Society for One-Place Studies,
28 St Ronan’s Avenue,
Southsea, Hampshire, PO4 0QE
I became interested in this road during lockdown when my daughter and I walked there. Bexleyheath is now a busy part of South East London. Warren Road is tucked away behind Albion Road, which is a dual carriage way, and is not necessarily used by many people. I wondered when the older houses were built, who lived there and what they did for a living. I hoped to find out and ascertain connections between the occupants and the history of the area. As I had a facsimile copy of Jenkins’ Local Directory 1920, this was my starting point. I planned to research from 1871-1939.
From the village of Bexley, go up Gravel Hill to Bexleyheath. Bexley was long established; Bexley Heath was so called because it was just heath land. Jenkins’ Directory 1920 states that, ‘the soil is sand and gravel’ and cereals and fruit were the main crops. There were no streams on the heath but plenty of broom plants grew there.
Jenkins’ Directory explained that the large numbers of squatters on the heath led the land owners to become anxious, hence the Enclosure Act of 1814. By 1836, the population was 1,858 and largely along the main Roman road used by pilgrims and others. John Mercer states that by 1861 the population of the separate parish of Bexleyheath was 3000, however the Ordnance Survey map for 1862 shows that Warren Road does not yet exist. Not until the 1871 census do we see the first two villas, Cliftonville and Gloucester, appearing. The road is not named.
After 1871 the census shows the increase in the number of houses in Warren Road. By 1881 there are 8 occupied, by 1891 there are 10, by 1901 13 plus 4 unoccupied and in 1911 there are 17 occupied. Most contained families and in some cases servants. In 1939 there were 21 occupied homes plus an empty house, Longview. Southside was occupied by a family of three plus eight apparently unrelated occupants, making me wonder if it had been let as rooms, which I believe was common at the time. The houses were still only known by their names at this time.
Following the 1814 Act, Bexleyheath grew steadily, the numbers of houses, shops, schools, public houses and churches growing with it.
The town was lacking a clock tower until the coronation of George V, when it was opened with much celebrating in 1912. You can be sure that the occupants of Warren Road would have been there! The curate of Christ Church lived at Sunnyview and he assisted in the provision of tea and games for the children at Grove House, near Danson Road. His name was Reverend Francis de Paula Castells. Born in Barcelona, he had been curate since 1907 and wrote about Bexleyheath as well as freemasonry. He did not stay here and was buried in Edgeware. The Lloyd George Valuation Survey shows that Sunnyview was owned by R Wates, who owned other property, but rented for 28 shillings a year to the Reverend. It was a semi-detached house, well maintained, with four bedrooms, bathroom and WC. It was described as, ‘a very nice little property’.
Up to this time the road had not been made up, which must have been unpleasant for ladies with long skirts in inclement weather!
The First World War was a momentous event which affected everyone, not least the residents of Warren Road.
The Robinson family had been living at Fairview since at least 1901. The father, Robert was a contractor’s manager from Carlisle and lived with his wife, Edith and two sons and two daughters. Charles was 12 years old and had been born in Holland. By 1911 he had left the family home. He became Private 1135 in the 3rd Battalion of Sharpshooters Hussars but was killed in action on the 21 August 1915, age 26. The Commonwealth War Graves website records that he was the son of Robert and Edith Ann and they were a family of merchants. He is remembered on the Bexleyheath War Memorial and in the war memorial panels at Christ Church, Bexleyheath. In 1939 Robert Robinson was still living at Fairview with his two daughters.
Incidentally, Fairview was also owned by R Wates at the time of the Lloyd George Valuation and was rented out at £44 per year. It was a three-bedroom house with two attics.
There must have been others in Warren Road anxiously awaiting news of family members fighting abroad. Unfortunately, in 1939 we were preparing for another war and Stanley Willis, living at Grasmere with his wife and three others, was employed as a full time Air Raid Precaution Ambulance Driver.
Bexleyheath War Memorial was erected in 1921 and despite several moves is still to be seen.
The heath was initially the home of squatters who made baskets and brushes from the ample supply of broom plants which grew naturally in the area.
There was no water supply until the water works opened in Crayford in 1867; I believe wells were sunk for domestic water. The gas works opened in the same year but it took some time before either supply reached all houses. I imagine this impacted on the development of any industry, however there were farms such as Warren Farm and Bakers’ farm in the locality. Fruit, cereals, potatoes and cabbages were grown.
The growth of industry in nearby Crayford encouraged people to live in Bexley Heath. For example, calico printing started in 1776, followed by the manufacture of cottons and the silk works. The River Cray was used to transport bricks from Slade Green.
The residents needed provisions and by 1839 there was a market on Saturdays. By 1862 there were a number of shops
Alfred Fellmer of Cliftonville lived on private means in 1871, while Mrs Barnard, the widow next door at Gloucester Villa was an annuitant. By 1881 Cliftonville was occupied by an accountant called Richard Bayley. Other occupations were commission agent, stock and share broker, an architect, a Lloyds underwriter and a journalist called Gilbert Wood at Buena Vista.
There was no sign of anyone labouring at any of the industries in Crayford, nor agricultural workers, as these houses were too expensive. In 1891 Edward Hopping was a clerk to a builder and lived at Warren House. This house appears to have been the largest in the road, being detached and double fronted and having 13 rooms. His family remained until at least 1921. He later referred to himself as a house agent, book keeper and collector so he may have been connected with the increase in building in the area. After 1918 farm land was sold cheaply due to an economic depression and more houses were built.
At Bron Seriol (which became Ashcroft by 1901) there was Robert Pirman, a picture dealer, at Belle Vue there was a mercantile clerk, there were widows living on their own means, a member of the stock exchange, a private gentleman and Thomas Ford, a tobacco pipe man.
By 1901, Ashcroft housed an employer, a wholesale mantle manufacturer by the name of Robert Wates, who owned other land in Warren Road, according to the Lloyd George Valuation.
There was a broker’s agent at Southside, Herbert Townsend, plus several others living on their own means, however at Inglebeck we find Thomas William Jenkins, journalist and author, age 36, born in Bexleyheath, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children. His father was the man responsible for Jenkins’ bookshop in Bexleyheath and lived nearby at Montgomery Cottage. He passed away in 1911 and it seems Thomas William took over from him.
The daughters of these families were employed in teaching and dressmaking, while the sons were clerical workers, apart from two grocer’s assistants who may have been employed in the town. There would have been offices in Bexley Heath where clerks may have worked, however by 1896 there was a train service into London. Warren road is some distance from Bexleyheath railway station and although there were trains from Bexley by 1866 it would have meant a walk through fields to get there.
1911 occupations include a civil engineer, a schoolmaster, an insurance agent, a couple of private secretaries a painter and a tea broker. By this time Thomas W Jenkins described himself as a publisher, printer and stationer.
John Bates, the schoolmaster who worked for the KCC, lived at Stonycroft. His father Samuel was a designer for textile fabrics and in 1881 they had been living at The Elms, Dover Road, Crayford. It seems likely he was attracted to the area by the silk works.
Kenneth Mathieson Skeaping lived at Cliftonville and was a painter. He remained there until 1918. Three of his four children were accomplished in the areas of music, sculpture and ballet, while another daughter, Sally, died young and is buried at Bexleyheath Cemetery. There is more information on line about this skilled family.
Steven Mesnard lived at Normandy and described himself as an insurance agent, late sub postmaster. In 1881 he had been living at the Post Office, Main Road, South side, with his sister Mary Ann, a stationer. Mesnards became Wheelers in 1905.
By 1939 the occupations are more mixed. There are two men involved in textile printing, several engineers and plumbers, Harry Quinton of Gloucester House is a cinematograph exhibitor, there are female shorthand typists (which was originally a form of male employment), a Burroughs operator, plus clerical workers and a shop assistant.
By this time there was more housing in the road, better public transport and more work opportunities, although there were many women doing ‘unpaid domestic duties’. The occupants of the road may have contributed to the local economy or worked further afield.
Thomas W Jenkins, born 1864 had moved from Inglebeck to The Cottage and was working as a printer and stationer. His first wife had passed away and he had remarried Florence Joneson. Sidney A Jenkins who is living at Inglebeck in 1920 is probably a relative as he is living with Jane Sarah Mein, who was the mother of Thomas’ first wife.
By 1939 there were no live in servants employed in Warren Road. The increase in other better paid employment and labour saving devices for the home meant their number has decreased from an average of 1.5 per household in 1871 to 0.8 in 1881 and fewer in 1901 and 1911. Possibly, some households had a local person coming in to do some jobs, provided they could afford it.
Initially heads of households were not born in Bexleyheath, however their children often were and by 1911 two heads of household were born there.
According to Bexley Archives, Warren Road is named after an honorary librarian of 1898, Charles Mortimer Warren, although most people would have assumed it was named after the farm.
The road was made up after 1913 and the houses were numbered in the 1960s.
At first there were Nonconformist chapels, however by 1877 Christ Church was consecrated. There was a Congregational Church on the corner of Chapel Road. For Wesleyan Methodists there was a chapel in North Street. Trinity Baptist Church dates from 1868, while the Strict Baptist Chapel dates from the 1820s. Given that respectable families attended church at that time, this provided the residents with a good choice.
As mentioned, Rev Castells lived at Sunnyview for a time in the 1900s and R Robinson, probably Robert Robinson of Fairview, is listed in Jenkins’ Directory as treasurer of the Congregational Church in 1920. There are records of christenings of families in Warren Road being celebrated at Christ Church.
It appears that the growth of the town was caused by the wish for reasonable housing for workers who travelled elsewhere but eventually the needs of the inhabitants resulted in shops and other institutions which required workers of their own.
The inhabitants of Warren Road became active in the community as those that did not work in Bexleyheath would have shopped there. For example, T W Jenkins shop was at 73-5 Broadway and advertised stationery, china, leather goods, meccano and photo frames in 1920. He was responsible for the circulating library and the printing of the Bexleyheath Observer and District Times begun by his father.
Thomas W Jenkins was also secretary to the Public Hall and Institute in 1920 and on the Kent Education Committee.
The Freemasons met in the Masonic Hall at the rear of the Public Hall; Thomas Jenkins was a founding member of North Kent Lodge, consecrated in 1895, (northkentlodge2499.co.uk). J M Bates, the schoolmaster of Stonycroft, was an officer in the lodge which may also have been attended by Rev Castells.
Several other teachers lived in Warren Road over time but I do not know which schools they taught in, although it could have been the boys’ or girls’ schools opened in Graham Road in the 1880s. There were other private and infant schools.
Sidney A Jenkins, who lived at Inglebeck after Thomas William Jenkins had moved to The Cottage, was assistant secretary for the Bexley Urban District Traders’ Association. This aimed to protect the interests of the traders in the district. Sidney was also Honorary Secretary to the volunteer fire brigade. Such things were not yet nationally organised.
The dental surgeon, Ernest Mason, who lived at The Roses from at least 1920 -1939, was a Medical Officer for Bexley Cottage Hospital in 1920. This predated the National Health Service and aimed to provide care for the less affluent.
In 1920, Edward Hopping of Warren House was the secretary for Bexleyheath Constitutional Club Ltd at 183 The Broadway. There were other clubs and a Golf Club.
The Picture Palace, showing ‘the finest pictures and varieties’, was advertised by Harry Quinton of Gloucester Villa in Jenkins’ Directory 1920.
The small shops of the 1860s were supplemented by well-known stores such as Jennings and Hides by 1920. There was also a police station and a large number of public houses. I have not linked the pubs with Warren Road residents and do not know if they frequented them.
There were three banks by 1920 and two motor garages reflecting the increasing interest in motor cars. Between 1919 and 1927 there were eight applications to build garages in Warren Road, according to Bexley Planning records.
Not everyone was as comfortable as those in Warren Road and there was considerable poverty and unemployment. In the early twentieth century there was a demonstration of one hundred men in the Market Place, which may have alarmed some people nearby.
Fortunately, numbers 2, 4, and 6 Warren Road (Ashcroft, Fairview and The Roses) are now listed.
Despite the modernising of the 1980s, hopefully some of ‘old’ Bexleyheath can be preserved.
Mercer John, Bexleyheath, a History. Amberley Publishing 2012
Changing Times, 100 years of The Broadway, Bexleyheath 1912-2012 London Borough of Bexley and Heritage Lottery Fund
Bexleyheath 1862, Old Ordnance Survey Maps, Alan Godfrey Maps.
England and Wales Census 1861-1911
Lloyd George Valuation Survey
1939 National Register
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Society for One-Place Studies,
28 St Ronan’s Avenue,
Southsea, Hampshire, PO4 0QE