History of Sidcup
Sidcup and District U3A
Sidcup is often chosen as an example of the typical 1930s London suburb, but this ignores the fact that it has a long and interesting history. The oldest surviving references to the area are from the reign of King Henry III (1216 - 72), but it was probably settled long before this. The name is thought to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon name "Cetecopp" meaning 'seat shaped or flat topped hill'.
There has been a settlement at Sidcup since 1254, and the small hamlet was properly established by the late 1600s, sandwiched between the older villages of Foots Cray and Halfway Street. It grew slowly throughout the following two centuries to become a cluster of houses around the Black Horse Inn, which was established in about 1692, and the forge at the top of what is now Sidcup Hill. Ruxley Manor also dates from the 17th century, but the former St Botolph's Church at the top of its car park is 13th century. The large mulberry tree near the manor house dates from about 1610.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the area became very popular with the landed gentry and a number of substantial houses were built, including Foots Cray Place (1754), Sidcup Place (1743) and Lamorbey (1744). Foots Cray Place was of particular importance since it was the home of the one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nicholas Vansittart, Lord Bexley, between 1822 and 1850. The house burnt down in 1949 but the foundations and some of the gardens are still visible in Footscray Meadows, near All Saints Church. Sidcup Manor House - until 1832 called Place Green House - was built in about 1790.
Frognal is an ancient site considered to be one of the most important historical landscapes in the borough, with occupation dating back to the 13th century. Parts of Frognal House date to Tudor times, although it is mainly around 1670 with 18th and 20th century additions. The property remained in private ownership until 1915, and then became Queen's Hospital, later Queen Mary's Hospital and now converted as a residential care home for the elderly. Features in the grounds include earthwork remains of formal terraced gardens; 17th century kitchen garden walls; a turkey oak possibly planted in the 17th century; a ha-ha; remains of a yew walk; a 19th century oak avenue and other mature specimen trees in the Garden Shaw plantation.
The Hollies, now a private housing estate, was originally an old estate with a mansion called Marrowbone Hall. The new house and its outbuildings, built in 1853, were subsequently bought by the Greenwich and Deptford Board of Guardians in 1902 and turned into the Hollies children’s home and school, which it planned to be ‘a model home for orphans’.
By the time of the first Ordnance Survey 25th Edition in 1862, the area of the High Street between the Black Horse pub and the junction with Station Road boasted a police station, opened in 1845, and some terraced housing in Church Place. The Kent Directory for 1858 also lists a grocer, wood dealer, shoemaker, beer retailer, blacksmith, tailor and carpenter amongst the shops in Sidcup.
However, it was the coming of the railway in September 1866 as part of the Dartford Loop Line that dramatically spurred Sidcup’s growth. In tandem with housebuilding came the development of local amenities and services. Gas lighting arrived in 1882, mains drainage in 1883, followed by electricity in the early 1900s.
1882 seems to have been a key date for the area, with the cottage hospital in Birkbeck Road, Sidcup National School and the second St John’s Church all built in that year. (The present church was built in 1901.)
Soon after this, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, came the large-scale suburban development so typical of Sidcup today. Developers moved in to buy up large areas of land that had formerly been part of the great estates of the area. These were subdivided into plots and road upon road of housing was built to cater for middle-class commuters wanting to move out of London in search of a better quality of life in more 'rural' locations.
Many streets were laid out in the area north of the traditional heart of Sidcup around the High Street as the development engulfed Lamorbey and surged northwards towards Blackfen and Blendon. Typical of this type of develop- ment was the Penhill Park Estate around where Penhill Park now is.
In 1933 you could buy a three-bedroomed, semi-detached house with 'large gardens front and back' on this estate for £395 freehold.
The saturation of the area with housing had grim consequences after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Sidcup was right on the route of the German bombers and rockets as they flew towards central London and as a result the area suffered extensive damage, particularly in 1944 from V1 and V2 rockets.
The Sidcup area today is very much a product of the extensive building carried out during the 1930s, but some older buildings do survive to give a hint of the earlier history of the area.
The Dartford Loop Railway
Opened in 1866, the Dartford Loop is 9 miles 5 furlongs in length and runs from near Dartford to Hither Green; "loop", incidentally, is a railwayman's word for a line that takes a short cut). Kent's first main-line railway, the South Eastern Railway (or SER), reached Dover in 1844 by an ingenious route from London Bridge via Redhill and then along the 'grain' of the country. There were branches to Maidstone, from Ashford through Canterbury to Ramsgate, Margate and Deal, to Hastings from Tonbridge and Ashford, and a North Kent line through Lewisham along the Thames to Strood and on to Maidstone again. The directors were satisfied with the network and in 1856 resolved to close the capital account. However, when the value of the new form of transport had become clear, people in East Kent felt out of things and wanted a line up to Strood, and, to prove their point, they even built one, called it the East Kent Railway (EKR) and opened it from Faversham to Strood in 1858.
At the time, NW Kent was a delightful landscape on a poor soil, with woods, lanes poor farms, some villages and hamlets, and a few pleasant country houses. When the new EKR reached Strood the SER said their North Kent line was too busy to take the EKR's trains, so the EKR built its own towards London through St. Mary's Cray, changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) and finally reached Victoria (in the West of London in 1862 and the City (Blackfriars) in 1864. In the other direction, it had already worked its way to Dover in 1861 and so to a share of the SER's valuable continental traffic. By now the SER were roused so they extended their system too, and, at ruinous expense, built a terminus in the heart of the West End (Charing Cross, 1864) and another one in the city (Cannon Street, 1866). Countrywards, they extended their lines across (instead of along) the grain of the landscape - to Chislehurst in 1865 and so to Sevenoaks and Tonbridge (by a shorter route) in 1868. Part of all this huge construction was simply to keep the LCDR away from this part of the NW Kent: but we must go back again.
If (as it had originally wanted) the EKR had come up to Dartford along the North Kent line and then by its own route to London, it would still have needed something like a 'Dartford Loop' of its own and plans were indeed drawn up and presented to Parliament. But things were not to be. The SER, having bestirred itself, drew up plans for the present line, and also presented them to Parliament (along with a Bill) in February 1862. Parliament granted a First Reading three days later and in May a Committee heard objectors (they included a racehorse breeder at Middle Park Farm, Eltham); in June Queen Victoria assented to the use of Crown lands at Eltham and on 30 June she gave the Bill the Royal Assent - so it became an Act of Parliament.
The SER had already been planning the line from New Cross through Chislehurst to Sevenoaks etc, so all they had to do was build a line from near Dartford to Hither Green, using the valley as much as possible, missing any parklands, and avoiding much demolition - and that is what they did. Having got their Act, they ran the two plans into one and split things into three contracts (building the Loop was part of Contract No. 2.).
The contracts were placed in the spring of 1863, the land was bought during the summer, and next summer (1864) most of the navvying was done. (The line was probably built from both ends simultaneously). Being only a 'political' line it was built cheaply - to the annoyance of all later engineers.
The route leaves the North Kent line in a chalk cutting west of Dartford, makes for the Cray valley at Barnes Cray, cuts off a corner by going through the chalk again to Crayford, follows the side of the valley to Bexley, crosses from East to West on a brick viaduct, climbs steeply up the valley side partly 1/100 - still a severe test for locomotives - to a plateau of 'Blackheath Beds' at about the hundred-foot contour line, and then cuts through the watershed as best it may until the slight valley of the Quaggy is reached and finally the junction with the Tonbridge cut-off at Hither Green. The parklands of Eltham Lodge and Lamorbey Park were both neatly avoided and demolition was minimal - maybe 2 or 3 cottages. Double-track throughout, equipped with the electric telegraph, with five intermediate stations, (all with goods sidings) at Lee, Eltham, Sidcup, Bexley and Crayford, it was finally opened in pouring rain (and the beginnings of a national commercial crisis) on Saturday 1 September 1866. Considering the empty landscape, the service of steam trains was good - every two hours or so and a few extras for businessmen. Most of the trains went to Maidstone.
The effects were varied. Some of the poor farms could now import manure from London and produce better crops, but, with the Agricultural Depression, some poor land was used for a New Town at Sidcup. Lee grew up out of Blackheath, Eltham, Bexley and Crayford expanded a little, industry and commerce benefited at Crayford where gravel pits and brickworks were also later opened, merchandise came in to all the goods yards (the railway carried nearly everything) and animals, fruit, milk, farm and nursery produce were carried about, while coal became cheaper.
In 1899 the SER amalgamated with the rival LCDR to form the SE&CR; the (rather bleak) stations were improved with gas lighting and new signboards, and a few staff houses were built. In 1926 (following the formation of the Southern Railway) local passenger trains were electrified and their frequency improved. Stations, too, were refurbished. Farm leases were no longer renewed and many new housing estates were developed, though not all their new occupants worked in London or travelled by train. In 1935 a new station (without goods yard) was opened at Albany Park. New Eltham - originally called Pope Street - had been opened with a yard in 1878 and Hither Green in 1895. The main-line electrification of 1959-62 only indirectly affected the 'Loop' but steam traction was completely withdrawn by summer 1959.
On the freight side, goods yards became busier in the thirties but more traffic was moving by road and they were gradually closed and replaced by car parks in the sixties. (The Reception Sidings at Eltham/Mottingham, laid in during the 1914-18 war, fell into disuse about 1960). But the line continues to be used for freight including aggregates, bitumen, cement, coal, gypsum, household fuel, oil products, scrap metal - and mail. Finally, here are some recent figures showing annual usage: Lee 1.67million; Mottingham 1.3million; New Eltham 2.26million; Sidcup 2.98million; Albany Park 0.95million; Bexley 1.15million; Crayford 1.51million.
Rose Bruford College
A LIVING PAGEANT
18th June 2016
(Download a souvenir programme here)
Longlands Recreation Ground
© David Smith