TOWN AND BUILDINGS/OUR TOWN
This page includes a note about our most notable heritage buildings, summarises the Society’s Local List and Town Centre Survey projects, and provides a link to images of Sevenoaks past and present.There’s also a picture quiz to test your knowledge of Sevenoaks’ buildings.
“The Pleasant Town of Sevenoaks” *
“The town of Sevenoaks is a healthy, pleasant situation, remarkable for the many good houses throughout it, inhabited by persons of genteel fashion and fortune, which make it a most desirable neighbourhood”.
Edward Hasted, “History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent”, 1797.
From its humble Saxon beginnings as a meeting of ways, place of refuge and respite, and then small trading-place, Sevenoaks has grown into one of the most attractive and affluent towns in the south east.Prominent on its ridge yet for centuries overlooked, in its 1000-or-so-year history it has changed from the small settlement of Seouenaca clustered around the church and with farmsteads and manors on its perimeter and wild forest beyond, and “peopled by honest serfs” ** to a bustling, thriving modern town. And despite its obvious advantages as a base for commuters, it has managed to preserve its “country” atmosphere.
With its transformation from a modest medieval market-place came development – so that the town now possesses a varied townscape of buildings – from the unfortunate examples of downright ugly modern edifices to the majestic mansion of Knole.The town has avoided intrusive highways “improvements” that have been so detrimental to many towns and cities, and development has generally been sympathetic to the balance between landscape and built form.
The range of buildings, and their architectural styles, age and worthiness, is wide: they include unprepossessing and functional shops (yet some are ancient buildings with their original cellars; but then there is M&S and Lidl), medieval town-houses, splendid residences for successive generations of successful businessmen, a few surviving grand mansions, old pubs, intriguing back alleys, buildings designed by nationally-renowned architects such as Lord Burlington, Thomas Jackson and Baillie Scott, a 13th century parish church, a renowned public school founded in 1432, an Upper High Street that is one of the finest in the country.The diversity of building types and styles is unified by the consistent use of materials: red brick, Kent ragstone, tile hanging and roof tiles, timber framing and render being the most common.
Despite the occasional aberration, all-in-all Sevenoaks town has a rich and valuable building heritage – one that it is important to preserve to maintain the character of the town and its links with the past.The Sevenoaks Society has a significant and influential role in this respect, in seeking to protect the best of its buildings, helping people to appreciate their worth, scrutinising the appropriateness and design of new developments, and doing our best to ensure that lessons are learnt from past mistakes (eg the demolition of The White House and The Farmer’s pub, the ill-designed apartment block by the station, and the piecemeal development of that important gateway to the town).
* The title of Sir John Dunlop’ s excellent history of the town, published in 1964 and source of the opening quotation. Sevenoaks was also described as “a pleasant town in Kent” by Thomas Carlyle in a letter to his brother John in 1840, after a sleepless night here.
** From Frank Richards’ “Old Sevenoaks”, 1901.
Notable Buildings and Places
Some buildings are of national significance, most obviously Knole.
But there are others that are important in that they reflect the character of the town; are of historical significance, associated with local events, activities or famous people; or represent notable examples of an architect’s work.
- The Upper High Street (“There are more worthwhile buildings than in almost any other street in the county”. John Newman:“The Buildings of England, Kent:West and the Weald”,2012).*
o Significant buildings in The Upper High street include: The Red House, The Chantry, the Old Post Office and The Manor House
- Sevenoaks School and almshouses
- St Nicholas’ church
- Six Bells Lane
- The Bishop’s House
- The Shambles
- The Chequers pub
- Blighs Hotel – now The Oak Tree
- The Market House
- Lime Tree Walk
- The Old Library(Paul – link to text – on present web-site : Our Town; Notable buildings (on left hand side)
- The Vine
- Greatness Mill
- Kippington Estate
- Montreal Estate and The Amherst Obelisk
- The Kraftmeier Mausoleum
- Wildernesse Estate
- The BT Building (for the sake of argument!)
Many more are included in our Town Centre Surveys.
(See also The Sevenoaks Historical Society’s excellent “Sevenoaks – an Historical Dictionary” for details of these and other places in Sevenoaks, and Russell Harper’s “Sevenoaks and Around Through Time”, published by Amberley Publishing, for fascinating images of the town then and now, many taken from the Society’s archives.
An important project for The Society is the creation of an approved record of buildings that are not included in a national listing(ie listed by English Heritage asGrade 1 or 2) but are significant locally. The Society is working with Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) to identify such buildings, assess their importance, research their history and have them officially recorded in a “Local List”. Once included a building’s existence in that list will become a material planning consideration if a planning application affecting that building is made, and so the building is afforded a degree of greater protection.
Buildings identified as contenders are considered by a selection panel which includes representatives from English Heritage, Kent County Council, SDC, a local historian and a local architect for consideration in the final list. Even if buildings are not selected for inclusion on the local list, the on-going research is providing a wealth of information about the significant buildings in the different areas of our town and will eventually be made accessible through this web-site.
Click here for more information about this project.
The Town Centre
In addition to the more recent work on the Local List, over the past 30 years The Society has being conducting a detailed survey to record the features and history of the buildings in the town centre. Images and data drawn from all phases of the survey are accessible from this web-page (click here),and provide a fascinating record of this part of town and the nature and history of the streets, lanes and buildings within it.
Recent years have seen significant and sometimes controversial changes to the town centre, most notably with the creation of the Blighs development, and in 2014 the coming of the large Marks and Spenser store.
In order to secure a record before the spate of developments affecting London Road, in 2013 The Society made a video of its entire length. Click here to see a shortened version of it.
Information about other parts of our town and its notable buildings and architects can be found in past editions of our Newsletter.
Click here for a copy of the Society’s Town Trail,“Sevenoaks Walkabout”, produced by the late Ian Abbott, but now out of print.The Town Council’s MillenniumWalkprovides a heritage trail that links 15 historic buildingsto the famous people associated with them. Look out for the plaques set in the pavement, as well as various other plaques on buildings in the town.
For centuries Sevenoaks, with Knole at its heart and St Nicholas’ as its soul, saw only gradual change. Only in the last 150 years or so has there been significant growth, starting with the coming of the railways, providing easy access to and from London. Expansion continued with the demand for housing after World War One.
Old estates were broken up, roads driven through, cottages built for the workers, more grand houses for the affluent. Fortunately, when the grand estates were redeveloped they were subdivided into generously-sized plots, sometimes with covenants dictating a minimum size for the houses to be built thereon.
The town thereby benefits from characteristically substantial houses set in large gardens that allow plenty of space for trees and landscaping. In recent years there has been a trend towards attempts to subdivide these plots, and the town needs to guard against over-development which will harm the town’s special character.(Click here for an article on the development of social housing in in Sevenoaks).
Today, as a town that must look to ways to maintain its ”competitive edge” through trade as well as heritage, it is dominated not so much by the ancestral power and influence of Knole but by the commercially-driven requirements of large retailers.
Nevertheless the town retains many fine historic and interesting buildings, as well as Knole, the jewel in its crown; and we hope that this web-site will help you to learn more about them and perhaps appreciate them a little more.
Improving the Town
Whilst celebrating all that is good about Sevenoaks, the Society is committed to change, recognising that there is much that can be done to improve the town. What is considered good, and worthy of preservation, is itself subject to constant reassessment and change over time. There is now greater recognition of the importance of the spaces between buildings, which can contribute at least as much to the character of a place as the buildings themselves. There is more attention to detail, such as street furniture, lighting, railings, signs, seats, paving materials, post-boxes and the like. Well designed buildings, which might initially be considered to be “modern”, soon become part of our heritage. Historic buildings are frequently not the product of one particular moment in history: what we see today is often an original structure which has been subject to alteration and extension. It is therefore logical to accept that they may be able to accommodate further change, provided that it is done sensitively and based on a detailed understanding of what is significant.
Several parts of the town have Conservation Area status: they are listed on our Links page and may be accessed from there.
The Society welcomes debate about the town and ideas for its future. (Do contact us with your views). Click here to email
Frequently, the most insensitive proposals do not consider the historical, cultural and environmental context, often through a lack of understanding. Whilst the town has been strengths, there are aspects that need improving, and these should be considered holistically. For example, for a market town, arrangements for market stalls are cramped and lack focus; parking, cycling and pedestrian provisions are all inadequate; there are opportunities in the town centre for new buildings and new public spaces.
By making information more accessible, and by encouraging debate, the Society will help to make Sevenoaks an even better place for future generations.
Local architect and artist Roger FitzGerald, a member of The Society’s Executive Committee, has produced a set of proposals for the town centre as an example of the type of holistic planning that should be encouraged. Click here to view them.
In 2013 The Society launched a new award for contemporary building works: The Frank Marshall Award for Townscape Improvement. The biennial award aims to recognise the best improvement or contribution to the townscape of Sevenoaks. Click here for details, including how to suggest candidates for the 2015 award.
Our collection of old postcards, prints and photographs contains hundreds of images of Sevenoaks past and present. A sample can be viewed here. Paul – link to images, to be provided when you need them. More can be seen in the Archives pages of the web-site.
Click here for images of places and buildings in the town. See how many you can recognise.
The document gives a link to the answers.