Open House Festival

The Old Palace, Bromley Civic Centre (The Bishop's Palace)

civic, garden, community/cultural

Richard Norman Shaw, 1775

Civic Centre, Stockwell Close, Bromley, BR1 3UH

The Old Palace was the official residence of the Bishops of Rochester. Present building dates from 1775, although there have been manor houses on the site since 10C.

Getting there


Bromley South, Bromley North


61, 119, 126, 162, 208, 246, 261, 314, 320, 336, 358





In 862 A.D. Ethelbert the King of Kent made a grant of land to form the Manor of Bromley to Drytwald, one of his ministers. It came into the possession of the Bishops of Rochester in the 10th century and was held by them until 1845. Some historians feel that the grant, if made, was by King Eadbert who ruled Kent between 725 and 760. A gift of land, including the Manor of Bromley, is recorded as having been made in 747 A.D. as a donation of the Kings of Mercia and Kent. King Eadgar granted 10 sulings (1,800 acres) of land at Bromley to the Church of Rochester in 955 A.D. This appears to be confirmation of an earlier grant. After the Norman Conquest this land was briefly appropriated by Odo, Earl of Kent. However, Lanfranc the new Archbishop of Canterbury, together with Bishop Gundulf, succeeded in recovering the possessions.

The manor consisted of an extensive estate, including farms, orchards and woodland. In 1845 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners sold the whole estate to Coles Child, a wealthy businessman. He modernised the farm and improved and extended the main house. When Coles Child dies in 1870, his son, named after him, inherited the estate. He sold some of the land to builders. The area’s origins are perpetuated today in local street names like Rochester Avenue and Palace Road.

The Bishop’s Palace

The Civic Centre consists of a number of buildings grouped around the Bishop’s Palace, once one of the official residences of the Bishops of Rochester. The present building dates from 1775 but there has been a manor house in Bromley since the 10th century. Bishop Gilbert de Glanville rebuilt on this site in 1184, and the original structure was altered and added to at various dates. The old building was demolished by Bishop Thomas and was entirely rebuilt between 1774 and 1776. The north facing frontage displays the arms of Bishop Thomas quartered with those of the see of Rochester. Coles Child enlarged the porch in the latter part of the 19th century. Rooms were constructed in the roof space and dormer windows were built. Remodelling to the house was carried out by two particularly important architects: Richard Norman Shaw in 1863, and Ernest Newton in 1903 and 1920. Both these designers probably had a hand in altering the roof.

The Bishop’s Palace is one of a number of buildings in the town given protection against alteration or demolition. They are “listed” by the Secretary of State for the Environment as being of special architectural or historical interest.

The building became a girls’ finishing school when the Palace was sold. Stockwell College, a teacher training college, moved into the Palace in 1933 and two wings were added. More extensions were built when Kent County Council took over the College, and in 1960 the courtyard was formed. Stockwell College closed in 1980 and became the Civic Centre in 1982.

The Council Chamber, hidden behind the eastern side of the courtyard was finished in 1985. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in March 1986. Further buildings included car parking, offices and a new reception area were begun in 1988 and completed in 1991. The Council Chamber, office block and car park were designed by Chris Winterburn of Architects Joint Practice.

Cross the courtyard to St Blaise car park, past the attendant’s lodge to the lake.

St Blaise Well

The St Blaise Well is located at the north end of the lake, to the east of the Palace. St Blaise was the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenis, martyred in 316 A.D. He became the patron saint of wool combers, popular in Kent because of the importance of sheep farming in the county. The well was reputed to have healing properties, its chalybeate water was prescribed for the relief of ailments by the surgeon Thomas Reynolds in 1756. Its early history is lost but it is known that the well and an associated chapel fell into decay around the time of the Reformation. It was rediscovered by the Bishop’s domestic chaplain Rev. Harwood in 1754. Excavations exposed remains of steps and wooden planks around the spring. The garden structure, built by Coles Child to protect the waters, was destroyed in a snow storm in 1887.

Please take the path around the lake. The southern elevation of Bromley Palace can be seen. Keep to the path past Ann Springman buildings to the exit in Rafford Way.

Garden Structure

At the entrance to the Civic Centre in Rafford Way stand ruins of a building associated with the palace. A small folly built in the 19th century including a representational Norman arch with zig-zag mouldings.


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