Archive for the ‘People’ Category

At midday on 9 June 2013, the Deputy Lieutenant of Bexley, Major David Hewer, unveiled a sculptured bust of Queen Elizabeth II in the south niche of the Clock Tower in Broadway, Bexleyheath. The bust marks the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

Crowds gather at the Clock Tower for the unveilling

Crowds gather at the Clock Tower for the unveilling


A parade of dignitaries and local groups left the Civic Offices at 10am and made their way to Christ Church for a special service to celebrate the event. At noon the parade made their way back to the Clock Tower where thousands of members of the public were gathered. ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ were sung before speeches were made by Ross Paton, Chairman of Bexleyheath Business Partnership, by Rev. Francis Jakeman, vicar of Christ Church, by the Mayor of Bexley, Cllr Sharon Massey, and by the Deputy Lieutenant, Major David Hewer.

The Deputy Lieutenant then pulled the Union Flag which had been covering the south side of the Clock Tower to reveal a bronze bust of Queen Elizabeth II, sculpted by Frances Segelman.

The sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II is revealed

The sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II is revealed

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A bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II is to be installed in the south niche of the Clock Tower. It will be unveiled by the Deputy Lieutenant of Bexley, Major D. J. Hewer, at noon on 9 June 2013.

The Clock Tower is currently being prepared for the big occasion!

Clock Tower under wraps in May 2013

Clock Tower under wraps in May 2013

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James Geddes was born in the village of Ruthven, near Buckie, Banffshire on 17 June 1841, the eldest of ten children of John Geddes and Ann Dow. From an early age he felt a desire to devote his life to the work of the ministry, and he went to Hackney Theological College in London to prepare for it. He then accepted an invitation of the Bexleyheath Congregational Church (which had opened in 1854) to succeed Rev. John Adey. The Rev. James Geddes was minister there from 20th September 1868 to 1920.

Bexleyheath's Congregational Church in 1907

Bexleyheath’s Congregational Church in 1907

Geddes was a great preacher with “a style and a method all his own. His sermons were always interesting and always came home to the hearts and lives of his hearers. He had a wonderful gift of apt and forceful illustration.” He was also a great pastor, visiting the homes of his people, and he took a prominent part in temperance meetings.

Rev. James Geddes

Rev. James Geddes

Those people who remember him in his later years usually recall first his great skill as a reader and preacher, equipped as he was with a strong but not harsh voice that retained to the end the accent of his Scottish birthplace. Geddes was a figure known to the whole town, and he could often be seen striding along the road on the way to visit one of his ‘flock’ or to chase up those unfortunate people whose absence he had carefully noted during the previous Sunday’s services. To the children of the Sunday School he was a remote and perhaps revered figure, and his infrequent appearances at the school were guaranteed to cause a stir. He lived in a large house on Broadway, Bexleyheath, near Gravel Hill, with his wife Jessy Harriot and his three children, Jessie, James and Willy. Mrs Jessy Geddes was for a while in charge of a small enterprise that offered help to the poor mothers of the town who were unable to support their children on their own. Their daughter, Jessie, taught children in the ‘Bible Class’ of the Sunday School.

Mrs Geddes and daughter

Mrs Geddes and daughter

In 1911, on the occasion of Rev. Geddes’s 70th birthday, a new hall was erected, later renamed the Lower Geddes Hall, in recognition of the minister’s long and faithful service.

By 1913 Rev. Geddes was suffering from poor health but the church was reluctant to accept his resignation and instead it was decided to share his duties with a co-Pastor, Mr Aeneas Anderson. In 1919 Rev. Geddes suffered a bereavement in the family that affected him greatly, and in the same year Rev. Owen Evans took over as Pastor, although Geddes continued to be involved with the church. He lived in Freta Road. In 1920 Geddes moved to Eltham but even after retirement he still visited neighbouring churches and was welcomed by large congregations coming to hear him. “The secret of his wonderful ministry undoubtedly was tireless energy. He was a hard worker and gave himself up wholly to whatever he undertook to do… There was a solidarity and responsibility in his character which invited confidence. He was at the same time a sympathetic friend and a welcome visitor in times of bereavement.”

James Geddes died at the house of his daughter in Eltham on 23 February 1927 at the age of 86. He was buried in Bexleyheath Cemetery, alongside his wife who had died in 1911.

Many years later, in 1988, the church in Bexleyheath’s Market Place was demolished and a new United Reformed Church was built in its place. [The Congregational and Presbyterian churches merged to form the United Reformed Church in 1972]. Amidst significant town development at that time, the road was named Geddes Place and the new church was called the Geddes Place United Reformed Church.

Geddes Place URC in 2011

Geddes Place United Reformed Church in 2011


The Church on the Heath by Ian Crowe, a pamphlet produced by Bexleyheath URC in 1982

Obituary of Rev. James Geddes in Bexleyheath Observer 25 Feb. 1927 p9

Funeral of Rev. James Geddes reported in Bexleyheath Observer 4 March 1927 p13

Family history information from Jim McGill, descendant of John Geddes, brother of Rev. James Geddes.

1841-1911 census

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Poetry is a unique way of describing the changes which have occurred in the Broadway, Bexleyheath. As Arthur Boswell begins:

An old couple sat in the twilight,

Thinking of days that are gone,

Trying to recall what happened,

To the town where they were born…

Tricia Dyer has expressed her memories in a poem about how Bexleyheath has changed over the years, and this can be seen here: How Times Change by Tricia Dyer.

Arthur Boswell (1880-1966) was a photography enthusiast and toured the borough giving talks and lantern slide shows. His poem about the changes that happened to Bexleyheath during his lifetime can be seen here:What a Change by Arthur Boswell.

Not far from Bexleyheath is Barnehurst. Bexley Historical Society member Sally Hawkes has described the changes to Barnehurst here: Borders and Boundaries by Sally Hawkes. She has also described changes in Welling: Trading as ‘Welling’ by Sally Hawkes, in Blackfen: In and Out at Blackfen, and in Crayford: A Clock Tower Ballade.

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Albert Fisher, known as Whistling Rufus, would play his whistle in the Broadway, often standing at the Clock Tower. He was a well-known character. He died in 1942, aged 78.

Whistling Rufus

Other characters in the Broadway were Smokey Joe, who travelled all over the borough with his bicycle which had no tyres. Totty Hardbake was a mad woman who sat on a seat where Brampton Road joins Crook Log and would scare children.

Do we have characters like these nowadays?


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The Red House was built 1859-60 by the architect Philip Webb for his friend William Morris, the textile designer and artist.

Morris had wanted a countryside retreat and found land in Upton near the growing town of Bexleyheath. It was built in a Victorian Gothic style, and the interior was decorated by Morris, with help from his friends.

The Red House in Bexleyheath, a countryside retreat

Apparently Morris and his family were viewed with suspicion by their neighbours. They kept themselves to themselves, inviting their artistic friends to the house, and they did not go to church on Sundays. His wife wore her long hair loose, which was quite shocking for the time!

William Morris and his eccentric guests were often seen commuting between Abbey Wood railway station and the Red House in a wagon. (The Bexleyheath railway line was not constructed until long afterwards). A Bexley Civic Society plaque off Knee Hill now commemorates this journey.

Stone to commemorate William Morris’s commute from the Red House to Abbey Wood Railway Station

The Morris family only lived at the Red House for a short time, leaving in 1866. However, a bust of William Morris was installed at Bexleyheath’s Clock Tower in 1997 to commemorate the centenary of his death.

Bust of William Morris at the Clock Tower, Bexleyheath

The Red House in Red House Lane, Bexleyheath is open Wednesdays to Sundays. More information is at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.


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Arthur Boswell (1880-1966) lived in Bexleyheath. His family used to run a coach building business at Market Place, Bexleyheath. However, Boswell’s main passion in life was photography. Over the years he built up a collection of photographs tracing the development of the borough as well as more exotic slides from around the world. He toured the borough giving talks and lantern slide shows.

Arthur Boswell

A horse and cart outside Boswell wheelwright and coach builder at Market Place, Bexleyheath, c 1900

A relative found part of Boswell’s slide collection after his death and handed them to the Local Studies.  A further 1000 negatives were bought by Local Studies in 1989, and 25 prints were put on display at Hall Place in February 1989. [Kentish Times 9 Feb. 1989 p16]. Our project, ‘Changing Times: 100 Years of the Broadway 1912-2012’, has included the digitisation by volunteers of a selection of Boswell’s slides.

A new exhibition at Hall Place called ‘Illuminated World’ showcases his work again. The collection includes fascinating images of people and places in Africa, Norway and India, which the people of Bexleyheath attending his slide shows must have found quite extraordinary. There are also pieces of equipment on display, including stereoscopes which became popular in Victorian times.

The collection also creates a unique view of the Bexley Borough while it was undergoing huge changes. Boswell watched Bexleyheath’s Clock Tower being built in 1912 and saw vast house-building projects swallow up farmland.

A farm girl with wheat, Warren Farm, 1899

The exhibition at Hall Place, Bexley continues until 17 March 2013. http://www.bexleyheritagetrust.org.uk/hallplace/whats-on/

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Bexleyheath’s Clock Tower has busts of King George V to the west and artist William Morris to the east. A fundraising campaign has been launched for a bust of Queen Elizabeth II to be placed in the south niche, in time for the 60th anniversary of her coronation in 2013.

Who should fill the remaining empty niche on the north side of the Clock Tower? Can you suggest someone who is worthy of the honour?

The Clock Tower was built to celebrate the coronation of George V. When it was unveiled in 1912 with a bust of the King in the west niche, the architect said that he hoped the remaining niches would be filled by members of the royal family.

King George V

The original bust fell apart during cleaning after the second world war, and it wasn’t until the early 1990s that sculptor John Ravera created a new one.

The rest of the niches remained empty until John Ravera was commissioned to create a bust of William Morris. This was installed in the east niche in 1997.

William Morris and his friends, the pigeons

As you can see, both busts have been befriended by pigeons!

So, are there any notable local residents or famous Bexleyheathens from past or present who deserve to fill the north niche? Perhaps Alfred Bean, who lived at Danson and was instrumental in getting the railway to come to Bexleyheath? Or A. J. Franklin, first Mayor of Bexley? Or Rt Hon. Sir Edward Heath, former Prime Minister who was a Bexley MP 1950-2001, the country’s longest serving MP. Other suggestions:

Rev. W. H. Pincott, first vicar of Christ Church, Bexleyheath

Rev. James Geddes, minister of Congregational Church, Bexleyheath 1868-1920

John Smith of Blendon, builder of Market Place, Bexleyheath. He donated the land for the first Chapel of Ease and was the owner of the Golden Lion pub. His nephew Oswald was the great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Local residents have included TV cook Delia Smith, actress Sheila Hancock, singer Kate Bush, singer Boy George, racing magnate Bernie Eccleston, footballer and manager Keith Peacock and his son footballer Gavin Peacock.

Can you think of anyone else?

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Edmund Whomes came from a family of church organists and he started his piano shop in the Broadway in 1871 when he was appointed organist of Christ Church, a post he held until 1925. His son and grandson continued the shop and it evolved from selling musical instruments to records and gramophones, later to televisions, washing machines and fridges. It survived until 1989 when it could no longer compete with the large chain stores.

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(Harold) Robinson Cleaver, born in 1906 and known as Robbie, became a parish church organist at 9 years old. At 11, he played his first cinema organ at the Albert Hall, Sheffield. He went to the Royal Manchester College of Music at 19 and became an Associate of the Royal College of Organists at 21. In the early 1930s he was solo organist at Lonsdale Cinema, Carlisle and within three years he played 900 organ solos from memory.

He became organist of the new Regal Cinema, Bexleyheath at its opening in September 1934. The official souvenir guide says: “The Compton organ, with its wonderful Illuminated Console, marks the highest attainment yet achieved in the realm of music for the theatre. The Illuminated Console is fitted with an amazingly clever system of interior lighting which yields a remarkable range of colours and combinations of colours, all at the control of the Organist”.

In April 1939, civic dignitaries, ARP workers and war veterans held a meeting at the Regal Cinema, Bexleyheath. The organ can be seen in front of the stage. It would rise majestically from the depths when played.

Sadly the organ was destroyed when a bomb hit the Regal during the Second World War, although the Console was undamaged and was shipped to Sao Jorge Cinema in Lisbon (the organ survived there until 1982 when it was removed during a refurbishment). Robinson Cleaver also played for Granada cinemas in Welling, Woolwich, Dartford and Tooting. His wife Molly sometimes played duet with a piano attachment. Robinson Cleaver died in 1987.

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