Spotlight on Westerham

Anthea Masey explores a tiny Kent town, loved by Winston Churchill, where a vibrant local community has spirit and enterprise

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The tiny town of Westerham — it has no more than 5,000 residents — can lay claim to two famous warriors, both immortalised with statues on its pretty green. General James Wolfe, who lay siege to Quebec and was killed, at 32, in the battle that captured the city from the French in 1759, was born here in the vicarage; while nearby Chartwell Manor was Sir Winston Churchill’s country retreat from the day he bought it in 1922 until his death in 1965.

Westerham lies on the river Darent, 25 miles south of central London. The A25, the road that gave the M25 its name, runs through it and connects it to a long chain of picturesque villages, such as nearby Brasted and Oxted. The M25 lies to the north and beyond that there is the sharp escarpment of the North Downs and to the south the rolling Kent and Surrey countryside.

Westerham has a great spirit: there is an active amateur dramatics society and the local independent shops have enterprisingly clubbed together to offer shoppers a loyalty scheme with a monthly prize draw.

Property: Westerham and the nearby towns of Brasted and Oxted offer a good choice of detached period and modern (from the 1920s to today) houses on good-sized plots; there are also village cottages and more modern flats. The two most expensive houses for sale in Westerham are both on the market for £1.65 million (Savills 01732 442 0765) and both have five bedrooms. One is on Farley Common, the other is in Hosey Hill.

The cheapest property is a one-bedroom ground-floor flat in Atterbury Close on the market, through Ibbett Mosely (01959 563265), for £150,000. The cheapest period property is the listed one-bedroom Thimble Cottage in Duncan’s Yard, on the market through the same agent for £195,000.

Stuart Routledge, of local estate agent Jackson-Stops & Staff, says Westerham offers country living combined with easy access to London. However, house prices overall in the A25 villages still haven’t fully recovered from the losses they suffered in the downturn, although good quality family houses, which are always in short supply, do now sell for above the price reached in the last property peak.

Who buys here?
“We get a lot of returners,” says Routledge. “People who have left the area to go to university and then live in London, but who choose to return to where they grew up when they settle down and think about having a family, and once back they do tend to stay.”

Best roads: In Westerham people aspire to live on Hosey Hill or Hosey Common, Farley Lane or in the village of Crockham Hill. In Oxted, the best roads are Rockfield Road, Icehouse Wood and Ballards Lane.

What’s new: Wyckham House (Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01883 712375) is a development of 14 new two and three-bedroom flats in Station Approach in Oxted by developer Shanly Homes. Prices start at £295,000.

Getting an education
Westerham’s main state primary school, Churchill CofE in Rysted Lane, is judged only “satisfactory” by the government’s education watchdog Ofsted. In Oxted, Limpsfield CofE Infant School is judged “outstanding”. The other local “outstanding” local primary schools are Crockham Hill CofE in the village of the same name and Amherst in Witches Lane in Sevenoaks. Coombe Bank in Sevenoaks (girls aged five to 18, with boys in the nursery) is a popular private girls’ school; and Hazelwood (co-ed, ages four to 13) in Oxted is the local prep school.

A statue of General Wolfe on The Green in Westerham
A statue of General Wolfe on The Green in Westerham

Sevenoaks School (co-ed ages 11 to 18) is one of the oldest schools in the country and takes boarders as well as day pupils; high achieving academically, it was the first school to replace A-levels with the International Baccalaureate. The local state secondary school Knole Academy in Sevenoaks (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) was recently formed from two former schools: Bradbourne School for girls and Wildernesse School for boys. One of the academy’s sponsors is Sevenoaks School. Local parents have successfully campaigned for a grammar school in Sevenoaks, and Kent County Council has recently given the campaign its support and is likely to open a 120-pupil annexe to one of Kent’s existing grammar schools in Sevenoaks.

Shops and restaurants: Westerham is a treasure trove of independent shops and cafés; a butcher and greengrocer’s, women’s boutiques, a delicatessen, and antiques shops. Look out for the Design Gallery which specialises in art deco, art nouveau and Arts and Crafts antiques, and Vintage Home for the shabby chic look. There is a branch of Waitrose in Oxted and Brasted has several antiques shops. The most popular local gastro pub is the George and Dragon at Chipstead.

Open space: This is beautiful walking, horse riding and mountain biking country. The North Downs Way can be picked up north of the M25; the Greensand Way passes across Hosey and Crockham Hill commons, both Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Leisure and the arts: Westerham has three big tourist attractions: Quebec House, General Wolfe’s childhood home; Chartwell Manor, Winston Churchill’s country retreat, both now National Trust; and the privately owned Squerryes Court, the Warde family home since 1731, which closes to the public at the end of 2012. The Westerham Amateur Dramatic Society performs at the local community hall and in Oxted the two amateur drama groups perform at the Barn Theatre. There are three golf clubs: Westerham is a relative newcomer having been created from the wreckage of the great storm of 1987; Limpsfield Chart, one of the oldest golf clubs in southern England; and Park Wood at Tatsfield.

Peter Mills inside his shop Annie’s Attic in Westerham
Peter Mills, the owner of Annie’s Attic, which sells upcycled furniture, handmade gifts and craft supplies


Travel: Westerham is close to the M25 orbital, which offers access to all the major motorways. Commuters travel to London from Sevenoaks (trains to Charing Cross and Cannon Street take just over half an hour; annual season ticket £2,980) or Oxted station (trains to Victoria and London Bridge take between 28 and 40 minutes; an annual season ticket costs £1,956).

Councils: Westerham is in Sevenoaks District Council (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/13 year is £1,436.30. Oxted is in Tandridge District Council (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/13 year is £1,149.66.

Photographs: Graham Hussey

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