Discover heritage hotspots on your doorstep

Nusrat Ghani
GF Startup's shop on the corner of Powder Mill Lane

Heritage Open Days is an England-wide event which celebrates our country’s architectural, social and cultural legacy by offering visitors of all ages free access to a range of events that include interesting properties, guided walks, tours and talks.

It has been running for nearly 30 years nationally and in Tunbridge Wells since the mid-90s.

“At this time the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society took an active interest in supporting the opening of heritage properties and the late Roger Farthing, Dr Philip Whitbourn and John Cunningham have also been key figures in ensuring a wide range of activities and publications are associated with this annual event,” explains local co-organiser Caroline Auckland.

Nowadays it is the Civic Society, in conjunction with the National Trust, that helps to co-ordinate events across the Borough of Tunbridge Wells.

“It is also run by volunteers who research and promote all the events, sharing the fabulous resources and venues we have in our community.

“The Heritage Open Days area stretches from Rusthall, Speldhurst and Tunbridge Wells out to Paddock Wood and the surrounding areas, including Capel and Horsmonden, so it is quite wide and varied!”

Caroline adds that there are plenty of Covid-compliant outdoor events for this year, including archaeological walks around Rusthall and Barnett’s Wood, as well as a chance to see a Georgian and Victorian age corn mill excavation site in Southborough.



Wild Child Forest School Fun


“Every year we try to add new events to pique people’s interest. For this year we have an event called Wild Child Forest School Fun, which is organised by the Friends of Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons in conjunction with the Kent High Weald Partnership.

“Four free forest school play sessions are being offered over the period of the Heritage Days events. The sessions will be set in a woodland environment for families over the weekend of September 11 and 12.”


In addition to this, Caroline says that local historian Fiona Woodfield will be offering a circular walk entitled ‘Drinking around St John’s’ to discover more about this particular neighbourhood of the town; its brewery, pubs, dairy, farms and mineral water industry.

“There will also be guided walks led by the Commons Warden, Steve Budden,” Caroline continues.

“They are available for both Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Common and are suitable for all ages as long as you wear suitable clothing and footwear. It is rumoured that Steve will be bringing his faithful dog Moofy!

“Together, visitors will explore rocks, ponds and discover all sorts of information about these much loved and popular outdoor areas.”

Hawkenbury Allotment will be open for tours, too, to see the wonderful vegetables, fruit and flowers grown to sustain local individuals and families – especially during lockdown.

“This is the perfect place to gain inspiration to start your own garden or consider taking on an allotment,” suggests Caroline.

In addition, The Friends of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery are putting on a fascinating exhibition about the 100-plus Chinese missionaries who are buried in Tunbridge Wells Cemetery.

“The China Inland Mission (CIM) was started in 1866 by Hudson Taylor and their retirement home was Cornford House, Pembury.

“The exhibition focuses on their lives in China and will be opened by the Bishop of Guildford, who will bless a new planted Ginkgo tree,” says Caroline.


A favourite event in the annual Heritage Days calendar is a guided walk of the Victorian Mortuary Garden organised by the Friends of Woodbury Park Cemetery.

Caroline says that visitors will have the opportunity to hear about local traders, clergy, medics, paupers, artists, philanthropists – and also Jane Austen’s brother, the Rev Henry Austen – who are all buried there.

During Heritage Open Days there is a mix of both voluntary and guided tours. They include the Tunbridge Wells Quaker Meeting House, the Friends of Tunbridge Wells Museum and Hoppers at Five Oak Green, which was originally a hospital for sick hop pickers.

“These open days offer an opportunity for visitors to experience the unique character of the buildings, as well as examining pictures and historic records,” states Caroline.

There are plenty of old favourites participating in this year’s Heritage Days event, such as the display of archive material in Barsleys Department Store, Paddock Wood.

And while you are there, why not visit the John Brunt VC pub, where visitors can explore memorabilia associated with local WWII hero John Brunt and his family.

Grosvenor & Hilbert Park is offering an exhibition of the park’s history with additional research on land use, farming practices and how it was used to grow food.

The park is also offering a guided walk led by Dr Ian Beavis, Research Curator at The Amelia.

“On this walk you will discover how the park’s wetland, flower-rich grassland, and ancient woodland still support a wide range of flowering plants, butterflies, dragonflies, bees and other creatures, some of them nationally scarce,” enthuses Caroline.

Who knew there was so much absorbing history to discover on our doorstep?

For the most up-to-date information (and booking details where relevant) on Heritage Open Day events, visit: and

For a list of local Heritage Open Day events in date order, see this week’s Going Out feature:




This year the local Heritage Open Days team have organised a special photographic competition for students (in school years 4 to 13).

It is based on the Heritage Open Day theme of Edible England, and to celebrate this the Civic Society is inviting students living in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells to enter a free photographic competition, which will reflect this theme.

There will be prizes for the winners and runners-up of each of two entry groups.

Entry details are as follows:

• Entry group Years 4-6, with a first prize of £50 and two runners-up prizes of £25.

• Entry group Years 7-13, with a first prize of £100 and two runners-up prizes of £50.

• The theme of Edible England may be interpreted in any way – e.g. a local food shop window, café or restaurant, bug hotels, allotments or bird feeders with birds.

• One digital entry per student (landscape or portrait, high resolution jpeg). Include your name, year group, address, school, plus title of photograph submitted.

• Entries must be student’s original work.

• Submit entries to:

• Closing date for submissions : September 12, 2021.

• The judges’ decision is final.

The results of competition to be announced on September 19, 2021 at:

Entry will allow the use of the images on the Times of Tunbridge Wells website, newsletter and social media pages, including those attached to SO Magazines, and future Tunbridge Wells Heritage Open Days leaflets. Entry permits publication of names in press releases.


Camera lens photo: © Stevanovicigor/

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