Martin Spence

My Penge: Martin Spence

‘It’s an old and venerable place’

Martin has lived in Penge since 1997. He’s the author of The Making of a London Suburb: Capital Comes to Penge, which tells the story of our little corner of the city, from the late eighteenth century to the late nineteenth.

This period of 100 years sees Penge explode from semi-rural hamlet into a ‘thoroughly urban railway suburb’ and, in his book, Martin explains the main players, events and quirks of fate that make it happen.

If you want to find out how Anerley, with only one resident at the time, came to have a railway station (and why Penge has two), how Penge came to be part of the parish of Battersea or what its Victorian residents did for a living, we suggest you have a read.

In the meantime, here are Martin’s personal reflections on life in SE20…

The thing I like most about Penge is that it’s kind of an unexpected place. Parts of it are so pretty, and yet it’s also seen as a bit of a joke. I thought so too when I first moved here, but I soon got over it.

The most beautiful sight in Penge is the view from the terraces at the top of Crystal Palace Park just as the sun comes up. The park’s one of my favourite places to go for a run.

If I were Mayor of Penge for the day, I’d decree that there had to be a cinema here.

My favourite Penge memory is the first street party we had in my road in 2009. One of the residents spotted a plaque on the side of one of the houses with the date 1889 on it, and decided to organise a street party to celebrate the anniversary of the road being built. We’ve had a party every year since, and it’s great fun.

Penge in three words is wacky, friendly and Victorian (in a good way).

My favourite bit of Penge trivia is that, in the 1860s, Penge had 16 pubs on the High Street between Oakfield Road and Croydon Road. That’s one pub every 44 yards.

The thing I wish more people knew about Penge is that it’s an old and venerable place. It has one of the oldest place names in London – it’s been called Penge (or a variant of it) for over a thousand years. In its heyday it was quite a posh suburb and a desirable place for well-to-do families. And because those affluent families needed servants, it became a working class suburb, too. It’s a place with a fascinating history that tells us a lot about how London developed as a whole.

The Making of a London Suburb: Capital Comes to Penge by Martin Spence is available at Bookseller Crow, 50 Westow Street, Crystal Palace, London SE19 3AF, and other local bookshops.

'My Penge: Martin Spence' have 5 comments

  1. 19th June 2016 @ 9:43 am Richard Carabine

    I agree with you Martin that Penge is a hidden treasure. The transport links are good; there’s lots of green space; it’s easy to get out into the countryside; it’s got a great history & culture.
    I’m old enough to remember the Penge Odeon which was where the Moon and Stars is now. There was a theatre too.
    I’m sad that Crystal Palace Park has been so badly treated over the years especially when other large parks such as Battersea & Greenwich have had so much money spent on them. I’m hoping the new trust can bring the park back to its former glory.
    I read your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was so interesting finding out about the birth of modern Penge: the canal, railway and the Crystal Palace. How about a sequel bringing the story of Penge up to the present day?


    • 19th June 2016 @ 4:52 pm Martin Spence

      Thanks for your comments. Like you I hope the new Trust will work well for the Park.
      As for the Odeon Cinema – were you at the programme of archive films screened last Thursday at the Bridge House as part of the Penge Festival? There were some fine shots of the Odeon. A handsome building.
      I’m glad you liked my book, but I’m afraid I have no plans to produce a sequel. Too busy with other projects right now.
      Best wishes,


      • 20th June 2016 @ 5:23 pm sally

        dear Martin,
        I was sorry to have had to leave your tour early yesterday. we had surprise visitors who just happened to locate us as we going up Anerly hill.
        will I have to wait until the Penge festival 2017 to complete the beating of the bounds?
        thanks again for the tour, for your talk at the crooked billet and for your book which I am gripped by.
        Best wishes
        (The woman with the key to the allotments)


  2. 10th December 2018 @ 5:21 pm Charles James

    I would like to contact a Penge local historian. Tracing my family tree I have a Thomas James born 1801 whose father was “John James of Peng”. John’s wife may have been called Avis. Family tradition is that the family were originally market gardeners near Beckenham. Looking for information.
    Charles James


    • 21st December 2018 @ 4:28 pm Martin Spence

      It sounds as if you need someone who knows about tracing family histories. That’s not me I’m afraid. I suggest you make contact with the West Kent Family History Society – they may have someone who can help.

      Martin Spence


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