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Sheep grazing Kenley Common

​Sheep grazing Kenley Common

During medieval times, Kenley Common and Riddlesdown formed part of the waste land of the Manor of Watendone. The soil was by then too poor to grow crops, make hay or even coppice woodland. The only economic use was therefore as pasture to graze livestock. 

Commoners had legal rights to gather fuel, livestock bedding and roofing, as well as rights to graze. The City of London bought the land from the Lord of the Manor, Edmund Byron, in 1883 alongside the other Coulsdon Commons.

In 1917 the Common and adjacent farmland was requisitioned for an airfield where aircraft were assembled and tested before being flown to the Western Front. 

Officers Mess near Kenley Common

​Officers mess adjacent to Kenley Common


After the First World War the northern part of the Common was returned to the City Corporation but the southern part was kept for the airfield. To make up for this loss, farmland overlooking Whyteleafe was transferred to the City Corporation and agreement made that other land would be given back to the Corporation if it was no longer needed for military purposes.  This has happened around the airfield, outside the perimeter track, which is now looked after as Kenley Common.

War damage to the Common was made good in the 1940s and in the early 1950s fields were hay cut and some areas grazed by Jersey cattle and ponies. However, much of the chalk grassland on the steeper slopes where haymaking was difficult, became overgrown with shrubs and trees. It wasn't until grazing was reintroduced  in the 1990s that we had an alternative means of managing this area and were able to restore open chalk grassland here.

Wreath laying at Kenley Tribute, 2009

​Kenley Tribute

Today, the Second World War features of Kenley Airfield are the Common's most valuable historical remains. The surviving blast pens, eight of which lie on the Common, are protected as Scheduled Monuments by English Heritage. Special conditions apply as to how they should be maintained or restored.

The Kenley Tribute was built and dedicated during the Millennium and is the focus for Remembrance Day and other commemorations. The whole of the original Second World War airfield is a Conservation Area.

​A project associated with Kenley Airfield has secured £881,000 funding from the National Lottery via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The Kenley Revival Project aims to protect and preserve Kenley's remarkable heritage but also more importantly involve communities and generate an improved sense of ownership and legacy securing the airfield's heritage for future generations.

Coppice on Kenley Common

​Coppice on Kenley Common

Veteran trees

There are a few scattered open grown maiden oaks that are about 200 years old on what was the original Common.  Similarly there are maiden oaks of considerable age grown as standards in the ancient coppice woodland that was added to the original Common. 

Here there are large ash coppice stools which are wide enough at the base to suggest that they are 300+ years old. Many of these were last coppiced around 60 years ago, perhaps in response to wartime needs for fuel.

13 March 2012
Last Modified:
22 May 2018