John Cator (1728-1806) was a wealthy timber
merchant and landowner responsible for the layout of much of the
areas around Blackheath, London and Beckenham in north-west Kent
during the late 18th century.
The son of a Herefordshire timber merchant
and Quaker, Cator joined the family business which had relocated
to a new London base in Southwark, and sought to capitalise on the
growth of the capital by investing in property, mainly in south-east
London and Kent.
He was member of parliament for Wallingford
from 1772 to 1780. Married to Mary Collinson (daughter of botanist
Peter Collinson), he was Lord of the Manor of Beckenham from 1773
and devoted much of his energies to transforming the village into
a significant suburban town, with opulent houses situated along
wide tree-lined avenues. One of his first acts was to commission
Beckenham Park Place, a Palladian-style mansion (attributed to architect
Sir Robert Taylor) much admired by Dr Samuel Johnson, which today
serves as the club-house of a golf club.
Slightly closer to central London, he also
planned a major estate today known as Blackheath Park or the Cator
Estate to the east of the centre of Blackheath village, and south-east
of the Heath itself. Work started in 1783 after Cator bought the
Wricklemarsh mansion (formerly owned by Sir Gregory Page) and its
250 acre (1 km≤) estate for a bargain £22,250. The Palladian mansion
(designed by architect John James) was demolished in 1787 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 the colonnades are said to incorporate
pillars used in Page's mansion. Cator died in 1806 and was buried
in the churchyard of St George's Church, Beckenham.
His estates were inherited by his nephew
John Barwell Cator, but became neglected, and it fell to another
Cator, Albemarle Cator, to expand the developments of Beckenham
and Blackheath to take advantage of the growth of the railway network
during the early 19th century.