Inventory Site Record

St Mary the Virgin Churchyard

St Mary the Virgin Churchyard (Bromley)

Brief Description

St Mary the Virgin Church and its churchyard in the village of Downe date from around 1291 and while the church has gained a tower since then the churchyard is probably little altered. Of the many noteworthy residents of Downe, Charles Darwin is undoubtedly the most famous and lived nearby from 1842 until his death in 1882. Darwin, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, is commemorated by a sundial and plaque on the tower, but his wife Emma and other members of the family are buried in the churchyard. Among the trees in the churchyard is an ancient yew.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Downe Parish Church; St Mary Magdalene
Site location:
27 High Street, Downe, Orpington
Type of site:
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: Bromley North, Bromley South, Orpington then bus. Bus: 146 daily, R8, B05

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/09/2008
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.;

Full Site Description

The church at Downe is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 but when Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1039 - 1109, granted titles from the Manor of Orpingtone to the Bishop of Rochester, some from Doune were included. In 1291, Prior Henry of Christchurch built a chapel in his Manor of Orpington at a cost of £61 0s. 11d and it is possible that it was on the site of the present church. The church would probably have been built without the present tower. The Early English (c.1200-1300) lancet window in the south wall of the nave, on the right of the entrance, is all that remains of this early period. Steeple built by C16th; an inventory of 1552 refers to 3 bells, two of which were made by William Dawe of London; the remaining 3 bells added in early C20th. Memorial in church to the Petley Family prominent in Downe between C13th - C16th, similarly the Manning Family, which has a number of brasses in the church; Edward, son of the last member to be buried here, was page to Prince Charles, later Charles I. Downe posses one of only 10 registers of births, marriages and deaths dating from the time of Henry VIII's Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, who ordered such registers to be kept in 1538. Famous glass maker Giacomo Verzelini from Murano near Venice paid £20 for a brass memorial for himself, wife and children to be placed in the chancel covering the family grave in the crypt below. He had built up a successful glass making business in Aldgate since his arrival in c.1571, obtaining a 21 licence from Elizabeth I in 1954. He bought estates in the area including Downe Court.

There are memorials on the south wall of the chancel to the Lubbock family of High Elms, now High Elms Country Park (q.v.), Farnborough, who used to worship here. Sir John William Lubbock (1803-1865), the second of that name, was a banker, an astronomer and the first Vice Chancellor of the University of London. His son, Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913) became the first Lord Avebury and was one of the most eminent figures of his day, a man of business, politician, educationist, scientist and antiquary. Perhaps the greatest monument to his life is the legislation concerning bank holidays, which was conceived and carried through by him. He was a friend of Charles Darwin, and was so upset by the criticism of Darwin's theories, including one from the pulpit of St Mary's church, that he left Downe for Farnborough church.

Charles Darwin (1809-82) lived at Downe House from 1842 until his death. Although he was buried in Westminster Abbey, there is a sundial on the outside of the south wall of the church here and a stone in memory of some family members outside the church door on the west of the path. His wife Emma (who was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood the second) and brother Erasmus were buried in the east part of the churchyard near the fence bordering High Elms Road. The Darwins' children Mary and Charles, Sarah Wedgwood, Emma's aunt and youngest daughter of Josiah Wedgwood of Etruria and Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, Emma's elder sister, and also his butler Joseph Parslow, are also buried here.

Many restorations were made to the interior and exterior of the church in the 1870s during the incumbency of Charles Ffinden; during WWII the east end was damaged by a bomb that landed nearby across High Elms Road, but which destroyed the East Window. The churchyard has an ancient yew tree, several hundred years old, as well as another veteran yew, horse chestnut, sycamore, cherry and conifers; among shrubs is an abelia grandiflora. Kent Archaeological Society has a transcription of memorial inscriptions in the churchyard taken by Leland L Duncan on 3 June 1919.

Sources consulted:

A transcription of the memorial inscriptions recorded by Mr Leland L. Duncan 3rd June, 1919 (Kent Archaeological Society website); B Cherry & N Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 2: South' (1983, reprint 1999) p184; A Guide to St Mary the Virgin, Downe (no date, after 1996); O J R Howarth & Eleanor K Howarth, 'A History of Darwin's Parish' (Russell & Co, Southern Counties Ltd), pp.77, 84, 85.

LPGT Volunteer Research by Brenda Powell, 2008; 'History of St Mary's Church, Downe' on the united benefice of Cudham and Downe website

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ432617 (543212,161648)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Church of England, Diocese of Rochester,
Site management:
Churchyard: LB Bromley
1290 onwards
Listed structures:
LBII: St Mary's 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:
Downe Village
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Archaeological Significance
Other LA designation:
Proposed World Heritage Site

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