The Story of a Victorian House
The social and architectural history of a 19th century English house


Laurel House - A mid-Victorian house with a facade built of red brick and stucco in a castellated gothic style. It has two storeys and two main bays. There are stucco quoins, a moulded cornice between floors and an embattled parapet with a decorative turret.


Laurel House was built in 1869, near the village of Bexley, Kent, in south-east England. It was part of a small speculative housing development of a kind that was typical of the mid-Victorian period. Wherever new railways were built, house building followed shortly afterwards, as those that could afford it left cities and suburbs for the surrounding countryside. The South Eastern Railway's Dartford Loop Line, which was opened in September 1866, gave Bexley its own railway station and put it within an hour's journey of London.

Although the circumstances which led to its construction were fairly typical, Laurel House is nevertheless of interest for a number of reasons. It was one of the first houses to be built in Bexley after the arrival of the railway, and it therefore marks an important stage in the village's history; in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, more people came to live in Bexley than ever before. It is visually interesting as the builder ignored modern trends and chose a rather out of date style; it therefore differs greatly in appearance from the houses built later in the century. From a social history standpoint, the planning of the house demonstrates quite nicely how a professional middle class Victorian expected to live; records which still survive show who many of the occupants were, and afford glimpses of their lives.

The Site

Laurel House stands 400 yards to the north west of Bexley High Street, at the foot of a gently sloping hill, on the road which originally led to the hamlet of Upton. The site on which the house was built formed part of the orchard of Marl House, an early eighteenth century farmhouse constructed of local weatherboard which stood at Parkhill, in an area popularly known as Apple Pie Corner.

It is thought that Marl House was built before 1740 by John Coast, but other than that its early history remains obscure. It is shown on 18th century maps as Marl Farm, and it is briefly mentioned by Edward Hasted, the Kentish historian, who described the area in 1797.

Marl House was owned by the Atkinson family for the major part of the nineteenth century. The orchard was rented to various local businessmen, and the house was let to Mrs Louisa Hanson.

Louisa Hanson was quite a well known local figure in 19th century Bexley, largely because she lived to be 103 years old. She was born in Norfolk and had married Captain Hanson RN in 1799 at the age of 19. In January of the following year she was widowed when Captain Hanson's ship, HMS Brazen, was wrecked near Newhaven during a gale. She received a pension from the government and came to live at Marl House in 1808, staying there until her death in 1884.

Gregory Atkinson, the then owner of Marl House, died in January 1867 at his home, The Rookery, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Shortly afterwards his wife Eliza set about disposing of his Bexley property.

The Marl House estate of just over 6 acres was sold by auction on 10th May 1867 at The Mart in the City of London, and was purchased for £4,000 by Francis Trowell, Gregory Browne and John Robert Jolly. Rather intriguingly, the sale agreement described Trowell and Browne as 'Gentlemen', and Jolly as an 'Esquire'. One of the conditions of the sale was that Louisa Hanson should have the right to continue living at Marl House, and enjoying the garden, for a further 21 years on making annual payments of £52.10s; this still left over 5 acres of orchard available for other use.

The Developers

Francis Trowell was born in 1811 at Southwark. By 1861 he was a successful egg merchant with premises in Old Kent Road, New Cross. He became involved in property speculation, and by the time of his death in 1895 he owned shops, houses and public houses. His estate was valued at £5,586.

Most of Trowell's business activities appear to have been centred in the New Cross area, but by 1867 he was living at Brampton Place in Bexleyheath. By 1895 he had become financially involved in the proposed new railway at Bexleyheath, but he did not obtain a return on his investment as he died two months before the railway was opened.

Gregory Browne was a local landowner and farmer who lived at Crook Lodge. He was a close neighbour, and probably friend, of Francis Trowell, and was involved in various land speculations throughout the area.

John Robert Jolly lived at Highfield House, Eglington Road, Plumstead, and seems to have enjoyed a higher social standing than his partners. At one time he worked at the War Office, and he later became a magistrate and a leading figure in the social life of Woolwich.

It seems clear that Trowell, Browne and Jolly had bought the land with the intention of making capital from it. Within a few months of purchase they had sold a strip of just over one acre to William Urquhart Arbuthnot of Bridgen Place, who rather surprisingly continued to use it for agricultural purposes. They also sold the tenanted Marl House and garden to John Flower Jackson of Bourne Place. The remainder of the land, the majority of the old orchard, was set aside for building.

The Builder

A total of fifteen residences were erected; five houses on the Upton Road, and four houses and six semi-detached villas on the Parkhill Road.

It is unlikely that the developers were actually involved in the building of the houses. They almost certainly divided the land into building plots and sold these with the condition that any house built should have a certain minimum value. When one of the houses was sold in 1876, the sale particulars stated that any further houses built on the site should be worth at least £300 (or £500 for a semi-detached pair).

Unfortunately, precise details of how the houses were built, and by whom, have now been lost, although John and Richard Butler, builders from Bexleyheath, appear to have constructed some of the semi-detached villas on Parkhill Road.

A builder named George Hawkins seems to have been involved with the five houses on Upton Road, but it is not known whether he built them on his own account as a speculative venture, or whether he was working for a client. A pencil note in the Poor Rate book for October 1869 records 'Geo Hawkins 5 houses' but gives no further information; he was also charged rates for 'Brickfield and lands' at Park Hill.

George Hawkins was born in 1834 in Southwark. He spent his early married life in Victoria, Australia, where his first three children were born. He had returned to England by 1868 and was living in Bexley shortly afterwards. By the early 1870s he had moved to Sidcup, where he built many houses over the following years. At the time of the 1881 census he was living at Worcester House, Clapham, and described himself as a 'builder employing 30 men'.

The House

The designs for the facades of the houses on Upton Road were almost certainly taken from a pattern book, and the floor plans were designed to fit in behind the chosen frontages. Pattern books had been used extensively by builders since the eighteenth century. They contained drawings of house facades and floor plans produced by architects and designers, in a variety of styles, which builders were free to copy, either in total, or by assembling a variety of their favourite details from a number of different designs. Although pattern books were intended to keep builders informed of the latest architectural trends, it was inevitable that, once published, they would soon become out of date although they would continue to be used for many years.

Two well known books used extensively during the mid-nineteenth century were An Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture written by John Claudius Loudon in 1833, and The Builder's Practical Director published by James Hagger in 1855. Many other pattern books were also available, but few of them survive today, and it is not known which book Hawkins used.

Certain architectural details of the four houses in Parkhill Road suggest that they too were built by Hawkins, using the same pattern book.

Laurel House , the first house in Upton Road, was built in a castellated style with a facade constructed of red-brick and stucco sporting decorative battlements and a false turret. The bricks for the facade were machine made and kiln burnt, whereas for the sides and rear cheaper yellow 'stock' bricks were used which were hand made on site from local clay and burnt in clamps (an extension was built at the back of the house later in the nineteenth century using 'stock' bricks covered with stucco). The low-pitched roofs were covered in Welsh slate and were designed in the form of an offset double pile with a valley gutter at the centre and a parapet gutter at the front. The casement windows to the front with timber mullions and transoms appear to be replacements, although it is quite likely that the originals were of the same type, being in spirit with the castellated facade; most of the other windows in the house were vertical sliding sashes.

The construction of a picturesque facade with stucco decoration and a parapet masking a much plainer house behind was distinctly old fashioned by the 1860s, being reminiscent of the 'confectionary' castellated gothic buildings of the Regency and early Victorian era. Popular taste by the mid Victorian period demanded 'truthful gothic' buildings with clearly defined plans and construction, walls of patterned brick or stonework and prominent, steeply sloping roofs.

The houses were also built with a total disregard for the character of the area. Although they were constructed in the middle of open agricultural land adjacent to a small country village, no attempt was made to reflect this sense of space in their siting; they were all placed close together in an almost urban manner, fronting two of the existing roads.

Despite these points it is certain that no other Victorian houses in Bexley had such diverse and eccentric facades. In all there were three houses built in a castellated gothic style, and others were classical or expanded cottage orné, but all had more to do with the picturesque taste of the early century than the popular earnest truthfulness of the middle period. George Hawkins may well have been using an old fashioned pattern book deliberately; playing safe in assuming that the successful middle class were more likely to be attracted by solidity and display than the latest architectural fashion.

As each of the houses' floor plans differed markedly, they provide interesting examples of what a middle class Victorian looked for in a desirable residence.

Laurel House was in fact rather small by Victorian standards, and was unusually compact. The floor plans work well, despite some poor detailing such as the 'tacked on' single storey extensions with lean-to roofs, and may well have come originally from a pattern book and been adapted to fit the awkward site.

The entrance hall ran across the centre of the house with all the principal rooms leading from it; the dining room and drawing room at the front, and the morning room and kitchen to the rear. A scullery led off the kitchen down steps and had an external door which was the tradesmen's entrance. There was probably an inside WC for use by the family and an outside WC for servants.

A door below the staircase led to cellars which were used to store coal, meat and other items.

Upstairs were two family bedrooms, two smaller bedrooms or dressing rooms, a nursery and a servants' bedroom.

All the rooms at the back of the house were extended by about five feet in the 1890s, apparently in two phases. The extraordinarily large sash window which now lights the kitchen may possibly have been removed from Marl House; the window clearly pre-dates the house with its small panes and thick glazing bars, and Marl House was demolished at about the time that the kitchen was extended.

A stable and coach-house were built next to the house. An account written many years later describes a 'good paved yard, two-stall stable and loose box, with blue Stafford paving, Harness Room, large Coach-house, ...... Living Room and Loft over'.

A system of bell pulls was installed in the house to enable servants to be summoned. The original bells probably hung just outside the kitchen, and considerable lengths of pull-wire still thread their way between floors and ceilings complete with fixing stirrups. Gas was available in Bexley by this time and gas jet lighting was installed (more efficient gas mantles were not available until the 1880s), but probably only in downstairs rooms. It also seems likely that the house enjoyed a piped water supply; the North Kent Water Company had been started in 1860 with the intention of supplying water to Bexley and other neighbouring areas, and this had been taken over by the Kent Water Company in 1864. Mains drainage was not available, and sewage was probably disposed of by means of a cesspool.

The First Owner

It was clearly intended by Trowell, Browne and Jolly that the houses built on the orchard should be the substantial homes of a respectable and affluent middle-class. The houses were certainly substantial and a glance at the census returns shows that the inhabitants probably lived up to expectations as well. They included a jeweller, a bank liquidator, a merchant, and two ship owners.

The local vestry committee seem to have welcomed the prospect of new respectable inhabitants in the village, and in late 1869 proposed that two 'street lamp columns' be placed on Park Hill, presumably near the new houses; the gas was to be provided by the West Kent Gas Company.

Early in the following year Alfred West Gibbs, and his family, took up residence at Laurel House.

Gibbs was an architect, who, at this period, had an office at 5, Eastcheap, City of London. He was not a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which suggests that he had no professional qualifications, but had served articles in an architects office. This was the traditional way in which architects and surveyors trained; the concept of admission by examination to a national regulatory body was new, and was by no means mandatory. Unfortunately, there are no existing records of the architectural work Gibbs carried out.

Gibbs appears to have been quite wealthy; under the terms of his mother's will, which was proved in May 1871, he received the interest, dividend and proceeds from a variety of stocks which were held in trust for his benefit. He came originally from Islington, but immediately before moving to Bexley he was living in Bathurst House, a newly built house at Kidbrooke. As well as purchasing Laurel House he bought two of the other houses in Upton Road, and also the old Marl House.

The 1871 census shows that Gibbs was 33 years old, his wife Alice Harriet was 30, and they had five children living at home: Ernest aged 9, Constance aged 7, Harold aged 5, Cuthbert aged 3, and Amy aged 1. Another son, Alfred, was presumably away at school on the day that the census was taken. There were two servants who lived in: Hannah Barley a housemaid aged 23, and Hannah Trent a general servant aged 19. It is likely that there were other servants, such as a cook, a gardener, and presumably a stableman, who did not sleep at the house. The general servant and housemaid would have been paid respectively about £8 and £15 per year; servants who did not live in would have received more. This represents a fairly typical Victorian middle-class household.

The rateable value of Laurel House was set at £54 with a rate of 1/- in the £, but this seems to have been too much for Gibbs. He withheld payment of the rates in 1870, and managed to get the rateable value reduced to £45 in the following year.

In his early years at Laurel House Gibbs must have enjoyed its rural seclusion. His new home stood overlooking fields and orchards, and was near the ancient village of Bexley which itself was 'in the midst of pleasant sylvan scenery'.

Life in Bexley continued very much as it had done over past centuries, with paternalistic guidance from a handful of influential families. Gibbs found that he had joined the ranks of 'substantial householders' and was nominated as an Overseer of the Poor by the local vestry committee for three consecutive years from 1874.

Despite this apparent social continuity, the railway and a supply of available land were acting as powerful magnets drawing more people to live in the area.

The Growth of Bexley

Between 1876 and 1885 the Parkhurst Estate was laid out and developed on what had been farmland. Five houses were built opposite Laurel House in 1876, and other substantial middle-class homes were built in the newly created Parkhurst, Knoll and Hartford Roads in the following years.

It may have been the possibility of the rural character of the area being lost which prompted Gibbs to sell all his property and move away in 1876. If this was so he acted prematurely, for as late as 1911 it was considered that the new houses had 'little or no effect .... on the general beauty of the old village and its immediate surroundings'. The village was increasing in size but had retained its rural identity. It is more likely that his growing family precipitated the move; the parish records show that his seventh child, Evelyn Maude, was baptised in January 1876. It is not known where Gibbs moved to, but in 1881 he was living in a large house in Kensington. He ended his days in July 1909 at Hove, Sussex.

To meet the spiritual needs of the increased population of Bexley a new church was built at Parkhill in 1881 as a 'chapel of ease' to the parish church of St. Mary. It was built on land donated by the University of Oxford together with a contribution of £2,000 towards the total cost of £6,000; the balance was subscribed by local residents.

The church, which was designed by George Low (FRIBA) and built by Naylar and Sons of Rochester, is now considered to be a fine example of nineteenth century church architecture, but at the time it was described as 'a handsome gothic structure dedicated to St. John' which called for 'little description in detail'. The spire was not erected until 1891, the cost of which was again met by subscription, and the four-faced clock was added as an afterthought for an additional £150.

The Second Decade

William Lucas, a local landowner and farmer, bought both Marl House and Laurel House from Gibbs. Laurel House was let to Henry Wilkinson.

Little is known about Wilkinson although he lived at Laurel House for eight years from 1876. On the day of the 1881 census he appears to have been away from home and the only recorded inhabitants were two servants: Emma Sairr aged 25 and Martha Bartrup aged 19.

Wilkinson was a member of the Bexley New Church Building Committee which co-ordinated fund raising for the construction of St John's Church. He is known to have made a personal donation of £21 towards building costs, and enjoyed a place on the 'temporary rostrum' at the Foundation Stone Ceremony. When the church was in use, he became a sidesman.

When Lucas died in 1882 his property was held in trust for the benefit of his four children, William Edward, Elizabeth Mary Ann, Clara Amy and Emma Blanche, until the youngest reached the age of 21. Any eventual benefit from the properties was to be shared equally between the four, with the daughters' portions being free from subsequent marital control.

Before the Lucas children were able to dispose of their property new tenants arrived at Laurel House in the wake of Wilkinson. They were Robert Hargreaves Rogers and his wife Jane Selina, and they took up residence in 1884.

Emma Lucas, the youngest child, reached the age of 21 in May 1889, and in August of the same year an agreement was made to sell both Marl House and Laurel House to Thomas Knight, a Sidcup builder, for £2,150. Rogers, acting quickly, managed to persuade Knight to allow him to purchase the properties at the agreed price and accept £25 compensation.

The Shirtmaker and Sheriff

Sir Robert Hargreaves Rogers, as he was subsequently to become, was the Chairman of R. H. & S. Rogers Ltd, a firm of shirtmakers who later traded under the name Rocola.

The company had been founded by his father, Thomas Rogers, in the 1830s and an account given by Sir Robert tells of its birth: 'In 1835 my father - quite a young man - came up from Plymouth, having been associated there with the tea trade. He .... took a situation with Messrs. Peek Bros., of Eastcheap, the well known tea firm, as a despatch man .... Having no feminine connections of any sort in London, he wanted shirts, and as he had no one to make them for him, and no shops sold such an article, he was stranded. .... Drapers only sold materials, and never dreamt of selling a garment. ....he left the tea business, took a third floor back in Russia Row, Milk-street, and spent his two weeks wages in buying a few pieces of cloth.... This material he cut up into shirts - the old fashioned square shirt, which today we would call flesh bags - and forthwith started shirt making.... These shirts he hawked round to London hosiers, and endeavoured to persuade them to take a few on sale and return'.

Sir Robert, who was born in 1850, also claimed that his father had founded the shirt making industry in Ulster. Rogers senior had taught local Coleraine girls to make shirts in a house which he took with a 'thatched roof and earthen floor, peat fire in the middle and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out'.

Rogers was much involved with the City of London Corporation. He was a member of the Common Council, a Deputy Alderman, a governor of St. Thomas' Hospital, and Sheriff of the City of London from 1896 to 1897. He was knighted in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. He was obviously a man of some self-importance, and celebrated his election as Deputy Alderman by having a substantial granite drinking fountain erected near the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury. It is dated November 1890 and inscribed 'The gift of Robert H Rogers Esqre Deputy of the ward to the parish of St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury'.

Rogers also left his mark on Bexley village itself. On 26th August 1897, during Bexley Gala Day, he laid the foundation stone of the Victoria Homes for the Aged in Bourne Road, and after the First World War he gave the fir trees and shrubs which still surround the War Memorial.

Although he was an industrialist in the true Victorian tradition, it seems that Rogers made an effort to take an active part in local social life. In 1888 the local newspaper records that he performed in a 'part-song' at a concert given by the St. John's Glee Singers, he arranged concerts by visiting companies at the National Society school, became a Vice-President of Bexley Cricket Club, and President of Bexley Lawn Tennis Club.

In about 1890 Rogers set about demolishing the old Marl House so that a new house could be built which would suit his newly acquired status. The new house was designed by a London architect named Frederic Ledger, and was built by Naylar and Son, who had built the church at Parkhill ten years earlier. It seems that plans for the new house were completed by April 1891, and were given approval by the Local Board provided 'written assurance has been received that the cesspool will be placed in a position to comply with the bye-laws'.

The new house contained three reception rooms, a billiards room, five family bedrooms, and servants' accommodation.

Rogers moved out of Laurel House in 1892, and lived at the new Marl House until his death in 1924.

The garden of the new Marl House was about one acre in area, and included the stables which had belonged to Laurel House. It was enlarged to about two acres in the early years of the twentieth century when the six semi-detached villas on Parkhill Road were purchased and demolished. The garden included a full size tennis lawn, rock garden, cascade waterfall and rose garden; Sir Robert was a keen gardener.

The Tenants

From 1892 to 1924 Laurel House was let to a succession of different tenants.

The first tenant was the Rev John Thomas Mitchell, who was curate of St Mary's parish from 1892 to 1893; as such he was probably responsible for holding services in the newly built St John's Church. Mitchell, who came originally from Glasgow, had previously been curate of West Ham. On leaving Bexley in 1894 he went to Leeds and then became Rector of Wavertree, Diocese of Liverpool, and remained so for the rest of his career. He also held a number of other appointments in the Liverpool Diocese and was eventually appointed Emeritus Canon of Liverpool in 1938.

In 1895 Charles Hepburn Myrtle was in residence. He was a chartered surveyor by profession and a golfer by inclination. On arriving in Bexley he became involved with the embryonic Sidcup Golf Club and in 1901 he moved to Sidcup - possibly to be nearer the club. He is credited with using his professional skills in negotiating the lease of 120 acres of the Lamorby Estate for use as the club course after 1910 (the club still use part of this course which is now reduced to 9 greens). Myrtle also played an influential part in laying out the course, and the difficult 10th hole (now the 8th) was referred to as 'Myrtle's Folly'. He was at various times secretary and captain of the club. He was also a friend of fellow club member Major Harold Gillies, the pioneering plastic surgeon of the Queen's Hospital, Sidcup. Gillies was a regular, tennis playing, visitor at Myrtle's Priestlands Park Road home. Myrtle died in October 1941.

Other tenants were: in 1901 Mrs Alice Bostock, in 1905 William B. Norris, in 1908 Hugh William Wilson, and in 1913 Keith Sydney Thompson.

During the First World War, Laurel House was leased to Vickers Ltd, the armaments manufacturer, and Keith Thompson moved to Devon Lodge in Knoll Road. Vickers probably used the house as accommodation for armed service technical officers who were visiting their factory in Crayford. In 1919, after the war, Keith Thompson was again living at Laurel House.

It is not known how Sir Robert found tenants for Laurel House, but they may well have been known to him socially; this could explain why several of them appear to have kept in touch with him, even after they had moved elsewhere. In 1907 Rogers' nephew Gilbert Pearson Rogers, who apparently lived at Marl House, was married; among the presents received were pictures from 'the misses Norris'. In 1913 a garden party was held at Marl House attended by the Lord Mayor of London. An exhibition tennis match was given, and among the players were 'Mr Keith Thompson and Mr Myrtle'; the guests also included 'Mrs Thompson, Mrs and Miss Myrtle'. At Sir Robert's funeral in 1924 a wreath was sent by 'Mr & Mrs Myrtle and family'. All of this suggests something more than the usual landlord/tenant relationship.

The Nineteen Twenties

When the First World War came to an end things began to return to normal and once again Bexley village found itself subjected to pressures from speculative building developers.

At the end of Upton Road at 'Apple Pie Corner' was a small plot of land which had been the Parkhurst Dairy. In 1924, the Jordan Island Estate, as the land was called, came up for sale and proposals were made to build a garage on it. Sir Robert Hargreaves Rogers objected to this plan and called a meeting of local people at Marl House. It became clear that nobody was in favour of the scheme, and it was strongly suggested that the land should be turned into a public area.

A few months later the local Council purchased the estate for £2,400 with the aim of widening the surrounding roads. In fact the majority of the land was eventually made into a public garden.

Sir Robert died in November 1924, but two months before his death he had sold Laurel House to Hugh Griffiths, a 33 year old chemical engineer, for £1,500. This marked the end of the period of common ownership which Laurel House had shared with both the old and new Marl House since 1871.

Sir Robert was buried in Highgate Cemetery, Middlesex, and a memorial in the form of a stained glass window showing the Four Evangelists was installed at the west end of St John's Church.

Marl House was sold by auction following Sir Robert's death and it was purchased by Herbert Edward Thomas, a successful solicitor with a practice in Woolwich.

The Chemical Engineer

By the time Griffiths purchased Laurel House he was a well-off young man with a flourishing business. He had been born in Middlesbrough in 1891, and by the age of 15 had won a National Scholarship in Chemistry; the youngest person ever to do so. He carried on his education in London and gained a first class honours degree.

Griffiths obtained a position with Nobel's Explosives Company Ltd at Ardeer in Scotland, and it was no doubt while working there that he met his future wife Marion Hellen. By the time the First World War broke out he was an acknowledged expert in the design and building of manufacturing installations.

After leaving Nobel's, Griffiths set up a chemical engineering business, at first in partnership, but later alone. He specialised in the areas of continuous crystallisation and high vacuum technique. Many of the advances in industrial chemical applications during the first half of the twentieth century have been attributed to his work.

As well as running his own business he also lectured in chemical engineering and spent many years developing the examinations of the Institution of Chemical Engineers. In 1945 and 1946 he was elected the President of the Institution.

Griffiths spent nearly all his time involved with chemical engineering matters and appears to have done little to modernise Laurel House except for a brief flurry of activity shortly after he purchased the property, when electricity was installed, and the front windows appear to have been renewed. At about the same period, the garden was partially landscaped by a local gardener named Harry Catt. A sunken lawn was created near the house, but to the south west the remains of a formal Victorian garden can still be seen.

The Recent Past

During the Second World War Laurel House suffered structural damage from a nearby high explosive bomb; all but two of the original plaster ceilings were destroyed. Mrs Griffiths recalled that on one occasion her grandfather clock was sucked through the hall window by the force of a blast and was found in the garden outside, apparently undamaged. Part of the cellar was made habitable for use as a shelter during air-raids. Marl House was also badly damaged.

Hugh Griffiths died at Laurel House in 1954 and the property was inherited by his widow who continued to live there for another twenty years. At about this time some modernisation was undertaken; the house was rewired, redecorated, and oil fired central heating was installed.

Marl House was demolished in the early 1960s, following a period of multiple occupation and subsequent dereliction, to make way for an estate of modern bungalows and houses. Many local residents were sorry to see the destruction of its garden which was generally considered to be very beautiful despite its overgrown state.

As the years passed Marion Griffiths found herself less able to cope with the upkeep of Laurel House and eventually, in 1974, she moved to a hotel in Scotland.

In January of the following year she sold the house to the present owners for £23,500. They commenced a programme of restoration and maintenance of the house and garden; a task occasionally hampered by the vagaries of Victorian building techniques and severe weather conditions.

In 1983 Laurel House was designated a 'local interest' building by Bexley Borough Council who included it on their official list of Buildings of Local Architectural and Historic Interest, and in 1988 it was included in the newly declared Parkhurst Conservation Area. Unfortunately, continuing pressures to redevelop and enlarge adjacent properties, coupled with an absence of commitment to conservation on the part of the local authority, meant that neither of these measures actually afforded any real protection.

Despite the changes in Bexley over the years which have turned a rural area into a town, Laurel House still appears much as it did more than a century ago. It is easy to imagine Victorian families enjoying the garden in summer, gathering round the fires in winter, reading in the gas lit drawing room, and making their way to bed with the aid of candles or oil lamps. Like all old buildings, it is able to put us in touch with our past.