2 May 1551 – 9 November 1623
Almost 100 years after his death, antiquarian, herald, topographer, poet and historian, William Camden gave his name to a new house being built on the site where he had once chosen to live.
Camden was already something of a celebrity before he built himself a house on 2 acres of land in Chislehurst.
He chose the area possibly because he owned lands in Bexley or because his very close friend William Heather and wife Margery lived here. They had nursed him back to health after a serious illness. It is possible he was also friends with the Walsingham’s whose estate was at nearby Scadbury.
Compared with London the air quality is Chislehurst was good and there was less risk from the plague epidemics. Only 12 miles from the centre of London, both the City and the Royal Household at Greenwich were within easy reach.
We have no records of the original Camden house but know it did not share the same footprint. It is likely to have been located closer to the village of Chislehurst on the edge of today’s estate.
Local architect Ken Wilson provided us an image of what a typical house at this time might have looked like.
Camden is best known as author of Britannia, the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Annales, the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England, which he wrote whilst living in Chislehurst.
In 1622 William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms, endowed with the income of the manor of Bexley the Camden Professorship of Ancient History at the University of Oxford. This was the first and today the oldest chair of history in England. Since 1877 it has been attached to Brasenose College, and since 1910 it has been limited to Roman history.
He died, unmarried and childless in 1623. By rights he should be buried in Chislehurst He made clear his wishes to ‘be buried in that place where it should please god to call me to his mercye.’ But on his death in 1623 his friends arranged for him to be taken to Westminster Abbey – where his life and works are celebrated in Poet’s Corner.
His monument at the Abbey shows him holding a copy of Brittania.
His old friend Heather received the incomes from the Camden estate for his life and he in turn was the founder of the first music professorship at Oxford in 1626. He too was buried in the south transept of the Abbey but with no marker until one was added, close to Camden’s, in 1926.