How Beckenham High Street changed between the wars
by Pat Manning
Posters from the Pavilion cinema that predated the Regal (today’s Odeon) down the road.
The Drive was so called after the drive into Village Place, a large house built by William Davis in 1717 in the centre of the village. It became the country seat of the squire, Richard Lea. In the grounds behind the high walls, there was a 100’ high elm tree with a 15’ circumference and a spiral staircase from base to summit. In Nov 1836, it was struck by lightning that took off the top two flights of the staircase, reducing the tree’s height to 93’ 9’’.
When Richard Lea died in 1828, Village Place passed to his son in law, Samuel Wilson, who had married his daughter Jemima. Alderman Samuel Wilson was Lord Mayor of London in 1839. He was a popular figure in Beckenham known for his Dalmatian dog running through the village behind his pony and trap. The family owned the land on the other side of the High St and Samuel’s son, Cornelius Lea Wilson, donated the land used to build Christ Church and founded a trust for the poor of Beckenham in memory of his grandfather, Richard Lea. Recipients had to be over 40, lived in Beckenham for at least 5 years, with no criminal record and had never received Poor Law Relief, to be granted £3-5 at Christmas.
Mary Ann, Cornelius’s wife, preferred to call the house ‘The Cedars’ after the cedar trees in the grounds and there is still a shop in the High St called ‘Ardec’ (anagram of cedar). The house was eventually pulled down in 1926 to make way for housing but when the houses were built in Church Avenue and the top of The Drive, the residents purchased the woodland through which the River Beck flowed. It still belongs to the present owners of these houses.
The Town Hall was built on the site of The Rectory which was demolished in 1929. This picture was taken in Church Ave on 20 October 1932 when the new Town Hall was opened. (See previous image of an aerial view 1965).
This was the signal for the development of the housing of Rectory Rd and the new cinema, the Regal, at the end of the High St. The picture above shows the end of the High St after the WWI monument was erected with the fair where Rectory Rd was shortly to be.
The following picture with the Rectory Rd houses just visible in the centre shows the crowds round the Regal in about 1934.
There was no Post Office at the roundabout until 1939, part of the newly formed Borough of Beckenham’s development plans. When it was hit by a bomb in 1940, the audience in the Regal was said to remain in its seats until the end of the programme.
Today’s Village Way was one of the last developments in the village of Beckenham. In 1914, it was just a cul-de-sac with three houses and in 1926 still went nowhere. Slowly more houses and the church of St Edmunds were built until 1935 when it became a thoroughfare to meet Stone.