Biggin Hill

Biggin Hill, Bromley

Once a vital military airfield and now a crowded residential district, situated two miles south-east of New Addington

Hidden London: Biggin Hill Memorial Museum and St George's RAF Chapel - CGI by Robin Lee Architecture

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.

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.

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’.

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 locality’s inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty has tend­ed to make this a rel­a­tive­ly afford­able place to live.

Big­gin Hill 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.

Shown in the CGI at the top of this arti­cle, Big­gin Hill memo­r­i­al muse­um opened beside St George’s RAF chapel of remem­brance on 30 Jan­u­ary 2019. A sec­ond phase, in the form of a ‘learn­ing space’ and memo­r­i­al wall, will be con­struct­ed when and if fund­ing per­mits. The museum’s design has not been wide­ly acclaimed, to put it mild­ly, but Hid­den Lon­don admires its restrained sim­plic­i­ty, which allows the chapel to take cen­tre stage. Reviews of the muse­um on Tri­pAd­vi­sor have been mixed, though most­ly pos­i­tive. Pre-booked tours of the near­by (but uncon­nect­ed) Big­gin Hill Her­itage Hangar are much more high­ly rat­ed.

Postcode area: Westerham, TN16
Population: 9,951 (2011 census, showing a slight decline on 2001)
Further reading: Josephine Cole, Biggin Hill: Then and Now, Tempus, 1999
and Bob Ogley, The Ghosts of Biggin Hill, Froglets, 2001
Websites: Biggin Hill then and now and Biggin Hill airport