Famous people and places

Enid Blyton
People who have been enchanted by Enid Blyton books will find themselves surrounded by memories of the famous children’s author, who lived in five different homes in Chaffinch Road, Clock House Road, Elm Road and Westfield Road. All the buildings have remained virtually unchanged from 1897 when Enid arrived as a baby. At the end of Elm Road is the Baptist Church where she was baptised and the church hall where she attended Sunday school. Not far from here is her infant school and the Chaffinch Brook where Enid went on nature walks with her father. Visitors can hear the story of Enid Blyton’s life in Beckenham during tours given by local historian, WBRA member Cliff Watkins.

David Bowie
Fans of the iconic musician, actor and former Beckenham resident David Bowie, who was 65 this year, can walk in the footsteps of their hero in Croydon Road Rec. In August 1969 he organised a Free Festival  when he performed on the bandstand. Two years later in 1971, he sat on the same bandstand and wrote the lyrics for Life on Mars (used as the theme tune for the 1970’s thriller series of that name).. He lived in Foxgrove Road in the late 1960s before moving to the Victorian Gothic mansion Haddon Hall, in Southend Road.  A plaque on the Three Tuns pub (now a Zizzi restaurant)  recalls when Bowie was joined there by other musicians in Arts Lab events. The hairstyle of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust was created by a stylist who worked in the Evelyn Paget hair salon in Beckenham.

Art Deco Cinema
Film lovers are well catered for by the modernised Odeon cinema in the High Street.  And every September during the London Open House weekend, the ‘Regal, as it is still known by many locals, allows access to reveal  its unaltered Art Deco interior decorations from days gone by. Local composer Carey Blyton performed  there in the 1950s.

Parks and Open Spaces
Although close to central London, Beckenham has several areas of parkland. In Kelsey Park, the landscaped gardens and lake attract many forms of wildlife and there are tennis courts, a crazy golf course, plus a café and children’s playground. Beckenham Place Park includes an 18-hole golf course and forms part of London’s Green Chain. Beckenham Green, created from the ruins of the original heart of the town destroyed by doodlebugs in 1944, hosts events during Beckenham’s annual festival. Beckenham Green is an open space created to keep alive the memory of the civilians who died and suffered on the Home Front in Beckenham during WW2

Adjacent to Beckenham Green is
St George’s Church, built by local architect Gibbs Bartleet in the 1880s. It replaced an earlier place of worship on the same site and artefacts saved from this original medieval building can still be found throughout the church. Look out for the striking stained glass windows designed by local art teacher Thomas Freeth. The church is a venue for an arts festival and other events throughout the year stahed by local residents celebrating Beckenham’s Famous.

Beckenham Cricket Club, one of north-west Kent’s best multi-sports and social clubs with facilities for tennis, hockey, squash, and running, all supported by an active social section.  Decades before Wimbledon  champions (used to hard courts elsewhere) adjusted to grass on the the  Beckenham CC courts, a notable cricket hero, W G Grace, took his team to play on the very fine cricket square.

Art Gallery
30 paintings and letters already by Richard Dadd (1817-1886) are on display, at The Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum in Monks Orchard Road. The gallery/museum records the lives and celebrates the achievements of people with mental health problems.

The Studio

At a time when  Sir James Dyson tells us that Britain is sinking into a ‘third world status’ in engineering skills, HMG might usefully research of the beautiful  Grade 2 listed building in Beckenham Road  which opened as a Technical Institute in 1901. The government of the day taxed the whiskey distilleries to raise funds  to build schools that gave pupils a wider education than classics to train men with skills to keep up with industrial competitors like Germany and the USA  The Beckenham ‘whiskey school’ was a great success . Among its pupils were Harold Bride, the radio officer, the hero of the Titanic Disaster in 1912 and Captain Rogers one of the most successful pilots of the UK’s fledgling  aircraft industry.

Elmers  End Cemetery or ‘Beckenham Cemetery and  Crematorium’ or, to give it its original title,  the ‘Crystal Palace District Cemetery Co.’

By Ellen Barbett

It covers 50 acres  and was opened in 1876. But why here,  sandwiched between a railway line and a sewage works? My guess is that  the answer to that could be two fold. The  arrival of the Crystal Palace a couple of  miles up the hill, 22 years earlier had resulted in the growth of a wealthy  population living in houses up on the Sydenham Heights and all the way down to  Sydenham, Anerley, Beckenham and Croydon. The local churches and burial grounds  were becoming unhealthily full.

And the other  reason?

Privately owned  cemeteries were big business in the middle of the 19th Century. The ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries, privately created and funded, had been opened  around London between 1833 and 1841. West  Norwood Cemetery, opened in 1836, was known as the Millionaires cemetery for the  opulence and grandeur of its memorials.

So, maybe the Joint  Stock Cemetery Company Ltd who purchased  48 acres of land for the purpose of  a new burial-ground, to be opened nearthe Crystal Palace’, had found a gap in the market.

From The Penny  Illustrated Paper, 17 July, 1875’

‘One such place is  shortly to be opened in that quiet, beautiful slope about a mile on the southern  side of the Crystal Palace, between Anerley and Elmer’s End railway stations, a  space bounded on the southern side by South Norwood. It is to occupy forty-one  acres, and has already been made over to a company, who allege that a new  cemetery there has become necessary because of the Croydon Burial Board having  reserved their cemetery for exclusive use of the parishioners. There is very  little doubt that the undertaking will be commercially successful, for within a  circle of less than four miles of this place there is a population of some  125,000; and some existing cemeteries are amongst the best investments in the  share market, even though, in the nature of things, they are of terminable  value’.

And from Punch, May  16, 1874’


Another argument  for “Cremation” has appeared in the shape of an advertisement of a Joint Stock  Cemetery Company (Limited) which has bought forty-eight acres of land for the  purpose of a new burial-ground, to be opened near the Crystal Palace. The Cemetery is to be select; the deceased labouring classes are to be kept  out of it by the prohibition of  Sunday funerals; exclusiveness which, perhaps, will not prevent  injurious drainage into adjoining wells. Its promoters recommend their  burial-place as situated in one of the most healthy suburbs of London. This  advantage it will cease to possess as soon as a population shall have gathered  round it. The citizens of a necropolis cannot emigrate, and they form a  corporation with power to add to their number – and use it’.

The cemetery  originally had two chapels designed in the 14th century style. The consecrated chapel was demolished in the  1960’s following bomb damage from the 2nd world war. And I understand that the second chapel was  converted into a crematorium in 1956.