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Published on September 10th, 2013 | by The Town Crier


Heritage Open Days Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th September 2013

The second weekend of September – Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th – is a great opportunity to learn more about local history, architecture and culture – and all entirely free of charge. The nationwide Heritage Open Days programme has around 4,500 venues opening their doors or events put on by local people to celebrate their community history – making Heritage Open Days the largest volunteer run cultural event in England. In Kent there will be over 150 venues and events – of which about 50 are in and around Tunbridge Wells.

Among the new events is the rare chance to book a visit to a Cold War relic – an underground monitoring post at a strategic high point in the West Kent countryside.  This is strictly something for those capable of clambering down a fifteen feet vertical ladder. Another underground site which is rather easier to access is the World War II air raid shelter under the playground of St Matthew’s School, High Brooms.  Here the pupils sheltered when the first ever unexploded doodlebug was made safe further along Powder Mill Lane.

At a time when the Old Forge in many villages has become nothing more than a place name, do not miss the opportunity to see a demonstration of traditional blacksmithing in Horsmonden, a village where iron has been part of the local heritage for centuries. Another traditional craft being demonstrated is flour milling, at the Cranbrook Union Mill.  The tallest surviving smock mill in England is fully operational – when the wind blows.  In Tunbridge Wells, the old wine vaults are open to visitors in what is now the Adena fireplace showroom. Enjoy the archives of Barsleys of Paddock Wood, now a traditional family department store but originally a village tailor. Explore the history of other local industries and businesses now vanished with two walks. One links sites associated with the making of the distinctive wooden souvenir Tunbridge Ware, the other the lost shops and small businesses of High Brooms.

Several fine historic houses will be open.  Somerhill was a seventeenth century manor house, whose domain covered much of the Tunbridge Wells area.  Salomons was the Southborough home of a nineteenth century Jewish human rights campaigner – among the highlights are the science theatre and the stable block.  Calverley Hill and Willicombe House are both Tunbridge Wells houses designed by William Willicombe and now providing different forms of supported housing. By contrast, Hoppers in Five Oak Green – at one point a public house and now a Christian residential centre – started out as a modest terrace of agricultural cottages in the seventeenth century.

West Kent is a particularly good area for those who appreciate the craft of stained glass making. St John’s Church in Groombridge has seventeenth century stained glass, dating from the time when the church was a private chapel on the estate of a gentleman employed in Charles I‘s household. St Mary’s Speldhurst has a set of magnificent windows designed by William Morris and Edward Burne Jones. Pembury Upper Church’s delightful window of Saint Elizabeth is the work of twentieth century artist Leonard Walker. The windows in the former Pembury Workhouse Chapel (in the grounds of the new hospital) commemorate some of the benefactors and social reformers, who will feature in a talk about the workhouse and the hospital.  An outstanding example of a stained glass window in a municipal building is the depiction of Athena by Dudley Forsyth at the Tunbridge Wells Adult Education Centre.  Book in at the Centre for a taster session on enhancing your appreciation of the local heritage.

An unusual exhibition at Woodhurst, a private house in Paddock Wood, is the work of a thirties’ fashion student studying in the building which is now the Tunbridge Wells Adult Education Centre but was then the Tunbridge Wells Art School. The portfolio displayed in Lockie Homewood’s former home captures perfectly the style of the era, the models complete with fur coats and cigarettes in hand.

There is a chance to explore historic landscapes at High Rocks – a Neolithic site and scheduled ancient monument; the ancient heathland of Tunbridge Wells Common; the town’s Victorian Woodbury Park Cemetery; Paddock Wood’s Old Closed Churchyard; the former Tunbridge Wells farmland transformed into the municipal Grosvenor and Hilbert Park; and the new sports facilities in Paddock Wood.  Guided walks are also taking place around the Borough, in the Wealden wool town of Cranbrook, Southborough, Rusthall and in three varied Tunbridge Wells neighbourhoods – the Pantiles, Mount Ephraim and St John’s.

There will be behind-the-scenes tours in two theatres, The Assembly Hall Theatre and Trinity. Other buildings welcoming visitors are the tiny animal pound in Tunbridge Wells, St Barnabas School, typical of the Victorian church schools to be found across England, and the Masonic Hall in Paddock Wood.

There are a wide range of community exhibitions: Capel’s Art, Craft and Music Festival among the medieval wall paintings of St Thomas Church; in Tunbridge Wells displays about the history of church and locality at both St Barnabas’ and St James’s Churches. Paddock Wood has three exhibitions, one on the theme of childhood and two on the history of the town, while Southborough marks the town’s Royal Connections with a display in Christ Church. The fine community history collections in Cranbrook museum are open free of charge for this event. Finally, there is the opportunity to book a visit to the Abergavenny Archives at Eridge Park.

The area’s Christian heritage stretches back over a millennium.  The span of history spreads from tenth century St Martin’s Ashurst, originally a monk’s house, through twelfth century St John’s Penshurst and Pembury Old Church to nineteenth century St Peter’s and St Thomas’s churches in Southborough and St Paul’s in Rusthall.  Finally there is the modern St Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells.

A programme of all the events is in this month’s issue of Town Crier. Full details can be found on the national and local websites.

www.heritageopendays.org.uk      www.tunbridgewellsheritageopendays.org


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