The History of Hildenborough
by A.M. Chaplin
What’s in a name? (A few words to begin our story):
This village is truly Hil-den-borough, a place of hill and dip and flat ground, a parish long and wide. Its base is Hilden Hi11, where its roots are in Tonbridge; from which town it grew as a separate parish when Hildenborough Church, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, was built in the year 1844.
Northwards, the main road, with some bends and twists extends near Morleys Farm Hut. Thereafter is the parish of Sevenoaks Weald. On this main road are Oakhill, a little hill near Watts Cross, and the beginning of Riverhill.
There are hills and dips on many of the side roads. The more noticeable on the right on Coldharbour Lane, Riding Lane and Mill Lane. On the left, Rings Hill near the Railway Station, and short but steep little hills on Philpotts Lane and Nizels Lane.
Hildenborough has good neighbours – the town of Tonbridge to south; the town of Sevenoaks to the north; the village of Sevenoaks Weald to the north-west; the Village 0f Underriver to north-east, and the village of Shipbourne to the east.
Long, long ago, what is now Hildenborough was part of a great forest, chiefly of oak trees. The fine oaks we see in the Village are descendants of these forest trees. “Oak” is a favourite name in the village – “Oakhill”, “Oak Lodge”, “Oak Lawn”, “Oakmount”, “Five Oaks”, “Oakhurst”, “Oaklands”, ” Oakbourne”, “Old Barn Oaks”, “Oakdale” and “Oakdene”.
If you look at a fine growing oak tree, you can see in it an emblem or Picture of the growth of Hildenborough.
The tree – once a sapling, now grown to many branches and with a multitude of leaves. Hildenborough _ once a hamlet with few houses and people, now grown to a great Village with many roads and houses in all directions, and thousands of inhabitants.
The beginning of Hildenborough was long ago. In those far off days parts of the ancient forests were cleared and a main road was made from the coast at Hastings to London. Gradually Towns, Villages and Hamlets were built near this road. About halfway, after a see-saw of hill and valley, the road goes on, curving and inclining to another little hill, and just here and in the adjoining lanes, by slow degrees, farmhouses and cottages, two or three inns, and two or three mansions were built. This was the beginning of the hamlet of Hildenborough.
So centuries passed, and during all this time, what a pageant of history has ridden and walked (and still does) up and down the main road through Hildenborough. Can you picture some of them-kings and queens; lords and ladies; pilgrims and pedlars; hop-pickers and gypsies; fugitives and highwaymen; farmers and traders and soldiers? Although history books do not tell us, probably Hildenborough was the scene of battles long ago. The name of Watts Cross rather suggests this, and also the fact that about eighty years ago, a number of cannon balls were discovered in the Trench woods.
What would a traveller have seen in Hildenborough in the days of King William IV? Coming from Tonbridge near the” Flying Dutchman” a toll gate across the main road. In front of this inn, fresh horses being harnessed to the cart which brought fish from Hastings to London. The old house next to the” Flying Dutchman” and the two old cottages on the left at the top of Oakhill; then on the left a brickyard nearly opposite where the Church now stands. On the right a stretch of fields and forest trees ending with a Forge at Watts Cross. Near here on the left was the Pound where straying animals were secured. A little further on were a few houses, including “The Poplars”, and then, on either side of the main road, stretches of hop gardens. The traveller might also have seen a stage-coach going up or down the road or stopping outside the “Old Cock Inn.” Turning to the left when a little further up the main road, he would come to Nizels Cottages and Nizels Hoath. Here would be an encampment of gypsies and a travelling fair. Continuing the windings of Nizels Lane the traveller would come to where it joined the Penshurst road opposite ancient Mardens Farm. Looking to the right to where Philpots Railway Bridge now is, he would see another brickyard; but turning left at Mardens Farm he would soon reach Noble Tree Cross so called because a man named Noble was hanged there for sheep stealing. From here on the right down Rings Hill is the ancient village of Leigh. If the traveller continued over the cross-roads, he would soon see Mountains (another farmhouse) on the right, and on the left a house covered with ivy, virginia creeper and wisteria and having a large bush in the garden. The bush and the ivy, creeper and wisteria have disappeared, but in its name” Little Foxbush ” is a memory of a man named Fox who lived there and was murdered and buried in the garden and a bush planted over his grave.
Our traveller might have seen the man who lived at this house, which had its front gate on the Penshurst road and its back gate on the London road. This man was a colt breaker and the antics he had with his young horses were a delight to all the boys in the neighbourhood. I wonder whether Riding Lane got its name because of this man and his horses; as they probably galloped across the fields to this lane.
There are some who think that”Egg Pie Lane” is wrong, and that its original name was Magpie Lane. I think Eggpie Lane is correct because there are very old farmhouses along this lane. Long years ago egg pies (or as we now say custard tarts) were almost always included in the weekly baking. Probably many weary travellers along that old lane received hospitality at the farmhouses and enjoyed egg pies and so the lane got its name. In the long ago there were several Manors in the district of Hildenborough. Some of the names of these Manors are still known to us–Hilden Manor; Dachurst; Philipotts, and Nizells; and at these places there are still old houses and buildings. Once a large house called “Childrens” was at Lower or as it was once was Nether Street. There are traces that there had long ago been one or more places of worship in Hildenborough. “Chapel Cottage” in Stocks Green Road (near where the Stocks once stood) is evidence of this. It was early in Queen Victoria’s reign, that good people, thinking of future generations, planned the building of a Church in Hildenborough dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. At that time there were more houses in the Watts Cross area than in any other part of the village, and their first ideas were for the Church to be built near there, but eventually the present site was selected.
Some of the interesting things about the Watts Cross area in those days when Queen Victoria reigned were the Mill which was in constant use; a Cricket Ball Factory; and a little sweet shop where you could get a bar of chocolate for 1/4d., and little stone bottles of ginger beer for a penny or twopence. The Forge (later the Mill Garage) was also a wonderful place for meeting people. There were hop gardens all round. A variety of hops grown were “Colegates” named after a Mr. Colegate who had farmed at the Limes Farm which is nearly opposite the Mill. Mr. Colegate’s wife was a wonderful person who lived to a great age. As she grew older she became blind; but when she was a hundred years old her sight came again and she was able to do sewing for her relatives.
Apart from the fact that there were more houses near Watts Cross in the early part of the nineteenth century, there was the great difficulty of felling many oak trees before much building could be done south of Watts Cross. Eventually the tree felling was done. The Church was built and consecrated on the 9th July, 1844, by Bishop Murray, of Rochester. So Hildenborough became an ecclesiastical parish The Rev. E. Vinall was the first Vicar of Hildenborough. He was Vicar for 35 years. It is an interesting fact that the second Vicar of Hildenborough, Archdeacon M. Boys, who was a Curate at Holy Trinity Church, Maidstone, in 1844, came to the consecration of Hildenborough Church. Little did he think then that one day he would be Vicar there.
During these 35 years Hildenborough grew rapidly. Probably the greatest excitement was the building of the Railway. From Sevenoaks to Tonbridge, this had to be built through and over and under the hills and denes that form Hildenborough and its boundaries. What a great difference the Railway made to Hildenborough. Many families with business interests in London were able to have their homes in the neighbourhood and enjoy the beauty of the countryside. Some built new houses and others had existing houses modernised. Coldharbour Lane was one road where several families settled. These families and others, notably the Johnson and Kemp families, entered wholeheartedly into the work of the Church and the activities of village life, and did all they could for the welfare and happiness of the inhabitants of Hildenborough.
The building of the National School was another very important happening of that period. Archdeacon M. Boys (whose father had been Cbaplain to Napoleon on St. Helena) was Vicar for 15 years from 1879. During a part of this period the Archdeacon had a Curate~ the Rev. Walter H. Brown -a young Irishman, to assist him. Their combined ministry was a great help to the people of Hildenborough. Weekly Prayer Meetings were held at the School in Riding Lane and at Schoolhouses, London Road. At a Confirmation Service in Hi1denborongh Church on 13th November, 1892, there were 45 Candidates. Only five of these were from other Parishes.
The Parish Magazine was started in 1893 and “Home Words” was the inset.
For over 20 years (they were given up in 1903) the Foxbush Harriers interested the people of Hildenborough and the neighbourhood. These hounds always caused much amusement by howling in chorus when the Church Bells started ringing on Sunday mornings. In 1894 Archdeacon Boys retired and he and Mr. Brown left Hildenborough.
On 18th October, 1894, the Rev. R. L. G. Pidcock was inducted as Vicar of Hildenborough. two other interesting events of 1894 were Hildenborough becoming a Civil Parish, and the appointment and arrival of a Parish Nurse in the village.
There were many big happenings in the six years that Mr. Pidcock was Vicar. In 1896 the Church was restored at a cost of £2,044. Nearly all the people in the Parish contributed to the Restoration Fund. Also there were many special gifts either to beautify or to be of use in the Church.
The rejoicings for the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria were held on Tuesday, 29th June, r897. These took place on the Oakhill Cricket Field nearly opposite the” Flying Dutchman” Inn. In these days most outdoor Village events took place either there or in the Glebe Field or the field adjoining Foxbush, the entrance to which is on the Noble Tree Road. In the early part of 1899 the Church Spire and the Weather Vane were severely damaged during a gale.
In 1899 and 1900 several young men of the village enlisted and went to take part in the South African War.
During Mr. Pidcock’s time as Vicar the Boys’ Brigade was started in the village–on 14th October, 1897. His illness in 1900 was a great grief to all the people. He died at the age of 55 years and was buried 19th December, 1900. In the same year Mr. John Henry Johnson died. He had been Vicar’s warden for upwards of 30 years. While Mr. Pidcock was Vicar (he was a very fatherly man with a lovely twinkling smile) Hildenborough grew to be a very friendly and united village, and many were the happy concerts in the National School and the cricket matches on the Oakhill Field or the private ground at Bourne Place. Mr. Thomas Kingscote, at the Trench, used to invite people to special services in the private Chapel at his house.
The Gospel Hall (with its entrance in those days on the main road) was a place of comfort and help to many and Pastor Wells was its Minister for many years. Mr. R. Treadwell was Organist at Hildenborough Church for 18 years and resigned in 1902. He did much to help the Choir.
The Rev. James Stone came as the next Vicar. He was inducted on 11th April, 1901. He had been a missionary in India for about 24 years. Gas was laid on in Hildenborough in 1901. The first little flaring gas-1ights in the Church were considered very pretty by the children.
In February, 1902, the new Organ in the Church, given by Churchpeople in memory of Mr. Pidcock, was dedicated. After Mr. Treadwell retired as Organist, he was succeeded by Mr. C. B. King. Then Mr. E. Fagg was Organist after Mr. King, but now for over forty years (Note: 50 in I960.-A.P.R.C.) Mr. S. L. Stone]y has been a much-loved Organist and Choirmaster. The Coronation Celebrations and the Thanksgiving for the recovery of King Edward VII took place on 9th August, 1902. The Drill Hall was erected in the late summer of 1902. How many changes came in Hildenborough. during the years that Mr. Stone was Vicar. Many residents who had taken an active part in Church and Village life were called to the Life Beyond. Among these was Mr. Charles Fitch Kemp (who, in addition to all his other activities for the welfare of the Village, was People’s Warden for many years), and Mr. Robert Wingate, the Rev. Stewart Saville, and Mr. W. A. Turnbull, who were all so interested in the schools. Mr. E. Hendry became People’s Warden in 1907. Mr. Morris left and Mr. Hodder became Headmaster at the School. Many others, including Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Bosanquet and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Stewart, moved from the village. Mr. G. W. Johnson succeeded Mr. Bosanquet as Vicar’s Warden. Other families came to the village and took their part in the work of the Church-notably Mr. J. T. Fellowes Wilson and his wife and family, and Mr. and Miss Bryer. How much Hildenborough owes to the families of Fitch Kemp, Johnson and Lawson. During these years (about 1906) Hildenborough, originally in Rochester Diocese, and then in Canterbury Diocese, was changed back to Rochester Diocese. Mr. S. L. Stonely was appointed Organist in 19lO.
The Festivities in 19II in connection with the Coronation of King George V remain a happy memory to the older folk. Mr. Frank Old succeeded Mr. Thorne in I906 and he continued our Verger for over 30 years. He was liked by all the villagers. After Mr. Old’s death Mr. T. Fothergill was an excellent Verger for several years until ill-health forced him to retire. The dark shadow of War came in 1914, and when Mr. Strand left, Mr. Stone carried on the Ministry alone until his health began to fail, and the Rev. Bryan O’Loughlin came to assist him. Mr. Stone died in Apri1 1918.
There was a Service in Hildenborough Church on the night of 11th November, 1918. The invitation to it was only given during the afternoon, but the Church was crowded as probably never before or since, and it was a wonderful Thanksgiving.
In July, 1918, the Rev. H. J. Warde, well-known for so many years as the “Navy Missioner” was appointed Vicar of Hildenborough. The years of his ministry were happy, for the horrors of War were past, and everyone looked forward to the years of peace. Some of the chief memories of those years 1914-1918 are the beginning of the Wome’s Institute and the Parochial Church Council; happy Village Outings to the seaside; the commencement of the Duplex Envelope System; the first social gathering of Church People; and the extension of the Churchyard in 1923. Then there was the erection of the War Memorial, and the new billiards room at the Institute, and the kitchen at the rear of the Drill Hall. Although Mr. Warde had a severe illness in 1923 he apparently made a good recovery. His death a few days after the sudden death of his wife in September, 1924, was a great shock and grief to us all: many in the village had known and loved him long years before he became Vicar of Hildenborough. Rev. P. H. Crozier was Priest-in-Charge during Mr. Warde’s illness in 1923. The Rev. L. G. Chamberlain became Vicar of Hildenborough on 30th December, 1924. He was a comparatively young man and it was very pleasant to see a family of young children at the Vicarage during the following nine and a half years.
Those were busy, happy years with not many startling events. At the beginning of 1927 Pastor E. H. Wells retired after being Minister at the Gospel Hall for over forty years.
In 1928 there was much talk about the lighting of the village, but this did not come to pass. One looks forward to the future when “At evening time it shall be light.”
In 1930 and other years there were Old Folks Outings to the seaside. Mr. Fitz succeeded Mr. Hodder as Head Master of the School. In the summer of 1932 the Recreation Ground was opened to the public. In 1933 the graves in the old Churchyard were levelled and numbered slabs let into the ground to mark the site of the graves. In March, 1934, Mr. Chamberlain was offered the living of Bickleigh, in Devon. So he and his family returned to the West country. We all missed him and his wife and children very much. The Rev. E. H. Wade was the next Vicar. He came in September, 1934.
Probably the chief event during the short period Mr. Wade was here was the Silver Jubilee of King George V, which was a very happy time for us all. In the following year Mr. Wade was called to the work of a Chaplain, and so he left the parish.
The Rev. W. H. Bass came as Vicar of Hildenborough in the summer of 1935. His ministry was a comfort and help to many during those times of crisis which preceded the outbreak of War in September, 1939.
In 1935 the Girls’ Friendly Society in Hildenborough became an independent Branch, and it flourished and grew for several years, but it lapsed in 1949.
Then, in the summer of 1944-tea time on a July day-the Vicar and his wife out to tea-suddenly a bomb fell on the Recreation Ground. No one was hurt, but very few’ village folk had much to eat that tea time, for ceilings came down on the food and bits of doors and windows were blown up garden paths. The most damage was done to the Church and Vicarage. At the Church the three large stained glass windows in the north transept were smashed to fragments, and at the Vicarage the french window towards the lawn was broken in pieces and scattered all over the room.
We were glad that Mr. and Mrs. Fraser were with us when the days of Victory and Peace came. They left us in 1951 to go to Downe in another part of Kent.
Rev. A. R. Fountain came to be Vicar on 11th December, 1951.
How much the Village has grown in houses and people since he has been with us, and thank God the dream of a Church Hall has become a reality. The opening of that Hall was an occasion never to be forgotten by those who were there. Bishops, Rev. A. R. Fountain, and other clergy, and a host of people rejoiced and thanked God, and had a meal together. Mr. and Mrs. Fountain still welcome us to the Vicarage for the small Meetings, and it is nice to see and hear their children and their dog and cat.
During the summer and autumn of 1958 the Rev. T. MacKnight and his wife and family, who are going home to Australia, have stayed in the village and have been a great help to us all.
Some years ago Mr. Fitz retired, and Mr. L. R. Haisell is now Head Master at what is now Hildenborough Primary School. Because of the increase in the population the school has been much altered and enlarged in recent years. And Foxbush which was built just over a huudred years ago by Mr. CharIes Fitch Kemp is now a Convent School.
December, 1958.