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Spotlight on Sevenoaks

PUBLISHED: 10:22 24 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013

Spotlight on Sevenoaks

Spotlight on Sevenoaks

A rural town with great road and rail links, strong literary traditions and National Trust jewel Knole at its heart, no wonder Sevenoaks is such a happy place

Spotlight on Sevenoaks

A rural town with great road and rail links, strong literary traditions and National Trust jewel Knole at its heart, no wonder Sevenoaks is such a happy place

Set among glorious countryside, yet only half an hour by train from central London, Sevenoaks has been described as the happiest town in England, and has strong literary traditions. H G Wells. Jane Austen, Dickens, John Donne and Vita Sackville-West were all residents and the annual Literary Festival attracts world-famous writers and is regarded as one of the highlights of the British literary calendar.

At the towns heart is historic Knole, a calendar house with 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and seven courtyards, surrounded by a splendid deer park. Once the home of Vita Sackville-West, it is still owned by the family. Theres also a thriving theatre in the centre of town, plus a tremendous range of independent shops and award-winning restaurants.

Getting around

There are six car parks in the town, a good deal of the central part is pedestrianised, and the key areas are all within reasonable walking distance, although some roads on the outskirts are hilly. The southern end of High Street has a number of interesting old buildings: The Old Vicarage, The Chantry, The Manor House and St Nicholas church dont miss the row of old cottages in Six Bells Lane.

The Old Market House near Bank Street is where the original market was held, its upper floor being used as a court house and corn exchange. The Shambles, accessible via a cobbled alleyway, is a spacious enclosed yard with decorative wall murals and a three-dimensional sculpture set into side of a building, done by local artists in 2000.

Sevenoaks District Council has sponsored the excellent DisabledGo website (www.disabledgo.com), where you can view precise detailed information about the accessibility of all local buildings such as shops, hotels and restaurant, including door widths, gradients and so on.

Town attractions

  • Stag Community Arts Centre (01732 450175). Art-Deco style 1930s building, originally the Playhouse Theatre, now a 450-seat theatre, conference centre and two digital cinemas. Until 2 January Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime (with Graham Cole) is being staged

  • Knole (01732 450608) Seat of the Sackvilles since Elizabeth 1 gave it to her cousin, set in 1,000-acre Knole Park, where deer run free. Has 13 grand staterooms hung with magnificent paintings, plus two rooms that opened to the public last August: a state-of-the-art visitor centre and the beautifully restored Orangery shop. Shop, tearoom and childrens trail

  • Tourist Information Centre (01732 450305), now relocated to the Stag Community Centre

  • Museum and Art Gallery (01732 453118) sharing premises with the library

  • Vine Cricket Ground, with Vine Gardens adjoining it

  • St Nicholas church dating from the 13th century. John Donne was rector

Shoreham Aircraft Museum (01959 524416) home to aviations relics from World War Two.

  • Ightham Mote (01732 810378) moated manor house dating from 1320 with garden, shop and restaurant.

  • Riverhill House Gardens (01732 458802) spectacular hillside garden, and tea room.

  • Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve (01732 456407) 135-acre nature reserve with five lakes, ponds reedbeds and pools.

  • Emmetts Garden (01732 751509) One of the highest spots in Kent. Four acres of tree-packed gardens and 14 acres of wooded valley, plus a tearoom. Views far and wide.

  • Otford Heritage Centre (01959 522384) museum in nearby Otford, exhibits include a working recreation of a Kentish Oast house.

Village watch

Ide Hill

Lovely village green, with a wood-side Victorian church and stunning views out across Bough Beech reservoir and the Weald.


High-quality antique shops and a village green flanked by Tudor cottages, beside the river Darent.


Has a long, narrow High Street that was once the Pilgrims Way, and a duckhouse thats the smallest listed building in England. Also home to the Otford Heritage Centre.


To the north of Sevenoaks, a small village with two pubs (The Bullfinch and The Riverhead) and the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. A quaint parade of shops, with an old-fashioned sweet shop, terrific butchers, art gallery and boutique.


Its name supposedly derived from the Anglo-Saxon sole, meaning muddy pond that overflows. Has the beautiful 13th-century church of St Peter and St Paul.


Features a large man-made lake, a 16th-century coaching Inn (The George and Dragon) and traditional architecture.

Dunton Green

In the valley of the river Darent, with the church of St John the Divine and a history of brickmaking.

Where to eat and drink

Gavin Gregg restaurant (01732 456373) in the High Street has been awarded two AA rosettes and has modern British cuisine with an international flair. The Vine restaurant (01732 469510) was runner-up in the top-rated and best-service categories of the Toptable Dining Awards 2007 it has views onto the historic Vine cricket pitch.

The Chequers (01732 450144) offers a varied range of dishes in a 16th-century Grade 11 listed building and is mentioned in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Strada (01732 461706) is a fine Italian restaurant, as is Valentina (01732 469349), recommended by our interviewees Valerie Glencross and Andrew Eyre respectively. The Crown (01959 522847) in the nearby village of Otford, is a traditional 16th century inn overlooking the picturesque village duckpond.

Where to shop

Blighs meadow is a fine modern development of 37 shops in the town centre, and this combines national chains with independents, and holds a Craft and Country Fayre market on Saturdays throughout the year.

There are two major supermarkets in town plus many independents including The Sevenoaks Bookshop (see below), The Sevenoaks Art Centre (see below) which offers a vast range of artists materials and framing services, and The Hardware Centre, one of the ever-decreasing number of traditional ironmongers who stock absolutely everything.

There are some incredibly long-established traders, including Williamsons butchers (established 1875), Fielders Photographic (1920), Horncastle's traditional mens outfitters (1889) and C F Hoad and Sons shoe shop (1889).

Traders talking

Wendy Leat runs The Find (01732 460696), a ladies clothing and accessories shop, which appeals to all ages; they also sell housewares, gifts and lamps. She says. If its a bright sunny day, everythings always busy and buzzing, and I find that generally Sevenoaks people are great. Our biggest bugbear is parking they should change the fees to pay as you leave, because customers are always under pressure to remember how long theyve paid for, which is a nightmare for traders, who want people to relax and be able to take their time.

Julie Hull owns The Hardware Centre (01732 453424) with her brother, and the store has been trading for 40 years (their parents established the business). We sell individual things, she explains, Ironmongery, kitchenware, cookshop, ironmongery, including the four candles (a reference to the Ronnie Barker comedy sketch where a customer in an old-fashioned ironmongers wanted fork handles).

Sevenoaks people are very friendly they appreciate the fact that we can get virtually anything, including spare parts, for instance saucepan handles and knobs. But I do think we need more car parks.

Stuart Wallinger is the owner/manage of the Sevenoaks Art Shop (01732 452551), which sells art materials, has a big art gallery where local artists exhibit and is also a picture framers. The shop has been in the town centre for 18 years, run by Stuarts parents before he took over.

Its a lovely town, with lovely people, he says. There are a lot of local artists too, and many of them come here. Were a premier art centre for Windsor and Newton and members of the Fine Art Trade Guild and were Guild-commended framers. I think it would be a great help if the council could lower the business rates to encourage people to set up new shops in town.


Sevenoaks, named after the settlement beside seven such trees, has always been linked to Knole, seat of successive archbishops of Canterbury until is was annexed by Henry V111, after which Elizabeth 1 gave the estate to her cousin Thomas Sackville, whose family still own it.

In 1554 Sir John Isley, rallied Sevenoaks men to reinforce Sir Thomas Wyatts rebellion against Mary Tudors proposed marriage to Philip of Spain, but this failed. Similarly doomed was the demonstration against the roundheads by 4,000 men who gathered on The Vine land in 1643 in support of the monarchy.

Coaching inns were established in the 18th century and the railways arrival in 1862, making Sevenoaks a commuter centre for London workers. Today, you can get to London in around half an hour.


The town's motto is May the Seven Oaks Flourish, but they have actually been replaced a number of times, notably in 1902, then after the 1987 hurricane, when an extra oak was planted

  • The Vine Cricket ground is one of the oldest clubs in England and venue for first nationally reported match in 1734. The land acquired its name from when it was used a vineyard by the owners of Knole

  • Diana, Princess of Wales, attended West Heath School in the town

  • Jack Cade, leader of the Kentish rebellion of 1450 defeated the Kings troops at Solefields, before he was caught and executed

  • H G Wells wrote The Time Machine while he was living in Sevenoaks with his mistress and her disapproving mother

  • Charles Dickens rented an apartment near The Vine Tavern, and two of his daughters are buried in St Nicholass churchyard

  • Jane Austen stayed at The Red House, the Sevenoaks home of her great uncle Francis Austin

  • Vita Sackville-West, poet, writer and gardener was born and brought up at Knole


Sevenoaks is about nine miles from Tunbridge Wells and 19 from central London, just off the A21, which is close to the M25. There are good bus services and two stations with regular links to London contact Traveline 0871 200 2233 for travel details.

Satnav postcode: TN13 1LQ.

Considering a move?

There are a number of excellent independent schools and perfect travel links to London, but unfortunately property prices are high. The cheapest one-bedroom flat youll find will cost around 150,000, while a two-bedroom flat or a smaller terrace house is more likely to be in the region of 215,000- 270,000. A three-bedroom semi ranges from around 300,000 to 330,000, while a detached four-bedroom property could be upwards of 850,000.


Andrew Eyre, IT consultant and a Conservative town councillor

Why did you stand for office?

I was a member of my Residents Association and lived quite near the station, and five years ago we had a problem with commuter parking spreading, as a result of shortage of space and parking costs. We didnt think the District Councils original plans to tackle the difficulty were likely to be successful, and told the leader of the council so at a meeting. He listened and changed the plans accordingly. Thats when I realised that if youre prepared to stand up and be counted you can change things.

What has been most satisfying?

Getting things done: I want to improve things for the town. And I like working with so many different people - for instance, when I was chairman of Open Spaces we worked closely with the Greatness River Association to help clean up Greatness Park. We cleaned up all the junk and installed a new skate park and an area for children, and planted new trees and 500 daffodil bulbs.

What do you like about Sevenoaks?

Its just a lovely place to live. Everybodys friendly and theres a huge ethos of sharing and volunteering, there are so many people around the town who give their time to help others.

What would you like to change?

Were aiming to continue to improve the green spaces: cricket and rugby fields, commons and closes. Id like to see the district council continue its current campaign of protecting trees. And as a keen cyclist, I would love to initiate a programme to teach motorists to be more cognisant of bicycles.

Your favourite cycle ride?

The ride through Otford to Seal, then back through Pilgrims Way. Its on roads but also through wonderful green fields and you pass beautiful trees.

Your favourite place?

The Stag community centre. Its very close to my heart, as it is to many other people. Im chairman of the trustees. As a town council we rescued the Stag and invested in it. Now weve got 200 volunteers helping to run it and more than 200,000 folk coming through the doors since we opened in January 2009.

Your favourite restaurant and pub?

I love Strada, the food is excellent there and I very much like the Halfway House pub (tel symbol 01732 457108), they offer great food as well.

Sum up Sevenaoks for newcomers

Its clean and friendly and we were classified a year ago as the happiest place in Britain. The council strategy is to make Sevenoaks the best market town in Kent, and were well on the way to achieving this.


Valerie Glencross, co-owner of The Sevenoaks Bookshop, centre of operations for the annual Literary Festival

Tell us about the Festival

I find the Festival enormous fun, but it does take up a lot of my time as we start booking new authors to speak for the following year the day after the current one finishes. In 2010 we had two exceptionally good local authors: Robert Sackville West and Juliet Nicholson, who have written excellent books recently and are in fact cousins, both related to Vita Sackville West, who lived at Knole where Robert now lives.

And your famous reputation?

The Guardian described our shop as the best bookshop in the country and Im not going to disagree! Its a jolly nice thing to see when you Google Sevenoaks Bookshop: that quote will probably be there for years to come.

What do you like about Sevenoaks?

Weve lived in a village near Sevenoaks for 30 years now. I like its country feel, Knole Park, the family atmosphere, the variety of schools - plus the convenience of being only 25 minutes by train from the centre of London.

What would you do to improve the town?

Id love there to be a square in the centre, with a beautiful fountain or other kind of water feature maybe, like some of the French or Italian towns something lovely at its heart, to bring people in thats fun for children to play around and for adults to chat and have coffee.

Your favourite walk?

Strolling from the entrance to Sevenoaks School into Knole Park.

Your favourite restaurant?

Valentina, a recently arrived, family run Italian cafe. Its delightful.

Sum up Sevenaoks for newcomers

At our literary festival, the author Lionel Shriver said we were one of the most intelligent audiences shed ever come across! Id say Sevenoaks is a happy, sociable and courteous town, and a great place to live.

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