History of Welling and East Wickham
Welling originally formed part of the ancient manor of East Wickham, which was centred on St Michael’s Church, built in the 13th century. In the Domesday Book (1086) East Wickham was included as part of the return for Plumstead and the church was originally a chapel of St Nicholas’ Church in Plumstead.
Welling was originally called ‘Wellyngs’, and was first mentioned in a document dated 1362. The name probably means ‘the place of the spring’, derived from the Old English word wella (‘well’ or ‘spring’). There is certainly water in the area, notably the spring that feeds Danson Lake, but also the old moat that was part of the grounds of Moat House, which appears on 19th-century maps of the area near the Guy, Earl of Warwick public house. Wickham is taken from the old English word wicham (‘dwelling place’ or ‘settlement’).
Much of the history of this area is tied up with the manor of Danson. A magnificent Palladian villa, built in the late 1760s, survives in the middle of Danson Park, fully restored by English Heritage. One of the owners of Danson manor, Alfred Bean, bought the house in 1862 and did much to improve local amenities, both in Welling and in nearby Bexleyheath.
The growth of the area, like that of Bexleyheath, was tied up with Watling Street, the Roman road from London to Dover, and the trade that could be had from the travellers who used it. The old coaching inns such as the Guy, Earl of Warwick and the Nag’s Head formed the nucleus for development. These inns survive today although not in the original buildings.
Slowly shops and other amenities grew up beside the inns and in Welling a high-class residential district called Belle Grove was established on the main road to the west of Welling Corner.
The local economy was originally sustained by farming and in particular market gardening. The arrival in 1849 of the North Kent railway line meant that perishable produce such as soft fruits could be transported to the London markets a great deal more quickly. The predominant farm in the area was East Wickham Farm in Wickham Street, owned for many years by the Jones family who lived in nearby East Wickham House.
An interesting early development in the area was a prefab estate known as the East Wickham Hutments, put up by the Royal Arsenal (see Thamesmead) to house its workers on land near St Michael’s Church in 1916. Residents of the estate had their own amenities, including a theatre, but there were frequent complaints about the drainage and sanitary arrangements.
In the 1920s a major residential development was the Welling Council Housing Scheme undertaken by Bexley Urban District Council, which borrowed £400,000 to build 426 houses.
During the 1930s New Ideal Homesteads Ltd built the Falconwood Estate and a local builder, Stevens, constructed another large estate to the north-east of Welling.
Today Welling is predominantly a residential suburb, with vast swathes of 1930s housing. Commercial life still revolves around activity on the old London to Dover road.