Orpington’s history is a long and interesting one…
Stone Age tools have been found in several areas of Orpington, including Goddington Park, Priory Gardens, the Ramsden estate, and Poverest. Bronze Age pottery fragments have been found in the Park Avenue area and remains of an Iron Age farmstead were excavated at the Ramsden Boys School site in 1956. The CroftonRoman Villa was inhabited from about AD 140 to 400 and the remains of ten of the rooms can be seen today. There is a Roman Bath-house and Anglo Saxon Cemetery on Poverest Road, St Marys Cray too.
There was also activity in Orpington in Medieval times. The Priory is a fine example of a medieval ‘hall house’. The first record of the name Orpington occurs in 1032, when King Cnut’s treasurer Eadsy gave land at “Orpedingetune” to the Monastery of Christ Church at Canterbury. This land included Orpington Priory. The first Rector of Orpington held court here in 1270. The house was rebuilt of stone, in 1290, and added to in 1393 and 1471. In the 17th century the house ceased to be a rectory and passed into private ownership – a timber-framed extension was added, which no longer exists. The house was acquired by Orpington Urban District Council in 1947, and now it houses a museum and a public library. The garden forms an attractive public park, and contains a natural pond which is the source of the River Cray. Each year the Orpington May Queen is crowned in the gardens
The parish Church All Saints is Early English in style, but some Saxon work is visible. It was endowed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1173. The tower and steeple were damaged by a storm in 1771. The rebuilt steeple was struck by lightning in 1809, and it was not replaced. The church was greatly enlarged in 1957.
Until the railway came, in 1868, the local commercial centre was nearby St Mary Cray, rather than Orpington. St Mary Cray had a regular market, and industry (paper mills and bell foundry), whereas Orpington was just a small country village surrounded by soft fruit farms, hopfields and orchards. These crops attracted Romani people, working as pickers, to annual camps in local meadows and worked-out chalk pits. This work has largely ended, but the Borough still provides a permanent Romani site at Star Lane, and the gatherings are commemorated in local street names, such as Romany Rise.
During the First World War a large military hospital, the “16th Canadian General”, was built south-east of the station. It was funded by the Canadian Government. More than 15,000 wounded soldiers had been treated here by 1919. Many of the 182 who died are buried in “Canadian Corner” of All Saints’ churchyard. Most of the original pre-fabricated buildings remained in use for more than 80 years before a major renovation around the turn of the century. Today Orpington Hospital provides rehabilitation and therapy services, outpatient and diagnostic services.
Some other interesting parts of Orpington’s history:
Orpington is known for the “Buff”, “Black” and “Speckled” chickens bred locally by William Cook in the 1890s. The breed is still popular and until recently The Buff Orpington were able to be seen at Tripes Farm, Chelsfield Lane however, in the late 90s, the chicken coop was removed from the farm.
The Orpington Car
The Orpington Car, built by Frank Smith & Jack Milroy at their works in Wellington Road, was shown at the 1920 Motor Show. It was a two-seater convertible, with a dickey seat, and a 10 horsepower (7 kW) engine. Although briefly successful, Smith and Milroy could not compete with mass production, and the last car was built in 1925. Unfortunately, there are no surviving examples.
Farnborough was one of the main filming locations for the TV series ‘Footballers Wives’.
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