John Cator (1728 – 26 February 1806) was an English Member of parliament and a wealthy timber merchant and landowner with properties in Blackheath and Beckenham – now in London but in the county of Kent during the late 18th century.
The son of John Cator, a Herefordshire timber merchant, glove maker and Quaker, Cator joined the family business which had relocated to a new London base at Mould Strand Wharf (now the Bankside site of the Tate Modern art gallery) in Southwark, and sought to capitalise on the growth of the capital by investing in property, mainly in south-east London and Kent. He married Mary Collinson (daughter of botanist Peter Collinson) in 1753. In 1778, Fanny Burney wrote:
- "Mr. C--, who was formerly a timber-merchant, but having amassed a fortune of one million of pounds, he has left off business. He is a good-natured busy sort of man."
Cator's first land purchase in Beckenham was at Stump's Hill in 1757, where he built a house between 1760 and 1762. His father-in-law visited in September 1762, commenting:
- "... went, for the first time, to visit my son-in-law John Cater [sic] (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 that he had purchased. The plantations about it, all of his own doing, I found in a thriving condition, and when grown up will adorn so stately a house, in so delectable a situation, and make it a Paradise."
In 1773, he became Lord of the Manor of Beckenham, having purchased the manor and land from Lord Bolingbroke. and shortly after built a Palladian-style mansion, Beckenham Place (attribution unknown, but may be architect Sir Robert Taylor), much admired by Dr Samuel Johnson, which today serves as the club-house of a golf club.
Around 1783, slightly closer to central London at Blackheath, Cator bought the Wricklemarsh mansion (formerly owned by Sir Gregory Page) and its 250-acre (1 km²) estate for a bargain £22,250. The Palladian mansion (designed by architect John James) was gradually demolished from 1787 onwards and Cator began to break up the estate into small packages of land to be individually developed. Among the earliest commissions was one for architect Michael Searles to design a 14-house crescent, "The Paragon", on the south side of the Heath. Some of its colonnades are said to incorporate pillars used in Page's mansion.
The Cator estates
Cator died in London in 1806 and was buried in the churchyard of St George's Church, Beckenham. His estates were inherited by his nephew John Barwell Cator (1791–1850), who "with a young man's flair, exploited the Blackheath estate with style and profit," though it was not until the mid 1820s that building started in earnest. Cator also had estates in Woodbastwick in Norfolk (still the family seat), and it later fell to other Cators – Albemarle Cator and Peter Cator – to expand the developments of Beckenham and Blackheath to take advantage of the growth of the railway network during the mid 19th century.
The Blackheath Park district – to the east of the centre of Blackheath village, and south-east of the Heath itself – is today still known as the Cator Estate.
Cator's descendant, Elizabeth Cator (died 1959) was the mother of Michael Bowes-Lyon, 17th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.
- The Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, Vol. 1.
- "CATOR, John (1728–1806), of Bank Side, Southwark, Surr. and Beckenham, Kent.". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- "Beckenham Place Park". Friends of Beckenham Place Park. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
- Dillwyn, Lewis Weston (1843). Hortus Collinsonianus: An Account of the Plants Cultivated by the Late Peter Collinson, Esq., F.R.S. Swansea: W C Murray and D Rees. p. iv. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
- "Beckenham Place Park". London Gardens Online. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
- Rhind, Neil; Watson, Julian. "Cator Estate". Ideal Homes (archived copy). Archived from the original on 12 July 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
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