West Wickham has evidence of human activities as far back as the Bronze Age when it is thought that a settlement was present on the hill to the south-east of the town where the historic Church of St. John the Baptist stands.
West Wickham stands astride the Roman road that ran from London to Lewes, then an important port. From the North it crossed the Langley Estate close to Langley Park Girls School, through West Wickham station, under the Railway Hotel, crossing Glebe Way close to Lidls, over the top of Corkscrew Hill, through Sparrows Den and the fields to the west of St. John’s Church. It was there that a small roman town – “Noviomagus” – was built, probably where another Roman road turned off to Gravesend. The name ‘Wickham’ is thought to be from the Roman word ‘vicus’ meaning town and the Anglo Saxon word ‘ham’ for settlement indicating that the area was a staging post for travellers. This was sited on chalky ground and it may have been difficult to get a good water supply in the summer months. The Wickham Bourne which even now sometimes flows along the Addington valley fed by springs in Spring Park Woods was probably only a winter chalk stream before the wells and pumping station at Kentgate substantially reduced the water table level. In contrast The Beck at the end of the High Street flows all year round. Roman remains found in Bolderwood Way suggest that even then a settlement was growing up to the west of ‘Wickham’.
The Domesday survey of 1086 records the presence of 24 taxable holdings which were probably small farm holdings. In addition to the 24 farmers and their families, the lord of the manor has 13 serfs and there was a church and a mill. This would have been a water mill possibly located at the bottom of the High Street where the White Hart (now Kentucky Fried Chicken) had a pond.
At the time most of the area was woodland but there were tracks including the common ways to Beckenham, Croydon and Hayes which met at Norwood Cross (the crossroads by the Swan), the route to Croydon being known as Wickham Street is now the High Street. Manorial records from 1450 indicated that there were a number of holdings around Norwood including a property on the corner called Smethes, later the site of The Swan.
In 1469 the manor was bought by Henry Heydon, a lawyer from Norfolk married to Ann nee Bullen, aunt to Ann Bullen (Boleyn) later Queen of England. Henry built a new fortified manor house of brick, now the oldest brick building in Kent and listed Grade 1 and known as Wickham Court. It is often suggested when Henry VIII was hunting at Addington he courted Ann Boleyn when she was staying with her aunt. The house was later sold in 1580 to the Lennard family who resided here for over 300 years.
About 20 years later Henry Heydon rebuilt the Parish Church, St. John the Baptist. A field map of 1485 records the Rectory as being on Corkscrew Hill but it is likely that the present building was started in the 17th century and the south wing added in 1724. Further extensions and the Dutch gabling were added at the end of the reign of William & Mary. In 1924 it was sold to Col. Chamberlain and George VI visited it during the war. Today it is the administrative offices of Glebe Housing. The road that led from Wickham Court to West Wickham passed the old village school at the top of Corkscrew Hill which was sometimes known as School Road. This became a private school called Greenhayes until it was partly redeveloped as flats in about 2000. The thatched cottage next door was rebuilt following a fire but to a similar style.
Before Glebe Way was built in the late 1950’s, the crossroads at the Swan was a ‘T’ junction apart from a cart track that led to a farm near to Linden Lees. In the middle of the road stood a large elm tree, known as Stocks Tree. This was damaged when sewers were being laid and being in the way of the buses was moved to Blake Recreation Ground in 1935 but blew down in a storm. A piece of it is still displayed in the Library and it is commemorated in the village sign.
18th, 19th and early 20th centuries
Like many small rural communities, the population grew (according to parish registers) from 165 in 1700, to 436 at the time of the 1801 census. It rose steadily to 1,328 by 1901 but was still only 1,301 at the 1921 census. This rise can be partly attributed to a number of large mansions that were built in the area and a consequent increase in the numbers of domestic staff.
There were also a few smaller villas built in Grosvenor Road and Hawes Lane towards the end of this period while small cottages were built in the High Street, Kent, Sussex, Surrey and North Roads and in Red Lodge Road. Even the arrival of the railway in 1882 failed to have any significant effect upon the area’s population.
In 1883 Edward Walford wrote in his book Village London “Few parts of even the distant suburbs of London are prettier or more sylvan than the country between Hayes and Croydon and few villages more sequestered than West Wickham, which up to the present time has not suffered by any great extent from the incursions of the demons of bricks and mortar”.
Burrel Mead, Beckenham Road – It is now a care home after having been a temporary rectory following the sale of Glebe House in 1925. Prior to that it was occupied by Gustav Mellin Jnr when he married Madge Farrell in 1910.
Coney Hill – built in about 1880 on common land enclosed by Lord Lennard and became a school for handicapped children but was destroyed by fire.
Hast Hill, Baston Manor Road – another Victorian mansion now converted into flats on the edge of the Green Belt.
Hawes Down, Hawes Lane – Built by Sir John Lennard for his daughter Patricia and is now converted to flats.
The Manor House, High Street – Stood opposite the end of Manor Road. It was not a real manor house as the Lord of the Manor was living at Wickham Court but it was a large house built in about 1800 and occupied in 1901 by George Bird, esquire. The estate was sold in 1922 – part was retained for a catholic church and a new road, Manor Park Road. The house stood to the rear of Sherwood Court where there still stands a fine Holm Oak from its garden.
Oak Lodge, off Beckenham Road – Built on half of the Riddle Meadow when that was sold off from the Langley Estate in 1820. It was initially known as Wickham Hatch and access was via a pretty thatched lodge that survived until St David’s Close was built. The house still stands looking out over Blake Recreation Ground, which is part of the 70 acres that originally went with the house. The recreation ground is named after the village doctor William Blake. Today the house is converted into flats and is listed Grade II.
Ravenswood, Station Road – which stood near the Swan public house on a site in use as far back as the 1480’s. This Queen Anne style house rebuilt in the 18th century was owned by Gilbert West a friend of William Pitt. At that time, it was called Grove House and was lent to Pitt while Hayes Place was being rebuilt for him. In 1842 it was leased by Charles Hall and later bought by him. Two of his daughters Emily and Ellen remained spinsters and kept diaries about life in West Wickham until they died in 1911. In the 1920’s Ravenswood was used unsuccessfully as a Hotel before half was demolished in 1932 for the Plaza Cinema. The cinema in turn closed in 1957 to be replaced by Boots while the other half was a private school called Wickham College – demolished in 1957 to become a petrol filling station and later a Sainsbury supermarket.
Springfield, High Street – Designed in 1890 by John Sedding for Mrs Thomasett who at the time was living at The Manor House. It was built on the land that she bought from Sir John Lennard. It is built in the Tudor style and with an impressive hall and galleried landing, which are listed Grade II. In 1920 she gave part of her land fronting onto the High Street for the war memorial which was relocated to the top of Corkscrew Hill in 1939. In 1954 the house was used as a school for children with learning difficulties but later became a Barnados home. The grounds have since been developed and the house converted into flats.
Stramshall Lodge, Woodland Way – This is the long forgotten name of a large Victorian house next to Spring Park Woods. In about 1925 it was bought by the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers, a charitable group of beer drinkers, for use as a children’s heart hospital. They also donated 4 acres for the Girl Guides. After the children’s hospital in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea had been bombed out during the war, in 1975 they moved into the premises. Its use was gradually reduced until the old house and the original hospital wards were unfit for habitation and it was then redeveloped as the Cheyne Park Close housing estate.
The Warren, Coney Hill – Like Coney Hill it was built on land enclosed by Lord Lennard from the common. This led to a public outcry and £1,500 was raised by subscription and the City of London raised the rest of the £2,000 to buy the common back. In 1892 the Mayor of London travelled to Wickham Common where he declared it free and open to public use for ever. Built in about 1882 by a Dutchman, The Warren became the home of Sir Robert Laidlaw MP from 1909 until 1915 and was used as a First World War Hospital. It is now a Metropolitan Police Sports Ground.
Wickham Hall, High Street – was an enormous mansion built for Gustav Mellin, a baby food manufacturer around 1885, It stood on the site of a previous Georgian mansion called Wickham Place in grounds of about 10 acres stretching from Kent Road to opposite Sherwood Way and included a walled kitchen garden on the opposite side of the road where the Woolworths car park now lies. The house was demolished in 1931 and replaced with two parades of art-deco style shops and the houses in Braemar Gardens. The stables became a United Dairies depot, now listed Grade I and incorporated into the Marks & Spencer supermarket.
Wickham House – Located Opposite The Swan, it was remodelled in Queen Anne Style in 1868 by Norman Shaw. This was the home of the McAndrew Family. Robert McAndrew was a ship owner from Liverpool and the family played an active role in West Wickham resulting in one of the local parks being named after them. The house is still present but was converted for shop use in 1925 as the High Street expanded.
Wood Lodge, Wickham Court Road – Built by Sir John Lennard in 1886 as a speculative development, it was not ﬁnished until 1891 when it was then let to David Beath a banker and merchant with interests in Australia. There followed a succession of tenants before it was bought by James Baker. He offered it for use by the Red Cross as a war hospital but although prepared for that use the offer was never taken up and in 1935 the land was sold to Rumph, a builder, and the house became a boys’ orphanage called Aberdare House. In 1967 this was replaced by houses in Aberdare Close.
The Arrival of Suburbia
The first world war changed the order of things. In 1924 Rev. ‘Bertie’ Roberts, Rector at St Johns since 1884 died. He had been responsible for the transfer of Glebe land to the West Wickham Playing Fields Trust at the top of Corkscrew Hill, where there is an obelisk marking his contribution to the community. His cousin, Sir Henry Lennard resigned his chairmanship of the parish council after 22 years and two years later in 1926 he donated 36 acres of land at spring park to the Corporation of London for the peoples use for eternity and the following year added a further 16 acres.
Gradually, as owners died or moved away the larger houses with land surrounding them became available for development. In 1925 following the death of Mrs McAndrew, Wickham House was brought by George Spencer who converted it into shops and started building in The Grove.
The railway line was electrified in 1925 and initially the Hayes branch was used for driver training. The Manor House was demolished following the death of G.W. Bird in 1927 and Mrs Mellin at Wickham Hall left for a nursing home in 1928. The Lennards were also selling part of their estates including Hawes Farm and Coney Hall Farm. Multiple stores like Sainsbury had opened in the High Street by 1930.
Development was rapid. By the end of 1929 it was estimated that 1,000 houses had been built and a further 2,000 houses were built by 1934. One firm was estimated to be building 20 houses a week. Road widening followed to cope with the traffic, resulting in the loss of many trees. The West Wickham Residents Association which had been founded in 1929 to press for “the betterment of West Wickham” encouraged the planting of road side trees offering them to residents at discounted prices.
In 1926 parts of the Langley Estate were sold for development. The original mansion, close to where Langley Park Girls School is today, became the club house for Langley Park Golf Club but burnt down in 1913 and a new club house was built in Barnfield Wood Road. The Avenue of trees from the mansion to Pickhurst Lane became one of the fairways and gave its name to one of the roads. The Goodhart family who had owned Langley Park gave their name to another.
Sir Henry Lennard died in 1928 and when his wife Lady Beatrice died in 1931. Their son who had emigrated to Canada, sold part of the estate to Morrells (builders) who built Coney Hall, Wickham Court Farm and the adjacent Rouse Farm were brought by Kent County Council in order to create a Green Belt as the sudden expansion of London was causing concern.
By 1939 at the outbreak of WW2, the gardens, orchards and fields which had created a rural idyll had largely gone and except for some post war infilling, little new development has taken place since. By 1940 it is estimated that the population of the whole of West Wickham had risen to about 20,000. Today it may be slightly lower but as the census figures are published by political boundaries, it is difficult to calculate the pre4sent figures as Coney Hall now forms part of the Hayes Ward.
Piped water first came to West Wickham between 1988 and 1884. The rising demand in the Croydon area resulted in the enlargement of the pumping station in Addington Road in 1923. Gas arrived in 1893 but it became necessary to build a 12 inch main from Beckenham in 1929.
Mains electricity came in 1914 and the telephone some time before that, the telephone exchange being housed in a barn next to The Swan. Until 1928 sewerage had been to cesspools. A motor bus service – the 49b to Ealing – made its first trip on 27th February 1921. There followed a succession of different routes to different places. The 194 first came into service in 1927 but the 119 did not start until 1939. Commuter trains became so crowded that in 1932 they had to lengthen the platform to take eight coach trains.
The war memorial erected in 1921 on land given by Mrs Thomasett and bordering the High Street, became an obstruction and was moved to the top of Corkscrew Hill.
The increase in population resulted in the National School closing down in 1930 with pupils being transferred to the West Wickham Council School which had accommodation for 270. By 1931 there were 471 pupils, the pressure being eased when the seniors were sent to Marian Vian at Elmers End but the juniors had risen to 420 by the following year. Hawes Down Infants was opened in October 1933 with 217 pupils but was soon full as was the Juniors, capacity at 290. Additional classes were opened in the Assembly Rooms at Coney Hall until Wickham Common School was opened in 1937. In addition to Greenhayes, St David’s College private school was founded in a house in South Eden Park Road in 1926 and there were various other short lived private schools. In 1954 Oak Lodge School opened following the establishment in 1953 of the Pickhurst Primary to the beneﬁt of those at the northern side of the town