Bostall Heath

Bostall Heath, Greenwich/Bexley

An expansive area of former common land situated north of East Wickham and Bexleyheath

Hidden London: Co-operative Woods, Bostall Heath

The devel­oped part of this local­i­ty is often known sim­ply as Bostall, a name that prob­a­bly derives from Old Eng­lish words mean­ing ‘a secure place’, as it pro­vid­ed refuge from the reg­u­lar flood­ing of the low­er-lying land near­er the Thames.

The com­mon­ers resist­ed attempts by Queen’s Col­lege, Oxford, to enclose and devel­op the heath in the 1880s. The col­lege had appoint­ed a local solic­i­tor and builder, whose homes were trashed dur­ing riotous scenes, and the author­i­ties draft­ed in 200 extra police and called out the fire brigade to hose down the mob. The bat­tle was resolved in court, when Queen’s Col­lege lost the case – and then lost inter­est in the land, after which the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Board of Works acquired and pre­served 155 acres.

East of Knee Hill the large gar­dens of some Vic­to­ri­an prop­er­ties have become part of the wood­land again, includ­ing an orna­men­tal pond.

Hidden London: Bostall Heath, RACS publicity material, March 1927
Bostall estate brochure

The Roy­al Arse­nal Co-oper­a­tive Soci­ety built hous­ing to the north-west from the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, dig­ging a chalk mine to pro­vide mate­r­i­al for road foun­da­tions and plas­ter­work in the hous­es.

The land to the south-east of the pre­served heath and wood­land was devel­oped in the 1930s. The coun­cil restrained the more impa­tient aspi­ra­tions of spec­u­la­tive builders but con­struc­tion nev­er­the­less exceed­ed 500 homes a year for most of the decade, most­ly large three-bed­room semi-detached hous­es. Cab­bage fields between Abbott’s Walk and King Harolds Way were cov­ered with the dis­tinc­tive bun­ga­lows of the St Hilary estate.

To the south, the orchards of Dixons Farm were built over, although some fruit trees sur­vived in back gar­dens. Shops, schools and in some cas­es roads did not come until after the first res­i­dents had moved in.

Bostall suf­fered some seri­ous bomb dam­age dur­ing the Sec­ond World War owing to its prox­im­i­ty to tar­gets in Erith. A sin­gle para­chute mine dam­aged more than a thou­sand prop­er­ties in 1941.

After hos­til­i­ties end­ed the remain­ing emp­ty cor­ners of the dis­trict were tem­porar­i­ly used for pre­fab­ri­cat­ed accom­mo­da­tion before their replace­ment by more semi-detacheds. St Andrew’s church began as a wood­en struc­ture in 1935 and was replaced by a per­ma­nent build­ing on the same site in 1957. Methodist and Roman Catholic church­es were also built in the 1950s. In 1984 St Andrew’s became the moth­er church of the new­ly cre­at­ed parish of Bostall Heath.

A large Vic­to­ri­an house on Bostall Hill called Shornells, which the Co-oper­a­tive Soci­ety had used as a train­ing cen­tre, was replaced in 1994 by what is now called the Green­wich and Bex­ley com­mu­ni­ty hos­pice. A sec­ond phase of the hospice’s devel­op­ment was com­plet­ed in 2003.

Co-oper­a­tive Woods has one of London’s best camp­ing and car­a­van­ning sites, locat­ed off Fed­er­a­tion Road and open all year round. It is nowa­days called the Abbey Wood car­a­van club site. A cor­ner of Co-oper­a­tive Woods is shown in the pho­to at the top – though admit­ted­ly it could be almost any piece of wood­land any­where.

Postal district and postcode area: SE2 and Bexleyheath DA7
Further reading: John A Prichard, Belvedere and Bostall: A Brief History, Bexley Libraries, 1994
See also: West Heath