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By that time iron which had been used in most major buildings and products of the British Empire, had been replaced by steel products by the visionary inventor Sir Henry Bessemer.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.
Famous Beckenham people and the Clock House District
|No.||Forename||Surname||Profession etc.||Sex||Locations within Clock House District *|
|1||Dame Julie||Andrews||Singer||F||Cromwell Road, Hayne Road, Woodbrook School|
|2||Dr F A||Barton||Scientist/Balloonist||M||Beckenham Road, Croydon Road Rec|
|3||Hugh||Bean CBE||Musician||M||Croydon Road, BCSB|
|4||Dame Floella||Benjamin||TV Presenter and Life Peer||F||Mackenzie Road|
|5||Enid||Blyton||Author||F||Five Roads, Four Schools, One Church|
|6||Carey||Blyton||Composer||M||Elm Road, Sidney Road, Library, BCSB|
|7||Rob||Bonnet||TV & Radio Sports Reporter||M||Hayne Road, Woodbrook School|
|8||Robert||Borrowman||Historian 1910||M||All over Beckenham|
|9||Col Sgt Frank||Bourne||Soldier||M||Kings Hall Road|
|10||Sydney||Box||Dramatist/Film Maker||M||Balgowan Road and Technical School|
|11||Betty||Box||Film Maker||F||Ravenscroft Road|
|12||Sir Peircy||Brett||Admiral||M||The Clock House|
|13||Harold||Bride||Titanic Radio Operator||M||Technical School|
|15||Lady Annabella||Byron||Philanthropist||F||The Clock House|
|17||Wesley||Carr||Dean of Westminster Abbey||M||Beckenham Road|
|18||Arthur||Carr||Salvation Army Chief of Staff||M||Beckenham Road|
|19||Henry||Carr||Artist and tutor||M||Beckenham Schol of Art|
|20||Patricia||Carroll||Musician - Pianist||F||BCSG|
|22||Albemarle||Cator||Landowner||M||The Clock House|
|23||Phyllis||Chase||Artist||F||Queens Road, St Christophers School|
|24||Graham||Clarke||Artist and author||M||BCSB, BSA|
|25||Paul||Creswick||Author||M||Kings Hall Road|
|27||Walter||De La Mare||Poet||M||Mackenzie Road|
|28||Syme &||Duncan||Builders||M||Beckenham Road|
|29||William||Eden||Land owner||M||West Beckenham area|
|33||John||Frost||Singer||M||Cromwell Road, Sidney Road|
|34||Monica||Furlong||Women's Rights||F||Lennard Road, Holy Trinity Church|
|36||Duncan||Goodhew||Olympic Swimmer - Bronze||M||BSC|
|37||Edwin||Greenfield||Artist||M||Tech and BSA|
|38||L/Cpl John||Harman VC||Soldier||M||Shrewsbury Road|
|39||C. Walter||Hodges||Artist||M||Cromwell Road|
|41||Eric||Inman||Historian||M||Croydon Road Rec|
|42||Captain O P||Jones||Airline Pilot||M||Technical School|
|44||John||Mann||Actor -Dick Barton's #2||M||Cromwell Road|
|45||John||Mantle||Film Maker||M||Croydon Road, Broomfield Road|
|46||Catherine||Marsh||Philanthropist||F||All of Beckenham|
|47||Jeffery||Matthews||Stamp Designer||M||Kings Hall Road|
|49||Bob||Monkhouse||Actor||M||b. Bromley Road, performed many places|
|50||David||Munro||Impresario||M||BCSB, Village Way,|
|51||Mary||Potter||Artist||F||Beckenham Road, St Christopher's School|
|54||Mollie||Russell-Smith||Artist and poet||F||Cromwell Road, BSA|
|55||Geoffry||Russell-Smith||Composer||M||Clock House Road|
|56||Lionel||Sawkins||Music Editor||M||Aldersmead Road|
|57||Frank & Peggy||Spencer||Ballroom Dancer||M||Royston Road|
|58||Victor||Thornton||Theatrical Director and BJ owner||M||Technical School|
|59||Nancy||Tonkin||Author & Angler||F||Blandford Road|
|60||Susan||Tonkin||RAF Group Captain||F||Blandford Road, BCSG|
|66||T. W. 'Tom'||Williams||Creator of Top of the Form||M||Tech and BCSB|
|68||Garnet||Frost||Artist + Save the Studio/Library||M||Cromwell Road and Clock House Parade|
|Abbreviations||BCSB||Beckenham County School for Boys|
|BCSG||Beckenham County School for Girls|
|BSA||Beckenham School of Art|
|BSC||Beckenham Swimming Club|
Beckenham Library LBB’s Closure Plans
The following article is part of the an appeal to Historic England to classify the Library as a listed building.
Beckenham Library has played a central part in the area’s cultural and historical development and enjoyment but crucially has national connections with famous names and events. It should be included on the national list of buildings of historic and architectural interest for the reasons outlined below.
Carey Blyton 1932-2002
Carey Blyton, internationally celebrated musician and composer was born on 14th March 1932. He was the second son of Floss and Hanly Blyton and lived at 62 The Drive, Beckenham and was the nephew of Enid Blyton, another Beckenham resident whom he later collaborated with on musical compositions. He went to school at The Grange infant’s school, Beckenham and Beckenham Grammar School. His interest in music started when he took up piano playing following contracting life- threatening Polio. He visited Beckenham Library regularly after school inspired by its excellent music section and old stock records and scores which could be purchased.
He established the Beckenham Salon, a collection of artists, writers and poets in 1950 whose patron was Sir Arthur Bliss, later Master of the Queen’s Musick. The other members of this group were the poet Michael Hopkins, David Roberts, photographer, David Munro, poet and John Vosser, pianist. There was also collaboration with Hugh Bean.
Initially meeting in local houses, this group of performers cultivated their craft and from 1952, performed in five public venues such as the Old Council Offices, Beckenham Grammar School and Beckenham Library. Writing to Mike Cornich in 1997, Carey Blyton said ” the more I realise how very crucial were the years 1949-53, the Beckenham Salon was clearly seminal” Carey would perform his own compositions at these events and as a phenomenon his initiative can be seen as a forerunner of David Bowie’s Arts Lab in 1968.
Carey Blyton went on to produce a vast volume of works including 100 choral and solo works just in his early career. His career saw him producing music for TV, advertising and film. Between 1964-74 he was Benjamin Britten’s personal editor at Faber. One of his most famous works was ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ written in 1972 during a car journey to entertain his son. He also wrote ‘The Hobbit’ concert music and the ‘Faber Book of Nursery Songs’ in 1967 and music for Dr. Who in 1969.
From 1956, he was Fellow of Trinity College of Music, London and in that year produced an’ Overture; Fantasia on French Folk Songs’. Between 1962 and 63 he worked with his aunt, the famous children’s author Enid Blyton to produce Mixed Bag of Children’s songs. Between 1963-73 he was Professor of Harmony, counterpoint and Orchestration at Trinity College of Music London.
He worked right through his life producing a one act ‘The Girl from Nogumi’ in 1976 and a trilogy ‘Sweeney Todd The Barber’,’ Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ through the 1970’s and 80’s. His last works were ‘War song of the Saracens ‘in 1998 and ‘El Tango Ultimo’ in 2000.
Beckenham celebrated their famous son at Beckenham Library on 14th March 2002 to mark Carey’s 70th birthday. In attendance were founder members of the Salon, John Vosser, David Roberts and Mike Hopkins, Liz Biddle his music agent and the Mayor amongst many guests also including Nicholas Reed, author of ‘Enid Blyton in Beckenham and Bromley’. A 49 minute video was recorded by Brett Allen to mark the event and can be viewed online. Sadly, owing to ill health Carey did not attend and could only send his best wishes and he died shortly afterwards on the 13th July in Woodbridge Suffolk.
World War Two; Beckenham Library and refugees.
Beckenham Library was the last library to be built in Britain in 1939 opening a few months before the outbreak of war. It survived several bombing raids, kept open throughout the conflict and had staff who had come as refugees from countries such as Poland. The library played a vital part in keeping up morale and the area around was a Red Cross station and muster point. Hanna Schweizer, a refugee from Nazi Germany then living nearby in Hayne Road, loved the library and pioneered a play reading circle for children there. She then promoted the creation of a stage and musical entertainment for Children’s Theatre and put on plays such as ‘Prologue to Immortality’ on Saturday 13th March 1948 about the Trojan War. After the trauma of flight from persecution, Hanna recognised the healing power of group activities and public cultural events especially for children.
Another refugee was Francis Weiss, born in Germany in 1930, arriving in Britain in 1931 and whose father had been in the furrier trade. He helped the Beckenham Salon and hosted an evening at his house in Overbury Avenue on 14th October 1952. A good school friend of Carey Blyton he lent the group his Bluethner Pianoforte for live performances including lending his piano to a performance in the Library.
Beckenham Literary Festival 2011 June 27th to July 9th
This arts festival attracted many names from the literary world who gave talks and ran workshops for the local community. Famous names included Joanna Czechowska herself a polish refugee who greatly appreciated the welcome she received in Britain and author of The Black Madonna of Derby, Lyn Stone artist and illustrator, sports writer Brian Scovell, Ian Bevan who wrote a history of Crystal Palace, Judith Niechciel, Imogen Robertson and Haille Rubenhol.
It has been overlooked that Beckenham Library was built under covenant, originally from 1896 on land donated by the Cator estate and forms part of a collection of buildings granted to help the learning and health of the Beckenham community which also included the Technical Institute constructed around 1901 and public swimming baths. Lord Cator was Lord of the Manor of Beckenham in 1785, built Beckenham Place, was a wealthy financier and friend of Dr. Johnson. His estates covered this part of Beckenham and it was subsequent members of the family that gave land to Beckenham Council to promote important civic provision.
Famous Beckenham residents
Julie Andrews attended Woodbrook School and used Beckenham Library as her nearest library as a child. Bob Monkhouse also lived in Beckenham and loved the library. He later became an obsessive archivist with a collection of old TV and film clips of national importance. David Bowie another local resident was also passionate about books and was reported to take at least 100 of his favourite editions on tour wherever he went.
It is also important to note that Enid Blyton strongly encouraged Carey to continue his musical career despite setbacks and in this way contributed to his world-wide success, a point made in Carey’s obituary printed in the Daily Express on Friday 2nd August 2002.
The Historic England report fails to mention the special unique architectural features on the outside of the building which are of historic importance. On the Beckenham Road side of the building, the former Charter Borough of Beckenham’s armorial bearings are displayed which is a design of the white horse of Kent reflecting Beckenham’s pre-eminence as the richest town in Kent during the 1930’s. There are also two apple trees pointing to Kent as the ‘Garden of England’ and the two Beckenham rivers the Beck and Chaffinch.
The motto is ‘non nobis solum’ interpreted as ‘we are not alone’ or we work together.
Also, there are stone depictions of two mythical characters, an architectural conceit suggesting the Greek Muse of learning with the face looking directly out towards the former Technical Institute.
Beckenham Borough is a lost historic entity and the Library is an important visual reminder of the pioneering endeavours of this civic body which oversaw the construction of key buildings for local government and the community especially in the run up to the Second World War.
Beckenham Library deserves inclusion in the national list of protected buildings because it is an important and key location in the career development of the internationally famous musician Carey Blyton and provided the venue for his legacy to be celebrated in 2002.
The Library’s history demonstrated how those escaping from persecution in Nazi Germany worked with the library to provide entertainment for the community and more recently has attracted national authors to celebrate literature. The building, built by nationally acclaimed, award winning architects Gold and Aldridge was part of a hub of venues created from the Cator Estate to provide education, learning and recreation.
Carey Blyton Timeline online
Cliff Watkins historian
Beckenham Heritage Group
Carey Blyton obituary in the Daily Express 2002
‘Beckenham’ Inman and Tonkin
‘Beckenham’s 30 Glorious Years 1935-65’ Manning
‘Beckenham The Home Front 1939-45’ Watkins and Manning
Personal site visits
Contemporary reports of Beckenham Library in the 1940’s and 1950’s
Beckenham Literary Festival online 2011
‘David Bowie Is Inside’ Victoria and Albert Museum 2013 special exhibition book
‘Dulwich College’ Piggott on Bob Monkhouse
Julie Andrews as Beckenham resident and attending Woodbrook School interview with former pupils
Rod Reed August 2020
Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery is the full name for the facility which opened in 1876 as the Crystal Palace District Cemetery – see poster below.
The aerial view painting used in the poster shows that the 41 acre site remains largely unchanged today. After one of two chapels was closed in 1956 the other was converted to provide both a chapel of rest and a Crematorium.
On the right of the picture can be seen a steam train running from Crystal Palace to Birkbeck stations. Today this line has become used jointly by British Rail and the East Croydon to Beckenham Junction trams.
In addition there are two memorials to:
Meeting: 10/10/2018 – Environment and Community Services Policy Development and Scrutiny Committee (Item 20)
20 CROYDON ROAD RECREATION GROUND BANDSTAND RESTORATION PDF 92 KB
· Appendix 2 for CRRG Bandstand Project, item 20 PDF 708 KB
Members supported funding proposals for the restoration of the Croydon Road Recreation Ground bandstand, Beckenham.
A specialist structural survey in 2013 identified the bandstand’s condition as deteriorating with significant repair works needed to prevent further decline and ultimate removal of the asset. Croydon Road is the last remaining bandstand in Council ownership. With significant local support for the restoration, the Friends Group at Croydon Road Recreation Ground and other partners, including Memory of a Free Festival, have been actively fundraising towards the cost of repair works.
The current bandstand floor space is insufficient to accommodate some performance groups (e.g. an orchestra) and temporary staging will be purchased and a flat base circular pathway incorporated into the design to maximise space. Such improvements will ease utilisation of the bandstand by musical and theatrical groups.
Although a previous application under The Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) ‘Heritage Grant’ programme was unsuccessful in 2015, a revised one-stage application is currently being prepared under the ‘Our Heritage’ programme providing grants from £10k – £100k. With the level of match-funds secured, required funding has reduced to less than £100k. As lead applicant, L B Bromley will receive all grant money with idverde and the Friends of Croydon Road Recreation Ground acting as delivery partners. Amey Ltd will procure and oversee delivery of the capital restoration works and idverde will deliver the remainder of the project.
Report ES18072 also outlined the terms and conditions of grant should an application be successful. A grant application is expected to be submitted during November 2018 with notification of the outcome expected during January 2019.
Amey Ltd carried out a competitive tender for the major repair works in February 2018 using their own preferred supplier list and the cost for the work based on the lowest tender and inclusive of fees, was estimated at £191k. Amey’s preferred supplier agreed to hold their tender price until summer 2019, to allow the HLF bid to be processed. Additionally, a number of minor works are valued at £14k (funded from the HLF grant), including the design, production and installation of an interpretation panel and staging enabling increased use of the bandstand.
A total project budget of £245k over a 12 month period is required, inclusive of a 10% contingency throughout the project, split between capital works, equipment, and associated project management costs, at approximately £205k, and revenue costs estimated at £40k. An application is expected to be made for a grant of £89k with the balance of £156k coming from match-funding.
Should the application be successful, the project is anticipated to commence in March 2019 with three grant instalments: 50% up-front; 40% on expenditure of the first instalment; and 10% on completion of the project. Subject to grant timings, capital works could commence late spring 2019 and complete by summer 2019. Expenditure on events and activities to encourage use of the bandstand is expected to be on-going throughout 2019 into 2020.
Enid Blyton’s Education in Beckenham
Enid enjoyed her time in her schools in Beckenham where she learned so much and made good friends, which education and people helped her to become an ‘author who inspired generations of young readers.’
Link to pdf file Enid Blyton’s Beckenham Education
There are three fire station buildings in Beckenham. In the year 2000, the Copers Cope Area Residents Association marked the Millennium by placing a Plaque above the Water Spout on the building used by Beckenham’s first Fire Brigade from 1872 to 1884. The project was proposed by a CCARA member, the imminent local historian Dr Eric Inman. After the ceremony……
In days of yore, the 54 bus passed through Beckenham from Croydon to Woolwich Arsenal. It had been the main bus route linking Woolwich, Lewisham, Beckenham and Croydon since the 1920s. Since the introduction of the trams in May, 2000, the 54 bus has terminated at Elmers end Station.
On 3 May 2014…Link to pdf file
The Story of Bromley Road, Beckenham by Cliff Watkins.
We begin at the Beckenham end of Bromley Road where it meets the High Street. On the corner is the
St George’s Church – the ‘Cathedral of North West Kent’ – is Beckenham’s equivalent to Westminster Abbey…