Monthly Archives: November 2012

Fresh Fish Daily…. really in Highbrooms?

This is another post before I start to write about the finer details of the local history, looking at what is around us left behind as a legacy by previous occupants of Highbrooms in the late 19th and early 20th century, sorry to disappoint those amongst you who, like me, would absolutely love to see a wet fish shop opened up  again in Highbrooms today.

BLOG UPDATE, MAY 2013 – please scroll down to read further details about the history of this shop from Edward James Gilbert.

Of course these days we have the convenience of the huge supermarkets in and around Tunbridge Wells, despite the poor offerings of fish most have on display, but back in Victorian times they managed to bring in the ‘local’ catch for the people of Highbrooms on a daily basis. I assume that the fish was bought up from the traditional fishing ports on the south Kent coast, such as Hastings, but I am more than happy to be corrected here.

Stewart Road Fishmongers sign as it looks today

Stewart Road Fishmongers ghost sign (clicking on the picture opens a full size image in anew window)

This is the ‘ghost sign’ left behind on number 1 Stewart Road, originally built as a shop, but now a residential property.

The sign reads:

‘Stewart Fish Shop – Fishmonger & Greengrocer – Fresh Fish Daily’

The present owner told me that during renovation and re-wiring work he removed plaster board and skirting upstairs and there is still evidence of the full front shop window that once existed at ground floor level in the brickwork and full-length lintel.

Highbrooms Hotel with Stewart Road and the fishmonger  in foreground

The above postcard gives an indication of how the shop originally looked but the owner would love to have a better photo of the original shop if any exist, can anyone out there help?

Unfortunately this picture cannot be duplicated today as although Weare, owner of the Highbrooms Brick Company, only built south-facing houses with a view looking down the hills for his workers, later generations of planners were not quite so aesthetically inclined and in filled all the gaps with bungalows, and more recently large blocks of modern commuter flats, blocking the views and  completely out of fitting with the existing Victorian housing in this area.

Highbrooms Hotel and corner shop on Stewart Road

If you have something to contribute to this blog, or just want to let me know you are enjoying it feel free to comment below, email me at or send me a message on twitter to: @HighbroomsSoc

Ghost Sign Stewart Road

BLOG ARTICLE UPDATED – MAY 2013 – Edward James Gilbert is a member of the Tunbridge Wells Family History Society and a researcher and writer of articles about the history of Tunbridge Wells, he has kindly written the following article to expand upon the details above.

The Life and Times of Franklyn Howard Bearsby-High Brooms Fishmonger/Greengrocer

Written by; Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: May 1, 2013

My interest in this story began with a “ghost sign” for a fishmonger and greengrocer on a building located on Stewart Road, High Brooms. After a little research I discovered that this was the shop of Franklyn Howard Bearsby whose name is still readable on the sign.

Howard was born July 1883 at Kensington, London, one of two children born to Arthur Howard Bearsby (1851-1885) and Emily Thorpe (1852-1935). He had been baptised at Paddington Holy Trinity September 16, 1883. The death of his father in 1885 changed the course of his life for he is found in the 1891 census living with his widowed grandmother Elizabeth Bearsby, age 60, and his aunts Emma Howard and Jane Howard at #12 Calverley Crescent, Tunbridge Wells where Elizabeth was the lodging house keeper there. Franklyn continued to live at the same place with his grandmother and one of his aunts and is found there in the 1901 census where Franklyn was working as a telephone clerk.

On May 29, 1908 Franklyn married Edith Mabel Barnes at Epsom and then moved to High Brooms where he opened his fishmonger and greengrocers shop. He and his wife Edith and their daughter Constance are found in the 1911 census at #1 Stewart Road, High Brooms. The census records that Franklyn is a fishmonger and that the premises consist of a shop and four rooms.

A 1913 Kelly directory gives Franklyn Howard Bearsby, 1 Stewart Rd, High Brooms, ”Fried Fish Dealer”. The reference to “Fried Fish” is an obvious but humorous error as it was fresh fish not fried fish that he was selling.

Franklyn and his wife would go on to have two more children while living in Southborough, namely Roland Franklyn in 1912 and Joyce F in 1917.

Franklyn enlisted for military service during WW 1 on June24,1916 as a private (#276621) with the 31st Training Reserve Btn at Maidstone(Labour Corps). His military records gave his address as #1 Stewart Rd, High Brooms and his occupation as ‘store clerk’. He was called up for service December 11, 1916 but was discharged for medical reasons as “No longer physically fit for military service”  due to a longstanding condition referred to as “Brights disease” on October 4, 1917. He had also been sent to the hospital at Thatford.  After his military service Franklyn returned to his shop in High Brooms and remained there for some time.

On November 27, 1927 Franklyn died at Allfields Elm Grove Hampton Park, Eastbourne. His brother Bruce Thorpe Bearsby, a postman, was the executor of his estate, valued at about 1,058 pounds.


Are you being watched from above in Highbrooms?

Whilst walking around the Victorian streets of Highbrooms, if you take the time to look you will notice many bits of evidence that point back to its colourful past …. but have you ever noticed that you are being watched from the rooftops above? If so do you know where this finial is…

An ancient dragon sits high above Highbrooms, watching the people pass below for well over a century. Clicking on the image opens it in full size.

The Victorians were very keen on these decorative crouching winged dragon ridge or roof finials and believed that they warded off evil spirits. There are many more of these little gems from our local history to come but I wanted to share this one with you before we get as far as looking at the huge effect that the Highbrooms Brick and Tile Company had in forming the character of this area.

If you have something to contribute to this blog, or just want to let me know you are enjoying it feel free to comment below, email me at or send me a message on twitter to: @HighbroomsSoc

The ground beneath our feet – the geology of Highbrooms

I guess the word ‘geology’ will leave most people running scared but this is what my degree was in so I actually get quite excited by it, that aside the geology of Highbrooms, the very ground beneath our feet, has had a massive influence on the development of Highbrooms and it must be included as a precursor to looking at the industrial history of this area from the last century in a bit more detail.

An early map displaying the geology of the weald

An early map displaying the geology of the weald

Weald Stratigraphy - order of Cretaceous beds

Weald Stratigraphy – order of Cretaceous beds

The rocks beneath Highbrooms and the surrounding area were formed during the early Cretaceous period, beginning about 136 million years ago. The oldest beds are the Ashdown sands, and as the name suggests they are mainly formed from sands and silts that were deposited into the freshwater Wealden lake by many rivers.

These sands are followed by the Wadhurst clays which accumulated in the extensive Wealden lake. These clays are iron-rich, with the iron often formed as nodules. The abundance of easily accessible iron led to the early iron-working industry during Roman times and then to a far greater extent in medieval times when there was a greater demand for then iron to produce armaments, such as the cast-iron canon, for supply to the continuous European wars. The heavily forested Weald also supplied the charcoal for smelting and had fast flowing streams that powered the furnaces.

Early postcard depicting the Highrocks nr Tunbridge Wells

Early postcard depicting the Highrocks nr Tunbridge Wells

The Tunbridge Wells sands formed above the Wadhurst clays, and these can be seen today in the area around Tunbridge Wells forming the outcrops typical of the high Weald, having been shaped during the last ice age. The youngest deposits in the area consist of the heavy Weald clay.

The Ashdown Beds, Wadhurst Clay and Tunbridge Wells Sandstones are grouped together to form the ‘Hastings Beds’, which reaches a maximum thickness of about 400m in the Weald. It comprises of three major cycles of sedimentation in which claystones and mudstones coarsen upwards into cross-bedded sandstones (a fine example is visible in the ‘cave’ at the Mount Edgcumbe in Tunbridge Wells) with a capping of frequently bone-rich gravel.

Equisetites, ‘horsetails’ as they would have looked during the Cretaceous period

The climate during the formation of the Wealden beds was warm. Fossil plant remains indicate that the swamp and its bordering lands supported vegetation that consisted of primitive plants, namely gymnosperms, ferns and the horsetail, Equisetites. The horsetails are an indication that the water depths over the Weald were very shallow, as are the occurrence of dessication cracks.

The indigenous fauna of the Wealden swaps consist almost exclusively of lamellibranchs, gastropods and ostracods, there are also rare occurrences of fish and marine reptiles.

Iguanodon Bones in Tunbridge Wells Museum

Iguanodon Bones in Tunbridge Wells Museum

As mentioned in a previous entry one the most noticeable finds in the Wadhurst clay was the bones of an Iguanodon in the Highbrooms brickworks pits during 1933. These bones, along with moulds of footprints,  can be found in the Tunbridge Wells museum natural history room.

After deposition of the Wealden Series, subsidence extended across a wider area of south east England, the sea broke into the swamp and the beds were overlain by marine sands and clays, and eventually the chalk was deposited from the calcite skeletons of coccoliths that lived in the warm shallow seas at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago.

During the Tertiary period the subsidence in the Wealden basin ceased and was replaced with uplift which continues today.

Simple cross-section of the Weald anticline showing erosion of younger beds

Simple cross-section of the Weald anticline showing erosion of younger beds (Wikipedia)

Tectonic events to the south, principally the Alpine Orogeny (also responsible for the uplift and formation of the Alps!), during the mid-tertiary period caused the anticlinal folding seen in the Weald today. The softer chalk beds, still seen forming the prominent ridges of the North and South downs, and underlying Gault clay and Lower Greensands were eroded away from the centre of the Weald revealing the beds of sand and clay below.

I hope that this has been an interesting blog and not too scientific as is meant to be an introduction to the local geology, not too in-depth or boring! Sorry if I failed….


How the vegetarian Iguanodon may have looked roaming around the Wealden lake (Tunbridge Wells Museum)

If you have something to contribute to this blog, or just want to let me know you are enjoying it feel free to comment below, email me at or send me a message on twitter to: @HighbroomsSoc

Beyond Highbrooms – the history of South Frith valley (Southborough)

Having looked at exactly where Highbrooms sits in the previous blog entry I started to wander into the territories that border it and wanted to say something about the history of the bigger area. Much has been written about the Georgian spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells so I won’t be attempting to add anything there, but Highbrooms is partnered up with Southborough, both as a ward and historically, and this has a lesser known but equally as interesting history.

Whilst searching for information to add to this blog I came across the following article in Wikispaces and rather than re-write it in an attempt to pass it off as my own, I am just reporting exactly it was written but with a few images thrown in, Enjoy!


The London-Hastings railway line between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells passes through a verdant valley of rare beauty. As it emerges from “Somerhill Tunnel”, south of Tonbridge, for about three miles, until it enters the cutting running into High Brooms, there is countryside of such loveliness that it takes your breath away. For up to two miles, one sees nothing but beautiful woods, green fields on slopes and wild flowers, embraced by the undulating lap of the High Weald of Kent.

New travellers and even commuters raise their eyes in wonder, little knowing the illustrious history of this place. Few know that turner painted it and only a handful ever, might know, that this is the chase or aristocratic deer park of South Frith. “Frith” comes from an Teutonic word meaning peace, security, peace among people to whom you have duties and very close ties. It is word denoting security, peace and welfare. Locally and on documents, South Frith is now called Southborough Valley. However, there is a house called “South Frith” overlooking the valley and when one looks on old maps one sees the valley’s old name and that of its counterpart: North Frith.

Powdermill Lane

Old postcard showing Powdermill Lane as an un-made track

The train follows a section of ancient riverside route which runs onwards south from South Frith up Powder Mill Lane, linking the iron age and Saxon hillfort at Oldbury Hill near Ightham which the Romans under Julius Casear took, with Saxonbury Hill, near Frant. This route crosses the Medway, at the shallow ford of what would become Tonbridge. Even 18th century maps show this route through South Frith not as a railway line, but as a pathway. After the railway’s construction in 1845, the natural ancient road up over the hill from Powder Mill Lane towards Somerhill and Tonbridge became in winter a very little used pedestrian muddy track as once royal valley was “cut off” at the viaduct with no laces for car parking. Now since Powder Mill Lane, once the iron age through route, suddenly seems to stop at the listed Victorian viaduct (i.e. at the railway line).

Old postcard showing Powdermill Lane with the Victorian viaduct in the distance (1927)

This area formerly known as “South fryth” is clearly seen marked on John Speed’s map of Kent in 1611 on which Southborough, a medieval suburb of Tonbridge, though it existed, was not marked. South Frith is located in the**High Weald of Kent** (“wald” means wood in German). The High Weald is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty characterised by wooded valleys running east to west with sandstone ridges and clay valleys. It is a landscape largely unchanged since medieval times. There are still stretches of ancient woodland here, untouched by time: such as Simmonds WoodBarnett’s Wood (a nature reserve) and Brokes Wood. On the damp slopes of Brokes Wood, three useful streams rose in ancient times, and still flow. They pass first into what is now a private pond for fishing, then on through South Frith to turn its mills and then into the Medway, at Tonbridge, which flows out into the Thames Estuary.

Medieval Jousting

Medieval Jousting

There are plenty of copses in South Frith like Minepit WoodBeeches WoodAnnise WoodConey Burrow (rabbit burrow) WoodHigh WoodRook Wood and LIttle Rook Wood.There is one quiet lane called Vauxhall Lane leading to the site of the vanished Tudor iron smelting forge **Vauxhall Furnace** which was once leased, by Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley. There are farms, some with names denoting old mill and iron trades:Broken Farm, Mote Farm, Old Forge Farm, Forest Farm and Bournemis Farm. There is a fine oast house and garden Honnington Farm Gardens which can be visited now and then, near the finest equestrian centre in Kent, where the wealthy stable horses, no doubt to ride through Southborough valley. Suitably, the Centre teaches medieval Skills at Arms – medieval jousting on horse back.

Vauxhall Inn, Tonbridge

Vauxhall Inn, Tonbridge

Southfrith, “south land of peace and stability” is characterised by fields for grazing horses, wild copses, sheep, picturesque hillocks, a meandering stream, with one or two Victorian villas, with views over it, on the Southborough side. Yet, in spite of the High Weald Walk passing through the valley and a number of public footpaths, few people walk there. There are no cars, no industry now: nothing but England’s unperturbed beauty and opportunities for birdwatching. However, the walk from Southborough to the Vauxhall Inn through the valley has been recently named as one of the Great British Walks.

There was a manor, game reserve and park enclosed with fences at the northern part of Tonbridge, called North Frith. In the same way, there was an estate, though of much larger size called South Frith at the southern side of Tonbridge, with a deer chase laid out to grass, with intermittent trees (like Knole Park), enclosed by a pale. So “South Frith” comprised a chase, woods, mills, river (tributary of the River Medway) and in Tudor times, industrial iron works.

Great Bounds Manor, Southborough

Research shows that this valley had been highly prized and treated as a “royal reward” down the ages. For example, a great house “Great Bounds” in Southborough owned by the Boleyn and Carey families. Later **Catherine of Braganza** stayed in Great Bounds House, possibly built on Boleyn family land by Lord Hunsdon, Queen Elizabeth’s 1st cousin. Its location today is marked today by Bounds Lodge, west of the road between Tonbridge and Southborough from which the whole of South Frith/Southborough Valley can be easily viewed.

Great Bounds Lodge, Southborough

South Frith was once royal, a royal chase surrounded by a pale (fence and ditch) which stopped deer once they had entered from escaping. It also belonged to a medieval female “role model”, the intelligent founder of Clare College Cambridge, Elizabeth de Clare. This valley was once a playground of the English Court, a place of fine views, walks and hunting. **George III** came to South Frith to shoot ducks.

South Frith has had an illustrious history for centuries, not just in terms of royal ownership, but also for its produce. High quality possibly Italian sweet chestnuts are not native to England, so Romans probably planted the Italian sweet chestnut trees, whose wild descendants still drop delicious chestnuts. Romans exported the iron from the High Weald iron forges to Rome to make swords of the finest quality. South Frith or “Southborough Valley” was also centre of industrial activity during the late Middle Ages. Iron blooms from ore were smelted in Vauxhall Furnace and then transported to the Old Forge, where firebacks and other implements were produced using waterpower. The iron works closed in the seventeenth century.

Tonbridge Castle by Turner

The history of land ownership starts after 1066. The Norman de Clare family who owned Tonbridge Castle in the Lowey of Tonbridge (see more details and map here) also owned the deer parks of North and South Frith, until the estates fell to monarchs in the 16th century. Fascinatingly, one can still visit their living quarters within Tonbridge Castle. The mills and iron forges as well as the valley of South Frith later belonged to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Elizabeth 1st, the Earl of Leicester and Frances Walsingham, wife of Sir Philip Sidney of Penshurst. Her son, Robert Earl of Essex, one of the Puritan commanders of the Civil War, owned it for one year, having fought against his half brother, Ulick de Burgh, the previous owner who had also rambled, owned and hunted in South Frith’s woods and vales.

One can walk through South Frith without meeting or even seeing anyone. Animals rarely see people and, as a result, hares and rabbits seem almost tame.In the ancient woods, on rare mornings, small groups of antlered High Weald deer wander unperturbed by the sound of any medieval hunting horn. They move calmly and silently, through the ancient woodland. They are no longer potential venison fit for a King, since they no longer live in a medieval deer park. However, one must presume that private hunters may still be a threat.

Today, the history of “South Frith” is largely lost though “Southborough Historical Society” may be one source of information about it. There are still only a handful of people who live and work in the valley, riding and training horses and farming livestock.

Tonbridge and the “de Clare” family
South Frith was probably part of the estates of the Norman family of Clare, Earls of Gloucester and Hertford, who owned Tonbridge Castle and the manor of Tonbridge (then all called “Tunbridge”). They built the Priory of St Mary Magdalene which stood on the site of Tonbridge Station. In fact, when Tonbridge signal box was being constructed bones from the Abbey were uncovered. South Frith remained with the de Clare family until **Gilbert de Clare**, the only son and heir of Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who died without issue in 1314, in the reign of **King Edward II**.

His three sisters became his co-heirs. **Hugh de Audley**, in virtue of his wife Margaret, second daughter, and co-heir, had control of the Castle and Manor of Tonbridge. But Margaret’s younger sister **Elizabeth de Burgh**, the youngest, widow of John de Burgh, inherited South Frith, as well as now ruined Clare Castle and Priory (where Joan of Acre is buried) in Suffolk. After three marriages and still only in her late twenties, Elizabeth took a vow of celibacy to keep and take control of her lands and then used the fruits of her lands to found Clare College, Cambridge. Her surviving household accounts tell the story of her productive land management techniques.

Elizabeth de Burgh
Elizabeth de Burgh had a son, **William de Burgh**, who on his grandfather’s death became Earl of Ulster. From his industrious and itinerant mother, he inherited South Frith.

Lionel, Duke of Clarence
William de Burgh left the manor and deer park to his heir, Elizabeth, who married Lionel, , Duke of Clarence, third son of King Edward III. Lionel, Duke of Clarence was in her right created Earl of Ulster. When she died, Lionel was lured by the offer of an Italian bride with a huge dowry by the Visconti family, Dukes of Milan. He travelled to Italy, was married in Milan and during wedding celebrations died in Alba in Piedmont (“Alba Pompeia”) in 1368, possibly murdered by his father-in-law.

Lionel left South Frith to his only daughter **Philippa**, born at Eltham Palace who, at about the time of her father’s death, by the King’s command, married **Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March**. He died in Ireland in 1381, in the reign of King Richard II. Ownership of South Frith then passed to their grandson **Edmund, Earl of March**, who died in the third year of King Henry VI’s reign in 1425.

Richard of York
South Frith then passed to **Anne Mortimer**, Countess of Cambridge, wife of Richard Earl of Cambridge who was the Edmund Earl of March’s sister and from her to her son, his nephew ****Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York****, the father of both Edward IV and Richard III. Richard, Duke of York was also great-grandfather, through Elizabeth of York, of Henry VIII.

Richard Duke of York, being both on his father’s and mother’s side, descended from King Edward III, began to think of claiming the Crown by crushing the House of Lancaster which was then under the control of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. In December 1459, Richard of York and the Earl Warwick and Salisbury suffered ‘attainder’. This means that their lives were forfeit and their lands, including South Frith, reverted to the King, so that their heirs would not inherit them. This was the most severe punishment a member of the nobility could suffer, and York was now in the same situation as Henry of Bolingbroke in 1398. Only a successful invasion of England would restore York’s lands and fortune. Assuming the invasion was successful, York had three options. Either to become Protector again or to disinherit the King so that York’s son would succeed, or to claim the throne for himself. On 26 June 1459, Warwick and Salisbury landed at Sandwich. The men of Kent, always ready to revolt, rose to join them. London opened its gates to the Nevilles, on 2 July. They marched north into the Midlands and on 10 July 1459, they defeated the royal army at the Battle of Northampton through treachery among the King’s troops and captured Henry VI, who they brought back to London.

Thus, Richard, Duke of York regained the possession of South Frith and his other lands. After his death, Cecillie, Duchess of York, his widow, and mother of King Edward IV, continued to hold the estate until her death in 1495. Then it passed through her daughter Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII, to King Henry VIII.

Henry VIII
King Henry VIII granted South Frith to **George, Lord Cobham**. He gave him the offices of master, manager, and supervisor of all the beasts, of what sortsoever, of the (King’s) “park of South Frith” and “keeper of all the King’s ponds and waters within them”. The fees remained with the Crown until King Edward VI came to the throne in 1547.

Edward VI
In 1551, **Edward VI** granted South Frith, with its Tudor iron workings, streams forest and deer park to **John Dudley, Earl of Warwick**, at that time regent of England, together with Tonbridge Castle, which was now in such a state that it was no longer habitable, to hold “in capite by knights service”. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, Protector of England returned Tonbridge (then called “Tunbridge”) and South Frith to King Edward VI before his death.

Cardinal Pole
After this, Mary Tudor, who executed John Dudley for putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne, granted South Frith to Cardinal Reginald Pole, to hold during his life. His mother was the grand-daughter of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville its previous owners. Cecily had died in 1495 still in possession of South Frith. Probably, his family knew South Frith well. Cardinal Pole died in 1558, and South Frith reverted to Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Elizabeth 1st
Around 1573, **Elizabeth 1st** lent the valley and royal deer park, along with Tonbridge Castle, to her favourite, **Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester** son of its earlier tenant, John Dudley. He probably knew the estate well and may have expressed a wish for it, with its iron workings, useful for artillery for his wars. He died in 1588 and so it reverted to the Crown. Then Elizabeth 1st granted it, in perpetuity, to Frances, Countess of Essex, widow of poet, soldier and courtier, Sir Philip Sidney and of the Earl of Essex whom Elizabeth had beheaded in 1601.

Frances Walsingham
Frances, Countess of Essex, nee Frances Walsingham, was daughter of spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, to whom Queen Elizabeth owed so much. She had first married Sir Philip Sidney, son of Sir Henry Sidney of nearby Penshurst, when she was fourteen. They had both experienced the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 whilst living at the English Embassy in Paris. After Philip died of his wounds in the Low Countries, she secretly marriedRobert Devereux, Earl of Essex, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, favourite of the Queen. Elizabeth 1st was forced to behead him in 1601 for leading a failed rebellion against her in London.

The Essex Family
Frances Walsingham at the time her husband’s execution, had just seen her daughter by Philip Sidney, Elizabeth Sidney, marry Roger Manners, Earl of Rutland (aged 35) as the age of thirteen. Now in her thirties, she had four small children by Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex one of whom is an ancestor of Diana Princess of Wales, Elizabeth Bowes Lyon and Prince William.

The Clarikards
In 1603, twice widowed Frances married Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde. By him, she had three more children, Honora, Mary and Ulick Burke, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde. Thus **Richard Burke, Earl of Clanrikard**became, by this marriage to Frances, owner of South Frith. Together, the couple finally adorned the valley with a Jacobean House designed by John Thorpe, in the classical style after Palladio, **Somerhill**, now a school which celebrated its 400th anniversary on 26 May 2011. Somerhill was probably built on a site of an earlier medieval mansion, in which the owners of South Frith would have stayed, but so far evidence is lacking as to it actual design and size.

Sommerhill by Turner

Sommerhill by Turner

**Somerhill** was built solidly, in Calverley sandstone. It overlooks South Frith from its pleasant hill in the northern part of the valley near Tonbridge. It is immortalised in a painting by Turner. Somerhill is rarely open to the public but can be viewed on special open days (contact “English Heritage” for information). In 1625, Richard Burke was created Baron of Somerhill, Viscount Tunbridge and Frances, Countess of Clanrikard, became “Baroness Somerhill, Viscountess Tunbridge”.

The Lost Tomb of the Clanrikards
In 1628, Charles 1st made Clanrikard Earl of St. Albans and Viscount of Galloway. However, he, like Frances, lived most of the time at Somerhill, which was within easy reach of Courts at Whitehall and Greenwich. Frances died in 1631 and her husband died in 1635. It is reliably reported that the Earl was buried in To(u)nbridge Parish Church.

Happily, I have just solved “the mystery of the lost grave of Frances Walsingham” which has caused debate online. The National Dictionary of Biography states that the graves of the Earl of St Albans and his Countess, Frances Walsingham were listed in the burial book of Tonbridge Parish Church. This solves a mystery which has been puzzling many and I can now approach the church with more confidence – and raise the issue with them, again.

English Civil War
**Ulick,** de Burgh, heir of the Earl of Clanrickard and Frances Walsingham, was a royalist and fought for King Charles I in Ireland, from which he was obliged to flee to find refuge in England, with the King, who in 1645 created him Marquis of Clanrikard. His attachment to the King was a sufficient reason for the Parliament to declare him “a delinquent” and to confiscate South Frith in 1645.

Effect of The Civil War on Somerhill and South Frith
In 1645, Parliament granted Tunbridge (Tonbridge) Castle, the manor, lands, a parcel of the estate of Somerhill, belonging to the Earl of St. Albans, regarded by them as ” a papist”, to his half brother **Robert, Earl of Essex**,against whom he had fought during The Civil War. This was a reward for the Earl of Essex’s “heroic valour, prudent conduct, and unspotted fidelity in that high and important command of captain-general of their (Parliamentary) army”, to hold during his life “in part of the yearly sum of £10,000” which they had voted to him.

Robert Earl of Essex, a presbyterian was also a grandson of Protestant Francis Walsingham, a close ally of Calvinist Robert Dudley. He did not enjoy the manor of South Frith for more than a year and died in possession of both Somerhill and South Frith in 1646, possibly having been poisoned. He was granted a funeral at the charge of the Parliament with a grand procession of State to the place of his burial, in St. Paul’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Having no heir, Parliament then gave Somerhill to Commonwealth Judge John BradshawJohn Evelyn, who no doubt visited him at Somerhill on 29 May 1652, described Somerhill as “situated on an eminent hill, with a park, but has nothing else extraordinary”.

At the Restoration, South Frith and Somerhill were restored to the Burke-de Burgh-Clanrikards. They were descended from the original de Clare family, who originally owned South Frith.

The Restoration and afterwards
Margaret, Viscountess Muskerry, the daughter of Ulick de Burgh, grand-daughter of Frances Walsingham, inherited Somerhill and South Frith. Before Tunbridge Spa, the “riviera” of the 17th century, had luxury accommodation, aristocrats would stay at Somerhill, treating it like a hotel. Margaret had very extravagant tastes, and she and her son wasted the estates, gradually selling off much of the southern side of South Frith. They granted land for the construction of “King Charles the Martyr Parish Church” in Tunbridge Wells. “Impious” as some consider the name, it was a royalist salute to Charles 1, by one of his most loyal families.

When she died in 1698, Somerhill passed to her son, John Villiers, who styled himself the Earl of Buckingham. Villers sold the Manor of South Frith to a man called Mr Dekins. Some 1,200 acres (490 ha) of grounds was sold separately to Abraham Hill of Sutton at Hone, Kent. Somerhill itself became a warrener. Mr Dekins sold Somerhill to Mr Cave, who sold it in 1712 to Mr John Woodgate of Penshurst. Woodgate lived in the house and on his death it passed to his son Henry, who lived at Somerhill until 1769.

Horace Walpole in 1752 described its setting as “a vast landscape, beautifully wooded and has quantities of large old trees to shelter itself”. Somerhill was itself remained derelict for most of the rest of 18th century.

The more recent history of South Frith and Somerhill are recounted here and in a 2009 paper here

Notable later facts about South Frith and Somerhill:

  • In later years, George III came to Southborough Valley to shoot game, particularly ducks.
  • The Duke of Wellinghton did not think the fox-hunting at South Frith was good enough to interest him in buying Somerhill.
  • From 1939-1945, Somerhill was “Prisoner Camp Number 40” housing hundreds of Italian prisoners of war and later German working soldiers
  • later owners of Somerhill commissioned the commemorative stained glass windows by Chagall in Tudeley Church in memory of their daughter who died in an accident
  • after the Second World War, Somerhill was inhabited by squatters, and was in a very poor condition around 1980.
  • Partly due to English Heritage, Somerhill was entirely restored to Grade 1 listing, using 12 miles of cable for rewiring. The result is considered to be “nothing short of a miracle”
  • Somerhill schools cover just 120 acres, which is a fraction of the size of the park of South Frith which was about 6500 acres.

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So where exactly is Highbrooms?

Highbrooms is part of the ‘Southborough and Highbrooms ward’ situated to the north east of Royal Tunbridge Wells, and forms part of this larger urban area.

It falls in the heart of Kent, on the High Weald which is an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Highbrooms 1909

Highbrooms, as it was in 1909 with housing built on the hills above the clay pits

From its humble beginnings (as a properly populated area) in the 1880’s, with the original romani-gypsy community in road caravans and  new houses being built for workers from the local brickworks appearing on the hillside next to the claypits, Highbrooms has expanded to an urban sprawl of high density housing, which is a mixture of the original ornate red brick Victorian terraces and semi-detached houses, with some more modern bungalows, houses and blocks of commuter flats interspersed.

Modern day Highbrooms borders with, and merges into, three other suburbs of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Sherwood to the east, Southborough to the west and St Johns to the south. To the north are a number of ancient woodlands that run as far as south Tonbridge, the names of which give some indication of their history, having been planted for fruit, quarried for iron ore or for supplying wood to burn in the furnaces of the smelters (Brokes wood, Barnett’s Wood, Apple Tree Wood, High Wood, Coneyburrow Wood, Devils Wood, Pilgrims Wood, Well Wood, Gorse Wood, Castlehill Wood, Quarry Wood, Minepit Wood and many others).

Highbrooms 1951

Scan of a 1951 map showing Highbrooms, note the brickworks is marked as it was still operating at this time.

Luckily some of these well managed woods are now registered as nature reserves and protected against development in the future. The Tunbridge Wells circular walk wanders through many of these areas of mixed woodland along ancient pathways, though many of the relics of its industrial past have long since vanished.

Highbrooms Satellite Image

Highbrooms as it is today with roads clustered around the station and the ‘lighter’ industrial areas to the north built in the old clay pits (Google Maps image)

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Highbrooms – What is the origin of the name?

A good question that I was asked this morning, and stumbled on answering, so why Highbrooms, what does it actually mean? Well the best answers that I can find are:

High Brooms was originally ‘broom growing near a bridge’ or ‘broom growing on a ridge’. Its earliest recorded form, Bromgebrug in 1270, suggests Old English roots of brom ‘broom’ with either brycg ‘bridge’ or hrycg ‘ridge’. Somewhere along the way this affix was dropped, however, and replaced by the more general qualifier ‘high’. (Kent place names – their origins)

‘Like a number of other local place names It is likely that the name relates back to a farm or small settlement from Anglo Saxon times, although only first recorded in the middle ages.’ (Here’s History Kent)

French Broom in flower

French Broom in flower

And here is a picture for those who are now left wondering, what is broom?

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Some more background to the Highbrooms area

The following blog entry is a collection of further bits of information relating to the history of the Highbrooms area of Tunbridge Wells, taken from several different sources. I cannot vouch for its accuracy but much of it ties up with information on local historical societies. If you see something you know is wrong or can expand on further please let me know!

from Wilkipedia

High Brooms is a north eastern suburb of Royal Tunbridge Wells in KentEngland.

The whole area of Southborough was part of the Royal forest of Southfrith until about the middle of the 16th century, reserved by royalty for hunting. The settlement consisted of a number of isolated hamlets including Nonsuch Green, Holden Corner, Modest Corner and a few houses near the Common. High Brooms was a desolate tract inhabited by Romany Gypsies, very many of Kent’s population today will have Gypsy heritage – whether they choose to admit this is another matter.

Iron had been worked in the area since prehistoric times, since the underlying rock (the iron-rich sandstone of the Hastings Beds which make up the Weald) provided the raw material. From the mid-16th century onwards there were a number of water-powered furnaces on the two streams running through the town: one at Modest Corner; and three on the Southborough Bourne. The latter included the Vauxhall Furnace, operating from at least 1552, near Mote Farm in in what is now Vauxhall Lane: and the Brook (Broakes) Mill opened in 1553. The rock was dug from “bell pits”, and iron smelted here was worked at a forge nearby.

The forges probably continued working until the 18th century when the making of iron became uneconomical and in 1771 the sites was taken over for gunpowder manufacturing hence the name Powder Mill Lane. The mill blew up shortly afterwards but was replaced and continued manufacturing gunpowder. By 1845 a cornmill had been erected on the site, which continued in operation until 1942 when it was demolished. There are now no traces of any industrial workings on the site.

Highbrooms Brick Co.

Highbrooms Brick Co.

Southborough began to expand rapidly from 1879 when the Holden Estate was sold and laid out to accommodate 165 new dwellings. The High Brooms Brick and Tile Company started to build houses for its employees and the area expanded: it is now an industrial estate. (this statement is questionable, the old clay pits are now an industrial estate but the housing is not in the industrial estate!)

Its railway station is High Brooms railway station. It is connected by train to London and Hastings. High Brooms station was originally opened in 1893, known as ‘Southborough’ by the South Eastern Railway; it acquired its present name in 1925.

Between 1885 and 1968, the High Brooms Brick & Tile Company excavated clay in the area. It also had a siding for the railway line in order that it could transport the bricks and tiles that it produced.

The High Brooms Brick and Tile Company was founded in 1885 by John Smith Weare. He died in 1890,aged sixty-two. His son, Frank Weare took over running the firm, and he lived at “The Dell” in Ferndale, and walked to work daily. With the brickworks doing well, Frank persuaded his son, Frank Gerald Craven Weare to take up a directorship in the company, and he took over in 1941 following his father’s death. A slump in the building trade in the 1960s lead to the closure of the brickworks, but there is both a road and recreation ground in High Brooms named after the Weare Family

From the Southborough Society 

The prehistoric remains discovered in the former brick works pit in Chapman Way in High Brooms led to the location being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Iguanodon as found in the clay at Highbrooms

The most notable find to date is the remains of an iguanodon from some 135 million years ago. The creature would have been swimming or splashing round a watery High Brooms during the Lower Cretaceous period as other fossils indicate it was a marshy or watery area.