Above: an old map of the area before development started in earnest.
This Society does not, as
its name may suggest, attempt to preserve the whole of the course of the River
Ravensbourne from its source in Keston to its confluence with the Thames at Deptford. Whilst we are not indifferent to
threats or enhancements proposed to the other reaches of the river, our
principal interest is centred on the area where we live and so is usually
restricted to that part of the valley from Shortlands
Village to the “Garden Gate” including
Beckenham Place Park.
WHY DOES OUR AREA LOOK THE
WAY IT DOES?
The areas of higher ground, separated by the river and its flood plain, have given this area its particular character. In turn, the character of these two valley sides have been determined by their respective histories. Originally they were covered by ancient woodland.
Cator to the West
The major human influence on the west bank of the river must have been John Cator’s purchase, in the 18th century, of what is now Beckenham Place Park. He built the mansion and laid out the park. Having established the estate the family lived elsewhere for most of the 19th century and leased it to others. They sold off some peripheral land for development and had ambitious plans to build on the park itself but mercifully, these were never carried out.
In 1927 the LCC bought the park and mansion from the Cator
family to preserve it for public use at a time when the Bellingham and Downham estates were being
built. The park already accommodated a golf course at that time. In 1965 the GLC took over from the LCC and in
1971 the ownership of the park and mansion was transferred to Lewisham although
part of the area was within Bromley Borough until the boundary changes of 1994
since which time the whole of the park has been within Lewisham.
Lord Farnborough and Samuel Cawston on the East
Meanwhile, on the other side of the valley, Bromley Hill House had been built on the top of the wooded ridge - it now forms the core of the Bromley Court Hotel. Its grounds extended northwards to the “Garden Gate” and to
The owners, from 1801 to 1838, were Lord and Lady Farnborough; he was a friend of William Pitt and a man of renowned artistic taste. Lady Amelia was an accomplished watercolour artist and was also largely responsible for the gardens where she made use of the many natural springs to create water features. She has left a valuable collection of her paintings which records her famous gardens. These also became known to the townsfolk after being opened to the public for one day a week during the summer months.
The coherence of the estate was lost after Samuel Cawston
purchased it from Lord Farnborough’s nephew in about 1880. He lived in Bromley Hill House and created
the pattern of roads branching off
After two years his influence
was very slightly reduced when it was licensed by the Church of England as a
“Proprietary Chapel”. Soon after
building the church the same Samuel Cawston built a “Children's Church” in
Old maps show that Elstree Hill originally gave access to the
stables and other outbuildings serving Bromley Hill House - some of which remain
and have now become an attractive house on the north side of the road. Further
down the slope were the large walled kitchen gardens to the house. To be seen still are two sections of the
garden walls protruding between houses in
Although the estate was broken up by Cawston’s developments, the steepness of much of the west-facing slope has inhibited building and meant that a significant amount of woodland remains.
The Valley Bottom
The land in the valley bottom has largely escaped development being the river’s natural flood plain. Right up to the 1930’s, parts were still wetlands - and included water meadows, reed beds, watercress beds and small lakes. These were to finally disappear under rubble dumped from war-damaged London in the late 1940’s. The flat, grassed area between the railway and river, known as “The Common” is the result.
One of the Society’s main aims is to resist changes which could further obscure the general character of this part of the valley. It would not be realistic nor desirable to resist all change and, unless near neighbours bring problems regarding small extensions to individual houses to our attention and ask for advice, we do not usually pursue such applications. Larger developments, or alien activities which can change the character of a street, are another matter.
The 1865 Map
It is essentially how the Bromley Hill Estate looked when owned by Lord Farnborough between 1801 and 1838 - remaining the same until 1880 when it was sold to Samuel Cawston. Higher quality maps can be found here.
The 1894 Map
There is still no Calmont, Ashgrove or Coniston Roads or Warren and Madeira Avenues and what is now Farnaby Road was an unnamed, unfenced and presumably unmade track across the meadows.
Samuel Cawston had developed Oaklands Spencer and Highland Roads as well as Park End and Blythe Road on what had been woodland. Shortlands Village and Valley School have arrived.