Beckenham History

Beckenham Early History.

The changes from a Village of scattered hamlets to a Borough, one of the largest in Kent, is both fascinating and interesting. Beckenham has played its part in the Country’s history, and the records in the local Parish Churches reveal the loyalty of the residents throughout the centuries.

Writers of ancient history give little information of Beckenham before the Roman Invasion. Recent excavations at Holwood Park have dated Holwood back to ISO B.C., or even earlier, that is, a century before the first Roman Invasion. Relics of the Bronze and Stone Ages have been found, and no doubt in the far distant ages cave dwellers lived in this area.

Druid worship was still practised here when the Romans came, and the oak groves on Wickham Common are still pointed out as the possible sites of these open-air temples. It has also been established that a Roman Road passed through Beckenham in a direct line from Lower Sydenham, by Worsley Bridge Road, through Langley and on to Titsey. Some of the old bridle paths through the forests are no doubt sites of some of our modern roads.

Traces of a Roman Camp could be seen until recently in the grounds of a house called ‘Romanhurst’ in Toots Wood Road. This is shown on an Ordnance Map of 1890 as ‘Ancient British Earthworks’, and is believed to have been a Roman outpost of the Holwood camp. The word ‘toot’ is of Saxon origin and was used in connection with Tumuli, a look-out hill, or a beacon.

A picture, therefore, of this district in far off ages would be one vast forest with open spaces here and there; a district, well watered by many streams and of many beautiful landscapes. Here wild animals roamed; the wolf, the bear, the boar, the red deer and wild cats. It was also a vast bird sanctuary. Small communities existed in the open spaces, and they sustained themselves by hunting and fishing.

In the Coat of Arms of the former Borough of Beckenham the White Horse reminds us of earlier days. After the Romans left Britain the country was over run by marauding bands, known as Picts and Scots. Hengist and Horsa (both mean Horse), who command the first English who invaded Britain, drove back bands in Kent, and for their victories were given possession of the Isle of Thanet. In the grounds of the Manor House at Swanscombe, Kent, the Invicta Memorial bears this inscription:- “Near this spot in the year 1067, by ancient tradition, Men of Kent and Kentish Men, carrying boughs on their shoulders and swords in their hands, met the invader William, Duke of Normandy. They offered peace if he would grant them ancient rights and liberties, otherwise war, and that most deadly. Their request was granted, and ever since, the motto of Kent has been “Invicta”, meaning Unconquerable.”


Derivation of Beckenham

The long accepted belief that the name of Beckenham was derived from the Saxon words BECC’, a stream and ’HAM’, a village or dwelling, has been disproved by recent study of medieval documents, in fact the reverse is now considered the more likely, that the name of the river BECK is derived from the village name of BECKENHAM.

Leading authorities on the subject of place names are convinced that the name comes from the ‘BIOHHAHAHEMA’ and ‘BEOHHAHAHEMA’ of Saxon times, signifying ‘Beohha’s settlement or enclosure’. The village is referred to by such names in Charters of the 9th. and 10th. centuries.

In the course of years the spelling of the name varied although the pronunciation probably remained much the same. In the Domesday Book the name appears first as ‘BECHEHAM’ and in a later reference as ‘BACHEHHAM’, and from these we get the present township name of ‘BECCEHAMIAN’.

By 1141 the ‘ch’ was beginning to give way to a ‘k’ as seen by reference to ‘BEKAHAM’ in Queen Matilda’s Charter of that year. In later periods many forms of spelling Occurred as ‘BEKENHAM’, ‘ BECHENHAM’’, ‘BEGHENHAM ‘ ‘BECKINGHAM’ and ‘BEKYNHAM’, all these variations the attempts of scribes to put down on parchment, or paper, name of the village when spoken to them.

The present day spelling of ‘BECKENHAM’ seems to have been from about the 17th century, although by no means universally, variation ‘BECKINGHAM’ still being usual even in the 18th. century.


3 Responses

  1. The evolution of online resources is enabling the gathering of material from various archive records and catalogues. Much of this adds some background to the early history of Beckenham. Subsequent to the publishing of the history of Beckenham Place on the Friends of Beckenham Place Park website, we have started a page on the same site related to Beckenham History. Earlier writers may have generalized the early history because of the complexity of ownership and occupation. We are taking the approach that listing documents and events in a dated timeline may unravel events and put things into context with one another. As opposed to the previous approaches of categorizing histories by place eg Manor of Beckenham, Manor of Foxgrove, Kelsey and Langley. The timeline will also include the more minor estates and messuages. Many references may be impossible to place geographically and accurately but will hopefully add interest and facilitate linking events, searching names and places, etc.
    For the time being its easier to edit the page on the FBPP site, but this site and any other local history site is welcome to the material subject to the copyrights of third party material and for ‘not for profit’ uses. Comments, corrections, questions can be addressed to

  2. Dear Beckenham History, I have a question about an ancestor who lived in Beckenham in 1840 and was listed as a “publican”, which I understand means an innkeeper. He lived there with his wife Ann and daughters Elizabeth and Martha, and I wonder if this much information could lead to knowing more about them and their family. Their daughter Ann Barker emigrated to New York State in the US and married Phinehas Scothon, whose family I know included millers in England and here in the US.

Add a Comment

Spam comments will automatically be deleted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *