Ingress Abbey-Greenhithe

The saga of Ingress Abbey (from the Marine Society’s viewpoint)

Followers of the fortunes of the Marine Society will be only too well aware of the severe drain on its resources caused by Ingress Park, Greenhithe, since 1989. It was therefore with great relief  and pleasure that , at the turn of the year, the society agreed the sale of Ingress, with its ruined but listed Gothic revived mansion.

The history of Ingress dates back to the 14th century when the estate  (then little more than a farm) was endowed to Edward III’s  new Dartford Priory. From the 16th century, Ingress , with a manor house, farm and lime kiln, was the seat of a succession notable gentlemen until it was acquired by Alderman James Harmer who demolished the old manor house and built in its place a GOTHIC residence known as Ingress Abbey in the 1830s. Ingress ceased to be a private residence at the end of the 19th Century and, after a period as a military hospital during the Great War, was bought in 1922 by the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College (better known as HMS Worcester) which had been using the grounds of the estate for playing fields since 1862 but now needed the Abbey itself for offices. HMS Worcester continued to train officers for the Royal and Merchant Navies at Ingress until monetary debts forced closure in 1968, at which time a 120 year lease was grated to the Greater London Council to build a new Merchant Navy college on the site.

In 1972, the IncorporatedThamesNauticalCollege went into liquidation and convened the estate to the Seafarers Education Service which, in turn amalgamated with the Marine Society in 1976. The Abbey and other listed buildings at Ingress and ceased to be used  after 1974 and fell increasingly into disrepair, which gave rise to a three year dispute between the society and the Inner London Education Authority (GLC’s successor) over the latter’s responsibility for repair. This led to the surrendering of the lease in 1990 after MNC had closed down.

From 1989 until the end of 1997,  the society strove to obtain planning permission for the estate  as a way forward to halt the continuing deterioration of the listed buildings. However, in spite a stream of proposals, surveys and analyses, the planning authorities continued to insist that implementation of planning permission was dependent on the restoration of the Abbey and other listed buildings at Ingress and would not allow funds to be generated for the restoration from the prior development of the remainder of the Estate. During the course of these negotiations and on the advice of leading Counsel, the freehold of the Abbey was vested in the Thames Nautical Trust ( a charity with similar objectives to the Marine Society) in order to protect the assets of the Society.

During 1997 it finally became apparent firstly that the planning authorities would not reverse the requirement that the Abbey be restored as a prerequisite for the overall development, and secondly, that it was extremely unlikely that consent to demolish the listed buildings would be given. Accordingly, and as a result of a full feasibility study and marketing exercise, it was decided to sell the state and the Abbey together to a developer who would be willing to buy them unconditionally.

So ends a saga that has cost the Society a great deal of time and money over the years. The sale will raise £5 million and will mean the Society no longer having to suffer the level of financial deficits which have dogged its existence in recent years.

By Jeremy Howard.

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