Just beyond the Sidcup bypass, in the middle of Scadbury Nature reserve, is a moated island with a long and varied history. It's seen a medieval manor and a 20th century replacement, it's been visited by Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria and the public are only allowed in one weekend a year, which you've just missed. For the rest of the time it's only visible across the moat, for example you might have seen it while walking London Loop section 2. This special multi-layered nugget is loved and cared for by the Orpington and District Archaeological Society, and I met a ton of these knowledgeable souls down at Scadbury Manor a few days ago.
They reckon the manor's first owners were the de Scathebury family somewhere around 1200AD. A century later John de Scathebury was the richest man in Chislehurst, which in those days only required assets of £22 (in crops, animals and other assets). In the 15th century the well-connected Walsinghams took over, which'll be why Elizabeth I turned up to knight one of them, and also why (in an unconnected incident) Christopher Marlowe was arrested here for blasphemy. By the 18th century the house had become a ruin, leaving owner Robert Marsham-Townshend free (in 1936) to build a replacement manor house off-island and a faux-medieval manor on it. When that burnt down in 1976 the game was up, and full nature-reservisation duly followed.
The open weekend promised a marvellous trio of attractions, namely "Self-guided trail/Bookstall/No toilets", and duly delivered on all three. The self-guided trail was excellent, a sequence of 15 information boards leading round the moat onto the island and back, augmented by ODAS members in key locations ready to impart their knowledge. Yes we think this was an ornamental driveway so would have been trodden on by Elizabeth I. Yes we've been digging trenches on parts of the site that aren't a scheduled ancient monument, look what we've found. Yes they might well have made apple mush here in this very kitchen, do you want the recipe? Yes I was down in that gully clearing out the undergrowth last weekend so you could glimpse the Tudor cellar.
The site is a historical health and safety nightmare, not just because so many of the edges are watery drops but also because a lot of the old brickwork is potentially crumbly. Robert Marsham-Townshend used cement mortar rather than lime mortar when he repurposed the island, a short-term solution which a century later is causing all sorts of issues, so please stand behind the cones and the tape at all time. It means what you're seeing on the island is a mix of genuine foundations, reconstituted footprints and repaired walls, and you'll need an expert to point out which is which. The Apple Barn is also less ancient than it looks, as are the occasional pillar, chimney and lower curl of a spiral staircase built as a rich man's plaything.
Scadbury also has a WW2 observation post, having been part of London Defence Line A which was established across northwest Kent at the start of the Blitz. The trees were lower then and you could see for miles. The wartime connection allowed one of the ODAS volunteers to dress up in uniform and regale visitors with that part of the story, indeed Scadbury's varied heritage is ideal for allowing members to indulge their favourite period. They know their stuff too - the bookstall included printed pamphlets including Excavations at Scadbury, An Early Saxon Building In St Mary Cray and Pure Aerated Waters: The Chislehurst Mineral Waters Company. If you want to get inside the site before next September best join them.