Local Reminiscences

Memories of West Malling

By Phyllis Stevens

West Malling, a town I have loved and always thought of as home, I have decided to write my memories of the town when I was about 10 years old in 1925. I am now 89 years of age and in my memory I can still see myself emerging through the iron posts at the bottom of the path that came down from St Mary’s Church door to the top of the High Street, alas the posts have now gone and one can get a car through.

My father, Arthur George Emmerson, who was born in Southborough near Tunbridge Wells in 1887 moved with his parents, Phillip and Mary Elizabeth Emmerson, to Bidborough as my grandfather took employment with Mr Henry Wood who owned Bidborough Court. My grandfather had come from Dedham in Essex after marrying Mary Elizabeth Collins whose home was in Pennington Lane, Southborough. They had two sons and one daughter. My father went to school at Southborough and it was arranged for him to go to another school and then start work in the Post Office, but he was not at all happy as he wanted to work in the gardens, so Mr Wood had him trained to go into his estate. Mr Wood then bought the Manor House at West Malling, the last Miss Savage having died. My grandfather was moved there and my father went with him as an assistant. There were four or five other gardeners there and some of them lived in a bothy over the stables. They required a number of extra gardeners as the grounds had been badly neglected. This was in 1906.

My father married my mother, Ethel Tremlin Jones, in December 1911 at Lamberhurst and they lived in one of the Park Cottages at West Malling, which were opposite the Castle or Keep in St Leonards Street. They were very happy there especially when my brother Ernest Arthur was born with the assistance of Dr Pope, the town’s doctor. In 1914 dad was called up to go as Manager of a woman’s factory making munitions at Cliffe at Hoo. Mum went back to Lamberhurst and I was born in 1915. My Dad joined her when he was de-mobbed in 1918.

Mr Henry Wood died in 1916 and the Manor was bought by the Trustees of Frederick Andrew, a solicitor from Lincoln, who left money in his will for a house to be bought and used as a convalescent home “for poor gentlewomen striving to earn their own livelihood”. In 1919 we returned to West Malling and moved into the Lodge at the front gates of the Manor House.

The Lodge, Manor House

I was nearly four years old and my brother six or seven. He went to the Church School at the top of Church Fields and I joined him there as soon as I was five. Miss Funnell was in charge of the Infants and was helped by the Misses Hughes and Tomlin. It was a very happy school and at seven I went into the Girl’s school next door. The teachers were Miss Lester, Miss Harland, Miss Neath and two others whose names I cannot remember. I didn’t settle there so my parents sent me to Elwood School, later called St Christophers, in the High Street next to Dr Robert’s house and surgery. My brother went to the boy’s school at the bottom of the High Street near Bull Bridge, the headmaster was Mr Cheal.

I remember the High Street so well and most of the shops. Going down the High Street from opposite the Church, next to Elwood School was the house and surgery of Dr Roberts then what we always called Watery Lane but is now Water Lane. Then a few houses, a cottage called The Salt Box, Wellards a shoe repairer, Johnsons a sweet shop, Hitchcocks dairy, a coal merchant, The Bear Hotel, Newmans greengrocer, Reeds shoe shop, Hoads watchmaker, Olivers chemist, I always remember Mr Oliver because of his long beard. Next came an alley called Mairs Nest and then the Fire Station. If a maroon went off it was exciting to see the firemen on their bikes or running to get the fire engine out. The next was the yard of the George Hotel and the George itself where the gardeners of the town including the cottagers would hold their shows every month or quarter. My school used a room in the George as a gym and played tennis on their tennis court at the back.

Next to the George was Smiths who had two shops on the same side of the High Street, the first one sold household goods such as sheets, curtains, carpets, etc., then came Wellers the jeweller who visited the large houses in the district and kept their clocks in good order. Next was Griffin the ironmonger who repaired mowers and radios when they were made popular in the early 1920’s. Next was Harrington’s grocers and Carman’s a Gentleman’s Outfitters, Kents the bakers who had a Dentist upstairs which one could visit once a week, another chemist then Smith’s second shop which sold Ladies underwear, top garments and hats. So we come to the top of Swan Street, cross over and we are at the Post office and still on the same side there is Foremans bread and cake shop, selling cakes which I doubt anyone could beat. (This shop after many years was taken over by Briggs and is now a Restaurant called The Bakery.)

We are now at Mrs and Miss Brewers sweet shop which sold childrens’ sweets and sherbet fountains. This shop was a very dark small one, children were rather afraid to go in.Once more a grocers T.D.Brice, then Stedmans a stationers who sold books, paper, envelopes, cards, etc., in fact everything that one requires for writing and they also sold toys.

I find it difficult to remember what came next but I think there was an office connected to the Council and then the Westminster Bank. Now we are at The Cabin owned by Joe Martin and Mr Marten’s the fishmonger. Cross over to the West side of the High Street which runs parallel with King Street and there is Newmans a grocer, Barkaway a butcher, Fullager and Collins, drapers, a toy shop and a dairy called Armstrongs. I was very friendly with the two Armstrong daughters and my brother with the son. In the school holidays we would go down and watch them skim the cream off the milk and in the middle of the morning would be given a glass of the milk to drink.

A passage then ran from the High Street to King Street, there were quite a lot of these passages on this side of the road. Next came Norris a china shop, I am afraid I dont remember just how the different premises were except for a Public House called “The Rose and Crown”, a fruit and sweet shop and Viners which was quite a big store with a men’s department, the International Stores, the Joiners Arms, a sweet shop, Blanks the grocers and on the corner Miss Barton who was a great favourite with the children as she sold balloons, hoops, skipping ropes, tops, marbles, etc.

It was in this area that the buses turned round and of course there was a lot of open decked ones which children loved in the summer in spite of the flies, maybugs and other insects. This is where West Street comes into the High street and on its corner was a butchers called H. Dunn. I was very friendly with the daughter Joan from our early years at the infants and spent many hours in the cold store of her Father’s shop watching the sausages being made.

Going up the High Street on the West side it was nearly all houses except for The Five Pointed Star Public House and then mostly larger houses with a Nurses Home, The Vicarage, and ended at the Church and War Memorial which I can remember being unveiled in 1919.

Following on my description of West Malling High Street, I return to the top of Swan Street which is between the Post Office and Smith’s Ladies Shop. Going down on the right-hand south side we pass the Working Men’s Club which was very popular with billiards, snooker, darts, card games, etc. Next a Shoe repairers, and a man’s hairdresser. Then came an entrance to the back of the High Street shops for deliveries. Then the Swan Room which was let out for Whist drives, Concerts, Wedding Breakfasts and various other entertainments.

We now come to a large piece of land and the gate to the Abbey where nuns and monks have lived since 1090. The old building is hidden behind a very high stone wall. During the Second World War the monks living there came into the Town and were very popular with the local people. Further down Swan Street we come to a Cascade of water which flows through from the Abbey grounds. It is a stream which flows from the Manor Park lake which starts as springs round the Keep in St Leonards Street. From here there are orchards of Kentish Cobs, then the road divides into Station Road going to the station where we had steam trains going to and from London and the other road to East Malling.

The Water Cart by the Cascade in Swan Street

Returning to the High Street, on the right-hand north side we see Went House followed by a lane called Cascade Avenue commonly called Frog Lane because lots of frogs would come out of the stream onto the road. Next two houses then a Public House called The Brewers Tap. I am not too sure exactly how the rest went but I know there was Goddens who repaired carriages also their house and yard, a Wine and spirit shop, the Baptist Chapel, Dr Cole’s house, some cottages and the entrance to Police Station Road. On the opposite corner The Kent Arms, and a house, The National Provincial Bank, The Swan Hotel, a house, Styles Yard, a confectioners called Stripps, Hobdays, and Baldocks who sold nearly everything.

We now cross over the High Street and go up as far as Bartons corner and turn into West Street. On the right is a Colonnade under which is Rogers cycle shop and Smithers a grocers. I particularly remember Smithers because when you walked in the door you could smell all the goods which were in open containers including tea, coffee, etc. We pass an orchard and cottages until we come to the Gas Works where there is a gate which leads into the Cricket Meadow. I was told that the first recorded match was played in 1705. We always went to the Gardeners Annual Show on August Bank Holiday, which was always the first Monday in the month.They had a large T-shaped tent which was full of flowers, vegetables, fruit, cooked potatoes and runner beans as well as flower decorations and cakes. There was also drawings done by the schoolchildren. There was also the usual fair which was roundabouts, swings and stalls with different games and coconut shies. In the evening there was a Flannel Dance in the Badminton Hall. I once heard a gentleman say “On August Bank Holidays all roads lead to West Malling”

Another good thing in West Malling was the Operatic Society which put on a Gilbert and Sullivan opera every year. The performers were mostly local people. I can remember as a youngster going to see the “Mikado”, “The Pirates of Penzance”, “Iolanthe” and “Patience” also “Ruddigore” and “A Country Girl” which is not G and S. The school children went to see them on the Monday which was the dress rehearsal. They were all played in the Badminton Hall accompanied by an orchestra.

Another regular meeting at the Badminton Hall was “The Fanciers Society” showing Hens, Cockerels, Rabbits, Canaries and Budgerigars, not forgetting new laid eggs. It was a two day show having a night watchman to make sure that all the cages were kept locked up and nothing escaped. Regular Dances were put on several times in the year. Now we will leave the Badminton Hall and go into the Offham Road. This is a road which is all houses except that at the top we come to a Public House called “The Fountain.” We skirt round that to go into Church Fields and come to a little shop run by a little old lady who sold Aniseed Balls, Lemonade, Sherbet Powder, eucalyptus gums and bottles of Lemonade and Ginger Beer also penny bars of Nestles Chocolate and a variety of sweets in jars. Whatever you wished to buy, she would pick a square of newspaper, screw it up like a cornet and put your sweets into it. We go up the road with cottages on the left and allotments on the right until we come to the infants school and Girl’s school which had an apple tree in the middle of the playground. Now through some wooden posts like the iron ones at the end of this path at the top of the High Street.

There are such a lot of those days that I remember, being proud that my brother Ernest was solo boy in the church choir. The Rev A.W. Lawson was Vicar and Mr Cossom choir master and organist. One Easter Sunday morning the choirboys went on strike because they had not been paid their money for some previous Sundays, they stood outside the Church in their cassocks and surplices until they had been promised their money in the evening——- THE BOYS WON!!! I go down to the Iron Posts again and I am at the top of the High Street and facing me is Church House in which the Bracher family lived. I turn to the right and there is a large white house named Brome. We go round the double corner and come to the lodge at the gates of the Manor House where my parents, brother and I first lived in 1919 and to the left is the lake where my father took us in the punt to the island for picnics.

Further along the road is a cutting in the rocks which is the road to the Manor Farm, which at that time belonged to Hinge and Doubleday who had a Bailiff, Mr Waters. He never worried about us running over the farm to see the Horses, Pigs and Cows. Our greatest delight was at hop picking time when we spent most of our school holidays in the Oast houses which had three large fires on the bottom floor. The heat rising to dry the hops brought from the fields in Pokes (a sack) and spread on the top floor which was made of horse hair. The hops were then shovelled on to the floor below the Oast floor and pressed into pockets (very big long sacks), then dropped to the bottom floor where we enjoyed stencilling the date etc., on them. In the evening we would take some potatoes up to the oast house and the drier would put them in the pile of hot ashes that was under the fires and later we would fetch them and have them for supper with plenty of butter.

Those days were the happiest that I can remember of my childhood days and we were very lucky to be in such an interesting place. There are still places that I have not told you about. New Barn, Bo Peep where one of the butchers kept his sheep before sending them to the slaughter house in King Street. Banky Meadows where we tobogganed when the snow was on the ground, unfortunate for those who went in the stream at the bottom if it was not frozen. There was also a very old house called Fartherwell Hall, park and grounds.

Now I can only thank my ancestors who passed on to me a very good memory to enable me to write about “The Town of West Malling”. in the 1920’s.

My Grandparents Phillip William Emmerson & Mary Elizabeth (nee Collins)


Once again I am putting pen to paper about people, buildings and my life in West Malling. I have been sent some old photographs and memories by Merralls Martin, the eldest son of dear old Joe Martin (Ernest Joseph Martin) who went to school with my father Arthur Emmerson at Southborough near Tunbridge Wells and later settled in West Malling opening the first Cabin sweetshop at the bottom of the High Street, next to Martens the fishmongers which was near the Bull Public House. My brother Ernest and I would go to The Cabin every Saturday to spend some of our pocket money, four pennies for sweets and two pennies to save for birthday and Christmas presents. We often had a penny ice cream which Joe made in an old fashioned bucket which had ice in it and a handle to turn. Joe Martin was married with three sons and always seemed a happy man and Merralls describes him as a joy to live with.

Merralls remembers going to Miss Buttericks school at the top of the High Street and one of the teachers named Molly Weller who was the daughter of Mr Weller the clocksmith/jeweller who had a little pony and trap which he used to collect and deliver clocks and watches and visit the larger houses to wind their clocks. Merralls was born at the “little” Cabin at the foot of the High Street in a room in the roof which was part of next door, Martens the fishmongers. The room had no door or window and was painted blue and was grandly referred to by his parents as The Blue Room. There was just room for a double bed in it with a crib for the baby. A little landing outside the opening from the room led down into their house. They rented the “little” Cabin which was later sold and pulled down so the Westminster Bank could be enlarged. He also remembers a Miss Hughes, one of the teachers at the Church School at the top of Church Fields, trying to teach him how to play the piano but in the end she said she could not take the shilling for his lessons as he would never be able to play a musical instrument. Miss Hughes lived in one of the row of cottages at the foot of Banky Meadows on the London Road. The little stream from Banky Meadows ran past her cottage and when he was sitting in her front room playing the piano, he could hear the steam bubbling past the cottages. He later went to the Boys School near the Bull Bridge. The headmaster was Mr Bill Moore who lived at Teston and cycled to Malling every day.

Joe Martin bought the watch repairers shop that belonged to Eustace Hoad and altered it considerably into a much larger shop , again calling it The Cabin. When we were teenagers we would go in for a drink of lemonade and to talk with the lads from the Leybourne Cricket Team. My brother Ern was a member of this cricket team. Joe died in 1945 and was very much missed.

I remember Christmas Eve in the town when people would do their last minute shopping. The shops were brightly lit and the light shone out onto the pavement. The local brass band played carols and Christmas music and during the evening the Church Choir carried a small organ and wearing their cassocks and surplices sang carols. The Mummers dressed in old clothes and caps and with soot on their faces would go from shop to shop reciting small rhymes and holding out a tin for a donation. The only rhyme I can remember is:-

“Here comes I little Jimmy the sweep

All the monies I earns I keeps

All the bread and cheese I rolls up my sleeve

Ladies and Gentlemen

Give me what you please”

I remember my father going into Mr Harrington’s shop to buy some sherry glasses for Christmas and having picked out some nice ones, he asked their price. Mr Harrington said they could not be sold but that he could lend them. My father protested but Mr Harrington would not be moved. He wrapped them up and gave them to my father. I think it is possible that Mr Harrington had been celebrating the season too much and no doubt my father paid for the glasses later.

My father always gave Miss Funnel a Christmas Tree for the Infants School every year and she would collect donations to enable her to buy each child a small present which was put on the tree.

Another annual celebration was Empire Day on the 24th May. We were given a half day off school. In the morning we went into school and went in a crocodile line to the High Street where the buses turned round before going on their way to Chatham, Maidstone and Wrotham. The vicar would give a talk and then Arthur Jolly, one of the best male singers in the Choir would sing “Land of Hope and Glory”. We then all trooped back to school where we were given a boiled sweet and sent home.

On 19th July 1919 the whole town celebrated the end of the 1914-18 war. Twelve children were dressed as red, white and blue flowers, Irene Pickup and I were dressed as lilies. My brother was dressed as a fisherboy carrying a net with a large fish it. The day was hot and caused the fish to smell strongly and it was later thrown away. The older children danced round the Maypole.

About 11th November, on Armistice Sunday, there was always a gathering at the War Memorial which is on the edge of the road near the church. A band played and marched from Station Road to the Church followed by the veterans. The Vicar held a service with the choir and a trumpeter would sound the “Last Post”.

In my previous article about the shops and houses in the High Street I missed out two houses which I will describe here. On the west side towards the church was a house called Wisteria House where Dr John Vincent Bates lived. I remember him living there when I was about four years old and was still there in 1947. His wife would drive him around in his car to all his patients. Just above his house in the roadway was the old Town Pump. This was its original position but during the Second World War it was hit by a lorry driven by men serving in the Royal Engineers. It was repaired and replaced on the pavement


Wisteria House

On the same side of the road was a rather nice house in which lived Mr and Mrs Leonard Robinson and their daughter Vivienne nicknamed Bunty with whom I played when we were young. Close to this house was a shop which sold radios, it was a garage originally but on the shutter door was printed the advertisement “Pennell Bros have gone home to their Philco”.

There were a lot of games played in West Malling. Cricket in the summer, football and hockey in winter, badminton in the Badminton Hall and tennis on the courts in the cricket meadow.

Now some memories of the Manor House where my grandfather and father were head gardeners. Mr Henry Wood who owned the Manor died in 1916 and it was sold to the Trustees of Frederick Andrew a solicitor of Lincoln who left enough money to buy a Convalescent Home for ladies striving to earn their own living. It was opened in 1921. I remember my brother and myself sitting on the bank halfway up the drive under the large horse chestnut tree a few days before the house was opened, making herring bones with the leaves . My father, Arthur Emmerson, took over as Head Gardener in 1924 after my grandfather Philip Emmerson moved to Shropshire to be Head Gardener at Meeson Hall in Wellington.

My mother Ethel Emmerson with the eight maids
Top Row – Unknown, Violet ?, Ethel Emmerson, Louie Hunt, Ethel Wood.
Mary Wood, May Attwood, Rachel? Eva Underdown.

The matron was a Miss Russell and there were eight maids. Dr Genney was the Chairman and the rest of the Trustees were Lincolnshire gentlemen. The secretary was Mr T. Friswell and they lived in the stable area. We lived in the Lodge where we were very happy in spite of me getting diphtheria. Two other children in the town also caught it and one little boy died. The Lodge was thoroughly cleaned and the drains were tested but where I picked it up was never discovered. I was taken to East Malling Isolation Hospital and my parents and grandfather would come and see me through the window. I was taken there in a horse drawn ambulance but returned home in a taxi with the Matron. I had been given a wax doll and was very upset because I had to leave it at the Isolation Hospital as it could not be baked in the oven to sterilise it. At the Lodge we were pestered by mosquitoes coming off the lake in the summer and in the mornings my eyelids were so badly bitten I could not open my eyes. I remember my mother going round at night with a rolled up newspaper trying to kill them. I was very happy at school and I could get home by going through the private gate from the churchyard into the Manor grounds. My father would open it for me as I was too small to reach through the bars at the top to open it.

Dr Genny, Mrs Paul and Miss Russell (Matron)

Miss Russell, the matron, left and Mrs Paul took over. It was a great change because she had a family of one girl, Doreen, and two boys, Douglas and Gordon. The two boys were very fond of my parents and were with us a lot when they were home from boarding school. Their father, Rupert Paul, worked in London and came down at weekends when we would sit outside in the summer and he would entertain us with stories he had made up about a character called Toddy. Mrs Paul would arrange musical evenings which were held in the Music Room on Saturdays in the winter. Christmas was celebrated with a large Christmas tree in the Hall or Conservatory and I remember my brother Ernest, Tom Smith (the coachman’s son) and myself singing Good King Wenceslas”. My brother was the King, Tom was the poor man and I was the page. The audience were the patients and some of the local shop owners. In the summer the musical evenings were held under the beech tree on the lawn. A piano was put on a support so Mrs Paul did not get her feet wet.

We later moved into the stable block which was called The Larches and the Smith family lived next door. The Smith children were Walter, Tom, Marjorie and Harold. Their father was the coachman and he looked after Jack the horse who drew the wagon, carriage and dog carts. He would meet the patients at the station with the carriage and drove them through the town to the Manor. In good weather Jack was put in the park and we were delighted to be given a ride on his back. We would often play in the stables on wet days. There were six stalls for horses and this gave us plenty of room to push each other up and down in a large wheelchair which was kept there. We also played theatres in the coach house and harness room and our parents and the Paul children would come to see our productions. We also played Tip and Run outside the coach house door, clock golf, cowboys and indians on the rocks by the back drive gate, wooden hoops for the girls and metal ones for the boys with a hook to make them go and we children found a way to get into the boathouse on the lake without unlocking the door.

Back drive gate with the rocks on left

The local Conservative Party started a society for children called The Young Britons. My brother was secretary and I was on the committee. We all paid sixpence and were made members after we had stood under the Union Jack flag and repeated a promise. We had talks and games, the girls were taught to knit and crochet and I remember winning a competition, the prize being a book about Captain Cook. The older teenagers were called The Junior Imperial League.

Gordon Paul had a crystal set in one of the bedrooms at the top of the Manor House and we would listen to a man saying 2LO, Handley Page calling, a man or lady singing and Croydon airport calling. Later Gordon made us a wireless set on top of an upside down box, it had two pairs of earphones attached so my parents, my brother and I could have one earphone each. On top of the box were two valves and on the side two coils. There were also an accumulator and a dry battery. We took out our first Radio Licence on 29th February 1924. We always enjoyed listening to Childrens Hour when Uncle Peter would tell children where they could find their birthday presents. Later we listened to Jack Payne and Henry Hall’s Band and my parents enjoyed The Savoy Orpheus Orchestra which played late at night.

After Mrs Paul left the Manor before the war, Miss Townsend took over as Matron with an assistant Mrs Lyne who carried on after Miss Townsend retired. The running of the house changed, Jack the horse went and a car with a chauffer was bought.

Miss Townsend and children 1927

12th May 1937 was Coronation Day for George VI and we had great celebrations in the Town. People dressed up and there was a parade including the Gardeners Society and this finished in the cricket meadow where there was a fair and children racing for prizes. There was a fancy dress competition and Freda Barton’s granddaughter Jean won first prize with my old doll and pram.

Merralls Martin told me an interesting story from the second world war about the German planes which on their way back from bombing London, started shooting at the people picking hops. The farmers stopped this by cutting the hop bines and distributing them to the local people’s homes in the morning so they could pick the hops off the bines in their own gardens.

Hop pickers in the cottage gardens near Churchfields 1940.

Wartime was not very good for us as we were so close to the aerodrome and the Manor House was turned into an Officers Mess. In the cellar, the RAF officers made a bar room and they called it “Twitch Inn”. They called it this because their nerves before flying gave them a twitch. They got into the cellar from a stairway which was underneath a wooden serving bench outside the dining room door. My father was still in charge of the estate, park and lake and the officers were not allowed into the gardens or grounds, a rule which was often broken. We also had evacuees in the town and my father came home one day after helping distribute them among local families, with two sisters from London. They soon settled with us and stayed until Christine, the eldest one, was awarded a scholarship to a Grammar School in Canterbury. It was surprising that we had evacuees in the town as we were bombarded with Doodle bugs and rockets. There were two big guns in the park and the German planes tried to destroy them.

My father continued working in the Manor grounds during the war. Four of his men were called up so he had to manage with a retired helper, Freda Barton’s son Lesley and a land army girl, Dorothy Baker, daughter of the postman. There was a lot to do keeping the place running and this included keeping hives of bees. In the summer the bees swarmed out of the hives with a new Queen bee. My father would find the swarms which had to be smoked and knocked into a skip, often up a ladder as they had settled in a tree, and transfer them to a hive. The honey from the hives, fruit, vegetables and salad were sold by the shops in the town. In the winter my father was allowed an extra ration of sugar to make a syrup to feed the bees. He was also a Special Constable and went out on patrol at night.

Merralls Martin remembers when Wickens Row, next to The Salt Box, was bombed during the War and the wife and little daughters of Sgt Driver were killed. The body of the baby girl was found the next morning on the manure heap in Schofield’s yard by the ARP who Merralls and his friend “Bishop” Pope were helping. After Wickens Row there was a sweet shop run by Mr Wingate who later moved to the Five Pointed Star. Merralls father Joe Martin was wearing his one and only suit one night to a function. Returning home he got to Smiths corner shop at the top of Swan Street when a bomb came down. He told his wife where he had been and she said she expected he would have got down on the ground with all the sharp pieces of glass flying around from the shattered shop front. Joe had to admit that he had stayed on his feet because he had got his suit on.

I would like to thank Merralls for his memories and photographs of West Malling which is the place I have always loved although it has changed a lot over the years, the Manor estate being developed, different shops, the Farmers Market, Public Houses changing their names and the gardens at the back of the shops made into a car park. I hope our memories will give a picture of how it used to be.

The Manor House, West Malling

Aerial Photograph of the Manor House and grounds taken c1929/30

St Leonards House, Douces Manor, The Manor House, West Malling, how did it begin?

From my research, I am inclined to believe that it was built by a Benjamin Hubble. In a list of Freeholders of West Malling, he appears in 1714 & 1715 where he is joined by a son who is with him until 1723 and from then there is only one Hubble again to 1730. Benjamin, who died on the 24 April 1745, had a son Benjamin baptised at West Malling on 13 August 1714 who married Ann Savage, daughter of John Savage of Boughton Monchelsea. They had ten children and lost quite a lot of them while young but when Benjamin died he left St Leonards House to his two daughters Margaret and Catherine. I have seen engraved on two of the bricks of the stables “ BH1738“ which could mean that the stables were built about 1738 and probably the house about the same time. His daughter Margaret Hubble married Thomas Augustus Douce by Licence at St Catherines Coleman in London on the 30th September 1777 and later Thomas Douce bought his sister-in-law Catherine Hubbles’s half of the Estate. After they were settled Thomas made a lot of alterations, pushing the lake further into the Park away from the house and making a new road beside the lake and the old St Leonards Street became his front and back drive. This meant moving a lot of soil.

Thomas died on the 30th August 1802 at the age of 55 and his wife Margaret died on the 14 October 1809. As far as I know the Douces continued to live in St Leonards House for a while, then some of the family moved to Detling.

John Banks of Halling, Kent, arranged to buy St Leonards House but unfortunately died before it was settled so it was left in the hands of his executors Mr J.E. Morton and Mr Silas Norton. During this time the house was let to Caroline Cornwallis who had 6 servants, a coachman and 2 Agricultural labourers. The Executors of John Bank’s Will continued to buy land etc., and eventually sold the estate to Captain John Savage.

Captain John Savage, Deputy Lieutenant & Magistrate of Kent now moved into St Leonards House in 1851 with his family which comprised of his second wife Sarah Charlotte (nee Duppa formerly Hancorn) from Hollingbourne and his two daughters Elizabeth and Theodosia who were born in India. He lived there until he died on the 2nd May 1867. His wife died on the 19th May 1873 aged 55. Elizabeth and Theodosia continued to live at St Leonards until Elizabeth the eldest daughter died in 1902. Theodosia stayed on until she died on the 10th of October 1906 aged 75.

The estate was then acquired by Mr Henry Joseph Wood of Bidborough Court and from then on St Leonards House was called The Manor House. He built some extensions on the back of the house and he also built a conservatory or Winter Garden with what was called the Birds Cage which led down to the Music Room.

Conservatory and Italian Garden

Mr Henry Wood carried out extensive repairs and alterations, building the two wings facing the yard with flat roofs, the entrance Lodge bungalow and converted part of the stables into garages and a chauffeur’s cottage. He also had a Tennis Court made on the lawn that was outside the West wall of the kitchen garden.

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden was a square enclosure surrounded by high brick walls with paths that crossed in the middle which had rose arches at intervals going across them from north to south, east to west and round the four large beds. Box hedges edged the gravel paths. On the walls were peaches, apples, nectarines, Morella cherries, plums and pears. Blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries were grown plus a very large bed of asparagus as well as the usual vegetables. There were five or six gardeners who kept the gardens in order. Altogether with the five large greenhouses on the north wall it looked pretty good as Rudyard Kipling said in his poem “The Glory of the Garden”, “Such gardens are not made by singing ‘oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” In the greenhouses grapes and tomatoes were grown and various bedding out plants and vegetables. The soil used for potting was made with soil from a turf stack that was made with turves from the apple and pear orchard behind the Potting shed and mixed with other ingredients. It was probably like John Innes that we use today. On the inside of the south wall is an engine room where the electricity was made for the lights in the house. There were large batteries which filled up with current when the engine was driving the generators. Mr Wood continued to improve the estate until he died in 1916.

Horse and carriage taken c 1922

It was then that the Trustees of Frederick Andrew bought the Manor House to make a Convalescent Home for Ladies. This opened for use in April 1921.

Dr. F.S.Genney of Lincoln was Chairman of the trustees and Nurse Esme Russell was the Matron. There were 17 bedrooms available for patients or visitors who were given three weeks holiday and were treated very well. The house was beautifully furnished and comprised of a vestibule with polished oak flooring, which led into a spacious main hall.

The Main Hall and Staircase

The main rooms were the Library, Drawing Room, Dining Room and the Morning Room which was used as an office for meetings and by the General Secretary. There was also a Music Room which was fully panelled with Cedar of Lebanon wood which had a marvellous scent. Going upstairs by the main staircase, which had newel posts headed with carved lions, was a main landing with bedrooms named “Carholme”, “Cross O Cliffe”, “ The Forth Northern”, “Cleethorpes”, ”Fosdyke”, “The Albion”, “Broadgate” and so on, all given Lincolnshire names. The food storeroom was called Nesdale, a cloakroom called Boutham and a cloakroom called Monk’s Abbey. There were about seven maids and a cook.

There was a change of Matron in 1922 and things were rather different especially during the winter as most Saturday evenings she organised a musical evening when visitors, staff and a few of the local people assembled in the Music Room for entertainment by all those present, including the children of the estate. In the summer there was the same thing on the main lawn where the Seasons Statues looked on from their small stone pillars. It was quite good fun for the younger generation.

The Four Seasons Border

From the main lawn a path led to a gate that went into the Churchyard. The path also went through a small wood which in the spring was covered in snowdrops. In the wood there was another path that went past the Potting Shed and on to the Lavender Walk, again covered with rose arches which looked beautiful in the summer.

The Gardeners taken c 1922

The head gardener moved to Shropshire in 1924 so there was a general move up with the outside staff. Ned Morgan, Ted Bates, and Edwin Broad remained and Les Barton was taken on. During this year the grounds and all the estate were opened to the public. A small charge was made which went to the Nurses home. At the top of the path which passed the tennis courts and herbaceous border and turning to the right you would see a house which was called Ewell Cottage, later renamed Lindum (Lincoln) House, not very far from the Ewell hop garden. Entering the framing ground there was the propagating pit which got very hot and was used for growing melons, cucumbers etc. There were also a lot of other frames and not far from this was the wood shed and a shelter where the wheelbarrows were kept.

Ewell Cottage

The estate went on very much the same, staff left and were replaced, also the Matrons. Miss Norah Townsend was there in 1927 and then Mrs Lyne who had been assistant and stayed until the Second World War began.

Quite a lot changed in the gardens. The tennis courts were replaced with an eighteen hole putting green which was better for convalescent people. Leslie Bennett and Cecil Large joined the outside staff when the two older men retired. When the Second World War began everything changed, and soon the Manor was turned into an RAF Officer’s mess. The panelled walls were all covered with chip board for protection, the furniture most of which was antique was put into storage, the Matron retired and notices were put up in the grounds to tell the Officers that most of the grounds were out of bounds to them. These notices incidently disappeared in about two days. With the airfield so near life was not exactly happy. One thing the Officers did which has remained to this day was to make a Bar in the cellars of the house which they called Twitch Inn, on the walls and ceilings are the names of Pilots, Navigators etc., The young gardeners were called up and the grounds were tended by the older men and two land army girls who were very good. Most of the fruit and vegetables, also honey from the hives, was sold in the local shops and I am sure that most people were pleased to get such fresh vegetables. When the War ended the men came back. The five greenhouses in the kitchen garden were taken down and one large one put up in the framing grounds. The financial state had changed so in 1968 the house was put on the market. It did not sell straight away but was eventually sold to become a restaurant. Then it was purchased by an insurance company and it will now probably be converted into flats in the house and houses in the grounds.

I wonder how many people have walked up the front drive on an autumn evening, tired after a days work and seen a very large Harvest moon reflected in the lake, owls hooting over by the church and every where bathed in moonlight; it was magic and one I cannot forget. In the years to come I hope others will get the same feeling as I did.

By Phyllis E. Stevens Copyright 2006

Here are a couple of very interesting local reads. Both available at The Twitch Inn Heritage Centre on opening days.

Addington – £14.99

The Life Story of a Kentish Village by Patricia Richardson

This is the story of a small Kentish village near West Malling in which stand two separate prehistoric monuments.

Nelson was the pupil and close friend of one of Addington’s residents, Captain William Locker.

The book describes the homes, the environment, agriculture and people’s lives over the millennia.

Also available on Amazon



West Malling Town Walk : Distance 2km or 1 hour’s gentle stroll  – £1.00