- Heritage Category:
- Park and Garden
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Bromley (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
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C18 pleasure grounds and landscape park later owned by William Pitt who, in 1792, commissioned Humphry Repton to advise on improvements to the landscape. His main work was in advising on views and planting.
The Holwood estate was conveyed in 1767 to Robert Burrow, who enlarged the estate by buying several lots of adjoining land including the area of common land between the old and new Westerham Road to the south-west of the site. He converted stretches of woodland to open pasture, ornamented these with ponds and shrubberies, and repaired the house.
By 1784 John Randall, an eminent ship builder, had purchased the estate, which now covered 82.5ha, from Burrow and in 1785 sold it to the Right Honourable William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of Great Britain. Pitt owned Holwood from 1785 to 1803 and during that time he enlarged the house with Sir John Soane (1753(1837) as the architect and c 1790 commissioned Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to advise on improvements to the landscape; Repton continued to be involved with Holwood until at least 1798. Pitt himself was actively involved in many of the improvements and is described (Letters, PRO) as laying out new roads and drives, levelling and draining the park, and carrying out extensive planting in the gardens and park including planting on the ancient monument. He was also responsible for making a pond to the north-east of the house, probably the large pond in Lake Wood. The earliest available plan, that by the OS dated 1798, shows the estate during Pitt's ownership, immediately after Repton's work, and includes the new drive and the pleasure grounds around the house. After he retired from politics, Pitt could no longer afford the upkeep of Holwood and in 1803 he sold the estate to George, later Sir George, Pocoke who owned it for twenty years.
The new owner in 1823 was John Ward, a wealthy London merchant who became a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Kent. He rebuilt the house, using Decimus Burton as the architect, used the northern route of the old Westerham Road for a new drive, and made a second new drive from the south-west corner of the site. Ward also made alterations to the water in Lake Wood, extending Pitt's single lake with a string of four new pools, and was responsible for planting many single specimen trees around the park. The estate map of Holwood dated 1832 and the OS map of 1869 record changes to Holwood during this period of ownership.
In February 1852 Ward sold Holwood to the railway builder and engineer Thomas Brassy and over the next twenty-four years there was a succession of owners, until in 1876 Edward Henry, Earl of Derby purchased the estate. Derby made alterations to the landscape, including the ornamentation of Lake Wood and the walled garden which were described in the Gardeners' Chronicle (1890). The estate remained with successive Earls of Derby until 1953 when it was sold to Seismographic Services (England) Limited, who used it as their country headquarters and undertook considerable building development in the grounds near to the house. They moved from the site in 1996 and the site is now (1998) vacant.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING The c 50ha site of Holwood Park is situated c 1km south-east of the village of Keston, c 6km south of Bromley, and 2km north-west of the village of Downe. The park is bounded to the north by the private housing estate of Keston Park, to the east by arable and woodland, to the south by Downe Road and Shire Lane, and to the west by Westerham Road (A233). Before 1782 the latter ran through the centre of the site.
The parkland falls gently away from the house on three sides. On the south side the land slopes steeply providing spectacular views across the countryside in the direction of Downe and Biggin Hill.
Some 400m to the north of the house is the Iron Age hillfort known as Caesar's Camp' (scheduled ancient monument). A public footpath runs north-west/south-east across the south-west corner of the site.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main entrance to Holwood Park is from the north end of Westerham Road and leads to the early C19 drive made by John Ward which follows the route of the northern part of the old Westerham Road. The drive continues c 200m south from the road, past a C20 lodge house, through the northern defences of Caesar's Camp, and for 300m runs parallel to the western ramparts of the monument before dividing. One branch leads west, past the stables and the old kitchen garden to the east, before swinging slightly to the south-west, terminating at the C20 Redwood Centre built for Seismographic Services. The main route continues south for another c 200m, passing east of the walled garden, and approaches the house from the east.
Two additional approaches, now rarely used, are situated to the south of the main entrance. The first follows the route of Pitt's new entrance and is situated c 300m south of the current (1998) main entrance. This runs to the west and parallel to the west side of Caesar's Camp, skirts the south side of the stables and the walled garden and approaches the house obliquely from the west. The second, made by John Ward, leaves Downe Road by Westerham Lodge in the south-west corner of the site and climbs north-east for 300m where it crosses the public footpath and continues for another c 300m, ascending the steepest part of the slope before it curves gently due north past the pleasure grounds to the east, and the C18 Five Island Pond and C20 Redwood Centre to the west where the path divides. The west branch links up with the western spur of the main drive, while the eastern spur terminates at the south side of the house.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING Holwood (listed grade I) stands on a high point, roughly in the centre of the site. The house which the architect Sir John Soane enlarged for William Pitt was destroyed by fire c 1820 and was rebuilt on a grander scale between 1823 and 1826 by Decimus Burton for John Ward. This new house is built of white brick and Portland stone. The fifteen-bay, Grecian-style villa has the entrance on the north side, c 50m south of the walled garden. The centre seven bays are of two storeys with the lower wings ending in pedimented pavilions. A small Edwardian conservatory lies a few metres to the south-west. The south front, dominated by four giant Ionic columns set against a wide bow in the centre of the building, retains views across the Kent countryside.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The pleasure grounds to the south of the house retain much of the shape recorded on the 1832 estate plan. The southern edge is fenced in and a broad expanse of open lawn with trees and shrubs frames the view across the southern parkland towards Downe, and the reverse views back to the house, the latter recorded in a c 1795 engraving published in the Copper Plate Magazine. Some of the paths within the south-west woodland recorded on the 1832 plan are still discernable but the view back to the house from the slightly higher ground to the south-west is marred by the derelict tennis courts. Within the woodland to the south-west is the C18 Five Island Pond, now (1998) overgrown and the number of islands no longer discernable.
To the north of the site and separated from the main pleasure grounds by parkland is Lake Wood, at its most elaborate by c 1890 when it was described in the Gardeners' Chronicle. Lake Wood developed from a single lake made by Pitt in the late C18, to a string of lakes and a woodland water garden made by John Ward and extensively planted with ornamental plants by Lord Derby. This area is now overgrown with trees.
PARK The pleasure grounds were, in 1798 (OSD), separated from the surrounding parkland by dense groups of trees and shrubberies to the north and west and possibly looser planting on the east side. Remnants of these still survive, with some mature trees, especially yews, remaining. In addition, a mature oak named as Pitt's Oak on the 1832 plan is located immediately outside the northern edge of the pleasure grounds. The area to the south, now agricultural land, remains open with little obvious formal planting except for two cedars that survive from the Cedar Grove, a lozenge-shaped group of trees strategically planted by the late C18 within the lower field below the pleasure grounds and which partially screened the house when approached from the south. Pitt's southern drive, on the route of the southern part of the old Westerham Road and shown only on the 1798 map, would have passed close-by and to the west of the Cedar Grove. Some 500m to the north-east of the Cedar Grove was the late C18 vineyard, identified as such on the 1832 plan. The land is now part of the C20 field system.
To the north the parkland is dominated by Caesar's Camp, which was altered by Pitt on the recommendations of Repton; the work appears to have involved levelling the ramparts to the east and south. The northern parkland was extensively planted in turn by Pitt, Ward, and Derby, the latter two appearing to have favoured individual plantings rather than belts of trees. Much of the character of the parkland to the west and north-west has been lost under a C20 blanket planting of conifers but areas of open pasture still survive, particularly in the area between the house and Lake Wood to the north-east, and the fields surrounding the C20 houses of South Park and Faringleys.
To the west the parkland is dominated by the C20 Redwood Centre, set among the mainly C20 planting which, with the Centre, interrupts the views towards Keston Common. The building is approached across mown lawns to the east. The public footpath runs to the west of the building through land which was traditionally common land and which was taken into the estate when the Westerham Road was moved (c late C19). Oak pollards, characteristic of English common land, survive in this area. Some mark the boundary between the common and the park, while other individuals, along with old coppice stools, are dispersed within the area. Repton records in his Memoirs (BL) that Pitt endeavoured to plant out the common, and the site of the Wilberforce Oak and seat to the west of the footpath are possibly part of this scheme.
KITCHEN GARDEN The walled or kitchen garden to the north of the house and adjacent to the stables has a long tradition of cultivation. The 1832 plan shows a grid of small trees, probably an orchard, but by the late 1880s, descriptions of the kitchen garden include glasshouses, conservatory, and ornamental plants similar to those recorded along the south front of the house and to the north in the Lake Wood. This tradition of ornamental planting continues today (1998) with extensive herbaceous borders and clipped yew hedges although the outlook to the stables to the north-west is broken by C20 office buildings.
Copper Plate Magazine 2, (1790s), pl 72 J P Neale, Views of the Seats ...IV, (1828) Gardening World 5, (1888), p 134 Gardeners' Chronicle, ii (1890), pp 745-6 D Stroud, Humphry Repton (1962), p 69 M C Watts, The Holwood Estate, Keston (c 1980s) [copy at Bromley Library] Holwood Park, Landscape History, (Land Use Consultants 1995)
Maps Map of the Holwood Estate, 1832 (private collection) [copy in LUC 1995] Tithe map for Keston parish, 1841 [copy in LUC 1995]
OS Surveyor's Drawings, 3" to 1 mile, 1798 OS Old Series 1" to the mile, 1816-19 OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1871 OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1869
Archival items W Pitt, Letters 1780s-90s (PRO) H Repton, Memoirs (British Library Add MS 62112)
Description written: April 1998 Register Inspector: LCH Edited: June 2001
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
- Parks and Gardens
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing