Hayes (Kent) History

Hayes (Kent) History

Hayes Court, West Common Road
Grade II listed building
Built 1776

The listed building entry for Hayes Court provides the following information:

Built by John Nixon in 1776 and enlarged by Chief Justice Sir Vicary Gibbs after 1797. 2 storeys. 13 windows. Painted brick. Parapet. 2 storeyed bay of 3 tall windows not centrally placed. Wide porch to the right of this with 4 columns. Doorway in porch with rectangular fanlight and door of 6 fielded panels. Modern ground floor projection to the left. Further projection of 3 windows at the east end of front. Glazing bars intact.

In 1773 James Alexander was given permission to enclose part of the wasteland near his house and on this ‘Thistley Field’ the house was built and occupied by Mr Nixon, his wife, three daughters, a maidservant and two men. This was either John Nixon. mentioned by Charles Kadwell, or William Nixon recorded in the Baston Manorial rentals in the 1780s. The next occupants were Andrew Drummond and his wife, Lady Mary Perceval, their four men and three maidservants. Her sister Elizabeth may have married Revd Edward Lockwood, who was at Hayes Court from 1792.  In 1794 he was a widower and lived with his daughter and 14 servants,

Owner from 1797, Vicary Gibbs
Vicary Gibbs, called to the bar in 1783 married Frances Kenneth Mackenzie in 1784. Their only daughter Maria was born the following year.  They had a London home but set up a country residence in Hayes living at first in the Pickhurst Green area. In 1797 he bought the property known then as Hayes Common House, later Hayes Court. Vicary Gibbs had great plans to provide himself with a fine estate and the house was expanded as his career progressed. The road around his house was diverted. Permission was given by the Vestry to enclose two acres of the common that adjoined his garden in exchange for other land and John Nisbet’s house, which had been a boarding school for at least twenty years, was pulled down and the grounds incorporated into the property. By 1798 fifteen people were recorded in his household.

His wife’s sister Helen died unexpectedly in January 1802, leaving four children – Marianne, Helen, Charles and Frederick, aged respectively thirteen, eleven, nine and six. Their father, Major-General Alexander Mackenzie Fraser accepted Vicary Gibbs’ offer to look after them whilst he was abroad and Vicary and Lady Gibbs became responsible for them after Alexander Fraser’s death at Hayes Court in 1809.

Extensions to the house continued and Vicary was planning changes to the farm buildings when he died in 1820

Owner from 1820 – 1843,  Frances Cerjat Kenneth Mackenzie

Lady Gibbs continued to live at Hayes Court to which she had made great changes when her husband was alive.  At times during the alterations it had not been possible to stay at the house because it was in ’so open and uncomfortable a state’ in the extremely cold weather. Revd John Till, the rector remarked ‘her taste for building, alterations, and improvements still seem to continue in full force: and if she lives at Hayes much longer her house will resemble the man’s knife which he had called ‘an old one’ ; though it had several new handles and blades’ 

Lady Gibbs was 88 at the time of the 1841 Census and her daughter Maria and husband Sir Andrew Pilkington were staying with her with their two daughters and seven servants.  It was Maria who inherited the house and grounds on her mother’s death and Hayes Court remained in her family until 1919.  They did not live there but rented it out.

Tenants from 1846 – 1919

Hyman Elias, merchant, leaseholder 1846 – 1851
A merchant Hyman Elias took the repairing lease from June 1846 and agreed to insure against fire and destruction of the building.  He moved in with his wife and two sons under two. Two daughters were born in Hayes and in March 1851 there were 7 resident servants including a nurse, nursemaid and footman.  The family moved away later in the year.

Revd Clement Strong, clergyman, leaseholder 1851 – 1859, Catherine Strong 1851-70
The next occupants were Revd Clement Strong and his wife Catherine, who continued to live there after Clement’s death in 1859.  Her unmarried son & daughter were also staying with her in 1861 and she employed 8 resident servants. The house at this time was referred to as Thistlefield House. Mrs Strong played an active part in the community, particularly providing support to the Parish Church and the school.

Charles Loyd Norman, banker, leaseholder 1870 
Charles Loyd Norman, son of George Warde Norman of Bromley Common, had dined with the Strongs and after Catherine Strong’s death in 1870 he decided to take over the lease. He recorded in his diary  that ‘he and [his wife] Julia walked to Hayes to see their new house’, the lease of which he signed in March 1871 at £265 per annum. However, the builders’ estimates for the alterations and improvements  he required were higher than he expected, ranging from £3700 to £4520, and he decided to sub let and asked Baxter, Payne & Lepper to find a tenant to take over the lease. 

Austen Horatio Smith, Assistant Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, leaseholder to 1877
Austen Smith moved to Hayes Court.  In 1875 his daughter Adeline married in Hayes Church  Aretas Akers Douglas, later Lord Chilston, whose mother lived in Warren Wood, Hayes. The family left Hayes in 1877.

Frederick Henry Norman, barrister & banker, leaseholder 1877 – 1887 
On 27 December 1877 the lease was assigned to Frederick H Norman of the Inner Temple, barrister at law. He paid £375 for the lease and agreed a rent of £265 a year.  Frederick was Charles Loyd’s younger brother and he married Lina Collett in 1870 and had three  children. He was a keen cricketer, played for England on ten occasions and encouraged his sons to enjoy all sports. His sons Montagu and Ronald and daughter Gertrude spent their early years at Hayes Court. The boys had a governess at home until they were old enough to go to Eton. Montagu later became one of the outstanding governors of the Bank of England advising on the great economic crisis of the 1930s and on war finance in World War II. Ronald chaired the BBC in the 1930s. 

After the family left Hayes in 1887 there were two short leaseholders – Frederick Baikie, formerly a Lieutenant in the 4th Light Dragoons, until his death in 1890 and John Hopkins, a merchant and distiller, and his young family from 1891-1894

Reuben Thomas Preston, engineer, leaseholder 1894 – 1913,  Frances Preston to 1919
By 1894 Reuben Thomas Preston, an engineer and senior director of Messrs. J Stone & Co Ltd of Deptford, had moved to Hayes Court with its 13 bedrooms, two bathrooms, two drawing rooms and four reception rooms. He agreed a 21-year lease in 1903 at an annual rent of £350. Hayes Court estate had the usual servants’ quarters, including stabling and later a garage with rooms over, entrance lodge and another cottage. These sat in six acres of gardens with nine acres of meadowland.

Reuben died in 1913, the year his son Arthur, later to become Bishop of Woolwich, was ordained a priest.  Frances remained at Hayes Court until it was put up for sale at the end of the First World War. She died in 1924 and was buried in Hayes Churchyard beside her husband.

The property was purchased for £7000 by Arthur Kilpin Bulley, founder of Bees Nursery,  on behalf of his niece Katherine Cox.

Hayes Court School 1919-1939
Katherine Cox set up an exclusive and progressive girls’ boarding school and lived there with her retired father, Professor John Cox, who had worked with Professor Rutherford on radioactivity at McGill University, Montreal.  

The school started with 11 pupils but had increased to 60 pupils by 1925 and soon reached its maximum of 72.  The change of use from residential to educational and the increase in pupils meant that alterations were made to Hayes Court.  A detached school hall was provided, whose design it was later suggested should form the plan for the proposed Hayes Village Hall. By 1925 William Smith & Sons had built a range of classrooms with dormitories above. Later, another form room was constructed at the end of the wing with a bridge linking the sickroom and isolation room to the rest of the upper floor. The stables and outbuildings were converted to provide a science room and music block. A library was provided in 1933 and a comfortable Common Room in 1936. The staff lived in Hayes Grove Cottage and the girls used the swimming pool, which was close by and built in 1926 by William Smith & Sons. 

Miss Cox had very complex mortgage arrangements and her financial difficulties increased when it seemed likely that war might break out. Parents became less willing to send their daughters to a school which was in an area likely to be targeted.  She tried to organise a link with Gordonstoun School. Indeed some of the equipment ended up in Scotland.  In the end it proved impossible and the school closed in 1939

Hayes Court in Wartime 1939 – 1945
The empty building provided the opportunity for its use throughout the Second World War.  In 1939 the Royal Artillery manned the Anti-Aircraft Gun site on Hayes Common and by early June it was occupied by 263 HAA Battery, who established their headquarters at Hayes Court. The units based here constantly changed throughout the war both for tactical needs, training and practice or when deployed on overseas duties.

The Royal Corps of Signals had various units based at Hayes Court  and Nissen huts were set up in the grounds. 2 Artillery Signals Section, Training Battalion, Royal Corps of Signals had orders in the event of invasion, ‘to deny the area around West Common Road to enemy parachutists and to defend their base at Hayes Court’.  No 4 Air Formation Section later occupied Hayes Court to provide communications between the various army and air force units in the area.

Trade Union Ownership 1946 – 2012

The post war period witnessed a change in the function of Hayes Court from a school to offices. Miss Cox sold the building and its grounds to the Electrical Trades Union for about £19,000.  Considerable alterations had to be made before the ETU staff moved from Ollerenshaw Hall, Whaley Bridge to Hayes Court in August 1948. Permission was granted for its conversion to offices but no work was allowed for living accommodation. War damages of £768 were received towards repairs needed as a result of war time activity. The building was officially opened in May 1949, the year that marked the Union’s diamond jubilee. It remained the ETU headquarters but from the 1970s onwards other unions joined it at Hayes Court as amalgamations were made. Its name changed to EEPTU, AEEU c. 1992, Amicus in 2001 and Unite in 2007.

After the ETU’s occupancy in 1948, Hayes Court was the scene of momentous discussions and decisions that affected the actions of many companies and lives of individual members throughout Britain.  Protests at Hayes Court took place e.g in 1968 by militants who were dissatisfied with the union’s leadership and in 1987 by electricians who felt they had not been given support in their struggle with Rupert Murdoch and his move of the printing of his newspapers from Fleet Street to Wapping. 

The building continued to be expanded as additional offices were added, with major changes in 1961.  In 1971 a fire in the caretaker’s flat led to further rebuilding. In 1984 approval was given for a three storey extension and two years later for a first floor extension.  In 2002 plans were passed for a single detached building.

Once the amalgamation had taken place with Unite in 2007 it was decided to phase out the activities in Hayes.  Gradually the number of staff reduced and eventually the site was sold for a residential development.

London Square  development 2013

After many consultations and planning issues  agreement was reached for the development of a number of Mews houses and detached houses in the grounds of Hayes Court.  The house was turned into a number of flats but the fact that it was a Grade II listed building ensured that the changes were sensitively carried out.

Further information: Roma Goyder, Hayseed to Harvest, memories of Katherine Cox and Hayes Court School, 1985