A walk down the London Road

Bill Curtis

The London Road has possibly seen more changes than most other areas around Westerham.  In living memory, Costell’s Meadow and the Market Field have come and gone, taking with them the Women’s Institute, the Girl Guides hut, ‘Hollybob’s Ranch’ (John Hollingworth’s Nursery field), and the WWII Ministry of Supply ‘Buffer Depot’ beside the railway yard.

This first picture taken in the 1880s is not easily recognisable today, as it shows the original tile-hung terraced cottages that stood at the top of London Road. Down the road, beyond, but in line with the horse, stands The Swan Beer House – now ‘Castle Antiques’ – then owned by Watkins and Son, brewers at the bottom of Hosey Hill. The row of cottages to the right of the beer house, known as ‘Knipe’s Cottages’ were also tile hung at this time, hiding a timber frame of great antiquity.

From 1900, the stretch of London Road from Madan Road to the railway station was known, not surprisingly, as 'Station Road'. In 1883 the 'Crown Family & Commercial Hotel' was built opposite the railway station.  An application by Watkins brewery for a license to sell wines, spirits and beer was opposed by Nalder and Collyer, brewery owners of the George and Dragon along with vigorous opposition from Mr Hadley, proprietor of The Kings Arms.  Messrs Watkins and Son cunningly withdrew application for renewal of the license on their little Swan Beer House, and the bench granted the new license for The Crown... The Swan Beer House (now Castle Antiques) became the Swan Coffee Tavern.
1890 advertisement from Hookers Almanack for that year. The 'livery and bait stables' being advertised would have offered horses for hire, as well as stabling and feeding for client's horses - hence the need for both terms. It is likely that there would have been an arrangement between the hotel and John Townsend, proprietor of the Warde Arms and carrier who owned commodious stables behind the railway station from which he hired out carriages and offered a full livery service. Townsend was a very interesting man who started out as a 'colt breaker' and became known over time as Westerham's 'horse whisperer'.
This aerial photograph from the 1940s shows the large Nissen Hut and three long sheds that collectively were the Ministry of Supply 'Buffer Depot' beside the railway used for storing consumables on ration. To the right of the long sheds can be seen the Bowls Club's new bowling green yet to acquire a clubhouse. Just below and to the right of the picture, John Hollingworth's nursery field, known to locals as 'Hollybob's Ranch'. Below that, in the centre of the picture is the Cattle Market and livestock pens, and the curve-roofed building below the market is the Women's Institute with the Girl Guide's hut attached on the right hand side.
Much of this land was consumed with the building of Quebec Avenue and the surrounding cul-de-sacs after the market was closed. Probably the most dramatic change to the area was the clearing of the site of London Road Nurseries in 1964 and the building of the (then) futuristic looking and award winning industrial development that was Rowley Atterbury's Westerham Press.
Westerham Press was to last a little over twenty two years before a hostile buyout and relocation conferred this innovative local business to the annals of history. Around 1990 the vacant building was demolished, and the site redeveloped with flats and housing. What became ‘Atterbury Close’ was the last major change in this area, apart from the demise of The Crown Hotel just around the corner. The Crown had outlived the railway it was built to serve by some thirty years, but it too had to go in 1991. It was pulled down and replaced by a modern office block which to this day, looks somewhat incongruous and misplaced. Many have argued that the hotel could have been restructured internally to provide office accommodation and so retain the old world charm of a previous age on the site. The office development that replaced it is called the Crown, and displays the original sculpted emblem from the roof frontage of its predecessor in the surrounding gardens so the site can still be located.
The Crown Family and Commercial Hotel was built in 1883, two years after the opening of the Westerham Valley Railway and it is, perhaps, interesting that it was not called the Station Hotel. Originally described as “…contains superior accommodation for Families, Commercials, Private Parties &c. The rooms are lofty, commodious, pleasant and well ventilated, with private entrance…” It was to last only 108 years.
Not all buildings are demolished when their original purpose has ceased, however. The low white building the car is just passing in this 1920s photograph was built in the early 1900s as a corn store. It survived fulfilling this purpose until Charlton's the corn chandler went out of business in the 1960s. It was then rented to a variety of small businesses until it was bought up by a Veterinary Practice in 2012 and completely rebuilt internally with air conditioned reception area, consulting rooms, operating theatre and recuperation space for several dogs, cats and other pets. Externally the building retains much of its original look albeit functional without style.

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