‘Bexley’ was the name of a large parish stretching from Welling to Crayford and from Brampton to Sidcup. It contained numerous ancient hamlets and farms. At the intersection of two ancient tracks with the River Cray was the parish church and court, around which a village had grown up over the centuries: Old Bexley.
Human occupation of the area began at least a quarter of a million years ago, and flint hand-axes have been found along the Cray valley. The village of Bexley originated as early as the 5th century, and a description of Bexley’s boundaries occurs in a charter of AD 814. The name then in use was Byxlea which probably meant ‘the place or clearing associated with box trees’.
In medieval times the administrative centre of the manor was in Bexley. From the 9th to 16th centuries, the Archbishop of Canterbury was the non-resident lord of the manor. At the Reformation the manor was passed to Henry VIII who leased it to a tenant, Sir John Champneis, the builder of Hall Place. A considerable amount of property in the area was owned by Oxford University, after William Camden of Chislehurst purchased it in 1621 and immediately granted it as a gift to provide endowment for a professorship of history.
The Bexley district consisted of farmland, woodland and heath, providing the food, timber, fuel and grazing required to sustain the parish. Much of this landscape survived until the 1920s and 1930s, when enormous developments of houses and bungalows rapidly spread.
Bexley became an Urban District Council in 1894 and the administrative centre was established at Bexley Heath rather than Bexley village. As the population rapidly increased, Bexley became a Municipal Borough in 1935. In 1965 the Greater London Borough of Bexley was formed from the Municipal Borough of Bexley, Municipal Borough of Erith, Crayford Urban District and part of Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District.
Taken from ‘Bexley Village’ by P. J. Tester
P. J. Tester was the First Chairman of the Bexley Historical Society.