Biggin Hill, Bromley
Once a famous military airfield and now a crowded residential district, situated two miles south-east of New Addington
Biggin Hill probably takes its name from a hilltop ‘bigging’ or habitation and was first recorded – as Byggunhull – in 1499. The modern spelling of the name made its first appearance on a map drawn c.1762.
It has been said that the settlement of Biggin Hill “started almost in the middle of nowhere, and then grew.” This process commenced when the Wandsworth speculator Frederick Dougal bought the manor of Aperfield at auction in 1895 and began selling off the land in parcels, prompting a brief flurry of housebuilding activity.
Growth proceeded at a slower pace after Dougal’s death in 1905, but by the outbreak of the Second World War the township was well developed and there was little further construction for nearly two decades.
During the 1950s the church of All Saints, Peckham, was brought here brick by brick and re-erected as St Mark’s, which is accordingly nicknamed ‘the moving church’. The photograph above shows St George’s RAF chapel of remembrance on Main Road.
When the Macmillan government decreed that every borough should undertake a programme of council house building, the reluctant Bromley seized upon this remote corner of its fiefdom as a suitable place to fulfil its obligations.
Private builders, too, put up houses and flats wherever land could be acquired, prompting Nikolaus Pevsner’s comment that it is “a place to make even the most ardent free-enterpriser admit the virtues of planning.” Many houses are sited on the hillsides, resulting in split-level layouts with steep gardens.
The absence of a rail or tram link makes Biggin Hill a very affordable place to live. New properties continue to be built wherever planning permission can be obtained, with growth between 1971 and 2001 estimated at around 40 per cent, though it has slackened off since then as the availablity of sites has diminished. Given the lack of public transport, it is not surprising that Biggin Hill’s households have more cars than any other ward in London.
Biggin Hill occupies an important place in British history as a military airfield, familiarly known as ‘Biggin-on-the-Bump’ or simply ‘Biggin’. In the Second World War it became a Spitfire station and was attacked a dozen times during the Battle of Britain. Offensive missions flew from here after the pressure for defensive action was relieved.
The airfield was downgraded to non-operational status in 1958 and the RAF finally left in 1980. When Croydon Airport closed, most of the operators who had not already made the move came across to Biggin Hill, which is now the most popular light aviation centre in southern England.