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.