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.

Elephants’ Heads and Tales

A perambulation through pubs, places and peers

There are of course many public houses in Sevenoaks, although by no means as many as there used to be. (By 1920 for example there were 10 in the St Johns & Hartslands area alone: The Bat and Ball, Camden Arms, Castle, Compasses, Elephants Head, Greyhound (later The St John’s Tavern), Man of Kent, New Inn, Railway Tavern and Rifleman. Only the latter remains. Nationally, pubs are being closed at the rate of 29 each week).

This article is the first in a proposed series about the history and stories of hostelries, past and present, of Sevenoaks and surroundings. (It may even be the precursor to a pub-lication, following the success of our latest book on the Lodges and Coach Houses of Sevenoaks). Many are important, architecturally and/or historically, and as I am discovering, a surprising number have fascinating stories to tell. This covers my exploration of pubs in the area which have links to the aristocratic Camden family. I look forward immensely to continuing the research.

An Elephant’s Graveyard?

The Elephants Head at Hook Green KWTwo friends and I were taking refreshments in The Elephant’s Head at Hook Green after a pleasant walk around Lamberhurst, and we fell to wondering about why the old pub was so-called. The anecdotal story told to us, of an elephant buried in the grounds, seemed a little fanciful, but worth exploring. I then recalled that until relatively recently, there was a pub with the same name on Seal Road at Greatness. A little detective work led me down a trail with several intriguing and tortuous twists and turns.

 

The Elephant’s Head at Hook Green (KW)

Some of you may already be aware of what I discovered: that The Elephant’s Head pubs in our area are named after the crest on the coat of arms of the aristocratic Camden family, which has long associations with Sevenoaks. Three more elephant heads feature in the arms. In the south east there are in fact five pubs of that name, with three having a direct link to the Camdens and their lands at Wildernesse and elsewhere.

Sir John Pratt by Michael DahlIn 1705, Sir John Pratt bought a mansion house (Stidulfe’s Place) in Seal, together with the surrounding 364 acre parkland. He renamed it Wilderness (the ‘e’ seems to have been added in the early 19th century). Sir John was an eminent judge and politician, becoming Lord Chief Justice of England from 1718 to 1725. Wildernesse was to remain in the family until 1885. The estate stretched from Godden Green to what is now Hospital Road, and goes back in time to 1327, when it was owned by Robert de Stidulfe. In 1954 the mansion, much enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries, was acquired by The Royal London Society for the Blind. Then called Dorton House, it is now home to 23 luxury retirement apartments, going once more under the name of Wildernesse House.

Wilderness House c1800

Sir John’s third son was the eminent lawyer and Whig politician Charles Pratt, a leading proponent of civil liberties who became Lord Chancellor in 1766. The previous year Charles was raised to the peerage with the title Baron Camden. In 1786 he was made 1st Earl Camden. He was buried in Seal Church, where there is a memorial stone in his honour. We will hear more of him later.

The family crest displaying the elephant’s head can be seen today on three of the surviving lodges to the Wildernesse Estate (Avenue, Hillingdon and Homestead Lodges). The heraldic device symbolises great strength, wit, longevity, happiness, royalty, good luck and ambition.

A print of the Camden coat of arms dated 1768 The crest from the demolished Paygate Cottage Seal Road. 1808 KW Sevenoaks Museum  Sir Charles Pratt by Joshua Reynolds 
A print of the Camden coat of arms dated 1768 The-crest-from-the-demolished-Paygate-Cottage-Seal-Road.-1808-KW-Sevenoaks-Museum Sir Charles Pratt by Joshua Reynolds

In 1786 the Wildernesse estate passed to Charles’ son, another John – John Jeffreys Pratt, the 2nd Earl Camden. In 1812 he became the 1st Marquess Camden. (In 1795 John Jeffreys had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with a certain Colonel Arthur Wellesley as his ADC. The two men became close friends and in March 1815, Wellesley, now the 1st Duke of Wellington, came to stay at Wildernesse. The two double rows of limes that still grace Wildernesse Avenue were planted to commemorate his visit and after the battle became known as The Waterloo Limes).

ehProbably in 1867 (the earliest reference I can find) a public house was built on Seal Road, Greatness, on land neighbouring the Camden’s Wildernesse estate, and was named The Elephant’s Head in deference to the Camden family. (In fact the estate’s latest owner, George Charles Pratt, the 2nd Marquess Camden, had died in 1866 and it was leased to Charles Mills {later Lord Hillingdon} who bought it in 1885).

The remarkable picture below (used by courtesy of the Ed Thompson collection) was taken by local photographer Mr Fielder. The identity of the elephant is not known for certain, but it has been suggested that this more unusual visitor is Lizzie. Her tale is a sad one. Lizzie and the pony – her constant companion, Dannie – were owned by Tom Fossett who ran a circus which had its winter quarters in Lenham in Kent. At the start of the war in 1939, the circus stopped touring and the pair were sold to Sir Tyrwhitt-Drake, the owner of Maidstone Zoo. When the circus came off the road it was in Wales and so the elephant, pony and keeper made the walk from Wales to Maidstone – pausing, appropriately, at The Elephant’s Head. However the trek was too much for Lizzie. Little more than twelve months later she suffered a massive heart attack and died.

pub sign

A notice of auction of February 1868 stated that the pub was also an inn, with “a capital supply of good water”, four bedrooms, and stabling for three horses.  The pub also hired out ponies, flys, traps and chaises – perhaps for the influx of visitors arriving by the new railroad at Bat and Ball station.

The pub closed in 2009 and the building is now a veterinary practice.

The Hook Green Elephant

So what of the ancient pub at Hook Green? The tale that one of the Indian elephants brought to this country to show to Royalty died and its bones were buried in the grounds of the inn may be plausible in that various attractions were no doubt displayed in the “pleasure grounds” of nearby Bayham Abbey, which did receive royal visitors. However, in the absence of any exhumation, it’s far more likely to be merely an adventurous supposition.

The pubs sign in 1990But the next piece of the jigsaw fell into place. I recalled that the Camdens also held the title of Viscount Bayham of Bayham Abbey – just down the road from the pub. In 1714 Sir John Pratt had bought Bayham Abbey and its estate, to add to Wildernesse. (And of course this is commemorated in Bayham Road in Sevenoaks). The title was given to Charles Pratt in 1766.

ps2In 1768 a medieval farmhouse at Hook Green built in 1489 became an inn. Then or some time afterwards it was named The Elephant’s Head. The real origin of its name is now evident. (A report in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 19th September 1873 concerning an alleged rape refers to the pub as “The Elephant”, although in 1919 a transfer of license applied for by “an agent for the Marquis Camden” was granted for The Elephant’s Head).

This is described as “Glenfarg Sunday school outing to Hook Green, Kent”. (If correct, the children had travelled down from central Scotland).

This is described as Glenfarg Sunday school outing to Hook Green KentOver the years the family were great benefactors of the local community. Bayham Abbey School in Hook Green was built in 1860 by George, the 2nd Marquess, for the children of the Bayham Estate. After his death in 1866 his titles were inherited by his eldest son (yet another John, one of 11 children), who decided to move from Wilderness to Bayham. The 3rd Marquess was briefly MP for Brecon before entering the House of Lords: Lord Camden died in 1872 at the early age of 31, followed by his wife Lady Clementina Augusta, daughter of George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough, aged just 37.

The Bayham estate was extensive and was added to over the years. Bayham Abbey was founded c1200 as a house for monks of the Premonstratensian order but largely destroyed in 1536/7 when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. In 1870 the 3rd Marquess built on the other side of the Teise valley the present Bayham Hall as his country retreat. The house and its 368 hectares of “pleasure grounds”, designed by landscape gardener Humphry Repton, were the scene of many a glorious social occasion and visited by royalty (including Edward Prince of Wales in 1920) and others amongst the great and the good DFL (“Down From London”). In 1961 the fifth Marquess entrusted the abbey ruins and the original 18thC residence, the “Georgian Gothic” Dower House (below), to the guardianship of the state.

greeIn the 1970s the family left Bayham, when the Hall, and in 1993 the rest of the estate, was sold into private ownerships.

 

 

 

 

 

And So to Camden Itself.

c1c2The Camden Brewery in north London and The Elephant’s Head pub opposite were established in 1832. The brewery’s trademark was an Elephant’s Head, and “Elephant’s Head” Indian pale ale was one of its most popular drinks. The brewery closed in 1926, but the building survives and an elephant head is still to be seen over the door of the former bottling store. The pub, next to the MTV Music Station, thrives.

Let’s return to Charles Pratt, the first Earl Camden. In 1786, on the death of his mother in law, Frances Jeffreys, Charles acquired a great deal of land in Kentish Town, 300 acres of which he leased out for building 1,400 houses. The new development was named Camden Town in his honour.

Pratt had in fact taken his title from his house, Camden Place, in Chislehurst, which he possessed from 1760 to 1805. It was named after its first owner, the renowned London antiquary William Camden, who in 1609 moved to Chislehurst to escape the plague and lived in the house until his death in 1623. Later residents included the exiled Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Princess Eugenie. Queen Victoria was a regular visitor. It is now a golf club. (We can thus complete the circle: a “Buried Elephant” is a golfing term referring to a large mound on the surface of a putting green).

c3cp1The William Camden pub in Bexleyheath was built by Whitbreads in 1956 on land in the former Manor of Bexley, owned by Camden.

 

cp2

The crest of the coat of arms of the London Borough of Camden is also an elephant’s head. And of course, “elephant’s trunk” = “drunk”. The crest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, USA, shows the three heads of the Camdens’ arms

h1   h2  h3

The Camden Arms

f1The Elephant’s Heads are not the only pubs to honour the Camdens. The Camden Arms in Bethel Road in Sevenoaks, dating from around 1871, closed in 2000 and is now an Indian restaurant.

f2But the Camden Arms Hotel in Pembury still flourishes. In 1799, John Jeffrey Pratt acquired the coaching inn The Five Bells as he extended his lands in the Bayham estate. It was renamed the Camden Arms c1805. It is the subject of a fine painting c1840 by Turner (not the famous one, rather William OWS Turner of Oxford).

 

 

The Grade II listed Camden Arms in Ramsgate (why here?) dates from about 1839

g1 g2
g3 o1

p1p2Also to be found in Camden are the (misnamed) Earl of Camden and The Camden Head. The former opened in 1998 as a Whitbread Hog’s Head pub, and changed its name around 2012. The Camden Head can be traced back to at least 1843.

 

 

 

Brecon Beckons

t1t2In 1812 in addition to being created Marquess Camden, John Jeffreys Pratt also acquired the title of Earl of Brecknock (the modern Brecon). The Brecknock Arms is situated in the centre of Bells Yew Green, Frant, opposite the small village green. When the building was first erected in 1880 it was a house and the original pub was on the green. This was soon knocked down and the house was converted into the village pub.

 

 

u1The Brecknock Arms Tavern (in Camden of course, and now known as The Unicorn) opened in 1839. Its main claim to fame is that it contributed to the death of the one of the last duellists to die in England. After being shot u2nearby by his brother-in-law in 1843, Colonel Fawcett was rushed to the pub, but entry was refused. He struggled down to the Camden Arms – where he expired.

v1

So – there was a Camden Arms in Camden. It is now The Colonel Fawcett – the military-man putting in an appearance from time to time as a ghost.

So why take the title of Earl Brecknock? And why did the Camdens become MPs for Brecon?

The Jeffreys family were substantial landowners and merchants in Brecon, with a history that can be traced back to at least the early 1500s. In 1749, Charles Pratt married Elizabeth Jeffreys, the daughter of Frances and Nicholas Jeffreys – who died at his Brecon Priory estate, with Elizabeth and Frances as co-heirs. The Priory came into the family through the marriage and also on Frances’ death in 1786 (when Charles also acquired the land in London).
Their son John Jeffreys, the 1st Marquess, assumed the additional surname of Jeffreys in 1799. By 1873 they had 6,431 acres in Brecon. The 1812 coat of arms for the Marquess displays a Dragon’s Head as the 2nd element of the crest, from the Jeffreys’ coat of arms (as in the picture of the Brecknock Arms pub sign).

For many years the largest landowners in Brecon, mainly absentees and Tory in sympathy, controlled representation in Parliament. The Jeffreys family returned many members. Directly or indirectly, this control continued for some time after the Camdens took over the Brecon estate.

Finally, Two More Heads

Although there are a few Elephants and numerous Elephant and Castles, I have tracked down just two more Elephant Heads – but with no evident connection to the Camdens. (Until 1622, when it was superseded by an elephant and castle, the crest of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers was an elephant’s head – it is assumed because elephant tusks were used to make ivory handles for knives).

n1The Elephants Head in Hackney, with its ornate pediment, was built in 1897, replacing The Portland Arms. Renamed Fitzgeralds in 2005 it closed in 2014, and is now The Bonneville bar/bistro.

m1The Elephant’s Head in Rosherville, Northfleet, dating from 1843, and still open as far as I am aware, was named after the crest of the Rosher family, who developed Rosherville New Town. (The family made its fortune through lime kilns and chalk quarries).

m2

So … the Amhersts next? Watch this space!

NOTE: THE PRATT FAMILY LINE
Sir John Pratt (1657–1725): judge and politician; Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench; son of Richard Pratt of Oxfordshire. In 1705 buys mansion in Seal (Wilderness House), and Bayham Abbey estate in 1714. Father of:

Charles Pratt (1713 – 1794): made 1st Baron Camden of Camden Place 1765; made 1st Earl Camden and Viscount Bayham of Bayham Abbey 1786; Lord Chancellor to William Pitt. Bought Camden Place in Chislehurst in 1760. Through marriage acquired land in London and Brecon 1786. Father of:

John Jeffreys Pratt (1759 – 1840): 2nd Earl Camden, made 1st Marquess Camden and Earl of Brecknock 1812; Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; friend of 1st Duke of Wellington. Father of:

George Charles Pratt (1799 – 1866): 2nd Marquess Camden; Lord Lieutenant of Brecknockshire 1865. Father of:

John Charles Pratt (1840 – 1872): 3rd Marquess; MP for Brecon Boroughs 1866.

Keith Wade October 2017

This is an extened version of an article written for The Society’s December 2017 magazine. If anyone has any further information about the pubs featured, especially the Elephant’s Head on Seal Road, please let me know, at .

“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.

1912141a 1With 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.

They include:

  • ourtown1dThe 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
  • Hartsland
  • 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.

Local List

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

layer4In 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.

Oak End, Upper High Street

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.

Modern Developments

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.

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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.

Old Sevenoaks

Our collection of old postcards, prints and photographs contains hundreds of images of Sevenoaks past and present.

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Picture Quiz

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.