Chislehurst is defined as much as anything by its commons and open spaces. The Common extends south and west from the High Street to the west of Royal Parade, and further south lies St Pauls Cray Common.
This land was owned originally by the Crown, and later by the Scadbury, Walsingham and Townsend families, who lived at Scadbury and Frognal and held the position of Lord of the Manor. Before the years of development following the arrival of the railways the Commons were regarded as open to the villagers and available for them to use for grazing of their livestock. Once building started here in earnest, the land became valuable. Huge swathes of common land in other parts of England were sold off as part of the enclosures, and here in Chislehurst, the Commons were in danger of being ruined by excavations of valuable road building material, and the cutting of turf. But due to the valiant efforts of local residents, the Chislehurst and St Paul’s Cray Commons were saved for public use with the passing of the Metropolitan Commons Supplemental Act in 1888.
The Commons are maintained and preserved by the Commons Conservators, now known as Trustees of the Commons, as required by the Act. An inquiry into the proposals for a Scheme to protect the Commons was held at the Village Hall in November 1885, over two days. The proceeding were reported by the Bromley Times.
Further south there are two other stretches of woodland open spaces preserved for the public; Petts Wood (see note below), 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.
Together, the Commons, Scadbury Park, Petts Wood and Hawkwood, form a wide green wedge between Chislehurst, of which they are a part and the urban area of Orpington to the south. These green open spaces still need to be looked after and defended when necessary.
Note: Petts Wood appears to have belonged to William Pett, (will dated 1577), shipbuilder of Deptford and Woolwich. Samuel Pepys knew Phineas Pett, his son. The land was mostly within the old parish of Chislehurst. Parts of it were sold for development in 1920s and became the town of Petts Wood within Orpington Urban District. The railway line from Chislehurst to St Mary Cray became part of the boundary between Chislehurst & Sidcup UD and Orpington UD and a large area of undeveloped woodland remained within C&SUD. In the 1920s the threat of housing development led to a public campaign to purchase and preserve its use for local residents, and it became a National Trust property.