Local History

This is a very brief history of a place called Penge.   We will add information on Penge’s historic buildings, famous people and a historic walk round Penge later.  Now for the back story:

The earliest record for a place identifiable as Penge is a reference to Penceat in an Anglo-Saxon deed dating from 957AD.  This makes Penge one of the oldest recorded place names in Bromley and in London.  The early British or Celtic derivation is usually translated as Edge of the Wood  though some sources prefer “The Hill in the Wood”, much the same as Forest Hill.    The wood or hill refers to the Great North Wood in both instances.

For many centuries the area was part of Penge Common which covered most of Penge, all of Anerley and parts of South Norwood.  A road to Sydenham followed the line of St John’s Road and a cart track along the route of the present High Street leading to Beckenham marked the western end of the common.  To the west of the Beckenham road, the area was known as Pensgreen.  There were a few cottages dotted around the green and by 1601 a pub, the Crooked Billet, though not in its present location.

Penge remained pretty much the same until the middle of the 19th Century.  Several Enclosure Acts between 1797 and 1827 resulted in most of the remaining Common and Penge Green being subdivided into privately owned plots.   As a result of the 1827 Enclosures, the Crooked Billet was relocated to its present site and subsequently rebuilt.   It is the oldest pub in Penge.

Today, the only remnants of Penge Common that survive as public open spaces include Crystal Palace Park, Penge Recreation Ground and Betts Park in Anerley.

The Enclosure Acts opened the way to development.   This was further encouraged by the building of the London and Croydon Canal across the Common in the early part of the 19th century.  In 1836 that route was largely used for the London and Croydon Railway which ran through Sydenham, Penge West and Anerley stations, opening in 1839.

Following the arrival of the railway, the area became an accessible and fashionable suburb.   This was reinforced when the Crystal Palace was built in the grounds of Penge Place in 1854.   Many of the older houses in the area date from this period.  Watermen’s Square, built as almshouses for the retired members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen, dates from 1840.  The Queen Adelaide Almshouses were built in St. John’s Road in 1848 to provide shelter for twelve widows or orphan daughters of naval officers.  St John’s Church was built in 1850 and St. John’s Cottages on Maple Road were built as almshouses in 1863.   The old Police Station was built in 1872, its size demonstrating the rapid population growth in the area.

With the rising population, the hamlet of Penge became part of the new County of London in 1888 but was transferred to Kent in 1900 as Penge Urban District with its own council meeting in the Town Hall at Anerley.   Penge had arrived as a town and the part of Beckenham Road running through Penge was renamed Penge High Street.   Penge remained administratively independent until 1965 when Penge UD was merged with other districts in the area to form the London Borough of Bromley.

This potted history is taken from a number of sources.  Wikipedia provides more detail.  

The Ideal Homes web site is also very comprehensive athttp://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/bromley/assets/histories/penge

There have been a number of books written on Penge’s development.  Particularly useful have been:

Penge, Anerley and Crystal Palace: The Community, Past, Present and Future, by Peter Abbott,

Penge, by Doris Pullen,

Around Crystal Palace & Penge, by David R Johnson

The Making of a London Suburb: Capital Comes to Penge, by Martin Spence

You might also be interested in the history of Barnmead Road and the Cator Estate.

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