by Janis on 29th June 2021 / 0 comments

Exploring the streets and lanes of a historic Kent market town

The moment you arrive at the picturesque town of West Malling, you’ll be charmed by its appealing historic High Street. West Malling’s intriguing prosperous past mingles effortlessly with the cafés, restaurants, independent boutiques, and welcoming old inns that you’ll discover today.

Like so many fascinating towns and villages in Kent, the centuries of country life and its surrounding landscape play a significant role in the community, especially in West Malling. You’ll find a delightful Farmers' Market selling local produce here on the 4th Sunday of the month to tempt your tastebuds.

Don’t let me fool you into believing that West Malling is just about the High Street. We discovered beautiful historic homes during our few hours exploring West Malling, an unusual waterfall, quaint little courtyards, and an ancient Norman tower built in the early 12th-century.

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We arrived at West Malling by car, so our visit starts from the centrally located car park in town. Note that the car park is Pay and Display; however, to make life easier, download the RingGo app so that you don’t have to worry about loose change.

West Malling is accessible by train direct from London; we’ve popped in a link below regarding the Southeastern train options.

So, let’s head off on a little self-guided tour of West Malling to see what we found and discover the RAF connections at nearby Kings Hill.

How to get to West Malling

By Train - You can catch a direct train from London Victoria to West Malling Station, which takes around 50 minutes.  It's then a 10 minute walk to the centre of town.

By Car – West Malling can be easily accessed from the M20 (jct. 4).

Swan Street, West Malling

Striking architecture and a tumbling ‘Cascade’

We head in the direction of Swan Street, full of beautiful homes, tempting pubs and a Benedictine abbey.

We first pass by the Mill Yard, a delightful courtyard now home to independent shops, a gallery and a tearoom. Dating from the 16th-century, this historic yard would have certainly been welcoming a different style of clientele back in the day.

A white-painted sign & logo for Mill Yard on the side of a black weatherboarded grain tower in West Malling, Kent
Mill Yard
An old red brick and Kent ragstone tower is hidden in Mill yard in West Malling, Kent
Historic buildings
Swan Street is full of so much character; every charming building feels like it has a tale to tell. Strolling down Swan Street, you’ll spot The Swan, a stylish bar and restaurant; during the 18th-century, this old pub was a coaching inn.
The Swan Public House on Swan Street in West Malling
The Swan

Hiking the Kent Countryside

West Malling is located Just south of the North Downs (AONB), an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To explore the hiking trails in this region of Kent, the Ordnance Survey map that will help you along the route is no. 148, ‘Maidstone and the Medway Towns’.

St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling

Home to a community of Benedictine nuns
On the right-hand side of Swan Street is the ancient 11th-century St Mary’s Abbey. Malling Abbey was home to a community of Benedictine nuns founded by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester, in around 1090.
The medieval stone gated entrance to St Mary’s Abbey in West Malling, Kent
The Entrance to St Mary’s Abbey
The Benedictine nuns continued to live at the abbey until the Dissolutions of the Monasteries in 1538. It wasn’t until 1916 that the Anglican Benedictine nuns moved back to Malling Abbey and have resided there since. Unfortunately, the abbey isn’t open to the public for day visits; it would have been wonderful to see the historic buildings inside.

Swan Street’s charismatic architecture

A stroll through history

As we continue down Swan Street, there is one gorgeous home after another and so lovingly kept and many from the Georgian period.

Also, along Swan Street, Abbey Brewery once stood, a bustling factory supplying ale to West Malling and its many taverns. Today the character of the brewery sympathetically remains in places along with Abbey Brewery House and cottages.

The red-brick Georgian Abbey Brewery House, with its bold red entrance & side door on Swan Street, West Malling, Kent
Abbey Brewery House, Swan Street
Nearing the bottom of Swan Street is Went House, a stunning Queen Anne styled home on the corner of Frog Lane. Went House was built circa 1710 and is now a Grade II Listed Building. The elegant style, symmetrical lines of the brickwork and eye-catching window shutters really are striking.

Where to stay in West Malling

St Leonards – It is in the heart of West Malling town and has everything you would need on your doorstep. The rooms at St. Leonard’s are beautifully decorated in a relaxed, contemporary style.
A red brick, late Stuart mansion in the Queen Anne style at the lower end of Swan Street in West Malling
Went House on Swan Street

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Malling Abbey Cascade

A surprising Georgian waterfall

One of West Malling’s unusual landmarks is The Cascades, a bizarre water feature in town that really still remains a bit of a mystery to historians.

The weathered plaque on the Georgian waterfall refers to a date of 1810; however, research has identified it to be older than early the 19th-century, and the plaque was added later.

Water cascading down a 1.5-metre man-made waterfall through a medieval stone arch at the rear of St Mary’s Abbey in West Malling Kent
The Malling Abbey Cascades

Another discovery was a watercolour painted by the famous artist J.M.W. Turner, dating from 1791-2, is of St Mary’s Abbey and Cascade. Curiously though, the sketch by Turner was only officially identified by Tate Britain Gallery in 2005, after a resident of West Malling recognised the scene when visiting the gallery.

The mystery continues.

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

Discovering West Malling High Street

Full of character and charm

We head back up to West Malling’s Georgian High Street and continue to explore more of this charismatic Kent Market Town.

There’s such a delightful fusion of architecture in West Malling. From the eye-catching timber-framed buildings, the double-fronted Georgian homes with box sash windows to the picturesque country cottages with manicured gardens.

A white beautiful detached home with green shuttered windows on West Malling High Street
Charming homes along West Malling High Street

Towards the northern end of the High Street are the 600-year-old Ford House and a 17th-century schoolhouse.

West Malling High Street is a hive of activity all year round. Individual local stores and boutiques, interior design shops and antique jewellers, all interwoven within a vast array of welcoming inns and restaurants serving cuisine from the four corners of the world.

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".
Kent's Strangest Tales Cover
You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.
A look at a few shops on West Malling High Street set in beautiful historic buildings
West Malling High Street
Strolling from one end of the town to the other, you’ll discover so many little interesting snippets of history. Seek out the beautiful sculpture on West Malling Village Green named ‘Hope’. This delightful bronze sculpture is of a lady wearing a cloak which depicts the story of West Malling’s rich history.
The front view of the modern bronze 'Hope' sculpture depicting a woman stepping forward, releasing a dove of peace, on a green next to West Malling High Street
‘Hope’ sculpture
The rear of the 'Hope' sculpture where the cloak covering the statue is inlaid with 8 panels depicting scene throughout West Malling's history
More of the ‘Hope’ sculpture
At the southern end of the High Street, leading onto St Leonard’s Street, is the Norman Church of St Mary the Virgin. This ancient church was built almost 1,000 years ago by Bishop Gundulf, who also erected St Mary’s Abbey.
A view across the graveyard to the Church of St Mary the Virgin in West Malling, Kent
Church of St Mary the Virgin in West Malling

Kent Downs Road Trip

We’ve created a charming road trip in and around the Kent Downs (AONB), which incorporates quaint Kent villages, historic market towns and beautiful rolling countryside.
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A charming road trip in and around the Kent Downs (AONB), UK

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Exploring more of West Malling

The charming King Street
The street in West Malling that we especially enjoyed was King Street. This picturesque lane was lined with striking timber-framed homes and quaint little cottages all along the cobbled pathway.
A VW Camper van in front of a Tudor period timber-framed home in King Street, West Malling, Kent
Timber-framed homes in West Malling
One attractive building that will undoubtedly catch your eye is the half-timbered Prior’s House. This stunning dwelling with tiny lead windows was once a residence for those who suffered from leprosy.
A Tudor period timber-framed home in King Street, West Malling, Kent
The Priors, King Street
Although King Street isn’t a long road, there are so many interesting homes with so much character. We stroll further along and stumble upon King Street Motors, a specialist garage for your classic Morris Minor.
A brace of classic Morris Minors of various types at King Street Motors in West Malling
King Street Motors, specialist for Morris Minors

Medway Valley Road Trip

We’ve created A Scenic Medway Valley, Kent Road Trip, which incorporates Aylesford Priory, some of Kent’s nautical history and charming rural villages. So why not take a peek?
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A Scenic Medway Valley, Kent Road Trip

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Historic St Leonard’s Tower

And a Cricket Ground with a story
Next, we turn right down West Street, onto Norman Road and wander down to West Malling Cricket Ground; we’ve heard that this historical ground has a tale to tell.
A parade of unique shops on the corner of King St & West St in West Malling
The corner of King St & West St
West Malling Old County Cricket Ground is understood to be where the first-ever recorded cricket match was held in Kent in 1705. It is believed that it may have inspired Charles Dickens while writing Pickwick Papers, with its famous match between All Muggleton and Dingley Dell. But who knows for sure!
Overlooking the West Malling cricket ground with a stone & plaque commenting its place in history
West Malling cricket ground

We’re now off to visit the ancient English Heritage site of St. Leonard’s Tower. Little appears to be known about the history of the Norman Keep, which was built around the early 12th-century.

The tower which stands alone may have formed part of a defensive castle and is believed to have been built by Bishop Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester.

Bishop Gundulf, a monk from Bec Abbey in Normandy, arrived in England in 1070 and built Rochester Cathedral, the White Tower of the Tower of London, St Mary’s Abbey in West Malling and Colchester Castle.

Looking up the grassy bank to the wall and remains of St Leonards Tower on the outskirts of West Malling
St. Leonard’s Tower

The Blue Plaques in West Malling

Discover the trail of The Beatles, JMW Turner, George Orwell and many more

West Malling has created its own Blue Plaque Trail; you can follow the route of its 18 notable citizens. Discover the achievements of the individuals and their connections with West Malling.

Here are a few Blue Plaques we stumbled upon and their historical stories.

Bishop Gundulf, a monk from Normandy, was the architect of West Malling Abbey, the White Tower of the Tower of London, to name just a few.

Aretas Akers-Douglas spent his early childhood in St Mary’s Abbey, had a notable political career and was Home Secretary from 1905-1908.

A Tonbridge & Malling Borough council blue plaque to Gundulf and Aretas-Akers Douglas at St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling
Blue plaque to Gundulf and Aretas-Akers Douglas

J.M.W. Turner, the renowned English painter famous for his landscapes, painted The Cascades and St Mary’s Abbey in 1792.

John Downman, a portrait artist during the 18th-century, painted many notable people, including Queen Charlotte and Horatio Nelson and lived at Went House.

Another prominent resident at Went House was William Locker, who had a prestigious career in the Navy, and Horatio Nelson served as one of his lieutenants.

A Tonbridge & Malling Borough council blue plaque to Blue plaque to JMW Turner on the cascades in West Malling
Blue plaque to JMW Turner
A Tonbridge & Malling Borough council blue plaque to Blue plaque of John Downman & William Locker on Went House, West Malling
Blue plaque to John Downman & William Locker
The Beatles came to West Malling, yes, you heard it correctly. The album the Magical Mystery Tour was also released as a film. It was primarily filmed at the then West Malling airfield. Near the beginning of the movie, Ringo Starr is seen entering a newsagent where he buys tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour. The newsagents at 90 High Street, West Malling is now a takeaway.
A Tonbridge & Malling Borough council blue plaque to Blue plaque to Blue plaque to The Beatles, West Malling, Kentron the High Street in West Malling
Blue plaque to The Beatles

Why not?

Extend your trip and head to the historic town of Rochester in Kent, where you can visit its striking Norman castle and the beautiful Rochester Cathedral.
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10 reasons to unearth Rochester, Kent, UK

by Janis on  13 Sep 17

RAF West Malling today Kings Hill

Tributes to WWII fighter pilots
Just a short hop from West Malling is Kings Hill, a bustling community built on the airfields of RAF West Malling. During World War II, this little region of Kent was a hive of activity with brave young fighter pilots heading off from West Malling on aerial battles.
The Douces Manor building, as seen from the lake in Manor Park Country Park outside West Malling
Douces Manor on the hillside
The headquarters and mess for the officers at RAF West Malling were based at Douces Manor nearby St Leonard’s Tower. Amongst its many ace pilots based here were Wing Commander John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, with his navigator Jimmy Rawnsley. They became the most successful defensive night fighter team, flying Mosquito aircraft. Wing Commander Peter Townsend and Squadron Leader Guy Gibson of Dam Busters fame.
If you're interested in the story of RAF West Malling then why not pickup a copy of the story of the airfield?
Image
A great read; you can pick it up for your Kindle or more traditional hardback.
The Royal Ensign installation in front of the white Art Deco Control Tower from RAF West Malling
The Control Tower at RAF West Malling
When you visit Kings Hill today, you’ll spot the original Art Deco control tower, which has now been lovingly refurbished into a community centre. In front of the old control tower are touching quotes and acknowledgements to the brave folk at RAF West Malling.
A bronze statue memorial, titled 'running Airman', in the centre of King's Hill, formerly RAF West Malling
The 'running Airman' Memorial
A large granite tablet featuring the emblem of the RAF, with the inscription Royal Air Force, West Malling 1939 - 1967
Stone tablet honouring RAF West Malling
Just a short stroll from here, you’ll discover other tributes to the fighter pilots of RAF West Malling. An Airman memorial sculpture and stone tablets are honouring their dedication to protecting the home counties.

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