Although I live (and grew up) in and around Dartford in Kent, I didn’t know that Bromley had its very own “Palace” until fairly recently. Admittedly, it’s not quite as grandiose as Buckingham Palace, but nonetheless, a palace it is!
So, if you’ve stumbled upon this page because you’d like to know a bit more about Bromley’s lesser-known palace, here’s a quick overview.
Bromley Palace Park campaign
Before we dive in, please take a look at this page of the Friends of Bromley Town Parks & Gardens website. If you live locally, you may already be aware of (at the time of writing) the council’s plan to sell most of the site, but not the park to the south of the Old Palace. The link provides more information about the matter if it’s of interest to you.
Bromley Palace (also known as the Bishop’s Palace) is nestled in the London Borough of Bromley. It’s a historic manor house that’s seen centuries unfold, ranging from its beginnings as the bishop’s abode for the Bishops of Rochester in the 12th century to its role in the 21st century as part of Bromley Civic Centre. It’s recognised for its architectural and historical significance and as such, the building is now Grade II listed.
Now let’s wind our way back to its origins:
Where it all began – The 8th-century origins of the “Bishops Palace”
Way back in the 8th century, King Æthelbert II granted 6 sulings of land (one suling is equal to about 220 acres) to Eardwulf, Bishop of Rochester, and it’s this that became the “Manor of Bromley”. Then in 862AD, Æthelberht III gave 10 sulings of land to his minister Dryhtwald. Moving forward to 967AD, King Edgar I of England granted a further 10 sulings of land to Bishop Ælfstan in return for a large sum in gold and silver.
Only a few years later in 987AD, a dispute arose between King Ethelred II and the Bishop of Rochester. This led to the land being seized and given to one of the king’s ministers although through a royal act of contrition, it was returned 998AD. Following the conquest, another expropriation attempt was made by Bishop Odo of Bayeux (who was the half-brother of William the Conqueror) although Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury intervened and restored the land to the diocese.
1100 to 1200
It is thought that a manor house was first built in the Manor of Bromley around the year 1100 and the area was described as “poor….neither pasture nor arable land being worth much”.
There is speculation that the designer of the original Bromley Palace was Bishop Gundulph but this is disputed by some historians as it didn’t fit the style and character of his other commissions. There’s also evidence that the palace became dilapidated and fell into a state of disrepair by around 1184. However, Gilbert de Glanville, ordered the manor house to be rebuilt in what was described as “a more commodious manner”.
According to one historian:
“The first house and gardens probably did not cover a larger space than two acres, and were surrounded by a moat. …. The grounds of the palace contained a Holy Well (St. Blaise’s Well) and Oratory dedicated to Saint Blaise and the site became a place of pilgrimage for centuries.”
1600 to 1800
Due to an Act of Parliament during the English Civil War in 1648, an order was made to dispose of some church property – As such, the manor of Bromley was sold to Augustine Skinner. However, the manor house was returned to the Diocese of Rochester in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne.
Then in 1669, Bishop Sprat had the chapel demolished and subsequently rebuilt around a year or so later, with improvements also being made to the grounds of the palace. Even more additions/ improvements were made to the manor by later bishops (Francis Atterbury and Joseph Wilcocks) but despite all of this, the palace still fell into disrepair. Consequently, Bishop John Thomas ordered it to be pulled down and rebuilt in 1774.
Bromley Palace from the 1960s to present day
Moving forward to 1960, Kent County Council took control of Bromley Palace and around this time, even more extensions were added. The building got it Grade II listed status in 1973. Despite the college closing in 1980, there was still a significant regeneration scheme in operation and as part of this, a new Civic Centre was created and the London Borough of Bromley moved their council headquarters from the town hall to Bromley Palace in 1982.
If you’re familiar with this gorgeous local landmark you may already know that a small area of the original parkland survives around the palace comprising of lawns, mature trees, a lake and boat house, rockeries, an ice house and a folly.
Because of its beauty, it’s also a popular wedding venue for local residents. If you want to pay the palace and gardens a visit, the address is Stockwell Cl, Bromley BR1 3EW and if you put in your start location, you can get directions here.
So, as you can see, Bromley Palace’s history is a rich tapestry of change that showcases its evolution from a medieval bishop’s residence to a modern civic centre. I see it as a story that’s one of resilience, adaptation, and transformation that mirrors the broader historical shifts and cultural developments of England itself.
When we’re not zipping about measuring and installing custom, made-to-measure window blinds in Bromley, we’re busy learning about the history, people and architectural significance of our local area including how H.G. Wells was born in Bromley and writing about the History of Bromley & Sheppard’s Colleges.