Holly Bowers

Holly Bowers was built by 1884. It was a magnificent house with two wings, the largest in the road after Foxbury. It sat quite close to the road in 7.6 acres of grounds, and had a lodge and stables adjacent to the footpath to Green Lane. The entrance to the house was at the point where the northernmost block of Eaton Court is now.

Holly Bowers 1879

The print here is taken from The Building News in 1879, which has the following description of the new house: “This house is now in course of erection for Mr David J Chattell, of 29A Lincoln’-inn-fields and Chislehurst, Kent, from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr George Lethbridge, architect, of 7, Draper’s-gardens, Throgmorton avenue, EC. The walls are of red brick, the mullions, transoms, and heads of windows in moulded Doulting stone, the cornices, plinths, &c., of moulded red brick, and the panels of carved red brick. The screen in hall and windows of porch and staircase, and upper portions of windows of drawing, dining-rooms, and library and principal bedrooms, are glazed with stained glass in in leaded lights, the other windows being glazed with plate-glass. The roofs are covered with Broseley tiles, with red terra-cotta ridges and terminals. The hall, and the borders of the reception rooms are laid with parqueterie. The porch and entrance-hall are to be laid with tessellated pavement. Great care has been taken in the sanitary arrangements, both as regards drainage and water supply, a separate service being provided for drinking purposes. The house contains, on the ground floor, hall, drawing-room and library, communicating by sliding doors, and dining-room, lavatory, cloak-room and w.c., servants’-hall, serving pantry, china closet, and usual domestic offices. In the basement, ample cellar accommodation is provided. The upper floors are approached by two stair-cases, the principal one being constructed of pitch-pine and polished oak, and comprising seven good bed-chambers, day and night nurseries, bath-room, and two dressing rooms, box room, w.c., and linen closets. The mantel-pieces are to be of polished wood. The house has been planned with the view of adding, at a future time, billiard-room, with bedrooms over, and conservatory, thus completing the original plan. The house occupies an attractive and well-timbered site, commanding extensive views. The works are now being carried out by Mr Robert A Lowe, builder of No.1, Lower Camden, Chislehurst.Winifried 1912

We know that at least until 1927 the residents were tenants, since the owner of the property, James Hugh Somers, was entitled to vote in local elections as a result of his ownership of Holly Bowers.

Mr J Schwarts is the first identified resident, in 1884. He had gone by 1891, and the large house was occupied by Henry James, a coal merchant. He was born in Cornwall in 1841. His wife, Helen, was five years older than him, born in Berkshire. In 1891, at the time of the census, they had their married daughter, Edith Jesse, with them. She had been born in 1868, and her two daughters, Stella and Winifred, were 4 and 3 years old respectively. Winifred became a well known author, playwright and journalist. There were three other James’ children living with them, all of whom were born in Croydon, Somers (born in 1872), Squire (1873) and Margaret (1876). Somers was a student of law, and was later to become a barrister, while Squire was studying medicine. Squire was still a student in 1901; one wonders when he completed his studies! There were two visitors in the house at the time of the census, Isabella Harris (18) from Bickley, and John Dinham (38) a coal factor from Cornwall. John died before the next census, and his widow, Charlotte, was staying at Holly Bowers at the time of the 1901 census. Was she Henry’s sister?

Winifried, the younger granddaughter (right), became a world-famous writer, using the name F. Tennyson Jesse. She was born at Holly Bowers, and spent much time there. Read a brief biography. Winifried gave her recollections about the house to her biographer Joanna Colenbrander, and these can be seen by clicking here

Henry James retired before 1901, and died in 1903. Helen James stayed living in the house for another 26 years. We cannot find any record of Henry’s burial or of his wife’s in Chislehurst.

Holly Bowers in flamesBy 1930 Major John Lawrence Benthall had taken up residence, with his wife Harriet, and at least one son, Robert. Benthall was born in 1868, so was 62 when he moved here. He had been married twice, and had four children by his first wife. There is no reference to any children by Harriet. The Benthalls stayed at Holly Bowers throughout the war, leaving in 1947.

For more information on Major Benthall, click here.

There was extensive blast damage from the bombs during the war that hit Mulbarton, and it obviously took time for the repairs to be completed. After 1947 there is no record of residents until 1954, when Betty and Harold Jones appear. They were to be the last residents of this "dark and forbidding house", as Mrs Harding described it. Harold was a consultant at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup.

It appears that Dr Jones attempted to obtain planning permission to demolish the house and build flats there. Initial attempts to obtain permission were not successful. However, his attempts to build 15 flats resulted in the residents of Mapledene (see below) to move, but before doing so they, in turn, applied and were successful in obtaining permission to build 11 residences on their land.

In 1964 a fire mysteriously broke out at Holly Bowers, and gutted the property. A photograph of the house in flames is shown here, courtesy of John Westwood.

The Jones family moved away, and Holly Bowers was demolished to make way for the new apartment block which adopted the name, not of the house it replaced, but of its stables, Mapledene. The flats were first occupied in 1966.

There were two other residences in the grounds originally and a later one was built in 1957:

Holly Bowers Lodge

The Lodge was situated where the northern-most block of Eaton Court is today, directly opposite the entrance to Mulbarton Court. The entrance to Holly Bowers grounds was a little further to the north.

Edward Ramsome, aged 29, identified Holly Bowers as his residence in 1881. However this is likely to be what is later described as the Gardener’s Lodge. Edward was born in Great Yarmouth. His wife, Bithiah, aged 28, a dressmaker, was born in Horwell, Berkshire, and living with them was their niece, Edith Ramsome, aged 10.

Ebenezer Piper lived at the lodge in 1891. He was then 45 and a gardener from Buxted in Sussex. His wife Amelia was 55, and from London. There were no children living with them.

In 1901, Luke Marjan (53) a cowman, lived here with his wife Elizabeth (52). They were both born on the Isle of Wight. He was replaced in 1902 by J Morgan, about whom we know nothing. He in turn had moved on by 1908, when Charles Nicholson and his wife Eliza moved into the house. They were to stay at the Lodge, presumably as gardener, until 1921, when William and Mary Ann Wood moved in. While the Benthall family lived at the main house, there was no reference to residents in the Lodge.

Once the Benthalls left, Hugh and Gladys Frampton moved in to the lodge, with at least one daughter, Patricia. By this stage the Lodge had become independent from the house, and had its own large garden. The Framptons celebrated this by renaming the house “Green Hayes”, (at least that was the name given to it in the planning lists, although their Godson, John Westwood, is pretty sure that the house was still known as Holly Bowers Lodge) but when Herbert and Mary Bagshaw moved here in 1954, they restored most of the name, calling it Holly Lodge. They stayed here for 8 years, until Cecil and Alma Barton occupied the Lodge in 1962 with their children, including Andrew (see his note here). The Lodge was demolished in 1973 to make way for Eaton Court, which was first occupied in 1980.

Holly Bowers stables later renamed Mapledene

Domestic servants at Holly Bowers

The James’ family had five servants in 1891: Sarah Price (44), a cook from Paddington, Charlotte Shelmerdene (30) a nurse from Lancaster, Georgina Casey (28) a housemaid from Clerkenwell, Katherine Broom (20), a parlour-maid from Roehampton, and Julia Davis (16) a kitchen-maid from Farnborough, Kent. In addition, there was a school governess, Harriet Bendelock (21), appropriately from Cheltenham,

They had five different servants in 1901: Mary Barrett (35) a cook from St Ives; two housemaids, Emily Casey (38) from Clerkenwell, and Florence Chamberlain (21) from Berkshire; Ellen Hirions (20) a parlour-maid from Birmingham; and Margaret Roberts (19) a kitchen-maid.

There were four or five servants in the Benthall household between 1930 and the outbreak of war. Peculiarly, with one exception, they were all men – Rosa Gomersall being the exception, and she stayed for less than a year. Indeed there were few of the servants who stayed for more than one year. In the six years from 1934 to 1939 they get through eighteen servants! When we see that the lodge and stables were not inhabited while the Benthalls were in the house, it makes us wonder how they treated their staff.

For the first time, in 1901, there were residents above the stables at Holly Bowers. The stables were at the north edge of the grounds backing onto the footpath to Green Lane. Charles Firmin (57) had taken up residence, with his wife Emily (48). They were both from Essex. They had two daughters: Edith (24) a nurse, born in London, and Kate (21) born in Croydon. Kate was a dressmaker. The Firmin family were to remain at the property until 1925, when Charles was 81.

After the Firmin family left there is no record of residents until after the war, when, in 1951, the property is called Mapledene. John Westwood tells us that his parents bought the near derelict stables in 1950 and had them redeveloped as a house, rather as Woodheath stables and Westerland stables were. Mapledene was occupied by Herbert and Violet Westwood, who remained at the property until 1964, when they sold the property to developers. Initially it was proposed to build flats on this site, but it was not until 1975 that Acorn Close was built over the site of the stables. It looks as though the property was uninhabited for 10 years while proposals for the development of the whole site were being thrashed out. For more information about Mapledene, Click here.

Forest Ridge

Forest Ridge was a new house, with a large garden to the rear, built around 1957 to the south of Holly Bowers Lodge. It is one of the shorter-lived properties in the road, since it was demolished sixteen years later, in 1973, to make way for Eaton Court. Only one family lived at this house, Charles and Gwendoline Goldsmith. Andrew Barton recalls Mr Goldsmith in his note. Click here to read it.

What replaced Holly Bowers?

We can get a sense of the size of the grounds to Holly Bowers when we consider what has been built there since it was demolished.

First in 1957, Forest Ridge, was built where Eaton Court is now. Then in 1964 Holly Bowers was demolished, to be replaced by the flats, which were named Mapledene. Next, the north side of Dickens Drive and Copperfield Way were built by 1973. Acorn Close was built by 1976, as had the three houses opposite Foxbury South Lodge, The Marmot, Woodside and Jackdaws. Finally, by 1980 Eaton Court replaced Forest Ridge and Holly Lodge.

By the time all this development was finished 94 residences had been built within the grounds of the original Holly Bowers!