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Stage 16 - Lullingstone Park to Tatsfield (12.7 miles)

 

This stage continues south along the Darent Valley Path for almost five miles passing through the villages of Shoreham and Otford. There is one diversion of the Path just before Otford. At Otford the route also joins the North Downs Way, but diverts off the Way to take in Chevening Church and Park. Shortly afterwards following the Pilgrims Way along narrow country lanes, then back onto the North Downs Way, before diverting off-road again to Tatstield.

 

To get to the start of the stage from Lullingstone Visitors Centre exit the car park to Castle Road / Redmans Lane. Turn right for just a few yards and start on the RHS of Redmans Lane next to a stile.

 

Go over the stile and into the field. Follow the path along the bottom edge of the field and parallel to the lane and then straight on into a second field. On entering the second field, turn left to Redmans Lane. Turn right along the lane and past Castle Farm. Follow the lane for 220 yards, staying on the LHS, to where it turns sharp right. Stay straight on through a gap next to a gate and onto a path/track signed Darent Valley Path. Follow the path straight across fields for just over a mile to Shoreham.

 

The farmhouse at Castle Farm is built on what remains of Shoreham Castle. This was Norman, it was known to be unoccupied by at least the early 16th Century and was previously called Lullingstone Castle, until the name was adopted in 1738 by the Hart-Dyke family for their manor house. On the river next to the farm, and visible from the lane, is a small and unusual water powered windmill.

 

Just of the path across the field after Castle Farm, the distinctive field down to the left is a hop garden. Hop gardens have been a recognised feature of the Kent countryside for hundreds of years.  In summer the bines (the climbing stems) grow up strings suspended from a wire frame, and in late August the bines are stripped and the hops dried in oast kilns before being sent to the breweries. Until recently drying took place in white cone topped oast houses, but nowadays most oast houses have been converted into private dwellings.

 

Connie Evans gives a wonderful personal account of her childhood memories of working in the hop gardens. Her website gives an insight into how, not only did the industry in Kent rely on an influx of workers from the East End of London, but also on the manual labour of local women and their children. How for four weeks from early September they would rise at daybreak to walk to the fields and collect the ripened bines to earn much needed coffers to add to the father’s income. The children received no pay but were rewarded by being allowed to play with others in the adjacent fields after having collected their quota for the day.  

 

In late spring / early summer the fields, to the left across and climbing up from the valley floor, are a purple haze with lavender. The hops, the lavender and other local produce from the farm and surrounding areas are sold in the Castle Farm’s multi award winning Hop Shop.

 

From Castle Farm to Shoreham village is about a mile. It is relatively easy to follow the Darent Valley Path through the fields just above the river which is off to our LHS. A short distance from the village the path drop down to the river, but soon climbs up to cross Mill Lane and then left around the old Mill House to a footbridge over the river. After crossing the footbridge turn right to follow the path along the river to Darenth Street, coming out next to Water House.

 

Shoreham was home to Samuel Palmer (1805 - 1881), visionary landscape painter. It was a peaceful home away from the hustle and bustle of the big city where he found inspiration and could get on with his work. He lived at Water House from 1826 to 1837 and is remembered by a plaque on the outside wall of the garden. His time here is described as his “visionary period” during which he entertained many people from the arts and literary world, these were nicknamed “The Ancients”. They included his friend and teacher, William Blake (1757 – 1827), the English poet and painter. Much of Palmer's work from this period is in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

 

On the left, just past Water House is Flint Cottage. The suns on the front wall is a "fire mark" the early trademarks of a well known insurance company. The fire engines of the day would only attend houses which displayed such an insurance certificate. Many old houses in the village still display this mark.

 

On the right is the old bridge over the Darent River, a ladder on the side of the bridge shows the depth of the river for travellers who used the now closed ford. Next to the bridge is the War Memorial with the names of all the locals killed in action in two world wars. One such local was a man called Thomas James Highgate. He was the only son of a farm labourer, born on 13th May 1895 at Oxbourne Farm, Mill Lane, Shoreham. Highgate joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment on 4th February 1913. After seeing action at the battle of Mons he was found hiding in a nearby barn. He claimed to have lost his way, but was accused of desertion. He was court marshaled, found guilty and shot by firing squad on the same day, 8th September 1914. This was just 17 days after the first British shot of the war had been fired. Highgate was the first British soldier to have been executed for desertion during World War I. He was unable to summon witnesses to help his defence as all of his regiment had been killed, injured or captured. In 2000 a poll by local Shoreham residents voted to have his name added to the village’s war memorial. However, this was vetoed by the Parish Council, but it was decided to leave a space for his name in case he was ever pardoned. In August 2006 the Defence Secretary announced that all 306 soldiers who were shot during World War I for military offences would receive a pardon and Highgate’s name has since been added.  

 

Each year on the early May bank holiday the village holds the Shoreham Duck Race along the river. It starts at the bridge and finishing at the footbridge near Mill Lane. Most ducks are small yellow and plastic, but there are ducks made from all sorts, all shapes and sizes. It is an event for the local community and hundreds of people attend.

 

Most of the village and some of the surrounding area is designated a conservation area, and contains many old houses and pubs. It lies within the Metropolitan Green Belt, the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is specified as a Special Landscape Area.

 

Within the village there are at least 32 listed buildings. Some have already been listed above and some are mentioned below, but to read about them all and the full history of the village, visit the Sevenoaks Council website for the full Shoreham High Street & Church Street Conservation Area Appraisal.

 

The 16th century Kings Arms to the right on Church Street, and just a short distance past the bridge, boasts the only complete Jolly Ostler's Box still remaining in the UK. The “Ostler” was the person employed by the inn to look after and groom the horses whilst their owners used the facility.

 

At the far end of Church Street is the narrow High Street, so narrow it only takes a few cars to gridlock it. The street was built for the use of horses and not modern day traffic, and since the horses have gone it has not been widened. On the right a few yards along the High Street is the Shoreham Aircraft Museum, which displays relics of air battles from two wars. It was opened in 1978 and attended by fifteen former pilots from the Battle of Britain. During both wars there were lots of dogfights in the skies above the village resulting in many planes being shot down in the fields around the village. Some of the large country houses in the area were taken over by the military during World War II. It meant many bombs were dropped on the area, by German pilots looking for their targets and off-loading bombs left over on their way home after striking London. In a documentary by the BBC, they described Shoreham as the most bombed village in Britain during World War II. One story from 15th September 1940 tells how a German bomber was forced to land in a field at Castle Farm whilst a spitfire circled above. The pilot surrendered to locals by waving a white handkerchief. He and his crew were escorted to The Fox & Hounds Pub, at Romney Street, just east of the village and treated to a large brandy before being escorted to the local police station at Sevenoaks.

 

The Shoreham and District Historical Society decided in 2003 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II by producing a book based on interviews with people who lived in the village during the war. In 2006 their book “Shoreham at War” was published.

 

On passing the bridge, veer left along Church Street – the river is to the right. After a short distance follow the road left (at 1.5 miles into the stage) and uphill past some old cottages, then right past the Lych Gate of the church. The road soon turns left again and continues to climb out of the village and changes name to Station Road. After 100 yards turn right onto a narrow and enclosed footpath, signed Darent Valley Path.

 

The Lych Gate on Church Street is many hundred of years old and through it hides the Church of St Peter & St Paul. The church is mainly Norman but parts of it dates to an earlier Saxon period and some of the original still survive. The graveyard slopes up from the valley above the town and visible from it on a clear day across the valley in a field on the opposite side is a large cross. It was cut into the hill in 1920 as a remembrance to all those who died in World War I.

 

Church Road, in front of the Lych Gate widens out into what almost appears as a village square. On the opposite side is the 16th Century Ye Olde George Inn which has not changed much over the years. Surprisingly for such a small place, as well as the Old George Inn and the Kings Arms, there are two other pubs in the village. The Old Crown Inn and the Two Brewers are on the High Street and both just a short distance of the route. The village has many connections with smugglers and one described by Dorothy Gardiner on her own visit to Shoreham in her “Companion into Kent” in 1934.

 

“She recounted a story she was told about some smugglers who arrived at the Old Crown Inn there early in the 19th century, with a wounded Spaniard. The foreigner was nursed back to health by the daughter of the owner of the inn, a man known as Squib the Maltster. When he was fit and well again, the Spaniard married Squib's daughter and for a while they lived together in the village.

 

But then one day the Spaniard was taken by the press-gang and his wife died giving birth to their child. Many years later (so the tale concluded) the Spaniard returned to Shoreham. On enquiring in the village after his wife, he was told she was dead and he, without another word, turned round and walked away again, never to be seen thereafter”

 

People with connections to Shoreham include, Verney Cameron (1844 – 1894), the son of the local vicar. Whilst in Africa he was sent by the Royal Geographical Society to assist David Livingstone, but found him dead. With the help of Livingstone’s papers he became the first European to cross equatorial Africa from coast to coast. The country of Cameroon is named after him. He returned to England in great triumph to settle down and became a writer of boy’s books. Unfortunately at the age of 50, whilst riding in Bedfordshire, the horse bolted and he was thrown and died. His body was brought back to his childhood home and buried in the graveyard at Shoreham.

 

William Colgate’s (1783 – 1857) family farmed in the village at Filston until 1798, but because of his father’s republican views and support for the French Revolution the family was forced to immigrate to America. In 1806 William founded what we now know as the Colgate toothpaste company.

 

Actress Naomi Watts was born here on 28th September 1968. Edward Plunkett (aka Lord Dunsany), 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878 – 1957) live at Dunstall Priory. He was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, saw action in the trenches during World War I and active at Shoreham in the Home Guard during World War II. He was President of the Shoreham Village Players in the 1950s and wrote a one act play about the village called “The Road”. He died in Dublin and is buried in Shoreham churchyard.

 

Methodist John Wesley (1703 – 1791) used to visit Shoreham to see his great friend and supporter the Rev Vincent Perronet (1693 – 1785), who was vicar here for fifty-seven years. Wesley is said to have had to be rescued by the Perronet family from an unsympathetic audience when he preached from a stone near the bridge over the River Darent, but the experience did not stop his preaching in the vicarage kitchen.

 

For a small village it is well serviced by the railway on the Swanley to Sevenoaks line. This is thanks to the natural communications corridor of the Darent Valley. Shoreham station is just north of the entrance to the golf club on the right of Station Road. It was opened in June 1862 and has a countryside centre run by volunteers. This natural corridor was also originally planned as the route of the M25 motorway around this part of London. The devastation to the beauty and tranquility of the valley would have been huge. However thanks to the well planned protests by locals the route of motorway was diverted to the west and away from the valley.  You can read more about Shoreham at the Village Website.

 

The enclosed path from Station Road leads to the Darent Valley Golf Course.

 

The golf club usually publicise our passing on their notice board, so the golfers know what to expect and can cheer us on. A wooden sign at the side of the path also notifies of the presence of the golf course.

 

Look left for golfers before continuing straight across the golf course and through a kissing gate (now at 2 miles into the route). Go straight on around the edge of the grounds of the Shoreham Village Cricket Club and then veer left just before reaching the pavilion to exit the grounds. Shortly after the cricket club, as the Darent Valley Path turns right along a lane, go straight on across the lane (beware of traffic) and back onto an enclosed partly tree lined, partly open footpath.

 

The diversion from the Darent Valley Path at this point makes navigation simpler. The route is just as scenic and it means following a path to the old historic centre of Otford. The Darent Path misses most of Otford, but our route does rejoin the path as it crosses the river on the way out of the village.

 

Filston Hall is just half a mile to the west of here. This is medieval with a listed moat surrounding it. Beyond the hall are Filston Farm and an adjacent old Oast House which has been converted to a private dwelling. All of these properties are built on a much earlier settlement named "Vielestun". It took it name from the Norman Knight Vital, who is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry as reporting back to William the position of King Harold’s army just before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

 

Below is part of a more detailed article about Filston Farm entitled “A Wealth of History, Farming and Wildlife” and taken from the “Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” website.

 

“From the arrival of the Romans to toothpaste connections, from strawberries to orchids, there is a wealth of history and wildlife at Filston Farm near Shoreham in the Darent Valley.  Owner and farmer, John Dinnis, tells us more …..

 

As with so much of the Darent Valley, Filston Farm is originally a Roman site.  The original part of the current house dates back to the 12th Century, however following a fire in 1690 part of the house was rebuilt.  Filston Farm was the sub manor house to Otford Palace and Cromwell is reputed to have hidden 1000 men here during the Civil War!  Filston farm was then home to the Colgate family and in indeed the house made such an impression that their home in America is also called ‘Filston’.

 

The half moat around the house is a traditional Kent feature and was regarded as a status symbol as well as a source of carp for the table and a rubbish dump!  The moat is now Grade 1 listed as a National Monument…..”

 

On Filston Lane, just west off the driveway to the farm, is a carved wooden sign displaying the Filston Ancient Trackway. According to maps the route of this ancient trackway goes through the settlement and across the golf course. It crosses the Green Belt Way route in the middle of a small wood about 400 yards south of the cricket field. From studying OS maps and looking closely at the “Arial View on Multimap” it is possible to trace the route of this past Filston, then across the golf course and beyond – Note. Multimap has been bought by MS and is now Bing Maps, they don’t provide the results Multimap provided and you do have to do a bit extra work. It’s a shame as Bing say they provide a better service, but it’s not even close.

 

750 yards later as the track becomes a lane continue straight on, soon past a farm and some houses on the left (including a converted oast house) with Otford Cricket Club behind them. To the right through the hedge is the recreation ground. The lane comes out onto Otford High Street next to the “Old Forge” (at 3.05 miles into the stage). Turn right along the pavement staying on the RHS.

 

Otford is where the route joins the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims Way and within 200 yards, on reaching the river, rejoins the Darent Valley Path. The route stays with the Darent Valley Path for two miles to Dunton Green and with the North Downs Way for over an extra half a mile to just before Turvin’s Farm near Chevening.

 

The village blacksmith has long gone and the forge is now the Forge House Restaurant. The centre of the village is just to the left and is built around a roundabout with a pond in the middle. The pond is fed by a stream rising near the station, and is unique in being classified as a listed building. The ducks have their own little house in the centre are given a food allowance by the parish council.

 

From excavations there is evidence of settlement in this area for at least 3,000 years. The route of the Ancient Trackway on the way into the village helps to confirm this, although if the track was also used by later pilgrims or not I have been unable to ascertain.

 

History sources state two bloody battles took place at Otford. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded “The Battle of Otford” in 774 when local Kent forces under Egbert II fought to regain their independence against King Offa of Mercia (757 – 796). Although no outcome is stated in the Chronicle, it can be deduced that the battle was won by the smaller Kent army as Egbert ruled the area afterwards (however, some sources dispute this).

 

In 1016 (over 240 years later) battle raged once more at Otford. This time Edmund Ironside (989 – 1016), son of Ethelred the Unready, and the Dane Canute the Great (died 1035) fought over the throne of England. Edmund chased Canute’s depleted army from London across the Thames and through Surrey before re-engaging them at Otford. Most of the Danes were slaughtered and the remainder fled eastwards. Edmund continued to chase Canute and what was left of the Danish army east through Kent, but from taking ill advice he let them go. Soon afterwards Canute regrouped and rebuilt his army. He came back in force later the same year and besieged London, eventually defeating Edmund at the Battle of Ashingdon.  

 

Ten years after the first “Battle of Otford” Offa was once again in control of Kent. It is thought he built a large house near the site of his earlier battle and gifted the house and the lands in the area to the Archbishop of Canterbury as a penance for those who died. Otford was highly prized by Canterbury. It was used as an Archbishop’s Palace and many great clergy resided there through the years. One was Thomas Becket (1118 – 1170) who was so pleased with the place he often stayed. Many legends and myths surround Becket, one such story is when Becket resided at Otford Palace. He was unhappy with the taste of the water supply to the palace, so struck his staff against the ground and immediately a well appeared with a supply of crystal clear water, thus providing a clean water supply for the palace. The story has never been proved or disproved, but on private land near Castle House Trout Farm Becket’s Well can still be seen. Today it supplies fresh water for the fish ponds on the farm.  

 

From Anglo-Saxon times until 1537 the palace was one of a chain of houses belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury. It was rebuilt around 1515 by Archbishop Wareham to rival Wolsey's at Hampton Court. Henry VIII forced Archbishop Cranmer to surrender the palace in 1537.  When Henry died the palace fell into ruin. The principal surviving remains of Otford Palace can be seen a few yards south of the duck pond. They include the North-West Tower, the lower gallery, now converted to cottages and a part of the Great Gatehouse. There are further remains on private land, and a section of the boundary wall can be seen in Bubblestone Road. The entire site, of about four acres is designated as an ancient monument. To the east of the palace is St Bartholomew's Church dating from c1050, making it the oldest standing wall in the area. There are many other old buildings in the village including a Heritage Centre (with a model of the palace) and four pubs, all on the High Street. The Horns dates from the 15th Century and is now a restaurant; The Crown is 16th Century and overlooks the duck pond and the pub website claims it is haunted by four ghosts; The Woodman also overlooks the duck pond, was originally built in the 18th Century as a wheelwright’s and converted in 1861 to a pub – many sources claim the pub is haunted. The Bull dates from 1512 and contains a “wishing chair” from the old palace and claimed to have belonged to the Saintly Thomas a Beckett himself. According to the Historic-Kent.co.uk website (which is well worth visiting and has proved really helpful with researching the Darent Valley), the Bull was once a refectory of Otford Monastery and was granted a license by Papal Bull in 1538. The pub sign displays a large beast (bull) but apparently the name originates from the Papal. Inside the pub is also a board detailing the history of the inn and a wooden carving of Henry VIII and one of his six wives;

 

There are other information boards in the village telling of the history of the area and a novel one showing the local recreation ground as the centre of a model of the Solar System at midnight on 1st January 2000. The model keeps the Solar System within the village and explains that on the same scale the nearest star "Procima Centauri" would be as far away as Los Angeles. It claims to be the largest model of its type in the world and the website is well constructed and full of information on the planets.

 

Otford village is well served by road and rail. The A225 (the main road from Dartford to Sevenoaks) goes through the centre and the railway station is only 200 yards east of the pond. During excavations for both transport systems many remains of bodies were found, many more were found close to the river. These were mainly soldiers who died in both battles, but Stone-Age, Iron-Age and Roman remains have also been uncovered. Some of the artifacts are on show at the Heritage Centre. 

 

On the wall of church hall on the High Street is a stone mosaic telling the story of the history of the area (mosaics). The mosaic was designed and constructed by Oliver Budd and commissioned by the Otford Society to mark the millennium.

 

After crossing the river, continue along the High Street for 600 yards to just past a wooden bus shelter. Turn left to cross over and into Telston Lane. Follow the road straight uphill through a housing development and then straight on along a Telston Lane, signed “North Downs Way”, when the main road turns right. The lane soon opens up with fields on both sides. Follow the lane to the right past Oast Cottage, then left past New Barn Farm (at 4 miles). Continue straight on, gradually uphill, to cross a bridge over a railway line, then over a stile and straight on across a large field. Follow the path as it crosses a track and enters a wood. On exiting the woods bear left to follow the path downhill to cross a stile, then along the edge of a field to cross over another stile and along an enclosed path past the Donnington Manor Hotel. The path comes out onto a road with the hotel to the right. Turn left along the pavement soon crossing over to the right and on passing the Rose & Crown pub turn right, onto Morants Court Road (the A224). Stay on the pavement on the RHS along this busy A-road to and across the bridge over the M25 motorway.

 

The Donnington Manor Hotel and the Rose & Crown (one of the many Vintage Inns we pass on our walk) are in the north part of the village of Dunton Green. The area around the pub and hotel are sandwiched between two motorways. The M25 is only a few hundred yards to the north and the M26 is 200 yards south of the junction by the pub, thus cutting this small area off from the rest of the village. The junction of the two motorways is a mile to the east.

 

According to the Wiki Kent website:

 

Although Dunton Green’s roots are not visually apparent it is a very ancient settlement. The name was originally Dunington or “Duns Estate” from the Old English words “tun” meaning village or settlement and green was a much later addition.

 

The timber framed house of Donnington Manor dates back to the 15th century. It was fully restored and extended in the late 19th century and converted to a hotel. The black and white hotel is now a Grade II Listed Building.

 

A few yards past the pub the Darent Valley Path turns left to cross the road and disappear for one last time via a kissing-gate through the hedge into a field. The field was acquired by the Woodland Trust in 1999 and through their “Woods on the Doorstep Project” they have planted some 5.5 hectares of native trees, creating Crown Meadow Wood, to provide a valuable area for public recreation and local wildlife. The Darent Path goes south downhill between the trees and after 200 yards goes through a subway under the M26.

 

Dunton Green railway station is reached by going south along London Road (A224) for 400 yards and then following a footpath east along the southern edge of the recreation grounds. It can also be reached by following Station Road, 200 yards further south along London Road. The station opened in March 1868 and is on the Sevenoaks to London Bridge line. In July 1881 a spur called the Westerham Valley Branch Line was opened. This was 4.5 miles long and ran from Dunton Green to Westerham with stops at Chevening Halt and Bransted Halt. Unfortunately this closed on 28th October 1961 due to competition from roads. Some of the line has disappeared for good under the M25 motorway. However, it is still possible to walk the course of this old steam railway west for a mile from London Road to the Chevening Cross Road by the M25 / M26 junction. What is left of the railway is also crossed by the Darent Path just south of the M26. You can watch a video of the old line at YouTube.

 

On the right of Morants Court Road, just 200 yards north of the Rose & Crown is an old thatched house. The roof has for years contained thatched sculptures of birds on the top. It has recently been re-thatched, and look closely to see that these have also been redone.

 

A few yards later a lane goes off to the left. This is the entrance to Morants Court, a large house with a history which can be traced back to the 14th Century, during the reign of Richard II when it was owned by Sir Thomas Morant. One story about the house and from the Wiki Kent website tells a melancholy tale.

 

“There is a sad tale associated with the small village of Dunton Green. It concerns the daughter of the owner of a large house called Morants Court who fell in love with a highwayman. Her father, who disapproved of their friendship, forced his daughter to betray the villain's next ambush at the foot of the nearby Star Hill.

 

The father's servants intercepted the highwayman and promptly hanged him, cut off his head and made a cruel present of it to the shocked daughter. She was so horrified by the gruesome spectacle that she went insane.


The ghost of the headless lover has been seen jumping the stream behind Morants Court on his stallion. The sound of horse's hoofs upon cobbles) - heard by people working in the fields at dusk - is immortalised in Walter De la Mare's poem 'The Highwayman'. The cobblestones have long since been removed.”

 

Once over the M25 motorway from Dunton Green, cross over the A224 (with care) to the LHS to turn left at the roundabout immediately over the motorway. Follow the Chevening Road (B221) west as it runs downhill and parallel to the motorway. After 600 yards and shortly after Morants Court Farm the North Downs Way turns right over a stile, and disappears up hill through a field. Continue straight on along the road for another 100 yards, past Turvins Farm and left around a long sweeping corner. Near the end of the corner, turn right (with extreme care as this is a blind corner) to cross over and climb a stile just before and next to two cottages. Go straight on along a track, soon through a kissing gate next to an electric fence and along a lane leading to Chevening Church.  

 

Where the lane comes out next to the church, turn right - the churchyard wall is now on the left. Turn left at the other end of the churchyard keeping the wall on the left. After a about 30 yards turn right onto a narrow enclosed path heading north and directly away from the church.

 

Chevening village is tiny and hidden away under the rolling hills of the North Downs. There are just over a dozen houses, no shops and no pubs. The only services are an old red post box and red phone box. The village (if it can be called that) is dominated by the Norman Church of St Botolphs, with the stately Chevening House hidden behind the walls of its large park.

 

The early history of Chevening seems to be somewhat sketchy with a few gaps. GenForum, presented by Geealogy.com states:

 

“The earliest records of the area of Chevening:... [Chevening] first mentioned in records in 766, when it was the site of the battle with Offa. In various charters between 785 and 822 different parcels of land were ceded to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Mercian kings Offa, Chenille and Ceowulf. The area, including Shoreham to the north, Seal to the east, Chevening to the west and stretching into the forest of Andredsweald to the south, became known as the manor of Otford.

 

Chevening land lay along the western border of the Manor of Otford. In the later Saxon times another east-west track had developed along the southern slopes of the Downs, along the route now called the Pilgrims Way...

 

The name Chevening means either Cefn’s people, derived from the Saxon name of the first family to settle in the area, or “the people of the ridge” in the pre-Roman Celtic tongue; either suggests an ancient origin.


"The de Crevequeurs were the first recorded tenants of Chevening, in 1171, owing one knight's fee for land they had acquired from Haimo, the steward." As part of the victorious Norman army they had other lands in Kent, including Leeds Castle. Although de Crevequerers are noted in various records there is no suggestion that the family ever resided in the manor; the steward would have been sent to collect the revenue from the servants. It is assumed that this is Chevening I."

 

The “Textus Roffensis” (compiled 1122 – 1123), records from Rochester Cathedral, refers to the parish of Civilinga – the Anglo-Saxon name for the parish now known as Chevening. This suggests a church and a settlement. It seems strange Chevening is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. However, it is later recorded as being owned by Sir Adam de Chevening from 1199 to 1216. He was Justice of the Assizes to King John. The de Chevening family held the manor until 1432 when it was acquired by the De la Pole family. It was sold to John Lennard in 1540 and stayed in the Lennard family until 1717, when it was sold to Major General James Stanhope.

 

The village is at the foot of the North Downs and was next to the confluence of two ancient communication routes. The Pilgrims Way ran east to west along the lower reaches of the Downs and just north of the church; the old Rye Road (also known as The Fish Road) ran north from Rye on the south coast to London. Merchants with their ponies loaded with fish would pass through the village before climbing the Downs on their way to the London markets. The Rye Road is now called Chevening Road and is the only approach road. It runs north from Chevening Cross and abruptly stops just north of the church. Earl Stanhope closed off the road in the late 18th Century. The Pilgrims Way is also no longer accessible through the area.

 

The closure of these old routes was probably a blessing in disguise as since the 18th Century very little has changed at Chevening. The houses which once serviced the estate still retain their Georgian and Victorian character. Lennard Cottage, now a private dwelling, was once a public house. The stone pavements are centuries old and blend in well with the red brick of the houses and much older church.

 

St Botolphs Church dates back to at least 1122. However, there are Roman slates in the walls which are thought to be from a nearby villa. The church was enlarged during the 13th & 14th Centuries with the tower being added around 1518. Inside there is much to see including the Lennard family tombs and many memorials to the Stanhope family. There is a splendid monument by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey which depicts the white marble figure of Lady Frederica Stanhope who died at childbirth in 1823. This is considered to be one of the finest works of the sculpture. Botolph is the patron saint of travellers and at the gates to many towns and cities, including London there churches dedicated to St Botolph. The church at Chevening has welcomed many travellers throughout the centuries on their journeys along the two ancient routes which passed through here. The church website is a wealth of information and has a detailed write up on the history and contents of the place.  

 

Chevening House (also referred to as Chevening Place) is the second to be built on the site. The first it seems was Norman. The second has its main front facing north towards the Downs. The central block was built between 1616 and 1630 to a design by Inigo Jones for Richard Lennard, 13th Earl Dacre. Parts of the older house still exist in the foundations and the walls of the current one. James Stanhope (1673 – 1721) bought the house after the death of 15th Earl Dacre in 1717 for £28 k.

 

Stanhope was educated at Eton and Oxford. He pursued a military career from an early age and obtained a commission in the British army in 1695. In 1701 he entered the House of Commons, but continued his career as a soldier. In 1708 he was appointed commander-in chief of the British forces in Spain. After many successful campaigns his army was defeated at the Battle of Brihuega in December 1710 and he was taken captive. He remained a prisoner in Spain for over a year. On his return to England, in August 1712, he abandoned the military for politics, and played a major role in establishing the House of Hanover on the throne. He masterminded the defeat of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 and held many political posts including First Minister to King George I. In 1713 he married Lucy Pitt (1692 - 1723), daughter of Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras. They had seven children including two sets of twins. In 1718, the year after he bought Chevening, he was created 1st Earl Stanhope. He planned major additions to the house but died three year later on 5th February 1721, a day after taking ill whilst vigorously defending the government in the House of Lords. He was given a full military funeral through London and later buried privately at Chevening. It was left to his widow to carry out the alterations to the house. The outcome was one of the finest Georgian houses in England.

 

Stanhope’s grandson Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl (1753 – 1816), was a statesman and scientist. He was well known for his outspoken democratic views and often referred to as “Citizen Stanhope”. He changed the appearance of the house drastically between 1786 and 1796 by refacing it in stone and cream coloured fire proof tiles.

 

The house stayed in the hands of the Stanhope family until 1959, when it was presented to the nation by the James Stanhope, 7th and last Earl (1880 – 1967). James Stanhope was a successful politician and also inherited the more senior title of Earl of Chesterfield in 1952. He never used the Chesterfield title.

 

Stanhope also gave an endowment of £250,000 for the upkeep and maintenance of Chevening. He wished that after his death the house would be used by a cabinet minister or a descendent of King George VI. The “Chevening Estate Act of 1959” turned his wish into law. He died in 1967 and with no offspring both titles became extinct. Since then house is managed by trustees and occupied by a nominee of the Prime Minister.

 

From 1970 an intensive programme of renovation and began. This lasted for four years and exhausted most of the endowment. It undone the work of Citizen Stanhope, and restored the house to its original Georgian glory.

 

In 1974 Prince Charles accepted the prospect of using the estate as a country residence. At the time he was considering marriage to Amanda Knatchbull, granddaughter of his great uncle Earl Mountbatten and great niece of the last Baroness Stanhope. If all was to happen it would has made a lovely story for the last Earl. However, Charles’ proposal of marriage was refused and after visiting the house on many occasions, in June 1980 he wrote to Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minster at the time, to decline the use of Chevening. Since then Chevening has been the official country residence of the British Foreign Secretary.

 

Two weeks after declining Chevening, Prince Charles bought Highgrove in Gloucestershire and soon afterwards started dating Lady Diana Spencer. He still resides at Highgrove to this day.

 

Since the death of the 7th Earl of Stanhope occupants of the house have included, Lord Hailsham, Geoffrey Howe and Jack Straw. Chevening village was designated a Conservation Area in 1978 and this was renewed in 2007. The private park covers an area of over 3,000 acres and within it there is much to see including the landscaped gardens, the lake and the Roman tombstones. However, they grounds are only open to the public a few times each year.

 

I found Chevening in the 1999 and thought it an idyllic and peaceful place. I was organising a relay run around London’s Green Belt at the time, and by 2002 had changed the route to take in the village. The change added extra distance and a huge hill up onto the Downs. This made it one of the most difficult stages in the relay and also one of the longest.

 

The Weald.net website has some lovely old black and white sketches and photos of the outside and inside of Chevening House and of the grounds and church.

 

You can read more about Chevening House and Village at Wikipedia.

 

The enclosed path going north from the church runs along the east boundary of Chevening Park. The route is easy to follow as there is nowhere to turn off the path. On studying maps some show the old route of the Pilgrim’s Way once crossed this path about 400 yards north of the church. However, this part of the Pilgrim’s Way was closed by Earl Stanhope in the late 18th Century so he could enlarge the park northwards.

 

Almost half a mile north of the church turn left over a wooden stile (at 6.5 miles) and straight on along the lower edge (LHS) of a field to cross over another stile at the opposite side. Cross straight over the lane (to the left a sign says “Private”) to climb a path, up the verge, to a wooden stile. Once over the stile, turn left to follow the edge of the field with trees to your LHS. Soon the path turns right and the trees on the left disappear to give a great view over Chevening Park. Continue straight on along the edge of the field (and now with a fence to your LHS) to cross over another lane and enter a second field (bewared of the electric fence – it seems to have been removed by May 2009). Follow the fence to the opposite corner and then left along the edge of a wood. At the next corner turn right, up to and over a stile and into another field. Stay straight on uphill along a well trodden path with the woods to the right and the large open field on the left. At the top go straight on over a stile and along an enclosed path which veers slightly right through the trees.

 

On studying old maps, it appears the first lane crossed on the route through Chevening Park is the continuation of the old Rye Road from the village which was used by the fish merchants and many years before by King Harold and his army on their way to the Battle at Hastings. The climb up the side of the wood, after crossing in front of the large house, is a long and steep. However, don't think it finishes where the path enters the wood, the steepest bit is yet to come. On the climb, look left for the views of the historical town of Westerham and the M25 below and The Weald and Gatwick Airport to the south. Shortly after entering the woods, there is a small viewing area on to the right with a bench to rest on and enjoy the view through an opening in the trees.  

 

After another 120 yards the path levels off. Shortly after this, turn left along a wide track through the woods. Stay straight on along the track for 450 yards to and past a cottage (Keeper’s Cottage at 7.4 miles) and out onto a quiet road (Sundridge Hill). Turn left along the road and follow it down a steep hill. At the bottom of the hill and after just over half a mile turn right onto another narrow lane called Pilgrims Way.

 

The route rejoins the Pilgrims Way at almost 8 miles into the stage and it’s at this point the Pilgrims Way is closed off to public as it enters Chevening Park on its way eastwards. For the next 2.6 miles our route continues almost in a straight line along the base of the Downs, following country lanes along the course of this ancient trackway. It is the best opportunity we get to follow the route travelled by pilgrims for hundreds of years (in the opposite direction) on their way to the Shrine of Thomas a Becket, at Canterbury. There is the alternative of rejoining the North Downs Way staying along the top edge of the Downs escarpment, but it would be a shame not to take this opportunity. For much of the route along the lanes the hedgerows are high and old, but in spring and summer they are awash with flowers and fruit.

 

The Pilgrims Way runs for 120 miles from Winchester to Canterbury. Today we think of it as an old route which became popular with pilgrims walking to Canterbury after the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. It was used by the pilgrims, but the road dates back much further than this, maybe even as much as 250,000 years ago when used by Middle Paleolithic hunters. After England was separated from the continent (about 5,000 years ago) it is thought the road was used as a trade route to bring metals from the West Country to ports along the Kent coast and on to Europe. Finds from the pre-Roman Iron Age Era (500 – 450 BC) provide evidence to suggest this. The route generally follows the lower southern slopes of the chalky North Downs, below the exposed escarpment but above the lower lying clay where forests and swamps could hide danger. During Roman Times (between 43 AD and 410 AD) Winchester was an important settlement and during Anglo-Saxon Times became the capital city. However, after the Norman Invasion of 1066 the importance of Winchester declined with London taking on the mantle of capital city. Valuable metals were mined elsewhere and some were imported. It meant the use of this ancient track was also in decline. However, it is thought that with the murder of Thomas Becket the track was saved by the pilgrims going to Canterbury. It continued to be used as a safe route for other travelling and for drovers to move their animals. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400) his pilgrims take a different route from the north through London and along Watling Street to Canterbury – apparently there were many routes taken by the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. The route we have just joined, Pilgrims Way seems to have got its name in the 18th Century and has stuck, although some people refer to it as the “Old Road”. It appears as “Pilgrims Way” or “Ancient Trackway” on OS maps but is only accessible for about a third of its route. People did try during the mid to late 20th Century to establish a footpath along what we know as the Pilgrims Way, but with industry, mining, private landowners and not being able to source or access most of the route, another footpath was established and opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1978. The North Downs Way does follow some of the route of the Old Road but in the main follows the top of the escarpment of the North Downs. The next section of our footpath around London follows the route of the ancient trackway or Old Road. It is one of the longest stretches still accessible, and I hope you enjoy my decision to divert from the North Downs Way.

 

You can read a more detailed version of the history and thoughts of this ancient trackway at nationaltrail.co.uk.

 

After 0.6 miles the road comes to a T-junction. Turn right, and after just a few yards turn left, staying on Pilgrims Way. Continue straight on for almost two miles to a crossroads with the busy A233 coming from the right (Westerham Hill) and left (London Road). Turn right along Westerham Hill crossing over (with care) as soon as possible and after 100 yards go left into The Avenue – (10.5 miles into the stage). It is a private road, but it is also where we rejoin the North Downs Way and is a “public right of way”.

 

Follow this private road for a mile to a Y-junction. There are many desirable houses on both sides of the road and be aware of the many large potholes as it’s not well maintained. At the Y-junction turn left onto Chestnut Avenue and follow it for half a mile, to just after the entrance to Park Wood Golf Club.

 

Along The Avenue and Chestnut Avenue the route climbs gradually and the Kent-Surrey boundary is crossed just over 200 yards before the Y-junction – look carefully and you will see the border stone. At the junction an old red post box serves those who still use mail instead of e-mails and just afterwards to the left an attractive house called Mole End has some tasteful paintings of animals on its front walls.

 

About 40 yards after the entrance to the golf club, turn right onto a footpath through trees and along the edge of the golf course (at 12 miles). After 200 yards the path comes out into the car park of Tatsfield Church. Go out through the entrance of the car park and turn right along the road and past Church Farm. Within a short distance the road turns right, and after another 100 yards turns right again. At this point turn left onto a footpath. Follow the footpath across the golf course and then downhill between fences for 0.4 miles. The path comes out onto a road (Ship Hill). Turn left along Ship Hill and after 75 yards cross over to finish on Westmore Green next to the horse trough, in front of the Old Ship public house.

 

Westmore Green is at the southwest corner of the built up area of Tatsfield Village. Tatsfield is referred to in the Domesday Book (1086) as Tatelefelle. However, the name appears to derive from the earlier Saxon period and translates as either “a look-out place in a clearing” – the look-out place thought to be the higher land on which the church is built, or a second as offered by The English Place-Name Society, “a field or clearing belonging to Tatol (or lively one)”. The village sign on The Green depicts the latter story. There are many earlier signs of human activity in the area including Stone Age artifact found between the village and Clarks Lane; an Ancient Trackway called the Ridgeway ran from west to east through the village and on through what is now Park Wood Golf Club, it was used by drovers to move their cattle; a Roman Road skirts the west and south side of the village and still forms much of the parish boundary.

 

The village is perched on top of the North Downs in a small corer of Surrey with Biggin Hill and London to the north and bounded by Kent to the east. At 790ft above sea-level, it claims to be the highest village in Surrey and it is said its inhabitants saw London burn in 1666. In more recent times, during periods of extreme snowfall, the village has been completely cut off and had to rely of food parcels being dropped from the air.

 

St Mary’s Church dates mainly from the 11th & 13th Centuries. It is Grade 2 listed and is passed by on our route half a mile before reaching the village. The exact date of the church is unknown and although it is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, St Mary’s decided to celebrate its 900th birthday in 1975. For many years the church has played host to a duel congregation of Anglicans and Roman Catholics. In the church graveyard there is an ancient yew, and on the tombstone of Timothy Burgess (died 1876) a novel inscription reads:

 

"Once I stood as you do now,

And gaz'd over them as you do now,

And you will be as I do now,

While others thus look down on thee."

 

It is thought the original settlement was around the church and there was once a manor house nearby on Church Lane called Tatsfield Court. I cannot find any record of when this was, but know it was pulled down, by its owner Sir John Gresham before his death in 1801, and a new house was built at the foot of the North Downs near to the Pilgrims Way.

 

Today the focal point of the village is around Westmore Green and a half mile northwest of the isolated church. The population of the village by the start of the 1880 was only 168 people but soon started to grow with an influx of Londoners being attracted by the open spaces, fresh air and “lofty hills of Kent and Surrey”. Presently about 1,800 people live in the village, most are to the north and east of here. This has stayed relatively stable since the 1950 due to the introduction of the Green Belt and the building restrictions which go with it.

 

The Old Ship” pub overlooks Westmore Green as does the Old Bakery which has now been converted to “The Bakery” restaurant. A few yards north along Westmore Road is the local shop (Linda’s Stores), which also doubles as the village post office and newsagents. There are a few other scattered old buildings around Westmore Green plus the Village Hall, extended and renovated using a grant from the 21st Century Halls for England Fund, supported by the Millennium Commission, the local councils and Tatsfield Parish Council. Like Westmore Green, Tatsfield Green and many other parts of the village including the hall are owned by the parish council.

 

On Westmore Green, just opposite the Old Ship is an old horse trough which remembers an era of transport before the motor vehicle, and in the centre is the village duck pond – the sign next to it states “Beware Deep Water”.

 

Famous people associated with Tatsfield include:

 

John Surtees (born here on 11 February 1934) was Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and Formula 1 driver. He is the only man to have won World Championships on both two and four wheels. Surtees’ father (also named John) owned a motorcycle dealership and thus developed an interest in motor sports. His first incursion into professional motor sports was at the age of 14, riding side-car with his father on three wheels, which they won but were subsequently disqualified as he was underage at the time.

 

Rev. Thomas Streatfield (1777 – 1848), was firstly Curate of St Mary’s at Long Ditton, then Chaplin to the Duke of Kent and later Curate at St Mary’s, Tatsfield. He wrote many books on the history of Kent – only one was published and some 50 unpublished are stored in the British Museum. He married twice, had 14 children by his two wives and through the first one acquired a fortune. He spent a lot of money altering and repairing the little church at Tatsfield and an inscription in the porch reads:

 

“Be it remembered that the masonry of this porch and tower is the free gift of the Rev. T. Streatfeild, of Chart’s Edge, Curate, 1838. Thomas Barrett, Timothy Ringoss, churchwardens.”

 

Donald Maclean (1913 – 1983), was a British diplomat educated at Cambridge University. His father was Sir Donald Maclean, Leader of the Liberal Party and his mother was Gwendoline Hope, a descendent of Charles II. Whilst at Cambridge he was recruited into Soviet Intelligence by Anthony Blunt as part of what later was known as the Cambridge Five. Between December 1950 and May 1951, he lived with his wife and children in a house in Tatsfield. During this time he often frequented the Old Ship pub. On his 38th birthday, 25th May 1951, under suspicion and waiting to be interrogated by MI5 and the FBI, he fled to the coast with Guy Burgess, caught a ship to France and from there went on to live the rest of his life in the Soviet Union.

 

Going further back in history the village has connections with Owain Lawgoch (c1330 – 1378), also known as Owain of the Red Hand (English) and Yvain de Galles (French). He was a Welsh soldier who fought for the French against the England in the Hundred Year War, and as the last politically active male descendant of Llywelyn the Great, was a claimant to the title of Prince of Gwynedd and of Wales. Owain’s grandfather acquired the Manor of Tatsfield c1307, which before 1324 passed on to Owain’s father Tomas. It is thought Owain was born here about 1330/35.

   

You can read more about the history of Tatsfield by visiting the Tatsfield Village Website, or at British History Online. For old photos, maps, stories and more about Tatsfield visit the Francis Firth Website.

 

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