Westerham lies by the river Darenth in the fertile Holmesdale Valley. Early man would have passed along the ancient North Downs Track way overlooking the site. Among the first people known to have settled in the area were Celts from the Cantii tribe around 200BC. They built an 11 acre fortification surrounded by two great walls of earth within, what is now, the Squerryes estate. In 1927 the ‘Westerham Hoard’ was discovered on Hosey Hill, which includes one of the earliest coins to have been struck in Iron Age Britain. This gold stater was probably struck in Kent about 100BC with a stylised horse on the reverse and an abstract head of Apollo on the front, derived from ancient Greek coinage. The hoard was presented by Maj O’Brien Warde to the British Museum.
When the Romans came, they started some of our oldest farms and their vineyards thrived on the south facing slopes. With the warming of southern Britain, those same fields have now been replanted with vines, which are producing the excellent ‘Squerryes Sparkling Wines’.
As their empire started to collapse, the Romans sought Saxon help to defend against raiding Picts and Scots. They lived in wooden huts on The Green within a stockade and had look-out towers at each end of the village.
In 455AD the Jutes invaded and settled in their Kingdom of Kent – the hamlet on its westernmost border became known as Westerham (or Oisterham).
The Manor of Westerham, with surrounding villages was once owned by Lady Godiver’s grandson in law, King Harold. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror gave the manor to Eustace of Boulogne, who had helped to kill Harold on the battlefield. Later, William’s granddaughter, Queen Matilda, inherited the estate before it passed to Hugh Camville. He sold off a sub-manor which passed to a group of merchants including Dick Whittington, thrice Mayor of London. When debts eventually forced Camville to sell the main Manor to Edward I and Queen Eleanor, he was graciously allowed to remain on the payment each year of one red rose!
The Middle Ages
On Eleanor‘s death, the bereaved Edward granted the Manor to the Abbot of Westminster in return for prayers for her soul. Of course with the dissolution of the Monasteries, Westerham Manor was ‘acquired’ by Henry VIII and in 1540 he sold it (including the Manor of Edenbridge) for £1,441 to Sir John Gresham. One of the farms he acquired was called ‘Charmans’, still sited on Beggars Lane. This was valued in the time of Henry V111 at ‘£5 2s. 8d’.
More Recent Times
Since then the town has played its part in local rebellions, the Civil War and overseas conflicts. However with comparative peace and surrounded by fertile land, the village grew into a thriving market town. For a time a railway linked Westerham to the London line at Dunton Green, trade expanded, and more people sought homes in the newly accessible countryside here.
World War II
In WWII Westerham, like much of Kent, found itself between Hitler and the rest of Britain. Its girls gave out fruit to passing convoys of shell-shocked Dunkirk evacuees. Boys scavenged for trophies amongst the gruesome remains of fallen planes. The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies overhead and tanks, awaiting D Day, hid in the leafy lanes of Goodley Stock and Hosey Hill. Walking amongst today’s peaceful fields, you are unlikely to be far from where there was once a barrage balloon, bomb crater or an airman’s ‘grave’.
Post World War II
While the post-war years brought changes, Westerham has managed to retain charm and character right into the twenty-first century. In July 1948 Westerham featured on the route of the ceremonial relay opening the London Olympic Games, as the torch made its passage between Maidstone and Redhill.
1950 saw the end of the 51-year-old history of the Black Eagle Brewery, which combined with the local hop gardens had been a major local employer. The brewery was taken over by Taylor Walker and Co, and became part of Ind Cope in 1959. However, yeast from the original brewery was preserved and is now used by the present Westerham Brewery, established in 2004 and located in nearby Crockham Hill. For more information see www.westerhambrewery.co.uk
In 1961 the railway branchline between Westerham and Dunton Green ran the final service in its 80-year history. By 1979 part of the railway’s trackbed to the north of the town had become a stretch of the M25.
1963 marked the closure of Westerham’s only cinema, which had been entertaining local people since 1914. However, since 2007 the Fleapit Cinema Club has screened 18 films each year in the newly built Westerham Hall. For more information see www.fleapit.info/.