I spent my formative years in or around the Kentish town of Ashford. My parents had moved to the town in 1959. I was 3½ years old at the time, whilst my sister was around 18 months. We had moved from London, in search of a better life, trading the cramped rooms the family shared with my paternal grandparents, as well as dad’s brother and his family, for the joys of life in an expanding Kentish town, and the luxury of a new-build, three-bedroomed, semi-detached house.
The fact they were able to make the move, was due to my father working for the Royal Mail, or the GPO as it was in those days. Dad had been able to get a transfer from the London office he was based at (I never did find out which one), to the Crown Post Office in Ashford. Our spacious new abode was a new-build Taylor Woodrow property, on an estate on the edge of the rapidly expanding village of Willesborough.
When I was 14 and my sister 11, the family moved again, this time swapping our three-bed semi, for a detached bungalow, with a large rear garden, in the nearby village of Brook. The latter is a small linear settlement which lies at the foot of the North Downs, close to the much larger village of Wye. It’s main claim to fame is its largely intact Norman church, complete with some original medieval wall-paintings. The village also possessed a rather good pub, the Honest Miller, closed, and boarded up, at the time of writing, although I hear there are plans afoot to restore it to its former glory.
Ebbsfleet itself was another white elephant and, with its so-called “Thames Gateway” connection, something of a vanity project as well.
Somewhat ironically, Ashford station underwent at least two re-builds, prior to the arrival of Eurostar, and I can remember from childhood, the old wooden station buildings, painted in their old Southern Railway colours of cream and green, being pulled down in favour of something more functional and “modern.” We walked up into the town centre, via Station Road, now a busy dual-carriageway, almost devoid of buildings. The shops at the top of the road, along with Tiffany’s café – the scene of many mis-spent teenage afternoons, have all vanished, along with the Duke of Marlborough pub, with its attractive corner turret and clock.
We crossed over and walked up through the town’s War Memorial Gardens, and then through the Vicarage Lane car park, at the back of the Odeon. The latter was another place where I spent much of my youth, and whilst the Odeon is still standing, it has been closed for years and under threat of redevelopment. With its almost intact, art-deco interior, there is a long-running campaign to save it but given the track record of Ashford Borough Council (ABC), I don’t see much chance of its success.
And so, following the alleyway at the side of the cinema, we arrived in Ashford High Street, a wide, attractive, and once bustling thoroughfare, befitting of a busy and successful, market town. Now it is just another pedestrianised precinct, with a few sad-looking shops, and equally sad-looking inhabitants.
even the Luftwaffe in its appetite for the mass-destruction of any buildings of character, but with a peculiar desire for the elimination of the majority of Ashford’s stock of once thriving public houses. The local authority worshiped the motor car and it worshiped modernism, as not content with the bypass taking the A20 around the town, the council decided that Ashford needed a ring road as well. Then, on top of the ring road, the High Street shops needed a service road behind them, so that deliveries wouldn’t conflict with their plans for pedestrianisation.
This tiny area illustrates what might have been, or what could have been, if a more sympathetic and sensitive council had been in charge during the 60’s and 70’s.
My plan was to take a bus, alight outside my old school, and then walk along to have a look at what was the family’s first house. We jumped on service bus C, which runs at regular intervals, from the town centre, out to the area’s main hospital – the William Harvey. After getting off, we passed the Fox, the pub that my grandfather liked to visit, when him and my nan came to stay. Apart from a paint job, and the acquisition of the prefix “New,” it didn’t look much different. My old school, on the other hand, had been renamed, after its founder, and had also increased in size.
This is the bit at the beginning of the article which advises, not to go back, although if I’m honest, apart from satisfying my curiosity, I didn’t feel much in the way of emotion. It was good to see that from the outside, the house had been well cared for, but houses were well-built, back in the 1950’s so there wasn’t much that could have gone wrong.
Willesborough Mill. The path I had planned to take though, was blocked off, so we headed in the opposite direction to Hythe Road.
|Stephen Nunney / Willesborough Windmill /|
School was Willesborough County Primary School, and its mainly Victorian stone buildings are still standing at the top of Silver Hill. The school itself, has moved to a new site complete, with all modern facilities, and the original buildings converted to domestic use. We carried on by them, passing under the M20 motorway which has absorbed the former bypass.
Our lunchtime stop was just a few hundred yards away now, but I’m afraid you will have to wait for the next post to find out what it was called, and what it was like.