This highly unexpected little gem lies less than twenty miles from the Capital and yet in appearance you would expect to find such an attractive place hidden deeper in the countryside. With its weather boarded cottages and mellow brick buildings it has primarily been a farming settlement little changing over the centuries. The new inhabitants although from a different social class have inherited a village that still retains a strong sense of community.
It’s proximity to London in many ways has helped to conserve the individuality of the village. Chelsfield Village has become a highly desirable place to live and because of this is fairly exclusive. Old Victorian farm labourers cottages although outwardly still recognisable thanks to strict conservation measures have been refurbished inside to such an extent that the original occupants would never identify with living there.
Don’t for one moment think that this is a fairly new phenomenon; wealthy Londoners have always had a place in the country ever since the Middle Ages. It is apparent that Chelsfield has enjoyed propinquity with the capital for centuries. Apart from the daily commuters it is the only thing that it shares with London and will probably spend most of the future trying to halt the spread of suburbia from obliterating the vast swathes of greenery surrounding the environs of the village. The village lies within a rural setting on the North Downs but it certainly isn’t isolated. Both Orpington and Sevenoaks are within easy reach and provide shopping and entertainment.
Chelsfield is built on high ground which was considered so poor in times past that it was rented out for pennies rather than pounds. The name Chelsfield is believed to come from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘Chel’ meaning small village, however in the Domesday Book it is recorded as both Cillesfelle and Ciresfel as “ch” was not used in old Anglo Saxon. It most probably took its name from its cold and open situation; ceald or cile, in the Saxon tongue, signifying cold; and feld, a plain or field. Which undoubtedly it is because of its position amongst the higher land of the North Downs and the frequency with which cold winds seem to blow across some of the bleak fields in winter Later on it was recorded in old documents as “Chellesfield” not too different from the name that it is know. The homes of the locals nowadays should be nice and snug, well insulated from the cold unlike times past when a fire in the hearth was probably too expensive!
Even though Chelsfield has been settled since Anglo Saxon times very little is known about the place, it wasn’t until the arrival of William the Conqueror and the Domesday Book that mundane items have become known. It is a shame that the inland revenue of the time should be responsible for giving us such an insight into life in this village. Anyway I digress; Chelsfield was given by William to his half brother Odo who he also made Bishop of Bayeux and the Earl of Kent. His wealth and land was considerable and unfortunately all of this eventually led to his downfall.
Odo wanted much more, in fact the whole of the known world as head of the Catholic faith. William was not very impressed that his brother had bribed other Bishops to make him the Pope and had him incarcerated in Rouen, France. Chelsfield at the time was only worth 2 sulings or shillings in tax and twenty villains lived there. During the reign of Edward the Confessor Chelsfield was worth £16. A pound at that time was worth two hundred and forty pennies. The pennies were made of solid silver or rather sterling silver, which is why the currency is now known as pounds sterling. One silver penny was the average daily rate of pay for a peasant. A sheep was around 4 pennies and a cow 10 pennies. So the next time you read about the rapid fall in house prices think about Norman England!
Chelsfield remained remarkably quiet during the intervening centuries to be roused from its sleepy outlook by the coming of the railway in 1868.
The new main line between Chislehurst and Tonbridge brought the village to life and new houses started to appear. The station was built half a mile to the west of the village and was ultimately to be closer to the relatively new area of Chelsfield that was developed from the 1920’s. The coming of the railway enabled locally produced strawberries and other perishable goods to be shipped to London quickly and in turn brought prosperity to the area. It was the coming of the Orpington Bypass in 1928 which created chaos. The bypass was not given very much thought by the planners of the day and managed to separate the village from the Church. Over the years preceding the outbreak of World War Two so many houses were built that it looked as though Chelsfield would join the Orpington sprawl. Thankfully the war stopped any further development
Chelsfield is still surrounded by countryside but in the words of John Newman who wrote in the North West Kent volume in “The buildings of England series”, “Suburbia has so far been held, just.” Let us hope that strong minded individuals who care for the village will be able to keep so called progress at bay and protect it for future generations.
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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