John and Eliza Webster moved into their new house, Woodlands, on the Ashfield Lane, as soon as it was completed in 1871. They had been living in Highgate, but with three children, all under 10 years of age, they wanted the space and quiet of country life. The railway had recently been extended to Chislehurst, and John would find it easy to get into London, where his hosiery business was booming.
Woodlands was a striking house. It looked southwards over a pond on the corner of Ashfield Lane and Kemnal Road and beyond to the Commons, while behind it, to the north, lay Wood Heath, an area of wood and scrubland owned by Earl Sydney, though not forming part of the Commons. It can be seen here in relation to Kemnal Road in an aerial photograph.
When Woodlands was sold in 1923, the sales particulars described it as 'a spacious house, with Stabling, Outbuildings, Garage accomodation, ...beautifully Timbered Gardens and Grounds, Woodland and Rich Park-like Pasture', and as being in a 'Picked Position, on high ground and gravel soil directly overlooking the Beautiful Common'. In all there were over 5 acres of grounds.
The house was built of brick, with a slate roof. It had three floors and a cellar. The front entrance hall was long, 27ft 11in, with a side hall to the garden entrance, a lavatory and W.C. It led directly to the large Drawing Room (25ft 2in by 16ft 5in) at the rear, which overlooked the grounds behind the house. The dining room at the front (25ft 7in by 17ft 9in) had a 'handsome Italian marble mantlepiece', as did the 'Spacious' Morning Room. The remainder of the ground floor was given over to 'fully adequate' Domestic Offices, with a Kitchen, fitted with 'double oven Range and Dresser', Scullery with sink and a rain water Pump, Larder, Pantry, Tradesmen's entrance, and Servants' W.C.
There were five bedrooms on the first floor, with a bathroom (with fireplace), W.C., and a housemaid's pantry, while on the upper floor there were several rooms for linen, lumber, and servants' bedrooms. One large room had been used as a billiards room but was 'adaptable as an excellent Bedroom'.
By 1923, the house was somewhat behind the times. While there was mains gas and water, there was no electricity. The sanitary arrangements were on the cesspool system 'and are believed to be in good order'. Somewhat apologetically, the particulars point out that, it 'would be easy to instal main drainage'.
In 1923, there were well-maintained gardens and grounds. The formal garden area around the house had pretty flower beds and borders, while beyond was a full-sized tennis court, and beyond that, a large, well-stocked Kitchen Garden, Orchard and 'Parklike Grass Land'. The remainder of the grounds was given over to woodland, with 'innumerable fine Trees and Shrubs', with 'much of the Timber..of mature growth and excellent proportions'.
Finally there were outbuildings around a paved stable yard: a Double Garage, Stabling for two horses, Harness rooms, Fruit room, Work shop, potato brick store and a coal cellar. There were two living rooms and a W.C. for outdoor staff.
The Webster family
John and Eliza were married in 1859 in Staffordshire. John was 39, and Eliza was 26. We know little about John's background. He was born in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, and he had set up an oufitters business with his elder brother, William, in London, which suggests that the family had a background in cloth. He married into business, since his wife was a daughter of William Machin, who ran the Waterloo Potteries at Burslem in Stoke on Trent, and they lived there for a while after marrying.
In 1861 John decided to set up a hosiery business in London. The family moved to Highgate, where they had three children, and then a further two after moving to Woodlands.
• Eliza was born in 1861, and after boarding school, lived at home until she married an accountant, Harry Richardson, in 1901,
• Maud was a boarder at a ladies school in Brighton, and was still at home, unmarried, in 1911,
• John William, the eldest son, born in 1865, joined his father in the hosiery business, but moved to live in Croydon after marrying Ethel Martin in 1890,
• Harry was born in Chislehurst in 1873 and went to Windlesham House School in Brighton. He became an art photographer. He married Maud and moved to Plaistow Road in Bromley.
• Fred, born in 1876, was described as a 'gentleman' in 1901, and was still living at home in 1911.
John Webster died in 1896, and his will gave a life interest in the house to his wife, who continued to live there until her death in the autumn of 1922, after which Woodlands was sold.
After the Websters
Cyrus and Dora Adam bought the house in 1923 and were to remain here for ten years. Robert and Violet Burkin worked as their domestic staff, and occupied the flat over the stables, before they moved to live at one of the Websters Cottages, from where Robert worked as a jobbing gardener for a number of the houses in the area, including Mulbarton Court. After 1933 the house was converted into flats by Thomas Smith, but by 1939 the house was purchased and occupied by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and renamed Liskeard Lodge.
This was linked to Foxbury, which CMS acquired at about the same time. Foxbury was a training centre for female missionaries, while Liskeard Lodge was for men. In 1968 CMS moved its training functions to Birmingham and Liskeard Lodge was sold for development. Shortly afterwards Woodlands was demolished, and the houses of Roehampton Drive and Liskeard Close were built in its grounds.
The Webster family name lingered here for a while. The three cottages to the east of Oak Cottage on Ashfield Lane were known as Webster's Cottages, and the pond on the corner of Ashfield Lane and Kemnal Road was called Webster's Pond, but the pond is now gone, and the cottages have been renamed.
Throughout the time that the Websters lived at Woodlands there were two or three house staff, one or more gardeners and a coachman/chaffeur.
We know little of the staff, except for William Bonnett, who is likely to be the bearded gardener shown here on the right. He was an unmarried gardener from Lincolnshire, living above the stables in the grounds of Woodlands. He was born in 1856, aged about 60 when the photographs here were taken, and died in 1925 aged 69. It has not been possible to put names to the other staff.