Orpington in old picture postcards

Orpington in old picture postcards

:   Muriel V. Searle, Johnn and Kathleen Warner
:   Greater London
:   United Kingdom
:   978-90-288-5882-4
:   80
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Orpington in old picture postcards'

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Orpington's story from prehistorie to modern times has been written-up several times recently, sa why waste paper on another repetition? In the present context it se ems more appropriate to concentrate solelyon that peri ad of rapid development which coincided with the invention and heyday of the picture postcard: the reigns of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, and the first years of George VI until the Second World War changed the world yet again. Bath visually and commercially, this one-time village altered more rapidly during those four decades than at any other time throughout history, even the time of the coming of steam. It was the next two major inventions - electricity and the car engine - which between them destroyed a village and created a suburb.

Rapid rail transport in the farm of Southern Electric c1inched modern commuting; people who thus thought they could work in London and live in the country found that, because thousands more acted exactly the same, they themselves had destroyed that very countryside. For them the innumerable semis and villas of Orpington and Petts Wood arose from nowhere in the Twenties and Thirties, until scarcely one open field remained. Similarly, swifter delivery of goods and products by bath rail and road encouraged new industrial growth, requiring yet more houses for yet more workers. Improved electric street lighting enabled people, by the early 1900s, to follow more active evening activities than village-hall 'hops'; cinemas and dance halls opened for this Twenties' generation of mockTudor dweIlers. Radio and the gramophone brought artists from Henry Hall to Toscanini into their new bay-windowed parlours, and new ranges of goods for ever more new shops to seil: records, valves, sheet music, electric radiograms and speakers.

The telephone, toa, changed lives and businesses. But through the first few 20th century decades this expensive modern gadget could generally be afforded only by businesses, public offices, and large households; most ordinary people relied on penny-inthe-slot call boxes rather than having their own phones. For this reason the ha'penny or penny postcard kept until the Thirties its Edwardian universality as a means of conveying petty family trivialities across the miles. Numerous postal collections and deliveries, from breakfast-time to early evening, made it practicabIe to ask a question by local postcard in the morning and to receive a reply befare nightfall. As many housewives kept stocks of local views always to hand in a convenient drawer, they achieved sales in thousands, even when the location was geographically very lirnited: collectors today can achieve an almost complete road-by-road record of a town because, from about 1910 onwards, nearly every ordinary suburban street was sold by the nearest stationer. The Twenties' and Thirties' explosion of suburb-building encouraged postcard publishers to mushroom; the owner of the average new f400 to f650 semi was a potential customer for as many copies of an appropriate postcard as he had friends and relatives, each sent off with an inked cross on the front and 'X shows our new house' written on the back. Without the phone for describing the thril! of sudden mortgaged ownership, the postcard view was an ideal way of accurately informing relatives, cheaper than a snapshot.

Then, of course, there were the High Street and the church, the park and the pub, to send next time there was a message to pass on, again encouraging huge numbers of loeal views to be published. Today they are a precious record of Orpington changing, and changing again, and of old things then still c1inging to the last of their lives; aasthouses at Mayfield, cottages where are

now supermarkets, and cinemas that were the latest thing in mass entertainment, yet are themselves now as much vanished into history as the world of Domesday. Some show a half-way stage, like the War Memorial with only three lions, one facing each road, because the fourth (Spur Road) as yet did not even exist. Most of the private shops and businesses in the High Street views are, likewise, known to us only through these ephemeral pictorial records.

One speculates whether an older Orpingtonian looking around hirn between about 1919 and 1939 feIt the same as a Bromleian of the 1990s, watching everything he had always known being almast simultaneously torn down around his bewildered ears; reluctantly admitting that some of the changes -like a pleasant cheap night out at the 'flicks' - were not a bad acquisition, yet bewailing the overall effect that was taking away for ever the grace, character and personal touch of the past.

Just a glance at a typical week in a local paper of the early Thirties is enough to confirm the huge gulf already standing between new and old Orpington; only 23 years earlier the same community could still be described as a village surrounded by fruit farms and hop gardens, with whole fields of strawberry beds sloping up almost to the station itself, and acre on acre of blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries, where, by 1930, the only straight furrows were new suburban roads, whose crops were almost-all-alike new houses.

People were more worried by the straight-laeed Parish Council's refusal to open the Orpington Palace for Sunday entertainment than about farming matters; though some, at least, did spare a thought for the madness of fast development threatening to obliterate everything of the past, like some 17th century premises then owned by the Greig grocery chain. But fewer

cared that ancient Poverest Farm, all 116 acres of it, had just been sold; not to another farmer but - inevitably - to another developer for yet another housing estate. Compared with the sheer scale of housing development across mile after mile of farmland, creating one vast circle of suburb joined to suburb right around London, our current redevelopments reeede almost into harmlessness. Only the Victorian suburb-building boom in the wake of steam railways and steam-driven industry which created the inner suburbs, has ever yet matched its electrified counterpart between about 1925 and 1939. Such a small span of time to change landscapes that had been more or less constant since the Romans farmed their now recently rediscovered estates at Crofton and other nearby sites.

The following pictures, taken mainly from the collection of Kathleen and John Warner of Crofton, perfectly iIIustrate these two contrasted Orpingtons packed into scarcely half a century; the earlier ones showing its final days as an Edwardian country village as yet unaware of the huge changes about to engulf it; the later examples the sort of shops and businesses that were, at the time, the latest improvements, but are themselves now consigned to history.

Today, Orpington is still there, but looking different again. Perhaps one might compare the phases of a town's growth with a succession of contrasted monarchs' reigns - the King is dead, lang live the King - Orpington is dead, long live Orpington.

September 1994

Muriel V. Searle

1. The ideal place to start a tour of yesterday's Orpington is from the pond where the High Street begins. The tranquil scene in this postcard sent in 1907 shows the top of the new working meri's club peeping over the bushes on the right. Opened in 1902, the club had a short life, the building being converted into a roller-skating rink by 1909. That craze soon passed and the Orpington Picture Palace opened here in 1911 to entertain, educate and provide courting facilities for nearly fifty years. The attractive Victorian homes (still standing) formed part ofElm Terrace, named after the fine trees that lined the road until having to be felled not long before this picture was taken. The whole scene delighted the writer of the postcard who exclaimed: 'Lucy, this is lovely. Much better than selling pennyfarthing gloves!' (KJW)

2. An Edwardian guide baak describes Orpington as being 'the village of rising springs' and some of these springs form the souree of the River Cray here at the pond, now part of Priory Gardens. Victorian directories warned that the flow from here was 'sa great as aften to flood the villagc'. By 1905, when this postcard was sent, the pond was na langer needed for drinking water, except by thirsty animais. However, it still had its uses, as this view shows. The boilers of steam traction engines could be filled up and wagons were driven through the waters to tighten their axles. Harses eased aching hooves here whilst children paddled and fished. The pond's main Iunction, though, was to send the River Crayon its way to Hodsoll's MiJl opposite and the important industries lining the river's banks in the Cray villa ges. (KJW)

3. The residents of roads behind CarIton Parade will be surprised to see how their land looked prior to 1930. The Domesday Book lists a mill on this spot and this building itself is mentioned in a document dated 1634. The millpond was fed by the River Cray flowing from the Priory Pond opposite. The Hodsoll family owned the mill during its final years. In the 1870s Edward HodsolI was grinding corn, growing watercress and even selling insurance here. He then concentrated on dairy farming around the mil! and opened a shop in the High Street in 1885. A customercould choose the milk from any ofthe 30 t040 cows at the farm- 'Guaranteed for the Nursery or Invalids'. The old buildings were demolished in 1935 to make way for Morrell's new housing estate. ;[500 cash or f2.50 monthly would buy a 'Luxury Labour Saving' home. (KJW)



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4. Not a postcard, but the programme and early 1920s posters give an interesting flavour of Orpington 's first cinema. Opened in 1911 and seating 400, the Palace is remembered with great affection by older locals. Renamed the Carlton in 1951, the picture house closed in September 1959 and was subsequently demolished. On August Bank Holiday 1914 the Palace was showing 'Dick Turpin' plus a Keystone Cops comedy and four other films; admission 3d and 6d, tuppence extra for reserved seats. The next day the Great War broke out and soon the cinema's posters were boasting: 'No fear from air raids. At least20 minutes warninggiven before any actual attack can take place.' In fact, the building remained unscathed until the next Great War, when a bomb destroyed three shops on adjoining Carlton Parade in September, 1940. (KJW)

5. The Baptists in Orpington, it seems, have long been -in the language ofyesteryear- 'a go-ey lot', meaning always on-the-go and with a lively weekday as weil as Sunday life. Interestingly, as far back as 1908, we have an example of very early ecumenism between them and what was then the Congregational (now URC) movement. In that year the Orpington Baptists' choir, augmented by additional singers, migrated to Pratts Bottom Congregational Mission Chapèl for an evening of choral and piano musie attended by members of both congregations. Skipping thirty years to 1930, another illustration of the strength of the Baptist church locally is found in a Christmas newspaper report. As weil as having a packed congregation for one seasonal service, the Minister also had the duty of taking no less than eight baptisms between the first and last hymns. (MVS)

6. The Coronation of King George V took place on 22 June 1911 and the 'District Times' reported that 'Orpington celebrated the historie event in no uncertain manner. A loyal enthusiasm marked the day's proceedings from early morning till nightfall'. At one o'c1ock the procession started on its way from Perry Hall with banners flying, marching to the musie of the London Carmen's Trade Union Band. Army TerritoriaIs, the Fire Brigade and Boy Scouts were followed by decorated cars filled with children dressed as nursery rhyme characters. They circled the Lower Road area and then went past the pond and the new shops beyond (seen here). Continuing along the High Street with shops covered in flags, they turned back at Station Hili and then passed through a triumphal arch at Church Hili emblazoned with the words 'God Save The King'. (KlW)

7. The processions ended at Newell Meadow and the neighbouring Priory Grounds which were festooned with hundreds of Chinese lanterns and fairy lights. Here, children and 'veterans of the parish' feasted and sports and concerts followed in the meadow. In the evening there was dancing on the Priory lawns which 'had a haunting charm when the vari-coloured devices were lighted up ... and the day's rejoicings concluded with a glorious display of fireworks', Two Coronation concerts had already been performed by children fromChislehurst Road School a week earlier. Held after dusk on the tennis ground opposite Mr. Hodsoll's mill. the ground was iIIuminated by powerful motor car lamps lent and manipulated by Mr. Tremain and Dr. Bailey's chauffeur. The audience sat on chairs borrowed from the nearby Picture Pal ace. (KJW)

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8. The buildings on the left side of this postcard sent in 1906 are still mostly intact and remain an important reminder of a Victorian shopping parade. 'Rose Cottage' opposite was built in 1690 and you can see the four good reasans why it was renamed 'The Limes' befare Joseph Popplewell and his family taak up residence in 1853. The Popplewells taught at the British School, the tall building which had been built next door in 1841. The family stayed for over fiftyyears, son John running the adjoining drapers shop th at looked on to the High Street. Inevitably, the junction became known as Popplewell's Corner. Prior to demolition in the 1970s, it was allegcd that the cottage was haunted. A member of the Wiles family of furnishers who lived there from 1919 to 1934 scoffed at the stories, saying 'The only noises we heard were the rats'. (KJW)

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