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.