High Elms

High Elms, Bromley

The prominent signposting suggests a major settlement but High Elms is not a town – it’s a collection of rural amenities set in almost a thousand acres of parkland, woods and fields south of Farnborough

High Elms parkland

Over the course of the 19th cen­tu­ry the High Elms estate was acquired by one John William Lub­bock (in 1808) and then descend­ed through a nephew and two sons, all bear­ing the exact same name. The suc­ces­sive John William Lub­bocks added sev­er­al new struc­tures, includ­ing an Ital­ianate man­sion, a game­keep­er’s lodge, a gra­nary and oth­er farm build­ings. The Lub­bocks also extend­ed and land­scaped the grounds of their home and for a while they oper­at­ed a race­course here.

The third John William Lub­bock was a math­e­mati­cian and astronomer who devel­oped a method for cal­cu­lat­ing the orbits of comets and plan­ets. His son, who was made the first Baron Ave­bury in 1900, was also a sci­en­tist – but per­haps his great­est accom­plish­ment was to intro­duce bank hol­i­days when he was a reform­ing mem­ber of Par­lia­ment. A bank hol­i­day was once dubbed ‘St Lubbock’s Day’.

The estate was sold to Kent Coun­ty Coun­cil in 1938, with High Elms man­sion serv­ing as a nurs­es’ train­ing cen­tre for many years. On its incep­tion in 1965 the Lon­don Bor­ough of Brom­ley took over the estate and con­vert­ed Clock­house Far­m’s 150 acres into an 18-hole pub­lic golf course.

The 27-bed­room High Elms man­sion burned down in 1967, iron­i­cal­ly on August bank hol­i­day Mon­day. Its for­mer site is now occu­pied by the golf club­house.

Much of the High Elms estate is a coun­try park and nature reserve open to the pub­lic and man­aged by Brom­ley coun­cil. It’s sit­u­at­ed south of Shire Lane on High Elms Road, which leads to Downe. There’s an envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion cen­tre (with lim­it­ed open­ing times), an old ice well and an Eton fives court. The Green Roof Café is open dai­ly.

Although Dutch elm dis­ease and the great storm of 1987 took their toll, the park is still rich in a vari­ety of trees plant­ed by the Lub­bocks (lat­ter­ly tak­ing advice on arbo­re­al selec­tion from their friend and neigh­bour Charles Dar­win) and sub­se­quent­ly by the Forestry Com­mis­sion and Brom­ley coun­cil.

Postcode area: Orpington, BR6
Web page: The history of High Elms Golf Club (and of the estate)