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THOSE OF YOU who have stumbled across this site by accident may be wondering where on earth Rusthall is. Well, basically it lies a mile or so west of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England; roughly halfway between London and the south coast. Click on the map on the right to zoom in. Maps © Copyright Google
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There is a Rusthall Village Association for anyone interested in getting involved. It aims to give residents a voice in how they would like the village improved, and act as a channel to voice local opinion to the new Rusthall Parish Council which can then pressure Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to make (or not, of course) changes.
THE ANONYMOUS LOOKING ROAD above was once the main Coach Road of this part of the Weald when it was still all wild, tangled forest. A superhighway of several centuries ago, to service which the Red Lion was originally built in the 15th century at Lower Green, a few bends straight ahead and out of view.
Another survivor from those times is Two Yews Cottage (right and on the far side of the crossroads in the picture above) which is possibly the oldest building in the Tunbridge Wells area, sitting as it does beside the old Coach Road. On the left is Rusthall's most famous landmark - the Toad Rock in Denny Bottom.
One attraction of Rusthall is that it has an astonishing range of shops and services for a village of this size, plus a restaurant, cafe and several takeaways. These are enough for most residents' daily needs, but if they want more, Tunbridge Wells is only a mile or so away, and from there it's only an hour to London on the train. There's a regular bus but many locals prefer to walk to the town anyway, which you can do mostly through woodland. And that is another charm, because despite all its amenities the village is surrounded by woods and common land.
It's ideal dog-walking territory because pick any direction and you'll soon find yourself in countryside or woods. One way is Rusthall Common leading to St Pauls Church, Happy Valley, the Beacon Hotel, High Rocks and many other places.
In another, beyond the Red Lion, you'll find Shadwell Woods leading to Speldhurst. While in a third direction we have the wonderful and surprisingly little known treasure of Hurst Woods, one of the prettiest bluebell woods around, which in the 1980s was rescued by the Woodland Trust from becoming a housing estate. Click on the picture on the right for a set of photos taken there.
For the energetic thereís a lovely circular walk through Hurst Woods to Speldhurst and then back through Shadwell Woods to Lower Green in Rusthall, with several pubs along the way should you need refreshment.
To the purists Denny Bottom means just the area of Rusthall around the Toad Rock enclosed by Woodside Road and Harmony, Upper and Apsley Streets, but effectively it includes the rest of Woodside Road, Grange Road, Rusthall Park and Rustwick too. Bretland Road is debatable. Until a hundred odd years ago much of it was a sandstone quarry, one of several dotted around Tunbridge Wells to provide stones for the wealthy mansions of the town and also, possibly, St Paul's church on the Common nearby. Click on the map on the right for an enlargement
Denny Bottom was also one of Tunbridge Wellsís laundry areas. The pub was in fact once the main laundry but several other houses nearby shared the load. Washing would be carted up from the town to be scrubbed and hung out on the rocks and gorse bushes of the Common to dry.
The Toad Rock Retreat had parts that were said to date back to the 18th century until it burned down in 1998 and had to be completely rebuilt. It was originally three cottages knocked into one apparently, but these had been so chopped and changed over the years that basically all that remained of them were some internal walls, the main chimney and the front of the Games room. Apparently the pub also burned down in the 1930s. Certainly it was extensively rebuilt then, so much of the outer structure dated from then. Half the neighbours who happened to be at home that day were standing just behind the camerawoman, whose great shot appeared on the front page of the local Kent and Sussex Courier. The firemen disapproved of this 'gawping' and tried to encourage people to go home, but to many locals it was like watching an old friend die and they were ignored.
The new Toad Rock Retreat is as faithful a recreation of the old building as possible with new materials and building regulations. In fact for a while people revisiting after a few years often assumed that the old place had just been spruced up.
After a sad decline the Retreat closed completely for a while in early 2009 before being revived with a fanfare in July of that year by Tom Snook, who used to manage the Rusthall Social Club and has known the village all his life. He moved on to manage the King's Arms in Robertsbridge and the new landlords were Chris and Sylvia who used to run a pub in Horam, Sussex. Sadly, as of October 2015 it is once again closed.
Besides the pub, the main draw for visitors to Denny Bottom is the Toad Rock and its surrounding outcrop, plus the sands and Bullís Hollow through the woods which offers challenging routes for serious climbers. These rocks have provided generations of kids with the next best thing to the seaside. All the rocks have different names, some of which date back at least a century, and there are certain jumps or climbs which are rites of passage for the kids.
Occasionally there are accidents and children have broken ankles and so on but remarkably few, considering. Perhaps this is because the rocks have been so worn by their feet that routes are clearly recognisable. Also the kids seem to keep an eye on each other.
Until the 1980s the attractions of Denny Bottom were curiously unreflected in property values. In the early 50s a whole terrace between the old Scout Hut and shop (opposite the pub) was demolished because the seven houses were deemed simply not worth repairing. In the 70s there was even talk of knocking down the whole area and starting again, so houses could be picked up for a song (i.e. £800 in one case in Harmony Street). In the early 80s one could still buy a house in Upper Street opening onto the Common for the same as an equivalent building on the far side of the town facing the gasworks. Which was lucky for those of us who moved in then.
Now you have to pay a bit of a premium, but the complications of parking keep prices from spinning completely out of control.