Beckenham Tourist Guide
Beckenham is a town positioned at the very north-west point of Kent. It is 8½ miles (13.5 km) south east of Charing Cross.
The town is well served by railway stations at Beckenham Junction, Shortlands, Ravensbourne, Beckenham Hill and New Beckenham. The A222, A21 and A2015 roads form a triangle around much of the area.
It is referred to as Bacheham in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name appears to derive from Beohha's homestead (Beohhan + ham in Old English). The River Beck was named after the town. The word Beck also means a stream in Middle English.
Iron Age, Roman and Saxon remains survive. The Roman road, which took materials from Lewes to London passed through Beckenham. Evidence of the road can be seen in Kelsey Park and the adjoining BeckenhamPlacePark. Druid worship was still being practised here when the Romans came, and the oak groves on Wickham Common are still claimed as possible sites of these open-air temples. A Roman Road passed through Beckenham in a direct line from Lower Sydenham, by Worsley Bridge Road, through Langley and on to Titsey.
Saxon remains have been discovered in the High Street and Beckenham's Parish Church, St George's, stands on a 6th century Saxon site rebuilt by the Normans. The Domesday Book of 1086 shows that Beckenham was owned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, half brother of William the Conqueror. It is claimed that somewhere in this area in 1067 the Men of Kent and Kentish Men, carrying boughs on their shoulders and swords in their hands, met William, Duke of Normandy and his forces. They offered peace if he would grant them ancient rights and liberties. Their request was granted, and ever since, the motto of Kent has been ‘Invicta’, meaning Unconquerable.
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 sons of the affluent Robert Langley who left funds in his will for the maintenance of St George'sChurch.
People from this part of Kent fought for Henry VII at the battle of Bosworth Field and entertained Henry VIII who often stopped at Beckenham on his way to see Anne Boleyn at HeverCastle. The wealthiest landowner in Beckenham at that time was Sir Humphrey Style of Langley and Langley Court still stands.
In 1773 John Cator became Lord of the Manor. When the railway arrived from London in 1857 the Cators realised that their lands could be ideal for residential development. Soon suburban villas were built out from the new station. As this market became full, the Cators turned to building lesser properties. The opening of Clock House station in 1890 encouraged the building of the estate of the same name filling the area to the west of Elmers End with the type of small terraced houses discouraged by the Cators, while the break up of the Kelsey estate from 1911 encouraged modern housing south of the High Street between the wars.
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 was 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 GeorgeInn.
In 1897 Enid Blyton's family moved to the town and young Enid enjoyed exploring the Chaffinch Brook. Enid's early books were all written in Beckenham. 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.
Beckenham's best years were between 1935 and 1965 when foremost industrial companies like Wellcome, Muirhead and Twinlocks had factories here. The High Street had a wide range of shops. Beckenham had its new Town Hall, cinemas and two hospitals. By the 1950s Beckenham was the largest town in Kent (75,000 - 10,000 more than Bromley). Today, it is a quiet suburb overshadowed by Bromley. Notable people buried in the BeckenhamCemetery include the cricketer Dr W G Grace, the plumber Thomas Crapper, and Wolseley the car manufacturer.
Just ten miles from the London, Beckenham itself suffered heavily during the Blitz. In 1965 it became part of 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.
Few towns in the county have more public places and open space than Beckenham. With its parks and sports grounds many people come to Beckenham from all over the borough, as well as further afield. It is a town with wide, well kept, tree lined, roads and large houses. Beckenham is one of the termini for the Croydon tram link. Beckenham is also only an hour away from Gatwick.
A church has stood on St George'sParishChurch site for some 900 years, since before the Norman Conquest. The current building is a splendid Victorian church. Set in the heart of Beckenham, at the corner of the High Street and Bromley Road and next to St. George's Green, St. George's is one of the few parish churches open throughout the day. Outside, in the churchyard the burial registers started in 1538 contain many interesting tombstones of Beckenham's historical famous - names such as TW Thornton, the former proprietor of the Beckenham Journal, and the Cator family. The Lych Gate or corpse gate is one of the oldest in the country and in an exceptional state of preservation. It was restored by the late TW Thornton, in 1924, in memory of his two sons who lost their lives in the Great War. The Lych Gate is thought to have been used for watchers, hidden in the beams and lying in wait for body snatchers.
Beckenham PlacePark in Beckenham Hill Road
is a large park with wide-ranging woodlands forming part of the South East of London's ‘Green Chain’. The Green Chain walk covers a 15 mile route through the park from Beckenham to Thamesmead. BeckenhamPlacePark is situated within the park. Tel: 020 8464 3333
Also here you will find Beckenham Place Park Golf Course which is an 18-hole 5,722 yard par 68 course for golfers of all abilities. It was fashioned from 1907 by the Beckenham Golf Club, from what was part of the parkland that once was owned by the Cator family. The Beckenham Golf Club constructed a clubhouse, Foxgrove, on the southern edge of the park and laid out a nine-hole course. The golf course was extended to 18 holes some time after the purchase of the park and mansion by the London County Council in 1927. It is best to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Tel: 020 8650 2292
Shortlands Golf Club in Meadow Road, Shortlands, is full of character and full of history. The club, which was formed in 1894, was unique at its inauguration as having been founded as a ladies' club. The course is a challenging one for all levels of player. Tel: 020 84646182.
Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum in Monks Orchard Road is a small museum relating to psychiatry, which contains pictures by artists who have suffered from mental disorder, including Richard Dadd, Louis Wain, and Jonathan Martin. There is also a little material relating to the history of BethlemHospital, (the original 'Bedlam') and the history of psychiatry. The archives of the BethlemRoyalHospital and the MaudsleyHospital are open for research by appointment only.
Containing over 20 miles of gloomy passageways cut by hand from the chalk, deep beneath Chislehurst, ChislehurstCaves are at Old Hill. Experienced guides take people on a 45 minute lamplit tour and tell stories of Druids, Romans and Saxons. You can see the tunnels which were famous as a shelter during WW2, the CavesChurch, Druid Altar, Haunted Pool and much more.
The Odeon Cinema is in the High Street Tel: 0871 22 44 007
Beckenham Theatre Centre is at 46 Bromley Road and is a lively local private members theatre that supports a full programme of productions, play readings and other events.
One of the major competitive performing arts festivals in the south-east of England is the Beckenham Festival. It is held during weekends in November each year and offers classes in Music, Dancing and Speech & Drama, with specialist adjudicators in all sections. There are around 500 classes to choose from, and as well as certificates and medals there are over 200 cups and trophies to be won, and many cash prizes and bursaries are awarded to successful competitors. Two ‘Musician of the Year’ competitions are held on the final Sunday.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015