History of Biggin Hill

How it all started

(By John Nelson. Taken from the book "Grandfather's Biggin Hill".)


Biggin Hill, in recent years, has been going through a period of intense change both in it's appearance and character. Property development on a large scale has brought with it rapid growth in population, new and improved roads, shops, schools and firms of estate agents. What people are happy to go on calling a village is by certain standards a town of some size, but our new towns were properly planned, and many of our older ones grew up around what were originally villages centering on a main street, inn and parish church. Biggin Hill has had the advantages of neither a new nor an old town; it just started, almost in the middle of nowhere, and then it grew.

100 years ago, as a place on the map, Biggin Hill did not exist. Certainly there had been the ancient Biggin Hill Farm which occupied what were then fields on all sides of the Jail Lane and Main Road junction. The unfenced area of land bordering on the road near the 'Black Horse', too, had been called Biggin Hill Green for several hundred years. What is now the widespread residential area of Biggin Hill, however, was almost entirely farm land forming part of the Manor of Aperfield in the parish of Cudham, Kent.


Aperfield Manor:

The name Aperfield in early times was spelt in a variety of different ways, one of the first recorded being Apuldrefield, almost certainly derived from what in modern English would be 'apple tree field'. A large field in which the houses of Aperfield Road and Village Green Avenue now stand was known more than three hundred years ago as 'Old Orchard', which tends to affirm this definition. It would seem that there is not, as yet, an acceptable explanation for the origin of the name Biggin Hill, but there are several credible ones to choose from.

No pre-Conquest references to the Manor have been discovered, but it is recorded that Aperfield was one of the Manors which William the Conqueror presented to his half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, following the victory of the Normans over King Harold in 1066. The Manor subsequently passed into the possession of a succession of emanate families, including de Apuldrefield, de Foxle, Denny, Lennard (of Chevening), Dacre, Knowe, Bartholemew, Geary and Christy, although few of them actually resided there. It is not intended, however, to attempt a detailed history of the Manor. For those who may wish to pursue it, this can be found in a work entitled Some Account of the Manor of Apuldrefield in the Parish of Cudham, Kent, by G. Steinman, F.S.A., and also in Hasted's The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent.

At the end of the seventeenth century, Aperfield was held by Thomas Lord Dacre, Earl of Sussex, who leased a very substantial part of it to Anne Brasier, a widow who died in 1726 and was buried in Cudham Church. In 1669 a survey of the manorial land leased to Mrs. Brasier was carried out and a plan prepared, the outline of which bears a remarkable resemblance to Biggin Hill as it appears on maps today. The original plan, measuring 8' x 4', can still be inspected in the Kent County Archives Office at Maidstone.

On 3rd June 1835, the Manor was sold by the then owner, Sir William Richard Powlett Geary, Bt., M.P., to John Christy of Hatcham Manor in New Cross. There was at that time an ancient manor house situated close to where the large cedar tree stands in Aperfield Road, but Steinman, who was the son-in-law of John Christy, says that the building, 'having long been occupied by farmers had become reduced to a very mean residence'. It was taken down and a new house, built on it's site, was completed between 1835 and 1844.

Ownership remained in the hands of the Christy family for some sixty years, passing on the death of John, in the 1870's, to his son George. During that period arable farming and the rearing of livestock, in particular sheep, on the estate continued. At South Street Farm, Westerham Hill, also owned by the Christy's, there was, by the early 1890's, a notable stud farm where a renowned and handsome hackney stallion named Aperfield was stabled.


Biggin Hill for sale:

In the Bromley and District Times of 7th June 1895, there appeared an announcement that Messrs. Baxter Payne & Lepper, acting on behalf of the Executors of the Will of Mr. G. Christy, would sell by auction at The Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, London, on Wednesday 3rd July 1895:

'. . . The Freehold Residential, Sporting and Agricultural Estate known as "Aperfield Court" comprising about 502a. 1r. 35p. of rich pasture, arable and woodland including a Family Residence standing in a miniature park surrounded by pleasure grounds and the necessary glass houses, buildings, cottages, lodges etc., . . . Portions of the estate must become valuable for building purposes, it possesses beautiful scenery, is well timbered, and affords many picturesque sites. The sporting is good, the land capital for stock rearing, and some of the Lots could not be excelled for poultry farming or horticulture. . . '

When the Manor of Aperfield was sold in July 1707 by the Earl of Sussex to Thomas Knowe of Downe, the consideration paid was £3,050. At the auction in July 1895, the estate, divided into sixteen lots, was sold for a total sum of £11,320, the highest price realised by any lot, probably Aperfield Court itself, being £2,800. The buyer of this, and most of the agricultural land was Fredrick Henry Dougal.


Dividing Biggin Hill up:

Mr. Dougal was no country gentleman. He lived at 148 Merton Road, Wandsworth, S.W.18, maintaining an office at 62 (later at 453) Strand, W.C., where he carried on business under the intriguing title of the Unclaimed Money Registry. It seems, however, that he owned part of Biggin Hill Farm before the Aperfield auction, since there had been in April 1895, complaints to the Cudham Parish Council of him having unlawfully encroached on Biggin Hill Green.

Picture of F.H.Dougal

Dougal had not the slightest intention to run Aperfield on the same lines as the Christy's. His ideas were quite different. What he proposed to do was to divide the land into plots and sell them off quite cheaply to anyone who wished to buy them, and for whatever purpose, since the land was not at the time subject to any Building Regulations. Plans for the estate were drawn up, allocating a number to each plot, but planning in its present day sense was nowhere to be seen. The existing roads, such as Main Road, Stock Hill, Polesteeple Hill, Norheads Lane and Oaklands Lane were not realigned in any way. Hedges and fences which formed the boundaries of fields served as natural courses for new roads, it being necessary just to go to the expense of providing a parallel fence along the other side. Only in places where this procedure would not allow land to be divided into saleable plots on both sides were new roads constructed which did not conform to the traditional field layout. There were no kerbs or pavements, but trees such as horse chestnut, lime and poplar, planted at intervals along both sides of the same roads, served to give a measure of protection to the footpath, as well as creating pleasant avenues.


Road conditions:

Road construction itself involved a minimum of expenditure on materials. Flint and chalk were plentiful locally and, when spread on the surface and compressed by steam roller, produced a road adequate to stand up to the traffic of the time. Regular use by heavy vehicles in later years, however, progressively turned many of the new roads into deeply rutted tracks with long stretches of virtually impassable mud and deep puddles in all but the driest weather. Beyond any shadow of doubt, there was nothing over the years caused greater discord and resentment in Biggin Hill than the deplorable state of the unmade roads.


Road names:

As for the names by which the roads were called, some, such as Hillcrest, Highfield, Belvedere and The Grove, alluded to their locations. The use of Royal Christian names, such as Victoria, Edward, Alexandra and Arthur reflected the special affection enjoyed by the Queen and her family. Names such as Melody, Melrose, Rosehill and York Roads and Lebanon Gardens were chosen by Mr. Dougal because they were thoroughfares which he knew well close to his home in Wandworth.


Marketing Biggin Hill

The estate having been divided up into plots and reasonable access arranged, the marketing operation began and Mr. Dougal appointed his official manager and estate agent Mr. Jesse Terry (learn more about at "Lunar Close"), who lived in one of the old thatched cottages which stood on the land fronting onto Biggin Hill Green now occupied by Lunar Close. Large hoardings were erected and a brochure full of recommendations from satisfied early purchasers was produced and distributed widely extolling the advantages of acquiring land in Biggin Hill. It was Dougal himself who decided to apply this name to the areas he was selling off, retaining the name Aperfield for the land to the eastern side of the Main Road between North and South Lodges on which Aperfield Court stood, and which had yet to be placed on the market.

According to the brochure there was beautiful scenery every where and opportunities for business ventures of many kinds were waiting to be seized. Who, in due course, could fail to make a handsome profit when plots with a twenty foot frontage could be bought for as little as £10, with immediate possession on the payment of a deposit of £1, the balance being due in half-yearly installments of ten shillings (50p) over nine years at 5% interest?

A press advertising campaign was launched, with maps showing which plots were still unsold, and a small fleet of Daimler passenger vehicles, acquired by Dougal, plied between Bromley G.P.O. and The Mill House, Biggin Hill. There were three journeys a day in each direction, and the fare was one shilling (5p).

Mr. Dougal and Mr. Terry were available, by appointment, to accompany prospective purchasers to view land on any part of the Estate, and regular auction sales 'preceded by luncheon' were conducted by Mr. Terry in the Auction Room on the heights of Mount Pleasant. One further attraction was the coming of the railway. A feature of the Estate Map was the line of the Orpington and Tatsfield Light Railway which was to cross the Main Road with a station about half-way between St. Winifred's and Belvedere Roads. Like some of Mr. Dougal's other visions, however, it failed to materialise.



A place for their deckchairs!

A considerable number of plots were sold and although houses and bungalows for permanent occupation were built, people were, for the most part, in no hurry to settle on the estate. The majority chose just to visit their land for picnics on summer weekends and bank holidays. A modest building was then found useful in which to keep the deckchairs and garden shears and to provide cover during the occasional shower. Gradually the landscape became interspersed with summer houses, sheds and temporary buildings of all shapes, colours and sizes. There was no limit to the ingenuity of people in what they placed on their land to provide shelter, including old railway carriages, tram cars, caravans and the bodies of derelict lorries.

A group of residents, and their friends, relax at their place in Sunningvale Avenue.

To get to Biggin Hill in those days meant an uphill journey, over poorly maintained roads, from whichever direction one came and the transport of heavy building materials was an expensive matter for the kind of people who were only able to buy land locally because it was cheap. Thus lighter materials such as breeze blocks, wood, corrugated iron and asbestos sheets were more greatly favoured by the early twentieth century arrivals.

Several local firms opened up to erect buildings to any purchaser's requirements, and it must be said that some of the work carried out by these firms was to a very high standard. Some (but by no means all) of the bungalows which were in later years indiscriminately described as 'wooden shacks' incorporated first class carpentry and loynery craftsmanship and materials of excellent quality.

Continued on History - Part 2