Built 1875, a locally listed building
From 1798 the Norman family of Bromley Common owned the land on which Gadsden was built. George Warde Norman sold 14 acres in 1873 for £2811 to his nephew Henry John Norman. Henry wanted to build a house in the country close to his family and friends. It was built in a semi – Gothic style and became known as Gadsden
Owner from 1873 -1905, Henry John Norman
Henry John Norman was a director of the London and Westminster Bank. His wife was Anne Hewitt Coote and at the time of his purchase they had three sons Harold aged 6, Reginald 3 and Alfred 1. A suite of three nurseries and a nurse-maid’s room was provided for them. The main rooms consisted of a large drawing room, dining &, morning rooms, a library and three principal bedrooms. Five more children were born by 1881.
The Architect, March 1874, includes a drawing of the house which had been erected under the direction of Thomas Dinwiddy of Greenwich. The builders were Messrs Downs & Co of Union Place, Southwark who had contracted to complete the building for £3738. They also had a separate contract to build the lodge, stabling with coachmen’s residence and ‘vineries with potting sheds, store and apple room.’
Although Henry John Norman also had a property in London he continued to use Gadsden as his country retreat until his death in 1905 when he was buried in Hayes Parish Churchyard.
Owner from 1905 – 1927, James Railton
In 1905 James Railton, a Dock & Railway Contractor, bought the house and land for £7000. He spent a further £3500 on improvements. Photographs of the inside of Gadsden from the Bedford Lemere daybook record that James Henry Swan and Geoffrey Norman (Henry’s fifth son) were the architects involved with some of the changes.
James Railton was married to Margery Ann and by 1911 had three daughters under 8. He employed eight resident servants. The house comprised 23 rooms. In November 1912 it was valued at £14,000 and described as a ‘Red brick & tile House, partly covered with ivy. Semi-gothic style in first class structural & decorative repair throughout. Electric light generated on property, mahogany doors, parquet floors, heated throughout by radiators’.
In 1916 Railton left Gadsden and put the property up for sale. It was advertised as a freehold residential property standing well back in its own ground, 280 feet above sea level in a rural and bracing position, approached by a long carriage drive with lodge at one entrance. It had 15 bed & dressing rooms, 3 bathrooms, 5 reception rooms, a principal and a secondary staircase, coachman’s quarters, glasshouses, beautiful pleasure grounds and park like paddocks, squash racquet court, in all over 14 acres.
Gadsden 1916 – 1927
It was the middle of the First World War and the property did not sell. It was let during the next eleven years to a number of tenants : Richard Martens 1917, Thomas Scott 1920, George Simmons 1922-24 and then Donald Haldeman who moved from Baston Farm to Gadsden in 1924. Born in Pennsylvania in 1860 Donald Haldeman became a naturalised British subject and was made a JP in 1918. Three years later he became Master of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners. In 1925 the resigned as UK manager of the Mutual Insurance Company of New York and became life manager of the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company. He was also a very successful farmer and breeder of pedigree cattle.
Gadsden was put back on the market in December 1927. It now included a billiard room, photographic dark room, garage for three cars, two stall stables, a chauffeur or gardener’s quarters and a four roomed lodge. The grounds still covered 14 acres and it was stated that there were ‘1340 feet of valuable building frontage’.
Owner from 1928, Kent County Council
It was not sold for development but the Kent County Council purchased it for £8600. They planned to use Gadsden as a Secondary School. Over the following years the Kent Education Committee (KEC) considered a number of plans for the property including its use as a boys’ school, a school for girls and later a regional college.
In the meantime the house was leased, on condition that its grounds could only be used as a sports ground or for grazing cattle. The tenant was Henry Wilding who moved to the Grove in the 1930s. The grounds continued in use. In October 1935 the HVA reported complaints from residents in Hayes Street about the smell and noise of pigs kept at Gadsden and the pigs’ owner promised to remedy the situation.
Gadsden during the Second World War
Gadsden was empty in 1938 and became a base for the local ARP Rescue Units. It was used in practice exercises to test arrangements in the case of air raid attacks. On the outbreak of the Second World War there was an instant need for more gas masks and a further 700 were assembled over a weekend at Gadsden, Camouflage nets were made & stored, some were used by local army units. Several stretcher party practices continued and a concert and party for school children was organised in 1939.
The following year in May 1940 Gadsden became the North West Kent Reception centre for nearly 1000 refugees from Belgium, Holland and France. Marquees were set up in the grounds and the refugees were given identity cards, ration books and gas masks before being allocated to individual homes. The international situation worsened and the camp was closed on 25 May. A bomb fell in the grounds on 29 September 1940 when window were shattered. Further damage was inflicted in October 1943 by a bomb which destroyed the East Lodge.
With the increasing demand to grow one’s own vegetables, one acre of Gadsden land was taken over for allotments in April 1942 and a further ⅓ of an acre in September. KEC agreed the allotments would remain until it said it wanted their return, At this time there were plans for a 600 pupil secondary school but the starting date was still uncertain.
In May 1942 permission was given for the Squash Courts to be used for Hayes Youth Fellowship – girls on Monday evening, boys on Thursday and a mixed evening for tennis on the Wednesday. In June 1944 over 1600 people attended a Sports and Gala Day in the grounds. The Hayes Rabbit & Poultry Club had over 500 entries for its show.
First use of Gadsden as a School
With numbers growing to 490 at the Council School in George Lane it was decided in January 1945 to move the top two classes to Gadsden. Many pupils still remember walking through the snow ‘under the control of their class teachers Miss Barnes and Miss Kiely, taking their books and equipment on sledges.’ Fortunately no pupils were in school when a V2 fell on the nearby Grandfield’s Nursery in February 1945. The damage to Gadsden was repaired over the weekend.
The ending of the war in 1945 brought many celebrations. Children from Cecil Way, Sackville and Stuart Avenues enjoyed a VJ day party at Gadsden.
Gadsden continued to be used for the older pupils at Hayes Primary School until 1956.
At Gadsden there was the opportunity for staging plays like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in the lovely grounds. The Nativity service was specially written to make use of the many doors opening into the central hall and the winding staircase in the turret. There was an outdoor gym amongst the trees.
The photographs came from Miss N Barnes.
Hayes School from 1956
In 1956 Hayes School for Boys was opened at Gadsden with seventy-seven pupils under Mr R W Bigg, the headteacher. Two years later the school, which had expanded into spacious new buildings, began to admit girls.
Over the next years the school developed greatly and Gadsden was surrounded by additional buildings as the numbers increased to over 1350 pupils by the end of the 20th century.
More details of the history of Gadsden as part of Hayes School can be found on the school’s website: https://www.hayes.bromley.sch.uk/about-us/school-history/