History of High Brooms, Tunbridge Wells
Summary of impressions, following a fine talk, delivered by historian, Fiona Woodfield: “What the Victorians did for High Brooms”, Tunbridge Wells Civic Society Jan 2012
High Brooms is best known as a railway station (once named “Southborough Station”) on the line from London to Hastings. It is a useful place to live, to work in London. It could take only just over an hour to get into central London from a house in the area.
Thus, many people wanting a rural way of life can live in High Brooms and work in London. They are also increasingly enjoying quasi-London facilities at “The North Farm retail park” which now offers Marks and Spencers, John Lewis, Next and Asda.
High Brooms was not designed as a commuter area just north of Tunbridge Wells. Named after “broom” which grew on part of the area, it was, until 1870, densely wooded slopes (mostly “High Brooms Wood”) around Powder Mill Lane. This lane follows an Iron Age track, part of which still exists in South Frith. This track still exists, beyond the Victorian viaduct at the end of Powder Mill Lane. The track leads up over hill and then down through South Frith towards “Vauxhall Inn”, the ancient coaching Inn on the Tonbridge to Hastings Road.
Before 1870, High Brooms was a quiet, wooded area which had partly belonged to the medieval South Frith manor. Other parts of South Brooms had come into the ownership of the Colebrook Manor. The woods were used for hunting. Thus most of High Brooms once belonged to the Colebrooke family.
Sir Edward Colebrooke, Baronet (see footnote) was a wealthy merchant in the East India Company who was unseated from his position in India, by the famous **Charles Trevelyn**, who put in place Civil Service reforms and its entrance exam. Trevelyn in his early years, challenged Edward Colebroke’s probity, and as a result, Colebrook had to leave his position in India and with The East India company. Returning to England, he was still wealthy enough to buy 90,000 acre Colebrooke Park at High Brooms. Colebrooke Park House was situated near to “Fountains Court”, where M&S now stands, on the North Farm Retail Park. It has long since vanished.
In the 1860s, **Joseph Bazelgette**, the world famous sewage expert who built the sewers of London was called to Tunbridge Wells to solve the issue of its own sewage. He advised two sewage installations, one north and one south of the town. So a site near Colebrooke Park House was chosen, and, as a result the Colebrookes sold up, making money from selling their land for development, to a Methodist builder and developer, Mr Weare.
Mr Weare created the modern community of High Brooms on farm and woodland sold off for development for working class homes -since the wealthy did not want to live anywhere near a sewage farm. The area was originally called “The North Sewage Farm”, today much amended to “North Farm Retail Park”.
Methodist Weare, also set up “The High Brooms Brick Company” which not only supplied all the brick for the houses, but also made bricks transported by train to London from around the turn of the century when High Brooms station was built. He built some houses for his workers, but not all the High Brooms houses were devoted to brick workers. There were a range of professions in High Brooms. He built about 20 houses by 1881, then 200 every decade until 1901, by which time, there were over 2000 people living in High Brooms.
Many Christians, including the Rural Dean, those from St Peter’s Church and the Methodists set up St Matthew’s Church, a Methodist Church, schools, women’s groups and the High Brooms Working Men’s Club – which was in place by 1900. High Brooms was designed as a Christian community even before there were houses. The census shows that High Brooms was always a working class area, of builders, colliers, men who worked in the High Brooms brick factory, which stood between the Station and current North Farm Retail Park.
There were also postmasters and teachers living in High Brooms, but few. Most older women worked as laundresses, some of them specialising in certain tasks like ironing. Younger women were “in service” in the great houses of Tunbridge Wells. There were about 20 shops, for basic goods, in Colebrook Road and High Brooms Road, from its early years. The primary school still fully used, was built around the turn of the 20th century.
The only listed building in High Brooms is the great Victorian Viaduct of 1845, built when the railway opened up, through South Frith. It is a beautiful structure – with much of its elegance and extreme length hidden to the eye.
To summarise: High Brooms houses are built from their own underlying clay. The reason for the creation of “High Brooms” was advice from Joseph Bazelgette which turned a stately manor, open fields, farmland and wooded areas into a residential area for the servants of the rich in Tunbridge Wells, brick workers and others. As a result, many owned their own homes and historically enjoyed fresh air, good communications, proximity to London and beautiful South Frith.
Residents today can also enjoy not only the varied shopping facilities of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, “Fountains Court” and “North Farm Retail Park” – but also numerous films at “Knights Park” cinema centre. Once could say that High Brooms is once again coming into its own as a well-supplied and pleasant place to live.
James Edward Colebrooke, 3rd Baronet, was born on 7th July 1761 and baptized at St.Botolphs, Bishopsgate on 6th August following. He succeeded his father (as 3rd Baronet and Hereditary Keeper of the Castle of Crawford) in 1809. He became Senior Merchant on the Bengal establishment, Judge of Appeals at Moorshedabad, and was Resident and Commissioner at Delhi. However, he was suspended from office in 1829 ‘on account of various corrupt practices’ but in fact he appear to have been caught out taking bribes by future Civil Service reformer, Charles Trevelyn. Returning to England, he resided at Colebrooke Park between Tonbridge nd Tunbridge Wells in Kent and died there on 5th November 1838. His will pr. 14th January 1839 (P.C.C. Vaughan 1-50). By his wife (and cousin once removed) Louisa Ann Colebrooke (noted above) widow of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Stewart, he had no children and was succeeded by his nephew Thomas Edward Colebrooke. However, whilst in India, James Edward had illegitimate issue, one of whom played cricket for England.
A J Bailey Castellina MA,
(I would be delighted to discuss South Frith more with local historians and with anyone who can shed more light on it)