Kemnal Manor

Kemnal Manor was one of the earliest substantial households in Chislehurst. It was mentioned as early as 1250. The original house was by the stream on Kemnal Road. The later, grander, houses were built higher up to the east, The last house was destroyed by fire in 1964.

Sketch of 1790 house
Photo of 1874 house
The house of 1790
The last house, of 1874

Kemnal Manor lies at the very north end of Kemnal Road. It was one of the earliest substantial estates in the Chislehurst area, and was continuously occupied for at least 700 years. Its long history has been influenced by well known events and people – The Holy Roman Empire, The Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt, The French Revolution, and more recently, The Second World War. But today the remaining land of the once desirable Estate grows wild and unkempt, while the last house, deserted and ruined, was destroyed by fire in 1964.

Many people have told us about how, as children, they used to play in and around the ruined house and deserted gardens. See a composite account here...

We have three old plans of the estate, 1790, 1841 and 1871.

From Chomehole to Kemnal

When we first come across the property it is called Chomehole. At various early times it is also called Cunehale, Kimehole, Kimenhale, Kymenhole, or Kemenhole. For most of its recent life, up until 1871, it was consistently referred to in legal documents retained at New College, Oxford as Keminghole. However it was also known as Keming Hall, and the contracted form of the name, and the way it was referred to locally, was Kemnall. In the 19th Century the use of the name Kemnal became more common in documents, including letters and valuations, with references to Kemnal Park, Kemnal Mansion and Kemnal House.

After New College sold the freehold to Mr Samuel Asser in 1871 he named the house Kemnal Manor. This was probably an affectation on Mr Asser’s part: naming a house “Manor” was fashionable at this time, regardless of whether it had ever been a true manor - “land belonging to a nobleman who had the title of lord of the manor”. But the property had been referred to as a manor in earlier documents. Although the house does not appear to have had the manorial rights associated with a true manor (see the 1847 valuation on page 12), it is possible to argue that it became a manorial holding since the ownership came about through a royal grant (see below).

At the risk of confusion, in this history, we adopt the names which were used in the sources from the various times being covered.

The early years

The first available reference to the house and lands is in 1250, in a deed witnessed by one Alexander of Chomehole, which is kept at New College, Oxford. Alexander is the first owner of the land and the house that can be traced. He lived here with his wife Matilda.

Under a deed dated around 1260, Alexander surrendered the lease of the house and its lands to the “Canons and Brethren of the House of St Nicholas and St Bernard of Monte Jovis in England at Haveringes”. The home of this monastery was in Switzerland, high up in the Great St. Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps. It is renowned for its hospitality to travellers and for the breed of dogs, the St. Bernard, which were kept there and used for rescuing travellers. King Henry II gave the land at Chislehurst to the monastery somewhat earlier. He had sent envoys in about 1159 to Frederick I, the Holy Roman Emperor, and while crossing the Alps his envoys were “succoured and entertained by the canons and brethren of the Hospital of St Bernard”. When Henry heard of the hospitality rendered to his envoys, he gave property he owned at Havering, London and Chislehurst to the Hospital “for the endowment of a religious house church at Havering”. The Chislehurst element of the property included the Kemnal Estate. Roy Hopper has suggested that the original gift to the monks was an interest in the land, and over the following century the monks consolidated their interest by buying the freehold.

This would explain why, after the surrender by Alexander, the monks immediately leased the house and most of the land back to Alexander. There was a proviso that if his wife predeceased him he should once again surrender the house in return for provisions of food and clothing for life from the monastery. There is nothing in the arrangements determining what would be provided to Matilda if he died first.

Sadly we don’t know what happened to either Alexander or Matilda, but by 1301 Hornchurch Priory (the name then used by the order in England), is named as the owner of the Kemnal Estate, and was taxed as such by Edward I (at the rate of 1/15th). The house would have been occupied by the Steward of the Priory, as it was later (1386) when leased by a Nicholas de St Remigius, who was a prebend of the Priory.

Endowment on New College, Oxford

During the course of this lease, in April 1391, the Priory sold all its English properties, including Kemnal. This was 10 years after the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The unrest resulted from the imposition of a Poll Tax following the labour shortages created as a result of the great loss of life (in some areas as much as 2/3rds) during the period of the Black Death. The Kentishmen who took part in the revolt were led by Wat Tyler, and on their march to London, they would have passed close by, but probably to the north of Chislehurst, on their way to Blackheath and from there to London Smithfield, where Wat Tyler was killed. The unrest was in part directed towards “alien religious houses”, and led to the seizure of the lands of many of these monasteries by the Crown. In the case of Hornchurch Priory seizure was pre-empted by a sale of all its English properties for 2,000 marks to William of Wykeham, then Bishop of Winchester, who endowed the property on his new foundation, St Mary’s, known as New College, at Oxford. New College was to retain the property for 480 years.

Bishop Wykeham was one of the most important men in England at the time. He was twice appointed as Chancellor of England, first to Edward III, and later to the infamous Richard II. This role was equivalent then to the Prime Minister and it was Wykeham who built Windsor Castle. He had amassed a great fortune during his rise to power in the 14th Century, and during his holding of high office, but he spent the last years of his life using this wealth “for the good of his friends, the poor, and his country”, and his involvement here is an example of this. He died in 1404 aged 84.

The first new tenancy granted by New College was in 1402 to John Arom of Foots Cray, for an annual rent of £8.13s 4d (£8.67), though he did not lease all the woods. Simon a Dene was a later tenant (lease granted in 1437), followed by Danyelle in 1458.

The extent of the lands

The Chislehurst lands owned by New College were extensive, and more than just the Kemnal Estate. There is a reference to these in an inventory of landed estates a century later, in 1512, (during the reign of Henry VIII), which states the extent of the New College interests, but unfortunately not in terms that we can fully understand today. However it is clear from this that the land belonging to the College extended beyond the Kemnal Estate. These abutted Scadbury Manor to the south and Eltham Manor to the north-east. There were lands and property to the north and south of Perry Street, and around the Commons. By 1576 (during the reign of Elizabeth), the lands were still extensive, and large areas were rented out to neighbouring landholders, such that the rental from 31 sub-leases was some £5.18s.8d (£5.93). It was the responsibility of the lessee of the Kemnal Estate to collect these rents on behalf of the College. By 1791, however, all of the property but Kemnal had been disposed of, so that only the 130 acres of the Kemnal Estate were the subject of the lease, (being approximately 85 acres of agricultural land, and 45 acres of woods).

The Comporte family

In 1538 John Comporte (also written at various times Comport, Compord and Comporde) leased the Estate, the start of what was to be a 250 year long ownership by the Comporte family and their heirs. The family had lived in Chislehurst “from very early times”, and were yeoman farmers, who prospered such that by the early seventeenth century they obtained a grant of arms, and married into some of the leading families in the area. Many of the family are said to be buried in St Nicholas churchyard, but we have not been able to locate their tombstones.

John held and renewed the lease for 20 years until his death in 1558. His wife, Johan, died in the following year. They had four children that we know of, and the eldest, Edward, succeeded to the lease until his death in 1605. Edward’s son Richard farmed the Estate for another fifteen years, and in turn Richard’s eldest son, Christopher, took over the lease. Christopher is mentioned in documents still held at New College, which confirm the annual visits from members of the College, and Christopher’s responsibilities in collecting rents for the College, and dealing with disputes (see inset).

He was to stay at Kemnal for forty-five years until he died in 1665. Despite marrying twice, Christopher left no heirs, and the lease was bequeathed to his younger brother Richard, who at that time was fifty-nine years old. Their sister Mary also inherited part of the Estate lands.

Richard himself left no sons, and his daughter, Anne Comporte, was heir to the Estate. By this stage the family had clearly become rather grand, and Anne had married Thomas Fytch of Mount Mascall, North Cray, who was later knighted. When he died in 1688 the Estate passed to their son, the second Baronet, who had been given the name Comport Fytch. Sir Comport died thirty two years later in 1720, but his wife, Lady Anne Fytch, outlived him by 17 years, until 1737. Anne was herself a daughter of a Baronet, Sir Lumley Robinson, so by this stage the house was owned by some of the more well-connected in English society.

Anne renewed the lease under her own name in 1726, and continued to do so until her death. Her son, Sir William Fytch, died the year before his mother, so her elder daughter Alice inherited the lease. Alice married Sir John Barker, 6th Baronet, owner of Sproughton Hall, Suffolk, four years later, and became Dame Alice Barker. Her only son, Sir John Fytch Baker, died relatively young, and although Alice renewed the lease in 1775, there was now no family to inherit it on her death. Alice therefore sold it outside the family shortly afterwards. The purchaser was George Nassau, who was also the owner of the Belmont estate, possibly also acquired at the same time, the adjoining land to the Kemnal Estate to the west. Nassau had also acquired the Fytch Baker family home, Grimston Hall, Suffolk. It is doubtful that he lived at Kemnal, since he is described as being “of Trimley, Suffolk” in New College papers.

During these 240 years or so of ownership by the Comporte family, the Estate had continued to be a working farm but it was now the property of the landed gentry. In these later years it was almost certainly sublet to tenant farmers, and the farmhouse would not have been very distinguished.

It is also clear that during these later years the Estate suffered from neglect. A valuation was undertaken for New College in October 1791. The valuer said of the property “I never saw lands more foule or in worse condition...the buildings also being a house and barn are much out of repair”.

A Plan of Keminghole Farm

1790 thumbnail mapA plan of the Estate was produced in 1790 (right - click on the map to see a fuller size version) and it reveals a number of interesting features. The farmhouse was located some way from where the new Kemnal House was to be built. The farmhouse was situated close to (and to the northwest of) the junction of Kemnal Road with what is now called Belmont Lane, the footpath which crosses Kemnal Road at North Lodge. The only means of entry to the Farm was by means of Belmont Lane, which was then called Keminghole Lane; there was no footpath north onto the Maidstone Road, but Keminghole Lane did continue eastwards towards Sidcup, and is marked on the 1790 map as a right of way. This right of way still exists today as the footpath eastwards from North Lodge. A further feature of the map is the naming of the various fields and woods that comprised the Kemnal Estate. This cannot be reproduced here, but is available in our booklet.

The plan and the valuation were produced as a result of a dispute between New College and at least one of the neighbouring land owners about the location of the boundaries. George Nassau was certainly involved, and a letter from him regarding the dispute is held at New College. The dispute was resolved by means of arbitration, which required taking evidence from the landowners, and older residents of the area, and resulted in the Kemnal Estate being clearly defined in the plan and valuation.

A desirable residence

However, things were soon to change. After Nassau’s death the remainder of the lease of the Estate was sold to a Mr Barrett; his ownership of the lease was confirmed by New College in March 1793. Barrett decided to build a new house, some way from the original location of the farm buildings. The new house was built on higher land to the north-east of the original location, on part of what was called Gravelpit field. This new house had open fields to the north and south, such that it could be said to be in a residential park, and had a good view of Shooters Hill to the north. The style of the house was such that the house and its location would appeal to the gentry or the wealthy middle classes. (Below is a drawing of the house from 1841)

Drawing of the 1790 house


The new house, Keminghole, was on two floors, with additional rooms in the attic, and a substantial cellar. The Georgian style house, facing north, had an extended bow front which made its otherwise square and plain façade more distinctive.

On the first floor were six bedrooms and two dressing rooms with a room for a night commode. The ground floor comprised a Drawing Room, Breakfast Parlour, a Study and separate Library, a Dining Parlour, and a Conservatory. The Butler’s Room, Housekeeper’s Room, Servants’ Hall and interestingly a Gamekeeper’s Room, were also on the ground floor. The Kitchen, Scullery and Larder were in the cellars.

Attached to the house to the east were farm buildings and a new entrance had been opened up to the north of the Estate directly onto the Maidstone Road, where a new entrance lodge had been built. (Click here to see more details, taken from sales particulars in 1841)

The first evidence of its attractiveness to the wealthy was in 1798 when a new eight year lease was granted to Sir Archibald Macdonald. He was by then Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer, one of the three parts of the High Court in London. Archibald was head of the Court, the equivalent of the Lord Chief Justice now. He had been born in 1746, was a barrister, and was appointed Solicitor General in 1784 and Attorney General in 1788. He was clearly a man of importance and influence, and features as one of the participants in James Gilray’s cartoon of the struggle over the French Commercial Treaty of 1786. He would have lived in a house that reflected his status. He later moved to Park House in Hanwell, and was created 1st Baron of East Sheen in 1813. He died in May 1826 aged 80. (Click here for more information about him)

After Macdonald left, in 1806, without renewing his lease, Sir William Leighton took a new lease on the Estate, which he renewed twice more, in 1814 and 1820. We know little about him, except that he was appointed Lord Mayor of London in the year he moved to Kemnal. He lived at the house until his death in 1825. After his death his representatives renewed the lease once more until 1831.

Sales document 1841The new building and the lay-out and use of the Estate had clearly improved things, since a valuation of Kemnell Farm in March 1812 records an increase in the annual value of the land, and notes: “This estate is rural and pleasantly situated. The lands are of a strong texture. The short distance from the Capital of London renders it capable of the greatest improvement, being only 11 miles [from London] on the Turnpike Road to Maidstone.”.

Mr William Rice was the next tenant in 1832. He renewed in 1840, but for reasons unknown immediately put the unexpired portion of the lease up for sale. The buyer was Mr. Martin Atkinson. We can find no further substantial information on these two gentlemen.

The particulars of sale for auction, on 13th May 1841, make for interesting reading, and are reproduced here. They describe the property as “Kemnal House (otherwise Keminghole). An admired abode, with its manorial rights and privileges….”. Estate agents were clearly willing to bend the truth then, as some are now, since in a valuation report in 1847, the valuer was forced to comment “We cannot ascertain that there are any manorial rights….”.

Adolphus Slade

Martin Atkinson died in 1846, and his widow Elizabeth sold the remaining part of the lease of the Estate to Mr Adolphus Frederick Slade for £5,500 in December of that year. The sale was once again by auction, and the same particulars that had been used only five years earlier were used again, with one significant change: a water-closet had replaced the night commode on the first floor!

Adolphus Slade was a stockbroker, born in Battersea in 1804, and was to live at Kemnal until 1871. He was forty years old when he married the nineteen year old Charlotte Amelia Hulme in 1844 in nearby Wandsworth. His late marriage still allowed the pair to have eleven children, six sons and five daughters. At least three of his sons followed him into the stock-broking business: by 1871 the eldest son, Adolphus Hulme, was a Member of the Stock Exchange, and two of his sons, Edmund and Ernest, were described as “Clerks at the Stock Exchange”. At this time most of the family was living at home; none of the daughters, Fanny, Florence, Amy, Ada or Laura had married, though Walter and Sydney were away at school. Percy appears to have died in infancy. Adolphus claimed in his entry in the 1871 census that he was “Landed Proprietor & Occupier of 246 acres of land – Employing 23 labourers, 5 boys & 3 women”.

He made significant changes to the house and to the farm buildings during his twenty-five years here. He extended the house, so that there were now seven principal bedrooms, and a water-closet on each floor. There were more servants’ bedrooms, and the main reception rooms were also reorganised and increased in size. He achieved this by building an extension to the rear of the original house, thus maintaining the elegant north-facing front of the house. He also rebuilt many of the farm buildings, and converted much of the Estate land into pasture. He negotiated lengthy twenty year leases with New College, presumably to give him security of tenure in light of his expenditure on the house and lands. The comments in the valuation reports (reproduced here) at two dates, May 1847 and eleven years later in May 1858, show how the quality and value of the Estate continued to increase. These documents show that there were regular changes to the name of the house and Estate.

Adolphus had agreed a lease in 1847. In 1854 he renewed for a twenty year period. But in 1861 that lease was set aside, and a new lease granted until 1881. There is no indication as to why this should be. However, this lease was not completed. New College had decided to sell its freehold interest in the Estate. In discussions with Adolphus he agreed to surrender the remainder of his lease for a capital sum of £6,000. The College had to raise this sum by mortgaging the property, by which means they raised £6,250. Adolphus and some of the family moved to Wandsworth. Adolphus Frederick died there in 1875, aged 71. Two of the Slade daughters stayed to live locally; at the end of the 19th Century Belmont Cottage, on Belmont Lane near the junction with Green Lane, was occupied by the Fanny and Ada Slade. Adolphus had acquired part of the Belmont Estate, to the west of Kemnal, where there is now a road named after him - Slades Drive. The family continued to own this property after they had left Kemnal Estate.

The sale of the now vacant Kemnal Estate was by way of auction, on 8th August 1871, and brought to an end almost 500 years of ownership by the College.

The provisions of the New College leases

Before we look to the next owners, it is interesting to review some of the terms of the leases granted by New College. Leases were generally for eight year periods, and once granted could be renewed every following eight years without limit. All leases commenced on the day after Old Michaelmas Day, 10th October (the eleven day difference between old and new was created when the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in 1752, which is why our tax year ends on 5th April and not 25th March). Lessees were able to sell the remaining portion of the lease with the College Warden’s permission. The leases were granted on payment of a capital sum representing the discounted value of the annual value of the Estate. They had to obtain permission to sell an unexpired lease, but were able to retain the proceeds of sale.

In addition the lessees were obliged to provide “yearly good and sufficient meat, drink, and lodgings” for the Warden and scholars of the College when they visited the manor on their annual progress, “also stable room, hay, provender and litter” for their horses. Each year they had to carry two hundred faggots (bundles of sticks for fuel) to Deptford for transporting to the Warden’s lodgings in London. Later this was changed to four horse-loads of well-burnt charcoal. (Charcoal was still being made in the woods in 1794.) Later still this was changed again to the annual payment of £1 18s. and the provision of 434 gallons of Wheat (or the Oxford market-place price thereof, which in 1841 was said to be £20 or so). The lessees were provided each year with a uniform of the cloth of the servants of the College.

The creation of Kemnal Road

Mr Samuel Bailey Verney Asser bought the house and lands at the auction in August 1871. The 1871 Sale Particulars are shown here, together with a plan of the Estate at that time (click here to see the plan). New College’s agent reported to the Warden: “After much haggling I obtained the following terms – £23,000 for the Estate and timber, £500 for fixtures and £11 for rent due up to completion of sale”. Asser was living at the time at Lessness Hall, which is now in Upper Belvedere. The agent described him in the same letter: “a gentlemanly looking man and retired Corn Dealer”. Clearly Asser had been impressed by the references in the 1871 Sale Particulars to the potential for development of the Estate. He did not live at the house, but developed and sold on all of the Estate.

The new house, Kemnal Manor, 1874

Full details of the 1874 house can be seen by clicking here. The house was built of yellow brick, and does not seem to be especially attractive. The picture here is from the 1894 sale particulars.

Drawing of 1874 house

• On the ground floor there was a large entrance hall, leading to a drawing room, conservatory, dining room, morning room, study, and billiard room.
• There were fifteen rooms on the first floor, including 6 main bedrooms, two dressing rooms and two nurseries. There appears to have been only one bath room. Two of the bedrooms had their own en-suite toilets, otherwise there was only one toilet for the remaining occupants.
• There was a small second floor, for servants and water tanks, and an extensive basement.
• To the east were farm buildings and stables.
• The main entrance was to the north through the Kemnal Road Lodge entrance, which brought visitors to the main entrance on the north side of the house. There was another lodge entrance on the Maidstone Road.
• In addition to the large Park to the north west of the house, there were kitchen gardens, glass houses and to the south of the property an area called Lawns and Pleasure ground.

First he built a new house on same site. This was completed in 1875. In December 1873 he made arrangements for rights of way for the owner of the Kemnal Estate to the south, over Woodheath, at that stage owned by Viscount Sydney. This was referred to in the 1871 particulars as being a private road and it was the granting of a right of way that created Kemnal Road. At the same time he built the northern end of Kemnal Road, running along the edge of Kemnal Estate, parallel and to the west of the existing Entrance Drive from the Maidstone Road, thus creating the full extent of the Road from the Commons to the Maidstone Road. He built a new Entrance Lodge on this new road, and made this the principal Lodge.

On 24 June 1874 Asser sold fifty-seven acres, including Great Horsey Mead, Old Alders, Upper Broomfield and Grubfield Woods, to Henry Tiarks, for the building of Foxbury as his country house, and granted him rights of way, both north and south. He also purchased additional land to the east of the property, mostly from Viscount Sydney, filling out the estate on that side to its current extent. He retained the Walled Garden and the Farm buildings, even though, as the 1858 valuation mentions, they were “placed a little too near the Residence”. He also called the estate Kemnal Manor, which it was now to be known as until the present day.

We should be thankful that Mr. Asser did not succumb to the temptation to maximise the development of the Estate as proposed in the Sale Particulars - “There can be no doubt that, if the Property is judiciously laid out for Good Homes, it may be made a Profitable Building Investment….”.

All this took six years, after which Asser sold the new house, the remaining lands, and the north part of Kemnal Road, to Richard Johnson, a seventy-one year old retired metal-merchant from Manchester. (Johnson had been senior partner in at least two enterprises in Manchester, including the Bradford Wire Works, which had manufactured part of the Atlantic undersea cable. He had been President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce).

Johnson died in February 1881, so that at the time of the April 1881 census, his widow, Emma Johnson, is shown as the owner. Emma was born in Lancashire in 1815, and was aged 66 at this time. Her niece, Ramona Johnson, aged 38, and her grandson, Richard Johnson Walker, aged 12, were living with her.

After Emma’s death in 1894 Kemnal Manor became the property of Richard, her grandson, “son of the High Master of St Paul’s School”. He was a clerk in holy orders, living at the time at Little Holland Park in London. He let the house to Mr Thomas Brailsford from Newcastle upon Tyne. Thomas was born in 1841, and describes himself as a “Gentleman” in the 1901 census. His wife Martha was born in Yorkshire in 1847. They had five daughters and four sons with them in 1901. The eldest was 37, and the youngest 13. The daughters were Mary (37), Florence (26), Maude (25), and Beatrice (23), all born in Yorkshire, and Dora (18) born in South Wales. Their sons were Robert (22) and Harold (21) both born in Yorkshire, William (15) born in South Wales, and Alfred (13) born in Plumstead.

The Brailsford family had left by 1911, when the house was sold by Richard Walker to James Hermann Rosenthal. The sale was agreed on 22 November 1911, and for £14,000, James Rosenthal acquired the House, farm, woods and lands totalling 64 acres. He also acquired the rights of way, ownership of the northern end of Kemnal Road, and for a further £1,091.17s.6d. he inherited undertakings by Henry Tiarks not to build on adjacent land. Finally, he agreed to maintain the northern end of Kemnal Road open to other users.

Sir James and Lady Kemnal

James Rosenthal was British Managing Director of Babcock & Wilcox. He was instrumental in making the company successful internationally by leading the development of steam generated electric power, and the widespread use of the Babcock & Wilcox steam boiler . He was knighted in 1920 for services in support of the war. (More can be found about his life here.)

Lady Kemnal in 1925Before moving to Kemnal Manor, he and his wife lived at “Quarries”, Park Hill Road, East Croydon. He adopted the name Kemnal in 1915, and became known as JHR Kemnal. He married Linda Larita in 1905. She was the daughter of Clement de Leuse, Nyallo, Victoria. Lady Linda Larita Kemnal (shown left at the opening of All Saints Parochial Hall in January 1925) was likely to have been somewhat younger than her husband, since their only child was born in 1915, when James was 51. A local man, Mr Marchant, who worked on a nearby farm, remembered Lady Kemnal: “She was a bit of a tartar – she liked to have things her own way.” She complained to his boss when he shot rabbits, which she liked to see on her lawn, and there were tales of a chauffeur “who was unjustly dismissed”. (On the other hand, short hand-written letters from Lady Kemnal that we have seen suggest a friendly, even playful, woman: “Kemnal Manor, 26th November 1927. Dear Rosyibus, What on earth is the enclosed about? I place the effusion, very gingerly at your feet!! Reichsschulden verwaltung – sounds like a growl – and Grafschaft – sounds like a bite! Much Love. Aunt Lyn”).

The Kemnals made substantial changes to the inside of the house. These were reported in the Architect Magazine in 1915: "The drawing room was added to, making this room 45 feet by 20 feet. Additions were made to the library and music-room. The lounge and music-room are panelled in oak, and the dining-room in mahogany. A new oak staircase leads out of the hall to the first floor, and a wide gallery runs all round the hall, serving all the principal bedrooms. The bedrooms on the first floor are arranged in suites with dressing-rooms and bathrooms attached to each. The elevations of the house were built in brick, and when the alterations were made these were rough-casted and treated with half timber, giving the house a more interesting character. The architect was Mr Victor Wilkins."

Click here to see photographs of the new interior.

They also had a holiday home, “Storm”, at Banks Road, Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset. They maintained at least one steam yacht here, The Onara, which was featured in The Yachting World, and they spent as much time as they could there. It was here that James died in February 1927, following an illness that incapacitated him the previous September. He was buried in Shirley, south of Croydon. After her husband’s death Lady Kemnal and her only son, Stuart, spent increasing amounts of time at Sandbanks. One of the reasons for this was that the Sidcup bypass was extended at the north east of their property in 1935, and this had the effect of increasing the amount of traffic which would be seen and heard at the house. By 1939 they were living at Sandbanks almost permanently, and Lady Kemnal was content to allow Kemnal Manor to be requisitioned for military use during the war. She died in July 1943, and the family never returned to Chislehurst.

Stuart Kemnal, and the mystery of his death

Pagoda on entrance driveIt is noticeable that James Kemnal’s will, dated 18th May 1926, less than a year before his death, left virtually nothing to his wife. It appointed his nephews Roy Glinn, Horace James and Archibald Hall-Brown as executors, together with his wife. He left his “wines, liquors and consumable stores” to his wife, and his “watches, jewellery, trinkets, books, guns, and other sporting effects” to his only son Stuart when he reached the age of 20. He left his own five brothers and sisters a small lump sum each (totalling £23,000), with the balance of his estate on trust for his son on obtaining the age of 25, which he did in 1940, with the income from the capital in the meantime being used for Stuart’s maintenance and education. There is nothing in the will that left Lady Kemnal any capital or a life interest in any of the assets. Indeed James’s will went on to direct that if the annual income from the trust was not sufficient to meet Stuart’s needs, Lady Kemnal would have to make up the difference “out of her own moneys”. It is possible that James had previously settled assets on his wife, though this is not referred to in the will, but otherwise one can only imagine that Lady Kemnal had assets of her own, which were ring-fenced from her husband. When Lady Kemnal died in July 1943, her estate was valued at £49,800, and once again Stuart was the main beneficiary. When Stuart in turn died in 1950 his estate was valued at £480,960.

Stuart had been born in 1915, the year his father changed his name to Kemnal. He went to school at Bickley Hall, but apart from Ainsworth Wates’ recollections, we know little of Stuart’s childhood. After he came of age he became an hotelier, based at the Bull Inn, Barton Mills, Bury St Edmunds, but also owning the Royal Hotel in Teignmouth, and Stitchpool Farm in Devon. He continued to own Storm, at Sandbanks, as well as Kemnal Manor. He was clearly a very rich young man, but apparently not a happy one.

He committed suicide on 7th March 1950. According to the report in the Sussex Daily News Stuart rented a bungalow, Coombe Cottage, East Preston, Sussex. He had taken it for a month from 24 February, and took possession on 6th March. He had to ask how to use the shilling in the slot gas meter, according to the estate agent, and he acted in an eccentric way. Two days later he was found lying on a mattress on the kitchen floor with his head in the gas oven. He had blocked up the window with a blanket, and had taken some opium tincture before he died. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide with insufficient evidence to show the state of his mind, but said “It seems likely that this comparatively young man took this house for the purpose of committing suicide in it”.

One wonders what caused Stuart to take his life in this way. Anecdotal evidence is that he was of weak character from childhood and may not have been able to resist pressures that others were putting on him. His will indicates that he had a close friend in Mervyn Seabrook, who may have been his business partner. It has also been suggested that they were on very close personal terms, and the three codicils to his will leaving more and more of his assets to Mervyn suggest some pressure on Stuart. Was their relationship under strain? Mervyn died in 1993. It looks as though we shall never know.

Occupation by the War Office

Nissan Huts in front of the houseThe house was requisitioned in 1939 by the War Office. At first the Ministry of Supply was based here, but they later moved to Bickley, and the Ordnance Board was relocated to Kemnal Manor from Woolwich. The Ordnance Board consisted of munitions experts, whose purpose was to advise the Army Council on the safety and approval of new weapons. Kemnal Manor became the HQ for the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), Southern Command, and remained as such until 1961. The House was used for offices and rooms for officers, and Nissan Huts were built on the south side of the house. (see photograph, left).

A large number of people lived and worked at the house during the war years. One of these, Gretta Evans, who worked as a secretary at Kemnal Manor in the early part of the war, has sent us her memories of the working there . Click here to read her account.

A report dated February 1957 from the Chief Inspector, REME Chief Inspectorate, whose address is given as “Kemnal Manor, Kemnal Road”, confirms that it was still actively being used at that time.

The house was abandoned after REME left, and shortly afterwards, in 1964, it was destroyed by fire, and reduced to a ruined shell. The remains were pulled down for safety reasons some time later. The northern part of the Estate was sold by the Trustees of Stuart’s will to the London Dock Labour Board, and was later developed into a sports ground, but the rest of the estate has remained empty, and has since been designated as part of the Green Belt.

Proposals for development

Following the 1964 fire, the joint owners had been advised that the cost of reinstatement would exceed £35,000. However, the building had been insured for only a nominal amount, and according to their advisor’s letter, “having regard to the extent of the damage”, the owners were “faced with substantial expenditure to re-instate the building”. They had, only 14 days before the fire, completed negotiations for the Estate to be taken over by a “London company” for use as office accommodation. While the company was still interested in going ahead, it required re-instatement first. The owners felt that this was uneconomic, and proposed instead the demolition of the building, and the erection of one or more new buildings for residential use. They were prepared to negotiate with the Chislehurst and Sidcup UDC Planning Officer on what would be acceptable for the area, but mentioned that there was a “very substantial waiting list for rented accommodation in this area”. In support of their proposal they noted that Lady Kemnal had agreed only a nominal rent from the War Department when she let it to them in 1939. The present owners had therefore had no economic benefit from their ownership of the property since they inherited it, and “having suffered such considerable hardship through loss of income throughout the period they are now naturally anxious to use the property to some benefit”.

They proposed three alternatives for residential development, being: A – one 7-storey block of 56 flats, B – one 3-storey block of 12 flats, and two 4-storey blocks of 24 flats each, making 60 flats, and C – five 3-storey blocks of 12 flats each, making 60 flats.

The development proposals referred to other developments such as at Holly Bowers, and proposed that traffic access to this development should be both directly onto the Sidcup By-Pass and through Kemnal Road to the south. The photograph below, taken somewhat earlier, show the developments taking place at Fiveways, not far from where Kemnal Road meets the A20.

Kemnal Road junction with A20

The request was turned down, and in June 1965 there was an appeal from the decision of the Council to the Secretary of State (who was then Richard Crossman). The appeal document noted that the appeal site was in an overgrown, neglected condition; the manor house had been severely damaged by fire; it did not appear to have been a building of any special architectural character; the stables and other outbuildings were in ruins; and the land around the house was left as a continuous expanse of grass and woodland.

The council recommended that permission should not be granted:

• The proposed development site now fell within the Metropolitan Green Belt (designed to preserve an area of mainly open country available for the purpose of recreation and enjoyment to those living in heavily built-up areas). The only development permitted in this area would therefore be limited to agricultural development, education or recreational development, or other open development, where the development was appropriate to the size of the site.
• Earlier requests had been made for development, including the erection of 36 married officers’ quarters, and housing development adjacent to the Sidcup By-Pass, and all but one had been rejected. The one that was allowed was the proposal to allow the use of the house as office accommodation, and this was subject to a number of restrictions on extending the house.
• There were references to other requests for development at Foxbury, in 1938 and in 1951 (granted and then revoked, leading to compensation of £65,000), and at Holly Bowers in 1961 (denied, and then agreed when the size and extent were reduced to the 40 flats that were allowed, but only on appeal to the minister).
• The proposed access to the Sidcup By-Pass would be dangerous given the speed and density of traffic then using the road [what would they think now?].

The appeal was dismissed, and most of the land has remained undeveloped since then. The security bunker was sold for development in 1998 (see further information below), and in 2000 the remainder of the estate was sold privately to a local resident. Since then there have been a number of applications for development of the land, but until recently, all have failed to win approval from the Borough of Bromley, largely based on the reasons set out for the original application mentioned above.

However, in November 2006, permission was granted for the owner to change the use of the land to “use for human burials”. While the land lies within the Green Belt, there is a shortage of land for burials within the London area, and this need has persuaded The London Borough of Bromley to accept this proposal (reduced in scale from an earlier proposal). There are a number of conditions, including the preservation of ancient woodland, landscaping to hide the limited number of buildings proposed, access to the site only from the A20 via a new access road, and an agreed programme of archaeological work. If the proposal does now go ahead Kemnal Manor is about to enter a new phase in its 850 year history.

Footpaths have been created as people have walked through the heavily wooded grounds over the last forty years, but these have been spoilt by tipping, vandalism and motorbikes. Nevertheless, even after over the years of neglect, it is still possible to identify the different parts of the old Estate, with Ashen Grove still a prominent tongue of wood around the small stream, and Gravelpit field still an open area of grassland. But the area around the house and farm is now overgrown and wooded, so that, while some of the footings can be spotted here and there, it is difficult to see exactly where the buildings stood. The pleasure grounds and lawns to the south of the house are in the same state, and it takes an effort of imagination to visualise what the house and grounds looked like at the height of their glory.Garden Cottage

Lodges and other properties on the Estate

After the rebuilding in the 1870s there were a number of other properties around the main house. They included two lodges to the Manor and, garden cottages, a coachman’s cottage and a cowman’s lodge. There was also accommodation above the stables, which later became the garage. They seem to have been only intermittently occupied. Click here to see details of these properties

Naughty children - recollection from a later trustee of the Kemnal Manor Estate

Lady Kemnal used to go to Art classes at Blackheath and there she met my mother and the two became friends. My mother used to visit her at Kemnal Manor. My recollection of the Manor in its “heigh-day” was, when I was a small boy in the early twenties, my sister and I were invited to accompany my mother to have tea with Lady Kemnal at the Manor. There was one of those service lifts which went down from the sitting room to the kitchen – one pulled a rope to get it started. Stuart, the son, was smaller than we were. On one occasion we were very naughty and bundled Stuart into the lift, pulled the rope and sent him down to the kitchen screaming his head off. Mother gathered us up and took us home in disgrace, and I don’t remember going there again.

Recollection by George Ainsworth Wates. He was a solicitor who acted for the Glynn family. The Glynn family benefited from the will of Stuart Kemnal when he died in 1950, and as a result, Ainsworth Wates was asked to become a trustee of the Kemnal Manor Estate, which he remained until the Estate was finally sold in 2000. As a result of his being appointed he became involved in the administration of the Estate. He died in 2002 at the age of 88.

Domestic servants at Kemnal Manor

In 1851, the first time we can identify servants in the census returns, there were eight servants: William Noble (45), from Staffordshire, (his wife, Mary, was a visitor at the house at this time), Ann Whyat (50), from Lambeth, Susan Houlding (37), from Suffolk, Sarah Leasland (22), from Clapham, Jane King (32), from London, Sophia Collett (25), from Oxford, Ann Liversuch (22) from Blackheath, and Martha Luckmore (19), from Devon. There are no references to their job titles.
There were five servants in 1861: John Chitteridge, (39), Butler, born in Bleasford, Dorset, with his wife Elizabeth, (42), from Norfolk, Maria Sheath, (23), housemaid from Brompton, Middlesex, Charlotte Enfield, (22), Nursery Maid from Maidstone, and Betty Howze, 22, Schoolroom Maid, from Chislehurst.
In 1871 there were again five: Sarah Barker, (22), Nurse, from Greenwich, Emma Emery, (26), and Maria Sheath, (31(?)), both housemaids, and both from Brompton, Henry Fardo, 48, Butler, from Marylebone, and Penelope Murlefs, 31, Cook, Somerset.
There were five servants in 1881: Thomas Bough (21), the footman, from Wiltshire; Cecilia Hyles (22), housemaid, from London; Sarah Roase (40), ladies maid, from Cirencester; Jane Stokes (42), a nurse, from Poole, Dorset; and Emma Wall (25), the cook, from Shrewsbury.
In 1891 there were only four. The servant in charge was James Packer (34) the butler, from Bagshott. The cook was Sarah Powell (43) from Worcester, and there was a housemaid and parlour-maid: Frances Bolton (21) from Rutland, and May Mandall (18) from Hampshire.
There were four servants in 1901 whose duties are not disclosed: Bessie Kirk (24) from Bedfordshire, Sarah Albrook (19) from Plumstead, Ellen Larking (15) from Woolwich, and Ethel Parks (16) also from Woolwich. There is also a nurse, who is described as “sick”, Annie King (33) from Clapham. This seems a small number of servants given that they were supporting a family of eleven, most of whom were grown up.