Andrew Barton’s memories of Kemnal Road, aged 5 - 14.
I lived in Holly Lodge during most of the 1960s. My most vivid memories are of the streams and ponds in the area, where we used to look for frogs and newts. Our long garden went down to the stream which ran behind the houses in the road. The stream was quite wide in places, especially in the garden of Kemnal Wood, where I remember the kids made a raft out of oil drums and planks which we would navigate downstream. The stream eventually ran under the footpath leading from Kemnal Road to Belmont Parade, where it can still be seen, and into The Banana Pond, so called because of its shape. This was a great place for frogs, fishing and tadpoles.
Our garden extended behind the lodge, and covered an area of what were previously the formal gardens of Holly Bowers. We had a huge statue of Eros on a pedestal in the garden, but this was smashed when my Dad chopped down a tree which fell on it. At the very foot of our garden, where it met the stream and the footpath, there were very old remains of a small brick-built structure, and a great deal of old charcoal. I often wondered if this was one of the charcoal kilns that were used in the old woods here. We used to put out Christmas Lights in the tree in the front garden in December, a silver fir tree, which can still be seen opposite Mulbarton Cottage.
Kemnal Road itself was unmade north of South Lodge, and there were many pot holes. One day in about 1968 a very large hole had opened up – big and deep enough for a family sized car to fall in, about 80 yards north of South Lodge, where an underground stream had caused the road to collapse.
I remember Mr Goldsmith of Forest Ridge, next door to us. I think he was a City Banker. He also had a large garden, and he built a small golf course at the bottom of the garden, where he would practice, wearing plus fours. He also had a full time gardener, Mr Hicks, who would get very angry if our ball went into his garden.
On the other side of Forest Ridge house there was Kemnal Wood. This house was deserted for about a year when the last residents moved out, and we would investigate it whenever we could. We once got into the old loft of the house, to find thick dust covering loads of discarded clothes, boxes and equipment, not touched for decades probably. One day we found old tennis rackets, of a strange shape, possibly for real tennis.
Timothy Harding was a great friend – we were in the same class at St Nicholas School. He lived at Woodheath Cottage. At that age he was small, but very tough, and great fun to be with. In the grounds of their house was an indoor swimming pool, where we would often go. I remember the bars and hoops that hung from the roof, and the marble tiles. In their large garden, Timothy’s father had rigged up a climbing net, a huge forty foot affair, over which we clambered up the trees in the garden.
Holly Bowers house was still occupied when we first moved to Kemnal Road. Mr and Mrs Jones had three children, with whom we would play. They had a large Scalectrix set in one of the large upstairs rooms, the first one I had ever seen. After they moved away there were some small fires at the house, and the lead on the roof was stolen, so that the house became derelict. This was great for us, since we were able to get into the house easily and play in the dark rooms and cellars. I remember coming across large jars of liquids in the cellars. One was full of mercury, which we had great fun playing with. Finally there was a huge, spectacular fire which gutted the house, and left it a shell. It was shortly after this that the house was demolished and Mapledene flats were built.
The garden around Holly Bowers was great fun. There was a large rectangular pond in front of the house (to the north), which was not very deep, and we would find plenty of frogs and, memorably, a large Great Crested Newt there. The pond was overgrown, but was a formal pond, and there was a large pedestal in the middle, where once there had presumably been a statue of some sort.
On the other side of the pool there were stables, which were used by the family who lived in the old Mapledene, the house that backed onto the footpath. I was friends with their daughter, who kept a couple of horses in the field running alongside the footpath. There was a driveway from Kemnal Road to the house, which passed to the north of the stable block. When they moved out the house lay derelict for a number of years and became a play area and meeting point for all the local kids.
Opposite us was Mulbarton Cottage, where Mr and Mrs Vaizey lived. He was a Naval Captain. Their daughter Caroline went to Farringtons and was a great friend of Caroline Jackson at The Coach House (my first girlfriend!), who also went to school there.
South Lodge was where Betty Sharpe lived, who used to play with us. She was the daughter of Canadian parents. I remember her walking me home once after I had fallen through the ice on one of their ponds. In their very large garden there was an ancient shed/outhouse where we found a very old horse-drawn sleigh, complete with rusty metal runners. This was probably the one mentioned in the inventory at the time of Henry Tiark’s death. Further behind the house were some tarmac roads running from Foxbury house to Foxbury Sports Club, where we used to race a Go-Kart that had been constructed from old motorbike and scooter parts. There were two old abandoned and rotting cars by the side of this old road.
I had another friend from St Nicholas School, Stephen Duncan, whose parents lived in Foxbury - at that time owned and used by the Church Missionary Society. I remember the vacuum cleaning pipe attachment holes in the wall of the old library, which connected to a system in the cellars, where we also found a skeleton, used by medical students.
North Lodge was where our friends Barry and Mark Smith lived. Their parents Bill and Jean lived there, and were great friends of our family. Just along from North Lodge was the atomic air raid shelter. When we were there this was always sealed, and we were told (by a freind of my Dad’s, who was a despatch rider for the military) that it contained deep shafts down to underground rooms. Going further north along the road was Mrs Drage at Avenue Lodge. She kept two golden retrievers and was the unofficial policeman for the derelict Kemnal Manor Site. There were more derelict cottages in the grounds of Kemnal Manor towards the Sidcup By-Pass.
Kemnal Manor was a great adventure playground for us. It was totally deserted, and there had been fires already when we first found it. I spent every day I could there, mostly with a friend, Peter Long, who was at school with me first at Mead Road School, then St Nicholas. His father was a Sergeant at the Police Station in the High Street, and his Mum was the Lollipop lady at Belmont parade. He lived in Belmont Lane. Peter and I would climb into the roof of the Manor and surrounding buildings, and clamber over the wooden beams in the loft, looking down perhaps 50 or 60 feet or so onto the ground. We could also climb up the old clock tower onto the roof and explore the old clock workings. It was extremely dangerous in hindsight, but was great fun at the time. One day we got there to find a whole section of roof had fallen in, where we had been playing some days before.
There was a ruined small cottage near the main house, and a tunnel system, probably air raid shelters, that ran through the cellars of the house to a separate entrance on the other side of the house. The wooden Nissan huts were still there, and we also played with a huge circular saw in one of the outbuildings. It still turned, but the belt had broken, and there was no power.
I took my kids to the site of the house recently, and we found an old cream jug in the undergrowth by the stream. I like to think this was used by a family who lived at the house on one of their picnics, and was lost when they were tidying up. I still have it. (pictured right)
Just some more about my parents. My father ran a metal finishing business in a factory in Greenwich – Strip Tinning Ltd. He now lives in Dartmouth. My mother Alma worked for MI5, and had been placed in Standard Telephone and Cables (STC) in Greenwich as PA to the Personnel Manager to keep an eye on potential spies! STC was the major UK communications company at the time – they laid the first transatlantic cable. She was also very proficient at fencing, competed for England, and was Kent Ladies Foil Champion 9 times. She died in 1999.
I also remember some celebrities. Henry Cooper stayed at the Bull’s Head Hotel on Royal Parade when he was in training for the fight with Cassius Clay – we used to see him out running in the morning on our way to St Nicholas school, with his brother beside him on a bike urging him on. We’d yell ‘Hi Henry’ at him out of the car window as we went by (he was a national hero to schoolkids of the day). Also, I was at Mead Road School and was friends with Susan Ballion who later became Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. She lived in the art deco fifties style house in Woodside Avenue, at the junction with Holmdale Road.