A HISTORY OF MONTREAL PARK
by David Nunnerley
Montreal Park, as we know it today, is a development of 224 pleasant detached residences occupying 63 acres of land. All but four of these houses were built by Salway Hill Estates, a construction company owned and run by one William Fasey of Woodford, Essex. And 70 years ago this year he made his first sale on No 4 Lyndhurst Drive, which was soon followed up by the erection of a further eleven houses before the War brought an inevitable halt to the development. The Army requisitioned Montreal Park as a training camp and did not move out until 11 years later. This combined with post-War austerity and an acute shortage of essential building materials meant that construction
MONTREAL HOUSE Engraving by JP Neale, 1819
Montreal Park itself is of course much older than the estate. Indeed it celebrates its 250th Anniversary in just six years time. For it was back in 1764 that Sir Jeffery Amherst, Commander-in-Chief British Forces, returned home triumphant from the North American Campaign against the French usually referred to as the Seven Years War. A native of Riverhead, Amherst quickly set about acquiring for himself a country Estate befitting a national hero with influence - if not wealth - at Court. He did not have to look far given that the parkland north of the pleasant town of Sevenoaks and the adjoining woodland and pasture south and south-west of Riverhead was common land. He proceeded to ‘Enclose’ approximately 200 acres seemingly unconcerned that this involved diversion and even closure of existing paths and highways. New boundaries of Brittains, Dibden, Back Lane and the village of Riverhead itself were made readily identifiable by the erection of a great perimeter wall built of Kentish ragstone, remnants of which survive to this day. History remembers better General Wolff and his capture of Quebec but it was Jeffery Amherst who was to receive the ultimate surrender of the French at Montreal in 1760. Little surprise that Amherst called his new estate Montreal Park after his greatest triumph. Read more about Sir Jeffery Amherst.
View from the main road, 1920s
Amherst had a large house built in the Palladian style using the natural contours of the land to better the already commanding views of the surrounding countryside. The King and Queen stayed in 1778, by which time Montreal had been enhanced with the construction of a naturally sweeping elegant driveway, the forerunner of Lyndhurst Drive today. Subsequently, the house evolved into a complex of buildings that served the needs of a working country estate. A total of five generations of Amhersts resided at Montreal Park and presided over first the expansion and then the contraction of the Montreal Estate which at its height grew to just under 4000 acres. Inevitably the prosperity of the village of Riverhead became inextricably linked with the changing fortunes of the Amhersts. Literally an army of agricultural labourers, foresters, gardeners and game keepers came to be employed by the Amhersts alongside a not inconsiderable domestic household. But Montreal Park could not escape the pain caused by tumbling land prices towards the end of the 19th Century and continued weaknesses in the years either side of the Great War. The revenues from rents, timber, quarrying royalties and even game shoots was insufficient to keep the Amhersts at Montreal.
Forerunner to Lyndhurst Drive
Pictures in 1910
MONTREAL PARK Postcard from the 1920s
All of the staff at Montreal House, circa 1900
Piecemeal sales of outlying parcels of the Montreal Estate only deferred the inevitable Amherst demise until 1926 when the bulk of the Estate including the Park was sold to one Julius Runge, a wealthy City Businessman who resided at Kippington Court. Long before the encompassment of what we now call Green Belt, Runge was a passionate advocate of the preservation of the rural landscape. He never wanted to live at Montreal House which was allowed to fall into disrepair. He yearned that the beauty of the parkland be protected and in fact brought about covenants that sought to make any development within Montreal Park that much more difficult. His premature death in 1936 meant that Runge’s crusade lasted a mere ten years as not inconsiderable death duties compelled his heirs to put Montreal up for sale.
Montreal Park was the jewel in the crown of the Estate. Its 194 Acres coupled with a further 23 acres that was Brittains Farm sold as a single lot in Auction in 1936 for the grand sum of £39250! The buyer, one Captain Bernard Thorpe of Millbank, was what today we would call a property developer rather than a builder. Instead he quickly set about demolishing Montreal House (which seemingly provoked neither public comment nor lament) and just as quickly produced a development plan that provided for 650 houses. Its ingenuity lay in its ability to combine both high and low density housing that overall did not run foul of the restrictive Covenants that Runge had established. Within 4 weeks of a Deed of Variation of the Covenant being granted in October 1936, Thorpe’s Plan (formally I.D.O. No. 29) received Sevenoaks Council approval on the stipulation that ‘no expense be borne by the Council’. (Some things never change!)
RIVERHEAD SQUARE Montreal Wall on the left, circa 1910s
Thorpe did not have to wait long to find a builder interested in making the Development Plan a reality and in August 1937 agreed with Fasey a staggered sale for a total of 160 acres of Montreal Park in four roughly equal tranches over a four year period up to 1941. Aware of growing opposition to high density housing, Fasey submitted an amended Development Plan No. 2 of 1938 which provided for fewer houses (513) which gained approval from both Thorpe and the Council. In later years, and partly due to the unforeseen circumstances of war, the staged conveyancing became the source of a protracted legal dispute between the two men that eventually had to go to the High Court. Also bearing down on them was the sea-change in post-War planning and the desire to preserve open countryside (or Green Belt) as espoused in the Abercrombie Report. As early as 1946, Sevenoaks Council served notice that it intended to seek to revoke the Montreal Plan of 1938. Significantly, the Council did give approval for a development of approximately 60 acres which would permit 190 to 200 houses to be built. In essence this was what Fasey was to make a reality.
MONTREAL PARK in the 1930s
AERIAL VIEW OF MONTREAL AND RIVERHEAD
23rd August 1938
The site of the old house and the carriageway are visible
Fasey had a preference for low density house construction. Already in his projects north of the Thames, he had targeted what he perceived to be the upper end of the housing market, namely detached dwellings. He wanted his houses to appear varied in style and (for their day) prestigious in appearance. They were to sit on roads the names of which were chosen as nice sounding or with pretensions of affluence. This did not stop him flirting with the idea of some chalet bungalows for Montreal, an idea that was shelved mostly because of the intense hostility of prospective buyers!
Of the original six designs for his detached dwellings, three were subsequently abandoned (not one house on Montreal was built to the design of Types A, C or D). A further three designs were put forward, only two of which were chosen by purchasers. Type F was by far and away the most popular design chosen until later in the development a larger version of Type G (GII or G Amended) was offered with the addition of an extra reception room on the ground floor.
Type F House
The most popular
Type GII House
Extra room at the rear
The decade of development can be broadly broken down into four construction phases. To even get started on Phase One Fasey had to raise funds by selling two plots of land in 1952 (No 2 Lyndhurst Drive & No 2 Marlborough Crescent which were thereby constructed by other builders!) Between 1952 and 1956 Fasey concentrated on ‘Old’ Marlborough Crescent, all of the houses on which sold for between £4000 and £4500. In those days, a detached garage cost £165 which was £15 more expensive than its attached counter-part and central heating was only installed for an extra consideration. It became standard by the end of the 1950s. The kidney-shaped nature of the Estate with Marlborough circumferential and Lyndhurst diametrical allowed for a cul-de-sac development of just under 20 houses. Thus The Close was Phase Two with all the houses built in 1957 and all selling within a few pounds of £4500. 1958 and 1959 was devoted to Lyndhurst Drive and then ‘New’ Marlborough completed the development with the last houses in Phase Four conveyed in 1963. The most expensive price paid on the Estate was £8450 and that included the then luxury of an attached double garage!
Tarmac for cul-de-sac being laid in 1932. Both Amherst and Montreal Cottages survive to this day.
The road gets laid in 1938.Notice the gatehouse and the complete cedar tree in the background.
AERIAL VIEW OF MARLBOROUGH CRESCENT
Photograph of construction taken in 1956
Fasey never lived to see the completion of the development of Montreal Park though he did reserve for his successors including son Tony the right to receive two guineas or an otherwise appropriate sum in return for granting agreement to home alterations or extensions. Such entitlement continues to be enshrined in our deeds even to this day. One wonders how often this is invoked or even acknowledged given the huge amount of extension work that has taken place in recent years.
BRITTAINS LANE BLOCKED, in September 1953
The work on the grass verges and open spaces was undertaken by a local firm called Bartholomew Brothers with a remit to incorporate various blossom producing trees including flowering cherry, plum, crab apple and almond, some of which survive to this day. Of originally three Cedar Trees that were part of the old Estate only the one at the entrance or the junction with Brittains Lane survives and that has suffered its fair share of problems over the years. The distinctive small front curtillage walls that are such a feature of Montreal Park were a convenient solution to the problem of what to do with the ragstone rubble left abandoned after the demolition of the old House.
There are two surviving monuments to the Amherst legacy. One is a dilapidated Summerhouse which can only be seen atop land over Montreal Park Farm on the road to Ide Hill. The other of more historical importance is an Obelisk erected to commemorate the safe return of Sir Jeffery and his two brothers from the conflict in North America. This stands on its own piece of land within the garden of No. 81 Marlborough Crescent and is soon to benefit from a much needed restoration project. Read more about the obelisk and Sir Jeffery Amherst.
Opposite Salter's Heath Farm
MONTREAL ESTATE in an aerial photograph taken in 1968