Inventory Site Record

St Martin of Tours Churchyard (Bromley)

Brief Description

The old village of Chelsfield and its parish church of St Martin of Tours have existed here since at least the C12th. The church is now somewhat isolated from the village following the building of the Orpington Bypass in the 1920s. The churchyard has been used for burial for some 900 years with burial records existing from the C16th. Most burials did not have burial markers and the earliest surviving gravestones are late C18th.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Chelsfield Parish Church
Site location:
Court Road/Church Road, Chelsfield
Type of site:
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: Chelsfield then bus. Bus R3
Research updated:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

Chelsfield is located on high ground to the east of Orpington and the name is probably of Saxon origin, meaning a 'cold place'. For centuries the area was largely farmland and its early manor houses were Woodlands, Chelsfield House, Hewitts and Court Lodge, the latter next to the parish church. The earliest part of St Martin of Tours dates from the C12th; the tower and a chapel are C13th, and the porch dates from the C15th, with later additions made in the C19th. On the north wall of the aisle is a memorial to Alderman Brass Crosby, from whom the phrase 'As bold as Brass' emanates. Lord of the Manor of Chelsfield and later Lord Mayor of London, he was a champion for the Liberty of the Press, for which he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the late 1700s for demanding that the Minutes of Parliament be published. He was released following public support and his campaign led to the establishment of Hansard. An extension, known as the Brass Crosby Rooms, in the north-west corner of the church was completed in February 2007.

Development began after the railways reached the area in the latter part of the C19th, with Chelsfield Station opening in 1868 and Halstead for Knockholt in 1876, later re-named Knockholt in 1900. Two well-known writers are connected with the parish, Edith Nesbit (b.1858) who lived here as a girl, and Miss Read who moved here as a child in 1921. Miss Read's 'Fairacre' books were based on her early life in the village, where her parents were in the church choir, her father occasionally the organist. As a teenager Edith Nesbit witnessed the construction of the railway tunnel that ran from Chelsfield and the cuttings at Knockholt, during which a number of the construction workers were killed. She was later a founder of the Fabian Society, which was concerned for the well-being of those who, like the railway miners, worked in poor conditions. Her walks to Chelsfield station inspired her famous novel, 'The Railway Children' (1906). The railway led to the development at New Chelsfield, as it facilitated transport of coal and other materials here and of local produce into London. In the 1920s the church became isolated from the village after the construction of the Orpington Bypass. During WWII a landmine exploded near the church and many headstones in the churchyard were flattened or destroyed, and the stained glass of three lancet windows was shattered the blast also killing members of a local family and their dogs. Some of the gravestones were placed along the north wall of the churchyard, others laid flat under the ground. During the summer sections of the churchyard are covered in long grass and wild flowers, attracting a variety of wild life. Kent Archaeological Society has made a list of monumental inscriptions in the churchyard, collected by Leland L Duncan on 15 July 1890.

Sources consulted:

St Martin of Tours website:; B Cherry & N Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 2: South' (1983, reprint 1999) p174/5; See Kent Archaeological Society for list of monumental inscriptions:

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ480641 (547990,164020)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Diocese of Rochester
Site management:
C12th onwards
Listed structures:
LBII: St Martin of Tours Church
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
To be checked
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Borough Importance I
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Archaeological Interest
Other LA designation:

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.