The Development of Bexleyheath with a focus on Latham Road by Janet Flatt (Site code AOS 34)
Before 1816 the settlement of Bexley Heath or Bexleyheath as it became, did not exist. The area was just rough, open land crossed by the main road from London to Canterbury. The area was well known for highway men since up to 70 coaches a day traversed this route.
To the south side of the ‘Heath’ was farmland. Warren Farm was situated at the end of a track which is now Broomfield Road. It was also known as The Pest House because someone who stayed there died from the Great Plague (1665) after catching the disease on a visit to London.
The reasons why a settlement grew up on Bexley Heath are not clear but suggestions include the idea that poor drifters came to build shacks here to live in. They may have been attracted to this location by the broom plants growing locally; although they were poor they were keen to work and they made baskets and brushes from the plants which they then sold to local villages. They were then known by the nickname “Broom–dashers”.
Another theory is that people came to live on the Heath because of the expanding fabric printing industry in Crayford. There was little room in Crayford for expansion of housing.
Local land and property owners became worried by this uncontrolled development so they decided to ask Parliament to authorise the enclosure of the Heath. The Bexley Act was passed in 1814. In 1819 plots of land of varying sizes were allotted to 107 people. Many were keen to make money by building houses for sale or for rent. In 1816 there were 12 cottages on the Heath, in 1822 there were 18 cottages and 100 houses and by 1837 there were still 100 houses but also 170 cottages.
The census of 1841 showed that the total population of Bexley Heath was 2115. Many people being employed in agriculture and in fabric printing. Some could afford servants but others had no house at all and lived in barns, sheds or tents. They may have been seasonal workers on farms as the census took place in June.
By 1851 fabric printing employed the largest number of people. The 1851 census showed that two thirds of the working population came from further afield than Bexley or Crayford to settle in the ‘new town ‘of Bexley Heath.
Pincott Road and Highland Road were the main roads leading south from the Broadway to the edge of the farmland. Further east was Gravel Hill. Some large villas and cottages had been built in Warren Road, Victoria Road, Albion Road and Pincott Road many of which are still there today. A Police Station was located at the junction of the Broadway and Highland Road. Tram car sheds, a Fire Station and Council Offices were on land to the east of Highland Road. A tram service started in 1903 and ran from Plumstead, via Welling and Bexleyheath to Northumberland Heath. There was a short branch to the top of Gravel Hill. In 1935 many trams were replaced by trolley buses, and then the 1960s saw buses replace these.
Although Bexleyheath was growing and expanding into a busy town farmland was close to the Broadway for example photographs taken in 1930 show corn and hay making at Warren Wood Farm just to the south of the settlement. The entrance to Baker’s Farm was part of what became Townley Road today. By 1936 Townley Road had been built with housing, a car park and a timber yard found along the road as far south as today’s junction with Latham Road. Bexleyheath was undergoing rapid development at this time. In 1934 for example a very large cinema, the Regal was built with 2044 seats. At the junction of Albion Road and Pincott where the doctor’s surgery exists today was a laundry. Highland Road had rows of terraced houses along it and Oakhouse Road formed part of this new residential area. To the northeast a potato crisp factory had been built with an opening onto Gravel Hill. This may have been because the raw materials were grown locally. The photograph below shows potato pickers in Pincott fields about 1930.
In 1936 Latham Road was shown as a small turning off Gravel Hill. It contained a pair of houses on the north side of the road only. The present route of Latham Road did not exist; farmland covered the area west to Townley Road and south to Rochester Way, about 70 acres in all.
My house was first registered as freehold on 7th March 1939. The early history of the house is very confusing as papers show that South Country Freeholds Limited possibly sold the freehold to London Midland Associated properties on 24th February 1938. Between 1939 and 1951 when its history becomes clearer the house may have been a rental property.
In July 1943 a requisitioning report possibly for the government was written for the Ideal Properties Trust describing in detail the condition of the house at the time. The document states that the War damage claim had been closed. The report of 1943 describes the house as being in poor decoration with an overgrown garden.
In 1951 the house was sold to London Midland Associated properties who leased the property to W.J.D. Allan for 999 years at a rent of £8 a year. Around this time an application was made to erect a garage on the side of the house.
In November 1977 the property was sold to a Mr and Mrs Eldridge.
The property exchanged hands again in April 1979 purchased by Mr and Mrs Waller. In July 1979 central heating was installed.
Between the report of 1943 and October 1983 when we moved in the interior of the house had changed significantly. Upstairs the toilet and bathroom had been knocked into one room. Downstairs the separate rooms had become open plan; the wall between the lounge and dining room being demolished. The door from the hall into the kitchen blocked up so that the new access to the kitchen was via the dining room/lounge. A pond had been built in the garden, and a brick wall constructed two thirds of the way down the garden with access through the centre to the overgrown bottom third.
In the garden the following finds have been made: a square headed nail reflecting the agricultural past of the land.