Randolph caldecott the chelsfield connection

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A talk given by
Geoffrey Copus
to the Annual General Meeting of the
Randolph Caldecott Society
on 19 September 1996.

I feel a little anxious at addressing the Randolph Caldecott Society, because I have only a rudimentary knowledge of his works gleaned – with one exception – from works about him. However, the exception is his rare volume called “The owls of Olynn belfry” which portrays the parish church at Chelsfield, and a number of identifiable characters associated with it. And on the subject of the parish of Chelsfield I feel on entirely firm ground, as I have been beavering away on its history since I was at school, that is for very nearly 50 years. Randolph Caldecott married Marian Brind of Chelsfield Court Lodge at Chelsfield church on 18 March 1880. To set the scene, and to wake everybody up, my wife and I (who were married there some 73 years later) have brought with us a short tape –

[tape played]
I’m sorry that was a bit scratchy but I’m attached to it as it’s taken from a 78 rpm record of my father playing the Wedding March, drowned out by the bells, at Chelsfield in 1954.
A passion for historical accuracy compels me to admit: firstly, that from 1857 to 1893 Chelsfield church had only a harmonium; secondly, that until 1936 Chelsfield church had only five bells (hence the name of the village pub): and thirdly, that the bells were rehung later in the year 1880 and it’s possible that they were out of action at the time of the Caldecott/Brind wedding !
We’ve brought with us four display boards,, and I’ve included the charming sketch (reproduced in “Yours pictorially”, by Michael Hutchins) that Caldecott drew showing himself, his Best Man and the Rev. A. Caldecott, who was to assist at the wedding, sitting on a fence overlooking the church and Court Lodge on the morning of the event.
Firstly, a brief sketch of Chelsfield in the seventies when the Brind family came to live there. It is some 16 miles to the south east of London – too close for comfort as the tentacles of the capital have stretched out in the last 150 years. The name is said to mean “a cold field”, and that is certainly well-merited, as the village and present residual parish is on very high ground – my memories of carol-singing round it are dominated by how extremely cold it was, with the wind sweeping the snow across the rather bleak fields.
The ancient parish of Chelsfield was large and carrot-shaped, stretching from a point 100 yards from Orpington church in the north to well beyond Cudham church in the south. Today we are really only concerned with the upper part of the old parish around the church which, with the growth of Orpington in the thirties, and the lopping off of other areas, has become the residual parish of St. Martin of Tours, Chelsfield, covering the village and the hamlets of Maypole, Bopeep and Well Hill.
Unfortunately, the Orpington Bypass which was opened in 1928 was driven ruthlessly between the village on the one side, and the Court Lodge and the church on the other. In the absurd manner of the years between the Wars, houses began to be built along it, and looked set to join Chelsfield to the Orpington conurbation. However the outbreak of war in 1939 fortunately put a stop to further development of that kind: Chelsfield is still a rural spot but, as John Newman writes in the North West Kent volume in the buildings of England series, “Suburbia has so far been held, just.”
Needless to say, property in such a desireable area is astronomically priced, and even the Victorian farm labourers’ cottages have been altered and gentrified in ways which would indeed surprise their original tenants. Nonetheless, Chelsfield is still attractive to the eye, and although the church and Court Lodge are close to the main road, both still preserve broadly the outward appearance they had in 1880.
The church is beautifully kept – and, unusually for these days, is often kept often. Restored in 1950 after wartime damage and the disastrous long-term effects of the 1857 restoration, it has been much beautified over the past 40 years. To any of Caldecott’s admirers, it should be high on the list of places to visit.
Although wealthy London merchants had had “places in the country” in Chelsfield from the Middle Ages onwards, the year 1868 ushered in the long process of semi-suburbanisation with the opening of the South Eastern Railway’s “New Main Line” between Chislehurst and Tonbridge. “The manure menace “ was a frequent cause for complaint in the local press at this time. The effects of the noxious fumes from manure kept in waggons in the sidings at Chelsfield station is graphically illustrated in Caldecott’s drawing on the display board.

It was also in 1868 that the Ordnance Survey published what I think is the best ever of their large-scale maps, the first 25” survey. Because we are really concerned with the 19th. century rather than with the 20th., I’ve included an extract from it, showing the church, the Court Lodge and the village centre, the Rectory and Woodlands, the four-square large house of William Waring, the Lord of the Manor of Chelsfield. Little changed between 1868 and 1880, so this is an accurate plan of Chelsfield as Marian Brind would have known it. I have included pictures of buildings with which I am sure she would have been familiar.

“The Court Lodge” is a name often found in Kent, and refers to the Manor House, where Manorial Courts were held. The Court Lodge at Chelsfield, although it would appear externally to be early 18th. century, may well have much earlier parts hidden within it. There can of course be no doubt that it is on the site of earlier manor houses, going back to mediaeval times.
Although successive Lords and Ladies of the Manor of Chelsfield lived there over the centuries, it was not uncommon for all or a part of the house to be let out to accommodate the tenant farmer who actually farmed the demesne land of over 400 acres. A lease of 1769 to such a tenant specifically sets out that he is to provide accommodation for the Lady of the Manor whenever she should wish to hold a Manorial Court, together with food and drink for her and her servants, and fodder for the horses. The last Manorial Court was held as late as 1859 – I have not yet found any lease to Frederick William Brind, Marian’s father, but I think it unlikely that by his time any such clause would have been inserted in it.
The Manor of Chelsfield with the demesne lands was bought by Thomas Waring in 1844: he was a prosperous landowner from a long-established local family. However, neither he nor any of his descendants lived in the house, which continued to be rented by a tenant farmer until, in 1857, a disastrous fire – thought to have been started by an arsonist – destroyed a huge range of farm buildings to the east of the house. Following this, William Waring build a new farmhouse nearby, and in future let the Court Lodge with a few acres of garden and paddock to a succession of wealthy London businessmen.
The Brinds’ predecessors as tenants were the Gordon family, the head of whom was John Gordon, a barrister who was Master of the Court of Common Pleas. Their successors, from about 1893, were the Asprey family, the Bond Street jewellers.
In 1879 Randolph Caldecott moved to Wyburnes in Kemsing, a village about seven miles from Chelsfield – a distance which he described as “nothing to a good horse” . I don’t know how he came to meet Marian Brind in the first place but, as you will see from the display, the Court Lodge, Chelsfield church, and also Chelsfield village school, figure in “The three jovial huntsmen”, published in 1880.
Caldecott, with his love of hunting, would have fitted in well in Chelsfield Society at the time. Wiliam Waring – the Lord of the Manor whom I have already mentioned, who crops up everywhere in the history of Victorian Chelsfield – was a fanatical preserver of foxes. When he addressed the annual dinner of the West Kent Hunt in 1868 he waxed indignant about the iniquities of those who shot foxes. “It is a very trying position to be in as a preserver of coverts when foxes you have raised are killed illegitimately on land where they are not welcome….”
I have to admit that I don’t know the exact year when Frederick Brind brought his family to live at the Court Lodge, but it must have been in about 1875. Information about Frederick and his family while they were at Chelsfield is also somewhat sparse. In the 1881 Census he appears at the Court Lodge, aged 57, with his wife Julia (who must have been his second wife, not Marian’s mother) aged 44, daughter Julia aged 12, her governess Caroline Pattison, a cook, two parlourmaids and a butler. Frederick’s occupation is shown as wine merchant, born Coventry; daughter Julia was born at Bickley (near Bromley, Kent).
In the 1891 Census, Marian, then of course a widow, was staying at the Court Lodge (her name in fact being rendered as Calercott by the Census enumerator) and she is shown as aged 41 and born at Stamford Hill, Middlesex. At home at that time too were her sister Amy, 38 – also born Stamford Hill – and brother (in fact, I assume, her half-brother) Frank Brind, aged 25, occupation architectural assistant, born Sydenham, Kent. Also at the Court Lodge were Julia Brind, Marian’s half-sister, together with her father’s nephew Ernest W. Brind, aged 24, merchant’s clerk, born Lee, Kent, plus a visitor, Margaret Braddish aged 17, and cook, parlourmaid, housemaid and kitchenmaid, with a coachman and his family living in the coach house nearby.
I have not so far followed up this information – my feeling is that, surely, someone else will have done so already. If this is not the case, however, it should not be difficult to locate Marian’s birth certificate at St. Catherine’s House, then her parents’ marriage, her mother’s death and her father’s second marriage. Her father’s will should figure in the probate records, and would certainly be of considerable interest.
Mr. Brind would seem to have thrown himself with enthusiasm into parochial life at Chelsfield, serving as Churchwarden from 1879. In 1880, the year of Marian’s marriage, his time was much taken up with the rehanging of the bells, and the installation of Messrs. Bacons’ new heating system in the church. Some letters and accounts about these activities have survived in Chelsfield parish chest, now at Bromley Local Studies Library – among them a typically robust letter from Mr. Brind’s landlord, William Waring, who wrote to him on 16 July 1880, after Bacons had promised to provide for a really warm church if their system were installed –
“The heat guaranteed by Messrs. Bacon will be quite sufficient for me – I could do with less.
The estimate for re-hanging the Bells also appears to be satisfactory – and I have no doubt you will see it is thoroughly carried out.
I enclose a cheque for £50 - £25 towards the heating of the Church – and £25 towards rehanging etc the Bells….”
The accounts for the combined works are interesting, while the list of subscribers shows the pecking order in the parish very well. Naturally, William Waring heads it with his £50, although the Rev. Folliott Baugh, the Rector (and incidentally Mr. Waring’s son in law) subscribed the same amount. There follow Miss Hallett of Goddington, another substantial landowner, with £30, and then Mr. Brind in the next group, bracketed with C.L. Norman (a less extensive landowner) and William Beardsworth Fox of Lillys, who gave £10 each. Mr. Fox was a wealthy tenant farmer who was also a keen dissenter; he had been instrumental in building Chelsfield Methodist church in 1871. As Mr. Baugh wrote in a Visitation return of 1872, Fox “employed nonconformists by preference” – so it was good of him to contribute to the parish church.
I have mentioned already that Frank Brind, Marian’s brother or half-brother, was shown as an architectural assistant in the 1891 Census, and he crops up in a storm in the parochial teacup a little later. In correspondence among Archbishop Benson’s papers at Lambeth Palace Library is a letter to him dated 22 June 1892 from the then Rector of Chelsfield, the Rev. J.W. Nutt, in which he writes –
“My dear Lord Archbisop
Mr. Hallett of Goddington in this parish has very kindly promised an organ to the Church. We are in difficulty as to the best position for it.
The enclosed plans for what I shall term (a) have been prepared by Mr. F. Brind, the son of one of the Churchwardens.
The advantages of the proposed new arrangement are –

  1. The organist will be close to the choir.

  1. A commodious vestry will be provided instead of the present very inadequate and shabby one.

[ he goes on to list what he considers to be five seriopus disadvantages, and alternative schemes (b) and (c), both of which he thinks preferable, and continues - ]

The two Churchwardens, Messrs. F.W. Brind and E. Norman, are in favour of (a): I object to it, as unnecessary, and as destroying the character of an interesting 13th. century chancel which has lately been put in order…It would be a pity for plans to be made and passed by the Vestry and then disallowed when they came before your grace – I am therefore writing, with Mr. Hallett’s sanction, to ask whether (a) might possibly be allowed by your Grace if it came before you. If permission to carry it out is not likely to be granted, it would be a great convenience to know this at once…”
This is really a masterly letter; the Archbishop regarded himself as being in a position of sacred trust as the guardian of ancient church buildings, and could be relied upon to veto anything too extreme. He evidently did so in this case, because in a later letter to the Archbishop Mr. Nutt wrote – “I am greatly pleased to find that the “dangerous surgical operation” (to use Mr. Balfour’s words) which the Churchwardens thought to apply to the chancel, meets with no favour in your Grace’s eyes. I trust that milder counsels will now prevail and that a plan will be produced which will pass inspection…”
Unfortunately Frank Brind’s original plans have vanished, but when the scheme was relaunched in the following year, under a new Rector, new plans were brought out by the minor Arts and Crafts architect W.W. Neve. The Archbishop was still dubious, although it would seem that the new ideas were less radical than the previous ones, and he insisted on plans being produced to show him the state of the building as then existing – something for which I, and any other historian, must feel grateful to him.
Neve, by all accounts a kindly man, and perhaps feeling a little awkward at having supplanted Frank Brind, asked the latter to assist in drawing up the plans the Archbishop had requested. A further fine set of plans, inscribed “W.W. Neve and F. Brind, architects”, was accordingly produced. Both sets have only come to light quite recently, in the library of Christ Church Cathedral, Canterbury, and in the photograph on display my wife is holding up Neve’s plans, while my tracings of some of Neve and Brind’s set also appear in the display. The vestry was eventually built and the organ installed as suggested by Neve.
“The owls of Olynn Belfry” which I mentioned at the outset was published in 1885 or 1886 (authorities seem to disagree) and it is a very rare little volume. Kenn Oultram our Secretary very kindly lent me a photocopy of an original, for me to copy in my turn.
In 1949 the late Col. H.A. Waring (grandson of William Waring of Woodlands, Mr. Brind’s landlord) showed me his own copy of this book, and mentioned that the characters were based on several Chelsfield people. To confirm his recollections, he later wrote –
“When I was quite young the Brinds were at the Court Lodge and great friends of my family, but I cannot remember any of them personally. The illustrations are of Chelsfield people, but they were merely Caldecott’s “models” and in no way entered personally into the story. They were: Mr. Brind and his children Marian (afterwards, I believe, Mrs. Caldecott), Frank and Maggie: Herbert Waring (my uncle): George Brooks (the clerk at the church) and his son “Bodger” (my sister in law has told me that she saw him as a very old man during the war years at, I think, Pratts Bottom): Hills: Miles.”
I have on display a photograph of Herbert Waring (taken about 1900) and also one of George Brooks, the parish clerk, who in fact died in 1884. Unfortunately, no photograph of Marian Caldecott née Brind has yet come to light, although it seems likely that the Governess pictured in “The owls of Olynn Belfry” portrays her likeness. The drawing of George Brooks demonstrates Caldecott’s powers as a portraitist (and incidentally confirms that the clerk’s outfit evidently included a top hat for outdoor wear). This George was the last of several members of his family to hold the post of Parish clerk; the “Bodger” Brooks also mentioned by Col. Waring was in fact George’s grandson, George Luke Brooks, born in 1861.
At this point I can claim that I actually met one of Caldecott’s models because in 1949, flushed with the enthusiasm of youth, I tracked down “Bodger” Brooks, who was still living at Pratts Bottom, and went to talk to him. He was in full possession of his faculties, but I can’t for the life of me recall anything he told me, nor have my notes of our conversation survived – at least, they have not yet come to light in my collection of unsorted papers. Mr. Brooks died in the following year, aged 89, and was buried in Chelsfield churchyard.
Caldecott delighted in drawing his characters in old-fashioned costume, but it is remarkable that he did not often portray them in smocks, which had been the everyday dress of the English countryside until the coming of the railways. As may be seen from the photograph of John Graves of Gillmans Brimstone who died in 1867, the smock was still being worn in Chelsfield in the sixties, at least by the older generation. I have no doubt that the drawing of the “aged inhabitants” seated in the tower of Chelsfield church is based on personal observation in the early eighties.
I have also included Caldecott’s drawing of Chelsfield church, taken from the north; so far as I know this is the only existing representation of it from that side before 1893. Caldecott has drawn accurately the curious arrangement of the outside staircase up the tower, by which the bellringers ascended. It is strange that until I discovered the architectural elevation by his brother in law Frank Brind which shows this, I had known nothing of it. I would have assumed Caldecott’s drawing to have been fanciful – but clearly I would have been doing him an injustice. The late 18th. century brick wall surrounding the Court Lodge, which also figures in “The owls of Olynn Belfry”, is still there, as is the doorway through which Marian Brind walked to church for her wedding.
I hope that my talk may spark off some enthusiasm among members for a visit to Chelsfield to set the scene.

Copyright © Geoffrey Copus 1996.

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