The Wildernesse Estate
Sevenoaks Kent

History of the
Wildernesse Estate

Hasted's History of Kent mentions Robert de Stidulfe, who was recorded in 1327, as being the proprietor of Stidulfe's Place, Seal. The Stidulph (or Stidulfe) family were then recorded in 1433 when William Stidulph sold Stidulph's Place to William Quintin. The house was on the site of the present Wildernesse House, in Seal and it must have been substantial as, in the 1664 Hearth Tax returns, it had a total of 18 hearths. The Estate consisted of the house and a farm (Stidulph's Hoath Farm) on the site of what is now the Trinity School/Grammer School Annex and the area around the farm and across Seal Road was known as Stidulph's Heath.

The farm became the home farm for the Wildernesse Estate. In 1803 the 2nd Earl Camden enclosed the area of the heath which now includes Hillingdon Avenue to make a new drive and entrance lodge to Wildernesse House, avoiding the poor road near the millpond at Greatness. Gradually the name vanished as the rest of the heath was built on or became part of other farms. Nowadays the only use of the name Stidulph is in a house name in Seal village.
Wildernesse (House) Circa 1831

An enclosed deer park at Wildernesse was first established in 1680 when Sir Charles Bickerstaffe bought Stidulph's Place and built the first Wildernesse mansion there. When first enclosed it was 364 acres and covered an area between Seal, Stone Street, Godden Green and Seal Hollow Road, bisected by Park Lane. In 1705 Wildernesse was bought by John Pratt, the Lord Chief Justice and later Lord Camden, who extended the estate as far as Sevenoaks Hospital and also to the north of Seal Road making it more than 500 acres. The fencing around the park and gates allowing access by way of Park Lane are shown clearly on a map of Gouldings Farm in Godden Green dating from 1778. Camden created Wildernesse Avenue as the principal drive for Wildernesse House; it extended down what is now Hillingdon Avenue. In 1795 the 1st Marquis Camden had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington, had been his ADC. In 1815, just before the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington visited Camden at Wildernesse and the great avenue of limes, known as the Waterloo Limes, was planted to commemorate the occasion.

There were timber cladded lodges by the gates at either end of Park Lane in Godden Green and Seal; the former still exists but the latter was demolished in the early 20th century, after a replacement had been built slightly nearer Seal. This Edwardian building house has trefoils in its bargeboards, a sign that Lord Hillingdon, then living at Wildernesse, built it. A substantial lodge at the junction of Seal Drive and Seal Road, and single storey lodges at the end of Wildernesse Avenue and, after the land between Seal Hollow Road and St Johns Hill had been added to the estate, at the end of what is now Hillingdon Avenue were built by the Camdens. These three all had the Camden crest, an elephant's head on their walls. At the end of the 19th century the Seal Drive lodge was funded by the Hillingdons as a convalescent home for sick or deprived girls. Many of them went on to be domestic servants in various Hillingdon properties. It and the Wildernesse Avenue lodge are now private houses. The Hillingdon Avenue lodge is undergoing substantial redevelopment but planning permission requires that the façade (including the crest) must be retained.

By the middle of the 19th century the Wildernesse Estate included most of the land bounded by Seal Road, Seal Hollow Road, Bayham Road, Quaker's Hall Lane and St John's Hill. In 1866 the 2nd Marquis Camden, the owner, died and his son decided to move to Bayham near Tunbridge Wells where he had another estate. He considered disposing of Wildernesse piecemeal for building purposes to take advantage of rising land values. One plan shows the area described above divided into about a dozen large plots, up to 10 or more acres, for the building of mansion houses. Nothing came of this and Camden leased the estate in 1860 to Charles Mills, later Lord Hillingdon, who in 1885 bought the estate. Lord Hillingdon was a great benefactor locally, providing the land for Sevenoaks hospital and many buildings for Seal village. Many of these can be identified by the trefoils on their barge boards. He laid out a cricket ground and a nine-hole golf course on land around the mansion house as diversions for his house guests. In 1890 a more formal nine-hole course was laid out around Chance Wood, to the east of Park Lane, and extended to a full 18 holes in 1892.

After the First World War, it was the turn of the Hillingdons to consider how to develop the estate when they decided to sell up and move away from Wildernesse. In August 1921, 550 acres of the estate was put up for auction at The Royal Crown hotel in Sevenoaks. Lots 54 to 64, approximately 115 acres west of Seal Hollow Road, were described in the sales brochure as 'An Ideal Freehold Garden City Site'. In the event, nobody took up the development challenge and the lots were sold to private developers who built Wickenden and Swaffield Roads, Pinewood Avenue and the bungalows on Hillingdon Avenue, and to Sevenoaks Urban District Council who used it for social housing, allotments and left much as woodland. Houses and land in Seal village were sold to the tenants; the mansion and golf course were turned into an impressive country club; and the rest of the original 760 acres of the estate was sold for residential development. It was bought in 1924 by Percy Harvey, a developer. He sold many of the buildings and plots on the existing roads in Seal village but retained a core acreage around Wildernesse House bounded by Seal Road, Park Lane, Blackhall Lane and Seal Hollow Road. Except for the mansion house and the home farm he divided the area into approximately 160 building plots of half to six acres and established two new roads, Parkfield and Woodland Rise; this area of exclusive houses on large plots is now known locally as 'The Wildernesse Estate'.

Harvey's aim was to retain the natural features of the area and by imposing mutual restrictive Covenants on all the plots, especially the ones maintaining 'one house, one plot', creating a building restriction line (usually 75 feet from the road), and requiring boundary hedges, to create an high standard of housing in a rural setting. Harvey sought the services of many of the major contemporary architects, especially those of the Arts and Crafts movement, most famously M.H. Baillie Scott, and required minimum costs of construction, typically between £500 and £1,450 per house.

Harvey sold the plots off Wildernesse Avenue to different builders; many of the houses, mostly built between 1925 and the Second World War, were in the Arts and Crafts style; three have been identified as being designed Baillie Scott. Tylers Barn, a near copy of a Baillie Scott house, was first owned by a notable plant collector, Arthur Edward Rogers, who acquired three plots with a total of nine acres which he planted with many unusual specimens of rhododendrons and azaleas. The stables of Wildernesse House at the Seal end of Wildernesse Avenue had been used as a hospital in the First World War and after the war were acquired by a laundry business, 'Seal Laundry'. This operated successfully from there until recently when the stables were acquired by a developer with the intention of turning them into apartments.

Woodland Rise was laid out between an old avenue of Spanish chestnuts leading to the forerunner of Wildernesse House and planted in the early 16th century at the Seal end, past some yew trees said to be mentioned in the Domesday Book, and finishing at a group of 18th century barns on the junction with Blackhall Lane. Between 1926 and the Second World War some 34 houses were built in Woodland Rise with another four post-war. Six of the houses in the road have been identified as having been designed by Baillie Scott and another 14 by prominent architects while many of the rest built by well-known local builders such as L.A.G. Hawkes and T. Woodhams to their own design. Two of the houses had gardens designed by Vita Sackville West.

Parkfield was established on the line of an ancient footpath which crossed the estate from Knole Park (the stone steps over the park wall) towards Bitchet Green. Some 25 houses were built between 1925 and the Second World War on substantial plots of between one and four acres. Many of them were built in Arts and Crafts style. One, originally called High Winds, was built by Basil Jones, the owner of Sevenoaks Brickworks. After the war it was acquired by the chairman of the Reed Paper Group who had strong connections with the Norwegian royal family, no doubt through the paper business. A cottage was built in the grounds for King Haakon VII for his use on visits to the UK which had a direct telephone line to Harrods!

Blackhall Lane had been established as the boundary between the Knole and Wildernesse estates. The medieval manor based on what is now Blackhall Farm could well predate both of these, but it is now but a fraction of the size it once was. In the late 18th century parts of the then Blackhall estate had been bought by the Dorsets of Knole and added to the Knole estate. In 1826, the Earl of Plymouth, who had married Mary, sister of the 4th Duke of Dorset and was then resident at Knole, divided the old Blackhall estate with the Camdens of Wildernesse. Subsequently a stone wall built on the boundary of the Knole estate from Godden Green, up Seal Hollow Road and in to Sevenoaks. At the gate into Knole Park at Godden Green there had been a tavern, the Stock Inn, marked on maps from the late 18th century, which was now swept away along with Locks Bottom Farm which had been in the valley below where the Knole Park golf clubhouse now is. The land to the north of the present Blackhall Lane now consists of substantial private houses, part of the Wildernesse Estate. Apart from a few private houses the land to the south, between Blackhall Lane and the stone boundary wall, is still part of the Knole estate.

Although in recent years some houses in Wildernesse have been demolished and rebuilt, the existence of restrictive Covenants and a conservation area mean that the roads still retains the rural feel and, despite the ravages of the 1987 hurricane, the trees and other foliage mean that few houses overlook each other.
Wildernesse Conservation Area

Golf had continued to be played intermittently after the establishment of Wildernesse House as a country club until, in 1927, the syndicate running the country club was bought out by George Fawcett, a local resident, and the golf club was re-established and flourished; Wildernesse House was considered to be the best appointed 19th hole in the country!

After the Second World War, when the mansion house had been used by Guy's Hospital with 120 beds, the country club floundered; in 1954 George Fawcett's son Bernard sold the mansion to the Royal London Society for the Blind for a school who renamed it Dorton House. They developed the site with a college for older pupils and a nursery. The school has now closed and the site bought by a company which intends to convert it into a retirement village. Soon after the mansion house was sold in 1954, a group of the golf club members formed The Wildernesse Club and raised finance to build the present clubhouse on Park Lane. Since then golf has flourished and the clubhouse and course have been modernised.

The above has been based on entries in Sevenoaks: An Historical Directory (Phillimores 2012) compiled and edited by David Killingray and Elizabeth Purves, with their permission, and from the book Seal: the History of a Parish (Phillimores 2007) by Jean Fox, David Williams and Peter Mountfield, again with their permission.

Wildernesse Architecture

The Estate was purchased in 1924 by Percy Harvey, the developer of a number of other high-class estates in Sussex and Surrey, to create an exclusive Estate set in the rural domain

His aim was to retain the natural features of the area; the Spanish chestnuts, the ancient yew tree and 18th-century barns in Woodland Rise; the row of “Waterloo limes" in Wildernesse Avenue and the ancient oak tree in Parkfield as well as the heavily wooded area on the western part of the Estate. The Estate roads used the existing entrances to Wildernesse House. The old farm tracks in the case of Parkfield and the western end Woodland Rise were kept narrow with grass verges and hedges to preserve this rural idyll.

The Estate was divided into large building plots, which were then purchased either by other builders to develop, or by individuals. They included many professions, business people and families returning from working in the Colonies (who generally preferred to build the smaller houses they were used to abroad).

To achieve the development of a high-class residential estate Percy Harvey sought the involvement of a number of prominent architects of the day. The most famous of these was the “Arts and Crafts" architect M.H.Baillie Scott, who, together with other “Arts and Crafts" architects of his acquaintance, designed a number of the earliest houses on the Estate. Also a minimum cost of construction was specified for each house on the Estate to prevent the type of bungalow development to be seen further north in Kent.

Up until 1994, Sevenoaks Council was only aware of 6 houses on the Estate designed by Baillie Scott, including Kent Cottage on the western side of Seal Hollow Road. Subsequent research has shown that there are 13,possibly 14 Baillie Scott designed house, on the Estate and a number in the Sevenoaks area. Many of the houses on the Estate, including all the Baillie Scott houses, were built by the leading Kentish builders D.L.Wallice They also bought a number of plots, and a member of the family, D.L.Wallice, married Baillie Scott's daughter.

Baillie Scott designed houses of the traditional English nature, but with spacious and well-planned interiors suitable for modern life. Many of his designs were taken from indigenous older houses in the area, having large chimneys, steeply pitched roofs with old peg tiles, local handmade bricks, inglenook fireplaces and a wealth of oak joinery, so familiar in Kentish farmhouses. He felt that much of the 1920s building style was of a “ready-made" nature with little regard for the occupants.

As he himself said:

“A study of all buildings, and especially the kind of all buildings one finds in our villages, suggests that it is not only better than any modern building, but has some essential differences from it which sets it as a thing apart. The difference largely consists in the character of the workmanship which, like hand writing, conveys personality, instead of being a lifeless mechanical formula."

There has recently been a renewed interest in the designs and ideals of the “Arts and Crafts" movement and its proponents, including M.H.Baillie Scott. Many newspaper articles and books have been written about him, and his houses are now being restored and listed. These include Blackwell on Lake Windermere in Cumbria, which is open to the public and has been featured on television, and Whyteladies in Wildernesse Avenue, which is Grade 2 listed.

In his book, M.H.Baillie Scott and the Arts and Crafts Movement, James D.Kornwolf states:

“Most of the [Baillie Scott and (his partner) Beresford] houses were built within commuting distance of London, especially in the surrounding counties of Kent. At Sevenoaks in Kent and Esher and Walton-on-Thames, there are several dozen houses, mainly small but nonetheless set in spacious, well landscaped, wooded and secluded sites in private estates. Whyteladies at Sevenoaks, built in 1928, is a fairly typical example of those in that district. Hedges and woodland hide the cottage from the road and its neighbours (the estate) was developed with due regard to local conditions and traditions."

M.H.Baillie Scott houses identified on the Wildernesse Estate are:

Wildernesse Avenue:
Donyland Cottage, Whyteladies, Wychden

Woodland Rise:
Downash, Little Croft, Little Garnstone Manor, Rise House (formerly This Is It), Maple House (formerly Tanglin), Witham

Seal Drive:
Byways, Wildernesse Cottage (almost identical to Downash)

Blackhall Lane:
Godden House (formerly Godden Grange), Kilnwood

Rochester House (probably a Baillie Scott/Beresford design)

Tyler's Barn (formerly Angle House) in Wildernesse Avenue, is a "near copy" of a Baillie Scott house, designed by Hugh H. Scott-Willey

architects and builders

Gardens of Special Note:

Vita Sackville West, the famous author and designer of Sissinghurst Gardens, who spent her childhood at Knole, was involved with landscaping the gardens of Melsetter and Broomwood, Woodland Rise.

Blackhall Spinney, in Blackhall Lane, was built in 1925 for Major Hatfield. He purchased a number of plots and extended his grounds to at least a dozen acres. Edgar Ranger, the architect of Blackhall Spinney, was also responsible for landscaping the garden and planted a large number of specimen trees. During the 1930s the garden was regularly open to the public.

Deanswood, Seal Hollow Road, was also built in 1925 and was one of the earliest houses on the Estate. The garden was landscaped at the time with many unusual trees and shrubs

Arthur Edward Rogers, the original owner of Tylers Barn, Wildernesse Avenue, purchased 3 plots extending the gardens and woodland to about 9 acres. He travelled extensively; collecting many unusual specimens of rhododendrons and azaleas, including it is thought, some from Nepal.

All rights reserved WRA Wildernesse Residents Association 2014

Web Design by: Charles Churchman Design