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Our History

Mural showing scenes from Swanleys History

Swanley grew from a crossroads with virtually no buildings, to a considerable town with a population of 20,986 (2001) in one and a half centuries.

Once the railway had been established it led to Swanley becoming a horticultural centre and it was also seen as being the ideal place to send sick Londoners. Swanley’s soil and climate were recognised as a healing environment now easily accessible from London by train.

Three hospitals were established here: the Kettlewell (or Alexandra) Hospital in 1885, Parkwood Hospital in 1893 and White Oak Hospital in 1897.

The Kettlewell stood on the site of Asda’s car park and was for poor patients from London who needed to recuperate after major surgery, and so rested in Swanley. The Parkwood hospital was similarly used and White Oak was originally for children with eye diseases.

During both world wars Kettlewell & Parkwood were used as military hospitals, Parkwood became part of the Sidcup hospital for facial injuries. The setting up of the National Health Service in 1948 meant these old London Hospitals became redundant - Kettlewell & White Oak closed in the 1950s and Parkwood ceased being a hospital in the early 1960s. Today reminders of these three important places still exist e.g. the gates of White Oak can still be seen opposite Swanley Police Station in London Road, the Roman Catholic chapel in Bartholomew way was Kettlewell’s chapel and Parkwood still exists in its entirety in Beechenlea Lane –now a special school.

Swanley Home for Little Boys was opened in 1883 for orphans from London, a place in the country where they learned a trade to secure a living in later life. This fine Victorian building is now Furness School in Hextable.

Swanley was originally seen as developing into a genteel Victorian residential area with the building of several villas along London Road and Birchwood Park Avenue, these included private schools for middle class Victorian families. This vision was defeated by the needs of horticulture and industry, which used Swanley’s good rail and road communications with London and Kentish markets as a place for both their businesses and workers. Railway workers were soon joined by horticultural workers who, in turn, were followed by industry such as Thomas Wood’s jam factory (stood on the site of Swan Mill). Nearby was Castle Street, known as “Do as you like Street” because of the appalling overcrowding and the close proximity of railway wagons at Swanley siding filled with manure from the London horse traffic, ready for use in Swanley’s horticultural businesses. Swanley up to the 1930s exported flowers and vegetables to London and imported manure! Castle Street was demolished and replaced with Bevan Place, just off London Road.

The earliest surviving buildings in Swanley Town are contained in the row of shops in the High Street opposite the Lullingstone Castle public house and known as Kent Terrace. Increasing population meant that Swanley Junction had to have its own schools and a church because the ones used in Swanley Village could not cope. In 1894 a small corrugated iron church was built (known as St Philip’s & St James’) but that was replaced in 1901 by the newly completed St Mary’s church – a building that was designed to be larger than it is as can be seen from its odd shape. In 1902 a congregational church was built in London Road (still there today). This church began life in 1878, being moved to Swanley in 1890 and then to its present site which, until 1955 marked the boundary between Swanley (which was part of Sutton at Hone Parish) and Farningham to which belonged all the rest of London Road westwards. The schools at Swanley Junction included St Mary’s National School (Church of England) opened in 1896 in Goldsel Road, Farningham Hill School 1902 and Birchwood Elementary School (1908).

The recreation ground in what is now St Mary’s Road was land given to the parishes of Sutton-at-Hone (including Swanley), St Mary’s Cray, Eynsford & Farningham in 1900.

The War Memorial, since 1980 outside St Mary’s Church, was originally on the junction of Swanley Lane and London Road and unveiled in 1922. The memorial contains a total of 138 names for the dead of two world wars including Staff Paymaster Joseph Gedge of Swanley – the first British Officer killed in the First World War.

From the 1920’s and especially since 1945, Swanley has become a commuting community taking advantage of the excellent road and rail communications. Swanley Town Centre has completely altered over the past 40 years, from a bottle neck for traffic with decaying buildings along parts of London Road, to a pedestrianised shopping centre supported by buildings from the 1960’s the Post Office, Telephone exchange and Fire Station as well as modern light industry at several industrial estates.

In 1975 the Library replaced rooms in White Oak Hospital building which was rebuilt again in 1999 now The Library & Information Centre, is home to the Library, Tourist and Local Information, Volunteer Bureau, Learn Direct and Adult Education and a Café.

The Library is the best place to start finding out about Swanley’s history. There is a local collection with files, maps and illustrations.

Further Reading
Balls Horace Historical notes on the Swanley District, 1974
Blaxall Geoff Swanley: the community that cares, 1985
Blaxall Geoff A peep into the past
Bull Christoph Swanley Allsorts: notes on the history of Swanley Junction
Drury M A socio-economic study of Swanley Junction 1865-1965
Porteous Geoff Dartford Country, 1985
Historical contributions from Christoph Bull and Geoff Blaxall.