diamond geezer

 Monday, May 01, 2017

There are several English villages called Maypole.

I've been to the one in London.

It's very rural, and technically only a hamlet, but it has a regular bus service, and a wonderfully seasonal name.

You'll find Maypole beyond Orpington, right up close to Junction 4 on the M25. If you imagine that London has a southeast corner, that's pretty much where Maypole is. The edge of Kent begins at the bottom of the fields.

Maypole's essentially a triangle of lanes it'd take about ten minutes to walk round, not that walking is especially recommended. One's Jubilee Road, not that it's clear which jubilee is being remembered. One's Hollybush Lane, where most of the houses are. And the third is Maypole Road, because what else would you call the road that comes here? There is no village green or central gathering point, nor anywhere obvious for a maypole once to have been erected. A small pond lurks behind a railing beyond the bus stop, although it's totally dried up at the moment with a surface of cracked mud and discarded car parts.

One of the defining characteristics of Maypole is its equine surroundings. Whatever public footpath you try to take away from the place you end up in a field full of horses, who are likely to wander over and take an interest if you linger too long. The lanes around Maypole are also splattered with flat patches of dried mud, which on reassessment is clearly manure, not that I saw any direct evidence of deposition. The other key characteristic of Maypole I'd say is its hedges. A lot of the lanes around this part of Outer Orpington are narrow with high hedges, all the better for farms and houses to hide behind, and to make it harder for any pedestrian to nip out of the way of traffic.

I found one lone cottage dated 1705, in irregular brick and tile, with a short staircase up from the lane, and a sign on the door urging visitors to use the back entrance. I found a short row of traditional weatherboarded cottages, in white timber with white porches and a white picket fence. I found a 1950s terrace opposite, with slightly less Range-Rovery vehicles crowded outside. But mostly I found individual detached houses, from bungalows to proper piles, in this peripheral commuter/retirement bolthole. "About 100" would be my best guess for the population.

The precise boundaries of Maypole are questionable, as indeed is whether it genuinely exists. There are no village signs, and depending on which map you look at sometimes the name doesn't appear at all. Officially Maypole's part of Chelsfield parish, but rubs up close against the village of Well Hill, except that's across the border in Kent. Certain cartographic representations think the south apex of the triangle is called Bopeep, which is an even more brilliant name than Maypole, as in "Oh yeah, did you know London has a village called Bopeep?" 18th century smugglers are responsible for this enigmatic name, we're told.

The pub by the road junction spent four centuries as The White Hart, until the landlord changed the name to The Bo-Peep in 1971. According to the sign by the postbox the building dates back to 'Circa 1500', not that you'd guess from the squat dining annexe bolted onto the back. But head round to the front, which faces away from the road, and the former farmhouse looks far more appealing, with a knapped flint wall beneath the chimneystack. Real ale is served inside but the main focus is food, this being the kind of inglenook eatery that'll serve up Haddock, Salmon & Spinach Bake to villagers, or more likely Steak & Stilton Suet Pudding to drivers seeking respite from the M25.

There are no other businesses in the heart of the hamlet, but the Maypole Garden Cattery is just up the lane, and there's a small specialist dyslexic school spread out in huts to the north. Considerably more jobs are based in a warehouse cluster to the south around Hewitts Farm, including a used car centre called Prestige Cars Kent, which is supposedly based in Kent according to its wilfully stubborn website, but is actually 200 metres outside. If you need proof that this was not always the case, Maypole's Home Farm has four oast house chimneys, an attractive sight you don't normally expect to see within Greater London.

I crossed over into Well Hill to see if things were different in Kent, and they are. Well Hill has an informative parish noticeboard and a welcoming sign, but no Bromley-branded grit bins. Well Hill has a real hill, and a phone box, and a lady with an uncontrollable alsatian I had the misfortune to bump into twice. Well Hill has an Oak & Pine Furniture showroom which advertises itself over-abundantly at every road junction between here and the M25. Best of all Well Hill also has a lost duck sign on a telegraph pole ("Our much-loved pet duck has gone missing and we are desperate for his safe return. He is fully white and he loves lettuce!") whereas the best Maypole can muster is a lost cat.

If I've tempted you to visit Maypole, either for rambling or more likely the pub, don't come by train. The nearest station is Knockholt, a remote halt a mile distant along a narrow lane, across a roaring bypass and round the back of a golf course. It's not a particularly safe walk in daylight, and certainly not a commute any sane resident would attempt on foot after dark. Instead come by bus, specifically the R7, which is one of those marvellously civic-minded services that TfL runs for London's more marginal residents. Recently rerouted as part of a big Orpington-wide shake-up, the R7 now sets off half-hourly from Chislehurst, and when it approaches far-flung Chelsfield it splits off around a lengthy one-way loop. In some of these lanes it would never do to meet another bus coming the other way.

The first stop is The Five Bells in Chelsfield Village, a proper rural nucleus with cricket club, 12th century church and the primary where author Miss Read went to school. I should have written about Chelsfield rather than Maypole, it would have been much more interesting. The second stop is outside a 46-bed private hospital which specialises in Assisted Conception and where "an extensive wine list is available". The third stop is the Maypole stop, by the dried-up pond, and the fourth is outside the Bo-Peep pub. And then the R7 runs for over a mile without stopping, down to and along the Orpington bypass, its hamlet-ticking duty complete. Come take a ride one day, not necessarily May Day, as a reminder of how wonderfully diverse London is.

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