diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 16, 2022

TQ4471: north of Chislehurst

Some grid squares just don't want to be visited. If TQ4471 were fractionally further west it'd nudge the main road between Eltham and Chislehurst, and if it were fractionally further east it'd graze the Sidcup bypass, but it narrowly misses both and goes generally unnoticed. The vast majority of it is open space but not common land, and jealously guarded by a handful of wealthy inhabitants in gilded boltholes. It's much more rural than I was expecting, even given how green it looks on a map, and often felt like I'd stumbled into Surrey by mistake.

I reckon to make sense of the square it's best to start at this central junction where four long footpaths meet.

The path to the north is a medieval track called Kemnal Road, named after the local long-extinct manor house. Initially it's driveable in order to serve a handful of very big houses owned by very rich people. Brook House has ostentatious topiary, an actual belvedere and a duckhouse floating on a pond fed by the local stream. The Glass House is a modern confection with a greenhouse upstairs where you'd expect a roof terrace to be. The owner of Toppers Oak has plans to knock the whole place down (plus the stables nextdoor) to build something much more to his liking. He also owns a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari with numberplates 5 BW and BW 5 respectively because sometimes money is no object. The scaffolders doing up the last house in the row sounded a lot more common.

The further you walk the less roadworthy Kemnal Road becomes, more an isolated rutted path between paddocks and thick woodland. Proximity to the Wyncham Stream means it's partly waterlogged even in this weather so must be much more of a quagmire in winter. Kemnal Manor used to be somewhere in those woods to the right before it burnt to the ground in 1964. Eventually the back of a modern cemetery appears, notionally inaccessible but they've not been as zealous with their perimeter fencing as their horticulture so it'd be easy to slip through and drop down. I kept heading north and the path emerged on the wrong side of the A20, behind a gate, unsigned, far from a footbridge... and suddenly it was becoming obvious how easy this place was to miss.

To the south of that original fingerpost Kemnal Road is wider and properly tarmacked. It's also very much a private road, as multiple landowners are at pains to remind you, and has been fortified along one side with a seriously spiky fence and CCTV cameras on poles pointing every whichway. For added impact someone's bought a job lot of Beware of the Dogs! signs and spaced them out behind the railings along the full length of the drive. There are at least twenty signs in total, all with a green background except the last which is red just in case you hadn't got the message.

Beyond the top gate the road is no longer private and also more densely populated, but the security paranoia continues. I spotted several signs warning of unseen loose dogs, another on a back fence confirming the presence of anti-intruder devices and a painted notice on a tennis court warning 'Private Residents Only'. I made a special effort to take a photo of the Neighbourhood Watch sign in full view of three further cameras, and earned a hard stare from a lady emerging from the nearby alleyway. If you do all have a collective anxiety about burglary, I thought, perhaps go and live somewhere that's a bit better lit at night.

Head east from the fingerpost and it's a proper footpath this time. One side is thick woodland shielded by a fence you could probably get through and thick undergrowth you probably couldn't, so as depressingly inaccessible as all the other woods hereabouts. The other side is yet another fence, this time considerably sturdier and backed by a recently-planted line of conifers to act as extra screening. You might catch a few glimpses of magnificence through the needles as you climb but only at the very top of the slope is there a clearer view and blimey, won't you look at the roof on that.

This is Foxbury, a gothic hybrid built for investment banker Henry Tiarks in the 1870s and the finest private house in all of Chislehurst. You can read a lot more about the owner and his mansion here, indeed the whole Kemnal/Foxbury area is documented in fantastically impressive detail on that website. What it doesn't mention is that Foxbury has since become a top notch luxury hideaway for multi-millionaires, and that apparently Michael Jackson had been due to hire the complex as a bolthole during his ill-fated O2 residency. Like I said, some grid squares just don't want to be visited.

Only if you head west from that fingerpost, along Belmont Lane, do you eventually reach some kind of suburban normality. Here finally is accessible woodland, then an open space with a micro-stream threading down the centre and residents walking their dogs across freshly-mown grass. The wooden bear in the gully was a little less normal, to be fair, but a QR code on its paw confirmed it was representing Goldilocks as part of the Chislehurst Society's Bear Trail. I knew I'd crossed the line from wealth to merely comfortable when I reached Woodside Avenue and saw a) two residents wielding hedgetrimmers b) three gleaming milk bottles on a doorstep c) pink roses round a front door d) a broom propped up in a porch e) 'No Flyers' stencilled across a letterbox f) copious amounts of leftover jubilee bunting.

A separate whorl of housing on the hillside looks more council. Nobody gets to live at the summit because that's a sealed-off open space - which seems to be very much the local story - but I see a new special needs school is about to be built up there which seems a positive step. More intriguing is the shopping parade on Edgehill Road whose extraordinary retail offer, apart from minimarket and Indian takeaway, consists of a tattoo parlour, an emergency plumber, a double glazing specialist and a lawnmower showroom. I was particularly impressed by the way the owner of Chislehurst Motor Mowers had lined up all his machines outside the shop despite the lack of any passing trade, and wondered how on earth his business had survived so many winters.

And oh look, it turns out the ordinary houses in TQ4471 merit a bus service, indeed two routes weave their way round the estate. It's therefore perfectly possible that I've passed through this grid square before aboard the 160 or 162, just not remembered, and it never was unvisited after all. But I prefer to err on the side of caution to be absolutely certain, and what's more I'd never have discovered the astonishing anomalies hidden in plain sight elsewhere otherwise.

🟨=1391, 🟩=51, 🟦=6, 🟥=15

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