Copers Cope Farm
By Pat Manning
Part I The Farmhouse
The oldest inhabited house in Beckenham is Copers Cope House at 3 Southend Rd. It is on the corner of Copers Cope Rd, believed a corruption of Cooper’s Copse.
The oldest part of the house is at the front and possibly dates from about 1690 according to the nature of the bricks in the old downstairs kitchen, originally the farmhouse of Copers Cope Farm.
On the outside wall, animal footprints can be seen preserved from the time when the bricks were made.
The front gable on the south side is obviously from an earlier time than the adjoining back gable as its bricks are crumbling.
The present owner, Mrs June Kirby, keeps the house in immaculate condition, worthy of a place in a Country Life magazine and she has preserved its historical features, such as the old doors, fireplaces, window seats and the elegant banisters shown here.
John Cator, born Ross on Wye in 1703, retired from Southwark, where he dealt in timber, to live in Bromley. Here, he and his son John (1728-1806), bought up land from about the year 1757. The Kent map by Andrews, Dury and Herbert shows that John junior owned land at Stumps Hill in 1769 where, in 1773, when he became the Lord of the Manor of Beckenham, he had his mansion built, Beckenham Place. He steadily increased his holdings with the purchase of three adjacent farms, Copers Cope, Foxgrove and Kent House. When Michael Mathew leased Copers Cope Farm for wheat, barley, oats, clover and cattle grazing, an agreement dated 1851 stated that he must not destroy game, rabbits and wild fowl or exploit the timber. This left the land available for John Cator’s heirs to ride, hunt and fish.
Part II – The farmland
The rural life of Copers Cope was soon to change as the railways came to Beckenham with the opening of Beckenham Junction station in 1857. By 1864, New Beckenham had come into existence with its own station, level crossing to link the roads on either side of the lines, St Paul’s church in Brackley Rd and the first houses where Brackley Rd joined Copers Cope Rd. These earliest properties are part of the Copers Cope Rd Conservation Area of 16 large houses with unusually large front gardens screened by trees and shrubs. In a twinkling, the farm was gone, to be replaced by a road system of its field names, while farmer Michael Mathew had moved to Stone Farm at Park Langley. The farmhouse is part of the Southend Rd Conservation Area which not only includes the most architecturally interesting building in the shape of the farmhouse but also the houses opposite of 8-22 Southend Rd that predated the railways. Today they retain the semicircular driveways used once by coach and horses. The 1930s block of South Park Court and the yellow brick gate lodges of Beckenham Place Park are also in the Conservation Area.
The large Victorian houses for the wealthy built on the tree-lined roads of the old farmland provided employment for a multitude of craftsmen, gardeners and servants and were largely responsible for the development of the shopping area at Beckenham Junction. Partly because of the incidence of flooding of the River Pool down in the valley but also because house sales fell off towards the bottom end of Copers Cope Rd, houses were only built as far as number 169 and the remaining land was left open for sports grounds used by the Banks and Insurance companies.
One of the distant fields was the 8-acre fileld by Lower Sydenham station. The Yokohama Specie Bank leased 5.5 acres leaving the rest for the winter grazing of cattle and the seaside donkeys from Southend. I know this because it was there that I spent an idyllic childhood, paddling in the river, listening to the skylarks and grasshoppers, feeding the donkeys and boating on the lake when the river flooded and transformed our field. It didn’t matter to me that we had no gas or electricity. The pump –up Tilley lamps gave out a brilliant light, the solid fuel stoves kept us really warm and the accumulators kept the wireless going to listen to ITMA. We could always pop on the train to visit the Plaza cinema and all the Catford shops. However in the late 1930s, the donkeys lost their winter haven when three factories, Maybreys, Gallenkamps and John Bell, Hills and Lucas were built on their field.
Today our beautiful field is a travesty of what it was, now used by the Footsie Club for social occasions and boot sales. When the Japanese entered the war on 7 December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbour, we moved to one of the Victorian houses in Copers Cope Rd where we lived for 25 years. The Yokohama field was raised eight feet using rubble from bombed buildings and even the circular steps of the pavilion disappeared. Few visitors realise that there is a river winding among the trees at the bottom of the field.
The trees in the background were in Worsley Bridge Rd, not visible today as the factories block the view. The garden in the foreground was used to build dressing rooms, now joined on to the pavilion
Part III – Some notable residents
Among the many well known residents of the Copers Cope area, there are some who cannot be forgotten. Living at the lower end of Copers Cope Rd was Cllr George Charles William White, a founder member of the Copers Cope Rd Ratepayers Association. He was the senior fireguard at Post 7 during the war and represented the Ward on the Beckenham Council. Elected Mayor for 1952/53, his civic service was held at St Paul’s church which was decorated throughout by the Beckenham Horticultural Society of which he had been Deputy President. His main duty during his Mayoralty was to prepare for the Coronation of the Queen but two major national events that occurred were the 1952 London smog and the 1953 east coast floods that overwhelmed Canvey Island.
William Syme and John Duncan formed the building firm partnership of Syme & Duncan in 1870 when the Copers Cope farmland was being developed for high class housing. The founder’s grandson, William Duncan, became a director of the firm in 1925 and was Mayor of Beckenham for 1955/56. During this time, poliomyelitis was the scourge of young adults and William Duncan was President of the National Fund for Polio Research. He was made Alderman in 1959.
Born at Elm Cottage near to the Three Tuns in the village in 1864, Robert Borrowman lived with his sister Elizabeth and their parents at number 5 Brackley Rd until his marriage to Agnes Milner Tolhurst when they moved to number 4 Copers Cope Rd. He served the town in every possible way as solicitor to the Council and the Beckenham Cottage Hospital, a member of the Education Committee, founder member of the Beckenham Swimming Club and Churchwarden of St George’s church. He wrote the definitive book, Beckenham Past & Present, which was published and printed by T W Thornton of the Beckenham Journal just before Robert died prematurely from a heart attack in August 1910 while on holiday, leaving no descendants. One of Robert’s services to the parish church was the preservation of the church registers which are some of the oldest in the country dating from 1538. Present day relatives of Copers Cope farm’s last tenant farmer, Michael Mathew, (1788-1863) have good reason to be grateful to Robert for his work.
Michael married twice, first to Elizabeth Hubbard in 1808 when he had a number of children and then to Mary Ann Stewart by whom he had one child, Walter Mathew, born in 1850 at Copers Cope farm. Michael’s father was John Mathew born 1737 who also married twice, first to Mary Wright in 1760 and then to Mary Blackwell in 1783. John’s parents were Mark born 1707 and Sarah Oatley.
Walter’s half brother, Michael born 1811, farmed Kent House farm before becoming the publican of the Crooked Billet in Penge, where his widow, Maria Moorey born 1814, continued after his death. (Shirley Bird who supplied much of the history of the Mathew clan is descended from this line.)
Walter Mathew was well known in Beckenham. He married Sarah Elizabeth Andrews in 1871. Here they are standing at the gate of their house in Mackenzie Rd.
Walter was a bell ringer at St George’s at the age of 12 and after leaving Copers Cope farm the family lived at Brook Cottage where the telephone exchange is today. He was a telegraph clerk at Beckenham Junction station at the time of the collapse of the railway bridge over Blakeney Rd. The young Walter was one of the first to crawl under the wreckage to try to help the crew of the goods’ train. He ran a coal business with Mr Moore for twenty years before he retired to Hatfield Peverill, Essex in 1938.
Walter and Sarah had six children, two boys and four girls. Annie May born 1871 became a missionary nurse in Africa with the Leakeys. Lizzie Louisa born 1874 married Jim Honey who ran a cycle business with one of the boys, Arthur, until 1909. Walter Andrew was born 1876, Arthur in 1879, Margaret in 1883 and Elsie Beatrice in 1885. (Judy d’Albert and Pat Rainbird are their descendants and have passed on to me stories and photos of the Mathews shown here.)
Perhaps Arthur was the most exciting member of the family. Just before he married his Emily, he was one of four intrepid cyclists who crossed the desert terrain from Cairo to Port Said, covering the 160 miles in 3 days. They used 26’’wooden rims to the wheels that would not buckle and 2’’solid rubber tyres. They were often heading into a strong wind which blew sand over the camel tracks so that they lost their way. They had trouble finding a bridge over the canal and the weather was unspeakably hot. There were pleasant incidents too like when they were treated to Scotch whisky by the French railway surveyors and fed a great supper by an Italian station master. Arthur never really settled down to raising his family of three children, although dearly loved by them nevertheless.