About Kemnal Road - an introduction to its history
Kemnal Road lies in relative quiet between the hustle of the War Memorial crossing in the village of Chislehurst , and the roar of the A20 as it approaches London. It lies to the north of Chislehurst Commons, and was built on ancient woodland. It has mostly retained its woodland character.
Kemnal Road is both new and old. New, because it was first developed for housing only 130 years ago; old, because it follows the route of an old footpath and track which for centuries has crossed the area called Woodheath.
Chislehurst is an old village. Even though the earliest records date from about 974 and there is evidence that it had been a community much earlier than that, it does not feature in the Domesday Book. According to Bushell this is because it was a royal manor (probably an outlying part of the Royal Manor of Dartford), and there was therefore no need to enter its tax capacity, which was the purpose of the compilation of the Domesday Book.
Kemnal Road took its name from Kemnal Manor, one of the earliest houses in this area. First mentioned in deeds in 1250 it was then referred to as the home of Alexander of Chomehole. Throughout its history the name has evolved: Chomehole, Cunehale, Kimehole, Kimenhale, Kymenhole, Kemenhole, and most recently Keminghole. Locally the name had been contracted to Kemnal, and this contracted name was given to the last house built in the 1870s. It was an unremarkable residence, rebuilt a number of times, but it is now gone, destroyed by fire in 1964.
The old footpath was used for the collection and transport of timber and charcoal from the ancient woodland which largely covered the area, and in later times, even before the development of the land on either side of the road, it provided a short-cut to the Sidcup Road and was regarded as 'one of the prettiest walks in the neighbourhood'. Canon Murray, rector of St Nicholas for much of the 19th Century, was one of those who would use this path to walk to the Sidcup road to catch the “coach and four” which ran daily from Maidstone to London. This was before the building of the railway station at Chislehurst in 1865. The extension of the railway to Chislehurst enabled relatively easy daily travel from Chislehurst to London, whilst allowing families to live in the countrside, and inevitably led to increased demand for housing in the area.
The development of Kemnal Road started when Mr Samuel Asser bought the freehold of the Kemnal Estate in 1871 from New College, Oxford. A right of way had existed from Kemnal Manor to the south, over the Woodheath footpath, since at least 1607, when there had been a dispute over its use, settled in favour of the owners of Kemnal Manor. In December 1873 Asser purchased the right of way from Earl Sydney of Frognal, and at the same time he made a new road northwards to the Maidstone Road, thereby creating the full length of Kemnal Road (click here to see the text of the indenture). In 1874, Asser sold 57 acres of his newly acquired land to Mr Henry Tiarks, a wealthy London banker, for the building of his great house at Foxbury, and provided him with rights of way from the north and the south. At the same time Earl Sydney was disposing of individual plots of Woodheath on both sides of the newly created right of way.
The development of the road was completed within ten years. It turned the southern part of the footpath into a distinguished private road with large fine houses, 'whose beautiful grounds owe much of their charm to the retention of their woodland character' (Webb's History of Chislehurst).
By 1884 there were 13 large houses in Kemnal Road. In these houses 21 adults and 39 children were looked after by 84 servants. In addition there were 14 other households in the lodges, cottages and stables, and here there were another 20 (largely male) servants, living with their wives and 37 children. In all 210 people were living in the Road at this time. The census information provides details of where residents were born, and the data for Kemnal Road show just how much movement there had been from country to town: in particular the servants and their families came from just about every corner of the United Kingdom. More about domestic servants in Kemnal Road...
The period of the development is a fascinating one. In 1875, when the first houses were being built, there were of course no motor vehicles, so most houses of the size here had stables and areas for the grazing of their horses. The houses required large numbers of domestic servants to keep them going, and there was a plentiful supply from all over the United Kingdom, as people continued to move from the countryside to the towns. Great Britain was indeed great; this must have been the height of its financial and military dominance in the world, and the middle classes who moved here were generally quite prosperous. The British class system was also at its height, and the conventions of the day would be difficult for us to imagine now. Technology and the consequences of two world wars changed all this, so that by 1950 owners were no longer able to maintain the houses as they previously could. For the owners during this time, this must have required painful adjustments to their expectations and standards of living. For others it has been a tremendous opportunity to live in what had been a privileged area.
Two houses were badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War. The economic and social changes meant that all the large houses had become expensive and difficult to maintain. At the same time there was an increased demand for housing in this area. As Bushell notes: “For the first time the value of the land exceeded the value of the houses built on the land.”. As a result, seven of the houses were sold for development and were demolished over the 30 years following the end of the war, to be replaced by apartment blocks, or streets of smaller houses. Today, only four of the original large houses remain. All the lodges and stables were also sold off with their own land; nine of these have retained their original exteriors.
This is the story that we seek to tell. The history of the road is in three parts: We reproduce seven maps of the road between 1870 and 1991, together with two aerial photographs, one taken by a Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane. Comparing these maps and photographs will give the reader the extent and timing of the changes. Secondly we look at each of the main houses on the road and trace their development since they were built, and show the information we have been able to find on their residents. Finally we provide more detailed biographical information on the lives and families of a number of residents. We have many pictures and prints of people and buildings in Kemnal Road, and reproduce as many of these as we can.
Thank you to all those who have provided information, photographs and given other support in the production of this site and of the book. Click here to see who has helped.
The Two ends of Kemnal Road:
The northern end, where the road meets the Sidcup Road (second from bottom on left)
The southern end where it meets Bromley Lane (where the pony trap is)