As of September 24th 2013 High Brooms officially has a Village Green, of course as the locals know it has unofficially had a village green for over a century but events over the last year had almost led to the community losing it completely.
The beginnings of the story of how and why this came about start way back in the Victorian era with the owner of this piece of land being a lady called Esther Beaney (also spelt Beany, Beeney, Beney), who was a descendant of the Romani gypsies that had lived in the heavily wooded High Brooms area way back before the brick company and workers arrived and started to build their houses here.
Esther (daughter of Thomas and Sarah Smith) was married to Robert Beaney (son of Absolom and Priscilla Beaney) and had 7 or 8 children. Sadly her oldest, Robert (known as Bobby), died aged 4 years old after a wall collapsed on him as he played in the garden of their rented property at 59 Colebrook Road. Another of her children, Mary Robinson, is also mentioned below.
By the time Esther died, she had purchased a home for each of her surviving children. Sadly Esther passed quite suddenly and having been a relatively secretive person during her life it is not known how she afforded these houses and the existing family members have been guessing for many many years – they think she was a money lender and also wondered if she was given some compensation from the High Brooms Brickworks following the death of her eldest son.
Additionally it is likely that she inherited money and land, possibly including this area, from Absolom Beney who was well known in High Brooms and surrounding area, he died in 1905 aged 84, and was subsequently buried in St Peters cemetery. In a Kent and Sussex Courier tribute to him it reported that ‘he was reputed to have amassed a considerable amount of wealth. He was well known all round the district as a keen man in his own line of business’.
So, whether purchased or inherited, Esther now owned the land at the junction of Southview Road and Colebrook Road and at this time there was also a pond there. It was reported that she had wanted to open a pub but the council would not grant a licence and eventually they bought the land through a compulsory purchase order from her. Esther was not happy with the way the land was purchased and allegedly had a solicitor draw up a covenant that prevented the new owners from building on the land.
When the council applied to themselves for planning permission to build 6 houses on this land in 2012 they received this letter from Mrs Smith, a direct relative of Esther Beaney:
I write in memory of my Grandmother Mary Robinson who lived all her life in High
Brooms. My Grandmother told me a story many, many times, that her mother Esther Beaney had owned the Green at South View Road and had planned to build a pub on it. Esther’s plans were blocked and then TWBC had compulsory purchased the land from her (maybe as much as 90 years ago).
We were told that prior to the lands transfer, Esther Beaney visited a solicitor in London and had a covenant placed on the land preventing anyone from ever building on it. I know that last time plans were submitted for building on the Green (early 1990s), my Grandmother Mary had become very upset and relatives were dispatched to the Council Offices to voice their concern.
Thankfully the plans were withdrawn. Mary Robinson died in 1993.
Please withdraw the latest plans. We have always believed that the Green at South View Road is a legacy that Esther Beaney left for the people of High Brooms to enjoy.
Even if the story cannot be proven, or is slightly inaccurate, in 2012, the year of the London Olympics, space for children to run and play is a legacy we should all be trying to leave for future generations.
Between the date of the compulsory purchase and recent developments it appears that the land sat vacant and was used by the local community for recreational purposes. Before the last war I have also been informed that the Tunbridge Wells Corporation used the area as a dump for car roofs and even a steamroller, and I suspect these infilled the pond and are quite possibly still buried there. It could prove to be quite an interesting outing for Tony Robinson’s Time Team.
In October 2012, without any prior consultation with the local community the local authority posted a single notice on a lamp-post indicating that they were applying to themselves for planning permission to build 6 large semi-detached houses with 12 off road parking spaces and an access road on this green area.
Needless to say the locals were outraged and immediately formed a protest group with an online presence, this rapidly attracted over 150 members, many of whom also wrote letters of objection to the council, KCC members and local MP Greg Clark, as well as getting the attention and support of the local councillors.
The local press also got involved and ran a number of articles on behalf of the community. It was at this stage that I first had contact with members of Esther Beaneys family who were understandably furious as they said this was the second time in recent years that the council had attempted to build on the land, the previous being about 20 years earlier. I contacted the planning officer directly and put this to him but he denied all knowledge, in his defense though the earlier attempt to develop here was before computer records existed and it is likely all the paper ‘evidence’ has long been destroyed.
It also transpired that although the land was purchased at the turn of the last century the council had only now registered it with the land registry in 2008, without any detail of how they came to be the owners nor with details of the covenant. A very convenient arrangement for them indeed….
The consultation process ran it course, with new objections added daily, including those from the councils own landscape officer who pointed out that it broke a number of planning guidelines and also the county highways department who made it quite clear this was a totally unsuitable development proposal. A full survey was carried out but eventually the council withdrew their planning application in the light that it was unlikely to succeed and this could now prove quite embarrassing to themselves. I would definitely like to know how much public money was wasted on this ill-thought plan. I was told that the council would be re-visiting the scheme and another application was likely to be submitted during early 2013, so it was time for the now connected community to act….
I was aware that whilst we were battling with the council to preserve our little bit of green space the government was also debating ‘The Growth and Infrastructure Bill’ with its second reading scheduled for early November 2012. This was likely to prove to be the nail in the coffin for many Village Green applications if the area has been previously identified for development, although in reality it is meant to reduce the numbers of NIMBY applications where people simply want to block development around their houses even if the land is not used routinely by the local community.
Several of us investigated the requirements more closely and looked at the ‘Open Spaces Society’ advice website and decided we had a really good case if we could get the application into the county council quickly enough so we proceeded. This involved highlighting the area to be considered and then collecting a body of evidence of use from the local community in the form of questionnaires. These had to illustrate continual free access and a range of recreational use (simply using the land as a shortcut does not count) over a long period of time.
The local community really excelled here and with an additional ‘drop-in’ session organised in the local TOC-H hall we soon had over 50 to submit with the application so off it went. We waited for a number of weeks and another notice regarding this new application was displayed by the green. This time in a far more prominent position just in case anyone wanted to object to having a village green instead of a housing development. We waited, the council did not object, the boundaries and land ownership were queried and the application was adjusted accordingly and we continued to wait patiently as the summer came and went and the green continued to be enjoyed.
In September 2013 we were finally sent a copy of the report that had been produced for the Regulation Committee Member Panel who would be making the decision on September 24th, on opening the report on the very first page it read:
Application to register land at South View Road in Tunbridge Wells as a new Town or Village Green
A report by the Head of Regulatory Services to Kent County Council’s Regulation
Committee Member Panel on Tuesday 24th September 2013.
Recommendation: I recommend that the applicant be informed that the application to register land at South View Road in Tunbridge Wells as a new Town or Village Green has been accepted, and that the land subject to the application (as shown at Appendix A) be registered as a Village Green.
Local Member: Mr. P. Oakford Unrestricted item
Of course this in itself was fantastic news but it still had to undergo approval of the panel, but luckily after a couple of other agenda items on the day the panel, who had visited the green earlier that same day, passed approval without question. To say that the local community are elated is an understatement and I know that the descendants of Esther Beaneys family are also happy that her wishes for this land to remain undeveloped and open to the community for future use are now granted and protected in law.
Now we have to think what sort of event we should have to celebrate this achievement and also start looking for funding opportunities to implement a few improvements to the area.
I have been supplied information for this article through communication with members of the Beaney family and local community as well as historical newspaper cuttings and so I cannot guarantee the accuracy of all content although much of this was verified from more than one source.
Although this fantastic result is through the combined effort of a whole community special thanks should also be given to Margaret Heasman, John Neller and Paul Batchelor for the parts that they have played in making sure it happened.
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 HighbroomsSociety@gmail.com or send me a message on twitter to: @HighbroomsSoc
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