Kemnal Wood

George Somers Leigh Clarke designed this house shortly before he died at the early age of 57. Kemnal Wood was quite different in design from others houses in Kemnal Road, and indeed from other houses that Clarke designed in Chislehurst (including Walsingham, Walpole, Harley and Pelham in Manor Park).

Kemnal Wood print 1878

A sketch of Kemnal Wood, from the Building News, 1878

A print of Kemnal Wood appeared in The Building News in 1878, reproduced above. The house and stables (but no lodge) were in extensive grounds, stretching to 3.5 acres. The Building News has the following comments on the house: 'This house is a new residence, recently erected for A Jackson Esq., at Chislehurst. The main feature of the ground floor is a large hall or billiard room, with a panelled dado, 7ft. high, and from which lead the reception and principal rooms. Beside the entrance porch is a small private oratory for the use of the family, with panelled dado and open-ribbed roof. The chamber floor contains twelve bed and dressing rooms, bath-room, linen store &c., The building is executed with red brick facings, Box-ground stone, the portion above the first floor being weather-tiled and the roof covered with Broseley tiles. Mr Blake, of Gravesend, has carried out the works under the direction and supervision of the architect, Mr G. Somers Clarke, Mr Bevan being the clerk of works.'

Arthur Jackson, who had the house built, lived there for six years with his family. He had been born in Cambridge in 1839, and was practicing as a solicitor. His South African born wife, Caroline Edith, was four years his junior. At the time of the 1881 census they had an 11 year old daughter, Elinor Mary, and 6 year old son, Francis, with them. By 1884 they had moved to Kensington. Arthur left at least one legacy to Chislehurst, by his gift to the Annunciation Church of the impressive reredos designed by James Brooks in 1877, and exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1879.

By 1885 Charles Balme, a wool brokers agent had moved into Kemnal Wood. He was the elder brother of Nettleton Balme of Inglewood (see page 45), born in 1853. His wife Marion (1857) was born in France, and they had five children: Marion (1879) born in Clapham, Mabel (1882) and Nora (1884) both born in Bayswater, and Charles (1888) and Annie (1890) both born in Chislehurst. Marion (known by her middle name, Eveline), was a great friend of the Tiarks children of Foxbury, and they kept in touch after their marriages.

The Balmes had moved to South Kensington by 1894, though they retained their friends here, often dining with the Tiarks and others. Marion appears to have been a fine singer. She died in 1915, when she was 58. She is buried in the churchyard of the Church of the Annunciation. Charles junior was later to marry Gwendoline Hawes from Nizels. She died in 1928, and he died in 1935. They are buried together in St Nicholas churchyard.

The house was vacant for a while, but in 1896 a doctor, Albert John Venn, occupied the house, and did so until 1899, when Thomas Bell Lightfoot and his family moved in. Lightfoot was born in 1850 and was a mechanical engineer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Emilia, his wife, was a year younger and from Sunderland. At the time of the 1891 census, they had a son and two daughters living with them: Gerald (23) was a law student born in Newcastle. Evelyn (21) was also born there, while Gwendoline (19) was born at Blackheath. They also had a visitor, Beatrice Temple, (19) from Chichester.

Kemnal Wood

An image of the house, undated, found in Chislehurst Library

The family had moved on by 1908, when Thomas Ashworth and his family became resident here. Thomas was a retired civil engineer born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1852. His wife was also from Oldham, born in1866. They were married in 1888. At the time of the census in 1911 they had six surviving children, five of whom, two sons and three daughters, were living with them at Kemnal Wood. John had been born in Manchester in 1890, and George three years later in Oldham. The three daughters were a little younger. Eileen was 12 and Sybil 10, both born in Prestwick, and six year-old Enid had been born in London.

In 1920 George Wichmann and his wife Gertrude were resident and were to stay here until 1930. Walter Herbert Taylor and his family were in residence in 1935. They were a family who were economical with names. Walter and Margaret Alice, his wife, and their three children, Walter John, Margaret Mary and Joan Mary were to stay at the house until the war.
In 1948 the house split into two residences. The main house retained the original name. The stables were converted into a home, and named Woodpeckers. Later, in 1959, another home was created out of the main house and named Fairlawn.

Thomas and Hilda Kerr lived at Kemnal Wood from 1949 to 1957. When Queenie and Robin Thompson moved in they divided the house into two flats; the second flat was occupied by Kathleen (Kittie) and Noel Sandiford.

Meanwhile Woodpeckers was also organised into flats, and three families lived here until 1972. In Fairlawn, Francis and Elizabeth Wymer were the first and only occupants, staying here until the whole house was demolished in 1972.

Andrew Barton who lived at Holly Bowers Lodge remembers the empty house before it was demolished: 'The house was deserted for about a year, and we would investigate it whenever we could. We once got into the old loft, to find thick dust covering loads of discarded clothes, boxes and equipment. One day we found old tennis rackets, of a strange shape, possibly for real tennis'.

Within two years of the house being demolished the south side of Dickens Drive, Dorrit Way and the first part of Pickwick Way were built on Kemnal Wood grounds, together with the four neo-Georgian houses which front onto Kemnal Road, now called Pickwick, Cherith, Middlemarch and The Roses.

Altogether 20 houses were erected on the old Kemnal Wood grounds. It was the last of the big houses to be demolished (thus far), but now everything about it has gone; name, buildings, fences, walls, everything.

Domestic servants at Kemnal Wood

There were four servants registered in the 1881 census return: Caroline Hobbs (37), a parlour-maid from Market Lavington Wiltshire; Frederick Holloway (19), a coachman from Halstead, Kent ; Emma Lee (39), a cook from Sevenoaks, and Jane Mervin (35), a housemaid from St Mary Cray.
There were also six staff living in the house in 1891; Elizabeth Hopkins (54) a cook from Gloucester; Lydia Castle (34) a parlour-maid from Bodicote in Oxfordshire; Lydia Cotton (37) a housemaid from Suffolk; Mary Steven (40) a widow who was nurse to the children, from London; an undernurse, Ruth Cluer (21) from Sussex; and Margaret Rowland (21) a kitchen-maid from Shropshire. There were rooms above the stables and these were occupied in 1891 by George Oakley, a coachman from Camberwell. He was 29. His wife, Lavinia (27) is from Devon. There were no children present. There were no occupants in 1901.
The servants in 1901 were: a butler, John Skimblebury (35) from Cornwall; Clara Johnson (34) a cook from Surrey; two housemaids, Ellen Cheeseman (33) from Ashford; and Emma Lea (20) from North Cray; Ada Wilding (28) a maid from Essex; Florence Mills (20) a kitchen-maid from West Malling, Kent; and Robert Clutton (17) a footman from Newbury.
The Ashworth family employed seven servants in 1911: Ann Murphy (51) from Ireland was Cook, and young Edith Cragg (21) was the kitchen maid. There were two housemaids, Rose Fuller (25) from Guildford and Kay Phillips (23) from South Willsborough in Kent. Margaret Bennett (28) was parlour-maid from Portsmouth, and there were two nurses, presumably for the younger girls, Isobel Morgan from Kent, and Jessie Duguid from Banffshire.
There were only two servants identified at Kemnal Wood from 1935 to 1939, and none in the previous 15 years.