diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 05, 2022

According to the Ordnance Survey there are eight hamlets within the boundaries of Greater London, of which five are in the borough of Bromley. Over the weekend I visited two of them in the hinterland between Orpington and Swanley.

Hockenden (BR8)

If you only saw this view of a row of houses you might think Hockenden was nothing unusual. But beyond the hedge on the other side of the lane are paddocks and open fields rising to beechy woodland on a windy ridge, because Hockenden is a hamlet strung out along a country lane and somehow all of this is in London.

The lane swings in from Upper Hockenden which is very much part of Swanley and very much in Kent, but the Greater London boundary now follows the bypass and Hockenden finds itself on the London side. You either drive in or you find the narrow footbridge over the A20 and descend down Trunks Alley past the discarded Asda trolleys. Here we find a couple of makeshift homes sealed behind fierce security gates with spikes and flashlights, plus the first of several Beware of the Dog signs and a field where horses bide their time while not being ridden. The houses look a bit more normal past the speed limit sign - see first photo - although the owners have a habit of calling them cottages because we're in the countryside now. One with eight bedrooms ("located on a generous plot in a semi rural location") has just sold for a million.

The centre of the hamlet might be the triangular patch of grass where the postbox is, with its misaligned fingerpost and friendly sign saying Unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles, or it might be a bit further round the corner past the cottages under renovation and the high hedges and the collapsed fence. This is where the big farm and the big house are, not the original manor but a listed weatherboarded 18th century farmhouse, again with twiddly gates and a warning about a dog. Part of the farm is now a Construction Academy where you can accredit digger-related skills and part still has the remains of an oast house and a row of hop-pickers' cabins. I think I met the owner because he asked if I was looking for something in that way you test out strangers, so I swiftly moved on.

A couple of public footpaths lead off Hockenden Lane, though from what I saw you might have to negotiate past youths on trail bikes along the way. Walking out is more direct than driving, especially now that Star Lane has been obstructed by concrete blocks to prevent fly-tipping. Technically this is where the Low Emission Zone starts, but one joy of living in Hockenden is that you can own a belching jalopy and not pay a penny to the Mayor so long as you do all your shopping in Kent. The southern end of the hamlet goes by the name of Hogspring, for archaic reasons, and boasts yet another set of stables and some heavily fortified bungalows - ideal for those who want to live in the countryside without seeing it.

But the most remarkable thing in Hockenden lies just around the last bend tucked away within the woods. All you can see from the road is an automatic gate labelled Brocken Hurst and a nameplate depicting three shapely human silhouettes, and beyond that a flowerbed and a timber screen. But there is a very good reason why nobody wants you looking in and that's because this is one of Britain's largest nudist camps. The North Kent Sun Club established itself here in 1958 amid 45 acres of chestnut woodland, and today the Naturist Foundation run events and camping holidays for those who think bare is beautiful. They have a newly-refurbished swimming pool, extensive games courts and a pavilion with cafeteria and bar, not to mention by the looks of it a fabulous carpet of bluebells preparing to erupt just in time for next month's 5K Fun Run. There's a lot more to this hamlet than meets the eye.

Kevington (BR5)

A mile south of Hockenden, down Sheepcote Lane, lies the additional hamlet of Kevington. The Ordnance Survey thinks it's called Kevingtown but the 'village sign' is sure it's Kevington, which is only fair because this hilltop cluster has nothing towny about it. The 'village pub' also used to be the Kevington Arms so there's further proof, although it's now a private residence called Blueberry Farm and very much not a farm either. What we have here is a staggered crossroads with a few houses on three of the arms, again nominally cottages but these have a stronger architectural claim. Residents seem less likely to keep horses than those in Hockenden, more likely to lovingly tend their gardens and collectively proud enough to have erected a millennial sundial, suggesting Kevington's a more cohesive community.

The main road from St Mary Cray to Crockenhill runs straight through, which is good because it means Kevington actually gets a bus service. They may be TfL bus stops but the 477 is not a TfL service, just a Kent bus delivering shoppers to Orpington, Dartford and (until Easter) Bluewater. A scrap of pavement runs down one of the hills, but only far enough to aid the postman and then you're on your own in the traffic. Signs warn of Tractors turning, which seems fair because one did chug past at a decent lick.

At the foot of the hill (but tucked safely out of sight) is Kevington Hall, a Georgian pile built for one of the directors of The East India Company. In its time it's also been used as a primary school and to billet Canadian troops, and has since been snazzed up as a wedding venue and conference retreat (now taking bookings into 2023). Their website describes the hall as "one of Kent’s best kept secrets", perhaps because it isn't actually in the county but instead nudges up against mundane semis on the outskirts of St Mary Cray. Best not tell guests there's a low secure hospital for young people with mental health, behavioural or psychological difficulties nextdoor (latest Ofsted report - Outstanding), because Kevington too is full of secrets.

...and along with Bopeep and Newyears Green that's half of London's hamlets blogged.
Just Edgware Bury, Farthing Street, Nash and Rowley Green to go.

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