War comes to Orpington

Until the railway arrived, Orpington, now in the London borough of Bromley, was a rural Kent village noted for its hop gardens and orchards. Construction of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway meant that the nearby commercial centre, St Mary Cray, expanded and agricultural Orpington provided the land for housing. In 1841, Orpington’s population was 754. Post-railway, in 1884, it…

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Lady Baillie’s birds

Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, has been described as “the loveliest castle in the world”. Once home to Henry VIII, it stands on two islands in the middle of a lake encircled by 500 acres of green parkland. Built in 857 by the Saxon nobleman Ledian, chief minister to Ethelbert IV, King of Kent it was, for centuries, a royal palace…

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Life at the coalface

If you ask anyone who knows Kent to describe the county and its attributes, the chances are that they will tell you about the beautiful countryside, the farms, the historic castles, the pleasant coastal resorts that dot its shore . . . What they will not mention will be the industry that once thrived and grew beneath those fertile fields,…

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A tale of a man, two lighthouses, and a ship…

They stand like sentinels on the Kent coast, overlooking the sea that they made safer for seafarers. Now, apart from still remaining in place, there is no outward indication that the lighthouses at South Foreland and North Foreland were involved in a momentous event that became part of maritime history. On 24 December, 1898, Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian pioneer of…

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A walk on the sands

The Romans called them Lomea and Infera Insula (Low Island), and legend has it that the Earl of Godwin inherited land there until the great sea floods of 1014 or 1099 swept everything away. Of this legend, only the floods can be verified. They were possibly caused by a tsunami after an earthquake or a strong tidal surge after a storm…

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Buchan, Broadstairs and the 39 Steps

The beaches were deserted. Only the locals and a few determined holidaymakers remained as war cast its shadow over Europe. The Kaiser's troops had failed to withdraw from neutral Belgium and Britain was now at war with Germany. It was 4 August, 1914. A few days earlier, Broadstairs beaches had been packed with the usual holiday crowd, determined not to…

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Murder on the marshes

Russell Thorndike was born at Rochester on 6 February, 1885, where his father was a canon at the cathedral. Both he and his sister wanted desperately to be actors and applied to audition for the Ben Greet Academy after they left school. Sybil was told that she had the makings of a good actress, but Russell could not make the…

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The last picture shows

Cinemas are like railway stations – once you lose them, they are gone for good. Some metamorphose into supermarkets, housing, or snooker halls. Others simply vanish. The reasons for their closure varied – entertainment tax, television, vandalism, a chance to try bingo, a developer's offer that was too good to refuse, retirement, or just lack of capital to upgrade a…

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St Francis of the hop fields

It is unusual to read an account of hop-pickers from the point of view of the missionaries who tried to help them, but in 1933, a vicar, the Reverend Miles Sargent, wrote a book with the enigmatic title, St Francis of the Hop Fields. It tells of the mission he ran for hop-pickers during the 1920s and 1930s on Crowhurst Farm,…

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Darwin’s dangerous idea

Ask people to name a place associated with Darwin's theory of evolution, and most will probably say the Galapagos Islands. However, they were, like the other locations Charles visited aboard HMS Beagle, only the seeds to what would become the most controversial theory in human history. A catalyst was needed, something or somewhere to allow those ideas to germinate, and…

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