Kent is home to many a historical site, from grand and well-preserved castles, to a half-buried Roman Villa, and even a ruined medieval chapel perched on a deteriorating coastline.
But one such location is far less known about, and even more difficult to visit.
Scadbury Nature Reserve may seem a fairly ordinary area of woodland, sandwiched between Sidcup and Chislehurst, and just off the A20, but this historic wood is home to one of Kent’s most hidden gems – Scadbury Manor.
The Manor, or rather what’s left of it, is deep in Scadbury’s woodland, placed conveniently on a scenic circular walking route through open fields and deciduous forest.
Public access is strictly limited as a matter of conservation, though the Orpington and District Archaeological Society often are able to organise an open weekend, though rarely more than for a handful of hours, once a year – and the dates for 2021 have been announced.
Though no advance booking is required, the 2021 open weekend is slated for 11 and 12 September 2021, between 2pm and 5pm on each day, with final entry at 4.30pm.
The history of Scadbury
Scadbury’s history is long, murky and complex, though it is believed that the Manor was first owned by the De Scathebury family in the 13th century, the family name having outlived their ownership and slowly becoming Scadbury, as the surrounding area is now known.
It was then bought in 1424 by Thomas Walsingham, a London MP and wine merchant, who added additional lands to the estate, remaining in the Walsingham family for over two centuries until it’s sale in 1660.
In the intervening years, the manor was the residence of the Sherriff of Kent, Queen Elizabeth I’s Principal Secretary, and a Lieutenant of the Tower of London, who was responsible for jailing many of Henry VIII’s most notorious enemies.
It even briefly saw visitation from famous Tudor playwright and pioneer of the gothic literary genre, Christopher Marlowe, in 1593.
From there it was sold to the High Sheriff of Kent, Richard Betenson in 1660, before passing through the hands of Colonel John Selwyn and ultimately Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, the namesake of Australia’s largest city.
It is believed the manor was pulled down in the 18th century by Townshend’s family, though parts were built up again for use as a garden by subsequent occupants, including the renovation of the pillars, chimney, fireplace and a spiral staircase that are still visible today.
The Great Storm
The surrounding woodland was all also originally part of the estate, now a 300 acre conservation area, notable for its high number of burnt-out and felled trees, which were victims of the Great Storm of 1987.
Though much of the intrigue of Scadbury lies in the rich history and nearly untouched Tudor ruins, there have been other investigations into the house, such as multiple archaeological digs, turning up stoneware pottery and oyster shells.
There was also an amateur ghost hunt on the island conducted in 2007, and in spite of reports of a “wild brooding energy” and sounds of “1920/30s grammarphone music” being heard on the island, there is little popular mythology connected to the island house.
Ghosts aside, the manor is truly a hidden gem in Kent’s northwest reaches, and though access is extremely limited, the intrigue of a rarely opened Tudor ruin fit with a moat is enough to spark imagination on its own.