A PEEP INTO THE PAST
Concerning the past history of the Manor of Rusthall, I would like to put on paper the result of some facts and episodes which I have discovered during my search.
Workhouse land was purchased in 1734 and Rusthall estate built up by Sir George Kelly of Tunbridge Wells in the 1750s and 1772. The lane which is now the High Street was then called Workhouse Lane and the actual workhouse was situated at the top of the now Manor Road. I have photo proof of this site. The privet hedge between the chemist shop and the Parish Room is all that remains of the original hedge, which continued through the High Street with green fields behind it. On this side of the road there were no buildings until Lampard Place, which is now the house and cycle shop belonging to Mr Turley. He remembers his father having to give up 12 feet of his frontage for the High Street to be laid. Then in 1899, when the Erskine Park Estate was bought by a Mr William Oliver of Culverden Park Road, he had to hardcore the High Street, Manor Rd, Hillview Rd, Meadow Rd and Erskine Park Rd before he was allowed to build on this area.
The Langton Road was once an ancient track. As recently as 1881 it was called ‘Sandy Lane’. This is where I was born between the cottage Dingley Dell and the Spa Hotel. When I was a child any traffic passing in the night would only be the circus or fairground caravans. Now it is a modern highway carrying a great deal of traffic. I was told by my father that the house where he worked, 6 Nevill Park, was the first one to be built on that estate in 1770. It was built by the Abergavenny family and occupied by the Honourable Reverend William Nevill. He was the vicar of Frant Church and rode his horse over the fields to perform his parish duties. So Nevill Park appeared on the map.
I have a picture of the turnpike gate at Rusthall. Looking it up on an old map, it is marked in Tea Garden Lane at the lower end of Rusthall Beacon. The Beacon was built by a Mr Walter Harris in approximately 1895. Two old cottages called Rocks Cottages were pulled down soon after this date and on this old map the proposed site of the new turnpike gate was at the top of the lane (then called High Rocks lane) where it now joins the Langton Road.
So now we come down the Coach Road. Imagine the London to the coast stage coaches changing their horses at the Red Lion (built 1415) at Lower Green, then plodding up the Coach Road, over Sandy Lane and then down the steep hill in Tea Garden Lane on its way to the coast. The old thatched coach house and stables of the above hostelry were burned down in 1895 and new brick buildings replaced them. The ground in this area was bought by the Baden Powell family in 1829.
During the Civil War Cromwell’s troops were stationed in the area of Rusthall to keep watch and guard the local gun foundries.
Long distance pack-horse lanes had to weave their way through the thick forest which then covered this part of the country. It was called Andredsweald. If we walk down what is now called Nellington Lane, just past Rusthall Cemetery turn right and we are on one of these very old tracks which smugglers used, storing their contraband brought from France to Newhaven in the old cottages nearby. The cottage, which has been renovated and enlarged, is now called Hole Farm. In the field opposite one can still see the old St Chad’s Well, which it is said never dries up and always keeps the same temperature. The woods nearby are called Shadwell Woods. If we continue past Hole Farm up Farnham Lane we come to the now Langton Road and this spot is called Gipps Cross. In the olden days this was Gibbets Cross where the bodies of highwaymen were hung in chains. One then continues on down Barrow lane, still on the old packhorse track, down to the next spring called Adam’s Well.
A hundred years ago Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, and her husband, the Marquis of Lorne, lived at Dornden. They made the estate much larger by adding the much older Farnham Farm.
[Editor’s note: there used to be a little pub called the Marquis in Gladstone Road named in his honour. In latter days, thanks to some misunderstanding or other, its name changed to 'Marquee' i.e. a large tent, and one of its signs apparently showed just that, though sadly not the one in this photo.
I would like to mention the cottage in Bull’s Hollow. This I believe was also used by smugglers. I have been told that if the ‘commoners’ could erect during one night the walls, roof and one chimney of a house, it became theirs by commoners’ rights. Is this true about this cottage? I know an old gentleman who remembers Granny Bull who lived there.
This is very historical ground we live on. May it never be spoilt!