Martins Hill, the War Memorial, and the Ravensbourne of Yesteryear

This land, and lovely view, was saved from development by public subscription and was purchased by the town in 1878. This ode was posted in the Bromley Record to promote the campaign:

“On this, the people’s piece of land, May builder never ply his skill. May never innovating hand deprive the town of Martin’s Hill.”

In the early years of the railway, the slopes were noted for the perfusion of broom, and made the hillside appear quite yellow from the train.

The town held an annual festival, the Broom Time, in the park.

There is a page about this park by the Friends here.

The war memorial is designed by Sydney Marsh, and the obelisk has the bronze figures of Liberty, Victory and Peace. It was erected in 1922 to commemorate the local people who died in WW1 and WW2.

Sand Martin in flight (wiki)

There is some debate as to the origin of the name Martins Hill; it could be because it was where all the house and sand martins flew in the thermals from the slope. The sand martins nested where Westmoreland Place / St Marks square is now, and in brick pits like the one where Havelock Rec is now.

In the early years of the railway, the slopes were noted for the perfusion of broom, and made the hillside appear quite yellow from the train.

The town held an annual festival, the Broom Time, in the park.

What the river might have looked like

H.G Wells describes playing here in his writings, and the former appearance of the Ravensbourne, in the days before the pumping stations at Shortlands and Sparrows Den had not taken much of the flow away:

“Here, too, if my memory serves me aright, the river met – with a
certain air of patronage – a shallow, rippling foot-wide tributary, rich
in cress and water-snails and minnows, that came from a tree bordered pond [below Durham Road], duckweed covered and dear to
dragon-flies and water-wagtails. Over that tributary Frank Blake used
to jump with his little brother in his arms.
“Thereafter the river ran shallow for a time under a fence, and became
a mere stew of frog spawn or black tadpoles according to the time of
year. Then a long line of trees and a footpath to Shortlands touched it.”
[This account fits well with the 1863 Ordnance Survey map. Paul Rainey]
“When I was about nine years old [1875] there was talk of improving
the town. It was about this time that the Ravensbourne began to shrink. I
remember how we youngsters thought it a very fine thing at first.
Gravelly islands covered with dried green algae began to appear in the
river where no islands had been before, and one could wade
anywhere. The fishes crowded into the deeper pools, and were more
easily caught.
“That winter the meadows were not flooded, and there was no skating,
and the next summer the fishes had gone, the tadpoles and the forget-me-nots, and the river bed was only fit for playing Sahara in, with one
thin thread of water trickling down its centre.
“I saw my River Ravensbourne from the train yesterday [1894]. The little trickle of water is still running, but most of the bed of the river is dry.”

These quotes are taken from the Pall Mall Gazette, a note HG Wells had written, called “The Degeneration Of The Ravensbourne, A Memory of Bromley”. Paul Rainey and the BBHLS have an interesting article where they have taken these quotes from this publication and correlated them to the Ordinance Survey maps of that time.

About 40 years before that, Edward Strong had written in his directory of Bromley:

diagram of rivers ravensbourne quaggy n kyd brook
The river Ravensbourne and catchment to the Deptford Creek.

“…the most striking prospect, and one that every one who visits this Town, should endeavour to see, presents itself from Martin’s Hill, west of the church; from this spot may be seen, the whole front of the Crystal Palace, its Terraces, Fountains, and Gardens, and per­sons with moderately good sight may see the company there, on a fine day; and with a good glass may be able to recognise a neighbour, the
distance between, being about three miles in a straight line. On the extreme left, is seen the Village of Keston; near the two Windmills which attract the visitor’s eye in this direction, is the source of the River Ravensbourne.”

Below is a montage of some old photos of Martin’s Hill and the view from it:

Saving the Hill:

In 1877-8, the town campaigned to save Martins Hill from redevelopment (see ode above). Parts of it had already been sold off in 1858 to Mayor William Starling, who built for himself Hill House, as well as other speculative developments. It was owned by the Church Commissioners and was finally purchased by the town in 1878 and set out as Bromley’s first recreation area. In 1887, in celebration of Queen Victoria’s jubilee the lower slopes of the Hill were acquired together with the meadow which was renamed Queens Mead.

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