Beckenham was, until the coming of the railway in 1857, a small village, with most of its land being rural and private parkland. John Barwell Cator and his family began the leasing and selling of land for the building of villas which led to a rapid increase in population, between 1850 and 1900, from 2,000 to 26,000. Housing and population growth has continued at a lesser pace since 1900.
The town, directly west of Bromley, has areas of commerce and industry, principally around the curved network of streets featuring its high street and is served in transport by three main railway stations — nine within the post town — plus towards its western periphery two Tramlink stations. In common with the rest of Bromley, the largest borough of London by area, Beckenham has several pockets of recreational land which are a mixture of sports grounds, fishing ponds and parks.
Although early written history tells little of the area, archaeological evidence at Holwood Park, where Stone Age and Bronze Age artifacts have been found, reveals some evidence of early settlers. A Roman camp was sited here, and a Roman road, the London to Lewes Way passed through the district.
With the arrival of the Normans, the Manor of Beckenham took on added importance, and controlled much of what is modern Beckenham. St George's Church was built in the 12th century. In the Middle Ages, the manor lands were divided: The other estates of Foxgrove Manor, Kelsey and Langley form the bulk of Beckenham. Beckenham still remained a small village until well into the 19th century. The beginning of its growth began after 1825 When the estates of John Cator and Peter Burrell, Baron Gwydir began to be developed. In 1760,(source: Peter Collinson, Cator's father in law, in his John Cator built Beckenham Place and became Lord of the Manor in 1773 after purchasing the Manor of Beckenham from Frederick St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke. After he died in 1806, his heirs (Joseph Cator's sons) soon became aware that the area in such close proximity to London was ripe for development, especially once the railway had arrived in 1857; and large villas began to be built around the new station. Wide roads and large gardens epitomised these properties often built by developers who acquired land from the Cators.(sources: Bromley Historic Collections catalogue; Cator) Peter Burrell, Baron Gwydir died in 1820 and his estates were purchased by the Hoare banking family and the Goodharts who purchased Langley. These estates were subsequently split up and developed. Between then and the early 20th century, further growth of Beckenham took place: the Shortlands area in 1863; Clock House in the 1890s; Elmers End in 1911 (where smaller suburban houses were built); Park Langley in 1908; and Eden Park in 1926.The Manor of Foxgrove was also broken up at some point: its name is commemorated in a local road.
Beckenham is a suburb and a town in its own right with a non-bypassed non-pedestrianised high street on a route between the rest of the borough and South London and has spread about its centre on 15 pre-1850 houses which are listed buildings.