Raggleswood Raggleswood

(Article submitted by Joanna Friel, to whom many thanks)

Raggles Wood is one of the Chislehurst woods that has now vanished.  Dorothea Gibson, an amateur historian herself and resident of Camden Hill, Lubbock Road, wrote in Webb’s History in 1899 that the derivation of the name Raggles Wood may be from the Anglo Saxon word raggie meaning rough, shaggy.  The location is shown on the 1863 map (reproduced below) of the slopes of Camden Park, off what we now know as Old Hill.

From an original indenture, I understand the first resident of the house named after that wood was Samuel Solly Esq, who is listed in an 1862 Kelly’s Directory at this address.  Dr Samuel Solly was a distinguished surgeon at St Thomas’ Hospital.  He was the son of a wealthy merchant and grew up at 5 Jeffrey’s Square, St Mary Axe – a site now underneath ‘The Gherkin’.  Dr Solly lectured on anatomy and physiology having completed his medical studies in Paris.  According to his obituary he was a skilful operator, a florid lecturer and a good clinical teacher; his opinion was specially sought in cases of injuries to the head and diseases of the joints and he was the first doctor to use the name ‘scriveners palsy’ – writer’s cramp.  He was an accomplished amateur artist, many of his lectures were personally illustrated and his watercolours were displayed at the Royal Academy. 

Solly had 11 children, the 15 roomed house of Raggleswood would certainly have accommodated them.  He is variously listed as living in St Helen’s Place, Bishopsgate and Savile Row; Raggleswood was the country residence of the family.  Webb’s History refers to a brass plate beneath a S E window in St Nicholas’ Church dedicated in memory of Lieutenant William Herbert Solly 1859, Francis D Solly 1862 and Charles Edmund Solly 1860.  These are three of Samuel and Jane Solly’s sons.  Charles in fact died in 1840 at only four months old of influenza, William was their second son dying aged 24 in Cawnpore, India, and Francis Drake Solly was their fourth son who died in Shanghai in 1862.  He was a silk inspector.  It is possible, though unproven, that he was working for the Courtauld family, his older brother Lewis married Susan Courtauld in 1864.  If as I imagine the family suffered these cumulative tragedies on their arrival to live in Chislehurst they could very well have wanted a permanent memorial in their place of worship.

Mrs Jane Solly maintained an interest in Chislehurst even as a widow being one of the subscribers to the fund for the memorial to the Prince Imperial. Samuel who died in 1871 aged 66 and his wife are both buried in the churchyard.  There is a marble bust to Samuel in the central hall at St Thomas’ and the Solly prize and medal in the medical school was established with the proceeds of public subscriptions to his memory.   

Two other sons went on to establish themselves with great repute in science.  Samuel Edwin established a sanatorium in Colorado Springs for tuberculosis sufferers being a sufferer himself.  His obituary makes edifying reading concluding with the words “we all loved Solly”!  Richard Harrison Solly, sixth son, was a recognised mineralogist and crystallographer working at the British Museum and the University of Cambridge, where incidentally he lodged next door to Marie Stopes!  The youngest son Henry Ernest remained in Chislehurst, living at Sunnyways, now a dental practice on Prince Imperial Road.  He too is buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas.

Dr Solly moved to Folkstone in 1871 and died suddenly on 24th September, aged 66, at his London Savile Row residence.  His wife moved back to Chislehurst and died at Church Row in June 1889. 

For a short period I can see from Kelly’s Directory, Raggleswood was occupied by a Lady Johnson but she remains an enigma to me.

The next residents of Raggleswood also have significant connections to a memorial at St Nicholas. The Janson family were in residence at the time of the 1871 census; Eliza Janson was widowed in 1868 but brought at least five of her eleven children to Chislehurst. The Jansons were originally a Quaker family from North London.  William Janson had been an underwriter with Lloyds as well as a property developer in Tottenham.  Jansons Road was constructed there in 1863 and he also built a terrace of houses named after Harriett Beecher Stowe as he admired her work, Stowe Place still exists in Haringey. 

Clearly underwriting stays in the blood as the Janson family produced an extra expense of them; Lloyds were very helpful in my research producing information on five generations of Janson underwriters, sons, brothers and uncles.  The £80,000 left in William’s will would have gone a long way towards the purchase price of Raggleswood; looking at David Chattell’s archives, the estate agent at the time, the house was for sale for a mere 4000 guineas. 

The connection with St Nicholas is the granite drinking fountain on the corner of the churchyard, dedicated to Rev Charles Janson.  He was the youngest of William and Eliza’s children, dying aged 32 in 1884 as a missionary at Lake Nyassa, Malawi, his mother predeceased him by one year aged 74.  The Universities’ Mission to Central Africa was founded in 1857 in response to a plea by the inspirational missionary and explorer David Livingstone.  Charles Janson went to Oxford University and was part of the mission originated  by Bishop Charles Mackenzie to set up an Anglican base at Lake Nyassa  The History of the Universities Mission describes how Charles’s last journals show him appreciating glowing hills, wooded vales and a hippopotamus taking an early bath.  On Feb 9th Bishop Edward Steere accompanied by Charles reached a beach on the edge of the lake, seemingly the desired goal of the mission for many years.  They said it reminded them of the Sea of Galilee.   Unfortunately the rainy season had made their journey a very trying one and Charles, towards its close, had been suffering from dysentery.  “Our brother fell asleep on Shrove Tuesday at Noon, if we had chosen one of our number” said Bishop Steere four months later “of whom we should have said was fit for the kingdom of heaven, we should have chosen no one more clearly than Charles Janson”.  He is buried by the lake under a cairn of stones.  A steamer was named in his honour and launched on September 6th 1885 by Bishop Smithies and it arrived safely in Likoma (an island on the lake on which a large Anglican Cathedral was finally built in 1911) on 22nd  January 1886,apparently fulfilling a much desired dream of Bishop Mackenzie for a ‘university boat’. 

Charles’s older sister Ellen is often mentioned in the Bromley Record and obviously ran the Raggleswood household, hiring servants and providing references for tutors.  According to Webb she gifted the cross on the St Nicholas altar, it having been originally fixed to the altar book of her late brother.  It was taken from the ruins of a fire at Matope and brought back to Chislehurst. 

The family were not unused to tragedy, having lost a second son at sea off Alexandria in 1863 aged 21. There is a tribute to him on the family grave.  Another son, Dearman Janson, named with his mother’s maiden surname moved to a house, Northfield, now the site of Northfield Close at the top of Logs Hill, but at that time known as part of Elmstead Lane.  He died in 1907 in a ‘sanatorium for the insane’ in Holloway and is buried with his mother at St Nicholas.    

By 1891 the family of John Rogers who were wholesale grocers, were in residence at Raggleswood, the trend for large families abating somewhat.  There were only five children at home towards the end of the century.

MapBy 1909 Kelly’s Directory is showing another change of ownership, this time to farmers, William and Mary Vinson.  They only had two children but the 1911 census clearly states a house of 15 rooms.   The Vinsons were a local faming family; William was born on his father Edward’s farm in Halfway Street, Sidcup.  In 1901 William and Mary were living in Orpington in a house called The Walnuts, could this be on the site of the current shopping centre? Think also of Vinson Court off Hurst Road in Sidcup and Vinson Close in Orpington.  The Vinson fruit farming business still thrives in Kent.

Finally and possibly lastly this next resident took the title of his baronetcy from the house.  Sir Joseph William Isherwood took up residence in 1913 and was created Baron Raggleswood in the 1921 Birthday Honours list.  (The title became extinct on the death of his son without issue).  He was a naval architect and invented the longitudinal construction of ships known as the Isherwood system.  He decided it was better to build a ship on its backbone rather than on its ribs and his system became so successful that more than 1000 vessels had been built that way by the time of his death.  During World War One Isherwood gave his designs for torpedo proof cargo vessels to the government free of charge.  Described in his obituary as modest and retiring, a man of many friends and a great host; Raggleswood would have seen a good few gatherings.  He was also captain of the West Kent Golf Club in 1935.

The 1935 aerial photograph taken of the grand houses of Lubbock Road, which is displayed in both Christchurch, Lubbock Road and in the Chislehurst Society office at the Methodist Church, mark the end of an era.  It was taken just ahead of the demolition of Raggleswood following Sir Joseph’s death in 1937 and coinciding with the end of the long lease on the land. The owner of the existing house on the site tells me it is indeed pre war.

The name lives on in Raggleswood, a private road off Old Hill, part of which would have been within the grounds of the original house and Sir Joseph’s widow moved to a new home in Logs Hill Close which she named Raggleswood House.  

When J Beckwith promoted The History of Chislehurst to a publisher in 1900 he wrote “I was distressed myself at the bulk to which it [the book] grew, but I feel it really seemed impossible to curtail it.  This is one of the disadvantages of cooperation”.  As you can tell I have found plenty of ‘bulk’, and I have unearthed many more stories but if anyone has any information of a historic nature in relation to Lubbock Road please e mail me Joanna.friel@yahoo.co.uk   Who knows what more we have to discover ?