North Cray

North Cray, Bexley

Half farming village, half council estate, flanking the A223 between Bexley and Foots Cray

Hidden London: The White Cross. North Cray Road

Sig­nif­i­cant changes in North Cray seem to take place in short bursts about every two hun­dred years, so this his­to­ry is divid­ed into cen­turies.

12th century

Though the manor of Craie was assessed in Domes­day Book, North Cray was first iden­ti­fied (as Northcræi) in Tex­tus Rof­fen­sis, a man­u­script com­piled in the ear­ly 1120s. The men­tion came with­in a list of church­es, so this is also the ear­li­est record of the exis­tence of St James church.

Edward Hast­ed records in his His­to­ry and Topo­graph­ic Sur­vey of the Coun­ty of Kent that dur­ing the reign of Richard I (1157–99) “North Cray was become part of the pos­ses­sions of a fam­i­ly, who were seat­ed in the adjoin­ing parish of Rokesle, now called Rux­ley, and assumed their sur­name from it.” Sir John de Rokesle accom­pa­nied the king on the Third Cru­sade.

13th century

Noth­ing of note record­ed.

14th century

Hidden London: medieval hall house, formerly in North Cray
North Cray’s medieval hall house

The estate changed hands in the 14th cen­tu­ry through the mar­riage of Agnes de Rokesle to Thomas de Poyn­ings.

The Gat­ton fam­i­ly were res­i­dent in the area by this time, and their name is remem­bered in Gat­tons Way (which was built on the site of a house called Gat­tons, near the cen­tre of the map below) and in Gat­tons Wood and Plan­ta­tion on Cock­sure Lane (a road that takes its name from a grove called Cocks Shaw, pre­sum­ably inten­tion­al­ly mis­spelt as a joke).

North Cray’s old­est sur­viv­ing dwelling may have been built around this time or a lit­tle lat­er – a hall house lat­ter­ly known as Wood­bine Cot­tage (but see below for its present loca­tion).

15th century

Noth­ing.

16th century

William Swetesyre was liv­ing in a North Cray ten­e­ment called Waletts in 1527, accord­ing to his will, in which he bequeathed the prop­er­ty to his younger son.

The manor of North Cray and sur­round­ing lands passed to the Crown in 1538. Sev­en years lat­er Hen­ry VIII grant­ed the manor to Sir Roger Cholm­ley, who soon sold it to Sir Mar­tin Bowes, whose descen­dants retained it until about 1710.

In 1556 William Jor­dayne was grant­ed wood­land in Dart­ford and North Cray and his name lives on (in cor­rupt­ed form) in Joyden’s Wood. In 1557 Car­di­nal Pole, the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury, unit­ed the parish­es of Rux­ley and North Cray, with the lat­ter becom­ing the more dom­i­nant of the two.

The pair of weath­er­board­ed cot­tages at 152 and 154 North Cray Road may date from as ear­ly as the 16th cen­tu­ry. They were part of a group of three until the northen­most of them was destroyed in the Sec­ond World War.

Mount Mas­cal was built around the end of the cen­tu­ry and stood on the hill­side over­look­ing the North Cray Road, close to where Home Close Farm and Mount Mas­cal Farm are now.

17th century

Very lit­tle.

18th century

Hidden London: Loring Hall
Lor­ing Hall, orig­i­nal­ly Wool­let Hall

The White Cross inn began life as Ye Brandy House and Ale House in 1729 and became the Red Cross the fol­low­ing year.

Dur­ing the mid-18th cen­tu­ry this part of the Cray Val­ley became a pop­u­lar loca­tion for gentlemen’s retreats. The manor house was rebuilt as North Cray Place and Capa­bil­i­ty Brown land­scaped its grounds.

Vale Mas­cal was built in 1746 for the Tash fam­i­ly, with grounds that includ­ed land­scaped walks along the Riv­er Cray, where tiny islands were cre­at­ed. The house was lat­er the res­i­dence of the new­ly wed Sir Fran­cis Bur­dett and Sophia Coutts. Its Goth­ic bath house was reput­ed­ly used by Charles Wes­ley as a bap­tismal font.

Wool­let Hall was built in 1760 on the site of Waletts (see above). In 1771 the lord of the manor and his sis­ter paid for five almshous­es to be built on North Cray Road – three for the poor, one for the parish clerk and one for a school­mas­ter.

19th century

Some new hous­es were built and the pub, St James church and North Cray Place were rebuilt (the lat­ter for the sec­ond time) but things were gen­er­al­ly qui­et by the stan­dards of the peri­od, espe­cial­ly lat­er in the cen­tu­ry, when devel­op­ers were more inter­est­ed in places near­er rail­way lines.

20th century

In 1935 the Red Cross inn was told to change its name as it appar­ent­ly vio­lat­ed the terms of the Gene­va Con­ven­tion pro­tect­ing the sym­bol of the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross Soci­ety. Pubs else­where called the Red Cross had to do the same. Here, the Red Cross became the White Cross, as shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of this arti­cle.*

In 1939 Gold­smiths Col­lege bought Wool­let Hall and renamed it Lor­ing Hall after the first war­den of the col­lege, Cap­tain William Lor­ing, who died at Gal­lipoli dur­ing the First World War. The col­lege sold Lor­ing Hall in the 1980s and it is now a pri­vate­ly owned care home. (Gold­smiths has since built a res­i­dence block called Lor­ing Hall on its New Cross cam­pus.)

Mount Mas­cal was demol­ished in 1957 and over the course of the next decade sev­er­al parts of the hith­er­to well-pre­served vil­lage were rad­i­cal­ly altered by munic­i­pal projects. The Bedens­field (or Bedens Field) estate was built, with 485 homes in a mix of hous­es and flats laid out around short clos­es and com­mu­nal greens. North Cray Place, which had been wrecked by a bomb in 1944, was demol­ished in 1961 and replaced by the North Cray estate. The remain­ing park­land of North Cray Place became part of Foots Cray Mead­ows.

In 1967–9 most of the wind­ing vil­lage lane and the prop­er­ties on its east side were oblit­er­at­ed by the A223 dual car­riage­way. Wood­bine Cot­tage was dis­man­tled and lat­er re-erect­ed at the Weald & Down­land open air muse­um near Chich­ester in West Sus­sex. Its tim­bers have been paint­ed red, which seems to have been their orig­i­nal shade.

21st century

Noth­ing so far.

Apparently believing he was being blackmailed for homosexuality, Viscount Castlereagh committed suicide at Woollet Hall by cutting his throat with a penknife.

Postcode area: Sidcup DA14
Further reading: Darrell Spurgeon, Discover Bexley and Sidcup: A comprehensive guide to Bexley, Bexleyheath, Welling, Sidcup, Footscray and North Cray, Greenwich Guidebooks, 1993
Recommended PDF: Kent Gardens Trust: North Cray Place

 

* The picture of the White Cross at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Marathon, and the picture of Loring Hall is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Robin Webster, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. The picture of the North Cray hall house is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Leimenide, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse of these images is hereby freely permitted under the terms of those licences.