Home to a schoolboy entrusted with a kingdom!
Hayes has over time divided itself quite neatly into two distinctive areas; one part is suburban and the other ancient village. Neither detracts from each over, they merely enhance, both having characteristics that appeal to the people who are fortunate enough to live within the area. Suburban Hayes is exactly what it says, a place of well kept pre war semi’s and detached homes purpose built for the overflow of London’s ever expanding middle classes. The large well kept homes house stockbrokers and others of the same ilk who make the short journey into nearby London each day using the small railway station situated at the south end of the high street. The station and the standard of housing ensure that Hayes remains a popular commuter village. The old village is home for the church of St Mary’s; over 800 years old, there are few signs of its medieval past as it was extensively remodelled in the 19th century. The village character is further enhanced by the small independent shops and restaurants that line the high street as well as the open park land and green fields that can be glimpsed to the east of the high street
Hayes can be found sandwiched between West Wickham and the ever expanding Bromley. It is quite endearing that such a small place under constant threat of being overwhelmed by Bromley has managed to retain a village look and feel. This is in part due to the parkland and green fields and partly because although small Hayes is full of its own self belief, as with people the higher they rise, and the more they accomplish, the more humble they appear. Those who achieve the most brag the least, and the more secure they are in themselves. "True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes". (Edward Frederick Halifax).
Hayes might be small and seem inconsequential beside the larger character of Bromley it was however visited by many of the major characters of the late 18th century who would have discussed all of the major political events. Who would believe that such a small unobtrusive place like Hayes would provide Britain with two of its best known Prime Ministers, William Pitt the younger, Britain's youngest Prime Minister, and his father William Pitt the elder.
William Pitt the elder discovered Hayes whilst on honeymoon with his new wife Lady Hester Grenville in November 1754. William was a long term friend of Hester’s brother, George Grenville who was a member of the Whigs and eventually went on to become prime minister. Hester was relatively old for time when she married William being 34 years old, but the pair had been good friends for twenty odd years and shared an interest in politics. Their ten day honeymoon was spent at nearby West Wickham and during the course of their holiday they must have spent some time getting to know the local area and of course Hayes Place, which sadly has long since disappeared. The marriage was a happy one and the couple moved to Hayes Place in Kent in 1757. They quickly filled it with five children one of whom followed in his fathers (and uncles for that matter) footsteps showing an unusual aptitude for politics. It is said that he inherited brilliance and dynamism from his father’s family and a determined, methodical nature from the maternal side.
Pitt’s birth in Hayes began a life which led to one of the most dazzling political careers of the age, set against a backdrop of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, when a sure and steady hand was needed to guide national policy and gain the confidence of George III. William Pitt the younger was the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain and was open to ridicule because of his youth hence a popular ditty "a sight to make all nations stand and stare: a kingdom trusted to a schoolboy's care". Even though it was widely believed that his administration would not last until Christmas it survived for 17 years! Pitt was very popular with the public and was known as “Honest Billy” quite a change from the dishonesty and corruption that was rife amongst other politicians; it’s nice to know that some things never change!
His parents were obviously fond of the area because just two years after selling Hayes Place to Thomas Walpole, William the elder prevailed upon him to allow him to buy it back. He spent his remaining years remodelling his favourite home .This much loved house witnessed the birth of William the younger and was the place where William the elder ended his days in 1778. It was however sadly demolished in 1933 to make way for new homes but is still remembered by the names of the roads of which Chatham and Pittsmead Avenue are two examples.
Even though the country estates were demolished to make way for housing and a huge influx of new residents Hayes has for the majority of its history been a settled community, just as it is today with little to disturb the peace. We may dream of quitting the rat race and moving to the countryside, but why would we want to when Hayes offers so much!
Hayes lies midway between West Wickham and Bromley town centre, and can be found on higher ground than its larger neighbour Bromley. I think it is befitting that Hayes should look down upon Bromley as it was home for two prime ministers: William Pitt the elder who was credited with the birth of the British Empire and was the birthplace of one of his son who went on to stand in his fathers shoes, William Pitt otherwise known as the “great commoner” who was beloved by the populace; something that cannot be said of recent prime ministers!
The village that William Pitt would have known grew up around the church and Hayes Place, a property that has sadly long since disappeared but it was here that General Wolfe dined on the evening before his departure for Quebec and all that fate would see fit to bestow upon him!. The village centre would have been around what is now known as Hayes Street.
Although originally a small rural village it has to some extent suffered because of its close proximity to London, the centre of which is only 16 miles away. Some would even say that it has been engulfed by the ever expanding suburbs of Greater London which just isn’t true. Hayes is still to all intents and purposes a village the high street still contains shops and open parkland and fields still form the boundary to neighbouring West Wickham.
In reality little is still visible of the Hayes of long ago but village life still continues merely on a different level. There is still a discernable sense of community which has become the heritage for future generations lucky enough to be residents of such a place. There are very few places on the British isles that have not been affected by the coming of the twentieth century but Hayes managed to remain a settled rural community probably because there were so few souls living there even in fairly recent history – 1821 there were only 86 families of whom over half earned their living from the soil. Even the coming of the railway in 1882 resulted in fairly little impact it just opened a few more avenues for trade. Ultimately it was the city to which it was linked by the railway that created the impetus for growth. London and the population boom around the 1920’s changed Hayes for ever. The country estates that provided country homes for the wealthy have disappeared to make way for the new housing estates for the newcomers. The station now ensures that Hayes remains a popular commuter village.
Hayes or Hese as it was known originally was first mentioned in documents as a place name in 1177. The name Hayes literally means “The rough ground covered with brushwood and undergrowth”. Hayes lay partly within the manor of West Wickham, and partly within the manor of Orpington, in the “Hundred” of Ruxley. A “hundred” is an Anglo Saxon measurement of land need to support one hundred people.
Hayes is much older than written history allows as we tend to think of the place as Anglo Saxon in origin but in reality there were people living here during the Bronze Age. Their homes are normally quite difficult to find and yet Hayes Common has provided plenty to remind us of their lives in this area from pieces of pottery, flints and quern stones used for grinding grain. There is even evidence of fields that were used for cultivation with drainage ditches dividing each one.
The common has changed as one would expect as the land is now used in a different manner, it once provided grazing for animals but is used these days as an open space for exercise and it also stimulates the senses that have become dulled by constant stresses and strains of life in the 21st century. It reminds us of our close ties with the countryside. We all benefit from having trees and wildlife in our mist because they remind us that nothing is constant and it is important to make the most of what we have now and to protect those things that we value.
You wouldn’t even be aware of the closeness of suburbia walking through Hayes Common or along the leafy avenues create a colourful backdrop for the large homes that line the roads. Even in the winter when the trees have shed their leaves and there is little leaf cover to muffle the sounds of humanity it is peaceful. At this time of year as the trees are coming into their vibrant best it is easy to lose one self amongst the russet coloured leaves and imagine that you are in fact far away from London and every thing that is associated with suburbia. Just a stroll along one of the many paths across the common and we are immersed in the pungent aroma of decaying leaves and other musky smells that come to fruition in the damp air. Just as the aroma of newly cut grass in spring will remind you of the long hot summer days to come, the pungent earthy smells of decay remind us that winter is on its way. Each season brings its own touch of magic to the common and it is something that the present day inhabitants should treasure unlike the prehistoric inhabitants who would worry what was coming next.
Times may change but the simple pleasures that generations have enjoyed are still to be found in Hayes
As with human life change is a tide that cannot be turned and although Hayes for many centuries was a small peaceful rural village it has grown up, still keeping its ancient sense of identity and become a suburb. Although village life is long gone and visibly, little remains apparent to the eye, on a different level there is a discernable sense of community amongst the residents that has obviously prevailed and has become its heritage, something that is handed down from generation to generation. It is this strong sense of community that entices newcomers seducing them with glimpses of a past that we all hanker for.
Unlike more isolated regions where newcomers are segregated because they are not related by marriage or birth to the locals. It can take years before they finally feel part of the neighbourhood. Hayes, because of its gradual evolution from village to suburb is able to accommodate émigrés with open arms without losing that which is so attractive
Some would say a suburb is a bastion for a city against the unfamiliar wilderness that is known as the Greenbelt in relation to London. Suburbia - a term that is constantly parodied and attacked in literature and in film by people who have never had the pleasure of living in one or even just visiting.
It was ultimately the green-space that attracted so many newcomers to the area. The man responsible for the formation of suburbs was a Victorian gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Howard who’s vision was of peaceful green towns quite different to the over crowded squalor endured by many in the towns and cities up and down the country. He wasn’t however responsible for the transition of Hayes. This village evolved into what it has become, like Darwinian Theory evolution almost always produces better results than that produced by the meddling of town planners. Research shows that suburban residents are happier than those living elsewhere and this is definitely true for Hayes.
The name of Hayes or Hese as it was known became apparent in 1177 in documents of that period. Hayes literally means “rough ground covered with brushwood and undergrowth”. Hayes lay partly within the manor of West Wickham, and partly within that of Orpington, in the “Hundred” of Ruxley. Some twelve miles from London and two miles from Bromley this forms a boundary to the north and east, with West Wickham to the south and south west. In 1796 there was around one thousand acres of cultivated land neatly split in equal proportion between arable and pasture land. Through the centuries it remained a small village with a church at its centre with Hayes Place added as a focal point in the fifteenth century. This house was the birthplace of Pitt the Younger in 1759 and the scene of death for Pitt the elder in 1778. It was visited by many of the major characters of the late 18th century. Who would believe that such a small unobtrusive place like Hayes would provide Britain with two of its best known Prime Ministers, William Pitt the younger, Britain's youngest Prime Minister, and his father William Pitt the elder.
Hayes as we have seen was surrounded by fields and woods in the not too distant past. Many of its inhabitants earned their living from farming and supplied the distant smoke with wholesome goods grown in the fertile land around. The census of 1821 established that there were eighty six families living in the village and half of these earned a meagre living in agriculture. The total population was just under four hundred and thirty souls crammed into eighty houses. Quite different from modern day Hayes!
Hayes has managed to retain its identity despite being embraced in a bear hug by its larger neighbour. Edwardian Bromley could quite easily have smothered its smaller counterpart as its growth over spilled during the turn of the last century. Small developments inched their way along the Hayes Road from Bromley, so that the best part of the land to the west and North West of the old village has given way to what we see today.
West Wickham and Bromley are now completely joined like Siamese twins to Hayes. To the east and south, however, the green space of Hayes Common is a welcome respite from development.
Unlike other villages the coming of the railway had little effect on the area, just a few extra houses along Bourne Way. It was in 1927 that change stepped up a notch and old Norman manorial holdings along Hayes Lane were sold for development. The railway line was electrified in 1926 and Hayes then became a very desirable location for builders wanting to make a “fast buck” from city workers with plenty of cash who wanted homes that reflected their status! The large country estates that provided work for the locals now made way for new housing developments. This quickly came to a climax with the death of Sir Edward Hambro who owned Hayes Place. On his death the estate was quickly disposed of and building continued at a rapid pace throughout the 1930’s. After the Second World War homes for the returning war heroes became part of the equation with a large council estate known as Hayes Place taking some time to build. Other estates have been added since, with smaller developments still taking place proving that the present day Hayes is very much alive and its future perpetually evolving.
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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