Chislehurst Images - past and present
Here you can read about and see key features of the village as they have developed over the last hundred and fifty years or so, following the arrival of the railways to this part of Kent. We welcome any comments on the content, and are especially interested in learning from others' knowledge and experience.
Click on the tab headings below to open information about the area, where you will find links to photo galleries. Links to these photo galleries are available in alphabetic order on the panel here to the right.
The images in the galleries are of a smaller size than the originals, in order to conserve space on the website. If you want to have a larger image for your own use, please contact us. Some of the images may be subject to copyright.
If you have a query, or you are interested in other people's questions, look on our researchers' queries page.
Our collection of images of Chislehurst is growing, and many of them can be accessed below. Because the Commons have always been popular as the destination for a day’s excursion, certainly up until the 1950s, there have been many photographs and postcards of the village and Commons. We look forward to hearing from you if you can supplement them.
A peculiar aspect of Chislehurst is that it appears to consist of four separate 'villages' within its Parish, The High Street, north of the Commons, Royal Parade to the south, Mill Place to the west, and the settlement along Old Perry Street to the east.
These areas, now collectively known as Chislehurst, have been places of human settlement for centuries,certainly since the mid 12th Century, and there is some slight evidence of Roman or Romano-British activity (in the chalk pit in Camden Park, 1857), though none of any Roman settlement as such.
Up to 1865 Chislehurst remained very much a rural community. Drawings in the mid 19thC by the Rev. G.B. Wollaston show open fields, and rustic cottages. There was a windmill near the present Cricket ground, and cows and sheep were in abundance. It was an attractive area for gentlemen wishing to live in the country but needing to get to London relatively easily, e.g. members of the Walsingham family with their business and later court connections, William Camden, and many others.
The Bull's Head Inn was a busy coaching inn located at an important cross-roads (the main road to Bromley was originally Bull Lane) and this, and of course the nearby Parish Church, were reasons why the area around Royal Parade became a community. The name Royal Parade is a reference to the French Royal Family, but there was community here well before they arrived in 1870.
To the south and west of Royal Parade were a number of interesting and historical locations, including Coopers (now Coopers School), Hawkwood, St Mary's Church, Camden Court (now Camden Gate), the Manor House, Governess Institute (now demolished) and the houses of Manor Park. These are close to the Cockpit on the Common, which is surrounded by some charming houses, most of which have preserved their original external features.
The area around the High Street was originally known as Prickend, from which Prickend Pond derives its name. Later this area was referred to as Chislehurst West. Despite the charm of some of its buildings, and the close presence of the Common and pond, much of the High Street is undistiguished, made more so by the erection of the Sainsbury Store in the 1970s.The High Street also suffers from being a busy through route and is often congested with traffic. The road to the north of the Annunciation Church was called Burlington Parade, with Burlington Lodge being demolished to make way for the Sainsbury Store.
Willow Grove leads westwards off the High Street towards Elmstead Lane and Walden Road, where there were a number of large estates.
Nearby Red Hill had tile and brick works and a farm, and the Chislehurst water works were in what is now Park Road, creating a vibrant community. The Manning and Alderdon Alms Houses behind the Annunciation Church were established by the Anderdon sisters in 1881.
Mill Place, nestling on the hillside between Summer Hill and Old Hill was, even in the 19th Century, an independent community with its own church, police station and of course public houses. It may have developed because of the chalk works at the Caves. We have not been able to obtain other than a few images of Mill Place, though of course the Ramblers Rest is featured in a number of photographs.
Beyond and around Mill Place there were a number of interesting features and houses, such as the Chislehurst Caves, much of which lies below Mill Place, Kyd Brook, and a number of housing developments on the old Camden Estate, including Lubbock Road and Lower Camden. Chislehurst Cricket Ground has been on this spot since 1822, and beyond it was the old windmill, from which French spies were reputed to watch the comings and goings to Camden Place. The Windmill a famous landmark at this high point above Summer Hill since its erection in 1796 was demolished in 1876.
The most famous landmark at this point in Chislehurst was the Water Tower, erected in 1860 by George Wythes, who owned much of the land to the east towards his main house of Bickley Park. More on this below.
An extract from a photograph taken around the beginning of the 20th Century. You can see the whole photograph in the High Street Gallery
When the railways arrived in 1865 the first major building boom came with it. Wealthier people could now afford to pay an architect to design a house, and this is why there are still so many fine houses to be seen here. Click here for a collection of drawings of houses designed in differing styles.
An added influence was the French Imperial family living at Camden Place. Many people, especially courtiers, came into exile with them and needed housing. Queen Victoria and her family visited Camden Place and suddenly, during the 1870s, Chislehurst became a fashionable place to live! As a result, by the time of the First World War in 1914 it had grown from a rural village to a small town. The War put a temporary stop to plans for further development, but in the 1920s sales of farmland for building increased, and continued until the Second World War in 1939 stopped it again. This was a difficult period for Chislehurst, with what appeared to be the continuous development of London into its neighbouring counties. New houses were built on White Horse Hill and Green Lane and together with the new Mottingham estate created the effect of continuous housing between what had been two isolated villages of Mottingham and Chislehurst.
In the south, Petts Wood town seemed likely to spread north into the heart of Chislehurst, but the purchase of the woodland there stopped this happening (see below for more details). Then, after the Second World War ended, building continued, which resulted in the destruction of many fine old Victorian and Edwardian houses in the heart of the village (the scandal of the building of the Sainsbury block in Chislehurst still rankles with many people) and the development of the St Paul's Cray Estate on farmland adjacent to Scadbury Park. But thanks to the strenuous efforts of local people in earlier days, Chislehurst remains relatively green and still quite rural in many places, whilst providing essential housing for large numbers of people.
You can get more information about the village layout and its main streets and buildings by downloading and reading Mary Holt's study of the Chislehurst Conservation Area
Further south there are two other stretches of woodland open spaces preserved for the public; Petts Wood, purchased in the 1920s as a result of public subscription, and given to the National Trust in 1927, and Hawkwood, given to the National Trust in 1957.
To the East, and south of Perry Street lies the large Scadbury Estate, purchased by the London Borough of Bromley in 1983 and saved as a public park after much uncertainty.
These green open spaces still need to be looked after and defended when necessary.
Ashfield Lane, defining the northern edge of much of the eastern commons
Why, since Chislehurst is on a hill, do we have ponds here at all? They were created from the excavation of pebbles from the Commons, which were in great demand for use for road making and concrete, and fed by springs in the soil. Indeed on old maps of the area, Rush Pond is described as a gravel pit. See below for information on the pebble beds. It is ironic that the actions of the Lord of the Manor, in allowing the excavation, which created the ponds, such an important feature of the Commons today, caused the public reaction which resulted in the Act of Parliament which saved them for our collective use.
There are only a few streams in Chislehurst. The Kyd Brook runs to the south of Chislehurst, and there are springs and wells throughout the area, due to the variety of different soils in Chislehurst.
Close to the High Street, Prickend Pond takes its name from the original name of the area. Like all the ponds in Chislehurst, it was formed by digging for gravel to make the roads in the area. It is among the most photographed areas of Chislehurst.
(Georgina Massey has sent us two very fine photographs of Prickend Pond, taken on a June evening in 2010. Click here to see them)
A postcard of Prickend Pond at the beginning of the 20thC. Despite being in the centre of the village, it was still used by livestock, who were presumablby allowed to graze on the common.
London Clay is the topmost layer. Red Hill and White Horse Hill are good examples. At one stage there were brickworks on Red Hill working from the natural clay deposits there. Red Hill probably got its name from the high level of iron in London Clay which, when it is exposed to air and water, turns red.
Blackheath Pebble Beds are at the surface all over the Commons and the Woods. Look at areas where a tree has fallen down to see the pebbles under the topsoil. The Commons were under most threat from the excavation of the pebbles used for concrete making and the building of roads. The saving of the Commons under the 1816 Act also stopped the excavation.
Woolwich clay, loam and sand beds can be seen at Scadbury. These were used to make bricks and tiles, and were good for grazing and farming crops. The quality of the pasture land on the Scadbury Estate is superior to the Commons. It also tends to hold water.
Chalk beds are evident underneath Old Hill where a large seam comes close to the surface. Chalk is easily worked, and the Chislehurst Caves are remnants of the old mines and quarries for making chalk blocks for building. Chalk is also burned to make lime for cement, and mixed with sand to make mortar for bricklaying, added to clay to help make bricks, tiles and pipes; as chalk and lime it can be used to improve dry sandy and stiff sticky clay soils.
There are more than 20 miles of dark and mysterious passageways in the caves. They are entirely man made, and are know to have been worked for the extraction of chalk since at least 1250. They were being worked in the mid-19th Century, but since 1865 they have been used only as a tourist attraction, and a venue for concerts. During the Second World War they were used for shelter from air raids, and many families sheltered there on a regular basis. They are accessed from Old Hill.
Thanet sand beds are seen above the chalk in the old quarry at the bottom of Lubbock Road. The fine white sand is good for horticulture if chalk and clay are added to it. It can be used for casting moulds to make machine parts, bells, metal frames, etc.
Flint, which is also found in chalk, is man's oldest tool making material and has been used for building churches (St Nicholas is a good example) and is evident as a building material in a few local houses. It was also used for gunflints in the days before breech-loading guns.
On the edge of Webster's Pond at the junction of Ashfield Lane and Kemnal Road. Now disappeared.
Chislehurst has always been home to a wide range of people. before the coming of the railways there were a number of large houses with extensive grounds, including Camden Place, Scadbury and Kemnal.
After the coming of the railways, and the celebrity status of the presence of the French 'Royal' Family, many wealthy merchants and professionals moved here, and architects found Chislehurst and its residents remunerative. Over the years up to 1914, and in a few cases afterwards, a wide range of house designs, from Victorian Mansions to Arts and Crafts houses, were seen across Chislehurst, and although many houses were demolished in the development frenzy after the Second World War, enough remain to remind us of the wealth of many of the merchants and professionals who made Chislehurst their home during this time. Examples which can still be seen include Foxbury, Coopers (now part of the school) the Manor House, Farringtons (now part of the school), the Cedars, Elmstead Grange (now part of Babington House School) and Bullers Wood (now part of the school). For a variety of views of these houses, including original drawings, click here.
There are a number of important, though modest, roads in Chislehurst, which have a long history: Holbrook Lane, leading to Holbrook House, now gone, Church Lane (originally Bull Lane), Crown Lane and Morley Road.
Finally, there were a number of institutions built in the 19thC that are interesting to see: St Michael's Orphanage (still standing, though now a private home), The Governess Institute (originally on Manor Park Road, named for a while after Queen Mary, but long since demolished), and the Alms Houses behind The Annunciation Church, still standing.
- Thomas Walsingham I, prosperous vintner of City of London;
- Sir Edmund Walsingham, Lieutenant of the Tower at time of Henry VIII, (look at his monument in St Nicholas Church);
- his brother William Walsingham, who held Foots Cray manor for a time, father of
- Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, who founded the Elizabethan secret service and was probably born at Scadbury;
- Thomas Walsingham IV, knighted by Queen Elizabeth at Scadbury in 1597 (pictured on the Village Sign on Royal Parade) and friend and patron of Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright (and probably a spy or courier).
Frognal became the home of the Townshend and Marsham-Townshend families, who became lords of the manor of Chislehurst, after the moated house was demolished in about 1738. The grounds of Scadbury still exist as a public park, and the remains of the moated house can be seen in the centre of the park. There was a later, Victorian, house by the moat, but this was destroyed by fire in 1976
In mid-19th century it was owned by Nathaniel Strode, who completed the development of house in French chateau style as the home for the French Imperial family from 1870. Strode had known Napoleon III since the I840s.
Napoleon III Emperor of France, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was exiled in 1870 following the defeat of the French by the Prussians. He fled to Chislehurst, to Camden Place, which Strode had been keeping for such an eventuality. Napoleon III died here in 1873 and was buried at St Mary’s Church in a specially built chapel which you can still visit. His son, Louis, the Prince Imperial, was killed in Zululand in 1879. The Empress Eugenie was a friend of Queen Victoria. After the death of her son the Empress moved to Farnborough, Hampshire and built St Michael's Abbey there to house the remains of her husband and her son, which were removed from Chislehurst. Many names in the area reflect the royal connection - Royal Parade, Prince Imperial Road, and Eugenie Cottages are just three examples - and the original telephone exchange prefix for Chislehurst was IMP.
After Strode's death in 1889 the estate was purchased for development by William Willett, who conceived the idea of Daylight Saving. Fortunately most of the estate was retained as a golf club.
Hawkwood estate and house was developed from Man's farm. It was owned by the Edlmann family from mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. In the mid-20th century the Hawkwood estate eventually became National Trust property, and includes part of what was the Coopers estate.
Camden Place from the west. The home of Napoleon III of France after his exile in 1870. His presence put Chislehurst firmly on the map!
Medieval Parish Church, with tower and broach spire. South aisle 1849. Scadbury Chapel with finely carved screen, circa 1460. Walsingham Tomb and many memorial tablets.
1868-1870 ragstone, in Early English style, by James Brooks; later work, including tower, by Edward J May, circa 1930. Interesting interior, wall paintings and mosaic. Spectacular view from Tower.
1868-1870 ragstone, Early English style. Tall stone spire, rose window, apsidal chancel. Finely carved lectern by Sir George Hayter Chubb
1872 ragstone, in Early English style, by Habershon and Pite. Contains some fine stained glass.
1930 cinema converted to Church in 1961. Retains original tip-up seating. Projection room is now the organ loft.
St John's Mission Church in Mill Place. Built in 1886, it was decommissioned as a church in 1938, and demolished in 1998. The shortest lived of all the churches in Chislehurst.
A celebration at the Water Tower, possibly for the Queen's Golden Jubilee. The Tower was demolished in 1964, one of the last acts of the Chislehurst and Sidcup UDC. A memorial is located at one of the footings at the top of Summer Hill.
For information on reference works on Chislehurst, look here.
For current books about Chislehurst, available through the Society or elsewhere, look here