Bowie’s Bandstand and Paxton’s Palace

Bowie’s Bandstand and Paxton’s Palace

Bowie’s iron Bandstand was built in Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham  at the end of of the 19th Century. For 120 years it has been the centre of attraction of the park, the venue for all major public events.

In 1854 Paxton rebuilt the Crystal Palace on top of the hill covered by the Great North Wood in South London on what is now Bromley Council’s Crystal Palace Park. At that time the area covered by the park was 2/3rds in Penge and 1/3rd in Beckenham. The new and greatly redesigned and extended palace and grounds cost almost twice that of the 1851 original in Hyde Park (£1,300k v. £150k)

To oversee the construction of his new iron and glass palace, Paxton had moved into Rockhills (1852 to 1865) an elegant Georgian building with views across the park extending to Vale of Beckenham. After just 84 years Paxton’s iron Palace was destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1936.

By that time iron which had been used in most major buildings and products of the British Empire, had been replaced by steel products by the visionary inventor Sir Henry Bessemer. Henry’s grandson Henry William lived for many years in a 17 room mansion called ‘Park Hurst’ at 12 Westgate Road, on the corner of Foxgrove Road.

In 1969, David Bowie moved into the home of Mary Finnigan in Foxgrove Road. With friends, the couple organised the Free Festival in Croydon Road where David and fellow musicians performed on the bandstand.

44 years later (in 2013) Natasha a young lady from Russia moved into Beckenham, close to the Rec in which she discovered the bandstand. It looked familiar. On her bedroom wall in her flat in Moscow, she had displayed David Bebbington’s iconic photo of Bowie on the bandstand in 1969. Nat asked her neighbours who confirmed it was Bowie’s Bandstand. He had performed virtually on her doorstep. Aghast at its condition she persuaded the Friends of the park and Bromley Council to allow her to organise a concert on the bandstand to raise funds for its restoration.

Natasha contacted Mary who gave her the names of those who had performed in 1969 and others who had come to Beckenham in 2001 to celebrate the unveiling of the Bowie Plaque on the Three Tuns’ pub and/or perform in an evening concert during the Pub during the evening. Movie coverage of this event filmed by Brett Allen is on the BHG site.

I spent 6 months of 2001 inviting support from Local residents (CCARA), designing and obtaining quotes for the Plaque, contacting the media and radio broadcasts, using the Bowie Wonderworld site to invite Bowie himself and fans from all over the world. Some years later I was interviewed for the BBC TV Breakfast Show outside the pub.

In 2013, Nat consulted many Bowie fans, including Mary Finnegan and myself. Nat’s plan caught the imagination of the media and she was interviewed on BBC London news which publicised the forthcoming concert. On the day, it rained but this did not deter the many Bowie fans and former colleagues who had been Bowie’s 1969 Free festival from enjoying a typically wet Glastonbury afternoon.

I attended the Friends of Croydon Road Rec AGM later in 2013. Nat had raised some £8k which she thought would be enough for the Bandstand’s restoration.

But the Friends had got a quote for a complete restoration costing nearer £100k and the AGM attendees were told that a bid would be made for HLF funding.

In 2014 Nat organised a second concert in the park when this time she was assisted by Wendy Faulkner who both contacted Bowie fans worldwide and obtained signed Bowie records and posters. This concert raised £9,000k.

Surely this was good platform to demonstrate to HLF that Beckenham people supported Bowie and the aim to restore their local park’s bandstand?

No, fresh from their failure to secure HLF money for the Priory Museum, Bromley Council’s bid was for a project costing £300k or more, to which Bromley Council, as far as we knew, was prepared to contribute nothing.