Birkbeck & Churchfields.

The road from Penge to Beckenham was, even less than a 125 years ago, a country lane and a Guide Book of 1827 reads - "Beyond Chaffinch's River there is an enticing field-path to Beckenham with arched trees overhanging". Originally known as Penge Road, it was not altered to Beckenham Road until about 1900. On either side were fields and meadows, and by the middle of the 19th century cottages and farms began to be established.

There is a description of a piece of land in a will of 1490 which reads "Upper Cokks, lying betwixt Bakk Lane and the highway that goeth to Croydon". Nothing is known of 'Upper Cokks' but the land (now Churchfields Road) which ran the whole distance from Penge Road to EImers End Road, has appeared on maps as Bakk, Back's, Baxe's and Beck Lane.

In 1820 there stood on the right hand corner, in Penge Road, a small cottage with a 'neat sporting-box and chaise house'. Borrowman suggests this may well be 'Woodbine Cottage' which disappeared in 1880. A map of 1835 shows a strip of fields in this area stretching to beyond Eimers End, belonging to the Cator Estate.

Farms in this area were ELM FARM, situated between the present railway bridge and Barnmead Road, and THAYERS FARM (1869) of only 41 acres, approached by a track leading from the stables of 'Clock House'. Roads on this side of Beckenham Road, on the Cator Estate, are mostly named after farm fields and features, such as Barnmead (1880s), Thayers Farm (1880s), Chaffinch (1900) and Rowden (1900). In Plawsfield Road, also named after a farm field, there are no houses at all.

A plan dated 1680 shows two areas of Church Lane in Baxe's Lane. One was the plot on which St. Augustine's Church and the former Churchfields School stood, being then known as 'Bellrope Field'. Borrowman here suggests, "this was because the rent was applied in providing Bell Ropes for the Parish Church".

This plot was divided up as follows:-

I. In 1885 part of the field was given to the Local Board to allow the road to be widened.

2. In 1886 another part was used for the erection of a Mission House, served from the Parish Church; this became the St. Augustine's Church.

3. In 1889 the remainder was sold· by the Trustees to the Beckenham School Board for £900 for the erection of a school, first called Arthur Road School, and opened in 1890 -later known as Church fields School. In 1907 the Trustees sold a further piece of land to the School Board for school extensions.

The second plot of Church Land was left to the Beckenham Parish Church Council in the will of Edmund Style, a member of the family who owned Langley from 1510 to 1718. A record of this bequest can stilI be seen on one of the Tablets in the Parish Church. In 1904 the Church sold this plot to the Local Council for use as a recreation ground, at an annual charge of £37.10.0., insisting that the origin of the land should be perpetuated by calling it 'The Churchfields Recreation Ground', which was opened on 1 st August 1907. Shortly after this sale the lower part of the road was renamed Churchfields Road, being previously known as Arthur Road.

At one time there was a Brick Field in this area, with Blandford Road as the top boundary and the whole of Beck Lane (as it then was) as the other. The steep bank formed by excavating the clay for the brick making can still be seen on the Churchfield's sides of Villiers and Arrol Roads.

House development in Arthur Road started in the late 1870s with about 50 houses at the lower end, but the rest of the original houses were not completed until about 1907, with the shops coming later. The new blocks of Council Flats at the lower end are named after Firemen who lost their lives on duty during Air Raids.

The present Beck Lane was not developed for houses until after World War II, being previously used as Allotments. At the far end, on the EImers End Road corner, stands the London Transport Depot. The former building (1929), which incidentally housed solid-tyre 'buses, was destroyed by a Flying Bomb and when rebuilt (1953) one of the entrances was called 'The Cunningham Gate' in memory of a faithful fire-watcher who remained at his post on the roof, to give warning.

Churchfields Road also had the Beckenham Corporation Depot, the former electric power station and one of Beckenham's largest factories, Small Electric Motors.

About the middle of the 19th century much land in Beckenham was bought by the Birkbeck Freehold Lane Society, founded in 1851 by Francis Ravenscroft. He needed a name that would guarantee the integrity of his Society, and chose that of BIRKBECK.

Dr. George Birkbeck, a Yorkshire physician and philanthropist, was a leader in the movement to provide education for the working man. In 1823 he formed the Mechanics Institute out of which grew the present Birkbeck College, part of the London University.

Building developments on the Birkbeck Estate began in the 1870s and many of the roads were named after people who were associated with the Freehold Lane Society, such as Sultan Street (1880), formerly Sultan Road; Blandford Road (1898); Blandford Avenue (1900); Arrol Road (1904); Seward Road (1907); Villiers Road (1908); Allen Road (1910), and Clement Road which was not developed until after the first World War.

Kimberley Road (1904-5) was named after a besieged garrison during the Boer War, while Mackenzie Road was named after Col. Colin Mackenzie who, it is said, had his Afghan servant baptised in the Parish Church in 1867.

Sidney Road (1900) was named after Sidney Cottage which stood on the Beckenham Road corner. This was once the parsonage for All Saints Church which stood opposite in Chaffinch Road. Houses in Kendall Road followed those in Sidney Road but Kendall Avenue was not developed until the early 1930s.

Betts Close (1980s) was named after the builder Dennis Betts who lived at 25 Sidney Road. The site his former yard.

It was originally intended that Avenue Road should extend across the railway into Blandford Road, but presumably the cost would have been too great, so the footbridge was built instead.

The reason why Clement and Seward Road’s are the only direct links between Churchfields and Blandford Road’s is that they were formed on the only plot of land owned by the Birkbeck Estate which had a frontage to Churchfields Road; land on either side of this plot never formed part of the Estate, which accounts for Sultan Street and Blandford Avenue being cul-de-sac.

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  • George Stanley

    This article is of great interest to me.I was born in No 93 Churchfields rd 1935. I remember my mother not allowing my brother and I to go to the top of the street due to the Authur being hit and body parts everywhere .

    from Brisbane QLD, Australia
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  • Brenda Hart(Nee Aylen)

    I was born in Churchfield Road in 1930 at No 57 ,went to Churchfield Road School and got married in the then St Augustine Church
    also in Churchfield Road.

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  • Jonathan Moore

    I have been taking much interest in the Churchfields area . Especially the former Corporation Land that once had the Arthur Road Dust Destructor onsite , various Sub Stations and Municipal Depot . All that remains is Churchfields main 33/11 kV Sub Stn . Also I found a recent Bottle Tip in the area , it seems to date from around 1932 . But strangely part of the land may have already been allotments when it was tipped . Question , was Maberley Playing field once Allotments too , or had that been dumped on too in the past ?

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  • Susan

    I was born and brought up in Beckenham, living in Beck Lane as a small child. My great grandmother, Ellen Hastings, ran a confectionery shop in Churchfields Rd and her husband was a brick maker, possibly in the brick field mentioned. They moved to Churchfields from a shop in Harrington Rd on the other side of the Beckenham Cemetery.

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  • David Fergusson

    "About the middle of the 19th century much land in Beckenham was bought by the Birkbeck Freehold Lane Society, founded in 1851 by Francis Ravenscroft. He needed a name that would guarantee the integrity of his Society, and chose that of BIRKBECK."
    Please do you have any references for these suggestions of the names?
    Also the land was owned by the Birkbeck Building Society and Birkbeck Freehold Land Society and not "Lane."
    Read more at http://heritagearchives.rbs.com/companies/list/birkbeck-bank.html
    Also may I humbly suggest that it is more likely Francis Wall Mackenzie Ravenscroft named Mackenzie Road after himself, in the same way he had named Ravenscoft Road. Though, he himself, may well have been named for Col. Colin Mackenzie.

    from 23 Cambridge Rd, London SE20 7XJ, UK
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  • It was originally intended that Avenue Road should extend across the railway into Blandford Road, but presumably the cost would have been too great, so the footbridge was built instead.

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