Friends of Kelsey Park


The following is a chronology of main events of the Kelsey estate, leading up to the park we have today. There are various illustrations at the bottom of this article.

Beck River: (Formerly Hawk’s Brook). Rises in Shirley Hills and Park Langley. Before the water table was lowered by digging wells in the 18th and 19th centuries this was a fast flowing river well stocked with fish from the Thames.

Roman Period: The Roman Road from Lewes (port and iron works) to London ran parallel to Wickham Road and a third of the distance to the lake. This was likely to have been a favoured stopping place for travellers - just three leagues from Londinium.

Domesday Book: Recorded ‘mill’ - surely a watermill located either in the park area or by a pool at the top of the present Bevington Road.

Domesday Book entry for the Manor of Beckenham: "In BROMLEY Hundred Ansgot of Rochester holds BECKENHAM from the bishop. It answers for two sulungs. Land for 8 ploughs. In lordship 2. 22 villagers with 8 smallholders have 8 and a half ploughs Meadow, 12 acres; 4 slaves; a mill; woodland, 60 pigs. Value before 1066 and later £9; now £13. Askell held it from King Edward."

12th - 14th centuries: The Kelsey area was owned by the Lord of the Manor of Beckenham.

1408: Beginning of Kelsey Estate(?) Wm. Kelsiulle (fishmonger and citizen of London) acquired two meadows and built a house.

1472 Wm. Brograve: (Draper and citizen of London) acquired the estate of Kelsey and improved the property. His family lived there for over 200 years. It was a good commuting distance from London by horse or carriage.

1479: Oratory Chapel was added, by licence from the Bishop of Rochester.

Lower Lake Mansion House: (3 Manor Way).

1623: Earliest map showing a house at Kelsey.

1664: Mr Brograve paid tax on twelve hearths. (The George had seven).

1690: Peter Burrell I, a London Merchant, acquired the Kelsey Estate and extended it through to Elmers End. He died in 1718.

Peter Burrell II (1692-1756): Active MP and Sub-Governor South Seas Co. Wild speculation led to the bubble being burst in 1720. PB II was fined £35,000 for defrauding shareholders but was able to retain £30,000, as he was not considered the main offender. Appointed High Sheriff of Kent. He arranged extensive landscaping both sides of the river.

Peter Burrell III (1724-75): MP for Totnes. One son and four engaging daughters.

Roque’s 1741/5 Map: Shows river flowing into 'lower lake' - no upper lake, nor 'main' waterfall, but extensive landscaping.

‘Upper Lake’ Mansion House: Was built for Elizabeth Amelia (PB III’s eldest daughter) who married wealthy Richard Bennett in 1766. Estate divided north to south and new driveway constructed from Kelsey Square past the much earlier gravel quarry.

Peter Burrell IV (1754-1820): Attained great wealth; became Lord Gwydor and moved to his wife’s estate at Carmarthen. ‘Lower Lake’ mansion fell into disuse and was not mentioned in the 1820 sale.

Landscape Design: It is believed that Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) the fashionable landscape architect redesigned Kelsey estate, formed the upper main lake with waterfall. Some of the present trees would have been planted then (and possibly the ice-well constructed at the same time).

1820 Great Auction Sale: 3,202 acres - of which 453 acres were hunting and shooting areas. Kelsey was 153 acres - ‘beautiful scenery’, ‘ornamental timbers’, ‘handsome long strip of water through grounds’, ‘shady walks’. Purchased by Edward Gross Smith.

Hoare Family: Part of the Hoare banking family owned Kelsey from 1835-1909. They greatly improved the lake, increased the height of the waterfall; turned the house into a ‘Scottish baronial’ style mansion; built two lodges - and also provided a fire station and pump and a cottage hospital for the people of Beckenham.

Peter Hoare (Elder): Purchased 60 acres, and two pews in the Parish Church in 1835, then acquired another 82 acres.

Peter Hoare (Younger) (1803-1877): He was a Hoare Bank Partner and deeply religious. He had an 80 seat ornate chapel built, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott; with regular twice daily services. He was a good cricketer and allowed their private cricket ground (Wickham Road side) to be used by Beckenham Cricket Club before they moved to Foxgrove Road in 1866.

Charles Hoare (1846-1908): Senior Partner in Hoare Bank but his interests lay elsewhere. In 1869 he set up a regular stagecoach service Beckenham/Sevenoaks and enjoyed driving the horses. He was a good cricketer with expert Joseph Wells (HG Wells’ father) as his coach. Charles was good enough to play for Kent. He probably entertained many sportsmen at Kelsey. His under-age mistress (Beattie) would spend the night in a bedroom at Kelsey immediately above Charles’s wife. This lead to a Victorian sex court scandal. C.B.Fry, an international sportsman and one of our greatest cricketers, spent time at Kelsey and then married Beattie.

1894: Charles lost interest in Kelsey and it was leased out as a convent - then as a boarding school for the daughters of gentlemen.

1909: Charles died. The estate was sold for development with plans to become an up-market gated housing estate.

Tom Thornton: Owner/Editor of Beckenham Journal ran a vigorous campaign to encourage Beckenham Council to purchase the estate. With an £8,800 loan they acquired 21 acres, excluding the mansion, built a lodge (High St. entrance) and set up the park.

31 May 1913: Grand opening ceremony by a Government Minister. Mrs Sutton planted an oak tree – see plaque near west herbaceous border. The ornate spade used was housed in the Bromley Museum, until knowledge of its location was lost. With some wonderful investigation by two of the Friends of Kelsey Park, the spade was found, and is currently on loan, and the Friends have written to ask if it could be returned.

1914-1918: The mansion became an army hospital and was an Army Service Corp base.

1921: The mansion was demolished and replaced by more houses in Manor Way.

1934: Part of Cedars Lawn’s garden was purchased and a new entrance opened opposite Tudor Road.

Additional reading (available at Bromley Libraries):

  • Kelsey Papers - G.W.Tookey, 1975
  • Beckenham Past and Present - R. Borrowman, 1910
  • Beckenham - Eric Inman and Nancy Tonkin
  • Images of England, Beckenham and West Wickham - Simon Finch
  • C.B. Fry - Iain Wilton, Publisher Richard Cohen
  • Early History of Beckenham - Len Hevey, Publisher Fiona Carter
  • Roman Road Book - (Bromley Archives)
  • Rob Copeland’s Booklets
  • Beckenham Journal - (Beckenham Library)

Illustrations (click on the images to see a brief description)

Charles Burgess Fry (1872 - 1956), MCC captain.

He was an English polymath; an outstanding sportsman, politician, diplomat, academic, teacher, writer, editor and publisher, but is best remembered as a cricketer. John Arlott summed him up thus: "Charles Fry could be autocratic, angry and self-willed: he was also magnanimous, extravagant, generous, elegant, brilliant - and fun. He was probably the most variously gifted Englishman of any age."