Recovering the lost documents of Mayfield

Back in the early fifties, Arthur Eldridge, that great historian of Orpington, lent me a collection of documents relating to the Manor of Mayfield, or Little Orpington. They had been given to the Orpington Historical Record Society, with a view to depositing them eventually in a local archive collection, then yet to be established.

The documents included a beautifully written survey of the Demesne land of the Manor, taken in 1678, and Court Books from 1618 to 1669 and 1792 to 1801. I set about transcribing them, and I was very fortunate because St Thomas's Hospital, formerly considerable landowners in Orpington and Lords of the Manor of Crofton, had recently appointed an archivist, Miss McInnes. I had already contacted her about the Hospital's large collection of Crofton records, and now she was very helpful to me in my efforts at transcribing and where necessary translating those of Mayfield. It was no easy task, particularly as the entries are in abbreviated dog Latin for all of the period except during the Republic and Commonwealth. However, I completed and typed out the work and returned the documents to Mr Eldridge.

We moved from Orpington to Tunbridge Wells in 1960 and I did not seriously resume local history studies until I retired in 1990. Then a few years ago I helped fellow BBLHS member Elaine Mackay catalogue some of the unsorted collections of Orpington documents in Bromley Local Studies Library, on which she did an excellent job. Among the collections were the files of the now defunct Orpington Historical Record Society, with frequent references to the Mayfield documents, but with no trace anywhere of the documents themselves. I searched everywhere I could think of in an effort to find out what had happened to them, and put out appeals in Bromleag and on Judith Habgood’s Orpington historical records site.

This at last produced results, because out of the blue I had a phone call from Hedda Johnstone, who is the daughter of Marie Bowen, the first curator of what is now Bromley Borough Museum, at Orpington Priory. Hedda’s daughter had happened to notice a parcel of papers on top of her grandmother’s wardrobe, which turned out to hold the precious Mayfield documents, and in trying to find a home for them my cry for help had been found.

Marie Bowen has done a good deal of valuable work in her retirement, notably in producing a study of the mediaeval accounts of the farm attached to Orpington Priory. She had evidently intended to work on the Mayfield documents but these had been put aside and forgotten, and with her ready agreement Hedda passed the documents to me. I scanned them before thankfully depositing them locally, in accordance with the donor's original intentions, at Bromley Local Studies Library.

Geoffrey’s transcriptions from the 1950s are also in the local studies library.