There has been a settlement at Chislehurst for over a thousand years. The Anglo Saxon name means ‘stony wood’, appropriate even today.
Until the arrival of the railways in 1865 Chislehurst was very much a rural community, with a few large houses such as Kemnal, Frognal, Scadbury and Camden surrounding the Chislehurst commons. Two events in quick succession changed that forever. First the arrival of the railway in 1865 enabled merchants and professionals from the City of London to commute easily up to town, and the arrival, in 1871, of the exiled Emperor Napoleon III of France put Chislehurst on the map: it became a fashionable place to live.
The building boom that followed over the next fifty years changed Chislehurst beyond recognition. Much of the building was of large, high quality, Victorian mansions, and later, of smaller houses in the Arts and Crafts style, designed by some of the best architects at work at that time, some of whom came to live here themselves. We are fortunate that much of this building remains intact today.
The boom almost led to the disappearance of the commons themselves, but action by local residents resulted in an Act of Parliament preventing the Lord of the Manor from selling or developing the commons, thus preserving these open spaces for us all to enjoy. Later action by local residents have preserved Petts Woods and Scadbury Park for this and later generations’ benefit.
Between the wars many more people came to live here, leading to another building boom, this time of smaller, more modern, houses. The Chislehurst Society started in 1934 as a residents’ association to ensure that the new residents were able to obtain the transport and support infrastructure they and their families needed.
Chislehurst is unique amongst London suburbs not least because of the relationship between the village and its Commons. While Chislehurst Commons are not as extensive as some others, they are more integrated with the village, and it is the integration of buildings and Commons in the heart of Chislehurst that gives it a special character which exists nowhere else in Greater London.
The Trustees of Chislehurst Commons
The Commons were preserved from further enclosure and development by the actions of local residents in the late 19th Century, and the Commons Conservators (now known as the Trustees of Chislehurst Commons) have protected and managed them ever since. Their preservation is only secure as long as the Trustees are able to continue their work, and for this they need funds. Visit their website by clicking here.
History notes, other links, and walks around Chislehurst
- The first mention of Chislehurst is in 973AD, so there has been a settlement here for more than a thousand years. We have prepared a short history, which you can access by clicking here.
- We have collected over one thousand different images, drawings or plans of Chislehurst. These are available for view here... (you will need to have flashplayer installed on your device to see the images).
- We receive many requests for information from members and others who are researching Chislehurst. We will be publishing some of these, together with our responses. Click here to see Researchers' queries.
- We have updated and reproduced Mary Holt's personal study of the conservation area. Find out more
- Famous people born or who lived in Chislehurst are featured in our Chislehurst Lives
- Many renowned architects were active in Chislehurst, particular during the years between 1870 and 1930. More information about them and their work is shown here.
- We have prepared notes of published sources on Chislehurst, and links to web-sites featuring information of relevance to residents. Most of the published sources are available for sale. More
- There are numerous walks in and around the village and Commons. Click here to see a note of our footpaths.
- A tour of Chislehurst, named Chislehurst History Today has been devised, with images of Chislehurst as it was, and as it is now. You can access this tour here...
- Click here to download the Chislehurst Architects Town Trail - The "Cattwalk" - devised by Roy Hopper.
Chislehurst in the future
Today the village struggles to maintain its integrity in the light of the accelerating growth in population, pressure to build more homes, traffic levels and pollution. Thus far it has managed to keep ahead. Our hope is that new generations of residents will treasure the environment, and ensure that Chislehurst continues to be special for many centuries to come. The Society continues to work to ensure that this will be so.