Bexley

Bexley, Bexley

The district of Bexley lies on the eastern side of the borough of the same name, beside the River Cray

Hall Place has been home to a notorious rake, a music hall star and a school

Bex­ley grew up around its mills beside the Riv­er Cray, which is bridged by the High Street. Its Old Eng­lish name, Byxlea, is the­o­rised to have denot­ed a set­tle­ment in a box wood clear­ing – but some experts dis­agree, argu­ing that box trees would have been unlike­ly to flour­ish on this ter­rain.

In 814 Kenulph, King of the Mer­cians, grant­ed lands here to the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury. St Mary’s Church is of 13th-cen­tu­ry ori­gin and records of 1241 show a manor house on the site of Hall Place. Around 1540 Sir John Champ­neis (or Champ­neys), Lord May­or of Lon­don in 1534, start­ed the present Hall Place (shown in the pho­to above), prob­a­bly using mate­r­i­al sal­vaged from demol­ished monas­ter­ies. His son Jus­tin­ian extend­ed the house in 1556, and Robert Austen more than dou­bled its size in the mid-17th cen­tu­ry.

In 1623 William Cam­den grant­ed the manor of Bex­ley to Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty, which used the rev­enue to fund a pro­fes­sor­ship of his­to­ry. Styleman’s almshous­es were built in 1755, at a time when the High Street was fill­ing with mer­chants’ homes. In the 1770s a weath­er­board­ed water­mill was built on the river­side, togeth­er with Cray House, which was prob­a­bly the home of the mill’s own­er. The Bex­ley Nation­al Schools were estab­lished on Bourne Road in 1834.

After Bex­ley sta­tion opened in 1866 the town and out­ly­ing vil­lages like Cold­blow and Brid­gen began to expand. Built on the grounds of Parkhurst House and Marl House, the Parkhurst estate offered large vil­las with long gar­dens for wealth­i­er com­muters. Semi-detached prop­er­ties fol­lowed in the decade from 1876. St John’s Church was built on Parkhill Road in 1882. Exten­sive sub­ur­ban­i­sa­tion took place in the 1920s and 1930s, a process accel­er­at­ed by the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the rail­way. After the Sec­ond World War, green-belt leg­is­la­tion pre­served the open land to the south and east. This, com­bined with the vil­lage centre’s des­ig­na­tion as a con­ser­va­tion area in 1972, has restrict­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mer­cial or res­i­den­tial growth, while enhanc­ing the appeal of Old Bex­ley.

Hall Place has been home to a noto­ri­ous rake, a music hall star and a school, and is now a civic ameni­ty with delight­ful gar­dens. It is a pop­u­lar venue for wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions.

The Conservative prime minister Edward Heath served as member of parliament for Bexley (ultimately Old Bexley and Sidcup) from 1950 to 2001.

Postcode area: Bexley DA5
Population: 10,491 (St Mary’s ward, 2011 census)
Station: Southeastern Trains (zone 6)
Further reading: Malcolm Barr-Hamilton and Leonard Reilly, From Country to Suburb, Bexley Libraries, 1995
Website: Bexley Civic Society