News Archive

The Westerham News Archive

Old Westerham Shops of the early 1950’s

Anyone aged over 50 will have memories of Evenden’s, the general iron mongers whose premises were located on the south side of the Market Square. Just to enter the store was to be engulfed in a myriad of smells and aromas which were an amalgam of paraffin, ‘Sunlight’ soap, brass polish and leather. The range of goods supplied ran from bath plugs to 15 Amp plugs and from paraffin stoves to steel wool. Cable, chain, plungers, pushers, tools for the garden, hammers, nails, screwdrivers, hacksaws, blades of all types and descriptions, dusters, brooms and mops – ‘you’ll get it at Evenden’s’ was almost a Westerham watchword. The racks of wooden draws where staff could conjure up all manner of hidden items from polish to batteries and soldering irons to fuse wire. Accumulaters could be charged and shot gun cartridges could be bought – torches, matches, light bulbs, you name it, Evenden’s stocked it. The shop which closed in the 1990’s is now supplanted by Wicke’s and B&Q’s and will never be seen again (not unless there’s a re run of the famous ‘Two Ronnies’ Fork ‘Andles sketch).

Next door was Luckin’s. Not since the days of darning socks and the proliferation of knitting has a shop like Luckin’s prospered in Westerham. Buttons, darning needles, thread, wool by the ounce, half a yard or a bolt of cloth, two ounces of three ply to various sizes of knitting needle – all dispensed by up to half a dozen stalwart ladies , and customers who queued three deep on a Saturday morning.

Next again was Dove’s the Butcher whose genial proprietor was ‘Curly’ Bell with son Mons and a staff of four which included van driver Les Brown.

Moving in the same direction was gentlemen’s outfitter ‘Frenches’ whose gloomy interior gave a sense of foreboding. This was followed by a line of Ministry of ‘just about anything’ which included Work, Employment, Pensions, Health, etc before arriving at Whites shop who was nominally a chemist but seemed to dispense anything from old furniture and bedsteads and often had chickens wandering around his shop.

The Westerham Surgery was next where Drs. Winder and Long practised and Molly Cosgrove was the accomplished receptionist.

Next was Wood’s the Butchers which was followed by the ‘Old Way’ tea rooms and at the corner of Lodge Lane was another second hand furniture shop.

After Lodge Lane was another butchers shop latterly run by Hans Krahl and then the paper shop variously known as Woodland, Bodgers or Bennetts depending on which generation you belonged to.

Fuller’s the Jewellers came next in the High Street where the mantle piece clock could be taken for it’s annual overhaul and where the clock over the entrance doorway told me I was (usually) late for my morning paper round. Fred Lucas with his store cum sweetshop where children clutching a sixpence used to choose gobstoppers, liquorish allsorts, or a quarter of a pound of sweets, while pondering their slection as he tried to serve more serious customers with ‘Park Drive’, ‘Craven A’ or ‘Woodbines’.

Round the corner was another shop which seldom prospered which was followed by ‘Brittains Garage’ and then by Wood’s the Grocers at Verralls Corner. Wood’s was another grocer that prospered in the 1950’s dispensing all manner of household goods from bacon to butter and soap powder to steel wool.

The blacksmith’s at Verralls Corner was still functioning in the 1950’s where Hosey boys on there way home from school would watch fascinated as the iron shoes were heated to a dull red and applied to the horses hooves by the leather aproned farrier amid clouds of acrid smoke.

There being no further shops on the south side of the High Street , crossing over and further down was Pitt’s Cottage, reputedly at one time the temporary home of William Pitt the Younger whose house at Downe was closed for renovations. The period house was opened as a tea room and seemed to attract a large clientele judging by the full car park adjacent to the Long Pond.

Next up the High Street was the General Wolfe pub, a building of overlap boards where brewery workers from the Black Eagle brewery, next door but one, congregated during their lunch hour.

Then on the opposite from the forge was English’s, – a general café where sweets and ice creams were sold and where often its doors were surrounded by bicycles from touring clubs on a day out from London.

The Warde Arms came next, another of Westerham’s pubs that have long disappeared, and then came Sharpe’s Garage where agallon of petrol cost 4s. and 10d (five bob if you had shots of Redex) and then came Hopkirk’s Hairdressers.

On the corner of New Street was Townsend’s shoe shop where old Mr Townsend could be seen repairing boots and shoes – soles and heels, quarter tips or the full horse shoe on sturdier boots – always busy on a Saturday morning with people collecting or handing in shoes for repair.

Next again was the Hope Café which again seemed to be a rendevous for crowds of cyclists then the ‘Royal Standard’ another Westerham’s demised pubs.

This was followed by Stanton’s haidressers where a haircut cost 6d. with a penny back for a schoolboy.

After the Drill Hall was Hooker’s the Printers and the Redman Law, under the Manor House, a general gunsmiths whose gloomy interior meant eyes had to adjust to the dark before the aged proprieter could be seen shuffling out of a rocking chair.

Next door was a greengrocers known as ‘Boakes’ before the Westerham Book Shop and then Hooks an antique shop. Next again was the ‘Grasshopper’ public house which had a public bar plus a saloon and had a genial bar maid known as Cissie.

Across an archway, which lead to to some houses, was an electrical contractor run by Bertie Montbrun. At any event which called for a ‘public address’ system there was Bert Montbrun complete with his van that contained four horns of sizeable proportions which were fitted on the van roof and the amplifiers that presumably went in the back. Gala Day, school sports day: no event was complete without Bert Montbrun and his van. Next again was Mills the Bakers, to the rear of which was steam bakery and at the front was a counter that sold bread, cakes, doughnuts and an assortment of buns.

Further along the Green on the northside was was ‘Cosgroves’ sweet shop, another general sweet shop that seemed to abound in Westerham during the early fifties complete with an array of sweet jars containing Sharpes toffees, sherbert lemons, mint humbugs and bon-bons and on the east side of the Green was another bakers called ‘Borehams’.

Turning left down Vicarage Hill the next establishment was Mr. Freak the gentleman’s hairdresser whose waiting room material consisted of copies of ‘Titbits’ and ‘Reveille’ which for the average schoolboy meant you almost hoped there would be a queue – and requests for ‘something for the weekend’ which I didn’t really understand!

Next, approached down a side road was another greengrocers called Botleys before arriving at the public house ‘Old House at Home’ which has long since demised and is now a private dwelling. Across the road on the other side of Quebec Square was another sweet shop run by Dickie Pointer and around the corner at the bottom of Hosey Hill was the Swan/Tudor cinema which was discussed in an earlier article.

There being no further shops on Vicarage Hill, the next was the Library opposite the Green located in a building called ‘The Pheasantry’ before moving to its present site in the London Road opposite the Post Office.

Next again was Barclays Bank before it relocated to the site of the old Wolfe Garage and following that was a toy shop that was accessed via steep steps. Next again was the ‘MacFisheries’ where fresh fish was laid out on white marble slabs, cod and chips being a cheap meal in those days, and there was always fresh herrings, smoked haddock and mackeral which was delivered direct from Westerham Station. Next again was ‘Boots the

Chemist’ under the proprietorship of Mr Lukey whose family lived at the back of the shop. As well as prescription medicines the shop was also outlet for photographic goods where films could be handed in for developing and printing. Opposite the top of the London Road was another paper shop called ‘Williams’ who also had a line in stationery and biros and was also a general toy shop. Next again was the ‘International Stores’ which was another general grocers that seemed to thrive in the early fifties. This was followed by the

Co- Op Drapers, another outlet that sold bolts of cloth, knitting needles, net cutains and ounces of wool for darning socks. Across an archway that lead to the carpark was the ‘Kings Arms’ a multi facetted pub where many of Westerham’s annual dinners were held by local institutions and next again was Evenden’s the general ironmongers where the tour began.

However, another important arm of Westerham’s shops was in the London Road and tucked into a corner at the bottom of Fullers Hill was ‘Sally Fullers’, another of the sweet shops that seemed to abound in the early fifties.

Then there was the Post Office where at one time Alan Matthews was a counter clerk and switching to the other side of the road was St Mary’s Hall, a venue for concerts, dances and other activities and next door was German’s a fish and chip shop where a portion of chips cost 3d.

Up a narrow path that also lead to Duncan’s Yard was the Dairy. Amid a clattering of milk churns and metal crates, milk was poured through stainless steel coolers and was available to anyone who turned up at the premises, while milk was prepared for the roundsmen who delivered by horse and cart.

Proceeding down London Road the next was a hairdressers run by Anne Vaus and at some stage there was also a gents hairdressers which was run by her son Brian. Next again was the London Road Garage which used to sell petrol by the name of National Benzole whose emblem was the winged figure of Mercury. Just down again was the premises of the Metropolitan Water Board where teams of workmen set off armed with pickaxes and shovels on a fleet of bicycles. Further down was Burgess’s, another of Westerhams sweet shops and just at the turning into South Bank was Master’s Stores. Master’s was another shop that stocked everything from butter to bacon and soap powder to scourers and also employed delivery boys on ‘Arkwright’ type bicycles.

After the Crown Hotel opposite Westerham Station, where the commuters still packed off to London on the 7:40 am to Dunton Green, the next establishment was the Corn Stores. Just to stand inside was to be overwhelmed by a heady mixture of hay, seeds and fertilizer all laid out in sacks where straw could be bought for pet rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.

The last shop on the London Road was Sam Hardings Café, now the site of the Wolfe Garage, and Sam must have been a member of the 1st World War ‘Grand Fleet’ as pictures abounded of ‘Jutland’ and other fleet actions.

The Great Storm of 1987

Great Storm

Twenty five years ago, on October 16th, an event occurred which has become the stuff of legends. Despite what weather man Michael Fish had said the previous evening, winds reaching 110 mph ripped across the South East of England, destroying 15 million trees. In the Westerham and Brasted areas the scenes that unfolded when light broke on the morning of October 16, 1987, were worthy of any block busting Hollywood disaster movie.

Fifty-eight National Trust properties, in 13 counties, from Blickling Hall in Norfolk to Slindon in West Sussex, were affected by the Great Storm. Chartwell, Emmetts Garden and Toys Hill (all in Kent) were in the eye of the storm.
More than 350,000 trees were lost on National Trust land in the Great Storm. Thirty-five thousand of these trees were in the Woody Plant Catalogue because of their rarity. 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of National Trust woodland were affected by the Great Storm.

The National Trust Trees and Gardens Storm Disaster Appeal raised more than £3m in six weeks. This money was used for replanting and restoration work. Chartwell, once the home of Sir Winston Churchill, lost many of its beech trees in the woodland and apple trees in orchards; and the tulip tree in the garden split. The hill behind the house and garden lost most of its trees. It took two and a half years to remedy the effects of the storm at Chartwell and even 25 years on visitors can see how much of the woodland was lost in the Great Storm, with the few trees that predate 1987 rising randomly above the others.

Ninety-five per cent of the surrounding woodland at Emmetts Garden at Ide Hill, near Brasted was destroyed which left the garden much more exposed. The property lost trees including: Atlantic cedar, blown over from the lawn out side the mansion; a handkerchief tree was blown over and badly damaged but it was winched upright and is still in situ; a Judas tree was lost and not replaced; and a tulip tree was also lost. However the Giant redwood outside the mansion was one of few that survive, and its tip is still the highest point in Kent.

Toys Hill lost up to ninety-eight per cent of its trees on the plateau and it was a scene of devastation. Around 90 per cent of the trees that were lost were beech. There has been some natural re-generation of beech but the big winner post 87 has been the birch.

The Great Storm rocketed Brasted Chart based newspaper editor Bob Ogley into the best seller list when he produced a book on the hurricane and its aftermath and since then Bob has been giving public talks on that fateful night.
Some of the devastated areas were cleared, others were replanted, following clearance, and others were left alone to regenerate naturally. One area, Scords Wood, remains completely untouched due to the non intervention policy put in place, and is monitored by Natural England. Here nature was allowed to take its own course. Trees that seeded naturally were allowed to grow and, in most cases, are developing faster than those that were planted. Light allowed in by the removal of so much of the canopy caused dormant seeds to germinate, including heather which had not been seen in the area for more than a century. Deadwood left on the ground provided valuable habitat for insects, and dormice and birds also benefited with woodlark and nightjar numbers increasing.

On October 29 2012 at 10.30am and at 2pm, the National Trust is hostied a one hour woodland walk from Emmetts Garden at Ide Hill, to look at the still lasting effects of the Great Storm and how the area has recovered. During this guided walk you would have heard about the devastating effects of the 1987 storm; you could also look at archive photos and hear anecdotes and stories about the massive clear up from the local National Trust Ranger who lived and worked at Emmetts.

My morning walk leads to a magical wood so rich in history

From the Sevenoaks Chronicle Thursday, November 10, 2011

WHEN I go for my morning walk I often make my way through the Stanhope Woods, down to Outridge, up to the site of Weardale House and on to Brown’s Oven and Puddledock.

It sounds like a passage from Lewis Carroll but these are not made-up names; they actually exist on the edge of the lower greensand escarpment, known as the Chart Hills, or Quarry Hills, sitting on the northern rim of the Weald anticline.

Hop PickersMEAGRE LIVING: These hop-pickers from Toys Hill were local people who lived in the cottages nearby

We know it as Toys Hill, the highest point in Kent, overlooking the Low Weald or the Vale of Kent.

It was devastated by the Great Storm of 1987 but to ramblers, dog walkers and morning joggers this is an area of magical woodland renowned for its series of ancient trackways, hollow ways, charcoal hearths, landslips, chert quarries and historic pollards.

When you walk this way it is easy to imagine that you are back in the days of the small tenant farmers who had access to the common, grazed their sheep in the fields, allowed their pigs to feast on the forest floor and who made a meagre living alongside the charcoal burners, the hop-growers and the quarrymen.

Commoners all, industrious men and women who rarely ventured further than Westerham or Sevenoaks until the arrival of the industrial revolution and all that came in its wake.

Today, much of Toys Hill and Brasted Chart is owned by the National Trust as a site of special scientific interest (SSI).

It is surrounded by an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The woods are designated ancient woodland and the nearby houses are no longer in the ownership of those who work the woodland and live in the terraced cottages.

On the contrary – many homes in this area are worth in excess of £1 million.

Earlier this year Archaeology South East was commissioned by the National Trust to carry out a historic landscape survey of the Toys Hill Estate, Brasted Chart.

The team, headed by Richard James, studied the prehistoric background, the history of commoning and examined the coppicing, pollarding and chertstone quarrying. They looked at the legacy of Octavia Hill, a founder of the National Trust who presented a small terrace in Toys Hill, later described as “the first beautiful site in England dedicated as a memorial”.

The newly-formed trust operated on the principle of building up estates by assembling small pieces of land and this process began at Ide Hill in 1899.

The archaeologists also studied the early life of Liberal politician Philip Stanhope, the youngest son of the 5th Earl Stanhope of Chevening, whose estate included much of Brasted and Toys Hill.

Philip, later Lord Weardale, benefited from the enclosure of Brasted Chart Common in 1850 and decided to build a substantial house, Weardale Manor, for himself and his wife, Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, widow of a Russian nobleman.

Two weeks ago in Toys Hill village hall, the National Trust warden Paul Naden spoke at a public meeting to assess the conclusions of the landscape survey. He spoke superbly about the geology and topography and guided his audience around the archaeological sites.

He also spoke about the work being carried out today by the National Trust to clear the woodland of the invasive foreigners, such as rhododendron.

It was an eye-opener for those of us who thought we knew the woodlands well.

Paul concluded that if a storm, of the magnitude of the one which hit the Sevenoaks area on October 16, 1987, was to happen again the restoration and recovery would be left entirely to mother nature and her magical ability to regenerate more effectively than man.