Kemnal Manor

One of the earliest houses in the area, it was first mentioned in deeds in 1250 and referred to as the home of the Chomenole family. The name of the manor has evolved over the centuries. Chomehole, Cunehale, Kimehole, Kimenhale, Kymenhole, Kemenhole, Keminghole and today Kemnal. In 1259 Alexander de Chomenole sold the property to the Priory of Hornchurch in Essex, who, according to a charter of Archbishop Thomas a Becket, already owned land in Chislehurst. By increasing their holdings in the area, all produce and income raised went to support the Essex priory.

In 1391 the monks sold Kemnal to the Bishop of Windsor, William of Wykeham, who made it a part of his endowment of New College, Oxford. An able manager and a builder, Wykeham rose from humble beginnings to power and great wealth, both of which he used for the benefit of English education.It was in 1356, Wykeham became an overseer of building works at Windsor Castle. By 1359, he was chief warden and overseer of other royal palaces, parks, and manors. He built the Round Tower and Eastern Ward of Windsor Castle, as well as five other castles, Winchester, Porchester, Wolvesey, Leeds and Dover. He was paid for these services by the king by way of incomes of various churches, a common practise in those days. However, in 1362 he was ordained. In 1364 he was made Keeper of the Privy Seal and in 1367 Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England. His motto ‘Manners Makyth Man’ was generally taken to mean that virtue alone is truly noble. He died in 1404 aged 84.

The areas of Chislehurst owned by New College were extensive, and covered more than just the Kemnal Estate. These adjoined Scadbury Manor to the south and Eltham Manor to the north-east. There was also land and property to the north and south of Perry Street and around the commons. By 1576 large areas were rented out to neighbouring landholders, and so it was that the rental from 31 sub-leases amounted to the sum of £5.18s.8d. It was the responsibility of the lessee of the Kemnal Estate to collect these rents on behalf of the College, however, by 1791 all of the property except Kemnal had been disposed of leaving 130 acres of the Kemnal Estate subject of the lease. This comprised of approximately 85 acres of agricultural land and 45 acres of woods.

In 1538 John Comporte leased the Estate, the start of what was to be a 250 year long ownership by the family and their heirs. The family had lived in Chislehurst for many years and were yeoman farmers who prospered such that by the early seventeenth century, not only had they obtained a grant of arms but had married into some of the notable families in the area, many of which are said to be buried in St Nicholas churchyard. The Estate was to see many new and influential tenants over the decades with New College holding Kemnal Manor for almost 500 years. However, the rising value of land urged them to sell.

Mr Samuel Bailey Verney Asser, a retired corn dealer, bought the house and lands at auction in August 1871, and it was he that named the house Kemnal Manor. Regardless of whether the building had ever been a ‘true’ manor as such, the fact was, naming a house a ‘manor’ was fashionable at that time. Asser built a new house on the same site which was completed in 1875. He also made arrangements for rights of way for the owner of the Kemnal Estate to the south, over Woodheath, which at that time was owned by Viscount Sydney. Referred to in the 1871 particulars as being a private road it was the granting of a right of way that actually created Kemnal Road. In 1874 Asser sold fifty-seven acres of the Estate to Henry Tiarks for the building of Foxbury as his country house, granting him rights of way, both north and south. After six years Asser sold the new house, the remaining lands, and the north part of Kemnal Road to seventy-one year old retired metal-merchant Richard Johnson from Manchester. Johnson died in February 1881, and the April 1881 census showed his widow Emma Johnson as being the owner.

The house was sold to James Hermann Rosenthal in the early 1900′s. Rosenthal was British Managing Director of Babcock & Wilcox and instrumental in making the company successful internationally by leading the development of steam generated electric power, and the widespread use of the Babcock & Wilcox steam boiler. He adopted the name Kemnal and became known as JHR Kemnal. The Kemnals had a holiday home ‘Storm’ at Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset, and maintained at least one steam yacht there, The Onara. It was here that James died in February 1927, following an illness. After her husband’s death Lady Kemnal and her only son, Stuart, spent more and more time at Sandbanks, one of the reasons being that the extension of the Sidcup bypass at the north east of their property in 1935, had the effect of increasing the amount of traffic which could be seen and heard at the house. By 1939 they were living at Sandbanks almost permanently and Lady Kemnal was happy to allow Kemnal Manor to be requisitioned for military use during the war. She died in July 1943, the family never returning to Chislehurst.

Requisitioned in 1939 by the War Office, Kemnal Manor became the headquarters for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Southern Command, and remained as such until 1961.The house was abandoned after REME left, and in 1964 was destroyed by fire, the remains later being pulled down for safety reasons. The northern part of the Estate was sold by the Trustees of Stuart Kemnal’s will to the London Dock Labour Board and was later developed into a sports ground, however, the rest of the estate has remained empty and since been designated as part of the Green Belt.