The history of Beckenham has long been closely linked with that of the CATOR family who came to the district in the middle of the 18th. Century. John Cator the elder came from Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, lived in Lambeth and married Mary Brough in 1727 at the Savoy Meeting House in Westminster. He established a timber business on Bankside in Southwark. His son John Cator the younger was born in Southwark and after joining the timber business soon became a wealthy businessman. He married the daughter, Mary, of Peter Collinson the Quaker merchant and botanist in 1753. John Cator the younger began acquiring land in and around Beckenham in the 1750’s soon becoming one of the leading land owners in Beckenham. John first acquired land which had been part of the Foxgrove Manor estate which itself has quite a complicated history, being Stone Farm, woodlands and fields nearer Langley and Kelsey. He exchanged some land with Jones Raymond and Peter Burrell in 1759/60 giving up part of his Stone Farm land for fields on Stumps Hill on which he built a fine stately house in 1760/62 according to his father in law Peter Collinson. Collinson wrote in his Hortus Collinsonianus "Sept. 17, 1762, went, for the first time, to visit my son-in-law, John Cater (who married my daughter), at his new-built house, now finished, at Stump's Hill, half way (on the south side of the road) between Southend and Beckenham, in Kent, began in the spring 1760, on a pretty wooded estate which he had then purchased. The plantations about it, all of his own doing, I found in a very thriving condition, and when grown up will adorn so stately a house, in so delectable a situation, and make it a Paradise. In his woods grows the native English Chesnut spontaneously. P. Collinson, F.R.S."
Initially the house and grounds was surrounded by Foxgrove land owned by Jones Raymond which became the property of Amy Burrell who was the widowed sister of Jones Raymond. The Manor of Beckenham owned by Frederick St. John, Lord Bolingbroke was adjoining Foxgrove, Documents related to Beckenham Manor show that although owned by St. John it was occupied by Peter Burrell, Jones Raymond, Thomas Motley, John Cator and some others under leases around 1768.
It should be realized that the land of the major estates, Beckenham Manor, Foxgrove Manor, Kelsey and Langley were overlapping and intermingled to some extent even with the landholdings of some others such as Motley and Humphrey.
Cator bought the Beckenham Manor land from St. John in 1773 thus extending his estate but the purchase was beset with problems due to St.John having leased the estate to a Margaret Hare, Cator was involved in court cases until and beyond 1780 to gain full ownership of the Beckenham Manor land which by the way excluded the old Manor House opposite St.George’s due to an earlier exchange between St.John and Peter Burrell in 1757.
In 1777 Cator exchanged some more of his Stone Farm land for more of Foxgrove next to the site of his house with Amy Burrell. Cator was referring to his house as Stumpshill in correspondence.
In 1785 Cator had enough continuous land to be able to divert the road from Beckenham to Southend via the new route of Beckenham Hill Road and Southend Road, the old road becoming his ‘Park Drive’.
In 1793 Cator exchanged the remains of Stone Farm and land he had between the High Street and almost to West Wickham for the remainder of Foxgrove Manor with the fourth Peter Burrell who became Lord Gwydir, the latter having inherited it from his grandmother, Amy Burrell.
This 1793 exchange consolidated the estates of Cator mainly north of a line from Penge, Beckenham High Street and Bromley Road and Lord Gwydir having Kelsey and Langley as far as Penge south of that line.
Estate maps of the Burrells dated 1809 and Cator estate dated 1833 clarify this latter situation. Earlier maps 1623/1768 Beckenham Manor, 1766/1776 Foxgrove Manor, 1736 Thomas Motley land, 1736 Burrell land, 1740/50 Langley Jones Raymond, all illustrate the complex interwoven estates. Mostly divided under tenant farmers and leased messuages indicated on some maps.
Daniel Lysons seems to be the first to refer to Beckenham Place in his Environs of London of 1796 whereas Hasted refers to Beckenham and Foxgrove manors as Cator ‘being the present owner’ in his second edition History and Topography of Kent of 1797.
Thus, the belief that Beckenham Place was established on part of Beckenmam Manor has been disproved with map and documentary evidence. Maybe a small strip of Stumpshill Wood in the park was in the Manor of Beckenham but that is all.
In talking about the Manor of Beckenham it must be remembered that the word 'manor' means the district over which the court of the Lord of the Manor had authority, and that 'manor-house’ is the house or seat belonging to a Manor. It has been said that the portico was added in 1787 from Sir Gregory Page Turner’s mansion at Wricklemarsh Park, Blackheath. Cator had bought Wricklemarsh in 1783/84 for £22,500. Page Turner had inherited it and didn’t want it. The house had become a white elephant. Although Cator sold off the materials of the house, it looks like the material which constitutes the portico of Beckenham Place may not have come to Beckenham until Cator’s heir, John Barwell Cator took over the estate in 1806. It was certainly there by 1812 when drawn by J.Preston Niel. John Cator represented Wallingford, Berkshire in 1774 and was a Sheriff of Kent in 1781. He was elected MP for Ipswich in 1784 but was unseated for bribery and represented Stockbridge 1790/93. Among eminent persons who visited Beckenham Place as friends of John Cator were the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Hester and Henry Thrale, socialites from Streatham. Linnaeus never did as he knew Peter Collinson from his 1735/36 visit to England and that is where the association has been drawn. Cator had a residence at the Adelphi houses and apartments where he may have known Garrick the actor and the Adam brothers architects but so far documentary evidence of meetings eludes us. The Mansion was leased out by the Cator family from about 1835 to a succession of tenants and in turn has been used as a Boys’ School from 1902 to 1905, a Sanatorium from 1905 to 1934 and then as the L.C.C. Golf Club House. The L.C.C. purchased the land in 1928 and in 1934 the Golf Course, which previously had been private, was made open to the public. It is now the responsibility of the London Borough of Lewisham