Not long ago Bromley had a physical barrier dividing the rich and poor. Reporter Josh Barrie talks to past resident Michael Nelson, who recounted it growing up when writing his memoirs.
LESS than 100 years ago some of Bromley’s residents built a seven-foot ‘class wall’ to keep out the more ‘vulgar’ members of society.
The year was 1926 and the middle-classes of the affluent Alexandra Crescent decided to erect a glass-topped divide, keeping those in the nearby Downham estate at bay.
Former journalist and now historian Michael Nelson was born on the ‘working class’ side and writing his memoirs, recalled the structure - despite only living in the area until the age of six. His memory jogged, the 84-year-old visited Lewisham Public Library to investigate.
In an article on History Today he noted the estate he was born on had been built to house people displaced by the slum clearances in the East End after the First World War.
The ‘pre-war class’, he said, brought a "striking rise" in gated communities, which acted as barriers between social demographics.
Mr Nelson, who now lives in west London's Holland Park said: "I used to live there - I remember it as a child. It stuck in my memory even at that young age."
Despite his humble roots the author went onto study modern history at the prestigious Magdalen College, Oxford, before managing the global news service Reuters.
He joined in 1952 and since retiring around 25 years ago has written numerous books on subjects from Queen Victoria to broadcasting throughout the Cold War.
In his latest he touches on Bromley’s wall, the origins of which he explains in his article: "On February 16 1926, Albert Frampton, the developer of Alexander Crescent, applied to Bromley Council to erect the wall.
"The application was the result of pressure exerted by residents on Frampton’s estate, who objected to ‘vulgar people’ using their road as a short cut to Bromley town centre.
"The council declined to take a decision, but the wall went up anyway."
Apparently London’s County Council and both Bromley and Lewisham Councils disputed responsibility, arguing over who should take charge. The disagreement "raged for nearly a quarter of a century", said Mr Nelson.
But Bromley wasn’t the only place of forced segregation. In Oxford, where Mr Nelson spent time, two ‘class walls’ sprung up around the same period. While a study into the social implications of such structures at Glasgow University found more than 1,000 ‘gated communities’ - not necessarily ‘class walls’ - across the country.
Mr Nelson added he felt these divides were "not conducive then" and aren’t now, likening them to the political ideal of ‘Big Society’ brought about by the current government.
One poignant comment came from an old Downham resident, who in 2009 recalled on a local history website: "My Gran was taken ill on a visit and my father had to climb the wall to get to the doctor who lived in Alexander Crescent. Needless to say, he cut his hand."
Bromley’s wall finally came down in 1950, ceasing to exclude parts of the community. Mr Nelson added there may be an argument that "metaphorical walls" still stand throughout the UK, especially in London. He said private security patrols in wealthier parts of the capital are ever popular.
But he also mentioned he thinks things have improved on the whole, adding: "I think we’ve probably learnt our lesson.
"I suppose areas are more mixed now than they used to be".
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