Beckenham, Bromley

Bromley’s little sister lies two miles to its west

Hidden London: Bromley Road, with the Chancery (formerly Oakhill) pub on the right, at the end of Chancery Lane.

Beck­en­ham’s name is gen­er­al­ly held to derive from Beo­hha, a Sax­on farmer. The riv­er that flows through the town is called the Beck, but this is a ‘back for­ma­tion’, which is to say that the name Beck­en­ham came first.

The dis­cov­ery of pot­tery dat­ed to the peri­od 900‑1150 has revealed evi­dence of Saxo-Nor­man occu­pa­tion. The site, on what is now Fair­field Road, was aban­doned ear­ly in the Mid­dle Ages and not reoc­cu­pied until hous­es began to line the High Street in the late 17th cen­tu­ry.

Because Beck­en­ham was off the beat­en track that ran through Brom­ley it became pop­u­lar as a coun­try retreat at this time, retain­ing its appeal for more than a cen­tu­ry.

One of the grand­est man­sions was Beck­en­ham Place, built in the late 1770s for wealthy local landown­er John Cator. Much of its sur­round­ing park­land was lat­er sold off for build­ing, includ­ing a sta­tion in 1857. What remains of Beck­en­ham Place Park con­tains one of the few sur­viv­ing areas of ancient wood­land in urban Lon­don. (For more on Beck­en­ham Place, see the page on Beck­en­ham Hill.)

Beck­en­ham devel­oped rapid­ly over the three decades that fol­lowed the arrival of the rail­way, with detached prop­er­ties for the mid­dle class­es and ter­raced cot­tages for the work­ers who pro­vid­ed their ser­vices, while shop­ping parades marched in all direc­tions.

Hidden London: Beckenham Public Hall

Shown in the pho­to above, Beck­en­ham pub­lic hall was built in 1883 in what its grade II list­ing describes as a “play­ful Arts and Crafts style.” Its the­atre-style main hall and two small­er spaces are avail­able for hire.

After the First World War com­pact, dense­ly packed ter­races cov­ered the remain­ing fields in the south­ern half of the dis­trict and the coun­cil com­pul­so­ri­ly pur­chased and widened the High Street. Bomb dam­age dur­ing the next war led to clear­ance for coun­cil flats and town hous­es, and for new com­mer­cial prop­er­ty, though as a shop­ping cen­tre Beck­en­ham has been total­ly eclipsed by near­by Brom­ley.

In 1969 David Bowie founded the Beckenham Arts Lab at a pub on the High Street, while he was living in Foxgrove Road. The ‘Bowie bandstand’ in Croydon Road recreation ground was awarded a grade II listing in August 2019.

Postcode area: Beckenham, BR3
Station: Southeastern and Southern, with Tramlink interchange (Beckenham Junction, zone 4)
Further reading: David R Johnson, Beckenham Through Time, Amberley, 2014
and Eric R Inman & Nancy Tonkin, Beckenham, Phillimore, 1993 – one of the finest in this publisher’s series
* The picture of Bromley Road at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, and the picture of Beckenham Public Hall is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Dr Neil Clifton, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.