Bexleyheath, Bexley

The commercial and administrative centre of the borough and a densely built-up suburb, situated to the north-west of Bexley

Hidden London: Bexleyheath clocktower, photographed by Paul Farmer
Bex­ley­heath clock­tow­er

The ham­let of Upton is of medieval ori­gin and the Crook Log pub­lic house is said to date from 1605 but the present-day town cen­tre had noth­ing but a lone tree and an old wind­mill until the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry.

Farms on the edge of Bex­ley Heath (as it was) grazed some cat­tle and sheep on the scrub, but the pres­ence of high­way­men made the heath noto­ri­ous­ly dan­ger­ous for Ken­tish trav­ellers to cross.

The Cray­ford and Bex­ley enclo­sure acts were passed in 1812 and 1814, part­ly to get rid of squat­ters who had begun to move here. The first legit­i­mate com­mu­ni­ty began to estab­lish itself soon after­wards. Oak House was one of the ear­li­est and largest homes to be built, around 1817.

By 1831 the set­tle­ment had a church and a mar­ket, although the pop­u­la­tion did not rise much above 2,000 for sev­er­al decades. Upton was still rur­al when William Mor­ris and Philip Webb built Red House in 1860. Trin­i­ty Bap­tist Chapel (1868) and Christ Church (1872–7) were built towards the west­ern end of the Broad­way, and each is hand­some in its own way.

Until Bex­ley­heath sta­tion opened in 1895 the set­tle­ment was known as Bex­ley New Town. The sta­tion was sit­ed well to the north-west of the town cen­tre because rail­way direc­tor Robert Kersey owned the Bramp­ton Place estate and want­ed to prof­it from its devel­op­ment. Oak House was used as coun­cil offices from 1903 and a clock tow­er was erect­ed in the mar­ket square in 1912.

Fol­low­ing the railway’s elec­tri­fi­ca­tion in 1926 there was a surge in house­build­ing and neo-Geor­gian shops lined the Broad­way. New Ide­al Home­steads bought and erased Pel­ham Farm in 1932, allo­cat­ing a site for Pel­ham pri­ma­ry school. By 1938 all avail­able land for a mile around had been built on.

From the 1960s, the cen­tre of Bex­ley­heath was whol­ly rebuilt. As local his­to­ri­an Mal­colm Barr-Hamil­ton put it, “Only the clock tow­er has sur­vived the remorse­less onslaught of Bexleyheath’s mis­er­able piece­meal rede­vel­op­ment.” The non-pro­fes­sion­al Edward Alder­ton the­atre was found­ed in 1976 on Bramp­ton Road. Oak House was demol­ished and new civic offices opened in 1980. The Broad­way shop­ping cen­tre was built on the site of Hides depart­ment store, the Lord Bex­ley Arms and Vic­to­ri­an shops that had sur­vived inter­war recon­struc­tion.

An Asda super­mar­ket replaced the Bex­ley­heath Bowl and Regal cin­e­ma in 1987 and a larg­er bowl­ing com­plex was built on a for­mer play­ing field and war memo­r­i­al gar­dens. In 1989 the Wool­wich build­ing soci­ety moved from Equi­table House, Wool­wich, to its new cor­po­rate head­quar­ters in Bex­ley­heath.

Devel­op­ments in the 1990s includ­ed the part-pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion of the Broad­way and the con­struc­tion of the 126-room Swal­low (now Mar­riott) hotel and the Cineworld mul­ti­plex. Broad­way Square was com­plet­ed in 2001.

Fol­low­ing Bar­clays’ acquis­tion of the Wool­wich build­ing soci­ety its Bex­ley­heath head­quar­ters was closed in 2006. Eight years lat­er the build­ing became the new civic offices for the Lon­don Bor­ough of Bex­ley, replac­ing four exist­ing premis­es. The for­mer civic offices on Bex­ley­heath Broad­way were after­wards demol­ished in prepa­ra­tion for the con­struc­tion of a Tesco super­store. How­ev­er, Tesco pulled out of that project in Jan­u­ary 2015.

In com­mon with neigh­bour­ing areas, Bex­ley­heath’s pop­u­la­tion is much less eth­ni­cal­ly diverse than Lon­don as a whole. At the 2011 cen­sus, more than 80 per cent of res­i­dents of the Bramp­ton and Christchurch wards were white British.

Bernie Ecclestone and Delia Smith spent most of their childhoods in Bexleyheath.

Kate Bush was born at Bexleyheath maternity hospital in 1958 and grew up in East Wickham.

Postcode areas: Bexleyheath DA6 and DA7
Population: 21,511 (Brampton and Christchurch wards, 2011 census)
Station: Southeastern (zone 5)
Further reading: John Mercer, Bexleyheath: A History, Amberley, 2012
and JCM Shaw, The Bexley Heath Phenomenon, Bexley Libraries, 1983
* The picture of Bexleyheath clock tower on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Paul Farmer, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.