BIG DEBATE: Is Bexley in London or Kent?

PUBLISHED: 17:07 02 July 2013

The London borough of Bexley was formed in 1965 and it has proved a bone of contention for residents and people affiliated to the borough ever since – especially for those who still think it is part of Kent.

The Local Government Act in 1963 saw the capital expanded to absorb parts of the counties of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Middlesex.

On the one hand, most places in Bexley do not have London postcodes. It is DA all the way except in the extreme north of the borough where Thamesmead has the postal address SE28 and Abbey Wood has SE2, although both areas overlap into Greenwich.

The symbol of Kent, the white horse, is included in the Bexley borough coat of arms and the clear links to the borough’s Kent past. But Bexley enjoys the services of the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service, pays council tax to the Greater London Authority and can watch London regional TV stations. Every time the area is mentioned in a BBC article it refers to “Bexley, south-east London”. Two Bexley residents give their views on the argument which will seemingly never end.

Alberto Galloni, Bexleyheath

I was raised and live in the London Borough of Bexley (Bexleyheath, having also lived in Sidcup – and a brief spell in Kent proper) and I also briefly worked around the borough.

I am firmly on the London side of the debate between London and Kent. On an emotional level, I always had a sense of belonging driven by the ‘London Borough of…’ part of the name and the fact that, in the main, the great majority of the people I’ve been around are of London stock and the place does have a distinct London suburb feel about it in respect of architecture, structure and transport links.

If we want to be all legal about it, the London Government Act 1963 leaves no room for debate. Nor does the fact that, as residents, we vote for the Mayor of London (not Kent County Council), our emergency services are provided by the Met, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance and our representation is at the London Assembly.

I can see a definite generational split between the older generation that feel more Kentish – either because of the politics when they were born or because of the ‘country’ feel that the Borough no doubt had before London became the Greater London and with it increased urbanisation etc – and the younger stock that, in my experience, identifies with London to a much greater extent.

The biggest issue that causes the divide in my opinion is the decades-long refusal by the Royal Mail to replace the existing DA postcodes with new SE ones.

Penny Duggan, Bexley Historical Society

If someone asks where I live, I say different things according to who has asked. Sometimes I say south-east London to avoid notions that I live in a picturesque village, but I always feel a terrible sense of disloyalty when I do this. Usually I would instinctively say Kent.

When I commute to central London each day, I do feel that I leave Kent in the morning and return to it each evening. When driving down the Maidstone Road between Ruxley and Swanley and reaching the ‘Welcome to Kent’ sign, I always protest “but I was already in Kent.”

How has this contradiction come about? Since 1965 Bexley has been a London Borough. We are eligible to vote for the London Mayor and part of our council tax goes towards funding the Greater London Authority. Bexley is under the Metropolitan Police and our regional television is London. However, Bexley does not have a London postcode.

Why does it have such great importance? After all, these are just administrative factors. A sense of belonging is a core part of our being. The Kent motto ‘Invicta’ (meaning ‘undefeated’) was adopted just after the Norman Conquest, and that motto was applied at the Battle of Britain in 1940 which was fought in the skies over Kent. The symbol of Kent, the white horse, is included in the Bexley Borough Coat of Arms.

The only reason Bexley does not have a London postcode is because the Post Office was not able to expand its London postal district after 1965 due to the prohibitive cost. If this changes, is it inevitable that one day people will forget that Bexley was once part of Kent? I hope not!

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