Bromley Common and its Schools

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Bromley Common, the early history

Until the early nineteenth century, Bromley Common was merely an area of common land to the south of the prosperous market town of Bromley. It belonged to the Bishop of Rochester because he was the Lord of the Manor of Bromley but the local people had some right to use it, probably for grazing their animals or collecting firewood.

Stretching from Shooting Common1 in the north to the Keston Mark in the south, it was an area of about three hundred acres.

Map of Bromley Common c1780   Sketch map of Bromley Common in the 1820s

The law did not allow anyone to farm or build houses on  common land so most of it was a neglected wasteland. The main road from London to Tunbridge Wells was little more than a track where it crossed the common. Footpads and highwaymen were a problem.  In 1652, John Evelyn wrote in his diary about being robbed in the area. As late as 1798, a highwayman was hanged on the common for robbing the mail.

The soil was poor, and badly drained so the area was of little use except for the plentiful game which attracted both sportsmen and poachers, and some flat land which could be used for cricket. 

Hunting and Cricket on the Common 

Hunting was allowed on the common - but only if you owned land or had a title. Otherwise you were a poacher.  Mr George Norman was a landowner with a large house on the edge of the common and loved hunting on the common with his neighbour, Major Rohdes of Oakley House. 

In the mid 18th Century, many big cricket matches were played on Shooting Common at the northern end of Bromley Common.  One team playing there was led by Fredrick, Prince of Wales. (He was the son of George II.)

George Norman's son, George Warde Norman loved cricket and was a founder member of the cricket club that played on a part of the common called Princes Plain (see map below) between 1812 and 1821.  The enclosure meant that the club had to move; they went to Chislehurst. 

The law said that nobody could buy, sell or build on common land, nor could people farm it, unless everyone who had any right to use it . This was one reason why the area was largely unused. The only way to change this was to get Parliament to pass an Act of Enclosure so that everyone who had a right to use it was compensated. There had been a partial enclosure2 in 1764 but when, fifty years later, there was a proposal to enclose the rest there was some resistance.

Beans on the Common  In 1819, the Napoleonic war with France was over, a good thing. The down side was a rise in unemployment, a lot of people in Bromley had no job.  In those days, if you were unemployed and had no money, there was no Social Security: you went to the parish for help. They came up with a form of job creation, some of these poor people were employed  to plant a crop of beans on the common. Unfortunately, the project was judged illegal and stopped. The unfairness of this persuaded many people to support the enclosure.

Parliament finally passed the necessary act and, in 1821, Bromley Common was enclosed. As part of the enclosure, some of the common was set aside for new roads, including Brewery Road, Church Lane and Princes Plain.  Oakley Road, then known as the Westerham Turnpike Road, was re-routed away from Oakley House. Ten acres of land were set aside for a workhouse3 and two acres for gravel pits.4  (The gravel was needed for all the new roads.)  Ditches were dug to provide better drainage. 

The rest of the common was divided between the people who had to be compensated or was sold to pay for the enclosure.  

The Bishop of Rochester got by far the largest share and others got smaller awards of either land or money.5 The Parish of Bromley was awarded a mere tenth of an acre. That small plot of land was used for six Parish Cottages This was probably to compensate the Parish for the loss of the right to collect firewood to heat the church.

As the owner of an estate on the edge of the common, Mr George Norman got a share but he also bought much of the land that came on to the market, thereby strengthening his position as the biggest land owner in the area. 

The new owners of the common could now use their land for houses or farming. 

Within 20 years, the area had a population of about 1000, mostly in the south of the area, and they had their own church and a school. The northern portion of the common was mostly developed in the 1870s

Part of the Bromley tythe map of 1841 showing the southern part of Bromley Common.
This map shows how the southern part of the common was developed in the first twenty years after the enclosure. Only the Plough Inn and Skym Corner were built before 1821; they were just outside the boundary of the common.

Notes
Shooting common   This northern part of the common was known as Shooting Common, possibly because it was used for archery practice; two nearby fields were known as Long Shots and Short Shots.  However, the name may have come from the Shot family who were major landowners in the district. Return.

The enclosure of 1764 In 1764, an Act of Parliament extinguished “…the right of Common in, over and upon certain commonable lands and grounds within the manor and parish of Bromley” and gave those lands to the Bishop of Rochester on payment of forty pounds per annum to the church wardens and over­seers of the poor.   This was to be “in full compensation of all manner of right of common of the freeholders and inhabitants of the parish, and all other persons claiming right of common.”  Unfortunately, the act does not say which area was enclosed and there was no map as there was in 1821. Return.

The workhouse was never built.  Later, some of the land was used to build a vicarage for Holy Trinity (not the present vicarage).  The workhouse was built at Locks Bottom and became, in time, Farnborough Hospital. Return.

The gravel pit is now grassed over and used for recreation. Some of the ponds shown on the map may also have originally been dug out to provide gravel.  Return.

The awards of money varied between £3 7s 6d and £42 5s. Return.

Hasted map Common map 1939 Map 2000 Map