The Bosvilles

In 1555 the crown sold Bradbourne and all its lands to Ralph Bosville, ‘Gentleman of Lincoln’s Inn’, and Clerk to the Court of Wards. The Bosvilles were a Yorkshire family and held a considerable amount of land in that county. Ralph Bosvilles first concern seems to have been to consolidate his lands. Up to this time, portions of the estate had been rented out to local people, so the consolidation marked a change from medieval manor to country estate. References to Bradbourne in contemporary records from this time onwards, reflect this increased importance.

Having reorganised his estate, Ralph bought the neighbouring manor of Blackhall in 1563 for £200. The Bosvilles never lived at Blackhall, preferring to rent it to a tenant, but this acquisition substantially enlarged the Bosvilles’ income. Possibly such an increase was necessary as Queen Elizabeth visited Sevenoaks in 1560, to grant letters patent to Sevenoaks School and to allow it to use her name. The Queen stayed at Bradbourne and entertaining Queen Elizabeth was an expensive pastime.

Ralph’s heir, Henry, has remained obscure but he must have continued to build up the family fortunes, for on his death he left sums of £20 or £30 per annum to his various children and also, apparently, owned three houses in London.

Henry’s heir, another Ralph, seems to have been considerably more enterprising that his father, he was knighted early in life and maintained a considerable estate at Bradbourne. A full-length portrait of him in Knole House shows a tall, rather handsome man dressed in a rich, quilted doublet.

Sir Rallph added to the family estate by purchasing the neighbouring ‘Farme on Sevenock Vyne’ which he then leased to the Blackman family. It included a messuage, a barn, fifty acres and an area of heathland known as Poll Aise. The rent, which was paid, consisted of three parts; £10, four capons and the ‘Trymming of the head and beard of Ralphe Bosville, Knight, as often as neede shall require’. Blackman must have had some skill as a barber as the next tenant, Thomas Berdsworth, was ‘to provide a barber’.

By this time the Bradbourne lands covered most of the northern part of Sevenoaks, a 1607 rental book in the Chapter House Library at Canterbury, records the total of Sir Ralphs possessions, beside ‘his mansion howse of Bradbourne with the Owthouses, Brewhouse, Barnes, Stable’, are a long list of fields which total nine hundred acres. Of this Blackhall was just over two hundred acres and Brittens’s farm was two hundred and twenty acres. Most of the field names, such as Great Peeslesse and Curry Calfe have long since disappeared, but Bromfyld and Hartslands have survived as Broomfield Road and Hartsland Road.

Sir Ralph’s most lasting achievement was the Bradbourne Chapel, now Clockhouse. As the parish church of St Nicholas was about a mile and a half from Bradbourne, the Archbishop gave authority for a chap to be established near the mansion where services could be held in bad weather.

The next owner was Sir Ralph’s daughter Margaret and her husband Sir William Boswell. Lady Margaret, and her husband, Sir William Boswell. Lady Margaret Boswell, as she became upon marriage, founded an Anglican school in Sevenoaks and by her will in 1682, endowed Jesus College, Cambridge, with two annual scholarships to be awarded to pupils of Sevenoaks School.

Margaret had come into possession of because her brother, Lennard was sickly and had no children. Sir Ralph, naturally wishing to continue the line, tried to make Margaret’s son James, his heir. However, Ralph’s two brothers, Lewknor and George, contested this fiercely, for they would much rather have seen the property pass to Lewknor’s son, Leonard. In the end they got their own way; Lennard died in 1639, only four years after his father, and the property went to Lady Margaret. James, her only son, sadly died before his mother, so that when she died in 1682, the inheritance went to William, Lewknor’s grandson.

William Bosville inherited Bradbourne in 1682 and built a new mansion. Up to this time presumably, the house had been built by Walter de Pevenley and the Ashe family, since no evidence of further building exists. This new mansion was the final one to be built. In 1728, just as it was finished, his wife, Jane, died of smallpox, and William was so heartbroken that he refused to enter his new house but moved into a small farmhouse nearby and lived a hermit like existence for the last twelve years of his life.

Although the estate passed to William’s son Henry, he left all contents to John and Margaret Jaques who had served him for twenty years and had also cared for his wife. Although William stated in his Will that he was of sound mind, it seems quite probably that illness and the 12 year residence in the farmhouse had made him amenable to any suggestion made by Jaques. Henry accused Jaques of having undue influence over his father “the said J.J. and Margaret, in order to avoid any inquiry of discovery …….. released everything to Henry Bosville except the £600 he released to them”.

William also had a brother, Ralph, who was somewhat eccentric. Godfrey Bosville who wrote ‘Anecdotes of the Bosvilles’ in 1761, described him as “an Humourist”. He had only a younger brother’s inheritance but took a sister of Lady Raner as his mistress. This however, “hurt her character” and her acquaintances refused to visit her, so “she took to drinking which quickly finished her ”. In death she showed her love for Ralph by leaving him her fortune of £12,000. Godfrey Bosville then related “after her death, not liking to be solitary, he hired a woman of the name Johnson and she served him in the same capacity”.

When he died in 1749 Ralph desired “to be buried in the Church Porch at Sevenoake that he might see the girls’ legs as they went to church”! He left what he had to his nephew Henry, but with a legacy of £100 to Sir Edward Betenson who was related to Lady Raner. Actually, Ralph was good at heart in spite of his way of living and did a great deal for the poor of Sevenoaks. He had no children of his own but left substantial sums to his nephews and nieces, he also left “to the poor person in Riverhead 2/6d. a week each. £12 yearly for instructing 10 poor (boys and girls) of Riverhead”.

Henry Bosville appears to have had some of his uncle’s characteristics. He claimed that since he had been given all Ralph’s property, this included his mistress and therefore took her to live with him. He made many improvements to Bradbourne, above all he laid out a series of ornamental lakes, for which he utilised the tributary of the Darenth, which had formerly served the mill. Henry died in 1762 leaving the entire estate first to Sir Richard Betensen and then to the Lane family. He also left £50 per annum to “Mary Johnson of Bradbourne, spinster”.


With the death of Henry Bosville, Bradbourne suffered something of an eclipse. Sir Richard Betensen was married to Lecretia Folkes, whose father was President of the Royal Society but they had no children. All that is really known of Sir Richard is that he was an assistant at Sevenoaks School. When he died, the estate passed to Thomas Lane, as laid down in Henry Bosville’s Will. Thomas died in 1805, leaving Bradbourne to his twelve year old son Henry Thomas.

In 1815 the latter became one of the trustees at Lady Boswell’s School. Up to this time the children had been taught in the schoolmaster’s house, but under the group of newly appointed trustees, which also included Earl Whitworth, Lord Amhurst, and Multon Lambarde, a piece of land was bought and school erected for £1,593.

A list for Bradbourne Lands in 1814 shows them to have been little different to 200 years before. In 1826, Blackhall, which comprised nearly a third of the estate, was sold, half going to the Marquis of Camden and half to the Earl of Plymouth. It is probably that the estate was no longer prospering, for Henry Thomas’ son was forced to sell in 1840. On the other hand, B.Hall Greenwood, writing in 1836, wrote a glowing description of Bradbourne.

“This seat is the centre of a very noble neighbourhood having Knole to the south east … Chevening Park to the north west, Chepstow Manor and the ancient manor of the Petley’s at Riverhead, Montreal to the south some fine tapestry in compartments, supposed to have been given to Sir Ralph Bosville by Queen Elizabeth.”west….

……a large, handsome, substantial structure, surrounded by beautiful grounds…. the interior elegantly fitted up and ornamented by Poussin, Ostade, Sir Godfrey Kneller… in the drawing room in

Bradbourne was bought in 1840 by Henry Hughes who restored some of the former life to the estate which had been lost by the reclusive lives of the two reclusive Bosvilles and the uneventful ownership of the Betensen and Lane families: the southern part of the estate consisted of picturesque woodlands through which he allowed the public to wander, on the brow of the hill overlooking the lakes and mansion he built a summer house known as Mount Harry.

In 1858 he was amongst those at the meeting in the Crown Hotel to propose the construction of a railway line to Sevenoaks. Others attending the meeting were Lord Amhurst, the Marquis of Camden, the Earl of Brecknock and William Lambarde, but it the Bradbourne estate, which was most effected by the coming railway. One Line approached Sevenoaks via the Darenth Valley, the other from Orpington. They converged just on the southern edge of the estate by Mount Harry, effectively splitting the Bradbourne lands into three portions.

Meanwhile the death of Henry Hughes in 1865 left the estate in the hands of a nephew, Admiral Hughes D’Aeth who did not live in Sevenoaks and had no wish to. These two factors, the material division by the railways and the disinterest of the new owner, led directly to the breakup of the estate. As early as 1860 Henry Hughes had been selling, for development purposes, outlying parts of his lands. What took place now was a very much bigger scale.

All the land North of the railways, which included the railways, which included the mansions, lakes and chapel, was sold to Francis Crawshay. The rest was sold to a property developer who soon erected large Victorian houses in place of parkland.

Francis Crawshay, who bought the mansion in 1870, was a wealthy and kind-hearted but eccentric coalmine owner. He revived interest in the Chapel, which had fallen into disuse, by building a wooden belfry on top of the tower from which he rang a bell at six o’clock each morning. His purpose in doing the latter was “to wake the lazy people of Riverhead”. He was also an authority of Druidical law and bought many stone monoliths from far afield to the grounds and re-erected them in lines of circles.

In 1896, Multon Lambarde obtained the Mansion and estate from Crawshay’s son by way or mortgage. He died the same year leaving Bradbourne to his son, Major William Gore Lambarde. The Lambarde’s were a very old family; a previous William had been Queen Elizabeth’s antiquary. They had been prominent in local affairs since the first William’s grandson had moved to Sevenoaks. Major Lambarde chose to live at Bradbourne rather than at the old family house, Beechmont.

In many respects, this last owner is the most interesting, not least because some of the older inhabitants of Riverhead can still remember him. He was a typical country squire, keeping many horses at the stables in Bradbourne. He was also master of the West Kent Hunt and there are several photographs of meets held in the grounds.

In fact he was seldom seen without a hound or two in tow, the notable exception being in Church. One elderly lady can recall him striding into Riverhead Church; he never wore a dark suit, but always checked trousers and a coloured waistcoat. He was a generous supporter of the Church, he did however have a fearful temper.

The driveway down to the Mansion from the village was lined by sweet chestnut trees, which were a natural temptation to the choir boys. Major Lambarde’s generosity to the church did not extend to the choir and he would stride down the drive brandishing a hunting whip and swearing terribly while the choirboys rushed to safety.

Major Lambarde was the last of his family. He had no sons but two daughters, of whom the elder Bridget died in the First World War, while the younger married but had no children. The estate was already very much depleted and Lambarde decided to sell. In 1926, on the 8th and 9th December, the contents of the Mansion were sold. In May 1927, the estate itself went up for auction.


Sheila Reynolds says, “Why Bradbourne passed into the hands of the Crown is not all clear” but Sir John Dunlop, in his The archbishop was bullied into making over to King Henry VIII vast holdings of church lands including Knole and Otford

The Monoliths and Francis Crawshay

Francis Crawshay, born in 1811, was the son of an ironmaster of Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr Tydfil.

In the early 1830s his father, William Crawshay II, put him in charge of a new tinplate works at Treforest, near Pontypridd. Known as “Mr Frank” by the workers he learned to speak Welsh in order to communicate with them and lived at Forest House, Treforest, with his wife and eight children. It was during this time he became friends with Dr William Price, the Chartist and druid.

Following the closure of the tinplate works at Hirwaun and Treforest in 1859 and 1867 respectively, Francis, by now a wealthy man, retired to Bradbourne Hall. Francis Crawshay acquired the house from the Betenson family in 1870 and, after settling in, set about erecting a new Druidic circle in the grounds of the house.

Those who came to know him well said he was an eccentric character who enjoyed indulging in midnight druidical processions in the estate, usually attired in nautical dress. It is also said that the eerie appearance of the monoliths kept the superstitious locals out of the grounds after dark.

Crawshay enjoyed just eight years at Bradbourne Hall but that was sufficient time to place a massive bell on a tripod in front of the house. It was cast at Lyon in France in 1871 and weighed more than two tons with a diameter of 59½ins, making it the second largest bell in Kent after Canterbury Cathedral’s Great Dunstan. It was also believed to be the heaviest bell of foreign manufacture and one of the heaviest in the whole of the country. Every morning at 6am and again at noon and then six in the evening the Great Bell of Bradbourne would chime. Those living in Riverhead and north Sevenoaks would clap their hands over the ears, presumably cursing Francis Crawshay. It could be heard in Seal. When Crawshay was bedridden with one of his regular attacks of gout he rang the bell with a rope from his bedroom window, sometimes in the middle of the night.

It survived in the grounds of Bradbourne until 1918 when a bellfounding firm bought it as scrap metal. By that time Francis Crawshay had long since died and the house was in the ownership of the Lambarde family, eventually to be abandoned. After standing empty for more than a decade it was demolished to make way for Ideal Homes’ new modern estate.

Crawshay died in 1878 and was buried, not in Sevenoaks or Riverhead, but in Brasted churchyard where a large gravestone lists the names and ages of his children. The surviving monolith in Pontoise Close is, according to English Heritage, a “tall Doric column of red Cornish granite.

On the 27th August 2003 the massive 17 foot high monolith we now know and love found its new permanent home in Bradbourne lakes. The granite stones had been in the garden of a nearby house in Robyns Way, but the owners generously donated the stones. The Bradbourne Lakes Residents Association paid for the specialist company to lift and move the stones.