The development of Chislehurst

High StreetA 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.

The High Street

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 undistinguished, 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 brickworks and a farm, and the Chislehurst Mineral Waters 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.

Royal Parade

The Bull’s Head Inn was a busy coaching inn located at an important crossroads (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.

Mill Place

Nestling on the hillside between Summer Hill and Old Hill, Mill Place 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.

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.

Old Perry Street

Finally, there was a settlement along what is now Old Perry Street, though until 1950 this was the only road through to the east. This community grew up as a result of the needs of the nearby estates, especially Scadbury, Homewood and Frognal, and there was a laundry, school, shops and a public house.

The coming of the Railway

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.

When the railway 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 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.  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 building of the Sainsbury block in Chislehurst still rankles with many people, since it both destroyed some well-loved buildings (even if they were in poor repair), and broke the continuity of the High Street). Nevertheless, 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.