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Historic Scenes along the Hastings Road

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When our great-grandfathers wished to journey from London to Hastings, they commonly went from London Bridge along the Dover Road as far as New Cross; thence continuing through Lewisham and Bromley. To-day, those initial miles are, from the point of view of the man who motors for pleasure, unthinkable. He goes, let us say, from Hyde Park Corner to Westminster Bridge and thence along the Camberwell Road to Peckham and the New Cross Road, where he joins the road into Lewisham. When all roads were considered rather from a coaching point of view than from their scenic or historic qualities, the Hastings Road did not rank high. Hastings was not then considered to be a town of much importance. It was only beginning its development as a seaside resort, and consequently the coaching along its sixty-three miles was not of the best. It was a road of many pair-horse concerns; and pair-horse coaches in general were looked down upon. Even the mail was merely a pair-horse affair, and its speed was not above eight miles an hour. Well, a rural road of this character would seem in these rather overcrowded times to be well worth knowing; and it is.

The Hastings Road, when you have left the suburbs behind, is at once beautiful and comparatively unfrequented. It is a very hilly road. The ultimate extension of the suburbs in these parts is now pushing past South End into Bromley. South End itself, beyond Lewisham, is a pretty interlude, with ponds and gardens beside the road. Rushey Green, before it is reached, is today a suburb where you will in vain seek rushes, or any Green.

Beyond Bromley is that broomy common, with its silver birches which save something rural for the town. To this succeeds the hamlet of Lock's Bottom, in its deep hollow, with Farnborough to follow - places prettily set amid underwoods and copses. Then Green Street Green and Pratt's Bottom. A new by-pass road takes off, avoiding the steep descent of Pol Hill, on a road which itself was newly made in 1836. At Dunton Green, too, modern road works with a garden village scheme are in progress. Beyond all these alterations of well-known landmarks, we come to Riverhead village, so named from its proximity to the source of the river Darenth. This pretty village introduces the wayfarer to the long climb into Sevenoaks. That town occupies a ridge 500 feet above sea-level, which rises a further 200 feet in another mile. The steep rise to Sevenoaks is unromantically named Tubs Hill. Lest it be thought that this was a personal name, it must be explained that the title came from a cooper's shop which, in the long ago, stood upon it. The old Sevenoaks of coaching times has been pretty well abolished, but there are houses there yet older, notably The Chantry, and that which is generally known as "The Old House." This in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the Cats inn. Tom D'Urfey, a convivial songster and rhymester, alludes to the "jolly sleek host of The Cats" in his poems. The sign derived from the two leopard supporters to the arms of the Sackvilles ol Knole, just outside the town, where D'Urfey was maintained in luxury by the sixth Earl of Dorset, as a sort of bacchanalian laureate.

That noble mansion and park of Knole, still in the Sackville-West family, are seen on the left in leaving Sevenoaks. Descending past the White Hart inn. we come to the descendants of the seven oaks which originally gave the town its name. Thence the crest of River Hill is reached. This name is corrupted from "Reever," the house of a wood-reeve, or forest bailiff of old. A lovely view spreads out over much of Kent. This eminence descends, steep and winding, for three-quarters of a mile into the vale of Medway, and passing the hamlet of Hildenborough, comes into Tonbridge. No one has satisfactorily explained why the "Ton" in this place-name should be spelt with an "o," and that in the name of Tun bridge Wells with "u." In the chief street of Tonbndge stands the old Chequers inn, and in a byway on the right is the grim and massive gatehouse of that medieval castle of which the Archbishops of Canterbury were the overlords with at one time the Earls of Clare as their feudatories. It was one of these, Roger de Clare, who, in dispute with his suzerain, Thomas a Becket, treated the messenger of His Grace with such contempt as to make him eat the threatening document he had brought, "especially," we are told, "the seals." Such documents then were decorated with exceptionally good-sized seals; and thus the unhappy pursuivant must needs have had not merely an unpleasant meal, but also a large one.

The Hastings Road goes direct, but with an alternative loop for Tunbridge Wells, five miles distant, rejoining at Lamberhurst. "The Wells," as that town first was known, took its (or their) rise in 1630, and became immediately fashionable, although the primitive conditions then rendered the cure somewhat of a picnic occasion. Strange to say, although the troubles of Charles I's reign abolished that class of fashionables, the Wells enjoyed a great favour with the Puritans, and it is to them we owe the characteristic name of "Mount Ephraim," and other Scripturally-named local places. The favour of Tunbridge Wells continued at the Restoration. The church, built 1628, is dedicated to "King Charles the Martyr." The public spring at which a draught of the Tunbridge Wells medicinal water can be, and always could be, freely taken is in The Pantiles, the queer old-world promenade in the midst of the town; a place which, although not now a fashionable rendezvous, remains much in appearance what it has ever been.

Resuming the main Hastings Road, and rising Somerhill, we come to Pembury Green, and thence, passing the Blue Boys inn, whose sign displays two blue-jacketed post-boys, descend into the pretty village of Lamberhurst, with its old Chequers inn, in a hollow by the little stream called the Teise. All around, during some two centuries and a half, were the iron smelting works of the Kentish and Sussex iron-ore districts, with their hammer-ponds. The ore was smelted here from the wood supplied by the neighbouring forests, and the industry decayed only because smelting in coal furnaces in the Midlands was cheaper. The heavy railings that surround S. Paul's Cathedral were produced here, at Lamberhurst.

On the rising ground out of the village the lodge gate of a park is seen to the left. This admits to a private estate in which are the romantic ruins of Scotney Castle with its moat; a fairy-like scene. Admission is granted on one day of the week.

Passing Stonecrouch and Flimwell, we come to Hurst Green, a hamlet of Etchingham, but larger than the parent village by reason of its situation directly upon the road, Etchingham being placed obscurely off it, to the right. Indeed, Hurst Green has secured many of the essential adjuncts of a civilized State, including a large police station and petty-sessions court. Etchingham church is a beautiful structure, built 1365, with an armorial weathervane bearing the arms of the old de Etchingham family. The road now plunges down Silverhill into the valley of the Rother and into the village of Roberts-bridge. To the left is Bodiam Castle, built by one of the Dalingridge family. It had never any warlike history. A lovely, lily-grown wide moat completely encircles it, and gives the grey roofless walls and towers an ethereal beauty. The late Lord Curzon purchased the castle for the nation.

From Robertsbridge the road ascends arduously to John's Cross, and then goes lonely and gradually rising all the way intoBattle, between murmuring pines. A railway level-crossing stands midway. The little town of Battle still lives on William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings. Battle Abbey soon began to rise on that field of blood which had witnessed the victory of the Normans and the overthrow of the Saxons. Where Harold had fallen, stricken down agonisingly by an arrow descending from the sky, like the stick of a spent rocket, William caused the high altar of his abbey to be built. The King of England, as he had become, spent money freely on that religious establishment, and it was richly endowed with manors far and near; and was made the centre of a three miles' circuit exempted from all other jurisdictions, ecclesiastical or civil. The abbots, too, were of the more important mitred kind, who sat in the councils of State. It took twenty-eight years to complete the buildings, and William had been seven years in his grave when they were finally consecrated. Here they stood, in this noble situation, overlooking the battlefield, for over four hundred and fifty years, ending with the surrender to Henry the Eighth's Commissioners on May 27, 1538. And now all the glory of Battle Abbey and its pomp and pride have vanished away, and it has become a show-place for curious visitors one day in the week. The stately gatehouse is its chief relic. A refreshment cottage on the right was once the almonry, a place where pilgrims were entertained. The actual battlefield extended down into the valley to the south. By taking the side that leads to Catsfield, you may best appreciate, from the invaders' point of view, the scene of the conflict.

Over Telham Hill and past Starr's Green and Crowhurst Park we come to a fork of roads, offering a choice of ways into Hastings. If you would rather go to the St. Leonards end, then keep to the right, along what is called the New London Road. This leads to some puzzling cross-roads at Baldslow, where electric tramway lines and a maze of wires dissipate all effects of rurality. Then succeeds the hilly district of Silverhill, followed by the not altogether beautiful suburb of Bohemia.

The left-hand route, the Old London Road, is perhaps the better choice, although it is true that tramways inflict this route equally. We pass immediately Holmhurst, the old home of Augustus J. C. Hare, with an old relic of London seen in the meadows on the right - the group of statuary removed from the front of S. Paul's Cathedral in 1893, and replaced by the replica now there. Queen Anne and the attendant emblematic figures representing England, France, the American Colonies and Ireland are all more or less mutilated.

And so down to Ore. The deserted and ruinous old church is off to the right, before we come to the modern suburb. Lengthily, and with ever-increasing steepness, the way goes down, past Halton, and finally reaches Hastings, in the Old Town. There, by All Saints and in the street of the same name, you see something of what Hastings was in former days; and coming to the shore by the fish market, you see its picturesque side, away from the gay "seaside" developments of the present age.

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Pictures for Historic Scenes along the Hastings Road

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