Hayes - A history of a Kentish Village Reviews

The amazing achievement of two Hayes historians.
Already by then a member of the Beckenham Historical Association, Jean Wilson and her husband Barry came to live in Hayes back in 1974. This happened to be the year in which what is now the Bromley Borough Local History Society (of which Jean is now a Vice President) was founded at the instigation of the late Fred Whyler. Meanwhile another local resident, Trevor Woodman, was an established authority on the area, having been born in West Wickham in 1939, and it was not long before the two began to work together on ‘Hayes: A History of a Kentish Village’, which has now been published in two volumes. Sadly their appearance is now posthumous in Trevor's case, as he passed away suddenly in September 2007.
Perhaps most notably from the pen of the late Canon Thompson, other histories of Hayes have been attempted in the past, but surely nothing as ambitious and comprehensive as that produced by Wilson and Woodman? Achieved within the space of thirty years and using primary as well as secondary sources, the twin volumes represent what most people would regards as, for each of the authors, a lifetime's work. Moreover, although prior to retirement Jean taught (and was head of) history at Baston School, neither was a professional historian...
...The chapters are set out broadly chronologically, so topics such as religion, education and transport recur throughout. Thus ‘the history of a Kentish village’ can be read from cover to cover as a satisfying story without a myriad of distractions, though such is the extraordinary wealth of information that even Jean recommends ‘dipping in’ rather than trying to read through in one hit! But if you do plump for the latter course, you will discover an orderly progression beginning with a small mediaeval hamlet (known variously as Hays, Hayes, Heas, Heese, Heyse or even Huse - take your pick!) and ending with the outer metropolitan suburb - though in many respects still a village - which is Hayes today.
Along the way we learn that in 1447 one Richard Aleyn was a local ‘ale-conner’ - that means beer-taster. In the 1540s all males aged between 17 and 60 had to have bows and arrows, with the result that Hayes could muster fifteen ‘billmen’ or archers. For two world wars Hayes provided heroes: Volume Two tells numerous stories of courage and sacrifice, not least on the part of Hayes civilians during the Blitz and subsequent V-weapon terror. For every specific period the authors skilfully set local events within the context of national history..."
Extract from review by John Wagstaff in Beckenham Historian, the newsletter of Bromley and Beckenham Branch of the Historical Association, January 2013


"Hayes: A History of a Kentish Village is more than a mere book on local history. It’s a two-volume tour de force chronicling not just Hayes’ development from Stone Age times but the lives of the diverse community that lived here – from a prime minister and a big-time banker to poachers and smugglers.

‘Every village, every street, even every house has a story to tell.’ said joint author, Jean Wilson. ’Just think about your own family history; with Hayes you are writing about hundreds of families and what life was about for all of them.’

Okay, I was born and bred in Hayes and still live there. I grew up, too, in my teenage years with co-author Trevor Woodman, who lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and two daughters in Hayes Hill Road. Sadly he died in September 2007, aged 67, leaving a huge gap in community life.

I also know the effort put into what, by any measure, is a cut above the other, albeit worthy, local history books which decorate my bookshelf.

On one side you have Trevor’s meticulous knowledge, and love of, archaeology, the arrival of the railways and his involvement in Hayes Village Association of which he was twice chairman. On the other there’s Jean’s love of the social and, hence powerful human element, gained while reading history at Oxford and as former head of history at Baston School, Hayes.

Between them they forged a formidable writing duo. With both involved in running local history exhibitions and writing books, the idea of a complete history of what still remains largely a village proved irresistible.

‘We knew there were still gaps to fill,’ admitted Jean. ‘So we decided to set up a database involving as many houses in Hayes as possible based on those listed in 1841.’ Now, after 12 years in the writing and based on over 30 years of research, the 774-page self-published project, split into the Stone Age to 1914 and from then on to modern times, is already selling well. Jean was writing the period to 1880 when Trevor died. He had, however, completed writing to the end of World War II when she took over to take readers up to the present day.

I won’t spoil the plot of how Hayes, described in 1884 as ‘a small straggling village situated on the slope of a hill…as quiet as if it stood in one of the coombes of Devonshire’ remains ‘the nearest village to London’ – save to say every page tells a story.

So, too, do the illustrations with shots of excavations at Baston Manor, for instance, introducing Medieval Hayes. It was here in 1301 William Vincent lived in a cottage with enough land to grow vegetables for his family and to keep a pig, feeding it wild fruits, roots, acorns and beechnut. The same year villagers were attending the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, though it is difficult to establish when it first existed.

Read on for the changes, which followed, from the Black Death through to Tudor Times with stories of the wealthy with their manors contrasting sharply with wandering beggars. The Civil War, too, showed Hayes by the sword divided, with dark deeds being disclosed to me some years back by Trevor over a pint of bitter. His enthusiasm then, and that of Jean, is what brings local history alive.

Volume 2 has particular poignancy for those who not only remember their youth, but the outbreak of World War II and all that entailed for Hayes. And with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War looming large, biographies on those that perished become even more pertinent.

For many, myself included, it’s a case of ‘do you remember the Rex cinema/Foat’s the butcher in Baston Road or the damage caused by the 1945 V2 that fell in West Common Road. (I was in bed at the time).

Even better are the faded prints which pre-date 1927, the year in which a fellow journalist called Hugo wrote: ‘I like Hayes. I like it for lots of things, but I don’t like it as I used to like it. I hate the changes and Hayes is changing.’ And so it did, with the 1930s a turning point with the Bromley Times reporting the ‘encroachment of new bricks and mortar’ as more streets sprang up. They included The Knoll, where I was born, and Hilldown Road, built in 1938, where I am sitting now and where, along with my family, I have spent the last 50 years.

All I ask is that, like a comment piece, again in the Bromley Times, we oldies pray that newcomers to Hayes enjoy it as much as we have done…"

Courtesy of Fish Media © July/August 2012 Issue.
Publishers of Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Chislehurst, Westerham, Oxted and Tunbridge Wells titles.
The Life Magazines - local life features appear monthly

"As we read through the two volumes, we realised how little we knew about the history of Hayes, despite having lived here for over 30 years. The amount of detailed information is incredible and in a format that makes it fascinating to navigate through the history of the village. The books are beautifully bound, too."

Glenys and Stuart Howe of Hayes, August 2012

"A marvellous result for all your labours and expertise, also appreciation to our late friend Trevor Woodman. The quality of the two volumes is really excellent. This comprehensive history of Hayes is recorded for the present reader and for the future! With thanks for all your research and diligent work for many, many years. You must be congratulated on the completion of the two volumes and ….I would like to award the ‘Hayes Gold Medal’ to yourself, and not forgetting our late friend Trevor Woodman."

Leonard Smith of Bromley Common, July 2012

A review by Anne Manning - former Mayor of Bromley

"This book is a ‘must have’ for anyone interested in history, from local, national to international history, from the Stone Age through the Tudors and to the modern day – the complete history of Hayes. It has taken Jean Wilson and Trevor Woodman 12 years to produce – the last five by Jean on her own - and has involved a great deal of research and hard work. Not only does the book provide ‘a good read’, it is one to have on the book shelf at home, to dip into and to use for reference.
Hayes is no ordinary village, due in no small part to its proximity to the City of London and to Westminster, and all aspects of its history and evolution are covered [social history; political history; landed estates; educational history, agriculture and employment; physical geography and archaeology]. In fact, there is something to interest everyone.
The lives of ordinary villagers play a continuing role throughout the book; people such as the village rat catcher, Richard Winch in the late 18th Century and Robert Pearce who, when he retired at the age of 81 in 1934, was reputed to be the oldest postman in England.  It was calculated that he had walked over 110,000 miles in the course of his duties.  More recently, Dorothy Dewey made the trousseau/going-away outfit of Diana, Princess of Wales. The more famous, on the other hand, most being landowners, had a great impact on the changing face of Hayes across the centuries, as well as on the lives of those who worked for them.
Hayes is unique in that not one but two of Britain’s Prime Ministers - William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, and William Pitt the Younger – lived in the village, opposite the parish church. Even Cabinet meetings were held in Hayes; the Seven Years War could be said to have ‘passed through the drawing room’ of Hayes Place, the Pitt family home; and visitors included the Duke of Cumberland, General Wolfe and Benjamin Franklin, to name but a few. And in the 19th century, Charles Darwin, who lived in nearby Downe, was a visitor to Hayes Rectory and his sons were tutored there by the rector, Revd George Varenne Reed.
Other famous people/families to catch the imagination, and who lived in Hayes or close by, included the Boleyns, relatives of Ann, Henry VIII’s 2nd wife; Elizabeth Montague - a leading light in the Blue Stockings; the poet Gilbert West; Sir Vicary Gibbs, one time Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas; members of the Norman Banking family; Everard Alexander Hambro of the banking family, and many, many others.
In fact, this book isn’t just about history – history was actually made in Hayes, as the reader will find."

June 2012