Dr Brown’s House

Sir William Wilde, bart., the judge, lived at the Manor House, Riverdale from the 1630s until his death in 1679. This was the large house on the High Street frontage of the Riverdale estate, and Wilde leased it from the Bridge House Masters. At some time during his tenancy he bought the two or three freehold acres to the south, probably to enlarge his garden, and in his will left them to his wife and two of his sons. He described them as “being but of a small annual value”, which suggests there were no houses on the land in 1679. Lady Wilde remained at the Manor House until her death in 1719. The two sons died in 1720 and 1721, In which year Miss Frances Wilde, probably the daughter of one of them, sold the estate to Joseph Garland, a Lewisham felmonger. There were then four houses on the land, which included Camden House, where members of the Garland family lived for 25 years, and almost certainly the house that grew into Dr Brown’s.

The style of Camden House, which survived little altered until the 1960s, suggested a building date of c.1700, which would confirm that the first development of the estate was carried out by Lady Wilde, presumably as an investment. The Garlands carried on the work, increasing the number of houses to six by the late 1720s and to ten by 1740. The Garland heirs sold the estate to John Peryear in 1748, and it passed eventually to his daughter, the wife of William Griffiths.

Until the early nineteenth century Camden House was very much the dominant house of the group, and the owners usually lived there. In 1818 the rateable value of Camden House was £75, and that of Dr Brown’s, the next biggest, only £26. By 1837 the values were Camden House £40 to Dr Brown’s £50, and in 1849 it was Camden House £54, Dr Brown’s £120. Camden House itself never altered, so the two changes going on were the enlargement of Dr Brown’s House and the transfer of the bulk of the land behind from Camden House to Dr Brown’s. It seems certain that the pond with the island was originally a feature of the Camden Houses garden. This change probably occurred in the 1830s, when Camden House was briefly a school.

The estate, which still belonged to the Griffiths family, was seriously damaged by the building of the Lewisham and Tonbridge railway line across the High Street in 1865. Four of the six houses that then remained were demolished, leaving only Camden House, shorn of most of its garden, and Dr Brown’s House.

The known occupants of Dr Brown’s House are:

Mrs Blake -1727-1731
Mr Winterbottam 1733-1735
Mrs Sanders 1737-1738
Captain Windham 1739-1743
Captain Coe 1745-1764
Captain Featus 1766-1769
Mr Walker 1769-
Mrs Munn -1798-1799
Mr Gordon 1801
Dr Samuel CooperBrown 1802-
Dr Samuel William Brown
Dr Samuel S.Brown -1874
Richard Armstrong 1874-1881-
Conservative Club 1884-1934-
Bridge House Club Ltd 1936-

Captain Featus was probably a naval man, as he kept a black servant boy. Richard Armstrong was the father of the house’s only celebrated resident, Prof. Henry Edward Armstrong, the chemist, who lived there until his marriage in 1877.

The club lost its northern wing between 1894 and 1913, when the railway bridge was widened. The remainder was so badly damaged during the war that it had to be demolished in 1945. The house had grown to seven bays in its mid-nineteenth century prime, but by the end it had shrunk to three. Two were demolished for the bridge widening, and two were replaced by a lock-up shop. The is an L.C.C. photograph of the house, boarded-up, in May 1942. It shows the fine early eighteenth century doorway seen in the c.1860 view still surviving. To judge from the structure of the roof it seems likely that the three bays demolished at the end of the war represented the original house as built in Lady Wilde’s time.

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