Scadbury Manor

The Manor of Scadbury, once the influential heart of Chislehurst, was purchased by Thomas Walsingham in 1424, a sale that was to connect the Walsingham family with Chislehurst for more than 200 years. Scadbury was purchased as a country retreat whilst he and his wife still retained their London home in the parish of St Katherines. The manor was inherited in 1459 by Thomas’s son, Thomas II, and then his son James, who was Sheriff of Kent in 1497. It is thought that Thomas II provided the money for the re-building of Chislehurst Parish Church. The additions such as the north aisle and tower, along with the north arcade and wooden rood screen that forms the Scadbury Chapel and separates the chancel from the nave are consistent with the architectural style of that time. The Walsingham tomb, according to the date on its upper part, was probably built in 1581.

James and his wife, Eleanor Writtle had unusually long lives for the time, celebrating their diamond wedding. James’s son Sir Edmund Walsingham was knighted in 1513 for his part in the battle of Flodden, and became Lieutenant of the Tower of London in 1540, having custody of many of the prisoners of Henry VIII including Sir Thomas More, and Anne Boleyn. Sir Edmund was succeeded by his son Thomas III, who, in 1573 at Rye, East Sussex, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. After his death in 1584 the Scadbury estate passed firstly to his son Edmund, who died unmarried in November 1589 and then to a younger son Thomas IV.

Sir Francis Walsingham cousin of Thomas was born at Scadbury in 1532. A staunch Protestant, he became spymaster and feared member of the Star Chamber having been appointed Principal Secretary of State by Elizabeth I on December 21, 1573. Walsingham is frequently cited as one of the earliest practitioners of modern intelligence both for espionage and for domestic security. He oversaw operations which penetrated the heart of Spanish military preparation, gathering intelligence from across Europe, and disrupting a range of plots against the queen, even securing the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. He died at Chislehurst in 1590.

Thomas Walsingham IV, patron of Christopher Marlowe, poet and playwright, had been employed by his cousin Sir Francis on secret missions overseas and it is thought he may have met Marlowe through his work. Born at Canterbury in 1563, Marlowe became one of the greatest poets and playwrights of his age. He was known to have stayed at Scadbury from time to time, and to have attended services at St.Nicholas’s Church. It is thought he may have obtained material for his literary play ‘Massacre in Paris’ from the Walsinghams, Sir Francis being the English Ambassador in Paris at the time of the St.Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestant Huguenots in 1572. Marlowe was arrested at Scadbury on 18 May 1593 on a charge of blasphemy brought after allegations made by one Richard Baines, a doubtful witness, being hanged at Tyburn the following year for a ‘degrading offence’. He was freed on condition he remained within a few miles of the Court at Greenwich. A few weeks later, Marlowe was dead. He was fatally wounded above the eye at a house in Deptford on the 30th of May.

It was at Scadbury that Thomas IV was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. He went on to sell the Royal manor of Dartford in 1611 but retained Chislehurst. After his death in 1630, Scadbury passed to his son Sir Thomas V, the last Walsingham to be Lord of the Manor of Scadbury. Knighted by James I at the age of 13, he lived through the Civil War, during which, he showed an ability to keep on the winning side. He held the post of Vice-Admiral of Kent for 25 years from 1627, and not only retained the post during the Commonwealth but was appointed Militia Commissioner for Kent as well. As a result of financial difficulties Sir Thomas sold his properties including Scadbury Manor and retired to Saffron Walden in Essex. However, on his death in 1669 his body was brought back to Chislehurst and buried in St Nicholas’ Church, the last of the Walsinghams to be laid in the family vault there.

Scadbury, along with Chislehurst Manor was sold to Sir Richard Bettenson in 1665. Succeeded by his son Sir Edward Bettenson, the properties of both were heavily mortgaged. After the death of Sir Edward his three sisters owned the estates jointly, the manor courts held in their names. A grandaughter of Sir Richard Bettenson, Albinia, had married General William Selwyn. Her son, John Selwyn, purchased the Lordships of both Manors and discharged the mortgage. He sold the estates to his cousin Thomas Farrington, just retaining Scadbury. Albinia’s granddaughter, also called Albinia, married the Hon. Thomas Townshend, and after the death of John Selwyn his sons agreed to settle the Scadbury estate on Townsend. Intending to build a new house on the site, Thomas had the old manor house demolished, however, the early death of his wife Albinia at the age of twenty five caused him to give up the project. He purchased Frognal House in 1752 where the family was to remain until the First World War. Townshend died in May 1780, aged 78.Their son Thomas, later owner of Scadbury, became a prominent politician and was created Viscount Sydney in 1789. In fact Sydney in Australia is named after him.

Scadbury Park was purchased by the London Borough of Bromley in 1983 and opened to the public as a Local Nature Reserve in 1985. It contains 300 acres of countryside made up of extensive pasture and woodland around which runs a network of paths for public access. The mixed woodland, which covers nearly half of the estate, includes the remnants of ancient oaks that would have formed part of a Royal Hunting Forest. Today these ancient trees grow alongside a variety of others including ash, alder, hazel, sweet chestnut, sycamore and birch.