Everything you need to know about Sevenoaks

PUBLISHED: 16:42 21 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:52 21 September 2020

Bligh's Meadow offers plenty of scope for al fresco dining

Bligh's Meadow offers plenty of scope for al fresco dining

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

The original trees that gave this popular town its name are long gone, but it still has a heart of oak. Take a closer look at superb Sevenoaks | Words: Caroline Read - Pictures: Manu Palomeque

History

If you’re wondering where the name comes from, it’s believed that back when the land belonged to the Great Manor of Oxted, a tiny Saxon chapel was built within what is now Knole Park – near to the ‘seven oaks’.

Later, in the 13th century, it became an important route where the roads from Dartford and London merged as they headed through the Weald to the coast. As such, it became an obvious place for a market and the town grew up around it.

Although the original oaks were lost long ago, the trees have become part of the town’s identity. From a new group of oaks at The Vine cricket ground to pub names and a town sign featuring acorns, you’re never far from a reference in Sevenoaks.

Some of the town’s oldest buildings are part of Sevenoaks School. Thought to be the oldest secular school in England, it was founded in 1432. Nearby is St Nicholas Church, where the poet John Donne was rector between 1616 and 1631.

But these historic landmarks pale into insignificance compared to the jewel in the town’s crown. Right at the heart of Sevenoaks is Knole. Built at the centre of an ancient royal deer park, the house dates from 1455 and is said to have as many rooms as there are days in the year.

Owned by Archbishops and a favourite haunt of keen hunter Henry VIII, it was sold to Thomas Sackville in 1604 and remains in the hands of his descendants today – although it is managed by the National Trust.

Knole has an incredible 1,000-acre deer parkKnole has an incredible 1,000-acre deer park

An extensive restoration project a few years ago has opened much more of the building up to the public, as well as uncovering artefacts from within the ancient walls and floors.

Best bits

This summer, like never before, we’ve been looking for outdoors things to do, whether that’s shopping at a local Farmers’ Market, enjoying a picnic with family and friends, or walking through our wonderful countryside. Luckily, Sevenoaks has it all.

Knole is not only one of the most impressive houses in the National Trust’s care, it also has an incredible 1,000-acre deer park thrown in. Set so close to the centre of town you can walk there in minutes, the park is the oldest part of Sevenoaks and dates back to even before the great house at its heart.

At the time of writing, the National Trust was still unable to open its buildings, but the grand park was open throughout lockdown for locals seeking their daily exercise and now welcomes visitors from further afield. The café is open to the public again now too.

Do watch out if you’re picnicking on the estate. The herds of fallow and Japanese sika deer have been known to pinch the odd sandwich if you’re not careful.

Another nearby Trust property is Ightham Mote, which is also very popular with walkers, picnickers and lovers of history. The moated manor house looks like something from a fairytale and its story goes back a staggering 650 years or more.

Sevenoaks High Street is bustling once moreSevenoaks High Street is bustling once more

Closer to the town itself is Riverhill Himalayan Gardens. With sweeping views, formal gardens, bluebell woods and a lovely café, it’s the perfect place to explore with the family. Children may even spot the yeti hiding in the woods.

And a short drive from Sevenoaks is Eagle Heights in Eynsford. With all sorts of birds of prey to meet, as well as meerkats, servals, farm animals and reptiles, it’s always a big hit with the kids.

Not far away is Lullingstone Roman Villa and Tom Hart Dyke’s World Garden at Lullingstone Castle. And the little village of Shoreham is famous for the lavender fields of Castle Farm, which bloom throughout July. It feels like deepest Kent but this idyllic slice of country life is much closer than you may think to London.

One of Kent’s commuter hotspots, it’s just a 30-minute journey into the capital by train, and a quick drive to join the M25. There’s also the little matter of it being consistently voted one of the best places to live in the UK.

The Stag Community Arts Centre

It’s fair to say that The Stag in Sevenoaks has had a very long and varied history. Originally built as the Majestic Cinema in 1936, the Art Deco shell of the building has remained unchanged, despite alterations inside.

After its years as a cinema, The Stag theatre was launched and relaunched a number of times. It was in 2008 that Sevenoaks Town Council stepped in, reinventing the venue as a mixed-use community arts centre.

Andrew Eyre, CEO of The Stag, says public donations continue to be crucial so that Sevenoaks' much-loved mixed-use community arts centre can surviveAndrew Eyre, CEO of The Stag, says public donations continue to be crucial so that Sevenoaks' much-loved mixed-use community arts centre can survive

With a 25-year lease, it’s now run as a charity with a 450-seat theatre, community space and two digital cinema screens.

Like all venues, The Stag was forced to close its doors to the paying public in March, which left it in a very vulnerable position. Andrew Eyre, CEO of The Stag, led a small team of homeworking staff rescheduling shows, transferring thousands of tickets and returning more than £100,000 to ticket holders.

He says: “We have had enormous support from the public, so when permission was granted for cinemas to open again, we put our plans into action and opened on 17 July with a range of family films, opera, National Theatre and Shakespeare screenings.”

Now fully Covid secure, The Stag cinema has returned to its pre-lockdown seven-day opening hours. At the moment it is operating with an initial Sevenoaks Town Council grant to start to cover its losses. At the time of writing, however, there still hadn’t been any word from government about theatres staging live shows again.

“We are very grateful to the Town Council for their help,” says Andrew Eyre. “We have to raise £60,000 to receive matched funding and still need £65,000 to stay open.

“Public donations continue to be crucial so The Stag can survive.”

Donations can be made at stagsevenoaks.co.uk

The Stag cinema has returned to its pre-lockdown seven-day opening hoursThe Stag cinema has returned to its pre-lockdown seven-day opening hours

Shopping and eating

Sevenoaks boasts many independent businesses, like the wonderful Sevenoaks Bookshop and Danish Collection, as well as a good selection of chain stores including M&S and Oliver Bonas.

Bligh’s Meadow shopping centre is open air and includes favourites like Jojo Maman Bebe and Between The Lines, and you can venture out of the town centre to the Holly Bush Lane area for its assortment of little independent stores.

Things are getting back to normal when it comes to eating out too. Sevenoaks has a number of chain restaurants, including Wagamama and Bill’s, along with some great independents like Otto’s Coffee Shop, Hattusa, Branded Steaks, Nonna Cappucini’s, Dulce’s Patisserie, Raj Bari and Marco.

At the moment, support is vital for these small, independent businesses.

Property prices

Property prices have been slightly lower than usual recently but the Sevenoaks market is probably Kent’s healthiest.

Prices start at around £200,000 for a one-bedroom flat, with two-bed properties priced between £230,000 and £800,000.

A three-bed semi averages at around £480,000. At the very top of the market are large detached houses right up to £4.85m.

Getting there

Less than 20 miles from London, trains take only 30 minutes into the city and for motorists the M25, A21 and A25 are easily accessible.

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