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(this page is regularly updated: latest update October 2017)
The Short Story
Despite Beckenham Place Park and the Mansion being previously dated to 1773 in several publications, it now emerges that John Cator the younger acquired property here as early as 1757. He also retained land his father John Cator the elder had held in Herefordshire prior to coming to London to start a timber business by the Thames.
The land on which the park stands was mostly in the Manor of Foxgrove and some parts at Southend and Stumps Hill in the manor or parish of Lewisham. John Cator built a 'fine house at Stumps Hill', according to his father in law Peter Collinson, between 1760 and 1762. Between those dates and 1785 he acquired more property from the manors of Foxgrove and Beckenham. He purchased the manorial rights and land of Beckenham Manor in 1773 but by this time he was well established at Stumps Hill. However, in 1777 parts of the park were still owned by Mrs. Amy Burrell, widow of Peter Burrell. Also, some areas next to Southend village and what is now Downham may have been owned by other landlords into the 1790's i.e. the Forster estate and Earl of Rockingham.
Aerial view mid 1990's looking east. Stable block and mansion with parkland and woodland above
The house built at Stumps Hill by 1762, was perhaps called Stumps Hill as his father-in-law describes it. Maybe the name changed to Beckenham Place when John Cator the younger bought the manor of Beckenham in 1773 from Viscount Bolingbroke, and perhaps the epiphet 'Park' was added when the land holdings around the park were consolidated perhaps in 1785 when he diverted the road making the old road his Park driveway.
John Cator the younger's other land holdings in the area were
widespread, mingled with the holdings of the Burrells and Lord
Bolingbroke as shown on estate maps of 1780 for Langley Park to the
south of Beckenham village and east toward Bromley. These divers
holdings enabled him to engage in some land exchanges with the Burrells
so that both families consolidated estates. The Burrells mainly to the
south of Beckenham village and the Cators mainly to the north of the
As his father, John Cator the elder, had apparently purchased a property in Bromley in addition to his business in Southwark, perhaps there were some landholdings that passed down to the son. This is an avenue of possible research.
Subsequently after his death in 1806 his heirs began to lease or sell off the estate while buying another estate at Woodbastwick in Norfolk . A series of leaseholders occupied the mansion and park during most of the 19th century.
In the 20th century the mansion was a school, Craven College around 1900, a sanatarium from 1905, a private golf club was establishen in the parkland from 1907, and latterly a public park and golf course from 1928 when the remaining park was purchased by the London County Council from the Cator Estate. It later became the property of London Borough of Lewisham around 1972 after the dispersal of the GLC.
attempt was made
to increase golf course facilities and build indoor tennis courts
around 1992 which would have reduced the accessible public open space.
Those plans were rejected by a Public Inquiry. Since 2014 the park has
been subject to
a Lottery Fund bid and the public golf course closed in 2016.
In 2017 Lewisham Council approved a planning application to do
restoration work in the park, to rebuild the burnt out Stable Block and
landscaping work including restoring a lake in the park which had over
time dried up, and become filled in. The Mansion is under a short term
lease to a property management company, RJK Properties and remains
unrestored and still on the English Heritage 'at risk' register.
is expanded in increasing detail, read on.
Many accounts of the history of Beckenham Place date the whole creation of the park to 1773 when John Cator acquired the Manor of Beckenham, which seems to have been first stated in Hasted's History and Topography of Kent. But our research has shown that this is not the case and only part of the story.
In the early 18th century the park area and
surroundings was a collection of fields, meadows and woods. John Cator
purchased land which constitutes the park in instalments or tranches from about 1757 up to the
1590 - The will of Izarde Curtis or Curtys of Beckenham is reported as recording " my house and lande within the pische of Lewisham called Stumpeshill" 'pische' is believed to be a misreading or spelling of parish.
Other items to be included in the timeline would be the occupiers of Home Farm, the Stableblock and Lodges. Further research into census records and other archives is always necessary.
a long time the current park's creation was dated to 1773 when John
Cator purchased the manor and rights of Beckenham Manor from Lord
Bolingbroke. However the story begins significantly earlier and is more
complex than hitherto believed.
the authors, contributors and recorders we should
acknowledge and thank:
Eric Inman (in memorium) produced a series of articles for our newsletter during the 1990's, who's work is largely reproduced here with amendments and updated information. We recommend for reading any or all of these for background information and interesting detail. Some are now out of print and only available from libraries or reference libraries. Hasted's work is now published on-line and several archives can be searched. Items from the Copeland collection of material has also provided clues and material from Bromley Local Studies library. Resources have been researched at Bromley Local Studies, Kent Archive Maidstone, The British Library, Parliament Archive Catalogue.
Dated estate plans in the British Library have enabled the analysis of landholdings by landlords at specific dates.
we focus on the land and history of the remaining now public Park
Beckenham and Woodbastwick" would explain the wider activities of the
Cator family and
other publications about Beckenham, Lewisham, Sydenham, Blackheath and
any others regarding Cator property. However, we believe we have some
updates here which correct some information in other publications.
From 1354 (Foxgrove
Manor only) to 1700
Hasted says about Foxgrove:
1590 - The will of Izarde Curtis or Curtys of Beckenham is reported as recording " my house and lande within the pische of Lewisham called Stumpeshill" 'pische' is believed a misreading or spelling of parish. Whether this refers to property on the site of the current mansion is speculative but may be supported by indications of buildings on Rocque's map of 1745
- A Plan of
Beckenham Manor lands is drawn by Nicholas Lane showing
between Sir Henry Snellyer of Beckenham and Sir John Dolston of
According to Hasted, the manor was earlier inherited by two
and divided into two parts or moieties between them and their relevant
After a few generations the owner of one part purchased the other part
rejoining the Manor into one. This image from the plan is the legend
explaining the division, written in 1623 and transcribed by Proudlove
in 1766. Matching the plan against the Foxgrove Manor plan also shows
that none or very little Beckenham Manor land is in the
The Plot of the Manor of
Beckenham with the Demesne Lands Woods Pastures Meadows and Brooks unto
same pertaining now used and belonging situate lying & being in
Parish of Beckenham In the County of Kent. And is now the Manor Land
Two Men as yet un-divided (that is to say?) Henry Snellyer of the
Beckenham aforesaid his own part) or Moiety. And Sir John Dolston (sic
Dalston?) of the Parish
of Dolston in the County of Cumberland Kt. the other part or Moiety
inscribed and plotted one Tenement or Farm and the Land unto the same
being also in the said Parish of Beckenham called the Abbey and is
coloured about in Yellow. Being the said S. Henry’s own tenement and
now Leased out unto Richard Baldwyn of the same Yeo. All which said
Manor and Tenement
and the said several Lands etc. were at the Request of the said Sir
Measured and Plotted in the month of November in the year 1623. By
Sir John Dalston is traceable on History of Parliament online
(?) - Manor
of Beckenham rejoined which had been divided into two
moieties (parts) becomes rejoined under
Sir Walter St. John. This extract from Hasted's History and Topography
of Kent is part of the explanation of how the manor was divided and
1688 - Peter Burrell I of Beckenham purchases Kelseys mansion and land from a descendant of the Brograves. (Hasted). Kelseys is an estate of which part will become Kelsey Park, Beckenham. Another public park in the remainder of a private estate.
1692 - Peter
Burrell II of Beckenham born, he will become Peter Burrell
I of Langley through marrying Amy Raymond (daughter of Hugh Raymond). Peter Burrells I, II, and
III can be traced through History of Parliament online as they were all
MP's and held various posts. It was said the
Burrells rose to fame by not doing anything much i.e. Lord Gwydir
inherited his title from an uncle.
1708 - Sir Walter St. John
dies in possession of all of Manor of
(Hasted). Henry Viscount St. John
inherits. It should be
that in some cases landowners may not have resided in the area. The
Bolingbrokes had estates in Lincolnshire and elsewhere as did the Earl
of Rockingham and Sondes families (Kent).
- An inventory is taken
of all Hugh Raymond's assets to do with the
Sea Bubble affair. He will become indirectly associated with the story
of Beckenham Place. The British
Library has various records such as:
True and Exact particular and inventory of all and singular the lands
... and personal estate whatsoever which H.
was seised or possessed of, upon the first of June, 1720 ... Made and
delivered pursuant to the late act of Parliament. Together with the
abstract of the same
1739 - The Foundling Hospital: After 17 years of tireless campaigning, Thomas Coram finally received a Royal Charter from George II enabling him to establish his Foundling Hospital. Peter Collinson is one of the supporters of the Hospital to address the problems of orphans, abandoned children, poverty and infant mortality. This was no immediate solution to problems but eventually led to improvements. As an illustration of living conditions in the 18th century, and even the 16th and 19th, it is enlightening. No direct link to the park but there was a small workhouse in Beckenham for the locally impoverished. For a long period people were associated with the Parish of their birth and if found in poverty in another parish were returned to their 'home' parish for poor relief. Some court records show rehabilitation orders for removal of people to home parishes. I recommend "London Life in the 18th Century" by M.Dorothy George if you can get a copy for conditions of poverty, working conditions, housing and mortality.
1742 - Henry 1st Viscount St. John dies, Manor of Beckenham inherited by Henry 2nd Viscount St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke
1745 - Rocque's Map published showing the park area and about 10 miles around London. Note the houses or farms on Stoms Hill which would predate the Mansion.Some buildings on Stumps or Stoms Hill make us curious about any pre-existing buildings. Certainly there was a house or farm near the Mansion which is illustrated on the Road Diversion plan, of which more later.The detail in Rocque's Map and some of the names are perhaps questionable. Rocque has Stoms instead of Stumps Hill and Langstead Wood is called Morrisswood or Lewisham Lands on estate plans. Also the road runs more north/south than it does east west on his map which might be regarded as schematic rather than accurate? As he was mapping all of London and its surroundings some short cuts and errors are likely. See the comparison with the Andrews and Drury map of 1769 later on.
1748 - The Cator timber business recorded as John Cator and Son (Manning) at Mouldstrand Wharf, Bankside.
1749 - Peter Collinson moves from his house in Peckham to Ridgeway House, Mill Hill. Though seemingly a long way from Cator's home at Southwark it must be remembered that Collinson had a business in Gracechurch Street, London and both families probably met at Quaker gatherings. The Meeting House in Long Lane, Southwark is a likely venue. Whether any association had formed by this time is unkown.
1749 (or 1751?) - Frederick, 3rd Viscount St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke inherits the Manor of Beckenham. The fact that some aristocrats had more than one title and sometimes changed names when intermarrying or inheriting estates can add some confusion to tracing events. Although it seems Bolingbroke did not own much land which is now in the park apart from a couple of plots his sale of the Beckenham Manor lands to Cator did allow Cator to become 'Lord of the Manor' but without any title other than Esquire after 1773.
1751 - Death of Henry 1st Viscount Bolingbroke
1753 - John Cator the younger of Southwark marries Mary Collinson, daughter of Peter Collinson FRS, merchant and botanist. The marriage settlement document is in Surrey Archive. More about John and Mary
1756 - Peter Burrell I (1692-1756) dies and properties inherited by his widow Mrs. Amy Burrell. This includes parts of Foxgrove Manor which are now in the park. Also his son Peter Burrell II of Langley Park inherits other properties (needs clarification). Peter Burrell I had been an MP, and a director of the South Sea Company also involved in the South Sea Bubble affair like Hugh Raymond.
1757 - John Cator buys lands at Stumps Hill (P.Manning source). "The property of Francis Valentine whose ownership was demonstrated by the inclusion of a family tree. John Cator paid £1000 on 25th November 1757 for a messuage, outbuildings, yard, garden and several pieces of land at Southend, Lewisham."
Whether this is the Stumps Hill land is unconfirmed. Also moving records onto databases might not have the same detail as old card indexes and we cannot find the record online.
1757 - Frederick Viscount Bolingbroke marries Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of the Duke of Marlborough.
1757 - Viscount Bolingbroke exchanges the Beckenham 'Old' Manor House opposite St. George's Church and land with Peter Burrell II(Bromley Local Studies/BLS)
Bromley archive has this record:
1/2 August 1757 Lease and release and exchange of property between Right Honourable Frederick Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, Baron of Lydiard Cregote, Wiltshire and Viscount St John Baron Battersea of Surrey (1st part) and Peter Burrell of Beckenham, Kent, esquire. The first parties (one person with several titles) assign the mansion house known as the Manor House at Beckenham, Kent with 8 acres of land to Burrell, in exchange for a messuage called Woolsey's Farm and lands and woodland in Beckenham.
So the subsequent purchase of Beckenham manor land by Cator, we think, excludes the manor house site opposite St. George's Church.
The Cator estate plan of 1864 excludes the Old Manor house site and any land south of Beckenham High Street and Bromley Road.
Woolseys Farm seems to be land at Clay Hill near Shortlands which is on an estate map of 1723 in the British Library. The Old Manor house later becomes the property of Henry Hoare before the bulk of Burrell estates are sold.
1759 - John Cator exchanges lands in Beckenham and Lewisham with Jones Raymond and Peter Burrell II(1724-1775) via Parliamentary Private Act http://www.portcullis.parliament.uk. This may include the land at Stumps Hill but needs more research. "An Act for exchanging certain Messuages, Lands and Hereditaments, in the Parishes of Beckingham (sic) and Lewisham, in the County of Kent, Part of the Estate late of Hugh Raymond Esquire, deceased, for other Lands and Hereditaments in the said Parish of Beckingham, belonging to John Cator the younger, and for settling the Lands so taken in Exchange to the same Uses, as the Lands given in Exchange stand limited, and for enabling Jones Raymond and Peter Burrell Esquires, to grant Building Leases of other Parts of the Estate, late of the said Hugh Raymond." ...from Parliament archive catalogue. This implies that John had considerable land holdings already by the age of 31.
1760 - 1762 - Cator builds the house on Stumps Hill as per comment by Peter Collinson in his Hortus Collinsonianus. Cator would have lived here and at Southwark or later at the Adelphi.
1762 - Collinson records in a letter his visit to John's house newly built on Stumps Hill. (maybe visiting his now pregnant daughter?).
It is now established that John Cator certainly came to live at the house on Stumps Hill much earlier than 1773 as there are records of him buying land in the area in 1757, exchanging land with Peter Burrell and Jones Raymond in 1759. John Cator's famous botanist father in law, Peter Collinson speaks of his purchasing a fine estate and building a house in letters dated 1761 and 1763. So we now know that the original house dates to 1760/2 as the most recent revelation is a note by Collinson in his Hortus Collinsonianus (catalogue of his plants) in which he says:
"Sept. 17, 1762, went, for the first time, to visit my son-in-law,John Cater (who married my daughter), at his new-built house, now finished, at Stump's Hill, half way (on the south side of the road) between Southend and Beckenham, in Kent, began in the spring 1760, on a pretty wooded estate which he had then purchased. The plantations about it, all of his own doing, I found in a very thriving condition, and when grown up will adorn so stately a house, in so delectable a situation, and make it a Paradise. In his woods grows the native English Chesnut spontaneously. P. Collinson, F.R.S."
Then the publisher of this catalogue, Lambert says :When I visited these grounds, in 1812, I was much struck by the remarkably healthy appearance of many fine trees, including, as nearly as I can recollect, Cedars, Exotic Firs, Liriodendrons.
Though this map is part of the 1766 Foxgrove Manor estate plan, it seems to show a building above the 't' in Cator's near top right of picture
1762 - John Cator's father retires to Bromley (Manning). It is said he had a house in Bromley and maybe some of property? Could it have been left to John the younger? John certainly had some land in Bromley and whether he purchased it or inherited has not been discovered.
1763 - a daughter Maria (also referred to as Mary) born to John and Mary Cator.1763 is also the year in which Cator’s father died and his mother came to stay with him, presumably selling the family home, which was somewhere in Bromley. John inherits the timber business.
1763 - This example of a land exchange illustrates how property deals were conducted..... 25/26 March 1763 Lease and release of a piece of land called Stone Mead in Beckenham, Kent, containing one acre and two rood from John Catorthe younger of Southwark, Surrey, merchant to Peter Burrell of Beckenham, esquire in exchange for land called Gatton's Mead, containing 2 1/2 acres in Beckenham. (Bromley Archive)
1766 - Maria dies in infancy, John's sister also dies after a long illness. Research is perhaps necessary into epidemics in 1766 such as smallpox/measles. Many infant deaths were attributed to 'fever' but diseases such as measles, dyptheria, whooping cough, smallpox, scarlet fever, typhus, cholera, typhoid were all common, attributable to poor hygene, or not effectively treatable until well into the 19th century and beyond.
1766 - Foxgrove Manor estate plan transcribed by Proudlove, from the 1720 version, showing plots owned by John Cator. The land within the Foxgrove Manor which became the park was only the northernmost part of Foxgrove Manor. John Cator added some land purchased from the Forsters and Francis Flower of Southend in Lewisham and possibly the Earl of Rockingham who is identified on the Foxgrove Manor plan. The records of this area are more difficult to trace but the Rockinghams, Sondes family and Lees Court Estate possessed land at Mottingham, Lewisham and Bromley. Estates were not always contiguous areas of land but very divers holdings often being the odd field, wood or farm. Intermarriage was one way these widespread estates accumulated. It seems John Cator acquired his early land acquisitions as they came on the market. The death of an estate holder might prompt the heir to sell some unwanted sites.
On the 1766 map Cator's land is surrounded by the holdings of Jones Raymond. The Hop Ground, Pill Crofts etc outlined by a dark line are listed as Raymond's. It may be that plots not heavily outlined near Cator's are already his property (more research). The Lord Bolingbroke annotation between two ''Cators'' is clarified on the Beckenham Manor plan as being a small plot owned by Bolingbroke but leased to someone else. So there was a jumble of ownership. Also few buildings are indicated on these plans so Rocques map is an indicator of where buildings may have been.
Some field shapes are recognizable to this day. Thistle Down is the modern day Crab Hill field and Lewisham Lands is most of the woodland (Summerhouse Wood). Lewisham Land Hills is Railway field and adjacent woodland. Natt Brooks is Summerhouse Field and the Common.
This image is from the 1776 redrawing which is easier to read. The Cator holdings do not change between the two versions apart from some acquisitions in the village 'high street'.
Reproduced by permission of British Library Shelfmark(s): Cartographic Items Maps 188.k.3.(6.)
A bit more can be said about the Foxgrove Manor plan as it depicts lands owned by Jones Raymond. It also depicts lands owned by the Burrells and Lord Bolingbroke as well as Cator. Some fields are outlined heavily to show they are Jones Raymond's and a list at the side shows field names and acreages. Some plots are just named without an owner indicated i.e. Lewisham Lands 18.2.29 (18 acres 2 rods 29 perches). 2 plots called Morrisswood west and east bound the hop ground and may already be Cator's. 'A' Earl of Rockingham is indicated as being grazed by oxen (12 great beasts of Foxgrove). This part is believed to have been a marshy area by the river probably no good for agriculture. The road which is now the drive through the park is the boundary of the Foxgrove Manor and partly of the Beckenham Manor lands, but it seems some of the land along the western side of the road is not in either manor, possibly being Forster Estate/Lewisham Manor. The description Lewisham Lands may denote land in Lewisham Manor which was or would be acquired by Cator. Lewisham Land Hills and Nat Brooks are owned by Jones Raymond as indicated in the legend below. The small lozenge shaped plot is believed to be a sandpit on the river floodplain. No buildings are drawn, only boundaries and enclosures. In my reading of the various maps it seems the line between Hop Ground and Morriss Wood East is the line of the stream in the park going back almost to Foxgrove Farm before it was straightened as part of the golf course landscape. It would make sense for a stream to be a boundary line. The Lord Bolingbroke plot by the church can be related to the Beckenham Manor plan as fields named the Pound, Church and Broom next to the church. Map shown under 1768. Another plan of about 1780 of Burrell's holdings in Langley does show more 'habitation' as it was drawn for the purpose of recording leases and leaseholders. Some plans may have been drawn for marriage settlement or the will of a landowner i.e. Jones Raymond dies 2 years after the 1766 plan.
1768 - Jones Raymond dies with no direct heir so Foxgrove Manor passes to Amy and Peter Burrell as Jones Raymond's sister and her husband. Some lands appear in the name of Mrs Burrell or Peter Burrell on estate plans. The Burrell's already owned other lands in Beckenham/Bromley such as Kelseys'. It was common for intermarriage between land owning families. There were at least two marriages between other members of Burrells and Raymonds families. The Burrell's become 'of Langley' rather than 'of Beckenham' perhaps reflecting the grandeur of the estate. The Raymonds and Burrells probably never lived in Foxgrove manor house which was more of a farm. The house was moated perhaps reflecting that it was an older more fortified property at one time, maybe a bit like Ightham Moat. In any case the house and moat are now lost forever.
Foxgrove farm/manor house 1865 OS map, note the Ice House
1768 - The Manor of Beckenham plan (below) redrawn/transcribed by Proudlove from 1623(in The British Library) Beckenham manor rejoined. With the Foxgrove plan above it is possible to fit The Bolingbroke land next to the church with Church Field and Broom Field in the plan below and see how a piece of land is unaccounted for by both Manors. This plan raises a question as to why the Manor opposite the church is not annotated as belonging to Peter Burrell from the prior exchange in 1757.
reproduced by kind permission of the British Library © Shelfmark(s): Cartographic Items Maps 188.k.3.(4.)
On the above plan Beckenham Place would eventually occupy the bottom left corner outside of the Beckenham Manor boundary. The plan is orientated with North at the bottom and the road running down from the church is the road which runs through the park from approxomately just above Hicks Field. Hicks Field, Leigh and Sir Francis Delves plots are marked as Lord Bolingbrokes on the Foxgrove plans. Another example of the mixed ownerships and of how if a plot belonged to another landowner it was described as 'Lord Bolingbroke' or 'John Cator' and the field name omitted.
1766 - Two persons accused of stealing and receiving timber taken from Cator's Bankside business, (Surrey Archive QS2/6/1766/Mic/20-21)
1768 - Viscount Bolingbroke and Diana Spencer are divorced by Act of Parliament, the estate plan above may relate to the settlement. Or as Bolingbroke reputedly had financial problems he may have been considering a sale of the estate. It seems Diana Spencer was awarded £800 per year from the estates of Bolingbroke, a considerable sum at the time and different sources will value it differently but £1 in 1750 may be equivalent to £180 today. So Ms. Spencer may have been receiving about £1.4 million p.a.
This book available online has a good account of the divorce.
"Dr Johnson's Friend and Robert Adam's Client Topham Beauclerk"
1769 - John Cator was certainly living at Beckenham Place in 1769 for his house is clearly marked on a map published by Andrews, Drury & Herbert in that year. He may well have come to live here soon after his marriage in 1753 but now we know from Collinson that he certainly built a house by 1762. Peter Collinson writes to Benjamin Franklin about being on the eve of his daughters wedding 12th August 1753, but John Cator retained property at Bankside, Southwark until 1794. This map shows a building with a rounded bay at the rear as is the construction of the mansion but no projecting portico at this time or a lake. The scale prevents much detail being drawn but the record of other landowners is interesting and a clue to further investigations at varioius archives.
The Rocque map is further below for comparison and as the road alignment is almost the same on both maps 'it may be' that Rocque shows buildings either side of the road on or near the site of the mansion prior to the 1760/62 date of the building of the mansion. Investigation of the land around and opposite the mansion, under the current car park, might reveal some remains. Speculation probably based on these maps has been that the mansion is on the site of a previous building or is an alteration of it. If Cator bought an existing 'messuage' of buildings and land he may either have demolished and rebuilt in a fashionable design or altered the building. We may never know the full story.
1772/80 - John Cator is MP for Wallingford (History of Parliament online)
1773 - John purchases the Manor of Beckenham from Lord Bolingbroke who had inherited the estate and Bolingbroke title in 1749/51 from his uncle. The purchase of the Lordship of the Manor of Beckenham in 1773 from Lord Bolingbroke confused the date of John Cator coming to live in the area and the date of the house for many years with many references still citing 1773 as the date of the building. Cator obviously occupied and had effective ownership of some of the land surrounding his home long before this and indeed did not acquire the Lordship of the Manor of Foxgrove until 1793 in a land rationalisation deal with his neighbour Peter Burrell III(Lord Gwydir 1754-1820). Not to be confused with the Private Act recorded in parliamentary archives describes some land exchanges in 1759 with the Peter Burrell who was Lord Gwydir's grandfather.
The purchase of land from Bolingbroke was less than straightforward as subsequent court cases in Chancery and Kings Bench demonstrate which involved the transfer of land and obligations to third parties i.e. Mrs Hare had lien on part of the lands (see Internet searches). 'Hare' is shown as the owner of some fields on various estate plans outside of the park area. Bolingbroke's reason for selling the land seems to be related to the dissolution of his marriage to his wife Lady Diana and his financial problems. He had a reputation for gambling and general excess. This extract from legal proceedings illustrates from:
"Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery ..., Volume 2"
So Cator bought the Beckenham Manor estate it seems not knowing that other parties had some 'lien' on either land or income from land. The details in case records are complex and in legal jargon but make some interesting reading. it seems the cases dragged on until about 1787. Perhaps a lawyer may offer us a simplified summary of the related cases concerning Mrs Hare, Boldero, Cator and Bolingbroke. In any case the various land transfers, purchases, and presumably management of the estates took up much of Cator's time.
This extract from 'The Law Library - published 1841 indicates that Bolingbroke may have been fraudulant in the sale of the estate....
1776 - Foxgrove Manor plan redrawn by John Sale (from several plans) in British Library. It shows there was no change in Cator's holdings in the park area but does show he has acquired some land in Beckenham Village. Other plans of Langley Park show his holdings were considerable but widespread from Bromley to Elmers End and intermingled with Burrell's. The map under '1766' is this version but as said is easier to read.
1776 - From 1776 to 1782 John Cator is listed as also being resident at the Adelphi, a development of apartments near The Strand built by the Adam brothers, on www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol18/pt2/pp131-137#h3-0007
He would have desired a town residence for his business and political career. Other residents in the Adelphi were the Adam brothers themselves and Garrick the actor. He died their in 1806 so must have been in residence longer and his appartment was left to his heir John Barwell Cator.
1777 - In this estate plan of 1777 below the plots called Pill Crofts and Hop Ground (or part of it) are belonging to Mrs. (Amy) Burrell so we might assume that Cator had Morrisswood east and west and maybe part of the hop ground. He is shown as owning land surrounding Mrs. Burrell's. Then we have to ask how the 1793 exchanges between Cator and Burrell affected holdings or indeed whether any other exchanges took place of which we are yet not aware.
Some of the field boundaries in these maps are still visible in the landscape on aerial photo maps such as Google Earth and Bing. The tree lined boundare is I believe the route of the stream and some trees may still be in the landscape, particularly one near the southern boundary of the park on the stream/ditch line.
The earlier map published by John Rocque in 1745 does not show the hop field, but depicts a continuous stretch of woodland called Langstead Wood stretching all the way to the Ravensbourne. The hop field may have been created between 1748 and 1766, but Rocque's map is not highly detailed being of a scale of about 1 inch to the mile. The two later maps of 1766 and 1776 are probably accurate as traces of the features depicted on them can still be seen on modern ordnance survey maps. By the time of this plan below of 1777 the Amy Burrell holding is surrounded almost by John Cator's land. The top boundary of Hop Garden, Pill Croft and part of Langrove Field is I believe the original course of the stream which supplied Cator's lake. The stream was later straightened and buried in a pipe perhaps to extend parts of the golf course.
1780 - A Map of Langley Park area: In the British Library, part of which is missing, illustrates how Cator's acquisitions and Burrell's possessions are very mixed. The Cator properties are extensive to the south of Beckenham village but the subsequent estate maps of the early 19th century show that the Burrells owned most land to the south of the village and the Cators the land mainly to the north.
reproduced by kind permission of the British Library © Shelfmark(s): Cartographic Items Maps 188.k.3.(3.)
1781 - John Cator is High Sherif of Kent, a position appointed each year from March.
John Cator - Portrait by Joshua Reynolds
1781 - Carl von Linne the younger, Linnaeus' son, comes to London. We don't know if this is the Linnaeus who might have met John Cator but as Carl junior did meet Joseph Banks, Solander and others who knew Peter Collinson then there is a potential link. Carl contracted an illness which killed him on his return to Sweden in 1783. It is recorded as jaundice. See Linnaean Society and Wikipedia entries. If this is the Carl von Linne who met Cator then its unlikely he had anything to do with estate planting as Cator had been at Stumps Hill for about 20 years.
1782 - John's brother Joseph is in possession of land and manor house at Clockhouse between Beckenham and Penge according to the estate plan in Bromley Library. Being a younger brother he had not it seems inherited a large estate and had worked for the East India Company as a factor (merchant). John and other members of the family were shareholders in the company. Records in the British Library and elsewhere beg investigation. It is remarkable how many local landowners and politicians had dealings with the East India Co. and it much be suspected as a source of some wealth. Chinaware, spices, silk and luxury items were traded for British manufactures. During the 18th century the practices of the EIC were questioned and investigated in parliament on several occasions but it is too complicated to relate it here. Joseph had worked and probably traded in the far east. Naming his son 'John Barwell Cator' was both a reference to his own father, John Cator the elder and a reference to the Barwell family whom it seems were patrons of Joseph and may have influenced his fortunes.
Clockhouse between Beckenham and Penge (looking towards Penge)
1783 - John Cator purchases Wricklemarsh at Blackheath, the house and estate of Gregory Page Turner. The pillars of the portico along with several ornate windows from Wricklemarsh House at Blackheath were added to the mansion when much remodeling was carried out. The date is debatable, but the Ordnance Survey surveyors preliminary sketches of 1799 in the British Library clearly show a house without the portico. Though the curved bay at the rear of the house and a stable block and a lake are shown. It is thought that Beckenham Place was originally red brick but that limestone ashlar covering came from Wricklemarsh.More about John Cator.
1784 - Elected MP for Ipswich but unseated. The History of Parliament online describes John Cator's political career or in 'The House of Commons 1754-1790 by Lewis Namier and John Brooke' available as an e-book
Wricklemarsh: Some of the columns and windows came to Beckenham Place
the large ground floor window is the same as at the sides of portico
This window from Beckenham Place Portico is the same as in the print of Wricklemarsh as well as other similarities in masonary
1785 - Cator has the road diverted to current Beckenham Hill, Southend Road line and also closes Langstead Lane between Southend and Clay Hill. New road at first called Great Stumpshill Road. It is noteworthy that the present pond is clearly marked on the eighteenth century road diversion plan, though the site of its farmhouse on the same side of the road is now mostly outside the park boundary and occupied by modern housing.
Centre for Kentish studies has this document:
Part of highway between village of Southend in Lewisham and village of Beckenham, 1,500 yards long, to be diverted to a new line, through lands of John Cator , Esq., 1,518 yards long, 30 feet wide. Highway from Southend Green near vill of Southend to Clayhill in Beckenham, 2,250 yards long, to be stopped up, since it is disused, and the road from Southend to Clayhill by Beckenham Church is used in its place. Order: at Beckenham 22 March 1785, with plan (scale: 10 ins. to mile). Endorsed:consent of John Cator of Beckenham, Esq., same date Certificate of completion: 4 April 1785. Order enrolled 5 April 1785 [ Q/So.W11.pp529 - 530 ]
At this time the local gentry were vying with each other in improving their estates and almost all of them adopted what was then the height of fashion, large scale landscaping to produce vistas of pasture leading down to stretches of water with a backdrop of trees. The closing of Langstead Lane which would have crossed the footprint of the lake was probably with a view to creating the lake and excluding the public. This redevelopment might partly explain why few traces now remain of any exotic planting, which John Cator is reported to have carried out on the estate under the influence of his wife and eminent botanist father in law, Peter Collinson, during the early days of his marriage. However, introduced species such as Turkey Oak, Holm Oak, Rhododendron, Swamp Cypress are present whether due to original plantings or later landscaping. the Turkey Oak which blew down in 2002 was dated to 230 years of age (planted 1772 or earlier). Collinson remarks in a letter to John Bartram "my two sons (Cator his son in law and his own natural son) vye with each other in acquiring plants and ask Collinson for azaleas, khalmeias and rhodedendrons. Search The Memorials of John Bartram and Humphrey Marshal for Collinson's letter, it makes entertaining reading and an insight into the Collinson/Cator relationship. Collinson was a supplier of many plants to a wide number of clients including the aristrocracy. However, the passage of time, changing fashion and various tennants have had an impact on the landscape.
Cator also buys the title to a cottage in two tenements with several pieces of land in Lewisham received in exchange from Francis Motley Austin Esq of Court Lodge, Lamberhurst on 9th May 1785 with Cator paying £600 by way of equality of the property. Whereabouts of property unknown. Francis Motley Austin or Austen is an extensive landowner in Kent from Beckenham to Sevenoaks and an uncle to Jane Austen's father.
The core of the park probably took most of its present form in the 1780's. For it is then that the public was excluded from the park roads the existing road becoming a driveway through his park and he also closed another road called Langstead Lane (or Lagg Street Lane on some maps) which ran from Southend to Clay Hill, effectively excluding the public from his parkland estate. The gatehouses at the north and south ends of the drive through the park still remain though the southerly one is now outside of the public park being at the entrance to what is now a private road confusingly also called Beckenham Place Park.
Similarly the Burrell's of Langley Park diverted a road away from the front door of their house, it now constitutes South Eden Park Road.
1788 - Pat Manning records an exchange of lands from Lees Court, Kent with certain lands in Lewisham for which John Cator paid over £550 for equality 19 November 1788. These would probably have been Earl of Rockingham/Sondes/Lees Court lands which are identified on the Foxgrove Manor plan as being in the area of what is now Downham/Southend. The Earl of Rockingham was a prominent politician who had married into the Sondes family who owned large estates in Kent. The Rockinghams had large estates in the north of England.
1788 - John Cator negotiates lending money via bonds to the Prince of Wales (later to become George IV) but he and another party withdraw before the transaction is completed (Memoirs of George IV). These books are available on the internet "The history of the life and reign of William the fourth, the reform monarch ...By Robert Huish "
1789 - Bayly's Print of the mansion is produced. It shows a villa with views of a lake but no evidence of the portico which is constructed with materials from Wricklemarsh at a later date. The house originally had no attic dormer windows. The internal staircase shows that the attic rooms were a later alteration, possibly mid 19th century. As Cator had acquired Wricklemarsh in 1783 it's possible that demolition material was brought to Beckenham Place to clad the red brick building with portland stone by this time. The lack of an image of the original house on Stumps Hill is frustrating.
This image is the first evidence of an ornamental lake and as it is not geographically or architecturally accurate may be regarded as schematic or an impression. The closure of Langstead Lane in 1785 which would have passed through the lake bed enabled the siting of the lake in this position and the stream from the south of the park was its source of water. The various maps show water from springs and ponds and in some cases from the moat of Foxgrove Farm. In recent years the stream has become progressively dry due to phases of building redevelopment around Foxgrove and Westgate Roads.
1790/93 - John Cator is MP for Stockbridge 1793 - John Cator acquires Foxgrove Manor In a land rationalisation exchange with Peter Burrell III who has attained the title Lord Gwydir. Amy Burrell's death is recorded the next year so she has passed the estates to her grandson, Peter Burrell III.
This exchange probably involved the lands Cator had amassed south of Beckenham village as a later Cator estate plan of 1834 excludes any property south of the village. Both Cator and Burrell are concentrating their holdings into large contiguous areas.
1794 - John sells the Bankside business and property (P.Manning source)
1795 - A record of a conveyance of a messuage, water corn mill and lands in Southend, Kent from John Forster Esq. of Lincolns Inn, Middlesex, to John Cator of Beckenham, Kent in consideration of the sum of £1750. Maybe including some part of the park by the Ravensbourne?
..... land at Southend purchased from John Forster Esq of Lincoln’s Inn for £1750 on 1st/2nd Jan 1795 detailed as Flowers Garden, 3r 1p, Tree Crafts, 4a 1r 31p and Sand Pitt field 3a 1r 22p. The fifth abstract concerns land purchased from the widow Jane Weatherall of Deptford by John Cator of StumpsHill for £850. It is described as “All that one close of pasture and arable called Broomfield 7 acres and one close of pasture or arable. Called Two Acres adjoining Morrices Wood, also 2acres of meadow lying in Rookey Meadow adjoining East lands, also Bullocks Meadow 2 acres and a pasture called Three Acres.” Proof of ownership was provided by the inclusion of the will dated 11.2.1735 of Robert Friend gardener of Deptford who was Jane Weatherall’s father.
Of the above, the last one mentions Morrices Wood, called Morrifs (Morriss) Wood East and West on the Foxgrove Manor Map. Its likely these are the same plots and perhaps this land is around A on the Foxgrove plan. The land at A on the Foxgrove plan is described as being grazed by oxen which may be the Bullocks Meadow mentioned here? and perhaps East Lands is adjacent to Morrisswood and Lewisham Lands. Until we find a relevant estate plan, if one exists, this is conjecture.The Ordnance Survey drawing shows Southend in about 1799. It is possible to identify the positions of pubs, mills and Flower House as well as lodges at the park entrance. The Ravensbourne was the source of power for several mills along its course.
1797 - Croydon Enclosure Act; (source Wikepedia) between 1750 and 1850 there were many Enclosure Acts which allowed landowners to exclude people from what was Common Land with access to all for grazing, growing some food, foraging and pannage. The Croydon act allowed the enclosure of what included Crystal Palace Park. There is some anecdotal evidence that the Cator estate had at least some of this land and sold it to the Crystal Palace company. This story needs confirmation and is included here to illustrate how public access and use can be lost all too easily. Of course you might have to go back to Adam and Eve for the first enclosure of the Garden of Eden for history of this aspect of property ownership.
This map is accessible on the British Library map collections website, this is only a small extract
1799 - The earliest version of the Ordnance Survey map of Kent. Not published until 1860's but printed by other publishers such as Stanford's reproduced by kind permission of the British Library. This map shows clearly how the lake is supplied with water from a stream and pond. The pond is now filled in and in a school playground. By 1799 the Ordnance Survey surveyors working drawing (below) in the British Library and viewable on their website, shows the park and nearby details. Some field outlines are still similar to the 1766 Foxgrove Manor plan. John Cator has removed field boundaries inside much of his 'park' landscape. A farm to the south of the mansion still exists as it had been on the 1785 road diversion plan. The buildings of home farm are just visible between the stable block and Southend Lodge. The field pattern here may relate to the 1795 land transfer? Land marked with stripes is cultivated, woodland is apparent, mottled land is probably pasture and parkland marked with less dense concentrations of trees.
The Years 1800 to 1900.
The Park is mostly leased to a series of tenants. But other events affect the park such as the building of the railways and inheritance of the park by other members of the Cator family.
1804 - Mary Cator dies and is buried in St. Georges churchyard with her daughter.
1806 - John Cator dies at his appartment in the Adelphi near The Strand, is buried in St Georges churchyard, Beckenham. Having lived in Southwark on Bankside near his business and later acquiring an apartment in the Adam Brothers Adelphi near the Strand Cator was a man of property and we can only speculate on how he accumulated his wealth. (more)
- John Barwell Cator
(1781-1858), son of John's oldest brother Joseph,
inherits the estate. It is held in trust by his father
Joseph until Joseph's death in 1818. Two cousins of Barwell Cator are
also named in the will but they die before majority and hence the
whole estate becomes J.Barwell Cator's. But John Barwell Cator seems to have free reign over the estates assets.
1806 - Building leases begin to be sold for parts of Wricklemarsh estate. There is some debate about the alterations to Beckenham Place Mansion. Possibly John Barwell Cator having acquired great wealth indulged in adding the portico to the mansion and remodelling the lake? Without written records the maps available are a source of information. In 1799 the mansion appears on a map without a portico and its unlikely that John Cator the younger would engage is such alterations at this late stage in his life. And the lake is of a different shape. The print of 1812 shows the portico and the maps of about 1860 show a different lake outline.
John Barwell Cator 1781-1858
1807 - J.Barwell Cator buys land at Woodbastwick, Norfolk. This is the beginning of the gradual move away from the Beckenham estate (source: P.Manning) 1808 - John Barwell Cator marries Miss Mahon, her relative Mr Aylmer Bourke Lambert has access to Barwell's papers at the mansion inherited from Peter Collinson via John Cator. Lambert's letter to James Edward Smith of the Linnaean Society in their archive is the route which leads to Collinsons revelation about the date of the mansion. Lambert made copies of the catalogue which became the property of Lewis Weston Dillwyn who printed the version which we can now access on the internet and reveals the first date of the mansion at Beckenham Place.
Lambert comments about J.Barwell Cator "who has just come into all his uncles immense property" and "Cator has lately married a relative of mine Miss Mahon, a niece to Lord Vigo"
1812 - J. Preston Neale produces a print of the Mansion although the pedement on top of the columns is not drawn accurately it does depict how it perhaps should have been built. Preston Neale's work was published from 1812 to 1825 so different dates may be attributed to this print.
1820 - Peter Burrell III, Lord Gwydir dies and his estates are sold to new owners including the Hoare Banking family. (BLS). These estates are mostly south of the Beckenham village whereas the Cator estates are mostly north of the village. He was MP for Boston, Lincolnshire and has an entry on History of Parliament online.
1821 - William Thornhill Cator born at Beckenham Place, the younger of J.Barwell Cator's two sons. This evidences that the Cators were still occupying the mansion upto this time. At least for some of the time as Barwell spent some time in Ireland and Norfolk.
1825 - J.Barwell Cator acquires permission via act of parliament to lease plots of land for development on the Beckenham Estates. John Cator's will had put restrictions on selling land. It seems an Act of Parliament was required to permit JBCator to dispose of lands:
'An Act to enable John Cator, Esquire to grant building leases of lands in the counties of Kent, Surrey, Essex and Hereford; and also for vesting in Trustees for sale part of the Estates in said Counties devised by the will of John Cator Esquire, deceased, and for laying out the money arising from such Sales respectively, under the Direction of the High Court of Chancery, in the Purchase of other estates, to be settled to the same Uses; and for other purposes. Schedule 1 includes particulars of property purchased prior to and after the death of Cator
Alexander D. Inglis
recorded as tenant of the Mansion. Pat
Manning reports that the Cator family believe J.Barwell Cator occupied
the mansion upto 1841 but these other tenants cast some doubt on it.
1851 to 1873 - Peter Cator is living at The Hall, Bromley Road, Beckenham. He is believed to have had a lot to do with the management of the Cator estate locally after spending several years in Madras. (census and Manning).
1857 - John Abrahms in occupation (Pat Manning source)
- John Barwell Cator
dies, estates inherited by his son Albermarle
(1813-1868). Albermarle will eventually succeeded by his
2nd son also named Albemarle who became of unsound
mind due to illness and the estates will be managed by trustees.
1864 - November, a map of the Beckenham Estate of Albemarle Cator is printed (Bromley Library). It excludes the site of Old Manor House opposite the church.
1866 - The Mansion occupier is still given as Robert Henry Page Esq. (directory)
- Albermarle Cator dies, Albermarle's
eldest son John did not marry hence Albermarle's second son, Albemarle
junior (1836-1906) inherited the estates (P.Manning). John had lost an
arm due to injuries received in the Crimean War and died in 1859.
- Occupier Sir
John Kirkland, Bart. J.P.
an army agent who had
with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and received gifts from them but
he dies in 1871 prior to
census. He is associated with Blackfen and the link will take
you to a relevant website.
1873 - No one listed as in occupation.
1874‑6 John Fell Christie is listed in a directory.
1877‑8 No one listed as in occupation.
1879 - Spencer Brunton and family in occupation of the mansion. the Brunton children made a story book Christmas card depicting a royal family visit, maybe this harks back to the Kirkland residency. This page from the book depicts a move into the mansion. But by 1881 they are in the census as living at Brook St with their 6 children and a string of about 10 servants including a butler and two footman. Spencer was a member of the London Stock Exchange but by 1891 his wife had filed for divorce. Earlier 1871(census) they had lived in Copers Cope Road at a house called The Ferns with a daughter and only 3 servants. The six children were born in quick succession.
1881 - The mansion is occupied by Oliver Henley and family, a gardener - so we might assume he is acting as caretaker?
1884? - Boundary posts installed between Beckenham and Lewisham parishes. Robert Borrowman's book from 1910 records the ceremony of Beating the Bounds from parish records, but that the parish boundaries had become lost or forgotten so a sum of money was made available and cast iron boundary posts installed to mark the parish boundaries. Several of these posts are in Beckenham Place Park marked 'Beckenham' along with some marked 'Lewisham'. The parish, or now Borough, boundary has since been moved. Some posts are near old oak trees which for many years or even centuries were used as boundary markers. Some old maps record 'boundary mark on tree'. One interesting speculation or story is that the Beckenham parish boundary is strangely shaped as a body was found near Crystal Palace but no parish claimed it for burial apart from Beckenham so the boundary was drawn to where the body was discovered. Now boundaries are more 'political' and determined by the Boundaries Commission.
1885‑90 Edwin Covell lives in the mansion, a butchers proprietor. Below is an 1885 directory advertisement for his business.
1889 - An Act of Parliament authorises building of the Nunhead to Shortlands railway which runs via Beckenham Hill station to Ravensbourne station across the park. Albermarle Cator to be compensated for lands purchased etc. negotiations began as early as 1884. The Cators had obtained parliamentary approval to develop their Beckenham estates for housing in 1825 and the 1865 estate plans show an intended road slicing right through Summerhouse Hill Wood, a proposal which fortunately never materialised. In 1879 discussions took place between the Cators, neighbouring landowners and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway concerning a proposal to build a railway along the Ravensbourne valley in order to encourage speculative builders to construct houses in the area. This came to nought, as did a bill brought before Parliament in 1884. However in March 1889, an agreement was signed between John Cator of Woodbastwick Hall, Norfolk, Sir John Farnaby of Wickham Court and representatives of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway, which paved the way later the same year for the passing of an Act authorising the construction of the Shortlands and Nunhead Railway.The landowners contributed land as well as finance whilst the L.C.D.R. guaranteed to operate the line once it was constructed. Records in Bromley Library note the Forsters and a Mr Redman as being promoters of the bill to authorise the railway with compensations and land purchases from Albemarle Cator (jnr.).
05/07/1889 Agreement betwen Alfred George Renshaw, of The Hall, Southend, Kent, esquire and William Stewart Forster, of 28 Lincolns Inn Fields, esquire, promoters of the Bill relating to the Incorporation of the Shortlands and Nunhead Railway Company (1st part) and Albemarle Cator, of Woodbastwick Hall, Norfolk, esquire (2nd part). It is agreed between the parties that if the Bill is passed in to law to authorise the construction of the railway, then the Company erect stations at Ravensbourne and Beckenham Hill and will pay compensation to Cator. Cator will sell property to the Company as required. (source: Bromley local studies)
The attraction for the railway company was that it offered an alternative route to that through the Penge tunnel, an important role it provides to this day. Maximum charges per mile were set at 3d, 2d & 1d for first, second and third class passengers, 4d for horses, 1d for cats and dogs and 5d or 4d for carts and carriages depending on whether they had two or four wheels. Five stations were to be provided on sites selected by the landowners, each well staffed and provided with all comforts for both lady and gentleman passengers despite the fact that when they first opened they were surrounded by fields with hardly a dwelling within sight! As the landowners provided the lions share of the resources the precise route of the line was dictated by them, not by the operational needs of the railway company. The result is that the line winds its way along the valley carefully avoiding major features, such as the former lake in Beckenham Place Park as can be seen from the sketch plan which shows the original field boundaries.
The railway company was very happy with their new route, which cost £265,000 and opened for business on 1st July 1892. Under a new Act passed in 1896, they assumed complete control of the Shortlands & Nunhead Co exactly five years after it opened.Ravensbourne Avenue, Crab Hill, Downs Hill and Farnaby Road owe their existence to the building of the line, as does the gully, which forms the present entrance to the park from Crab Hill. This was the source of much of the gravel used in the construction. Many of the trees, which still shield the line, are the successors of those originally planted to screen it from the expected housing development. This house building never took place, but evidence of the Cators' expectations can still be seen today.
The width of the bridge, now connecting nothing but two parts of the park, suggests that it was originally designed to take considerable traffic. It contrasts markedly with the two earlier ones nearby in Westgate and Downs Bridge Roads, which are much narrower as they were intended solely to provide farm access. Despite several changes of ownership the railway service through the park continues substantially unchanged. Ravensbourne station lost its goods yard in the 1960s and in 1986 the booking office was badly damaged by fire. It has been rebuilt in a sympathetic style and the remains of the porters accommodation can still be seen in its basement by peering through a gap in the wall. Beckenham Hill station is basically =>unchanged apart from the loss of the down side canopy which was removed in 1968. We believe there was also a goods depot at one time.
1894 The mansion occupier is listed as Mrs Covell, her husband Edwin has presumably recently died. E. Covell is also recorded as the tenant in the documents concerned with the authorisation of the construction of the Shortlands Nunhead railway through the estate.
Beckenham Place circa 1892
1895‑99 No one listed as in occupation.
1897 - Albermarle Cator jnr. becomes ill and described as insane as a result. The family believe the illness to be porpheria. Trustees manage the estate.
1902 - Beckenham Place is listed as Craven College School. It had always been difficult, especially as the area became increasingly urban, to find tenants for Beckenham Place sufficiently wealthy to rent both the house and the whole of the surrounding park. At the turn of the century there was still a pheasantry in Summerhouse Hill Wood and a photograph of the participants at the last shoot together with their bag used to hang in the mansion. The local hunt last met in Beckenham in 1905, by which time the house was occupied by a private boys school called Craven College. An advertisement for which copied from Thornton's 1902 Beckenham Directory by kind permission of Bromley Library, is reproduced below.
The advertisement implies that the College was founded in the 1830s, but nothing is known of its early history or whether its name is derived from a place or a person. Immediately before coming to Beckenham it was only in Highgate for a few years, occupying a house in Millfield Lane on the north-east corner of Hampstead Heath.
The College occupied Beckenham Place from approximately 1900 to 1905 under the headmastership of J. Hartley French. It then moved to Elmer Lodge at Elmers End, probably because of the loss of sports facilities due to the lease of the park to the newly formed Foxgrove Golf Club.
Elmer Lodge was built in 1856 on the site of a 17th century predecessor and still exists today, substantially unchanged externally apart from the loss of its conservatory. Today it is a mosque after many years existing as a public house called appropriately ‘The Elmer Lodge’
J. Hartley French was succeeded as headmaster by Mr W.T. Carlin who held the post initially assisted by a Mr E M Verall, until the demise of the College at the outbreak of the 1914‑18 war. The existence of the former college was commemorated by the nearby 1930s shopping parade, known as "College Parade" until comparatively recently.
Elmer Lodge was built 1856 on site of a previous 17th century building.
1905 to 1933 - Norwood Sanatorium occupies the Mansion and Homesteads, seems much of the park used by Foxgrove Golf Club, all under lease from Cator Estate, and a new chapter in its history opens.
From 1905 until 1933 Beckenham Place was the home of the Norwood Sanatorium, which specialised in the voluntary treatment of wealthy alcoholics and drug addicts. It was founded by a Dr Frances Hare, a retired Inspector of Hospitals for the Australian State of Queensland.
The reason for the name is probably because the sanatorium previously occupied a building at Crystal Palace, strictly speaking Upper Norwood, now called The Alma public house. The faint inscription 'Sans Souci’ still to be seen over the front door of the mansion is believed to date back to this sanatorium period or was imported with the stonework from Wricklemarsh in the eighteenth century.
The sanatorium opened its doors on September 25th 1905 with 13 patients, a number which peaked at 232 in 1913. The average length of stay was six to eight weeks and the inclusive weekly charges pre‑war were £7.17s.6d a week, falling to £7.7s.0d after six weeks. This included medical attendance, medicines, board and lodging, games and ordinary services all provided in luxurious surroundings, as can be seen from the four interior pictures which are included by kind permission of Bromley Libraries.
The billiard and smoking rooms were reserved for gentlemen. The room housing the current Visitor Centre is thought to be the billiard room. The drawing room was for the sole use of ladies, except when afternoon tea was taken there or gentlemen were invited for music or evening games. These could not last long for ‘lights out’ was at 10.30pm.
The sanatorium advertises its amenities as including, lawns for croquet, tennis and bowls. The home farm supplied fresh milk, new laid eggs and chickens for the table, whilst the hothouses and vegetable gardens provided fresh fruit and vegetables, including grapes, peaches and tomatoes.
Dr Hare retired in 1925 and died three years later at his home, 'Oakland's', 15 The Avenue. Kelly's Directory lists his successors as being Dr George (1926‑7), Dr Barham (1931) and Dr Given (1933). A Dr Walter Masters, who is not listed in the surviving editions of Kellys, is, in a detailed biography, described as taking over from Dr Hare before 1928 and moving the business to Chislehurst, because of a lack of space.
Doctor Hare authored several books on the treatment of addiction. We have accessed the 1911 census records which we reproduce here for illustration of the numbers of staff and patients present at Beckenham Place.
An interior of the mansion when a sanatarium
1906 - Albemarle Cator jnr. dies and is succeeded by his son John Cator (1862-1944). It is under this John Cator that we presume the park was sold to the London County Council. The various leases and sales of other land is too complicated and lengthy to attempt to relate here. A reminder that Pat Manning's book covers the Cator family in some detail and researching the various online archive catalogues is informative.
1907 - The Foxgrove Golf Club is established on the grounds of the estate. The "Foxgrove Club" Edwardian building is built circa 1912 by club members. From 1933 to 2016 it is a private social club. In 2017 it is occupied by caretaker tenants.
The Creation of the Golf Course
A group of Beckenham residents formed the Foxgrove Golf Club and in March of the same year leased most of Beckenham Place Park, apart from the woods and the immediate surroundings of the home farm, for a period of 21 years. Little time was lost in building a club house and laying out the greens, for in October of the same year the first monthly medal meetings were held for both ladies and gentlemen. Shortly afterwards a commemorative dinner was held in the new clubhouse, which over fifty members attended. (source: Eric Inman)
1927 - The London County Council acquires the park from the Cator Estate. The minutes of the LCC record that there is a need for public open space for the housing estates of Downham and Bellingham which are being developed. A transcript of the minutes here . Of course the LCC did not see the current Local Authority boundaries as overly important. The price is £47,000. At some point the Mansion and Homesteads have living accommodation provided for park staff. The Garden Cottage and the Gatehouse lodge also are lived in by staff. Seven 'cottages' maybe 2 apartments in the Mansion. Over time managers, supervisors, gardeners and groundsmen are accommodated there with their families. Maintenance and security are provided by on-site staff. Large areas of woodland are fenced to protect it with a balance of areas of protection with areas of free access. The condition of the lake is not clearly known but the 1930's map below shows the lake has been reduced in size. To the east of the railway the land is described as a gravel pit, reed beds and an athletics ground. Thomas Cook's had the athletics ground for a period of time but it later became the Catford Sports and Social Club for council employees. The gravel pit and reed beds are believed to have been used for wartime bomb rubble or as one source describes for spoil from the building of housing estates. Anyone having more information please contact us. Old family photos or similar information welcome.
1931 - The Home Farm is vacated and demolished. Above is a painting produced by a lady who lived at the farm when she was a young girl. Some references to fresh milk, new laid eggs and chickens being supplied to the sanatorium in the 1920s from a home farm, no trace of which now exists other than in some aerial views of the park taken in 1996 the ‘footprint’ of the building can be seen clearly in the grass as 'crop marks'. Maybe at least two farmhouses were destroyed in the original creation of Beckenham Place Park and perhaps a new one built to supply John Cator in his mansion. It could be that Home Farm was in existence when Cator bought the land as the Rocque map shows buildings between the site of the mansion and Flower House. Some buildings shown on early maps appear to have been swept away in the creation of the park. Home farm was just inside the north gate. This was not demolished until 1931.
If one studies the Roque map it might be deduced that there was a house already in this position and a farm in the viscinity of Home Farm. As map making was inaccurate before the Ordnance Survey then exact positions cannot be identified.
One of the early farms was on the opposite side of the road to the mansion, just outside the present southern gate to the park on a site now occupied by modern houses. Rocque's 1745 map also shows a building and gardens opposite the position of the present mansion, though whether this was a farm, outbuildings or gardens belonging to the previous house is not clear.It consisted of a picturesque huddle of buildings, which had obviously grown up over the years and is well depicted in this watercolour made in the early 1920s/30s by an unknown lady artist. Reproduced by courtesy of Miss I Krombach, who spent some of her childhood at the farm and is probably the artist.
The farm lost much of its land when the private golf course was constructed, originally consisting of 9 holes. The purchase of the park by the LCC and the departure of the sanatorium to Chislehurst deprived the farm of its reason for existence. Its final occupants from 1931‑33 were the Krombach family, in residence when the farm was leased by United Dairies to stable its horses. It was demolished soon after they left and the site incorporated into the now public golf course. The position of Home Farm shown on a sketch map.
1933 - The Golf Course becomes public and at one time the busiest in Europe, see 2016 for history and closure.
1939/45 - WWII An Italian Prisioner of War 'Summerhouse' Camp is constructed on Crab Hill and an anti aircraft gun and barrage balloon emplacements are installed. Sheep grazing and growing of some crops for the war effort is introduced. Curiously enough the nearer one comes to the present day the more difficult it becomes to find out what happened to the mansion and park but Eric Inman wrote most of the following... I know of no bombs or rockets actually falling on the park, which is quite surprising considering the numbers, which fell on the built-up areas close by. However, the recollections of someone who was aged 12 and lived in the stable yard homesteads recalls a V1 falling on the golf course in front of the mansion. Nearby residents recall a bomb crater just off of Worsley Bridge Road and Greycot Road. The area experienced several bomb hits, V1's and V11's. Bomb strikes were mapped quite comprehensively.
This entry recalls a V1 strike near the park: The Flying bomb exploded In Beckenham Hill Road. 1-11 ,2-16 Highland Croft,1-23 and 2-50 Braeside.184,186,188 Beckenham Hill Road, 37b Beckenham Hill Road, 31-37Southend Road, 42-80 Southend Road, Ada Lewis House Southend Road. Were damaged.
An anti–aircraft gun and later a barrage balloon was sited near the mansion, with the operators of the latter being based in a wooden hut to one side of the mansion forecourt. (A recent park visitor, who had been stationed with the AA battery, informed us it was only here for a short time as the tactic was changed from having single weapons stationed locally, to having a larger battery at West Wickham). It has been said that Anti Aircraft fire injured or killed more civilians than it did enemy aircraft. Sheep were grazed on the golf course, but whether this displaced or supplemented the golf is something else it would be interesting to know.
Part of the park was dug up to grow potatoes and other vegetables particularly during the latter part of the war, when it was used as a prisoner of war camp. It housed Italian prisoners and according to one Italian book entitled ‘Prigionieri Italiani in Gran Bretagna (1940-47) was Camp No 233, known as Summerhouse Camp, Ravensbourne, Bromley, Kent. Probably some of the bumps in the ground may owe their origins to this period and not to some more distant times as some believe. Some of the paths through the woods also owe something to the efforts of the prisoners, as well as stonework and path-laying in some local houses. Another camp on Worsley Bridge Road accommodated German navy POW's.
A consultants report produced for the Heritage Lottery Fund bid found that several high explosive bombs fell in the park but no damage to buildings is recorded.
This image shows the POW camp on Crab Hill from Google Earth Historic imagery
1971 - Control and ownership of the park passed from the Greater London Council to the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) and in 1995 the boundaries were adjusted so that the whole of the park fell within Lewisham. Prior to this the mansion was in Beckenham, (since 1965 part of the new London Borough of Bromley), whilst the stables were in Lewisham as evidenced by a number of parish boundary posts which can still be seen within the park today. The present condition of the mansion and stables reflects the inability of any borough council to fund, repair and maintain a Grade 11* nationally listed building, when faced with competing higher priority responsibilities.
1976 - The Park and other open space is designated Metropolitan Open Land, a form of inner city Green Belt under the Greater London Development Plan.
1992 - Football pitches and changing rooms closed to enable David Lloyd scheme (DLL). Stable Block Homesteads and other accommodation cleared of tennants to provide vacant posession to DLL
1992 - David Lloyd Leisure attempted acquisition of much of the park, public enquiry and rejection of plans to extend golf and add indoor tennis centre.
1993/2000 - Park managed by David LLoyd Leisure as a 7 year management contract had been awarded prior to public enquiry rejection of the tennis centre and golf extension plans, largely because of MOL status of the park. In 1993 planning permission was granted in principle by London Borough of Lewisham for a sporting venture, which would have radically transformed what is Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) into inaccessible sporting areas, at the expense of informal leisure activities by the general public. Determined opposition by a widely supported and well-organised ‘Save Beckenham Place Park Campaign’ and other groups led to a public inquiry and rejection of the application in 1994. Many local and national groups were active in the campaign, primarily the Ravensbourne Valley Preservation Society, a local residents association. Other groups included The London Wildlife Trust, Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth and Save BPP Campaign group.
1993 - The Friends of Beckenham Place Park is inaugurated to attempt to positively influence the management of the park for conservation, heritage and open space use.
1996 - Friends of Beckenham Place Park opens a volunteer run visitor centre in a vacant cottage in the stable block. There had already been a high level of vandalism and the Friends repaired and decorated the cottage to a degree where a park conservation worker lived there for some years afterwards. Permission was granted to open a Visitor Centre in the stable block in January 1996 to be run by volunteers from the Friends. (Visitor Centre removed to the Mansion in November 1999). The Friends repaired and redecorated the cottage and it was later occupied by a conservation officer for a few years. We regret leaving it as it might have saved the stable block from the later fire.
The 21st Century
2000 - The visitor centre moves into the Mansion at the invitation of a park manager.
2000/2014 - various changes is park management, consultations regarding use of buildings, including rejection of a charitable trust bid for management of the mansion. As part of one management tendering exercise around 2009 a firm of architects, Rees Bolter, produced a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the Mansion and a summary of possible uses. The CMP has a lot of interesting information about the park and mansion including details of past stages of renovation and repair. It is worth a read but bear in mind that some of the history has since been altered and revealed. The CMP describes how the mansion resembles Palladian designs in Italy among other things.
2002 - Local Nature Reserve Listing (LNR) and Large Turkey Oak blown down: Wayne Butler as an in-park conservation officer employed by a park management company gets the park listed as a nature reserve. The Turkey Oak tree which was the second largest of its species in the UK and was over 230 years old came down on a windy day. The trunk had been hollow for many years and it had suffered from vandalism which weakened it. The date and age indicates it may have been planted by Cator. Perhaps supplied by his father in law, Peter Collinson who supplied many of his contacts with young trees probably cultivated in his Mill Hill garden. Turkey Oak was introduced from Turkey early in the 18th century and thought to be a valuable timber but it decays quickly when harvested. 15 years after its demise very little can be seen of it apart from some largest pieces of its trunk. It would have stood very near the end of the original lake.
2004 (?) - Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection leaves the mansion: having occupied most of the mansion upper floors for over 20 years the collection is moved to first the Greenwich University and then to Bristol University to join other theatre memorabelia. Though the collection originally had plans to turn the mansion into a theatre museum they both did not raise enough funding and also did not in my opinion take the opportunity to apply to the National Lottery Arts Fund to achieve their aims. Though occupying the mansion the collection made no contribution to its upkeep and was not open to the public.
Turkey Oak - over 230 years old
A gap in the history here needs filling with information regarding Consultations and Tendering for use of the Mansion
2011 - Most of the Stable Block destroyed by fire after being left abandoned and insecure for several years. Most of the heritage features of the building are destroyed including the clock which was about 300 years old. Below, the rear of the stable block facing the gardens in less than perfect but complete condition. The righthand end had been extensively remodelled probably after LCC takeover but the centre and left hand end had old if not original features. The clock was nearly 300 years old and may have once been at Clockhouse, Penge.
2012 - The Friends and the Sensory Garden: Over time and with cutbacks in park staffing levels one part of the gardens became a bit past its best. The old Rose Garden had overgrown and spent plants, overgrown path edges and weeds in the paths. A grant application was made via Groundwork Trust and the Big Lottery to obtain funding for a Sensory and Nature garden. Cooperation between the Friends and a Local Authority officer on behalf of the landowner produced an application and after much ado funding was awarded allowing for upgrading of the landscaping including an improved disability access ramp. A local landscaping firm completed that work after Friends and other volunteer groups grubbed out the old planting and dug over the beds. When the landscaping was finished the park gardeners turfed around the beds and planted the central area with lavendar. The Friends began a program of planting and maintenance gardening. Corporate volunteers from Deloite put in a stag beetle loggery and installed a bench and helped with a wet area for wildlife. The garden changes with the seasons providing habitat for birds, invertibrates, small mammals and amphibians. We get the occasional surprise if a bank vole or frog jump out while gardening. Some local people keep the bird table supplied with seed and leftovers. The beds are broadly themed for touch, smell, sight and a bit of sound if its windy. Volunteer gardeners are welcome to come along to workdays regardless of experience. Although there's a kind of plan its flexible.
2014 - London Borough of Lewisham decide to bid for Heritage Lottery Fund money under the 'Parks for People' scheme to fund improvements to the park. The mansion remains excluded from any funding at this time. Although various works had been done to the mansion over a long period such as repairing the roof, installing disabled toilets etc. No complete restoration has been done. If we added up all the money spent on tinkering it would probably have paid for a proper job or at least provided match funding for a grant a long time ago. However, the scheme is not popular with all and various people object, not least the golfers whose course is deemed to close under the scheme. The Public Consultation such as it was presented four schemes either including the existing golf course or closing the golf course in favour of an 'Eighteenth Century Parkland Landscape' restoration. The latter narrowly won having the biggest quarter of the votes out of about 300 public responses. The restoration should include the reconstruction of a lake, rebuilding of the stable block and restoration of other Homestead buildings.
2014 - The Environment Agency are evaluating a flood alleviation scheme to use part of the park to prevent flooding further downriver. Floods have been recorded in Lewisham, Southend, and Beckenham over hundreds of years but infrequently i.e. the 100 year flood which intimates a flood event will happen even if rarely. A prevention scheme was installed on the River Quaggy at Sutcliffe Park some years ago. the Quaggy / Ravensbourne and Pool rivers have combined by the time they get to Lewisham near the station. A deluge backs up at that point threatening housing and businesses. The result of uncontrolled or ill advised development on river floodplains. There could be some landscaping and nature habitat advantages to this scheme but at time of writing detailed plans and consultation is awaited.
2015 - The mansion remains at risk awaiting HLF restoration bid, The park and homesteads await the production of stage 2 HLF bid for restoration etc.
2016 - Lewisham Council close public golf course, unable to make it financially viable. The Mansion is put on short term lease to a property management organisation RJK Properties with intentions to increase use of the building.
2017 - Heritage Lottery Fund bid for £4.9million approved for park and some buildings regeneration. At time of writing the Local Authority are tendering for design consultants for the actual scheme after former consultants produced plans for the bid? Why the original tender couldn't have included a proviso that if the bid was approved the former consultants would continue with the scheme God alone knows. Seems a lot of the money will be spent before a shovel hits the ground or a brick is laid. Fairly comprehensive plans were submitted with the bid and for the planning permission application but a furter 'detailed design' phase is being tendered.
2017 - May 13th The Public Park's 90th anniversary. This is the date of the LCC meeting which appears to have decided the purchase of the Park from The Cator estate. The Foxgrove Club Golf Course and the Norwood Sanatarium had active leases for a short time.
2017 - August: New design consultants have been appointed to perform the detailed planning. Planning permission for the scheme is still not granted awaiting, we assume, presentation of detailed plans. Apparently some concerns remain regarding the lake and its proposed source of water i.e. the stream appears inadequate, a borehole would be perhaps inadmissable and its event suggested that filling of the lake would be by mains water.
2017 - October. The planning application for grant related works is approved by Lewisham Council. Alterations to the landscaping will include removal of some trees which were planted to define the now closed golf course. The Mansion although in use and under a short term lease to RJK Properties is still on the English Heritage at risk register and not included in any current restoration grant or scheme.
A Crystal Ball is required beyond this point....... but read on.
The Earliest Records
Some additional information not in the expanded timeline above and there's always something to add from additional research.
So far the maps or estate plans we have found or know of are:
1745 - John Rocque map of London and surrounding ares.
1766 - Proudlove Foxgrove Manor plans redrawn from a 1720 plan by John Holmes.(British Library)
1768 - Beckenham Manor Plan by J. Proudlove reproduced from a 1623 plan by Nicholas Lane (BL) 1769 - map published by Andrews, Drury & Herbert 1776 - Proudlove Foxgrove Manor redrawn but not covering as large an area as the earlier one. (BL)
1777 - Plan of an Estate of John Cator, only part of it being some fields in the larger Foxgrove plan. (BL)
1780 - Part of a large map of estates belonging to Peter Burrell (BL). mostly south of Beckenham town centre, showing many plots belonging to J.Cator.
1785 - Plan of the new road which became Southend Road and Beckenham Hill Road. Originally called Great Stumpshill turnpike.(Kent Arch). 1799 - Surveyors working drawing for the Ordnance Survey covering West Kent. (BL)
1809 - Map of Burrell estates Beckenham, Langley, Eden Park
1833 - Cator estate plan
1864 - Cator estate plan
1870 - Ordnance Survey 6 inch surveyed 1863 (National Library of Scotland) Other Ordnance Survey editions 1890's onwards (NLS)
The Cator estate plans for 1833 and 1864 we believed dont show significant differences for features within the park. The 1864 seems to be based on the OS map for that period.
The sketch map by the late Eric Inman below is constructed from information contained in the 1766 Foxgrove Manor plan below right and the map attached to the successful 1785 application by John Cator to divert what is now Southend Road and Beckenham Hill to its present route and close the road called Langstead Lane to Clay Hill, plus some detail from the earliest Ordnance Survey published 1870. Eric wrote his history of the park in the mid 1990's and must have accessed these maps and archives. Another historian Rob Copeland must have found the Foxgrove Plan much earlier in the British Library and copied it from whence it ended up in Bromley Library with his collection of memorobelia. Eric found that and the road diversion plan in Kent Archive. Then constructed the sketch with some additional more modern detail. It demonstrates pretty clearly how the stages of change created the park we are left with. If Eric had had the 1799 OS drawing he might have added the detail to the north though now it is mainly grassed areas with scattered trees backing onto Brangbourne Road housing.
The Foxgrove plan shows two plots labelled Mr Cator in the positions copied onto the sketch map though in reality one was divided as Lord Bolingbroke owned a small plot between two holdings between Morriss Wood East and Bread Fields. At this time landowners such as Jones Raymond, Lord Bolingbroke, Lord St. John and the Burrell family, and the Earl of Rockingham had considerable holdings in the area, many of which would eventually be bought up by John Cator the younger. The Earl of Rockingham is anotated on the Foxgrove plan as having land in the Southend/Downham area. Much of the woodland shown in this sketch and Rocque's map, apart from what is now known as Summerhouse Hill Wood, was probably cleared to create a view from the house of the artificial lake created by damning up a small unnamed tributary of the Ravensbourne and excavating a lake bed (probably after 1785).
The two plots Morrisswood East and West are now mainly parkland although the original plans dont indicate it was all woodland apart from Rocque's slightly questionable representation.
Robert Borrowman in his book entitled 'Beckenham, Past and Present', published in 1910 quotes the historian Hasted as stating the house to have been rebuilt with much taste and elegance shortly after 1773. Copies of Hasted's publication from 1797 can be acquired or read online. The most interesting aspect of Hasted's work is the chain of landowners which he details which maybe one day another researcher will check. It should be considered that many land owners were absentee landlords leasing property to others.
Humphrey Repton, the famous landscape architect, came to Beckenham to advise the Rector, the Rev. William Rose, on the layout of the garden to complement his new rectory for St Georges, Beckenham being designed by the Adam Brothers. The Rectory is the subject of a separate article in our newsletter of October 2016 though it was demolished to make way for Beckenham Town Hall, which in turn gave way to a Marks and Spencer. When Bolingbroke sold the Manor of Beckenham to Cator he did not pass the advowson of the church (the right to appoint the Rector) but Bolingbroke later sold or passed it to William Rose's father. Our researcher, David Love, informs us that the Roses were one of the firms installing decorative plasterwork in the 18th Century and may have worked on the mansion though it is unconfirmed. J.Barwell Cator later aquired the advowson and a member of the Cator family was Rector of St George's
The Lake, we now believe, was introduced after the 1785 Langstead Lane closure though with a different outline than the later published map indicating that it may have been remodelled. Some conjecture on the positioning of the lake is appropriate as currently consideration fof reconstructing part of it is in the Heritage Lottery restoration scheme. In the late 18th century the stream in the valley overlooked by the rear of the mansion may have carried considerable amounts of water from the area of Foxgrove Farm moat and nearby springs and ponds shown on early OS maps. The early field boundaries of the Foxgrove manor plan show a slightly meandering line along the valley and we might assume the stream formed some field boundries. Some trees and depressions still remain in the landscape along this line. And aerial images still show field boundries and ditch lines. In living memory there was still some regular flow of water along this line although as part of golf course landscaping the stream had been put in a pipe running underground, more recently broken out again around 2000. Increased housing development around Foxgrove Road and the filling in of ponds and maybe diverting groundwater into sewers has led to the drying up of the stream unless there is heavy rainfall in the area. Now the reconstruction of a lake may require filling from a borehole or mains water.
Maybe Cator would have liked a lake in view of the house but the valley is inclined from south to north and either the landscape and soil was too difficult to alter or the original position of the lake was preferred as it skirted the hill on which Summerhouse Wood stands in a kidney shape.
Stumps Hill wood is much larger in the plan straddling the new road. Cator also owned the land on the other side of the road which was either parts acquired from the Forster estate or part of the Beckenham Manor estate acquired from Bolingbroke. The Mansion is just by the 'k' in Beckenham and shows the rounded bay at the rear but no evidence of a portico. The Stable block is drawn in and the lake. Woodland and field boundaries can be identified as variously Stumps Hill Wood, Summerhouse Wood, Crab Hill and Railway Fields.
The ancient pond is perhaps under the 'e' in Beckenham. A Farm or buildings are south of the mansion and just south of that a quarry perhaps for gravel or clay. Gate lodges are at the north and south of the drive through the park. A pond/spring feed the stream which in turn feeds the lake. That pond is now filled in as part of the school playground in Westgate Road. The Ravensbourne is to the east. Is Home Farm indicated just south of the north gate lodge? There is a field system near it. I'm tempted to believe there's a structure in the crescent of the lake, we do not know the origin of 'Summerhouse' as a name and it implies there was a summer house. A cottage in the woodland is now just a few remains of foundations. The various shading indicates woodland, parkland, cultivation and meadow. It was common practice for bricks to be made locally and london clay is present in the area as is blackheath beds which are a source of gravel or pebbles.
The top right hand corner of this extract shows the bend in the Old Bromley Road which is still evident though the main Bromley Road was straightened. Buildings there are on or near the site of the 'Garden Gate' public house, currently a MacDonald's burger franchise. As pubs seemed to stay on established sites this may have been a tavern or inn during the 18th Century.
1799 OS drawing, lake and estate layout.
Below we see a different outline for the lake in the 1870 map (surveyed 1863), had it been remodelled by John Barwell Cator? The small island in the lake is visible today in the dried up and wooded lake bed. More outbuildings and greenhouses are around the stable block probably indicating the changes which took place during the 19th century. This map if viewed on the National Library of Scotland website will also show the cottage in Summerhouse Wood and Pheasantry to facilitate wildfowl shooting. The cottage could easily be on the line of the old Langstead Lane and may prove to have been there when the road was closed if investigated.
1914 (Lake approximately halved and shown as wooded)
The lake is reduced to a pond with infilled sections extending the golf course, the stable yard has the 5 homesteads with outbuildings used for storage of park maintenance equipment.
What sort of man was this John Cator whose activities were to have such a long - term effect on this part of what is now Greater London? Fortunately, we have a portrait by no less an artist than Sir Joshua Reynolds. It shows a gentleman attired rather casually, but expensively, in the fashion of the time.
The Cators were a devoted couple but had only one child, a daughter who, as commonly happened at that time, did not survive childhood and died aged three in 1766, the same year that John's sister died 'after a long illness'. Some sources cite 1766 as a particularly bad year for smallpox deaths and measles was also a common cause of death in children. Also locally some polluted water courses were blamed for dypheria and typhus. We can see from the records that wealthy families were not immune to the high rates of child mortality of the time though perhaps less affected than the poorer classes.
We know from a private report of a lady staying at Beckenham Place that John Cator was very fond of admiring his appearance in the mirror. Such vanity did not extend, however, to conventional airs and graces, for numerous reports speak of the loudness of his voice and the roughness of his manners. He did not suffer fools gladly and always spoke his mind, not hesitating to call a spade a b….. shovel no matter who he was with. The combination of wealth and business acumen led to his company and opinion being sought by many people in society including by the distinguished Dr Samuel Johnson.
He even negotiated a loan to the then heavily indebted Prince of Wales, later to become George IV but a deal wasn't finalised (memoirs of George IV and William IV). Later John was to be appointed a member of the committee set up to organise the erection of a statue of Johnson in Westminster Abbey and became one of its most generous subscribers.
He was acceptable as a son-in-law to Peter Collinson, the eminent antiquary and botanist whose daughter Mary he married in 1753. Collinson writes to John Barham in America stating that his sons (his natural son Richard and son in law John Cator) are pestering him for plants. He wishes to encourage John Cator who ' when he married my daughter barely knew an oak from an apple' This and the fact Collinson left his valuable books to John Cator bear testament to a good relationship.
Cator is recorded as supplying timber for houses in Berwick Street, Soho and other estates in the West End. He was a shareholder in the East India Company and his brother and nephews were employed by the Company. He lent money and acted as executor for wills for his acquaintances the Thrales. Certainly an entrepreneur and social climber seeking position as MP, Sherif of Kent, but any title eluded him although the Cator family had connections to aristocracy they may have been regarded as nouveaux riche. John's father in law, Collinson had a great interest in the Americas, was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and John Bartram, and is credited with introducing a number of plants and trees to Britain and elsewhere through his friendship with other botanists. Neil Rhind, in his book on Blackheath and its environs* speculates that it was timber that led to the meeting of John Cator with Mary Collinson and their consequent romance. John had inherited, from his father, a thriving timber business on the banks of the Thames at Mould Strand Wharf, now the site of the former Bankside Power Station which is the Tate Modern. He is listed as occupying a house on Bankside upto 1760 in the book 'The House by the Thames' by Gillian Tindall. Also 'Forget Thee Not My Garden' a book of selected letters to and from Collinson is interesting reading.
When John Cator was forty, he decided he would like a political career, to add to his success as a timber merchant, businessman and landowner. Our records here are amended to take account of information on historyofparliamentonline.org which we recommend for reading. e.g "In 1768 he stood for Gloucester in opposition to George Selwyn, though he had no connexion with the borough. Selwyn’s friends were indignant: ‘I am heartily sorry, my dear George, that this d-d carpenter had made matters so serious with you’, wrote Gilly Williams in March. But William Dowdeswell, though he found it ‘a very extraordinary opposition’, told Charles Yorke that the arrival of ‘this adventurer’ had ‘procured for Selwyn ... the assistance of those who would have given him opposition if a gentleman of the neighbourhood had been proposed’. And Cator was forced to withdraw. In 1772 he successfully contested the venal borough of Wallingford." and in 1780 "Cator appears in Robinson’s lists of candidates for seats at the general election among ‘persons that will pay £2,000 or £2,500, or perhaps £3,000’. In the end no Administration seat was provided, but Cator was invited to contest Ipswich by the ‘Yellow’ party in the borough. He paid £1,700 for his election, was returned, but on petition was found guilty of bribery and unseated. He also accepted an invitation from the town party at Lyme Regis to oppose the Fane interest, but was heavily defeated. In January 1785 he approached Jenkinson about a vacant seat at Ilchester, but though Jenkinson seems to have been encouraging, nothing came of it. Nor did Hawkesbury (as Jenkinson had now become) offer him the seat at Ilchester when put at his disposal in October 1786, though Cator was still hoping to reenter Parliament."
John Cator represented:
WALLINGFORD 27 Jan. 1772 - 1780
IPSWICH 3 Apr. - 18 June 1784 (this election was declared void)
STOCKBRIDGE 1790 - 22 Feb. 1793
Eric Inman had recounted that his first attempt at election in 1780, partnered by an immensely rich East India Company (nabob) Indian Civil Service retiree called Richard Barwell, was abandoned after his well entrenched opponent referring to him as a 'damned carpenter'. He was made Sheriff of Kent the following year and cast around for another seat that could be acquired for “an expenditure not exceeding £3,000”. He was finally successful at Ipswich, only to be immediately unseated for bribery. It seems even in those freewheeling days there were bounds over which it was unwise to step. After failing, once again, at Lyme Regis he was elected for Stockbridge in Hampshire, which he represented from 1790‑93.
John's eventual heir had been named John Barwell Cator by John's brother Joseph and some members of the Cator family were members of the East India Company thereby acquiring more wealth. Pat Manning's book 'The Cators of Woodbastwick' throws more light on the family history and we recommend it for reading if more is wanted regarding the Cator family.
The 'unseating for bribery' description seems to have been recorded in another local history but the situation from history of parliament online indicates that the situation was one more of irregularity rather than bribery. When one considers the electoral system of the time was only landowners having the vote and an intricate system of patronage and rotten boroughs then the offence if there was one was probably less than "fiddling your MP's expenses"
Mrs. Thrale writes that when asked by her husband whom to appoint as executur to his will, she named Dr. Johnson, Sir Lucas Pepys, and Cator: stating
"This was rather a testimony of good opinion ... than of fondness, for who could be fond of Cator? and yet I really think him as fit a man for the purpose as either of the other two. Rough in his manners, acute in his judgment, skilful in trade, and solid in property is John Cator Esq."
She thought it possible to ‘gain great information from keeping him company; but his voice is so loud, and his manners so rough, that disgust gets the better of curiosity’. And Fanny Burney: ‘He prated so much, yet said so little, and pronounced his words so vulgarly, that I found it impossible to keep my countenance.’ But Dr. Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale: ‘Cator has a rough, manly, independent understanding, and does not spoil it by complaisance, he never speaks merely to please and seldom is mistaken in things which he has any right to know.’
Cator seems to have been a conscientious trustee, and a good friend to the Thrales’s daughters, and it was to his house that they went after their mother’s second marriage. Boswell writes, June 1784,12 that Johnson was pleased with the kindness of Mr. Cator, and thus describes him: ‘There is much good in his character, and much usefulness in his knowledge’. He found a cordial solace at that gentleman’s seat at Beckenham, in Kent, which is indeed one of the finest places at which I ever was a guest.'
Mary Cator died on the 13th August 1804 and her husband was not to survive much longer, he passed away only two years later at his Adelphi home. They are both buried in an impressive tomb, which can still be seen in St. George’s churchyard, Beckenham. There is very little about Mary Cator other than she was Peter Collinson's daughter. One record is of the Cator's visiting the Thrales with a niece 'Miss Collison' (sic) whom we take to be Mary's brother's daughter. Names were still being spelt differently or phonetically e.g. Beckenham referred to as Beckingham in some records. One can only speculate on the possible details of the relationship. Cator died 21 Feb. 1806, ‘immensely rich’. The Will of John Cator is available but difficult to read the handwriting. (National Records Office) Various names entered the family because of their connections 'Bertie' 'Barwell' 'Albermarle' all have aristocratic or influentual lineages and links through marriage. 'Barwell' arises from the connection between the Cators and Richard Barwell 1741-1804 who's entry on History of Parliament online is worth reading and perhaps further investigation. Pat Mannings publications include works on the memorials in St George's churchyard. The tomb of Joseph Cator contains several members of his family some of whom were closely related with the future of the park although John Barwell Cator is buried at Woodbastwick, the family seat he acquired in Norfolk. The Memoirs of George IV and the Piozzi Letters throw some light on the business affairs of John Cator who negotiates lending money and holds a mortgage on Hester Piozzi (ex Thrale) and so is acting as a money lender or banker. There are records in the National Archive regarding court actions by the Piozzi's against Cator and differences over the estate of Henry Thrale. Cator also had court cases as plaintiff and defendant over his acqusition of the lands and manor from Lord Bolingbroke. I recommend various internet searches under, Cator, Adelphi, Piozzi, Thrale, Burney, Johnson, Collinson etc. in various combinations.
The Cator estates at Beckenham and Blackheath as well as land in Hertfordshire, Surrey and Essex together with the family timber business were left to three nephews, John Barwell Cator the eldest son of John's brother Joseph, and George and Henry Sparkes, the sons of his sister, Mary. All three were minors so Joseph Cator was named as trustee of the estate, a position he held until his death in 1818. George and Henry died young without issue, so John Barwell inherited the money when he reached the age of 18 in 1809 and later, on the death of his father in 1818 the control of the whole estate. In 1809 he used his inheritance to purchase Woodbastwick Hall in Norfolk, after which Beckenham Place was never again to be the main seat of the Cator family. Various evidence suggests that J.Barwell Cator may have occupied Beckenham Place upto 1840 but the recorded tenancies conflict with this.
Bear in mind that Cator family members had property at Clockhouse. Joseph, John's brother from 1782 to 1818. And at The Hall, now St. Christopher's Preparatory School, Peter Cator 1880?.
Back to timeline 1753
Although only related as John Cator's father-in-law, he revealed to us the most exact date for building of the mansion and his life is interesting in its own right. He was acquainted with several well known figures and he left a legacy of accumulated knowledge about plants and other subjects. At his death he left his books to John Cator then they were inherited by John Barwell Cator who allowed Lewis Weston Dillwyn access to them and the Hortus Collinsonianus was copied.
Though Collinson wrote extensively on many subjects to many people there is very little evidence of contact with his son, daughter and their families. Perhaps it remains to be discovered.
Among Collinson's acquaintances were Joseph Banks and Solander who both accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific. Collinson corresponded with John Bartram and Benjamin Franklin in America. He introduced several plants to Britain from his contacts.
This entry in A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great ..., Volume 2 by John Burke outlines his life and explains how he inherited the house at Mill Hill. His letters in 'Forget Thee Not my Garden' are a window on the thinking of the Georgian 'phylosopher'. Memoirs of John Bartram and Humphrey Marshal are another source of information.
The House on Stumps Hill
For fear of repetition, many references will state 1773 as the building of the house. That was until the Peter Collinson record stating 1760/62 was discovered. Rocque's map of 1745 shows dwellings on Stumps Hill but lacks the accuracy of modern maps. Allowing for the misalignment of these two images and inaccuracies of the map the two dwellings between the words Stoms and Hill could be the farm shown on the 1785 road diversion plan or on the site of the current mansion, or even neither. The buildings just up from the word Fox could be the 1785 farm? In the right hand image the small building near the left hand edge could be the home farm or a building on or near the mansion or stable block. All that Rocque can tell us, if anything, is that there may have been dwellings or farm buildings along Stumps Hill. Other estate plans such as the Foxgrove Manor plan do not show any buildings, merely ownership of plots. Collinson's fastidiousness in his record keeping and letters leads me to believe his account.
the supposition that the 1760 house was red brick construction is supported by the discovery of internal detail when a strong room was demolished revealing a bricked up window. The strong room was subsequently rebuilt as it had been removed without English Heritage permission. A photo of the internal detail is below. This shows the brick lintel of a window near the corner of the front of the building. The quality of the bricklaying indicates a fine finish that one wouldn't expect if the building was intended to clad.
Other 'ghostly' detail is visible in the atrium where on the original front wall of the house some faint outline of filled in windows is visible if a light is shone at the right angle.
As significant local landowners of Foxgrove Manor as well as other estates which passed through their hands some clarification of their history is relevant. So many Peters confuse the issue but it seems that in the 17th Century one Peter Burrell had four sons. This Peter Burrell according to Hasted bought Kelseys in 1688, becoming Peter Burrell of Kelseys. Among his four sons were another Peter (1692-1756) and a Merrick Burrell (1699-1787). Peter married Amy Raymond and became the Peter Burrell Ist of Langley (1692-1756) - as described in History of Parliament online, His son was Peter Burrell II of Langley (1723-1775) and his son, Peter Burrell III of Langley (1754-1820) became Lord Gwydir with a title inherited from an uncle. So depending on how you look at it there were 4 Peter Burrell's. When Lord Gwydir died the estates were sold off in 1820. The Peter Burrells of Langley were all MPs so are recorded in History of Parliament as is Merrick Burrell.
The Tenants of Beckenham Place 1818 ‑ 1902.
John Cator died on 26th February 1806 leaving control of the estate to his brother Joseph of Clock House in trust for his son, John Barwell Cator, then only fourteen and two other nephews, George and Henry Sparkes. The Sparkes brothers both died young and unmarried leaving John Barwell as the sole ultimate heir. Burke's 'Landed Gentry' records him marrying Elizabeth Louise Mahon from County Galway in Ireland just before his 25th birthday. Certainly this union did not result in a son until 1813, when Albemarle, later to inherit the property was born. At this time John Barwell was living at Woodbastwick Hall in Norfolk, which he had purchased in 1809. His father Joseph seems to have lived at Beckenham Place until his death in 1818 and it is presumably during this period that the stable clock was transferred from Clock House, if it was moved from there to Beckenham Place at all, this is still disputed. John Barwell Cator, now in full control of the estate, seems to have preferred his own home at Woodbastwick to Beckenham Place and in 1825 obtained parliamentary approval to develop the estate for building, whilst seeking out a tenant for the house itself. The earliest tenant appearing in any record is a banker named Peters, who laid out the Foxgrove cricket field in the 1830s, which some thirty years later was to become the home of the Beckenham Cricket Club.
Searching through the directories in Bromley Local Studies Library suggests that for some periods the house was unoccupied or occupied by caretakers as can be seen from the following list. Census records fill in some of the gaps but before 1840 the census is only a list of names with no 'premises' identified. Some comparison with Pat Manning's book is required here.
1829 - Alexander D. Inglis
1835 (1841 census) -1851(census) - Mr William Peters. a banker.
Peters was succeeded by Captain Walter Raleigh Gilbert, R.H.A., no dates available.
Followed by R.H. Page who later changed his name to Page‑Henderson.
1861(census) - 1866 Occupier is given as Robert Henry Page Esq. with family, servants, coachman etc.
1869 - Sir John Kirkland, Bart. J.P. an army agent who had good relations with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, received gifts from them.
1871 ditto in census with wife, aunt and servants
1873 No one listed as in occupation.
1874‑6 John Fell Christie.
1877‑8 No one listed as in occupation.
1879 Spencer Brunton. the Brunton children made a Christmas card depicting a royal family visit, maybe this harks back to the Kirkland residency
1880‑84 No one listed as in occupation.
1881 (census): Owen Henley, Gardener with wife and children / Lodge: George Skinner, Joiner, wife and nephew (caretakers?)
1885‑1891(census) Edwin Covell with extensive family and servants.
1894 The occupier is listed as Mrs Covell, her husband Edwin has presumably recently died. E. Covell is also recorded as the tenant in the documents concerned with the authorisation of the construction of the Shortlands Nunhead railway through the estate.
1895‑99 No one listed as in occupation.
1901 No census record of occupation.
1902 Beckenham Place is listed as Craven College
1907 to 1930 Norwood Sanatorium occupies the mansion and Homesteads, seems much of the park used by Foxgrove Golf Club, all under lease from Cator Estate, and a new chapter in its history opens.
1911(census) The Norwood Sanatorium is listed with its staff and patients, Home Farm is occupied.
The sanatorium continued in occupation up until
1927 The LCC acquired the park. Then park employees occupied some rooms until
1993? When London Borough of Lewisham vacated living accommodation.
1992 - 1999 David Lloyd Leisure have management of the park after failed 'Tennis Centre' scheme
19?? to 20?? The Mander Mitchenson Theatre Collection occupied the mansion mainly as a storage premises despite earlier 'Theatre Museum' plans.
20?? - 2016 Glendale have a golf course management contract using the mansion as pro shop and cafe
2017 Mansion leaseholders RJK Properties put resident caretaker managers in first floor apartments.
A further reminder here that reading Pat Manning's 'The Cators of Woodbastwick' clarifies various facets of the families activities with careers in the Church, Navy, Army etc.
The earliest detailed Ordnance Survey map dated 1870 (National Library of Scotland archive) shows the park as it was before any incursions by the builders with the positions of rows of trees revealing many of the field boundaries as they were before its creation. The 1799 OS drawing also is indicative of the original park design.
Maybe it helps to understand the chain of change of ownership of the park through the various Cator descendants. As the names John, Albemarle and Peter got re-used its easy to confuse them.
John Cator the younger creates the park much as we know it.
John Barwell Cator his nephew inherits in 1806
Albemarle Cator (the elder), JBarwell's son, inherits in 1858
Albemarle Cator (the younger) inherits in 1868. He is the second son as the eldest son John did not marry and died. John Cator (1862-1944) inherits in 1906 and presumably sells the park to the LCC in 1927
The Cators clearly intended to destroy the view from the house as their 1864 estate map shows a proposed road cutting through Summerhouse Hill Wood from Westgate Road round to Downs Bridge Road. Fortunately, maybe the distance from the railway and the nature of the ground discouraged purchasers, thus preserving the view and the wood for our present enjoyment. Or it may have been a slump in property prices. The proposed Downs Road was never created. This plan would have been under the first Albemarle Cator.
Some assumptions have been made that John Cator (the younger) laid out Beckenham roads and developed the village into a town, but the 1870 OS map clearly shows minimal house building on some roadsides. Pat Manning quotes John Cator's will as specifying that no land should be disposed of and that trees should not be felled etc. Also, as some beneficiaries of John's will did not survive, the whole estate came to John Barwell Cator almost by default. Various records regarding leasing of plots of land are in Bromley Local Studies library relating to Albemarle Cator (the younger) leases to several builders often mentioning that Albermarle is of 'unsound mind'. He is believed to have had porferia, a debilitating illness thought to have affected King George III. Albermarle's business affairs were overseen by trustees. The Wythes estate papers also infer a lot of development undertaken by George Wythes on lands bought or leased from the Cator estate. We question the assumption that the Cator's were proactive planners but clearly were selling off the Beckenham estate. The London Chatham and Dover Railway skirts around much of the Cator land and the later Nunhead Shortlands railway was promoted by other investors than the Cators. There is a jigsaw puzzle of documentation to put together regarding disposal of land and development. More research could be performed on this subject but it's outside of the current park's direct history. The fact that the old Burrell estates sold in 1820 affected development south of the village may determine that the Cator estate only influenced development north of the village. Maps from the mid 19th century of the Blackheath estate show a higher degree of development although mostly large houses with large gardens. The railway arriving in Blackheath in 1849 would have spurred on development.
One interesting item is an explosion of a steam engine on a brickfield not far from the park in Worsley Bridge Road which kills and injures several workers. By the 1860s the mansion would have gas from the works at Bell Green and mains water provided by Lambeth waterworks, but not for the stable block, which was not in Beckenham parish. From 1854 Beckenham vestry was in a strong position to insist on such supplies, as it controlled access to the Crystal Palace, a prize customer for such providers. Prior to this the mansion would have relied on pumps, wells and cesspits (a cesspit was discovered in the woodland on a Friend’s workday in March 2010). Large scale maps of the park show a pump and trough in the stable yard and other wells are around the park. There would have also probably been an ice well, which might well have been situated in Summerhouse Hill Wood. A raised sheltered position was a prerequisite for such a structure and distance mattered little in the days of cheap and plentiful labour. (Anecdotal evidence suggests an ice well may be under a mound outside Garden Cottage). This latter location of an ice well is favoured by the Friends, however no ice well is indicated on maps but one is indicated on the old Foxgrove Manor/Farm site and one is still visible in Kelsey Park. The present attractive garden is substantially different to what it was in Victorian times. Once the glass tax was repealed in 1845 and the window tax in 1851 even the most modest landowner had his walled garden equipped with ranges of heated glass houses and Beckenham Place was no exception as can be seen on the 1897 Ordnance Survey map. The Beckenham estate of Albemarle Cator was valued at £260,000 in the latter part of the 19th Century. Compare this to the £47,000 paid by the LCC for the remaining park and buildings and maybe some extent of the former estate can be gauged.
In February 1928 the freehold of the Mansion and its park was purchased from the Cator Estates by the London County Council, which restricted the private golf club to the clubhouse when its lease came up for renewal the following month. The greens themselves were opened up to the general public as a municipal golf course on Friday 6th July 1934. (The professional was Rex Kennedy, based in the mansion.)
This next passage was contributed by the late Geoff Lewis, a park ‘friend’, a personal friend and a golfer, and is included in memory of him.
Beckenham Place Park is the home of what had been for many years Britain’s busiest golf course. It provides sport for many golfers without handicaps as well as the two associated golf clubs, Beckenham Place Park Golf Club founded in 1907 and its junior, Breaside Golf Club, founded in 1947. For many years the professional was Tom Cotton, brother of the more famous Henry and father of Geoffery Cotton, who followed in the family footsteps after World War 11 and enjoyed fame as Chairman of the PGA (Professional Golfers Association).
He was followed more recently by Bill Woodman, who left when the operation of the course passed to David Lloyd Leisure in the 1990s.
BPP was also the nursery for many assistants who moved to major professional posts in other golf clubs after Tom Cotton’s tutelage. The course is short by today’s standards at 5,722 yards, but is regarded as challenging though much of the rough was cut back in the sixties to speed up play. (At present efforts are being made to extend the rough to encourage more wild life, maybe at the expense of ‘wild’ golfers, who have to hunt for lost golf balls!) Perhaps the final tribute to the course in these days of hi-tech equipment and reduced rough, is that the course record of 62, set many years ago by Tom Cotton remains unassailed. This was long before green keepers and the gales of 1987 removed some landmark hazards.
Below is a transcript of the London Couny Council minutes which decided the purchase of Beckenham Place Park:
Beckenham Place-park –Acquisition of the Cator estate - Capital estimate and special annual capital vote of £44,300.
1 – The Council on 19th October, 1926 (pp. 432-436), adopted a preliminary statement of proposals in connection with the Administrative County of London (South-east district) Town Planning Scheme No 2, a draft of which had been submitted on 8th December, 1925(pp.881-5). In this scheme an area of about 197 acres, comprising nearly the whole of Beckenham Place-park, was scheduled as a public open space. Of this area about 160 acres forms part of the Cator estate, which comprises in addition about 60 acres outside the county of London, this part not being included in the Council’s town planning scheme.
Our attention was called some time ago to the fact that negotiations were taking place with regard to Beckenham Place-park, and consideration was accordingly given by us to the question of the acquisition at an early date of the whole of the land at Beckenham Place –park comprising the Cator estate, both inside and outside the county, instead of waiting a year or two, when the town planning scheme should have received final approval.
We were of the opinion that from the point of view not merely of the present, but also of the prospective requirements of the district, the existing natural features of Beckenham Place –park should be preserved and arrangements made, if possible, for the provision, for the use of the public, of such a valuable addition to the amenities of the neighbourhood. In view, moreover, of the development which was proceeding in certain parts of the neighbouring areas, we came to the conclusion that the opportunity should not be lost of ensuring that a naturally fine estate would be unbuilt upon for all time.
We accordingly authorised certain preliminary negotiations being entered into with the agents of the Cator estate, and as a result it was reported to us that it might be possible to secure at the present time the whole of the land referred to both inside and outside the county on satisfactory terms. Instructions were therefore given for these negotiations to be continued, and we are now in a position to advise as to the terms on which we are of opinion that the estate should be acquired.
Certain modifications of boundary have recently taken place, with the result that the area now to be dealt with is about 211 acres. About 159 acres of this area (of which 101acres are in London and 58 acres outside) are at present let to the Foxgrove Golf Club at a rent of £448 a year on a lease expiring at March 1928. The area occupied by the golf course itself is about 90 acres, and the club sublet some of the remainder, excluding certain woodland, for grazing, etc. There are also on this estate a house and grounds comprising about 11 acres and used as a sanatorium which are let on a lease expiring on Lady Day (25th March) 1934, at a rent at the present time of £340 a year. Apart from this mansion and the extensive stable buildings adjacent thereto, there are four lodges and certain farm buildings, etc., on the property.
The purchase price for the 211 acres has been provisionally agreed at £43,000, a figure which we are advised is a reasonable one. The cost of the redemption of the tithe rent-charge is estimated at £750, while the estimated fees for land registry fees, stamp duties etc., will amount to £550. It is anticipated, therefore, that the total cost of acquisition will not exceed £44,300.
The portion of the estate inside the county is situated wholly in the metropolitan borough of Lewisham and the portion outside in the urban district of Beckenham, and both local authorities have been approached with a view to ascertaining whether they would be prepared, in the event of the Council deciding to purchase the property, to contribute towards the cost of acquiring such an important addition to the amenities in their districts. The Lewisham Metropolitan Bough council has expressed the opinion that the acquisition proposed would provide a magnificent park and open space on the boundary of the borough in a vicinity where it is being rapidly developed and where an open space will be urgently needed in the near future, and the borough council has agreed, in the event of the whole of the land comprising the Cator estate, including Beckenham Place –park so far as it is situated within the borough, being acquired as an open space, to make a contribution of £5,000 towards the cost of such acquisition. The Beckenham Urban District Council, however, stated that it did not see its way to contribute, as it did not consider that a recreation ground in this part of its district was necessary. The district council was asked to reconsider the matter, but replied this it sees no reason to depart from the decision previously arrived at.
As regards the legal position in relation to the acquisition of the estate the Council has alternative powers: (1) a power to purchase under the Open Spaces Act, 1906, open spaces and public walks or pleasure grounds for the public generally, and (2) a power to purchase under part 3 of the London County Council (General Powers) Act 1925, lands for the purposes of sports, games or recreation. In order that the council may be in a position to deal with certain portions of the land as it may in the future think fit, we are advised that the land proposed to be acquired should be purchased in two parts and that one part, which would be approximately the area covered by the golf course and the eleven acres attached to the mansion, should be purchased under the Act of 1925, and the other under the powers of the Act of 1906. We accordingly refer in our recommendations (b) and (d) to two plans, which together cover the whole estate proposed to be acquired. There is power, if at any time the Council did not require the land for purposes of the 1925 Act, to appropriate the same to the purposes of the Open Spaces Act, 1906. We have informed the Town Planning (Special) Committee of our proposals.
We are not yet in a position to report the estimated capital cost of lay-out or the estimated annual cost of maintenance, and we accordingly recommend the suspension of regulation No. 437. We hope to be able to submit these to the Council at an early date after the Whitsuntide recess.
There is no provision in the votes for the expenditure which is likely to be incurred during the current financial year, but it can be met out of provisional sums in the capital estimates for 1927-28. We recommend-
(a) That the operation of regulation No. 437 be suspended to enable the following recommendations (b), (c) and (d) to be dealt with.
(b)That the estimate (No.9969) of expenditure on capital account of £44,300, submitted by the finance Committee in respect of the acquisition of the Cator estate, Beckenham Place-park, having an area of about 211 acres as shown on the plans (Registered Nos. 6741 and 6742), be approved as an estimate of costs, debtor liability under section 80 (30 of the Local Government Act, 1888.
(c) That the estimate (No.58) of £44,300, submitted by the Finance Committee in respect of the purposes mentioned in the foregoing resolution (b), be approved as a special estimate of expenditure on capital account in the financial year 1927-8.
(d)That subject o a contribution of £5,000 from the Lewisham Metropolitan Borough Council towards the cost of acquisition, the freehold of the land referred to in the foregoing resolution (b) be acquired, as to the land shown by a blue verge on the plan (Registered No. 6741) under the provision of the Open Spaces Act, 1906, and as to the land shown by a pink verge on the plan (Registered No. 6741) under the provisions of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1925; that the solicitor do complete the matter : and that the seal of the Council be affixed to the preliminary agreements, conveyances and transfers(in duplicate).
Motion made -That the report be received.It appearing that the recommendations in the report involved expenditure on capital account exceeding £5,000, it wasResolved -That the consideration of the question be postponed.
1939 to the Present Day
By 1952 the park looked like this map viewable on The National Library of Scotland website. The cottage in the woodland is still shown but although the lake is shown at its full size on the 1898 map by 1952 it is reduced to a pond. The story goes that it began to dry up and it was reduced in size to increase the size of the golf course.
Between 1980 and 2000, perhaps earlier, the mansion was used for the housing of the Raymond Mander and Joseph Mitchenson collection of theatre memorabillia within the building, originally with the intention to convert the mansion to a theatre museum. The Trustees of the collection could not raise the necessary funding to complete the project. So apart from the golf operationn this only contributed to stopping any other use being proposed. The collection was excellent, but as funding for the project failed the museum didn’t materialize and the contents of the collection have never been accessible to the general public. It has now left the building and is now housed at Bristol University after passing through the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts housed in Greenwich. It's still a puzzle why the collection didn't pursue Lottery Arts Council funding after the Lottery was established.
After the Public Enquiry in the Save Beckenham Place Park Campaign transformed themselves into The Friends of Beckenham Place Park after the cease of hostilities with Lewisham Council in 1996. At this time the BPP Working Party was set up to involve all interested parties in the decision making process. Although it doesn’t always involve the communication and discussion of actions before they happen, it was a step in the right direction. Although recently the Council disbanded the Working Party in favour of some forums to discuss matters. The future was uncertain with Lewisham Council having employed numerous consultants to put forward a strategy for the park.
In July 2005 the park was granted Local Nature Reserve status, which will hopefully secure the ancient woodland, meadows, acid grass lands and other wildlife areas from inappropriate development. Even since the public enquiry there have been many ups and downs, often the latter, with failed lottery bids, three changes of management (since August 2001 LBL are back) and a project by a hotellier to do something similar to the David Lloyd scheme with a hotel and conference centre also was not pursued.
During 2009-12, a subsequent tendering of the mansion and park management contract led to a bid from The Beckenham Place Community Trust who offered to seek grant funding for restoration and subsequent management of the mansion was rejected by Lewisham Council.
In 2011 a fire destroyed much of the grade II listed stable block, perhaps the most significant loss being the clock which dated back to about 1750.The Friends are doing their best to keep the Mansion in the public domain and accessible. In May 2013 the Council were researching the possibilities of grant funding from the various National Lottery sources. In 2014 the Heritage Lottery approved in principal the grant of about £4.9 million subject to a stage bid with full details of developments. There is a proposal to close the golf course which is hotly contested by many including a lot of non-golfers. Golf ensures there is a number of people in the park at most times of day. The Environment Agency are evaluating a flood alleviation scheme which will affect the landscape of the eastern side of the park along the Ravensbourne corridor. The golf course has been closed at the end of October 2016 by Lewisham Council who cannot or will not make it financially viable. The mansion is on short term lease to RJK Properties which hopes to make it used, maintained and viable. RJK are happy to accommodate the Friends visitor centre and we hope it will be a good working relationship.
Bid has been approved in
January 2017, which
should enable rebuilding of the stable block although most heritage
content is destroyed. But the nearby cottages are not in the bid.The
Working Party set up by ex-mayor, councillor John Rudd has been wound
up by LBLewisham and three forums established to discuss Events, Arts,
Schools and Children, Nature History and Interpretation.
There is much that is unsettled about
the parks future and the Friends
attempt to positively influence outcomes for conservation of the
natural and historic heritage of the park.
The Cators of Beckenham and
Woodbastwick - Pat Manning
Hasted's History and
History of Parliament
Beckenham Place Park:
John Cator the elder 1703-1764
John Cator the younger 1728-1806
Joseph Cator 1723-1818
John Barwell Cator 1781-1858
Peter Collinson 1694-1768
Mary Cator (nee Collinson/daughter)
Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) 1707-1778
Carl von Linne the younger (17? - 1781)
Merrick Burrell 1699-1787
Earl of Rockingham / Sondes family / Lees Court Estate
John Forster of Southend
Francis Flower of Southend
Peter Burrell (of Kelsey) and Isabella Merrick 16?? (parents of Peter Burrell I) Beckenham landowners? purchased Kelseys in 1688 (Hasted)
updates:April 10th, March 14th 2017, March 9th 2017, Nov 2016
Archives: some on-line catalogues facilitate preliminary searches, however lists are often not complete so much more material is yet to be rediscovered.
Kent Archive Maidstone (Cator road diversion, Lees Court/Rockingham)
Essex Archive (pertaining to Raymond family)
Surrey Archive (the Cators resided and had property in Surrey)
Bromley Local Studies Archive (Cator, Burrell, Raymond, and many other links)
The British Library (estate plans, East India Co., Raymond, Burrell etc.)
History of Parliament online (political history of Cator, Burrell, Rockingham etc.)
The Mill Hill Society (Peter Collinson)
The Linnaean Society (Collinson, Linnaeus, Carl von Linne the younger)
Merrick Quaker Ross on Wye / Cator connection
The Aurthors: This history is derived from several sources. As well as the archives above, Hasted's History and Topography of Kent, Robert Borrowmans' "Beckenham". Rob Copeland's "Manors of Beckenham". Eric Inman and Nancy Tonkin's "Beckenham". Pat Manning's "The Cators of Beckenham and Woodbastwick". Eric Inman's articles for the Friends of Beckenham Place Park newsletter. and later additions, rewrites and amendments by Margaret and Malvin Mitchell of Friends of Beckenham Place Park.