The High Elms estate has had a colourful history since William the Conqueror’s brother lived there in the 11th century. Reporter HELOISE WOOD took a look round to discover more.

WHAT do art students, an MP, nurses and a pet wasp have in common?

They have all been resident at Farnborough's High Elms estate, the history of which has been unearthed through a recent research project.

The Lubbocks, a banking family, bought the land in 1808 and built a mansion there in 1842 before selling it in 1938.

It was destroyed by a fire in 1967 after being used as an art college and a training school for nurses.

The descendants still live nearby and picnic on the grounds each year.

Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the project £44,200 in 2010 to delve into the past of the iconic estate and share it with the Bromley community.

The result is two years of painstaking work by volunteers and High Elms Country Park Countryside officer Nick Hopkins into every nook and cranny of the 250 acres.

They interviewed as many people as they could who had a connection to the estate and collected their oral histories into a series of audio clips on display at the High Elms Centre.

These include a fireman who helped put out the blaze which destroyed the mansion, a lady who lived on the estate as a child and descendant Eric Reginald Lubbock, 4th Baron Avebury, a member of the House of Lords.

Lord Lubbock also lent his voice to the talking mural in the education centre.

Another account came from a volunteer, Tudor Davies, who taught in the grounds when it was Ravensbourne College of Art and Design.

He said: "On the first day, driving down the road into grounds it felt like I was entering heaven."

There is more than a touch of Downton Abbey about the place. I was shown around the sprawling estate and presented with a map showing where all the mansion's rooms would have been (the servants’ windows were all much smaller than the family’s).

High Elms Country Park Countryside officer Nick Hopkins said: "I didn’t know anything about the history of the place before the project but it became addictive.

"For example, John William Lubbock who inherited the estate in 1865, was such an interesting character.

"Charles Darwin was a good friend of his and he was fascinated by astronomy and nature.

"He even had a pet wasp he bought back from the Pyrenees and hid in a matchbox during the train journey when the ticket collector came by.

"He was an MP and was responsible for introducing the August Bank Holiday in 1871. Ironically, it was on this day the house burned down almost a century later."

Timeline of High Elms

1808 John William Lubbock purchases High Elms as a country retreat

1842 Charles Darwin moves to nearby Downe House and befriends the Lubbocks

1865 John William Lubbock (3rd baronet) dies and the estate passes to his son John Lubbock, the 4th baronet

1870 John Lubbock becomes an MP and begins drafting legislation to create bank holidays

1900 He is elevated to the peerage, becoming the 1st Lord Avebury

1913 John Lubbock dies

1938  Estate sold to Kent County Council , High Elms included in Green belt legislation

1948 King's College hospital use the former mansion house at High Elms as a nurses’ training college

1965 King's College hospital vacate the mansion house and it becomes student accomodation for Ravensbourne College of At and Design

1967 Mansion burns to the ground

1968 Grounds transferred to the London Borough of Bromley and the land given to the public as green belt open space

For more information, visit