The text of a short talk to Tonbridge Civic Society in 2007 by Miss Nancy Ashwell – (Born in the middle thirties, the house she lived in was number 20 Coldharbour Lane, which her mother had built. The adjacent house 22 “The Croft” was built as the Gardener’s house.)
“I’m going to talk for a few minutes about Coldharbour Lane, Hildenborough 55 to 65 yearsago.
We had a wonderful countryman to help my Mother, who was a professionally trained gardener/and he’d stop work and say ‘Listen’ and then say ‘That’s a robin, or a wren, or look there’s a flycatcher’. Nightingales sang by day and night.
If one found the front and back gates shut, this could mean there were cattle or sheep going down or back from the Tonbridge Market.
Then the War came, things did change, not that I realised it too much one just thought it was normal.
The family in the big house behind us – Marchants Barn- had gone to Canada? and in their place the Newfoundlanders came – soldiers – I have no idea how many.
In the summer of 1940 it was suggested by an uncle (Mother’s eldest brother) that we moved from Kent and stayed with relatives or friends, or in rented properties. A total of 13 in 10 months.
Whilst we were away, for x number of months our empty 4 bed-roomed house was used by some 9 Irish Nuns and their Reverend Mother who been bombed out of London. Our gardener managed to get them out just half an hour before our return that certain afternoon from the County of Rutland.
I went to school at Hilden Oaks – and how, you will ask, did one do the journey twice daily from Hildenborough to Tonbridge when there was petrol rationing Quite simply and very luckily – with the boy from up the top of the lane whose family had a pony and trap that passed my gate. The journey I really remember very clearly – the day a shaft broke. The poor farm-hand, had to tie the pony to the trap and leave us two children alone to go and get help! We arrived at school at lunchtime ? sometimes I could help drive us home.
Pat after a few years went off to Prep School and I and a girl friend who had come to live next door – we went by bus. In those days there were 4 busses an hour between? between Tonbridge and Hildenborough and the Star and Garter stop was just by the end of the Tonbridge School wall.
We had some very interesting people living in the big house opposite our gates in those days known as Hollanden Park. (Now the Raphael Centre) The Rachael MacMillan Training College, had got bombed out of their premises at Deptford. My mother got to know the housekeeper, so we visited.
When they returned to London the property was put up for sale. It was a beautiful house and in excellent condition. So when a lampshade factory (who had been at Orchard Mains further down the Lane) wanted to buy, the householders of the Lane employed counsel to block their purchase. This was because the house interior would be taken apart -the Lane won. In those days it was a private road and a gate shut across to enforce the privilege once a year. Lampshades were subsequently made where Fidelity now is.
So who bought that house and land? Tom Rees and his wife Jean – do you remember his picture? On Charing Cross Station ‘GET RIGHT WITH GOD’ Their visitors came to stay and wander up and down the lane listening to those nightingales. (later the property was renamed Hildenborough Hall)
I made friends with the Rees’ Norland nanny and that’s another story.”
THE FIRE GIRLS OF 1943
One example of the cuttings in Tonbridge Library’s collection is this letter from “The Kent and Sussex Courier”.
Over the past year the interest being shown in your paper about stories of German planes in the area has several times made me think about “my” plane story!
In 1943 I went to Hildenborough to attend a teacher training college which had been evacuated, from Deptford, to Hollanden Park, Coldharbour Lane. As I was already trained as a “fireguard” I joined the college’s fire fighting team.
I cannot remember whether it was late in 1943 or early 1944 when a German bomber crashed, narrowly missing the big house, and hitting the big greenhouses nearby.
We girls were trundled out in our tin hats, with our stirrup~pumps, to fight the blaze! Many of the tall fir trees had caught alight and were like blazing beacons. The empty stabling adjoining the house was threatened and, of course, the greenhouses underneath the blazing plane were all well alight.
I remember being the fire team No 1. holding the hose while while lying on the ground as close as I could got,trying to damp down the end of the building.
I wonder if anyone still in the area remembers this episode?
C. M. BAKER (Mrs)