Penge: The Town at the ‘Edge of Wood’ and Its Memorial
Most people who live in Penge, south east London who know anything about it’s history have learned it from the walls of the Moon & Stars pub, located on the high street next to Sainsbury’s. There, as well as an impressive selection of real ales and craft beers, you can find a veritable treasure trove of information about Penge history, from it’s ancient name (Penceat, meaning ‘edge of wood’) to the characters that adorned the high street at the beginning of the 20th Century (organ grinders and street sellers galore) and there’s even a framed piece on the wall in one booth about Mrs Beeton, who would meet her future husband under the railway bridge at the top of what is now the High Street. I recommend you go there if you want to learn the history of this small and colourful area. It’s often overlooked – right now on the Time Out web site you can vote for your favourite London hangouts by borough and then sub-categorized by town. Under the category for South East London, you can vote for places in Lewisham and Forest Hill and the like, but it’s as if Penge doesn’t exist. But guess what? It does, and it has since the 10th century, although it’s mostly been common land for farming pigs and sheep and cattle since then. It was only really during the 19th Century that it came to life – even more so when the Crystal Palace moved in to the neighbourhood, after which the area became a very fashionable place to live.
Fast forward a century or so and Penge is to be found nestled between Upper Norwood and Sydenham and Beckenham and Croydon, looking unsuspecting, half forgotten by the rest of London. There’s a lot of history here if you care to look but right now, at the forefront of it all is the War Memorial which was commissioned in 1921 and stands proudly outside Penge Recreation Ground (a beautiful green spot that’s worth a stroll around if you go there) next to a formidable looking Yew tree ( which incidentally has a Geocache in it – apologies for the giveaway).
After WW2, names of the WW2 dead never got added to it and this has been a source of concern for the people at Penge Partners and Penge Forum, as well as the Penge Councillors and local historians, who have been fundraising hard for the last 2 years to have these names added. This year they reached their target, raising over £4000 through quiz nights, sponsored events and special donations, and Penge Councillors donated the rest. Last Sunday there was an unveiling and a couple of days later, I went along to have a look at the regal old memorial standing tall with the four new plaques surrounding it.
The plaques bear the names of the members of the Armed Forces from Penge who died during WW2 and also members of the Civil Defence who died on duty, and you can see that among those who gave their lives serving their community from the Civil Defence side of things were Air Raid Wardens, members of the Home Guard, Firewatchers and Bomb Disposal Officers. Penge was badly affected by bombing between 1939-1945 and sadly there are a lot of names – but the Penge community has come together to raise funds to remember them and have them permanently commemorated. The plaques are now in place in time for Remembrance Day and the Centenary of WW1 on November 11 2014.
It’s a big achievement in a relatively small town to raise so much money to bring about this sort of positive and important change and I feel really proud to come from a place dedicated to fundraising to preserve and commemorate important parts of it’s history. At Cemetery Club, remembering those that have gone before us is something we like to focus on, and here it is in action. Well done Penge! If you happen to be passing through or you live nearby, head down to the High Street to see the memorial – it stands opposite St John’s Church which is a nice example of church architecture in the area.
Other things to see while you’re in the area:-
Watermen’s Square which is home to Penge’s Royal Waterman’s Almhouses, built in 1840-41.
The Crooked Billet pub – the oldest pub in Penge, located on the High Street. Historical records show that it was there as early as 1601. Today you can still nip in there for a cheeky pint and a game of pool.
Nearby Beckenham Crematorium which is home to several famous names including W G Grace and Thomas Crapper, who contrary to popular belief did not actually invent the flushing toilet…although he did invent the ballcock.
All photos by Christina Owen Copyright 2014.