Capel Parish lies mostly in the low Weald to the south of the River Medway. It reaches the edge of Tonbridge in the west, and the limits of the built development of Paddock Wood in the east. The more densely wooded south of the parish, part of it across the busy A21, is within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and adjoins Southborough, Sherwood and Pembury.
The present civil parish came into being as a result of the 1894 Local Government Act which set up Parish Councils in rural areas. It covers Tudeley, Five Oak Green, Capel, and surrounding smaller settlements such as Whetsted, Colts Hill, Castle Hill and Crockhurst Street. Until 1974 it came under the control of Tonbridge Rural District Council; now it is part of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells.
There are few records pre-dating the Norman Conquest of 1066, but we know this was a sparsely populated, low lying, forested and heavily waterlogged area, its principal building being the church at Tudeley, although nothing of the original 7th century church remains. The Domesday Book of 1086 tells us that the manor of Tudeley was once owned by Edith, Edward the Confessor’s Queen, but after the Conquest King William granted it to the Clare family who held Tonbridge Castle and lands stretching as far east as Yalding. At this time there was also a settlement at what is now Badsell Manor in the east of the parish, The origins of this imposing and beautiful moated farmhouse can be traced back to the 13th century.
Capel Church was a chapel of ease. The Latin for chapel being capella, it gave its name to the hamlet around it. Said to have been used by pilgrims travelling from Chichester to Canterbury, it takes its dedication to St. Thomas a Becket from the Archbishop who was murdered in 1170. The remains of rare 13th century wall paintings can be seen on the north wall. Now vested in the Churches Conservation Trust and open daily, St. Thomas’s is cared for by local volunteers. The church remains consecrated and is used for occasional worship and funerals.
The medieval All Saints, Tudeley, was extensively rebuilt in the 18th century and seemed destined to be an obscure country church until stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall were installed between 1967 and 1985, making it the only church in the world to have all its windows by the famous artist. The East Window is a memorial to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid who died in a boating accident in 1963. Her parents owned the grand house Somerhill, which since 1991 has housed a private preparatory school, and the surrounding extensive estate.
The railway line running from Tonbridge to Ashford cuts the parish in two, but its arrival in 1842 helped the development of the hop-growing industry which dominated the economy of the parish until the mid-twentieth century. Remains of the huts which once accommodated East Enders who came down to harvest the crop each September can still be seen around the parish, as can the typical conical oast houses. Once used for drying hops these have now mostly been converted for residential occupation. There is now only one working hop garden in the parish, at Reed’s Farm in Alders Road. One reminder of this once dominant crop is ‘Hoppers’, formerly the Hoppers’ Hospital, in Five Oak Green. Originally a farmhouse and later a pub, the ‘Rose and Crown’, in 1910 it was opened by a church mission based in Stepney, East London, to tend to the needs of the hop-pickers and their families. It is still run by the Red House Trust to provide “a haven for those seeking time away from the strains and stresses of 21st century living” as explained on http://www.hopperskent.org/
The railway embankment has undoubtedly contributed to flooding in Five Oak Green in recent years as it impedes the free flow of water from the Alders Stream to the Medway. Flooding in 1968, 1999, 2001 and 2013 has been the result. The risk has been mitigated by the actions of the authorities, but certainly not eliminated.
Most of the population growth since the Second World War has been in Five Oak Green, the centre of which lies at the junction of the roads to Paddock Wood and Whetsted, the latter joining the A228 to Maidstone. The late 1940s saw the building of Falmouth Place and Sychem Place at the far east and west of the village. Centrally situated, and much larger, the Norton’s Way estate was built in the 1960s, followed by Tolhurst Close and Pemble Close, both named after long-established farming families. There has been only limited development since then as, apart from the Five Oak Green ‘village envelope’, the parish is almost wholly covered by the Metropolitan Green Belt. There has been no new building in Tudeley since the passing of the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act.
Like many others the parish suffered losses in the two World Wars, as recorded on the plaque in front of the Memorial Cottages at Brampton Bank, opened in 1921 in memory of the fallen and owned and managed by the Parish Council on behalf of the community. A wreath laying ceremony takes place there every Remembrance Sunday.
Hugh Patterson/Don Foreman April 2019