The Larkfield Society

Where memories are recalled

Colin Hoare – Reminiscences Of Larkfield 1996

The following material was supplied by Colin Hoare during a short perambulation of the centre of Larkfield village in 1996. The content has been increased by a few notes and comments contributed by the writer.

Colin was born in Wealden Hall – also known as Tudor Hall Cottages. The property was under the management of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and part of it was occupied/leased by his grandparents and then his parents. The family connection with Wealden Hall began in about 1926, and ended in 1956. Colin left the cottage in 1953 when he moved to Maidstone.

The family ran a news agency in a very small shop in the extreme west end of the building. The shop was one of those typical village ones that seemed to sell just about everything. In addition, reservations were made there for bookings on Maidstone & District coach services. He recalled his grandmother pushing a pram to Aylesford railway station each day to collect the supply of newspapers for the shop.

In cold or wet weather she would wear sacking over her shoes to help keep them warm and Colin learned much about the Larkfield/Lunsford area from his duties as a paperboy in the late-1930s and 1940s. Principally, of course, the whole area developed into his playground, although explorations of adjoining areas and parishes could be viewed with grave suspicion by the resident youths – boys only, of course! Doubtless this courtesy was returned in very much the same measure.

Wealden Hall is a typical, but unusually large, 15th-century hall house with first floor, overhangs, a flat 2-storied splayed bay, exposed timbers with brick infilling, a steep pitched tiled roof, and a small portion of ornamental plasterwork below the eaves. There are similar properties in the district – at East and West Malling for example. It is probably if apocryphal, but it has been said that few of these buildings are aligned to face south because of a belief that plagues were wind-borne and therefore came from that direction on the prevailing winds. The house adjoins a rather plain, early 17th-century, property and, together, these formed four dwellings. The Hoare family (Roly, Colin, and Granny Annie Nash) lived in the western portion of Wealden Hall; the central portion was occupied by the Brooker family (Nanny Brooker, Midge Robbins – her daughter, Cupid Robbins – her granddaughter and Ross Brooker – her grandson); the eastern portion was home to the Rayfield family and Norman Reevesland his family occupied they whole of the adjoining 17th century property.

Behind the houses a block of earth-closet toilets back onto the ragstone wall forming the boundary with Bradbourne Park at the southern end of the gardens. A small barn or outhouse also at the rear of the houses, was used by local workers who left their bicycles there whilst they caught buses to their places of work.

A trapdoor in one of the bedrooms, gave access to the roof space, Colin was forbidden to go up there. However, when left alone one day, he took a torch and got up into the roof in an attempt to satisfy his natural youthful curiosity. He was amazed to find a large carved altar up there. It measured about 8ft by 4ft and was much too large to have been taken up through the trap door. Virtually nothing, seems to be known about this very strange affair.

In the late 1950s /early the property was in the care of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and guided tours were made of the house. It is understood, that no trace of the Alter was found when the building was converted into restaurant. During the war, what was called ‘umbrella shelling‘ took place from ack-ack guns in East Malling and Burham firing towards each other. Larkfield was thus left under the centre of the umbrella therefore was exposed to a steady rain of shrapnel from the shells. Colin remembers sheltering under the small tiled canopy between the two overhangs at the front of Wealden Hall to gain protection from the shrapnel fallout.

To the east of the house – but separated from it by a long tapering maintained garden, and an area of scrub – is a long block of 4 (5 ???) properties. The most westerly of these — a catering equipment supplier at present – was formerly a draper/haberdashery/gents’ outfitter owned and run by George and Isabelle Kemp. Colin could recall the annual ‘slash and burn’ campaign conducted by his grandfather on the triangle of scrub mentioned above, and which still exists today. Next door to Kemp’s was a grocer‘s shop, which was owned by a Mr Mitchell who was assisted in its operation by a Mr Butler. Colin recalled watching Mr Butler cutting big slabs of butter up into small pieces, and patting them into shape with wooden butter pats. The Butler family lived in a detached house – demolished in the 1960s or so – which stood on the Malling side of the A20 near the bend about two-thirds of the way between New Road and Winterfield Lane. An unmade track on the Larkfield side of the house gave access, via a five-barred gate, into Clare Park. Doctor and Mrs Massey lived in the house at this time, and the writer can recall taking flight with his friends from the park, if the good doctor found them there playing cricket or football. It is possible that no objections would actually have been made, but the natural guilt complex of boys in that era prevented any intimate exchange of views being made on the subject of uninvited recreational pursuits.

To the west of Wealden Hall, and separated from it by the space marking the line of original road from Malling to New Hythe, is a large symmetrical brick building which was erected in the eighteenth century. Currently it is a newsagent’s shop, called, The Inn House, but – originally it was a posting inn on this important coach route from the Weald and Maidstone to Wrotham Heath and thence to Sevenoaks or London. In about 1946, the inn relocated to Larkfield House (currently the Larkfield Hotel ) after it was vacated by a branch of the Wigan family.

At this time it was called the Bull Hotel, and the relatively extensive grounds and parking area let it take advantage of the rapidly expanding passing motor trade. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Bull resumed its importance to the long distance traveller by providing one of the major refreshment and comfort stops on the journey along the A20 between London and the south coast. The writer still has memories of helping to serve in the busy tea rooms at weekends. Omnibuses and coaches from operators such as Timpsons, Orange, Grey-Green, East Kent, and London Transport, arrived and departed in a steady stream throughout the day. The returning day trippers encountered some spectacular traffics jams in – the early/mid evening. It was almost a routine for traffic at this time to be stationary, or – moving at only a crawl, between the Ashford side of Maidstone and Wrotham Heath. The construction of the Ashford and Maidstone bypasses improved conditions in these two towns, but it took the opening of the M20 motorway, in about 1971, to eliminate the congestion along the rest of the route. It also eliminated, virtually overnight, the vast majority of the passing trade from the Bull Hotel.

A unit of the REME was based at the Inn House during the second world war. Much of their work involved the maintenance of the many gun positions protecting West Malling airfield.

After the war ended, in 1946, the building was converted into two business units. The left hand third was turned into a barber’s shop. The business was owned by Percy Page, who came from Penenden Heath, and he and his colleague – Yorkie – both had chairs there. (plus a third barber it is believed). Before this, the barber’s shop had occupied premises on the opposite side of the main road. The central and right-hand thirds of the Inn House became Mac’s Cafe, but previously had been an antiques shop.

A short alley beside the shop, giving access to the rear of the property, separates it from a long block of 18th-century cottages. The porion nearest to the Inn House is single-storied, under a pitched roof with a weather-boarded gable end. Currently, it is part of the Larkfield office of Hicks estate agency, but, for many years it was part of Tom Jessup’s cycle shop, with the main part (the showroom and counter) in a conversion of the adjoining front room of the house.

Tom and his family lived in the rest of the cottage, now forming the remainder of the estate agent’s office. Even the extended shop was still fairly small, especially when stocked with items as bulky as bicycles, and Tom certainly made some use of the footpath to display part of his stock, and even to do some repairs if the weather permitted.

Part of the ragstone building adjoining the rear of the shop provided the toilet facilities for the old inn although this, latterly, had its own toilet block in part of the gap between it and the Wealden Hall. Both sets were used as public conveniences, unofficially at least. The rest of the ragstone building was used by Tom as a store room for some of his stock, but it is not known what it was built for originally. The Keeley family lived in the next cottage – currently a travel agent’s office the Tyrell family lived in the adjacent cottage – currently a solicitor’s office; and the Dunn family lived in the remaining half – with some exposed timbers and weatherboarding – of the block.

Alec Dunn was the village butcher, and his shop was on the opposite side of the main road, but he reared chickens on the land at the rear and side of his cottage. The multi-paned window, and quantity of out housing associated with this cottage suggest, some sort of specialised use in the past. It has been suggested, but it has not yet been confirmed, that this was once a wheelwright’s workshop. Certainly this would be in keeping with the importance of Larkfield to the traveller, sited at the crossroads of the London road and the road leading to the port of New Hythe. There was a large forge here, and a coaching inn, and a turnpike gate, so there certainly would have been a need for a wheelwright‘s skills somewhere in the vicinity.

Our attention now turns to the properties on the opposite side of the main road, and we start at the garage on the western side of the Larkfield Hotel. Just before turning into the garage when approaching from the Lunsford side, there is an old black and white cast-iron milestone set into the edge of the footpath. The forerunner to the present garage, and the one before it, was a group of very plain small buildings that at one time were used by the Maidstone engineering company of Tilling Stevens for the maintenance of some of their lorries.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is really nothing more to add to the account above of the Larkfield Hotel/Priory/Bull Inn/Larkfield House. This building is separated from a nearby block of shops by a group of four cottages and a detached house (Dental Surgery). The present block of four shops used to consist of a grocer/post Office (currently a Chinese takeaway); a butcher’s shop (Funeral director); a private dwelling – the Inkpen’s home (Auto Parts/ Spares); and another private dwelling – the Tyrell and Burbridge families’ home (Model shop). These two domestic dwellings were converted into a D.I.Y. Store (D & M) in the late 1960s?, before being split up into two separate, but still commercial, properties. The grocers shop and Post Office was owned by Frank and Emily Taylor. Their son Ron later helped with the running of the business, and the writer can remember Ron Taylor calling at local houses to take grocery orders which were delivered later on. Frank had a brother Benjamin, and he owned the grocers and Post Office at Wrotham Heath.

Ben married the writer’s Aunt May, who had herself spent many years working in a grocer’s shop in Dunton Green. Pre-packing of goods was in its infancy at this time, and so nearly all cold meats were carved to order, and comestibles such as tea, butter, sugar, flour, dried fruit and so on all had to be weighed out by hand from bulk supplies. The P.O. was in the left-hand part of the shop as one entered, and Bill Love served there as counter clerk for many years. The post box remains in use at the time of writing (1996) in its original position outside the shop.

Next door to the grocers/P.O. was Alec Dunn’s butchers shop, and a building in the garden. Behind the shop was used as his slaughter house. It has already been noted that Alec reared chickens behind the family cottage on the opposite side of the main road. When inside the shop, as a boy, the writer recalls being rather nervous at the way Mrs. Dunn had to be confined in what seemed to be a minute glass-panelled cubicle. It was here that all financial transactions were carried out, so that food and currency were kept well apart from each other.

On the Ditton side of the block of shops is a small area of neglected land that was once a garden. Behind this there is at present a car repair workshop but, formally, a barn that stood here was used for the repair of caravans, including those of showmen (what are these? Came from where?). Abutting the small garden there used to stand a very small, single-storey, cottage with small windows that gave a view each way along, and out onto, the main road.

This was the turnpike cottage, and was where travellers had to stop at a gate across the road and pay a toll before being allowed to continue their journey. The income thus generated was used for the upkeep of the turnpike road. The cottage used to stand roughly where the present hairdresser’s shop (formerly a pharmacy) is today. A narrow passageway between the hairdresser’s and the Safeway supermarket leads to Martin Square. Although it is unnamed today, it used to be known as Polly Keener’s Alley, and was the start of a footpath leading north-westwards across open fields to Lunsford Lane, and thence to Rectory Lane and Leyboume. On the New Hythe Lane side of the alley there used to be a narrow rectangular shop that extended back from the main road and, alongside it, was another, more square shop. The former building was where the hairdressers – Percy Page and ‘Yorkie‘ – began their business, before transferring across the main road to the Inn House, when it became vacant.

In about l942, the two shops were converted into one, called The Arcade. It was run by Stan Harris, who sold fruit and some groceries, but a great many other things as well. Between The Arcade and New Hythe Lane there used to stand a cottage and a Grade III early 19th century red brick house called The Lindens. This was a 2-storied house, with a frontal facade of nine large sash windows and a doorway and surround, all set under a hipped tiled roof with two flat dormers. It was demolished when the mouth of New Hythe Lane was widened.

‘Linden’ is a another word for a lime tree, and an old photograph of the house shows a row of pollarded trees – presumably lime trees – on the eastern and northern boundaries. The site is currently occupied by Safeway’s supermarket, the construction of which, necessitated the demolition of four houses in New Hythe Lane. Two more were lost when the car park was extended several years later on.

On the opposite side of New Hythe Lane, approximately where the Methodist church stands today, there used to be a very large brick building, part of which contained a blacksmith’s forge and shop. This extended right out into what is now the carriageway of the A20 which, as a consequence, was exceedingly narrow at this point. Several adjoining cottages followed the same alignment, thus extending the constriction for some little distance towards Ditton.

The forge and the cottages were demolished to allow the bottleneck to be removed. A series of modern buildings was erected afterwards, and the first of these, nearest to New Hythe Lane, was the village bakery – Sangers. The baker’s shop itself (currently a hairdressers) was in the portion nearest to the Spotted Cow public house. The domestic quarters occupied the other half of the ground floor, and all of the first floor. This half of the building is at present an estate agent’s office. The actual bakehouse was in the existing 2-storey building that extends back directly from what used to be the bakery shop. Colin, remembered working in the ground floor section, rolling out pastry for pies and pasties etc. The village dairyman was Mr Pantney, and he and his family lived beside the dairy shop, in what is now the Thornhill Surgery. This stands on the Ditton side of a large garage which, up to the 1960’s at least, was a very much smaller concern than it is today. The proprietors were Tom Goldstone, Senior and then Junior, and they were succeeded by Ted Norman. He and his family lived in an adjoining house, which was demolished during the expansion programme.

Colin recalled helping to make ‘Flazpole‘ car polish, in about 1945, in premises at the rear of the garage. The product was mixed to a creamy consistency by hand, and it was Colin’s job to fill small cans (1/4 pint or so) with the polish, which was one of the leading products of its day.

Further down the main road, towards Ditton, and opposite the garage close to the Walnut Tree public house, there was a large area of cultivated land. This belonged to a horticultural nursery that backed onto the highest point of Fernleigh Rise. The nursery was run by Stuart Ogg – a very important person in the horticultural world of delphiniums and lupins, and someone whose reputation is still recognised. Colin Hoare‘s grandfather – Charlie Nash – worked for Stuart Ogg, and Colin recalled that there had been a tomato field before the flowers.

Michael Fuller
30/9/96
From Connie West (26/11/96)

• There was a ‘Palais de Dance’ in Larkfield road (roughly where Nat West Bank is today) The Dance Hall also contained a roller skating rink.

• Polly Keener sold shell fish from a basket at her front door of the Turnpike Cottage (see ½ way down page 4)

• Harry Aslett was the landlord in the Spotted Cow

• Flo and Basil Jones were in the Forge before Mr Terry took it over

• Doctors surgery was in the Larkfield Hall Lodge before being moved to Holtwood

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