lanternWas it stolen, given away or simply misplaced?

Research conducted for the Society’s Heritage Exhbition uncovered many fascinating stories and images of Sevenoaks’ past.   The object above was rediscovered during a visit to Oak End, one of the historic buildings featured in the exhibition. The owner had come across it in the attic just days before without realising what it was. From a drawing I was able to identify it as a wrought-iron lantern-holder that used to hang outside numbers 6 & 7 in Dorset Street.  

houseThe lantern-holder depicts tobacco pipes and leaves, indicating that the building was a tobacconist’s shop – perhaps one of the first in Sevenoaks. A plaque on the wall has the date 1605, the likely age of this and the nearby buildings, as well as an effigy of the face of James I, probably put there in the 19thC.coin   Florence Searle, born in 1859, in her reminiscences published in the Kent Messenger, remembers the ancient building as a school which she attended at the age of six, kept by Miss Olive Hooper and her mother for the benefit of children of the town’s tradesmen. She describes the signs outside, including the lantern-holder with its leaves of the tobacco plant and crossed pipes (one now facing the wrong way as the result of some repair). Florence was given a different - and less likely - explanation for its origin: that it was erected to commemorate the construction of the building in the year (1586) when Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco to England.

Around 1888 Fred Pearce moved his fish and poultry shop to 6 & 7 Dorset Street. Fred was the great-grandfather of Tim Pearce, our Society’s recently retired Secretary. At some point the sign disappeared, possibly when the shop moved to 94 High Street after 1893. Tim’s father tried to locate it and get it returned, but failed. According to Florence Searle it had “passed into the possession of Mr W Wheatley Knocker” - and we know that an A C Knocker, who in 1904 was made a partner of Knocker and Foskett, solicitors, bought Oak End in 1923. So it would appear that through the Knocker family it found its way to Oak End and with the house has passed to succeeding owners to the present day. The Sevenoaks Society 1964 film “Look, Love and Preserve” clearly shows the holder complete with lantern hanging above the former High Street entrance to Oak End. Presumably it was removed at some point after that and consigned to the attic.

lantern2In situ on Oak End.

house2Even long-time residents of the town may at first struggle to identify this distinguished building, lying at the southern end of the Upper High Street. It seems that Oak End’s beginnings were quite humble: originally two 18thC timbered buildings, described as “two messuages or tenements” when in 1843 they were bought from William Lambarde by a Captain Nepean. Together with the Royal Oak hotel and the smithy next door (later the Royal Oak Tap) they were part of the large Sevenoaks Park Estate and were probably workers’ cottages. Before selling them in 1853, Nepean converted the cottages into one property, demolishing part, adding a large stone-built extension to the rear and remodelling the front in the stucco-Gothic manner.    According to Jane Edwards (1868), this “quaint-looking” house initially faced west. As she recounts, an old lady named Mrs Blancho lived there before it was converted: she was infirm and could not use the stairs - so she had a square cut out of her bedroom floor and a "sort of chair" made for her to sit on, with pulleys to draw her up and down.

house3The view of the stone extension from the garden provides a stark comparison with the front. Similarly the elegant Georgian-style interior at the rear contrasts with the front rooms with their exposed timbers and ancient fireplace. The ornamental cast-iron railings on the High Street are 19thC. Further modifications were made in the 20thC – a “restoration” to the design of Arts and Crafts architects, giving it its present appearance. The stucco was removed to reveal the brickwork (together with various “frills” and “aberrations”). In the West Kent volume of the Pevsner series, John Newman notes that “Cosmetic work by Baillie Scott and Beresford c1930 made it properly unassertive”. It once more became (as now) two properties by closing off the servants’ quarters. In the drive beside Little Oak End can still be seen the cover of a large turntable used for coaches.  

The rare sepia photograph above, discovered in the archives of Sevenoaks Library, reveals the building before that restoration. Since the Park Grange lodge built c1869 is not shown it may be that the photograph was taken shortly after the mid-19th changes.

house4The building as it appears now, with its dark brown brick frontage and tile-hung projecting porch. (Photograph courtesy Jackson-Stops, Sevenoaks)

Both buildings are featured in the exhibition and the accompanying book. See the Summer 2019 magazine for details. Our thanks are due to the owners of Oak End and Little Oak End for the information provided and showing us round their properties.

Keith Wade                                                                                                                                                                                    May2019