Ancient Manors

There have been three manors within the ancient parish: Chislehurst, Kemnal, and Scadbury.


Chislehurst is first mentioned in an Anglo Saxon footnote to a Latin Charter of AD 973 as being on the King’s boundary. This appears to be a reference to its known status as an appendage of the Royal Manor of Dartford. The charter itself is of interest, as it grants land in Bromley to the monks of St Andrew’s Priory in Rochester, which led to the founding of the Bishop’s Palace in Bromley. Apart from Chislehurst, other places mentioned around the boundary are Crofton, [West] Wickham, Beckenham, Bellingham and Mottingham. In 1611, Thomas Walsingham IV, Lord of the Manor of Scadbury, purchased Dartford Manor and promptly sold most of it, but retained Chislehurst, and thus became Lord of both Scadbury and Chislehurst Manors.

Apart from this ancient Manor of Chislehurst, there were two others that appear to have developed from it, Kemnal and Scadbury.

Kemnal Manor began as a land grant by Henry II to Monks at Havering in Essex about 1159; they gradually increased their holdings of land in the area and used the produce and income to support their priory at Hornchurch. In 1391 the Manor was purchased by William of Wykeham, and used to endow his New College at Oxford. There is no adequate explanation of the name, which it is thought may be of Celtic origin. Neither Kemnal nor Chislehurst ever had a resident Lord of the Manor; Kemnal was held by New College until the 1870s, and Chislehurst, until its purchase in 1611, was one of many ‘grace and favour’ manors bestowed by a grateful sovereign upon a deserving favourite, who ‘held’ it, with many others, at a distance. Neither manor ever had a true manor house as such; ‘The Manor House’ in Chislehurst is an example of Victorian prestige naming of a genuinely old timber framed house, and although there was a bailiff’s house at Kemnal, it was also not a true manor house; a late Victorian house built there was named ‘Kemnal Manor’ by its owner. This has gone, but Foxbury, built nearby for Henry Tiarks in 1875, remains as one of many splendid Victorian houses to be seen in Chislehurst.

Scadbury Manor is somewhat different. It is the one and only true home of the local Lord of the Manor. It lies on the eastern boundary of Chislehurst Parish, on the top of the slope overlooking the Cray Valley. Its name is also descriptive Anglo Saxon, and was first thought to indicate some kind of early fortification on a boundary. A theory about an Anglo Saxon thane was put forward. More reasonably, in the light of recent archaeology, it could equally be taken to mean a shady hill, which is how it would have been seen from the Cray Valley. The elements that make up the name, Scead and burgh, are both capable of several fine shades of meaning.

Archaeological evidence points towards settlement there sometime in the early to mid-thirteenth century, by which time there is plentiful evidence of considerable general settlement in the parish. The de Scathebury family were the first recorded settlers at Scadbury; their name simply suggests that they took it from the place where they settled. It is possible that they were granted an amount of land, perhaps by the King, or by the church and made additional acquisitions by purchase or leasehold from Kemnal Manor; much later documentary evidence indicates that Scadbury was ‘held of the Manor of Kemnal’ for a long time. They were either made, or became, resident Lords of the Manor, and appear to have been quite wealthy. A lay subsidy (a tax on goods and property) in 1301 indicates that John de Scathebury was by far the richest man in the Parish, his goods being valued at £22 3s. The owners of Kemnal were the next wealthiest, their valuation being £6 10s 2d.

The de Scathebury family faded away in the later fourteenth century, and the Walsingham family moved to Scadbury in 1424, expanding their property with further local purchases. The Walsingham family included:

  • Thomas Walsingham I, prosperous vintner of the 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 may have been born at Scadbury or at Foots Cray circa 1530;
  • 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).

The Walsinghams were succeeded by the Bettenson family about 1657, the Selwyns in 1733, and the Townshends in 1751, by which time Scadbury moated manor had been demolished. 

In the 1920s, Hugh Marsham-Townshend, who inherited Scadbury Manor after the death of his father Robert, decided to repair and restore the manor house on the island which had been demolished in 1738. He turned the island into a ‘garden feature’, consolidating the foundations of buildings which he found there, and constructing planters which were filled with roses and iris. In 1936 he acquired some timbers from Manor Farm, St Mary Cray, after that farm was demolished to make way for a factory. He formed the (incorrect) view that these had originally come from Scadbury and re-erected them in modified form to create a ‘medieval hall’ on the foundations he’d found on the island. The hall had a concrete floor, a ‘minstrels’ gallery’ and was generally a rather odd construction devised by his architects. It is this reconstructed building which is shown in the photograph on the website. In the 1930s the building was used as an entertaining space for the family – it had a telegraph pole, so all modern conveniences! – but it later became used for apple storage and was then neglected and fell into disrepair. By the 1980s it had become derelict, was vandalised and the structure was unsafe. Bromley Council purchased the site in 1983 and in 1987 they had this building taken down, as it was a safety risk; because it was known that the timbers inside were medieval and had had an important history in St Mary Cray, they were taken to the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex for storage. 

Hugh himself had moved from Frognal back to Scadbury after his marriage to his first wife, while his father Robert and his brother Ferdie, remained at Frognal. He, his wife and young son lived in a house close to (but not on) the island, Scadbury Park, which was originally part of the Walsingham family’s out-buildings – excavation has shown it was probably a Tudor gatehouse and a base for the farm bailiff. After the Walsinghams left in the mid-17th century, the building had continued to be used by the steward managing the estate, and then by a tenant farmer who leased it in the 18th century. By the late 19th century Scadbury Park was occupied by Charles Kenderdine, Lord Sydney’s Land Agent who managed the Sydney estates in Chislehurst, Scadbury and Frognal. The house was considerably extended for Kenderdine. Hugh moved into it in the early 20th century; as it was not sold in the estate sale of 1915, he continued to occupy it (he also had a house in London), carrying out further improvements and extensions, and it became a large ‘country house’. Robert had died in 1914 and Ferdie was killed in the war. Frognal was sold to/requisitioned by the Government for use as a hospital. Hugh and his second wife remained at Scadbury Park in the 1920s and 30s. After World War II, Hugh moved away and the house passed to his elder son John, who was unmarried and had no children. He inherited the Scadbury estate and lived at Scadbury Park until 1975. John died in December 1975 and in January 1976 Scadbury Park, left empty, burned down (arson??), leading to dramatic photographs of fire engines and hoses in local newspapers. 

Scadbury Park is often known colloquially as ‘The Victorian House’ to distinguish it from the demolished manor house on the island, but ODAS’ excavations have shown it had a more complex history and was originally a Tudor building.

We have known for some time now when the house on the island was demolished – it was 1738, not 1751 (earlier writers such as Webb and Bushell; didn’t have any concrete information and assumed the demolition must have been in the mid-18th century but we now have definitive information on the date). The Townshend family purchased Frognal in 1749 and moved there shortly afterwards. It is likely they spent the years after 1738 at other properties they owned (e.g. Matson in Gloucester, or the Selwyn property of Danson Park or their home in London) following the death of Albinia Selwyn. Scadbury had already been settled on Albinia Selwyn and Thomas Townshend by Albinia’s father, following their marriage, after the earlier death of Sir Edward Bettenson, who was unmarried and childless. Thomas Townshend acquired the Frognal estate a little later.

FrognalFrognal, the estate on the northern boundary of Scadbury (shown right in an old print), became the home of successive Lords of the Manor. Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, was the first of the Townshends to live there, and his family remained there until the death in 1914 of Robert Marsham-Townshend, his great-grandson. Frognal then became a hospital for wounded servicemen, where ground-breaking work was performed on plastic surgery for casualties of the Great War. This was led by Harold Gillies; you can access the archives here… Later the hospital became the nucleus of Queen Mary’s Hospital.

After the Great War the Marsham-Townshend family moved back to Scadbury and lived in a Victorian house near the moated site. In the 1920s the building of the A20 Sidcup Bypass road cut the old parish into two unequal parts and created an increasingly effective barrier between them. The creation of Chislehurst & Sidcup Urban District Council in 1934 did little to reunite the area. In 1965 the A20 became the boundary between the new London Boroughs of Bexley and Bromley.

Following the death in 1975 of John Marsham-Townshend, the last resident Lord of the Manor, the estate was bought in 1983 by the London Borough of Bromley and became a public park, and is now also managed as a farm and nature conservation area. Since 1986 Orpington District Archaeological Society (ODAS) has been excavating the moated site, and the immediately surrounding ‘mainland’.