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Camden Park Road + Yester Park Chislehurst Kent

Roll Over Country Life

Long time resident and Secretary of the Chislehurst Residents’ Association from 1966 to 1974, Mary Holt was committed to the architectural research of her local area. In 1991 her definitive study of Chislehurst Conservation Area was published. Two of the most beautiful gated roads in this leafy location are Camden Park Road and Yester Park, both lined with villas designed to induce envy. The former borders Chislehurst Golf Club while the latter forks away to straddle a ridge. This is outer suburbia at its finest.

Mary’s introduction states, “Indeed Chislehurst grew up as a scattered village centred around its various commons, surrounded by large country estates, and did not outgrow its hilltop site until mid Victorian times. After the construction of the railway in 1865, however, it became a fashionable suburb for London businessmen, while in 1870 the French Imperial Court took up residence in exile at Camden Place. Sadly, World War II left its mark on Chislehurst: a surprising number of Victorian buildings and earlier properties were destroyed or damaged by bombs, thus providing the opportunity for more intensive development.”

She comments, “The special character of Camden Park Road lies in the contrast between the undeveloped park-like nature of the golf course to the north and the largely built up backcloth of substantial houses to the south. The road is developed for the major part of its length with substantial detached houses, but on the northern side of the road frontage development stops at No.23. The edge of the golf course is well treed, giving this part of the road a very rural appearance although the housing development continues on the other side of the road. The road has an attractive character of a high class residential area in which the landscaping forms a prominent and important part of the street scene.”

In the part of Camden Park Road closest to the golf course which was developed first, “Most of the houses here, in the Arts and Crafts style, were built by William Willett Junior who purchased Camden Place in 1890; the architect for several was Ernest Newton, working in conjunction with Amos Faulkner, and reveal the wide range of Newton’s talent.” The Arts and Crafts architect Ernest Newton was a protégé of Richard Norman Shaw. He excelled at residential architecture of ‘near-symmetry’ where the massing is balanced but a window or chimney stack or some other feature will be placed off-centre.

The Architectural Outsiders, a 1984 publication edited by Roderick Brown, includes Ernest Newton. The editor explains it is a study of “outsiders in the sense of being outside the body of designers who have been adequately studied”. Richard Morrice writes the chapter on Ernest Newton, discussing many of his suburban and country houses although Chislehurst isn’t mentioned. He states that the architect’s domestic work demonstrated “the ultimate interchangeability of vernacular and neo Georgian, almost reducing thereby the question of style to irrelevance”.

And on the elevated road: “Yester Park leads off to the west from the upper end of Yester Road through a brick and wrought iron gateway, flanked on one side by Walden Lodge which dates from about 1850. It is a small tree-lined road of interwar years development with large houses, some in contrasting styles on the lower side of the road, set in mature landscaped gardens. The house on the upper side are more uniform, mock Tudor in character with generally open plan front gardens.”

Chislehurst Conservation Area illustrates how the architecture of prominent late 19th century architects like George Devey, Richard Norman Shaw and Philip Webb flowed into the rising industry of premium housebuilding. If there is a common detail that ties most of the half century or so of houses together, it would be black and white Tudor style half-timber boarding.

Architects Architecture

Pelham Crescent + Wellington Square Hastings East Sussex

Le Confinement Est Fini

Walkway Pelham Crescent Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Joseph Kay (1775 to 1847) may not be an educated household name these days, but he hung out with some better known architects. He was a pupil of Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1753 to 1827), travelled the Continent with architect Robert Smirke (1780 to 1867) and married Sarah Henrietta, daughter of architect William Porden (1755 to 1822). His pièce de résistance is undoubtedly one of the architectural highlights of East Sussex.

St Mary in the Castle Church Pelham Crescent Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Terrace Bay Pelham Crescent Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bow Pelham Crescent Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bay Pelham Crescent Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Area Pelham Crescent Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wellington SquareHastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Terraces Wellington Square Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wellington Square Hastings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pelham Crescent is extraordinary in lots of ways, from its setting (carved out of a cliff) to its complexity (it includes a rabbit warren of cellars and areas as well as a lower street level shopping arcade) to its arrangement (St Mary in the Castle Church is plonked in the middle of the arc of townhouses). Joseph Kay owned one of the townhouses as well as a villa in the Belmont area of Hastings. An architect’s salary of £150 a year clearly stretched far in those days. A blue plaque on one of the townhouses records ‘George Devey (1820 to 1886) Architect and Pioneer of the Arts + Crafts Movement lived in this house 1870 to 1886’. He clearly didn’t practice what he preached for Pelham Crescent is as far removed as is possible from Arts + Crafts. High above Pelham Crescent are the remains of the Norman Hastings Castle just to add further drama to the setting. Heritage architect John O’Connell calls the castle “The Ostia Antica of the South Coast”.

Regency Terrace Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The terrace and church were completed in the 1820s for landowner Thomas Pelham 1st Earl of Chichester (1728 to 1805). Each of the stuccoed houses is only one bay wide – but what a bay! The ground floor boasts a tripartite Wyatt window; the first floor, a balconied and hooded bow window; the second floor, a balconied and hooded French door; and the top floor brags a half moon Diocletian window. It’s as if Mr Pelham swallowed the architectural dictionary or at least the fenestration chapter. The four end houses have charming scrolled pediments topped by acroteria. Inland to the northwest of Hastings Castle is Wellington Square, started just before and finished just after Pelham Crescent. Developed by speculative bankers, it is less coherent yet of a similar ilk to Joseph Kay’s work with at least as many idiosyncratic details. “The Nash Class of ‘99” says John O’Connell. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Regency Hastings East Sussex © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley