BOB OGLEY finds out about the crusading campaigns of Tom Thornton.

TOM Thornton, one-time owner and editor of the Beckenham Journal, was renowned for his great newspaper crusades.

But the one for which he will always be remembered is the vigorous campaign to stop the council turning Kelsey Park into a housing complex.

With a number of forthright editorials he stirred Beckenham into action and urged the council to buy the estate. Which it did.

With a loan of £8,800 in the summer of 1913, it saved this wonderful amenity for the people of Beckenham and built a lodge house by the High Street entrance.

The council invited a government minister to witness the planting of an English oak to mark the occasion.

There will be a few glasses raised to Tom Thornton by the Friends of Kelsey Park at a centenary party on May 31.

And perhaps there will be a few drops left to toast a few of the other characters who played a part in the story of this much-admired area of the Bromley borough.

Among them the Hoares, a family with a banking tradition, who owned Kelsey House from 1835 to 1909.

They turned the property into a Scottish ‘baronial’-style mansion, greatly improved the lake and provided a fire station and a cottage hospital for Beckenham.

Charles Hoare (1846-1909) employed Sir George Gilbert Scott to build an 80-seat chapel at Kelsey.

He set up a regular stagecoach service between Beckenham and Sevenoaks and enjoyed driving the horses himself.

He also played cricket for Kent and entertained sportsmen at Kelsey.

It is said Charles’s underaged mistress, Beattie would spend the night in a bedroom at Kelsey immediately above his wife’s room.

This lead to a steamy Victorian sex court scandal.

CB Fry, international sportsman and one of our greatest cricketers, spent time at Kelsey and then married Beattie.

The mansion once stood in grounds of 3,202 acres, of which 453 acres were reserved for hunting and shooting.

The size shrank dramatically over the years and when Charles Hoare died in 1909, the estate was sold for development with plans to become an upmarket gated housing community.

That was when Tom Thornton stepped in. The mansion survived for a few more years but after its use by the Army as a hospital and later an Army Service Corps base it was demolished and replaced by more houses in Manor Way.

The park, however, survives and the Friends of Kelsey Park (the Tom Thorntons of today) will make sure its great heritage lives on.

As a young man, Tom Thornton used to walk from his home in Norwood to Beckenham to work at the Beckenham Journal which he eventually acquired in 1891.

He turned it into a campaigning paper which encouraged people in the area to have their say in deciding the issues of the day.

In 1902 there was an attempt to get a bill through Parliament authorising the extension of electric trams from Penge to Thornton’s Corner.

As this plan involved straightening the High Street, it was met with violent opposition from some people who felt it would lower the tone of the place.

Tom paid for the restoration of the 12th-Century Lych Gate at St George’s Church, in memory of two of his sons who died in the First World War.

Bronze plaques on either side of the main cross beam record the history and restoration of this reminder of the old village days.

The Thornton family grave is in St George’s churchyard.

His youngest surviving son, Victor was a great amateur actor and accomplished theatrical director.

When he succeeded as editor of the journal, Victor joined others in persuading the council to close the High Street so a fair could be held to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

He also staged an open-air performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor in a replica Elizabethan playhouse by the big tulip tree in Kelsey Park.

A contemporary of Victor was Maurice Denham, whose father was a dentist in Albemarle Road.

They were both members of the Beckenham Shakespeare Society in the 1920s.

In the mid-1950s the newspaper was sold to the Kentish Times group which kept the original name until 1985. It remained Beckenham’s best-selling paper throughout its life.

Write to me at Bob Ogley, News Shopper, Mega House. Crest View Drive, Petts Wood, Kent BR5 1BT, email or visit