Old Bexley

Old Bexley, Bexley

Also known as Bexley Village, this is the historic heart of Bexley, situated at the south-eastern corner of the modern suburb

Hidden London: Bexley High Street by Des Blenkinsopp

Old Bex­ley lies at the junc­ture of two ancient tracks beside a ford on the Riv­er Cray. One his­toric route ran east–west between Eltham and Dart­ford and the oth­er fol­lowed the riv­er north–south from Cray­ford to Orp­ing­ton. These routes were well estab­lished in the Mid­dle Ages, cross­ing the Riv­er Cray where today’s bridge now stands.

The grade II* list­ed parish church of St Mary the Vir­gin was built in the 13th cen­tu­ry on the site of a Sax­on pre­de­ces­sor, prob­a­bly using some of its stones. The church is locat­ed near the east­ern end of the High Street, on Manor Road.

The manor of Bex­ley belonged to the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury until 1536, when it was sold to Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty. Part of the present manor house may date from soon after that. A north wing was added in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry. The well-con­cealed house stands north-east of St Mary’s church.

Bexley’s ‘Old’ pre­fix made its appear­ance in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry and helped dis­tin­guish the vil­lage from Bex­ley New Town, as Bex­ley­heath was called at that time.

St Mary’s church was heav­i­ly restored in 1882–3 by Basil Champ­neys and its present inte­ri­or dates pri­mar­i­ly from this makeover.

A num­ber of 18th-cen­tu­ry build­ings on the south side of the High Street were lost dur­ing rede­vel­op­ment in 1966. The Old Mill burned down in the same year but it was rebuilt in repli­ca form and lat­er con­vert­ed to res­i­den­tial use.

The remain­der of the vil­lage has been pre­served fol­low­ing its des­ig­na­tion as a con­ser­va­tion area in 1972. Eigh­teen of the build­ings in the con­ser­va­tion area are list­ed.

Hidden London: an old photo of Freemantle Hall but it hasn't changed much since then
Free­man­tle Hall

Among the sur­viv­ing old­er prop­er­ties are the King’s Head pub­lic house (prob­a­bly 16th cen­tu­ry), Styleman’s almshous­es (1755), High Street House (1761, the home of John Thor­pe, Kent his­to­ri­an and anti­quary) and the for­mer parish work­house (1787).

Old Bex­ley can­not com­pete with Bex­ley­heath as a retail cen­tre, so sev­er­al shops and oth­er com­mer­cial premis­es have been con­vert­ed to cafés, bars and restau­rants. The late-Vic­to­ri­an Free­man­tle Hall serves as a com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre and hosts events such as local art exhi­bi­tions, exer­cise class­es, and craft and gift fairs.

Postcode area: Bexley DA5
Further reading: Peter Tester, Bexley Village, Bexley Libraries, 1987
Recommended PDF (and the source for some of the content above): Old Bexley conservation area appraisal, 2009

 

* The picture of Bexley High Street at the top of this page is cropped from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence. The houses are on the north side of the High Street immediately east of the road bridge over the River Cray (1872). Numbers 101 to 105 are grade II listed and date from the mid-18th century.