Bromley Civic Society - May 2016
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May 2016 Newsletter

Welcome to our latest newsletter. Maytime is ‘Broomtime’ when our namesake shrub is in full bloom on Martin’s Hill. Don’t miss this annual show of living history. Our season of walks and talks continues to be popular and it is gratifying to be reminded just how important heritage and history are to local people. The plight of the residents of the 40 homes in Ethelbert Close which the Council are determined to grab by compulsory purchase and demolish for their own housing development continues to cause concern and distress. Our heritage feature is dedicated to the young HG Wells. In this issue we also pay tribute to the London Forum of Amenity Societies of which BCS is a member and whose tireless work on behalf groups such as ours has at last been recognised in its Chairman, Peter Eversden being made MBE. Peter’s almost weekly planning news bulletins and the Forum’s quarterly newsletter have kept us all up to speed for years now and long may they do so. So in this issue we are pleased to be passing on a selection from the Forum’s news current edition. Do come to our AGM on June 2nd –details at the end of this newsletter. Tony Banfield.

Bromley Civic Society Notice of Members AGM

2nd June – 8pm at Bromley Parish Church Rooms – Church Road (behind Primark).

Election of Committee –nominations are invited for the Executive Officer Posts of Chairperson,  Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer. The current committee are also willing to stand for re-election. The Society has a policy of open committee meetings and is grateful for the additional members who have given their time and hopefully continue to take on important support roles.
Do come along for discussion, guest speaker (to be announced), drinks & nibbles.

Local News

Bromley Town Centre Housing Zone

It is against the above debatable question of housing need that the Council and in particular Councillor Peter Morgan, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration has, at the eleventh hour, persuaded the outgoing Mayor of London to subsidise house building in the Town Centre by declaration of a Housing Zone.  We understand the proposal was refused twice before so what has changed?  Rhetorical question of course because it is all clothed in secrecy.  Conditional with the money is a further increase in the housing targets already inflated by the Council persuading the Mayor to firstly designate the Town as a Metropolitan Centre (same as Croydon) and then a development Opportunity Area. The Ringers Road development and the Nineteen storey Council block at St Marks Square, Bromley South which has gone ‘splat’ onto the townscape like Monty Python’s famous ‘boot’ have opened the door, as reported in our last newsletter to the proposed 16 storey block adjacent won on appeal with St Marks Square cited as the precedent. Pandora’s box is open and it’s goodbye to the historic and characterful Market Town and hello to Everywhere, High Rise, Clone Town.

Site G latest  

The principle focus of the Housing Zone money is, we understand, to help finance development of sites A (rear of Bromley North Station) and site G (Ethelbert Close). Boris Johnson’s parting gift to the residents of Ethelbert Close is to aid the Council’s shabby land grab of people’s homes for their own housing development and profit.
Davina Misroch , resident of Ethelbert Close, and Chair of ‘The Friends of Community G’ was invited to give a talk to Bromley Friends of the Earth on March 1st. It was a heartfelt address outlining the years of uncertainty and threat caused by the Council’s plans. She pointed out that the whole basis for development on site G as part of the Town Centre Area Action Plan was to be retail led and the full Council had been persuaded to accept this massive destruction of the west side of the town from the Churchill Theatre down to the railway on the basis that without it ‘Bromley will die’.  The only retail developer interested, Muse, produced a scheme not only unviable but were also allowed to propose building on Library Gardens before the scheme was abandoned. Undeterred, the Executive led by Councillors Carr and Morgan has departed from the adopted retail led AAP designation without reference to the full Council (we were informed they had taken legal advice which said they did not have to) and are pursuing development of just the 40 homes in Ethelbert Close and the Town Church to create their own housing development now with the aid of the Mayor of London’s Housing Zone money. The AAP Inspector required the Council to produce a Master Plan for the whole of site G but this has never been done and they are progressing with what is called Phase One without the Master Plan and without any certainty of any further phases. Ms Misroch, representing the Friends of Community G, said the residents had taken professional legal advice and were resolved to fight the Council’s compulsory purchase order.  The Society is supporting them in whatever way it can against the terrible injustice being perpetrated upon this town centre community.  TB


Queens Garden

The Council Executive’s sacrifice of the Italian Garden in Queens Garden for restaurant development is nearing completion. Being part of a Conservation Area the impact on views into the CA is an essential consideration in its statutory preservation and enhancement. The covered walkway from the shopping centre has already been closed losing the lovely view from the leisure centre pool so,too, the magnificent view from the upper walkway to the Civic Centre car park.  In our original objection which was upheld by the Ward Councillors and the Development Control Committee we visualised the impact but the reality is even more appalling. Here it is , before and after!


Local Green Space Designations

It has come to light that when preparing a Local Plan local authorities are meant to give local communities the opportunity to put forward their local green spaces for special designation which gives extra protection and recognition and is a provision in the National Planning Policy Framework. This aspect was overlooked last year when the green space section of the emerging Plan was put to public consultation. All this only came to light when Bull Lane Allotment Association spotted the omission and made their own application. This as now prompted the Council to put the designation criteria to public consultation and at the same time requiring applications to be made within a tight deadline. At the Friends Forum meeting in March several groups including ours expressed concern that the Council had apparently re-written the NPPF criteria to create obstacles to designation. This criteria has rightly been challenged by The Friends of the Parks and Bromley Civic working together and to get our applications in on time. The Town Ward list is as follows: Church House and Library Gardens; Martin’s Hill; Queens Mead; Valley School Field and the grounds of Pixfield Court; Havelock Rec; College Green; Queens Garden; Shortlands Golf Course.  It remains to be seen what will happen. TB

National Planning news

The following items are extracts from the London Forum’s News Forum quarterly magazine issue 72 Spring 2016  The full magazine can be downloaded from

Peter Eversden MBE

The London Forum is delighted to announce the award of MBE to Chairman,Peter Eversden with the citation: “ Chair, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies. For services to Community Engagement in Planning for London." Peter commented: “When I was first a chairman of a civic society in the 1970s I had no idea it would just go on wherever I lived and that I would be still protesting, proposing, lobbying and trying to influence things for the better forty years later. At least it is easier now, with computers, the internet, email and social media. “It is an honour for the whole Forum, and our constructive criticism of Government policies on behalf of our many members”.

1. Housing and Planning Bill

The Housing and Planning Bill has been heavily criticised, but is now being fully debated
in the House of Lords - Peter Eversden and Peter Pickering report:
The Government is continuing to undermine the planning system in the belief that it is preventing the building of housing and holding back the economy. The Housing and Planning Bill has been heavily criticised, but survived the debates in the House of Commons. It is now being fully debated in the House of Lords, where the Committee stage will probably end before the recess, and Report and Third Reading will follow in April.
The Forum’s chairman Peter Eversden has described it as “the worst piece of legislation in my lifetime”. “The provisions on Social Housing would destroy this vital sector of affordable housing and wipe out the work of decades to produce homes for those unable to buy for themselves because of the unachievable cost of homes in London.” The Bill, is in effect a change from a plan led system to a developer-led system, despite all its fine words, and will bring great uncertainty.

Outsourcing planning
One new provision - a pilot scheme to promote competition by allowing the processing of planning applications by people or organisations other than the local planning authority - is especially worrying. It was tabled as an amendment by Communities Secretary Greg Clark and is now part of the Bill.
It is envisaged that the final decision on the application would still remain with the local planning authority, “to ensure decisions are taken locally and maintain the democratic link between local people and decision makers”. But there is concern that a Planning Committee will feel almost bound to accept such a recommendation. Critics say these proposals are fundamentally undemocratic and will weaken the accountability of local planning services. The “alternative provider”, appointed by the developer, will be assessing objections against their own clients’ application.

Permission in principle
The provision for 'permission in principle' to be granted for development on the basis of location, use (for housing) and amount, leaving details to be determined later, may be seriously damaging to proper planning - much depends on how it will actually work, on which the Government has not so far been clear. It is being left to secondary legislation no draft of which has yet appeared. It is feared that it will serve to override many of the things which are important for good planning, and which are currently achieved by conditions on the grant of planning permission.
The House of Lords has put down two amendments that would set some limits and mitigate the potential damage. One would prevent permission in principle being granted on brownfield sites with wildlife interest; the other would do the same in respect of land which is an important part of national infrastructure.

2.  National Policy for the Built Environment  House of Lords Select Committee - Building better places

The Select Committee was appointed by the House in June 2015 “to consider the development and implementation of a National Policy for the Built Environment, and to make recommendations”, focusing on England. They have looked at the impact of national policy upon local authorities and other sub-national agencies and organisations that play a part in developing and maintaining the built environment.
Extracts from their findings:  “It is widely acknowledged that the quality of life, prosperity, health and wellbeing of an individual is heavily influenced by the ‘place’ in which they live or work. Policy towards the built environment in England is not the sole preserve of any one Government department.
“There is an urgent need to coordinate and reconcile policy across numerous different areas and priorities. More fundamentally, however, we are concerned that the overall emphasis on speed and quantity of housing supply appears to threaten place-making itself, along with sustainable planning for the long-term and the delivery of high quality and design standards. The Government is pursuing a deregulatory agenda as seen, for example, in the introduction of more flexible arrangements for office to residential conversions and the strong policy emphasis placed on the financial viability of new developments.
“These changes, however, [are] progressively diluting the capacity of local authorities to scrutinise new developments, to safeguard quality and sustainability and to ensure that proposals contribute to an overall and beneficial sense of place. Speed need not come at the expense of quality, and a short-sighted approach runs the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past.”

3. Britain’s dysfunctional housing market - The housing crisis: Helen Marcus rounds up some of the claims, counter-claims and contradictions.

While the Government continues to assert that there is a housing “shortage” and that the planning system is to blame: - only if it is dismantled can enough houses be built, and only this will bring the prices down - recent reports and comments throw increasing doubt on this premise. There is little evidence for these assertions and increasing evidence that other factors such as speculation and an unbalanced economy may be more significant. Housing, especially in the south of the country, has been turned into a tradable commodity rather than homes for people, and present policies are doing nothing to address the real problem and, many warn, are actually making things worse. Population and housing statistics do not support the shortage claims. These figures are easy enough to find and check. Why does the Government ignore them? Or are the figures wrong? In which case why publish them?
The astonishing price difference in houses for sale in the north of the UK throws further doubt on current official explanations. House prices outside London “are not much higher than their pre-crisis peak” (The Times March 7). The latest reports add more confusion: housebuilding is now said to be slowing down, (The Times March 3) and a lack of buyers is creating a glut at the top end of the market as the “Appetite for luxury flats dwindles” (FT February 29). “Brokers, developers and estate agents have begun to whisper that the tower blocks of luxury apartments in Battersea and Nine Elms in south London will struggle to find buyers.” (The Times February 13). The FT reported on March 8 that developers are cancelling projects to convert offices to flats. No shortage there then. Rightmove, the online estate agent, reported that the availability of two-bed homes is at its highest since 2007 - apparently no shortage there either – with prices practically static. They suggest that the changing tax regime for buy-to-let investors might be the cause and higher stamp duty has dampened the market creating a window of opportunity “opening wider for first-time buyers” as it “starts to close” for buy-to-let investors.
Now there is talk of speculation as hedge funds have begun shorting shares on London’s luxury housing market. Berkeley, which specialises in upmarket homes in the south-east and London has been targeted but there is also interest in mid-market housebuilders, and share prices of the UK’s biggest real estate investment trusts fell. The FT said it “reflects fears that a wave of capital that has flowed into real estate in recent years may retreat” while The Times reported that “some wealthy foreign property buyers are leaving the market and [there is] speculation that prices are heading for a fall,” a warning repeated on March 3 in the FT when they reported UBS’s view that London property is overvalued.
The “crisis” is not one of supply
We reported in the last Newsforum the contention of Dr Andrew Lilico, of the Institute of Economic Affairs that the ‘housing crisis’ is not due to a shortage of dwellings, but to prices being unaffordable. Data on household and dwelling numbers show that far from being a shortage, there were, until recently, slightly more houses than households overall. Gordon Gemmill, Emeritus Professor of Finance, University of Warwick, restated that case in a letter to the FT (December 14, 2015): “The ‘crisis’ is not one of supply. In each year from 1981 to 2008 the rate of growth of the housing stock in the UK was higher than the rate of growth of the population. There was actually a fall in the average size of household from 2.65 to 2.29 persons over the period to 2008. It is only since 2008 that population has grown faster than the stock of dwellings, resulting in a small rise in persons per household to 2.30 by 2014”. “House prices are being driven by speculative demand that is largely unrelated to extra population. The reason is that interest rates are so low that very large mortgages can be financed.” He too refutes the view that building more houses will reduce prices: “...research shows that the impact of extra building on house prices would be very small.” “Building an extra 100,000 houses a year would make hardly any difference to the upward trajectory of prices.” And indeed on March 4 The Times reported that the “Cost of a  house keeps rising despite an increase in supply.”
Developers sitting on planning approvals
Britain’s biggest housebuilders are sitting on planning approvals for some 475,647 homes which they are not building, according to a Local Government Association (LGA) study (January 2016). There are already 270,000 London plots with planning permission, enough to solve any perceived “shortage” of housing for the next six years. Why are they are not being built? Because, as Thomas Aubrey, senior adviser at the Policy Network think-tank points out: “The government must also address the dysfunctional land market, as there remains every incentive for landowners to withhold land from the market once permission is granted, given it will increase in value as long as demand for housing rises.”

Developers also hold landbanks of a further 600,000 plots for new homes. But the Stirling Ackroyd London New Homes Monitor (January 2016) shows the total number of planning applications to build new homes in London in 2015 was only 33,120, well short of the 42,000 yearly figure supposed to be needed. If the developers are not submitting applications for the plots they hold, planning officers can hardly be blamed for not granting approval. Yet all of them - the Government, the Federation of Master Builders, the Home Builders Federation, Stirling Ackroyd – in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, continue to trot out the tired mantra that the “slow processing of planning applications” “remains the primary obstacle holding back the capital’s housing aspirations.” with “thousands of new homes ‘stuck’ awaiting final approval”

4. What is the London Land Commission up to? by Helen Marcus - The London Forum

When the London Land Commission was set up last year we were told, specifically, that its key role would be to seek to identify commercial and industrial public sector brownfield land that is no longer needed in London and could be redeveloped, and create a register of this land. In January a map showing the “first release of the London Land Commission Register sites that have been identified” was available to view on the website. It is a shock therefore, and of great concern, to find that this map lists parks and MOL in a quite random and inexplicable way, including Golf courses and allotments. It also appears to contain errors. Almost every open space in London appears to have been identified as containing “developable land” including Holland Park, Hampstead Heath, Victoria Park, Valentine’s Park and Hainault Forest, Redbridge, and Wimbledon Common. It raises several deeply concerning questions: • Savills have been involved with this project from the beginning. Why? • Whole sections of the minutes of January 2016 are withheld from public scrutiny with the message: “This paper is reserved from publication as it is considered that it may be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.” Why? • Why are parks and open spaces in any such list at all? Helen said:  “The planning system is there to preserve standards protect our environment and ensure safety; it is not merely a conveyor belt for developers’ building permissions and profits”.

Walks & Talks

Our series of public Walks & Talks continues to be very popular. In February we did an indoor version of the town tour with over 200 slides which was extremely well attended. In April we did a tour of the historic parks and gardens in association with the Friends of the Parks attended by an astonishing 60 plus people. We toured all the green spaces except College Green which features in our walks including Bromley College. The walk ended at Bromley Palace Park where visitors were able to admire the two great Pulham Rockeries dating from 1865 and also the inside of the historic Ice House.

The latest walk on May 14th featured a tour inside Bromley Palace itself. You can see some more photos from this walk, led by Peter Martin and Jane Secker (see right) on the BCS Facebook page. TB

The Bromley BID

The Town Centre’s new Business Improvement District is now up and running replacing the Council’s Town Management and is financed from a levy on traders. The BID has an Advisory Panel including community representation from your Chairman, Tony Banfield, representing BCS and Patrick Holden representing Babbacombe Road Residents. We are already working with the newly appointed BID Manager, Frances Forrest, seeking to ensure that Heritage protection and promotion plays an important part in promoting the success of the Town Centre. Our Walks and Talks are obviously an important aspect of this work. We have many ideas and projects in mind, for example, Victorian Weekend, Street Art and Sculpture and, obviously, we must have an HG Wells Festival. The potential for Heritage events is huge. What would you like to see happening in the Town Centre ? TB

The Charter Market

Originally held on Tuesdays the Charter Market dates back to the Charter from King John in 1205 (20 years even before the granting of a similar charter to the city of Salisbury!). According to the Charter if one day is missed the Charter lapses. Although this has no legal meaning in modern times the Town has always treated this as a heritage quirk to be respected and celebrated with humour. In 1924, for example, market day coincided with Christmas day and to keep to the Charter a small stall was set up and a ceremonial token sale and purchase was made under the supervision of the Market Inspector!

Market day always brought extra people into the town and despite the market being banished to beside Bromley North Station in c1930 Thursdays always did and still do remain busy trading days. The return to the middle of town a few years ago is most welcome boosting trade and re-creating that traditional sense of a bustling weekly event. The extension from one day to three days while, strictly speaking, diluting the heritage aspect , in other respects re-enforces it as it is still essentially a once weekly event in which the Town is transformed bringing in specialist traders otherwise unable to support a living paying the High Street rents, business rates and now the BID levy.

Proposal to change the market

The Council has been running a public consultation regarding proposed changes to the Market which although appearing to bring the Market back into Market Square is nothing of the kind. The only change to the extended Thursday Market would be to spread the stalls over a longer distance in a single rather than double row from the Library up to Market Square.

Market Square itself is proposed for 11 permanent cafe style food outlets with tables and chairs operating 7 days a week based on the wooden structures used in Kingston (see photo). Can the Council seriously think filling historic market Square with this pile of junk can be said to meet the Council’s statutory duty to “preserve or enhance the character and appearance” of this part of the conservation area?
There are obvious implication for existing BID levy paying cafes and restaurant proprietors in Market Square and those in nearby Upper High Street and East Street.
These kind of trading operations are very popular in places otherwise devoid of cafe culture. But, in the already well provided for Town Centre it is hard to justify in view of the unfair competition for those traders making long term commitment in high rents and the paying the BID levy.  It will be interesting to see if the BID supports the proposals or not. From a Heritage and Conservation Area point of view the Market Square, rather than being host to a vibrant and transformative weekly market will be subject to permanent street clutter harmful to its character and appearance.
Like the five restaurants about to open on what was once the lovely the Italian Garden in Queens Garden it would seem the historic public space of Market Square is to be sacrificed and exploited for yet another profit seeking Council initiative at the expense of the historic environment and the existing trading community.

HG Wells in Bromley

H G Wells was, arguably, Bromley’s most famous son yet, since the replacement of the Market Square Mural with that for Darwin, he is hardly celebrated in his native town at all. True he left the town when he was just 13 but perhaps it was because of his well known disaffection with Bromley that accounts for his neglect by his native town. From his writings we can draw parallels between his childhood dismay at what Bromley was becoming the disaffection many of us feel today about what has happened and continues to happen to our historic town in the pursuit of commercial growth as envisaged in the Council’s Area Action Plan.

Wells was born in 1866 at no 47 High Street overlooking Market Square in what was known as ‘The New Cut’. In his autobiography he says: “We lived mostly downstairs and underground, more particularly in the winter. We went upstairs to bed. About upstairs I have to add a further particular. The house was infested with bugs. They harboured in the wooden bedsteads and lurked between the layers of wallpaper that peeled from the walls. Slain they avenge themselves by a peculiar penetrating disagreeable smell. That mingles in my early recollections with the more pervasive odour of paraffin, with which my father carried on an inconclusive war against them. Almost every part of my home had its own distinctive smell. This was the material setting in which my life began.”

The Upper High Street as HGW would have known it with the old Star & Garter Pub on the left.

Unlike children today Herbert, or Bertie as he was known, was free to roam from an early age.  Roam he did through the fields and meadows surrounding what had been, for centuries, a small and sleepy village now being plunged into a time of rapid change after the coming of the railway in 1858. He recalls in his semi-autobiographic novel ‘The New Machiavelli’, aged 6, witnessing the drastic changes taking place all around him. He calls Bromley ‘Bromstead’ and the Ravensbourne ‘Ravensbrook’: “I was in the full tide of building and growth from the first; the second railway with its station at Bromstead North and the drainage followed when I was ten or eleven, and all my childish memories are of digging and wheeling, of woods invaded by building, roads gashed open and littered with iron pipes amidst a fearful smell of gas, of men peeped at and seen toiling away deep down in excavations, of hedges broken down and replaced by planks, of wheelbarrows and builders' sheds, of rivulets overtaken and swallowed up by drain- pipes. Big trees, and especially elms, cleared of undergrowth and left standing amid such things, acquired a peculiar tattered dinginess rather in the quality of needy widow women who have seen happier days.”

The River, Millpond and Weir as Wells would have known it

The Millpond, Listed 18th Century Cottages and Weir today

Of the river he says: “The Ravensbrook of my earlier memories was a beautiful stream. It came into my world out of a mysterious Beyond, out of a garden, splashing brightly down a weir which had once been the weir of a mill. Above the weir and inaccessible there were bulrushes growing in splendid clumps, and beyond that, pampas grass, yellow and crimson spikes of hollyhock, and blue suggestions of wonderland.) From the pool at the foot of this initial cascade it flowed in a leisurely fashion beside a footpath,--there were two pretty thatched cottages on the left, and here were ducks, and there were willows on the right,--and so came to where great trees grew on high banks on either hand and bowed closer, and at last met overhead. This part was difficult to reach because of an old fence, but a little boy might glimpse that long cavern of greenery by wading. Either I have actually seen kingfishers there, or my father has described them so accurately to me that he inserted them into my memory. I remember them there anyhow. Most of that overhung part I never penetrated at all, but followed the field path with my mother and met the stream again, where beyond there were flat meadows, Roper's meadows. The Ravensbrook went meandering across the middle of these, now between steep banks, and now with wide shallows at the bends where the cattle waded and drank. Yellow and purple loose-strife and ordinary rushes grew in clumps along the bank, and now and then a willow. On rare occasions of rapture one might see a rat cleaning his whiskers at the water's edge. The deep places were rich with tangled weeds, and in them fishes lurked--to me they were big fishes--water-boatmen and water-beetles traversed the calm surface of these still deeps; in one pool were yellow lilies and water-soldiers, and in the shoaly places hovering fleets of small fry basked in the sunshine--to vanish in a flash at one's shadow. In one place, too, were Rapids, where the stream woke with a start from a dreamless brooding into foaming panic and babbled and hastened. Well do I remember that half-mile of rivulet; all other rivers and cascades have their reference to it for me. And after I was eleven, and before we left Bromstead (Bromley), all the delight and beauty of it was destroyed.

The volume of its water decreased abruptly--I suppose the new drainage works that linked us up with Beckington (Beckenham), and made me first acquainted with the geological quality of the London clay, had to do with that--until only a weak uncleansing trickle remained. That at first did not strike me as a misfortune. An adventurous small boy might walk dryshod in places hitherto inaccessible. But hard upon that came the pegs, the planks and carts and devastation. Roper's meadows, being no longer in fear of floods, were now to be slashed out into parallelograms of untidy road, and built upon with rows of working-class cottages. The roads came,--horribly; the houses followed. They seemed to rise in the night. People moved into them as soon as the roofs were on, mostly workmen and their young wives, and already in a year some of these raw houses stood empty again from defaulting tenants, with windows broken and wood-work warping and rotting. The Ravensbrook became a dump for old iron, rusty cans, abandoned boots and the like, and was a river only when unusual rains filled it for a day or so with an inky flood of surface water.”

“The Ravensbrook had been important to my imaginative life; that way had always been my first choice in all my walks with my mother, and its rapid swamping by the new urban growth made it indicative of all the other things that had happened just before my time, or were still, at a less dramatic pace, happening. I realised that building was the enemy. I began to understand why in every direction out of Bromstead one walked past scaffold-poles into litter, why fragments of broken brick and cinder mingled in every path, and the significance of the universal notice-boards, either white and new or a year old and torn and battered, promising sites, proffering houses to be sold or let, abusing and intimidating passers-by for fancied trespass, and protecting rights of way.”

The depleted water supply is, today somewhat restored but the river looks even worse than in Well’s day being now cruelly culverted. The Friends of the Parks and BCS have been lobbying the Council and Environment Agency for a number of years for restoration which looked set to happen until the current local authority government cuts.

Martin’s Hill now and in 1866- the birth year of HG Wells.

Of Martin’s Hill Wells says: “I had reveries—I liked especially to dream that I was a great military dictator like Cromwell, a great republican like George Washington or like Napoleon in his earlier phases. I used to fight battles whenever I went for a walk alone. I used to walk about Bromley, a small rather undernourished boy, meanly clad and whistling detestably between his teeth, and no one suspected that a phantom staff pranced about me and phantom orderlies galloped at my commands, to shift the guns and concentrate fire on those houses below, to launch the final attack upon yonder distant ridge.”

“The citizens of Bromley town go out to take the air on Martin's Hill and look towards Shortlands across the fields where once meandered the now dried-up and vanished Ravensbourne, with never a suspicion of the orgies of bloodshed I once conducted there. Martin's Hill indeed is one of the great battlegrounds of history. Scores of times the enemy skirmishers have come across those levels, followed by the successive waves of the infantry attack, while I, outnumbered five to one, manœuvred my guns round, the guns I had refrained so grimly from using too soon in spite of the threat to my centre, to enfilade them suddenly from the curving slopes towards Beckenham.”

Like the rest of the fields and meadows surrounding the town Bertie’s beloved Martin’s Hill was also under threat of development but saved by the ‘citizens’ who bought it by public subscription in 1878 and it was to become Bromley’s first official public park.  Wells was just 12 years old then and it must have been one ray of light in what, from his writings, seems to have been a depressing childhood witnessing destruction of so much he valued.

School days 
Aged five, Bertie was sent to school at Mrs Knotts Dame School at no 8 South Street in a small cottage which is still there with its commemorative plaque. Reputedly, his mother thought the Local Board School too rough for her son.

Aged eight he moved to Mr Morely’s Academy in the Upper High Street. A dedicated socialist, Wells admits his lack of awareness about education reform at the time or the merits of the Local Board School set up under the Education act versus the old style private educational establishments such as Morley’s Academy which he describes in Dickensian detail:
The brick built part of the building is shown here just before being demolished for road widening and the present terrace of shops in 1902. The art shop, Frames and Art currently occupies the site.
Morley was a bald portly spectacled man with a strawberry nose and ginger-grey whiskers, who considered it due to himself and us to wear a top hat, an ample frock-coat, and a white tie, and to carry himself with invariable dignity and make a frequent use of "Sir." Except for a certain assistance with the little ones from Mrs. Morley, a stout ringleted lady in black silk and a gold chain, he ran the school alone. It was a single room built out over a scullery; there were desks round the walls and two, of six places each, in the centre, with a stove between which warmed the place in winter. His bedroom window opened upon the schoolroom, and beneath it, in the corner of the room, was his desk, the great ink bottle from which the ink-wells were replenished, the pile of slates and the incessant cane, with which he administered justice, either in spasmodic descents upon our backs and hindquarters, or after formal accusations, by smacks across the palm of the hand. He also hit us with his hands anywhere, and with books, rulers and anything else that came handy, and his invective and derision were terrific. Also we were made to stand on the rickety forms and hold [62] out books and slates until our arms ached. And in this way he urged us—I suppose our numbers varied from twenty-five to thirty-five—along the path of learning that led in the more successful instances to the examinations, conducted by an association of private schoolmasters, for their mutual reassurance, known as the College of Preceptors, (with special certificates for book-keeping) and then to jobs as clerks.”

What Wells was witnessing in his childhood was the advent of the consumer society that we all know so well bringing both benefits and destruction of the valued environment in equal measure.  Trying to make sense of it all he says: “It is difficult to disentangle now what I understood at this time and what I have since come to understand, but it seems to me that even in those childish days I was acutely aware of an invading and growing disorder. The serene rhythms of the old established agriculture, I see now, were everywhere being replaced by cultivation under notice and snatch crops; hedges ceased to be repaired, and were replaced by cheap iron railings or chunks of corrugated iron; more and more hoardings sprang up, and contributed more and more to the nomad tribes of filthy paper scraps that flew before the wind and overspread the country. The outskirts of Bromstead were a maze of exploitation roads that led nowhere, that ended in tarred fences studded with nails and in trespass boards that used vehement language. Broken glass, tin cans, and ashes and paper abounded. Cheap glass, cheap tin, abundant fuel, and a free untaxed Press had rushed upon a world quite unprepared to dispose of these blessings when the fulness of enjoyment was past.”

These heartfelt words are clearly those of an adult traumatised in childhood by the crass insensitivity of commerce and the pursuit of profit at the expense of the “familiar and cherished local scene” (phrase from government circular 23.77 on conservation areas).

Has anything changed? Well some of what little is left of the Bromley that young Bertie would have known is protected as a Conservation Area.  Appropriately this was campaigned for and won by the residents of the Town - The Heart of Bromley Residents Association (HOBRA) – Bromley Civic Society in its previous incarnation.....but that’s a story for another newsletter!

Finding the Birthplace
The blue plaque on Victoria Chambers (now part of Primark) commemorates the birthplace but is in the wrong location. As part of the Council’s Heritage Tour initiative a new pavement plaque was proposed in 2015 and it fell to BCS to find the correct location. The old photo of Medhurst’s store before it was rebuilt in the 1930’s still shows the individual shops which Fred Medhurst gradually acquired. The original no 47 is clearly seen as one of three units. (Wells incidentally mentions his father owning three shops). Called Atlas House, no 47 sold china and sporting equipment. Joseph Wells had been a professional cricketer until injury spoiled this career.

The difficulty came in relating this picture to what is there now but making use of maps and the picture of the new, half built Medhursts it became clear that no 47 occupied a site where the ‘ARK’ of the Primark sign is over the main entrance and the pavement plaque is now located in front of this.

Sources of quotes:
Wells, H. G. (1911) The New Machiavelli. London: Bodley Head.
Wells, H. G. (1934) An Experiment in Autobiography. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd
Copyright © 2016 Bromley Civic Society, All rights reserved.

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