Kelsey Park might well be described as the jewel in the Borough of Bromley’s crown but I believe the residences that encircle the park are just as worthy of such an accolade. Visitors attracted to the park must cast envious glances at the properties that surround the park like the protective girdles used in literature or the Bible to bestow magical powers. A belt that that is similar is one that illuminates the night sky; I am equating the area with Orion’s Belt, one of the most prominent constellations in the night sky. Orion's brilliant stars are hotter and much larger than our Sun but only astronomers would appreciate this fact and the same can be said for the area surrounding Kelsey Park only visitors will appreciate how lovely the park and surrounding area is.
But would one be just as lovely without the other? It is now recognised by academics that the more attractive the green space the more incentive there is to live within its vicinity and this helps with business and community confidence. Historic Kelsey Park certainly ticks all of the boxes, a precious open space, preserved for young and old alike to enjoy, nestling quietly in the midst of exclusive residential developments that many would aspire to.
Kelsey Park is the remnant of a grand private garden that provided an attractive backdrop for a mansion that was demolished in 1921after a short stint as an army headquarters for a transport unit during World War 1. The Kelsey Estate was obviously jinxed as this was the second mansion to be built on the estate as the first one fell into disuse some time between 1790 and 1820.
It is hard to believe that the park that we enjoy today stretches far back into the dim and distant past originally starting life as two meadows that were leased in 1408 by the Lord of the Manor of Beckenham to William Kelshulle. He was a fishmonger in the City of London with aspirations for greater things. William used the land for farming and raised a family in a house that he had built. By the end of the 15th century the family name had changed to Kelshyll. With the turn of the 16th century the family had long since departed and the property had become The Manor of Kelselly’s. Names have a habit of changing and this one is no different, the name has been altered through history until it became the Kelsey that we know of today. The name is derived from the English place name meaning “Cenels Island”, Cenel actually means brave in old English. The estate then came into the ownership of a family called Brograve who are remembered locally in some of the street names – Brograve Gardens and Kelsey Park Avenue.
In 1911 the Local Council purchased part of the estate and it was opened to the public on 31st May 1913, but it was tiny in comparison with the park that we see today. It wasn’t until 1933 when the council purchased extra land and extended the park providing a new entrance opposite Tudor Road. This was quite an undertaking for a local council as parkland is very expensive to maintain and in doing so they have managed to preserve an important part of Beckenham history.
The flowerbeds and specimen trees that you would expect to find in a garden such as this are still to be found maintained to a very high standard. There is a rose garden and herbaceous borders to delight the senses visually and the lingering fragrance of the roses provides a sweet olfactory experience for those wanting somewhere a bit more manicured to while away the daylight hours.
Another feature of the estate garden is a series of waterfalls and lakes created by damming of the River Beck, which is the longest river in the Borough of Bromley. The river is named after Beckenham itself, which takes its name from a Saxon farmer called Beohha. The river is well cared for and in turn is able to sustain a large variety of wild life within the park including one of the largest Heronry’s in the South East of England. It meanders through Beckenham where it is joined in Langley Park by its tributary the East Beck. From then on it merges with the Pool River, joins the River Ravensbourne and then ultimately the River Thames and the sea.
The rich diversity of trees and shrubs in the park create magnificent displays of colour in the autumn. It becomes a secret oasis in the summer under the verdant green boughs which provide shelter from the sun for visitors. Even in the winter there is plenty to see in the woodland area of the park which is still full of life. The bare branches enable us to see birds that would otherwise be hidden in the canopy above our heads. This little wildlife haven supports over 65 species of bird including exotic parakeets!
Kelsey Park is a perfect place to live or visit with as much seclusion as anyone could wish for near the heart of the City of London and less than one minute from the hustle and bustle of Beckenham High Street. Yet seems set in another world, a tranquil haven of great natural beauty available to everyone providing an escape from every day life.
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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