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Archive for January, 2012

Bombs in the Broadway

On 18 April 1999 a 1,000lb unexploded German bomb was found during construction of the Broadway Square development. People were evacuated from their homes and the town centre was sealed off while a bomb disposal team dealt with it. According to the BBC News report, people in 70 homes would not leave.

Major Bob Tomkins, overseeing the operation, said: “Some residents are reluctant to leave their homes.

“While it might have been quite laudable in the 1940s with the great British Bulldog spirit, I don’t think it appropriate any more.”

A fragment of the bomb is displayed outside Sainsbury’s.

486 bombs fell on Bexleyheath in 1940 alone.

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The Clock Tower in Bexleyheath: what does it mean to you?

A meeting place? Your first kiss?

Bus stop? Historic landmark?

Have any events taken place there?

Do you have a personal experience you would like to share?

If so we want to hear from you! The ‘Changing Times’ project will record memories so that we can piece together a people’s history of this busy street.

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During 1717-1857 convicted criminals were sent to Australia. Bexley Heath lay on the route to the ports of embarkation and so from time its residents witnessed the ‘sad and painful spectacle’ of the convict vans going through, full of prisoners under sentence of transportation.

When the Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829, Bexley fell outside its boundary. Policing remained the responsibility of the parish Constable, although there were two Bow Street horse patrols which moved about the district: “timid persons having to go to Bexley or some other place after dark used to wait for an opportunity to walk under the protection of a patrol” [Castells, 1910]. Later, the area came under the ‘R’ (Greenwich) division of the Metropolitan Police, and in 1840 a police station opened in a rented house opposite the XII milestone (near today’s Civic Offices).

A new police station was built in 1855 at 28 Broadway but this became inadequate. The next new police station was built at the corner of the Broadway and Highland Road and opened in 1907 (where Sainsbury’s car park is now; it was demolished in 1994).

In 1994, the present Bexleyheath Police Station opened at Arnsberg Way.

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The historic London to Dover road crossed straight through the Bexley Heath, which was until the end of the 18th century wild and deserted. It had a bad reputation: it was a favourite spot for footpads and highwaymen to pounce on travellers.

Just think about the people who travelled up and down it: Julius Caesar, Wat Tyler, Charles II at his Restoration. Yes, the Romans paved it, but it is likely that there were track ways from the Iron Age. Later, medieval pilgrims walked to the tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. In the 18th century the New Cross Turnpike Trust repaired the road in exchange for a toll, and milestones were erected to indicate the distance between the main towns on the road. This was when the Golden Lion became an important coaching and posting inn.

The Broadway follows closely, though slightly to the north, the route of the old Roman Road. The road has been widened and straightened over the years, but one deviation that remains in evidence is Mayplace Road. Travellers crossing the heath towards Crayford on a warm and heavy-going day would often bear to the north of the main road, towards the windmill, avoiding a hill and passing through a lane which had trees for shade.

The Rochester Way, built in 1926, replaced the Broadway as the main London to Dover Road, and more recently the relief roads of Arnsberg Way to the north and Albion Road to the south were constructed. This allowed pedestrianisation of the Broadway in the 1990s and ended the straight line of the old road for traffic. The milestone in the photograph here was saved and repositioned in the middle of the Broadway at its eastern end.

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