. 'The Baths Ouestion at Beckenham' occupied much local paper space when early in 1886 it was hotly debated: did Beokenham want or need a swimming bath? A 'meeting of ratepayers and owners of property' heard that n,275 would be the price of this facility, including the cost ofbuying land, which could not be recovered for nineteen years: the estimated first year's loss of f246 would mean an extra halfpenny on the rates. One major consideration was that pubtic baths had been tried on the Cottage Hospital site and failed; but not an actual swimming bath. The resolution that 'it is desirabie to establish public baths in Beckenham under the Local Board' was on this occasion lost by 30 to 68 votes, This view shows the baths as finally adopted and built.

8. A horse-bus trundles along the road from centra! Beokenham towards Penge, the only vehicle in sight. Before a direct bus Iinked Bromley and Croydon, commuters between those towns were compelled to take a slow horse-bus like this down through Beckenham to Penge, and there change to another horse-drawn vehicle for the onward leg to Croydon. Both stages seemed weary treks, especially when the lower deck was full, and passengers were forced to sit on the open top deck, whatever the westher or season. Those days linger on still in the bus conductor's regular cry 'Outside only!' (as an alternative to 'On top only!') even though the upper seats are no longer outside and unroofed. During the General Strike of 1926, when motor buses stopped, young secretaries and shopgirls werking in Croydon were expected, by hard employers, to walk all the way home to Beckenham, or even on to Bromley, until private transport could be arranged.

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