History of Biggin Hill

The Story of Biggin Hill

Biggin Hill is best known as the RAF airfield that was most prominent in the defence of London during World War II. This element of its history makes it unique in south London, but even its suburban development was far from usual.

Biggin Hill was part of the still rural parish of Cudham, south-west of Bromley. It is very much in downland country. The main road through it climbs from north to south to a high point of 245m with steep hills and narrow valleys on each side, and a plateau at 140m occupied by the airfield.

As a settlement Biggin Hill had an unorthodox origin in that the first modern settlers to augment the original rural population were second homers; not wealthy City magnates seeking a rural peace, but ordinary workers seeking a weekend retreat from London. In the later years of the 19th and early 20th century the landowner of the Aperfield Estate, Frederick Dougal and his successors, sold off small building plots in an attempt to stimulate suburban development. Large developers were deterred by the lack of good public transport and the difficulty of getting building materials to such a high and isolated site. Instead the plots, which sold for only £10, were bought by hardy enterprising individuals who, unburdened by modern planning regulations, started to build a town of flimsy and often poorly built weekend homes.

The phenomenon of self-builders, or “plotlanders” as they became known, here and at other areas around London, was a major stimulus behind legislation that established the Green Belt and which has given local authorities increasing powers over the process of development.

World War II and the development of the airfield resulted in a new population and the modern character of Biggin Hill was established by developers buying many of the plots and rebuilding the original houses, and by a development blueprint produced by Kent County Council, which led to the improvement of the main road, and zoned areas for housing and industry. The population increased significantly in the 20 years after 1961.

Nowhere is the pioneering spirit of Biggin Hill better demonstrated that in the story behind its Anglican church. In the absence of any funds to build a permanent place of worship, the vicar acquired a to-be-demolished church in Peckham. He demolished it, removed the fabric to Biggin Hill and used the materials to build a new church. It opened in the late 1950s.

Not only was Biggin Hill populated by exported Londoners, some of them may be surrounded by buildings familiar to their ancestors.

See historic maps of Biggin Hill

See historic maps of Biggin Hill