‘Sundridge with Ide Hill etc..” or so the parish might have been described in the Domesday Book, for at that time it spread all the way from Knockholt in the north to the Sussex border in the south. In 1071 Archbishop Lanfranc reclaimed Sundridge as being a holding of Canterbury and, with its neighbour, Brasted, the two parishes became known as the ‘Archbishop’s Garden’ as they supplied so much produce to the archbishop’s manor court in Otford.
Today, modern Sundridge appears as a ribbon development of un-remarkable homes beside the A25 between Sevenoaks and Westerham. Yet seek deeper and you will discover it is a place of many secrets and much mystery.
The Great House of Combe Bank, now a private school, still contains magnificent rooms designed by John Adams. It maintained its fashionable status throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century entertaining celebrities and guests. Its ornate concrete bridge, ornamental cascade and great swimming lake hosted many society parties during the wild 1920s.
What happened to the Sundridge Paper Mill? Manufacturing the paper for the Royal Mint for almost a century, this iconic building with its long mill pond once stood beside the main road as you approach the village. Converted to a laundry in 1910, it received a bomb in the mill pond in 1940 ending its days. Today, an empty water-logged field bears no trace of its history.
And who was De Bolotoff who hoped to make Sundridge so famous? Serge de Bolotoff was a Polish prince who designed the two-seater De Bolotoff SDEP biplane. His hangers (listed grade 2) still stand beyond Dibgate Farm on the Chevening Road. His plane and his plans foundered however and the company closed in 1927. The site was used as a base for salvaged aircraft throughout the war.
And what of its turnpike toll gate beside the river bridge? Managed by Susan Watts throughout much of the 1700s, it became known as ‘Old Susan’. Of course at this time the main route through Sundridge was not the A25 from Sevenoaks to Westerham, but the north-to-south road leading to Chevening and London. The valley bottom was notorious for its swampy ground and it was not successfully drained until the mid 1700s. For this reason, old Sundridge village with its beautiful timber-framed homes is located up the hill toward the church.
What a lovely church St. Mary’s is. Its twin-aisled nave stands beneath an elegant and beautifully beamed chancel which focuses the eye toward its great east window. This was made at a time when new discoveries in the manufacture of stained glass made for intense colours and breadth of design. Other of the church’s modern windows are of an exceptional standard. The ‘brasses’ located beneath their mats before the altar, tell the story of Sundridge’s past. These are the faces of three generations of the Islay family, the powerful and sometimes infamous heads of the manor.
There is so much more to discover in Sundridge but take your time to savour and enjoy its rural peace. The heritage of a village is comprised of many parts drawing on stories going back generations. The future of Sundridge is built on the firm foundations of a noble past. So when you visit, explore, and above all, take your time to savour and enjoy our rural peace. The future holds much opportunity for future generations building on this long and ancient history. Every community deserves its own identity.
© Rod Shelton 2017