History of the London Borough of Bexley


The London Borough of Bexley came into being on 1 April 1965 following the passage of the London Government Act 1963. It consisted of the former Boroughs of Bexley and Erith, the Urban District of Crayford and parts of the Urban District of Chislehurst and Sidcup.

Before the Civil War the small port of Erith on the banks of the Thames had possessed its own Mayor and Corporation, but its charter was revoked by Charles II in 1660, leaving responsibility for local government divided between the Parish Vestry and the still functioning Manorial Courts.

After the opening of the Crossness sewage plant in 1865 Erith was transformed from a small riverside resort into an industrial town. The existing administrative structures proved unsatisfactory and so Erith Local Board was established under the Public Health Act 1875 to act as the sanitary authority for the Parish.

About the same time a new town began to grow up along the London to Dover Road, where it crossed Bexleyheath. The common lands of Bexley had been enclosed by an Act of Parliament in 1819. This permitted the building of private houses on the heath. Bexley was still administered by the Parish Vestry, but this arrangement proved unpopular with the people of Bexleyheath. In 1880 a solution was found by the creation of a Bexley Local Board, similar to the one at Erith.

The Local Government Act 1894 created Urban District Councils for both Bexley and Erith, replacing both the Local Boards and Parish Vestries. In 1902 Foots Cray was also constituted an Urban District, while East Wickham was absorbed into Bexley Council.

Eight years later the boundaries were again reviewed and Lamorbey Ward was transferred from Bexley to Foots Cray. Over time the Councils were granted further powers covering such matters as electricity supply and tramways for which they obtained special Acts of Parliament.

During the First World War the village of Crayford developed into a small town due to the growth of the local munitions works and in 1920 the Parish was constituted an Urban District. After the War this industry languished in depression, while Bexley and Foots Cray, re-named Sidcup in 1921 experience rapid sub-urbanisation during the great housing boom. This was accompanied by important administrative changes.

In 1934 Sidcup merged with Chislehurst and North Cray to form Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council. Royal charters were granted to Bexley in 1937 and to Erith in 1938 making the towns into Boroughs with their own Mayors. In 1944 Bexley also acquired delegated responsibility for local schools from Kent County Council, while Erith lost the same powers, which it had exercised since 1903.

Today the Borough is best known for its many historic sites and beauty spots such as the ruins of Lesnes Abbey in Abbey Wood, Hall Place, the Tudor mansion with its magnificent gardens in Old Bexley or the Redhouse, William Morris’s home in Bexleyheath. Danson Park in Welling with its Palladian villa and boating lake is the largest public open space in outer London, while Foots Cray meadows on the boundaries of Foots Cray and North Cray is the home of much interesting flora and fauna.