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Scadbury Park was once a moated Saxon manor, with Tudor and C18th rebuilding, and C18th and C19th landscaping. Scadbury Park was owned by the De Scathebury family in the medieval period and later associated with the Walsingham family who purchased the Manor of Scadbury in 1424, remaining here until 1655. At one time the estate extended to 1000 acres of farmland and hunting forest. Sir Thomas Walsingham IV was a cousin to Sir Francis Walsingham, who was born at Scadbury but did not live here, and who became the Secretary of State to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth is known to have visited Scadbury at least twice and in July 1597 she knighted Sir Thomas Walsingham IV here, an event that is depicted on Chislehurst Common village sign. At the time of one of the Queen's visits to Scadbury she reputedly planted a number of trees. Sir Thomas IV was also patron of poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, who visited Scadbury a number of times, and was arrested here on 18 May 1593 on a charge of heresy. Although he was soon freed on condition he remained close to the Court in Greenwich, he died in a brawl on 30 May in Deptford, although theories abound that he was a spy and his death was faked, and that he was author of plays attributed to Shakespeare. Following the death of Sir Thomas IV in 1630 the estate was inherited by his son Sir Thomas V who later retired to Saffron Walden; when he died in 1669 he was the last of the Walsinghams to be buried in St Nicholas Church, Chislehurst (q.v.).
The manors of Scadbury and Chislehurst were sold in 1655 to Sir Richard Bettenson, passing to his son Edward and then to the latter's 3 sisters. Albinia, a grand-daughter of Sir Richard, had married General William Selwyn and their son John purchased both manors in 1736 and discharged the mortgage, then selling the estates to his cousin Thomas Farrington, only retaining Scadbury. After his death in 1751 Scadbury was settled on the Hon. Thomas Townshend who was married to Albinia’s granddaughter, also called Albinia. The Tudor house was demolished in 1752 when the widowed Thomas Townshend gave up his plan to build a new house here, and instead bought and moved to Frognals (q.v.) in LB Bexley. At Scadbury, a new house was built in 1780 by his son and heir Thomas, who later became 1st Viscount Sydney. This house was later damaged by fire in 1976. The 2nd Viscount Sydney, John Townshend, succeeded in 1800 followed by his son John Robert Townshend in 1831who became the 3rd Viscount Sydney. He was MP for Whitchurch from 1826-31 and held a number of important posts in the military, becoming Lord Lieutenant of Kent in 1856 until his death in 1890. He was present at the funeral of the exiled French Emperor Napoleon III in 1873 at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Chislehurst. Queen Victoria granted him an earldom in 1874, and visited him at Scadbury on at least one occasion when she is said to have been shown fig trees planted by Elizabeth I. The Sydney Arms in Perry Street was renamed in his honour in the 1880s.
After his death in 1890 the 3rd Viscount Sydney was succeeded as Lord of the Manor by his nephew the Hon. Robert Marsham, on condition he added the name of Townshend, becoming Marsham-Townshend. Robert, a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, worked in the Diplomatic Service from 1855-59 and was a great traveller whose diaries spanning the years 1853-1876 describe his extensive travels all over the world. After the death of Robert Marsham-Townshend in 1914, the family moved from Frognal to the former steward’s house near the site of the moated manorhouse at Scadbury. During WWII Scadbury was used by the Home Guard, with concrete pill boxes built around the house that remained here until 1976 when the house burnt down. During the war bombs landed in the woods and fields, and some craters are still visible. The last VI flying bomb causing damage in England fell on 28 March 1945, demolishing a Tudor barn in the farmyard at Scadbury. In 1975 John Marsham-Townshend, last resident Lord of the Manor died and his brother Thomas's two daughters inherited the estate, which was later purchased by LB Bromley in 1983.
The ruin of the C14th moated manor house is situated to the south of Scadbury Farm (let to a tenant farmer); the roof of the Great Hall was reconstructed from the old timbers by Major Hugh Marsham-Townshend in 1921 and can be seen from a path that skirts the southern boundary. Since 1986 Orpington and District Archaeological Society have carried out annual excavations here and have regular open days. The moated manorhouse appears to have been built of brick and timber and may have resembled Ightham Mote, but no plans survive. An Inventory of 1727 lists some of the rooms and parts of the house, including a Great Gate, Great and Little Brown Parlours, Great Hall, kitchens, pantries and cellars. Also listed are eight principal bedrooms, one described as Queen Elizabeth's Room above the Great Parlour, as well as dressing rooms, closets, a brewery, dairy and gardens. The corbels of the drawbridge can still be seen and excavations have revealed a track from the drawbridge through remains of a Tudor archway, which only collapsed in 1980.
The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1871 shows the Scadbury area consisting of a number of different compartments, which include Park Wood, Bank Shaw, and Little Wood and which survive today. Park Wood is to the south-west, through which runs a long approach; Icehouse Wood is to the west, and there is a lodge at the entrance to the drive.
After it was acquired by Bromley Council it was opened to the public on 30 April 1985 and managed as Scadbury Nature Reserve. The nature reserve is made up of a mixture of woodland and pasture traversed by a network of paths. Approximately half the area is wooded and includes remnants of ancient oak woodland that would have been part of a Royal Hunting Forest. Today the ancient trees grow alongside other species such as ash, alder, hazel, sweet chestnut, sycamore and birch. A number of ponds are scattered around and a way-marked nature trail can be followed. There is a field study centre at the southern end of the site where Task Force volunteers, who carry out many of the management tasks at Scadbury, are trained. The centre also provides environmental education for schools in the borough.