The four-mile long river Dour‘s main source is at Watersend, Temple Ewell. In addition, a tributary source rises at Drellingore in the Alkham Valley. The Drellingore, in 1830, was described as generally being ‘sometimes quite dry, at other times it overflows its banks, and produces a considerable stream of water, which taking its course over the fields, passes down the valley and joins the river.’ (Z Warren 1830 Dover Guide p105). Like its counterpart from Temple Ewell, this tributary of the Dour is fed by several springs while an estate map of 1774 shows that once there was a lake, called Chilton Brook, to the north of Chilton Farm. This expanse probably existed from Saxon times and stretched from where Russell Gardens are today to where the road rises near Kearsney Abbey. The vehicle track from Alkham, in those days, was to the north of Chilton Brook as shown on the 1798 map, above, but probably surveyed earlier.
Towards the end of the 18th century a mill was built to the west of Chilton Brook and the milldam partially drained the brook, creating Bushy Ruff Lake. Why it was called Bushy Ruff is open to guess work but the newly created land became part of the Kearsney estate. The main track from Alkham moved south to lower ground and across what was part of Coxhill Farm. It would seem that the then owner, Dr Osborn accepted this when he leased the farm in September 1796 to RC Wakefield for sixty years.
As for the mill, according to the Kent Insurance Company who undertook a survey in 1815, it was a ‘miserable place.’ Describing it as a ‘wooden building with a paper roof and a furnace, from which the flue gasses dried the paper that was hung on sticks to dry.’ Because of the risk of fire, the surveyor recommended that the mill should not be insured.
About 1820, solicitor William Knocker (1761-1847) sold his house on the Esplanade to banker John Minet Fector senior, of the Banking family, and bought Bushy Ruff paper mill and adjoining lands. He then set about a building programme creating two adjoining mills, one for brown and the other for white paper. However, for the water to drive the mills, there were problems with the centrifugal wheel. These were dealt with by digging a canal so that an overshot wheel could be fitted. The canal went across the track that had developed along the Alkham Valley and so a bridge was built. When all the work was finished, the buildings, classed as one mill, were surveyed and the satisfied surveyor noted that there were three vats making brown and white paper.
William Knocker leased the mill to a series of papermakers. One of whom was George Dickinson who owned Buckland Paper Mill and brother of the famous paper manufacturer John Dickinson. He ran Bushy Ruff mill from 1826 to when he was declared bankrupt in 1837. In the meantime William had a colonial style mansion built and moved in with his wife Ann in 1825. William had been the Mayor of Dover four times between 1792-1817 and was elected Mayor again in 1832 by which time Ann had died.
Much to the dismay of his spinster daughters, on 13 September 1833 – during his Mayoral year – William, aged 72, married his housekeeper Sarah Tyson at Chislehurst. They still lived at Bushy Ruff where their only child, Frederic, was born in June 1835. William died in 1847 by which time Bushy Ruff was occupied by Edward and Mary Oliver and owned by John, 3rd Earl of Mexborough, (1783-1860).
In 1852, the lease on Coxhill Farm, through which the track from Alkham ran, expired. The new owner, Mrs Charlotte Angel Every, of Old Park, immediately demanded that the road be stopped up and took legal action through the Wingham Court. This failed but on Saturday 9 February 1856, she instructed her agent, Thomas Smith, to block the road.
Smith had a 4-foot (1.22metre) trench dug across the route but the Highway Surveyor for River, Mr Gould, ordered him to fill it in and return the road to its proper state. Smith refused and was prosecuted. On 8 March, the trench was filled in, but on 2 May, it was there again!
Gould instructed a John Collard with two workmen to fill in the trench but when Smith and his men arrived he ordered them off. Collard instructed his men to carry on and a fight ensued. Thomas Smith was taken to court on an assault charge and fined £1 plus costs. Nonetheless, Mrs Every instructed Smith to block and defend the road. He barred it with a wooden stake across the bridge over the canal from the paper mill.
Coming from Alkham on 17 May was Valentine Gambrill who started to climb over the stake when Smith tried to stop him. Gambrill hit Smith with his thick walking stick, which stunned the hapless Smith and damaged his hat! Gambrill was fined 1s (5p)! In the meantime, John Collard took Gould to court for failing to carry out his duties as highway surveyor. The Chairman of the Bench, Dr Edward Astley, mindful of the Wingham hearing, declared it a public road and the road we know today laid. Gould, was fined 1s (5p) and bound to keep it free from obstruction!
The last reference to Bushy Ruff mill was in 1858 but it is believed to have ceased production eight years earlier. It was demolished in 1870, when Joseph Churchward bought the estate, although the drying room and stable still remained and are now dwellings. The canal and bridge seemed to have disappeared when the gardens of Kearsney Court were laid out and the fishpond constructed. There is a water channel that disappears into a culvert that the late local Historian, Joe Harman, suggested may have been to do with the canal and bridge.
Bushy Ruff House was extended and almost rebuilt by owner John Banks in 1860, to create seven bedrooms on the first floor. There was a walled kitchen garden with fruit trees on both sides of the wall, two coach-houses, coachman’s cottage and a porter’s lodge as well as piggeries, cowshed and a tool house. General Henry Darby-Griffith, of the Scot Greys and Colonel of the 5th Lancers, bought Bushy Ruff as his retirement home. He died there in November 1887 aged 78 and there is a brass plate in River Church to his memory.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, Bushy Ruff Lake became popular with artists, ornithologists and botanists. Children, from the slum areas of Dover were brought by train to Kearsney Station for a walk along the valley to the lake to see the flora and fauna. The place also attracted the sportsmen, which raised the question from local historian, Mary Horsley, ‘Why is it when a rare bird is known to be in the neighbourhood, the first idea of anyone who can get hold of a gun, is to go out and shoot it.’ Kingfishers were singled out as they caught trout, sticklebacks and bullheads, ‘which the angler thought his property.’
However, in 1898 the Folkestone Water Company decided to extract water near the source of the nailbourne at Drellingore. Dover Corporation took them to court, claiming that it would affect the water supply to the Dour but lost the action. Since then, the waters from this tributary of the Dour have been much reduced.
By 1930 Captain Conrad Jörgensen and his wife Constance, owned Bushy Ruff House. Captain Jörgensen died on 12 June 1941 age 68 years but his widow stayed on for a while, occupying part of the residence. The rest was commandeered for the war effort – World War II (1939-1945). In 1940, the Local Defence Volunteers (later that year the Home Guard) was formed from civilians not called up for active service. From them a small number of men, who knew their territory well, were recruited to be disruptive if the Germans invaded.
Known as the 201 Battalion Home Guard, they came under the command of Colonel McVean Grubbins of Military Intelligence. Near Bushy Ruff, a special bunker was hewn out of the hillside by the Royal Engineers and the Drellingore Platoon, commanded by Lt Cecil Lines, with George Marsh, Samuel Osborne, Thomas Holmans, Charles Fayers and Dennis Dewer moved in.
They were trained in unarmed combat, to kill silently as well as to use anti-personnel mines, plastic explosives and weapons and operated in absolute secrecy. Even their wives, friends and the local Home Guard did not know what they were doing and if the invasion had become a reality and they had been captured, they would have been treated as spies.
Following the War, in the 1950s, Chilton farmhouse was all but demolished and Bushy Ruff House was deserted. In 1953 a Public Inquiry was held when Kent County Council proposed to Compulsorily Purchase Bushy Ruff and the grounds to be used for a new highway depot. Dover Corporation successfully objected.
Constance Jörgensen died in 1973 and the derelict Bushy Ruff House with 26 acres of ground was put on the market. Dover District Council immediately purchased it for about £90,000 with a view to developing the site with the house as a centre piece. The House was given a Grade II listing in 1975, repaired at a cost of £8,000 and put on the market. Clive Biddulph, owner of Simmonds jewellers in Biggin Street, submitted a planning proposal the following year to create a country club with six tennis courts and swimming pool facilities.
However, Dover District Council accepted local opinion that part of the grounds and the lake should be opened to the public as an extension of Russell Gardens. The House was let to Mrs Harriett Sherman and a further £20,000 was spent on refurbishment as a home for six elderly residents. By November 1982 the place was empty and Mrs Sherman was about to give up the tenancy when arsonists gutted the building.
Bushy Ruff House was temporary repaired and put on the market in May 1983 but by 1986 it was in a poor state when bought by Quality Homes. They rebuilt and refurbished it and opened a luxury nursing home. It was sold again in 1998 with plans to use the House as a care home for people with learning disabilities, but increasing costs led the house being sold again.
In 2002, permission was given for Bushy Ruff House to become a family home with six bedrooms, swimming pool and staff accommodation. However, a year later it was put up for auction at a guide price of £500,000. In 2005 planning application was submitted to convert the House into 13 flats was refused, in 2009 there was a proposal to convert it into 14 self-contained flats.
In the meantime, Bushy Ruff House was falling further into disrepair and being used by squatters. On 11 February 2010, flames were seen coming from the roof and it took more than an hour for fire crews to bring the blaze under control plus another forty minutes to put it out. Around 50% of the building was damaged. On 15 October 2009 planning permission was given for a conversion into 14 self-contained flats as long as the work began before the expiration of three years from the date of the permission.
Since the Court ruling over the extraction of water by the then Folkestone Water Company in 1898 the number of times Bushy Ruff lake has dried up as been of concern. The level of the water in the lake has a direct effect on Kearsney Abbey lake, the Dour and all the wild life that depend on it. In 1989, the lake was deepened to more 6-feet (2 metres) but the problem had not gone away. Further, when there is heavy rainfall the banks around the lake and along the Dour, tend to be washed away. In recent years, these problems have been dealt with by a combination of wooden boards and plants to strength the banks.
In the spring of 2016 work began on gutting Bushy Ruff House. However, the on-line Dover District Planning Applications gives no clue as to what is envisaged.
- Dover Mercury: 29 March 05 and 12 April 2012