Building a picture of our town’s past

Greg Clark

THE Heritage Open Days are back again in Tunbridge Wells and beyond, and from tomorrow [Thursday] until Sunday residents will have the chance to explore inside some of the area’s grandest buildings, as well as some of its smaller ones. Pat Wilson, who is on the local organising committee, explains the benefits of opening up these historic places

This year, the mosque in Camden Road will be included in our collection of places of historical interest which open up their doors for Heritage Open Days.

It is the first time it has been open to the public generally, and they are in the middle of a £300,000 appeal to extend the mosque to make more room for their growing number of children. Before it became a mosque it was The Roebuck pub.

There will also be plenty of churches to explore. Stained glass enthusiasts will enjoy the nationally celebrated High Victorian Burne Jones windows in Speldhurst, and Chagall’s modernist memorials to a drowned girl at All Saints’ Church, Tudeley.

Just down the road at Capel there are some rare 13th-century wall paintings to enjoy at the normally closed Church of St Thomas à Becket.

Memorials and mementoes are everywhere, including Princess Victoria’s personal seat at King Charles the Martyr Church by The Pantiles, and mementoes of Edith Cavell at St Thomas’s
in Southborough.

Mabledon, the childhood home of Decimus Burton, was last year’s coup and proved immensely popular. It’s on the border between Southborough and Tonbridge and was designed and built by Decimus’s father, James.

As usual, there will be a number of conducted tours taking place over the four-day period, and booking is essential so as not to be disappointed.

A tour that has proved to be very popular over the years is backstage at the Opera House in Mount Pleasant. Although it’s now a pub, it was the predecessor to Glyndebourne and still provides a full opera once a year.

The top cemetery tour has to be the one at Woodbury Park, where visitors can see ornate tombs of heroes of Empire or Victorian dignitaries – which include Jane Austen’s brother.

You can also take a steam train ride on the Spa Valley Railway along to High Rocks, which boasts eight acres of sandstone rock, all free to explore.

Or you can get right down into the sandstone and mud courtesy of the Southborough Archaeological Society, who will take you to the dig site just off Vauxhall Lane to find out what our Neolithic ancestors were up to.

There’s also the working windmill in Cranbrook to explore, and not far from there is prize-winning blacksmith Michael Hart, who will demonstrate his skills at his forge in Horsmonden.

But these are just a few of the events taking place. To find more, and to book tours, visit

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