The Alexandra Estate was a philanthropic enterprise to create homes for the working poor of Penge.
The two or three bedroomed cottages were built in 1866-68 in semi-detached style on plots of land 49’ x 90’. Porcupine Field had been bought for the purpose from the Duke of Westminster by the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Classes. There were front and back gardens. There was a central Estate House where rents could be collected – now the site of Alexandra Nurseries. The idea was to enhance the quality of life for the working poor with amenable living conditions and good transport links, a kind of ‘country estate’ for the working man. Hence the proximity to Penge High Street and Penge East railway station (named simply Penge Station at that time).
Similar schemes were to be carried out on much grander scales throughout the country, notably the Bournville village near Birmingham (1900) and the Rowntree village in Yorkshire (1902). The Bournville village consisted of arts-and-crafts type houses for the workers but the Alexandra Estate, being an earlier project, is designed on a simpler, homelier style. The cottages were sold off as private residences from the 1950s onwards. The governing idea behind these types of schemes was, in Joseph Cadbury’s words, to ‘alleviate the cramped living conditions of the workers’ who so often survived in tenement blocks or in too closely-built terraces. Ironic then that the Alexandra Estate today is a much sought after residential area and was given conservation status by Bromley council in 1982. Housing prices have risen and the estate in 2017 has an attractive, almost countrified, village-community vibe and a peaceful ambience. In some respects living in Penge today has become more expensive than living in nearby Beckenham.
The cottages were named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria in 1863. Three roads are named after members of the royal family: Edward, Victor and Albert. This sustains a tradition of naming groups of residential buildings in Penge after royalty.
The Old School Building with its small iron plaque stating Hamlet of Penge 1872 functioned for only a couple of years as a school and it is not clear to what extent it was meant to educate the children of estate families. But we do know that the creation of the Alexandra Estate coincides with the new build initiative begun after the Crystal Palace moved to Penge from Hyde Park in 1854 and the coming of the railways to Penge around the same time. Most housing in Penge dates from the mid Victorian era with an increase in Victorian terrace house building from 1880 onwards.
The Alexandra Estate today has its own website and residents association. See link: http://www.alexandracottages.co.uk/
Alexandra Nurseries occupies the site of the estate house and gardens. Now a popular centre for the sale of garden plants and trees and an excellent Vogue magazine-praised café, the Nurseries hosts a variety of community events throughout the year.
Circular Heritage walks around Penge often start and end there.