Children and Kemnal Manor - fond memories
Thanks to Andrew Barton, Jerry Bourne, Peter Kirk, David Lockstone, Michael Pinchon, and Colin Webster, who have sent in their recollections of playing in the grounds of Kemnal Manor. This is a composite note put together from their accounts.
The whole of Kemnal was an absolute paradise for young kids growing up and venting energy.
The Lodge to the Kemnal Manor estate was on the A20, at the entrance to the Dock Labour Board grounds. Its remains were still there when I was a kid in the late 40's early 50's. It was in a precarious state with no roof and I understood that it was the victim of a WW2 bomb but that that may have been fanciful imaginations of a young kid - most likely it was just derelict or damaged from a fire.
We used to play in and around the house (no health and safety then). I remember we found a penny in the rubble on what was the kitchen floor. This instigated a major search to reveal about 6d of green pennies with which I tried to purchase some sweets from a very suspicious shopkeeper!
The road from it used to lead right up to the 'Tudor House'. This had a small orchard at the back of it and a high wall. A small field (which horses were subsequently kept in) went from the wall, to the back of the occupied lodge house and to the side of Kemnal Lane. It was over this wall that we used to scrump apples and pears, hopefully without being caught by the lodge keeper.
We came across the derelict manor by accident. I remember walking inside it but there were no floors so you could see down into the basement and up through the roof. I thought the staircase was still there but as I don't remember going upstairs it may be just the sides. Walking round the grounds there were high chain link fences possibly with barbed wire on top. Scattered around were hut frames (I thought they were metal Nissen type) and a little cottage type building (not the lodge). There were a lot of telephone cables running from the house to the road and the Pagoda ornament was still there and used to carry some of the cables.
Before it was set alight by vandals, Kemnal Manor had cellars underneath and out-buildings that were once used by the army. As kids we got into the cellars and found some odds and ends, such as a large felling axe, a massive cut throat razor made of wood (an old barbers sign perhaps or a stage prop). We also used to go looking for lead, which we sold to Cook and Bakers Scrap Metal Merchants in Sidcup.
We always had the feeling we shouldn't have really been there and used to frighten each other with various made up stories about the ghosts that were supposed to haunt the old building. It could be very spooky there, especially as darkness was setting in on a cold wet winter afternoon.
The effects of the fire were still fresh and we would climb up on the roof and into the ruined rooms. It must have been a magnificent building once, but I was young and did not appreciate such things then. The driveway from the Lodge had a sweeping bend to it, the grounds having lush shrubs and non-native trees, although I recall some large oaks.
I spent every day I could there, mostly with a friend, Peter Long. 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.
To the west of the Manor towards Kemnal Road I remember a wooded area that led to a very large black pond/small lake. The area around the pond must have been at one time some kind of ornamental garden, as at certain times of the year you could see flowers emerging which were obviously planted in some kind of order. I particularly remember large beds of snowdrops and then later on in the Spring the beds of daffodils. Also in the wooded area adjacent to the pond was a grave with a headstone (probably that of a much loved pet.) The inscription read something along the lines of 'for dear old Bob until you and your master are reunited'.
The black pond was the ultimate play area. Originally it was oval in shape with a large island to one end surrounded by a deep ditch that came and went back to the pond. Gil Neave and I used to chop trees down to make a bridge over that ditch and then tightrope walk over to the island. If you fell in though, you landed in 18" of water backed up by 4 feet of the foulest smelling black mud that you could ever imagine. It would take a lot of effort to get you out.
As kids we were told that Lord Kemnal's son was a lone child and that he wasn't allowed to play with other children. The rumour had it that he used to spend hours in his little boat rowing around the black pond. One day he fell out of his boat and drowned and his ghost was supposed to be seen on the water or by the pond. A complete load of codswallop, but that was the story at the time. A small boat could be seen on the pond from the road for years. We used to ride our track bikes around that pond. The bikes were home built, from old bike bits from the 'Tip' or 'Cook and Bakers' scrap merchant.
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 Nissen 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.
The 'Whitehouse' to us was everything from a Nuclear Bunker to HQ of MI5 when we were kids. We would squeeze inside via the steel door, which was stuck a-jar, striking matches to see our way. We found ourselves crunching about on the skeletal remains of birds that had flown in through the vents and not been able to fly out.
Kemnal had beautiful woods attached that my father would use for his bean sticks. I would go with him to cut them as a child. I believe we used to nickname them Bluebell Woods because of the abundance of bluebells that grew there.