Shortlands, Bromley

The prosperous south-western corner of Bromley town, previously called Clay Hill

The remains of the fountain in South Hill Wood, Shortlands, copyright Marathon

Evidence of an Iron Age hill-fort has been discovered at Toots Wood, together with fragments of Roman pottery, indic­ating the presence of a moder­ately signi­ficant settlement.

The medieval field pattern here consisted of sets of long and short fields, called Longelonds and Shortelonds, and the latter gave their name to a house built at the beginning of the 18th century. The house and its extensive farmland were acquired in 1848 by railway magnate William Wilkinson, who built several cottages for his agricul­tural labourers.

In 1858 the West End and Crystal Palace Railway Company opened Shortlands station, prompting Wilkinson to sell his farm’s 163 acres for devel­opment. The oak and birch trees of Kingswood were cleared as the Shortlands estate took shape. Wilkinson died in 1865, leaving an endowment for the construction of St Mary’s church.

In a second phase of devel­opment around 1880, the Westmoreland Road area was built up with a group of handsome villas known as the South Hill Park estate. In 1887 Sir Thomas Dewey, chairman of Prudential Assurance Company, bought what remained of South Hill Wood (itself a remnant of Toots Hill Wood), cleared most of its trees and built himself a grand house with lavishly planted and ornamented gardens. The site of the former house is now a public park and the dilap­idated garden fountain can still be seen amidst the regen­erated woodland (as shown in the photo­graph above*).

Shortlands House served as a hotel for the first half of the 20th century and then became a school, now called Bishop Challoner school. A number of maisonette blocks were built in Shortlands from the 1960s onwards.

Shortlands residents are overwhelm­ingly white home-owners and tend to be relat­ively well-educated. The houses are compar­at­ively large, although a third have only one occupant. At 41.7 years, the average age of residents is signi­fic­antly higher than in most parts of the capital.

George Grote, born at Shortlands House in 1794, wrote an authoritative history of Greece in twelve volumes, without ever visiting the country, and served as MP for the City of London, president of University College, London and vice-chancellor of the University of London. In 1869 he refused the offer of a peerage. Grote died two years later and was interred in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner.

Postcode area: Bromley BR2
Population: 9,824 (2011 census)
Station: Southeastern and Thameslink (zone 4)
Further reading: Muriel V Searle, Shortlands in Old Picture Postcards, European Library, 1992
and Len Hevey, Shortlands, Bromley Borough Local History Society, 1991
Website: Shortlands Residents’ Association
* The picture of the remains of the fountain in South Hill Wood on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Marathon, 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.