The manor of Pickhurst existed from early medieval times and was associated with the Hever family for more than a century. Richard de Hevere paid six shillings (30p) in the 1373 tax and John Hever was one of the men who took part in Cade’s rebellion in 1450. The property was sometimes referred to as Hevers.
It descended through the Hever family until bought by Robert Rede, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, in 1503. His daughter Jane, married to John Caryll, inherited and passed on the land to her sons. In 1590 it was bought by William Jackson and his heirs sold it in 1642 to John Cliffe.
In 1674 John Cliffe received £870 for ‘the manor and manor house of Pickhurst in the county of Kent’ from Thomas Cooper, a London citizen and salter. Twelve years later John Hall of Reading bought the manor house and 96 acres for £950 and in 1693 sold it to a brewer Matthias Walraven of Rotherhithe, Surrey.
The exact site of the manor house in medieval times is not known but by the 18th century it stood in approximately the position today of Hayes Free Church on Pickhurst Lane.
The manor descended to Peter Walraven but he had difficulties in repaying the mortgages on the property and in 1757 it was bought by William Cowley of Westminster, a Malt Distiller for £2200. William Cowley sold it in 1765 to Mariabella Elliot.
The house was described in the auction catalogue as ‘an elegant and almost new brick built dwelling house, finished in the present taste and consisting of two handsome parlours with Venetian bow windows, two bedchambers on the first and three chambers on the second with convenient closets, a kitchen, wash-house and offices’. In addition there was ‘a large and good farmhouse.’ Miss Mariabella Eliot paid £3,500 for the house and farm.
Sadly, Mariabella died in 1769 at the age of 33 but her brother John then resided at Pickhurst until the 1780s. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, who owned Hayes Place wanted John Eliot to exchange three of his fields for land at Brook Wood. John refused, writing: The three fields mentioned in thine received yesterday are to me a very valuable part of my little property here as they lie contiguous to and form an agreeable view from the House so that I think my Neighbour placing himself in my situation would hardly wish to sever them from the other land, however I cannot think of doing it. John Eliot was the last owner to live in the property.
After his death Pickhurst Manor was inherited first by his son John and then his daughter who married Luke Howard. It remained in the Howard family’s ownership until 1931.
Following short stays by Mr Drummond, Mr and Mrs James Margetson & Mr James Cruikshank, a 40 year lease was made with John Bowdler of Sevenoaks in April 1791 at a rent of £100 a year on condition that he spent at least £500 on the building. In 1813 Miss Mary Dehany, owner of Hayes Place took a sublease of the property which was then occupied by Dowager Lady Viscount Isabella Hawarden who lived there for ten years. In 1823 the lease was transferred to the Hon. Caroline Eustatia Morland, a widow from West Wickham and sister of William Courtney, Earl of Devon.
The rent was fixed at £150 per year and £10 for every acre of old enclosed meadow or pasture that was tilled. She could replace (but not erect) any new farm buildings and fire insurance must be taken out for at least £2,000. Every four years all outer doors, windows, gates, ironworks etc. were to be painted ‘in good and proper oil colour’. Within the lease it was stipulated that ‘the house must not be used for a school, boarding house or receptacle for insane persons or for any trade or business or for any other use or purpose that may tend to impair the value or lessen its respectability as a place of residence’.
The lease detailed the fixtures and fittings in each room, including the enriched plaster cornice, tinted walls hung with satin papers and gold mouldings in the drawing room, the veined box marble chimney with slate stone hearth in the dining room, paved flag stone floor in the scullery and the brick stairs to the cellar. Outside were wine and ale cellars, a wash or brew house, servants’ privy with a deal double seat, coal hole, hen house, cow house and carthorse stable.
Lady Morland died on 6 March 1851 and for a few months Revd H R Dukinfield, Rector of St Martin in the Fields, lived at Pickhurst Manor. Lady Morland’s son William had married Margaretta Eliza Cator in 1843 and it was her brother, John Farnaby Cator, who took over the lease at a yearly rent of £198 17s 0d (£198.85). His wife had died in 1850 leaving him with two young children but in 1852 he married Julia Hallam, whose father the historian Henry Hallam (1777 – 1859) sometimes stayed with them at Pickhurst. Their third child was born in 1860 and was named Henry after his grandfather.
When John Cator inherited Wickham Court from his uncle in 1863 the family left Pickhurst Manor and the lease was assigned to Hon Arthur Fitzgerald Kinnaird MP of Pall Mall. He agreed on a new lease with the owner Robert Howard at £300 a year that included an adjoining barn and additional fields and he compensated the farmyard tenant.
He remained there seven years before Charles Devas became the new tenant and his family remained at Pickhurst Manor until 1909. Major additions were made to the building in the 1870s and the house was well described by his grandson Walter who spent many summer holidays with his grandparents.
He recalled that ‘the house was on three floors in the central portion of the house but only two at each end where the lower rooms were lofty. Bays were added to the drawing and dining rooms on the south side. It was a rambling house and the stairs to the third storey led to a warren of rooms that formed the nursery area for the grandchildren. The front door was at one end of the house and beyond it, round the bay windows of the dining room and of the billiard room above, was the long garden terrace.’
Collected from the Railway Station by the coachman he described how the pair of horses started up the short drive to the Lodge, the long dark green gates swung open and they drew up at the front door. ‘There we saw the chestnut tree, towering up beside the sweep of the drive on the lawn that led to the rose garden… the drive continued between the house and farm buildings to the stable.’
In 1887 Charles Devas took out a further lease for 21 years. He died in 1895 but his widow Leonora remained and in 1909 a three years lease was taken out which became the responsibility of her son Horace after her death the same year. The house remained empty until leased by Mrs Elizabeth Catherine English in 1912 at an annual rent of £230 for 21 years. It had 21 bedrooms, a bathroom and two WCs but was stated to be ‘in poor structural and decorative repair’.
She sublet to Ronald George Campbell who moved to Sevenoaks in 1928 after the death of his wife Ivy. It took some time to sort out the lease but in 1931 the Howard family heirs, David, Bernard and Francis decided to sell Pickhurst Manor to the builder George Spencer of Ravenswood, West Wickham.
Attempts were made to sell the house as a potential school, hotel or hospital but when these failed the old Georgian manor house and buildings were demolished in early 1936. The newspapers reported the event as, ‘Yet another landmark passes’ and ‘Another historic building razed to the ground’.
Further information London Metropolitan Archive (LMA): Eliot Family Papers 1017 Charles Simpson, The Fields of Home, Leigh on Sea 1948