Orpington, Bromley

An extensive dormitory town situated four miles south-east of Bromley

Hidden London: Orpington Priory, by Dun.can

This place was first record­ed in 1032 as Orped­ing­tun – the farm­stead of a man called Orped, a name that meant ‘active’ or ‘bold’.

All Saints’ church is of Sax­on ori­gin and has a sun­di­al inscribed in runes. The church was remod­elled around 1200 and a pri­o­ry was built near­by before 1270. Shown in the pho­to above, the pri­o­ry was enlarged and improved in the fol­low­ing two cen­turies and served both as a res­i­dence for the rec­tor and chap­lains and as an overnight stop for the pri­ors of Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral.

Orp­ing­ton and St Mary Cray rivalled each oth­er for local ascen­dan­cy from the late Mid­dle Ages but nei­ther devel­oped sig­nif­i­cant­ly until the 19th cen­tu­ry.

The open­ing of Orp­ing­ton sta­tion in 1868 brought some ear­ly devel­op­ment to Crofton and Broom Hill and rebuild­ing on the High Street, while Orp­ing­ton New Town was laid out on the edge of Der­ry Downs.

Until the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry an annu­al fair was held on White Hart Mead­ow. At this fair William Cook, a poul­try breed­er who lived at Wal­don Manor, devel­oped and first pre­sent­ed ‘Orp­ing­ton Buff’ chick­ens in 1894. They rapid­ly gained pop­u­lar­i­ty as an excel­lent meat bird but lost out as the com­mer­cial roast­er mar­ket devel­oped, part­ly because of their exces­sive­ly pale skin.

With the pro­vi­sion of a larg­er sta­tion and improved rail ser­vices in 1904, devel­op­ers began to buy up land east of the rail­way and true sub­ur­ban­i­sa­tion was under way by the out­break of the First World War. Dur­ing the war the Cana­di­an province of Ontario fund­ed the con­struc­tion of a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal that lat­er became Orp­ing­ton hos­pi­tal.

House­build­ing reached a crescen­do in the late 1920s and 1930s, with wind­ing tree-lined streets laid out in all direc­tions. After the Sec­ond World War the sub­urb expand­ed to meet neigh­bour­ing vil­lages and a large coun­cil estate was built (and has recent­ly been rebuilt) on the edge of the green belt at Rams­den.

A much larg­er All Saints’ church was con­se­crat­ed in the late 1950s, with the medieval church effec­tive­ly becom­ing its ante-chapel, while the pri­o­ry was attached to a new library.

Many of the Vic­to­ri­an shops on the High Street were lost in the ear­ly 1970s dur­ing the build­ing of the Wal­nuts shop­ping cen­tre, togeth­er with offices, a fur­ther edu­ca­tion col­lege (now a cam­pus of Lon­don South East Col­leges) and a police sta­tion. Behind the mall, the Wal­nuts leisure cen­tre has swim­ming pools, sports courts and oth­er facil­i­ties. The pho­to below shows the High Street on 6 Novem­ber 2017, with its trees bedecked with pop­pies in prepa­ra­tion for Remem­brance Sun­day the fol­low­ing week­end.

Hidden London: Orpington High Street, poppies, by Ian Capper

Except on its far east­ern side, this dis­trict is the epit­o­me of com­fort­able sub­ur­bia, and its prime attrac­tion is Orp­ing­ton Pri­o­ry and its gar­dens. Brom­ley coun­cil (not a body that likes to have any­thing to do with her­itage) offloaded the pri­o­ry to the art organ­i­sa­tion V22 in Novem­ber 2016.

In the days before tactical voting became commonplace, Orpington was the scene of a sensational by-election victory for the Liberals in 1962 when Eric Lubbock took the seat with a 27 per cent swing.

Postcode areas: Orpington BR6 and BR5
Population: 15,311 (Orpington ward, 2011 census)
Station: Southeastern Trains (zone 6)
Further reading: Dorothy Cox, The Book of Orpington, Barracuda, 1983
Facebook: Orpington Gossip


* The picture of Orpington Priory at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Dun.can at Flickr, and the picture of Orpington High Street, with poppies, is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Ian Capper at Geograph Britain and Ireland, both made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse of either image is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.