Tombstone at the Chapel House

The Chapel House is a well-known landmark in Blackfen Road, near Blendon. Originally a small cottage, it was modified into a folly in the 1760s when John Boyd of Danson acquired the land on which it was sited. The turret, spire and pointed windows give the impression of a chapel, but it has always only ever been a dwelling house.

The Chapel House in 2010, now looking neglected

The Chapel House in 2010, now looking neglected

In the garden of the Chapel House was a well. Garth Groombridge, who wrote a history of the building in 1955, asserts that “the well was some sort of pilgrim’s halting place in medieval times”. But then Groombridge did have some eccentric views…. [See ‘comments’ below]

The Chapel House in 2010, with its tomb-covered well

The Chapel House in 2010, with its tomb-covered well

A mock tomb was built to cover the well, and on the ‘tombstone’ was a skull and crossbones. According to Groombridge the skull and crossbones was a joke and was meant to deter people from trying to drink from the well. This was either because the water had become unsafe to drink or (more likely) John Boyd didn’t want riff-raff venturing onto his newly-acquired land which he had incorporated into his Danson estate.

Not much remains of the skull and crossbones on the 'tombstone', 2010

Not much remains of the skull and crossbones on the ‘tombstone’, 2010

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6 thoughts on “Tombstone at the Chapel House

  1. Just thought those passing by would be interested to know my story of this house. I am the grandson of Garth Groombridge and I spent some of my late boyhood living in this house during the 1960s and 70s. The poster above claims my grandfather was eccentric which may be true but so what – do we all have to conform and it is perhaps why he was so passionate about Chapel House upon which he spent so much time and money restoring. He also researched its history and wrote a little book about it. He may have been wrong about the well being a pilgrim halting place, although I cannot see why not – pilgrims needed water on their pilgrimage to Canterbury. In this regard I will always remember the stories recounted to me by my father of steam puffing traction engines halting by the roadside to take on water from the well. It was perhaps the well that was the reason for the ancient dwelling that was converted to Chapel House in the first place

    The well was on the front edge of the property bordering the pavement to the passing road which was at a lower elevation to Chapel House’s front garden. The garden was held back by a 2-3 foot high red brick retaining wall. During my time and before the roundabout, there was a bus stop there and people would sit and rest on the wall like pilgrim travellers of old in the shade of an ancient yew tree, whilst waiting for the bus. This magnificent yew tree was immediately adjacent to the well and the wall and was at least 250 years old – Having a yew tree above the well may have some symbolic significance as the seeds in yew berries are very toxic (but only when chewed) which may have something to do with the inscription on the tomb that covered the well with its Portland stone slab and the scull and scythe/sickle – not cross bones – and lurid warnings. The yew was cut down by the builders of the road and I remember the event very clearly. When the tree fellers arrived on that fateful day I started to cry and I hugged the tree as I wished it farewell. I cut my arm as I hugged the tree on a rusty exposed metal sign bracket that had been screwed into the tree years before and I bear the scar to this day.

    This was the start of some very brutal destruction in the name of government and ‘planning’. After the tree was cut down we asked to keep the trunk as a keepsake which they agreed to and we later stored it in the brick building to the side where it possibly still is to this day. The brick building had been larger and had been my grandfather’s bicycle shop (he made and sold bicycles) but the front – the shop – was demolished to make way for the grass verge of the road around the roundabout.

    The well was the next to be destroyed – it was brick lined and had been accessible via an arched opening on the side of the tomb structure. I was told that water had been taken from well to the kitchen by a hand pump but this was before my time. The “builders” dismantled the tomb structure and filled the well with concrete. Sometime later a jobbing brickie was employed to lay a concrete slab near to the front battlement/chimney breast – I was there on the day the concrete was laid and placed a copper penny into the concrete’s top surface as a time capsule. The tomb structure was rebuilt (not very well to my untrained eye) over the concrete base.

    Removing the property’s front garden, well and yew tree desecrated this wonderful magic little place. This was once a extraordinary cottage that planners had conspired – despite years of battling by my father fighting compulsory purchase orders – to turn into a carbuncle on the edge of a roundabout in the middle of a traffic nightmare. If the planners had wanted to they could have easily had left Chapel House as it was and moved the road-works 20 feet away (if that) but in their eyes my father was a trouble maker standing in the way of progress and his pleading was brushed aside and he was treated with contempt.

    Afterwards I would dream of moving the house on a giant truck to someone tranquil; alas my dream of tranquility for Chapel House will never be. With the constant traffic noise from the roundabout, my father gave up the struggle and sold the property to the timber yard next door whose relentless pressure won the prize they had long wanted – the land – that which they do not make anymore – nor may I remind English Heritage (EH) do they make anymore cottages like Chapel House which is unique in all England, not that would matter to EH, for under the facade of a little un-consecrated church was a simple ‘country’ workers cottage and EH is not that interested in saving ‘country workers’ cottages. If it had been a miners cottage EH would have gold plated it (or at least the weather vane) and it would have become an icon to the working class – such is life – moreover without the well and the yew tree, it stands bare naked and forlorn – it needs lots of TLC
    ©

    • Hi Steve it was lovely to see my aunties house u must be very sad not to be living there I had a great time there would like to hear from u Harold baker

      • Hello Harold – Amazing to hear from you – I presume your aunt was Elsie M A Groombridge (nee Baker), 3rd wife of Garth G, and who lived at Chapel House until she passed away in 1964 (?) – would be great to talk

  2. Hi Steve

    Thank you so much for taking the time to give the story of your family’s home. I did not mean to be derogatory in saying that your grandfather had ‘eccentric views’ (in fact, I would say the opposite is true!) and I’m sorry if it came across that way. You are right that the world needs people who do not conform and who are passionate about what they do – and this comes across in the history he wrote. He was involved with the Bexley Historical Society in its early days (of which I am now Secretary) and I am proud to follow in the footsteps of local historians such as him. His history of the Chapel House is listed on our website (http://www.bexleyhistoricalsociety.co.uk/44.html).

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