The History of High Elms can be traced back to the Norman invasion of 1066 when it was part of the huge estates given by William the Conqueror to his brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, in recognition of the part he played in helping win the Battle of Hastings.
For successive generations afterwards the land the golf course now occupies was given over to farming. The chalky soil was ideal for crops and dairy and sheep farming, while the woodlands provided shelter and timber.
In 1809 a wealthy London Banker and Member of Parliament, John William Lubbock, bought the 260 acres, which we now know as the High Elms Estate as a country residence. The estate included a large country house in High Elms Lane and several farm buildings. He died seven years later and the estate was inherited by his nephew Sir John William Lubbock, a kindly and generous man who acquired more land and began an ambitious building and landscaping programme, which lasted 20 years.
The main farmhouse had a wooden clock tower added in 1826, which is still clearly visible today. The bell on the top was rung to signal the start and the end of the working day and to summon the 30 or so farm workers back for their meals. A granary was also built in the farmyard; an interesting hexagonal timber structure that can also be seen from the golf course.
The other buildings still standing are the gatekeeper’s house in Shire Lane and the gamekeeper’s lodge in High Elms Lane which has been recently restored.
By 1826, Sir John became tired of his “place in the country”, partly because it was a two hour carriage ride to the nearest railway station (at Sydenham) and because he felt the house itself was too small. He bought a larger property in Chalk Farm and, after his death in 1840, High Elms was passed on to the 3rd baronet, also called John William.
As well as being a City banker, the new owner of High Elms was a keen scientist – a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the first Vice Chancellor of London University. In 1842, the world famous explorer and naturalist Charles Darwin moved to nearby Down House and he and John Lubbock became close friends.
Darwin had a profound influence on Sir John who undertook considerable landscaping work and built a grand new mansion in the classic Italian style, close to where the clubhouse stands today, and the original house was demolished. He also dug ice wells and constructed a racecourse. The last race which was staged in 1864, a year before Sir John’s death, attracted 40,000 spectators.
Sir John William Lubbock the fourth inherited the estate in 1865, He, too, was a distinguished scientist and social reformer (in fact, he was responsible for the introduction of the August Bank Holiday). A keen sportsman, he constructed an Eton fives court, a cricket pitch – and a golf course at High Elms.
Also greatly influenced by Charles Darwin, Sir John collected specimen trees from all over the world and planted them on the estate. It is thanks to him that High Elms has matured into the beautiful parkland we enjoy today with its huge variety of trees which give spectacular splashes of colour, especially in late spring and Autumn, and provide a delightful backdrop to the golf course.
In 1900 Sir John Lubbock became Lord Avebury (below) and, during the years leading up to the First World War, the estate flourished and High Elms House was extended further into a 27-bedroomed mansion with terraced gardens surrounded by farmland and woods.
It remained intact until 1938 when it was sold to Kent County Council. For many years the house was used as a nurses’ training centre and, in 1965, the entire estate was transferred to the London Borough of Bromley and the land given over in perpetuity to the public as a Green Belt Open Space. Two years later, the mansion tragically burned to the ground – ironically, on August Bank Holiday Monday – but the terraces were preserved and can still be seen today to the left of the first fairway.
Bromley Borough turned the 150 acres that formally comprised Clockhouse Farm into an 18 hole public golf course – and the golf club that was formed there 25 years ago – has grown enormously.
A second tragedy hit the estate in October 1987 when hurricane-force winds destroyed many hundreds of fine trees – including one of the majestic elms (which had been depicted on the club’s badge) that stood on the first fairway. However, The London Borough of Bromley has planted many new trees and High Elms Golf Club has contributed to the cost. Thankfully, the evidence of storm damage can only be seen in the winter months. For its Jubilee Year, the club adopted a new badge, which represented the wide variety of trees found on the estate, naturally including an elm!
Recent course and clubhouse improvements have been made and ambitious future plans are in the pipeline to make High Elms one of the finest public golf courses in the country and a place of natural beauty to be enjoyed by future generations.
How High Elms Golf Club Was Born
Before the convenience of advance booking of tee-times, there was no alternative but to queue – often for several hours – if you wanted to play golf at High Elms. Although the course was relatively new, High Elms became increasingly popular with local golfers in the late 1960’s. So much so that a group of dedicated golfers would queue in the car park from midnight on Friday and Saturday night to make sure of getting a game the following morning. It was during these midnight vigils the decision was made to form High Elms Golfing Society.
An informal meeting was arranged at a pub in Locksbottom in July 1969 shortly after the new clubhouse (right)was opened. It was attended by around 30 golfers who include John Baker, James Flynn, Ken Atkins, George Mole, Albert Garnett, Alan Rackham, James Worden, Colin Winter, J Gibbons, and J Bishop. James Worden volunteered to “do the groundwork” and a formal meeting was held on September 2nd to elect officials and decide subscriptions. The first club president (and captain) was James Flynn with James Worden as secretary. John Baker took responsibility for writing the rules and constitution. The “subs” were set at 10 shillings and affiliation to the National Association of Public Golf Courses was sought immediately.
Margaret Stewart was the first lady golfer to attend a committee meeting in 1974 and she became the first lady captain with Joan Brown as secretary. Over the next few years, support from the London Borough of Bromley began to grow. The Mayor was invited to become the club’s president and attended the prize giving at the annual dinner dance – a tradition that has continued to the present day. Facilities were allocated on the ground floor of the clubhouse for exclusive use of members as their meeting room, changing and storage area.
Into the 1980’s
During the 70’s, High Elms became an active NAPGC member, successfully taking part in several national competitions. Since then, Pat Argent, Dorothy Featherstone and John Featherstone have served on various NAPGC committees. IN 1984 Jean and Keith Andrews took responsibility for membership and men’s handicaps, turning a rather haphazard system into an efficient and up-to-date computerised database which served the club’s 450 members.
A membership drive by Daphne Stacey in 1984 attracted a number of new ladies. She arranged group lessons and evening “fun” competitions, which helped introduce them to competitive golf. Many of the women who joined at that time admirably as players and committee members, among them Club Secretary and past Ladies Captain Pat O’Keeffe.
Another important section of the club was also established – High Elms Seniors. Their number swelled to 120 and a regular programme of competitions an social events was run by the committee.
The 90’s saw many improvements to facilities provided through the London Borough of Bromley. Special club times were allocated, the changing rooms, toilet and shower facilities had all been completely refurbished and capital expenditure on the course paid handsome dividends.
The appointment of James Durie as Bromley’s Client Liaison Officer for Golf gave the club renewed optimism. James met regularly with the Committee, keeping members up to date with course improvements and providing invaluable assistance with the Jubilee arrangements.
There are many individuals who have, in one way or another, contributed to the growth and success of High Elms Golf Club over the years. Only a small number have been mentioned by name. But we pay tribute to our founder members, thank all our past and present club officials and remember with affection those members who sadly are no longer here with us.