Avalon

Our History Group has followed up a recent communication, this time from Australia, in connection with the Salvation Army house, Avalon, high above Summer Hill.   Colin Cooper had been researching his great grandfather’s life and found many documents in Melbourne University Library. 

Richard Harding Butler was a wealthy accountant who had purchased Avalon (then called Black Mount) in 1905 and set about renovating the property which had first been built by Scotsman, James Bruce in 1872.  Richard, a grandson of Joseph Harding, the inventor of the Cheddar Cheese making process had married into the Austin family who also hailed from Somerset.   The family became fabulously wealthy, emigrated to Australia and formed a habit of naming their houses Avalon after their Somerset roots.   The same name was used when the family moved briefly back to the UK to Chislehurst.   A further pleasure for the historian is that Colin told us of a book written by his Aunt, Josephine Marjorie Butler, ‘Time Isn’t Long Enough’ which detailed her memories of growing up in the Chislehurst Avalon.  She describes croquet lawns and tennis courts, tobogganing down the drive and intriguingly hiding in the cave/mine entrances on the site with her brother.  

Armed with these snippets of information we contacted Major Pam Cameron at Avalon to see if we could visit the house.  We were warmly welcomed and shown photographs of the days when the house was an approved school for girls after the Second War.  Our intrepid photographer, Don Drage even got up onto the roof to get up close to the stone eagles that ‘perch’ aloft. 

These eagles are perplexing; substantial and something of a mystery.  We have compared them to the stone eagles on the chapel at St Mary’s that are clearly an Imperial memorial.  These are very different. Whilst ignoring any reference to Third Reich similarities we are currently concluding that the eagles may be the heraldic emblem of the original Scottish owner.  As the house dates from 1872 clearly they could be a mark of respect towards Louis Napoleon’s residence up the road at Camden Place but there is no evidence to support this theory.