History of the parks
Cator Park and Alexandra Recreation Ground can be seen as examples of our post-Victorian heritage. Originally linked to Penge Common, both areas were always rural and associated with relaxation, freedom of spirit and 'greenness'.
Cator Park is named after the Cator family which once owned land which encompassed a vast area around Beckenham and Blackheath. John Cator (1723-1806) had bought Blackheath Park and its mansion in 1783. He had been made Lord of the Manor of Beckenham in 1773 and was to supervise the building of Beckenham Place which became his home: Doctor Samuel Johnson was a friend and frequent visitor.
Locally, the land became landscaped parkland in the style of Capability Brown and, much later, in the Aldersmead area, the private Kent House Pleasure Gardens. This found a new identity as a public-access park in the 1930's. Alexandra Recreation Ground was originally pastureland, with several farms nearby. It became the site of Penge Cricket Ground, had a lake where the Bowling Green is now, and was bought by the council for use as a public park in the late 1880's.
This 'history' will attempt to trace the origins of both areas and try to show how both parks have developed and evolved over the years until their arrival in the present day. Old records will be consulted, archives explored in Bromley Central Library and personal recollections listened to and valued.
The land near Beckenham and Penge was therefore part of the Cator Estate and until 1850 was mainly rural. With the re-building of the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill came a desire for new housing. Penge was affected by the perceived influx of new people and for the first time houses began to be built on what was once rural land. The former Anerley Tea Gardens on Anerley Hill (bordering Anerley Station on the Crystal Palace side) lost out in popularity to Mr Paxton's new towering glass structure.
Most of the houses built around Penge and Beckenham are in fact first-build Victorian houses. There were few houses before and have been comparatively few built since. The Cator Estate was affected and between 1870 and 1885 the number of houses on the Estate rose from 100 to 400. Between 1820 and 1860 the number of residents had doubled; between 1860 and 1900 the numbers had multiplied twelve times. The stage was set for the handing over of all remnants of the Victorian age to an uncertain future.