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Historic Kenley   arrow

A Brief History of  Kenley

The history of Kenley and nearby Purley is well detailed in the Bourne Society series of publications on Village Histories (see ).

Although Kenley is a comparatively new village, the result of the development of the Caterham railway in 1856, a community did exist here in the 7th century A.D.  known as Wattendone. It was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086 as a small unit of one church, 17 villagers and two cottagers. Kenley, or Kenele, was first mentioned in 1255, relating to a farm in the area where Kenley House now stands. Wattendone eventually became known as Waddington. The English Place Name Society identified the name of Coena’s Leah in Anglo-Saxon times and is thought to refer to land owned by the Coena people who were themselves associated with Kennington, South London. This could be the origin of Kenley.

In 1851, the area we now call Kenley, between Old Lodge Lane and the Godstone Road, included the hamlet of Waddington and several farms: Garston, Hayes, Kenley, Great Roke and Little Roke, Waterhouse and Welcomes. There were some 249 souls on this scattered community without a church or a school. The first church built at Wattendone burned down in 1780 and was eventually replaced by All Saints Church in 1871, making Kenley a parish in its own right. At the same time the first school built was Riddlesdown National School on the corner of Godstone Road and Downs Court Road. Water and gas were first supplied in 1869.

By 1901 the population had risen to 1,299 and had increased to 9,260 by 1981. Today it is in excess of 10,000 and still increasing as new developments, infilling and subdivision of houses takes place.

Historic Buildings and Places

All Saints Church

Built in 1870/71 for the growing number of parishioners was designed by James Fowler at a cost of £3,500 to seat 200 people, and was constructed of Kentish ragstone with an attractive red and black brick interior, interspersed with white stone. In 1904 the tower had three bells and a belfry clock installed for the magnificent sum of £88. At the same time the organ was replaced with the current one.

gliderKenley Airfield

Sequestered in 1917 from farmland, including a golf course, this natural plateau was ideal for fighter planes during World War Two. It played a vital role in the Battle of Britain alongside its neighbour, Biggin Hill. Today it is the home to a gliding club. The Kenley Tribute Memorial is well worth a visit, it commemorates all the RAF squadrons that flew from there. In 2015 it won funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is currently being restored. See the Kenley Revival website for more information. The nearby Wattenden Arms was frequented by the aircrews and has much memorabilia on display.

Riddlesdown Caves

These have existed for a long time and mushrooms have been grown there. During the Second World War they were used as air-raid shelters. A firm of optical instrument makers presently uses them as the stable air temperature is ideal for the precise engineering required in the manufacture of the instruments.

Roman Road

The chalky pathway across Riddlesdown remains as the only evidence in Kenley that the Romans marched their columns this way en route to Londinium. The path also features in a book in 1880 telling cyclists how to get from London to Brighton via Lewes. The advent of the A22 provided a much easier route.


Kenley of the past had mostly large houses with acres of ground. Gradually these large gardens have been divided into smaller plots for new houses. During the 1930’s there was much development of more moderate housing throughout the whole area. This has continued with more infilling as there are few tracts of land left for development.

Memorial Hall

The building of the hall was inspired by those who lost sons in the First World War. The foundation stone was laid on December 3 1921 after generous donations from the people of Kenley. Rededicated by Group Captain Douglas Bader in 1975, today it serves the community for local events, meetings and sporting activities.

The Rose and Crown

The inn built c 1723 was originally named “The Rose”. Its first use was to serve horse-drawn coaches coming down the old Lewes Road over Riddlesdown. It is known that a weekly carrier used this road as early as 1681. Some of the original Residents’ Association meetings were held there. Unfortunately this inn has followed many others in Croydon and in 2007 was demolished to make room for a block of 37 flats.


pig_whistle_smallPig & Whistle

This old thatched building next to the Wattendon Arms, in Old Lodge Lane, has a plaque stating it was formerly the Pig & Whistle Ale House 1664.


Kenley has some very old trees and the two by the Little Roke railway footbridge, by the Oaklands development site, have been assessed at 394 and 880 years. The oldest tree aged 970 years is at Kenley House in Kenley Lane. Nearby is a sequoia, which is a tree native to California!

Water Supply

The local 500-foot borehole supplies all Kenley’s needs with good clear water. The river Bourne flows mostly underground along the Godstone Road, the A22.

The Bourne Society

For more information on Kenley and other surrounding areas, contact the Bourne Society website at .