Tuesday, 28 August 2018

My little Brother posing next to the
famous Abbey Wood Berlin Wall.
In 1950, my parents along with their 11 month old baby (me) moved into No 63 Wickham Lane which, for those of you who don't know, is in South East London.

When we first moved into the property it was in a pretty sorry state. Although it was only around 40 years old, it had been built to "property speculator" standards which meant that, even though it was built in the bed of an old stream, there was no damp course. There was also no electricity, bathroom or indoor toilet.

We did have a large garden though which was a great bonus when you were a small child; and if you wanted to explore even further, there was an alley at the bottom of the garden which took you out into the street. The street in question was a small cul-de-sac called The Dell. (More of which later).

Prior to 1945 there were no buildings between the houses in Wickham Lane and the local woods and you could simply walk out the back door and cross into them (I will tell you another story about that at a later date).

There was a narrow footpath called Bastion Road which ran from the bottom of Bostal Hill, along the East side of Bostal Woods, finally emerging in Wickham Lane and the whole area contained allotments. Shortly after the end of WW2, all of this area became one large housing estate. A number of small roads were constructed between Wickham Lane and Bastion Road and houses were built along them.

When the Dell was built, it ran along the back of the gardens in Wickham Lane and would have cut off access to them except an alley way was left between the Dell gardens and ours so we could get access from the street.

All this was fine until one strange day in 1961 when we awoke to discover the occupants of the Dell were building a wall along our garden fences so we could no longer get out.

This caused much consternation as you can imagine and no-one seemed to quite know what was going on. I was only 11 at the time so much of it went over my head  but as far as I was able to understand, The Dell occupants had decided that the alley had been constructed out of what was their gardens so belonged to them exclusively.

All this happened at the same time as the Berlin Wall going up and you can imagine, it didn't take long for a connection to be made and we started putting up signs to that effect. 

My Mum contacted the local paper and a reporter came down with a photographer and made quite a story out of it. A picture appeared in the next edition featuring my Mum standing by the blocked up gate and for a while we all became something of a local celebrity. People would actually come and ask if they could see the gate and have their picture taken in front of it.

(We kept a copy of that article for many years before it finally got lost and I've never been able to find it again. I've looked through archive copies of the Kentish Independent for that time but it still remains lost).

It's still a mystery why they ever did this; there were never any neighbour disputes or anything like that and up to that time, we were (what we thought) on perfectly friendly relations with them.

This Google Earth image shows Wickham
Lane (left) and the Dell (right). Our house
was the one with the slate roof, (top left).
You can clearly see the garage, still at an odd
angle after the owner had to move it.
When one Dell resident built a garage for his car in his garden and discovered he had built it too close to end of the garden to turn his car into, the Wickham Lane resident actually moved his garden fence back a few feet so he would be able to get in. Once the wall went up, he could no longer do this and had to take his garage down and rebuild it at an angle: it's still there today as you can see from the Google Earth image.

We were never able to get any meaningful explanation as to why they had done this and they were impossible to talk to; the Kentish Independent reporter who went round to ask them was physically attacked.

Looking at the area now, it doesn't look like the alley is there at all now. All the gardens seem to have been extended to back onto the Wickham Lane ones.

This is a view from my back garden in Wickham Lane, featuring the famous "Abbey Wood Berlin Wall". It looks out over the Dell, Glendown Road and with Bastion Road in the background. Behind that is Bostal Woods. After the construction of "the wall", which can be clearly seen in this picture, if we wanted to visit the woods, we had to go the long way round.

You can also clearly see where my neighbour's garden fence was moved back several feet to allow his neighbour opposite to get his car into the garage he had just built in his garden. Their new wall prevented him from doing this any more and he had to move it.

The shed belonged to "Smokey Joe", so called because he was always building bonfires and smoking the whole area out.

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