A walk into town from Verralls Corner

Bill Curtis

The photographs chosen to illustrate this particular walk from the west-end of the High Street into the centre of town span the years 1900 to 1952, each with a story to tell. There have been few changes during that time, the most significant being the bombing of two of the brewery cottages during WWII. The cottages can still be seen standing in two of the views to follow. The Black Eagle brewery owned all of the houses on the north side of the High Street from the General Wolfe pub up to and including the Warde Arms.

This first picture shows Ellen King enjoying the sunshine with her daughters Eva and Ethel outside 'The Cottage' circa 1908. This house is unmistakeable today, even having kept its metal railings. Only the charming pergola has gone, though there are still roses round the door.
Frederick George Benson opened his photography business in 1901 at the age of 25 at Roseville next door to 'The Cottage' on the north side of the High Street. Here he offered 'Opal and Carbon Enlargements' alongside Picture Framing and Picture Copying. Benson was also practising as one of the town's three taxidermists in the early 1900s and all were local photographers. In Hooker's Almanack he advertised '...Horns and Heads Polished and Mounted, and Animals, Reptiles, Birds and Fish Dressed and Mounted as Life..." He married Nellie Edith Bond in 1906 and moved his business across the road into one of local builder Thomas Weller's new houses which he named 'Keswick Studio'.
When the London Meat Supply Company arrived in 1906, they took out the whole wall for a shop window and put in a door as well, suggesting their shop was 'stand-alone' in the building. At that time they were one of eight butchers in the town and lasted on that site until around 1912.
Walking further up the road into town circa 1910, a look back down the High Street to the forge on Verralls corner would reward the onlooker with the view shown here in an aquatint photo-postcard. Foreground right is Edwin Woods saddlery and the Warde Arms, while on the left opposite the Warde Arms can be seen half of the word 'Garage' with an 'AA' sign above it. This was G. T. Taylor's garage, set back from the pavement on the site now occupied by 'General Wolfe House' a modern office complex still set back from the pavement with workers' car parking in front.
In 1908, twenty-eight year-old George Thomas Taylor, a Motor and Cycle Engineer from Westbury, Wiltshire came to Westerham and opened a garage on the High Street opposite the Warde Arms. This garage survived until 1923 when it was sold as a going concern to one Harry H. Ryall who redeveloped it as 'Westerham Motor Garage'. Ryall did not stay too long and 'The Westerham Motor Garage' subsequently went on to be managed by forty-eight year-old Charles Woollett from 1928 through to 1938, during which time it was known locally as 'Woolletts'. It remained closed throughout the second world war, but in 1945 a company called Brittain Engineering came to Westerham and bought the interests in the garage. It was renamed 'Brittains Westerham Motor Garage Ltd' in which guise it lasted until the mid 1980s.
This photograph, and the next one, date from May 12th 1937 and show bunting and flags that were hung around the town to celebrate the coronation of George VI and Elizabeth on that day. Just before the bend on the right hand side of the road can be seen four brewery cottages. Within five years from when this photograph was taken this row of four cottages would be reduced to two when part of a stick of bombs landed there.
Looking back towards the town we see the High Street festooned with bunting and flags. The second house in on the right hand side has a sign projected from the front windows saying 'MODEL LAUNDRY - Dyeing & Cleaning'. This was the business of William Burgess and his wife Agnes who worked in a large shed in the back garden of this domestic house with their son Robert who was just sixteen at that time. On the extreme left of the photograph can just be seen the boundary wall of A. C. (Charlie) Sharp's garage, one of two at this end of town, and competition for Charles Woolletts' Westerham Motor Garage just out of frame on the extreme right of this picture.
The Morris Commercial PV van went into full production in 1946 and this one was sold to the Burgess family around that time. Prior to this the Model Laundry had a smaller Austin van, driven by their son Robert from about 1938.
Further up the High Street this 'posed' photograph dates from circa 1909 and shows the entrance of New Street on the left just before the single-storey shops that still exist today. In the foreground, George Clarkes' Saddlery is today a Dental Spa. The first shop on the corner of New Street is that of Henry Edgar Townsend, bootmaker and dealer. The next shop is 'Hope Cottage Bazaar' run by Mary Garratt, purveyor of 'bright tinware and other bazaar items'. The large building just beyond the two single-storey shops was the original Victorian 'Royal Standard' pub as can be seen in the following two photographs...
This photograph from circa 1920 shows the right-hand end of the original 'Royal Standard' - the last pub to be opened in the town and the first to be demolished. Just beyond the pub were two shops that have also gone. The first, beside the pub, a gent's hairdressers for many years: Margaret Brown “...I remember taking my brother for a haircut when he was tiny. Lots of boys used to go to Mr Freake at the bottom of Vicarage Hill, but I used to take him to Mr Stanton’s little barbers shop by the ‘Royal Standard’ in the High Street. Townsend’s shoe shop was on the corner of New Street and there was a funny little tea shop next door called ‘Gutsell’s’ and then Bert Stanton’s gent’s hairdressers was on the other side of that. I had to take him during the week though, as he wouldn’t do boys on a Saturday, that was reserved for the working men.” The adjoining shop was a tobacconist and newsagents run by William and Lily Bowra. Beyond that the imposing frontage and porch of the Public Hall can be seen.
This charming photograph can be fairly accurately dated at around 1904 as the brewer's promotional slogan in the window advertises 'Blighs Superior Sevenoaks Ales' which were about to disappear as the Sevenoaks Brewery had been bought out by Ben Bushell of Westerham's Black Eagle Brewery. The notice perched above and between the polychromatic brick arched doorways stated 'Good Stabling To Let'. The little boy who has assumed a rather jaunty pose against the doorway doesn't feel like he is part of the family standing together. He is somewhat more smartly dressed with his suit and little felt hat and what is either a handkerchief or a buttonhole flower - a bit of a rebel stealing attention perhaps...?
Walking on past the Public Hall and looking back would give the view shown here in another 'posed' photograph circa 1904. Many working men wore a bowler hat at that time. The man in the white apron is likely one of Charles Hooker's printers from the 'Herald Steam Printing Works' just out of shot on the right of the photograph. The lady on the steps of the Hall is Fanny Goodfellow, the live-in Hallkeeper at that time, and just beyond the Hall can be seen the corner windows of Bowras' tobacconists shop.
This unusual picture offers some rare detail. Unusual because the framing is strange - where was the eye being led and what was the story attempting to convey? There is just enough of Charles Hooker's 'Herald Steam Printing Works' for us to determine what it was. On the right a view that cannot be seen today because of a scruffy, tall privet hedge, but circa 1904, the little white weatherboard 'Bank Cottages' can be clearly seen next door to the site of 'Park View Laundry'. Today the area contains a modern development called 'Wells Close' in memory of Beryl Wells who ran the last laundry on the site. At the time the photograph was taken, the Proprietors were William and Mary Wallace who lived at 'Bellview' in New Street, opposite Burgess' yard.
This informative advertisement from Hooker's Almanack of 1899 was written with pride. In an earlier advertisement of 1891 Mrs Wallace promoted herself as 'Formerly Laundress to the Hon. Mrs. Warde of Squerryes Court. At the time these advertisements were produced very few roads had names and none of the houses were numbered, hence 'Note the Address...'

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