Posted by: madkentdragon | March 25, 2011

Aylesford Part 7 Preston Hall and the Royal British Legion Village


In 1914, Preston Hall and its surrounding grounds were offered to the Red Cross for use as a hospital for wounded servicemen by the then owner Madam Sauber, there was no national health service then, and it continued to be used through the war years and after for gassed servicemen and for those with TB which was prevalent in the trenches.

The farm that then surrounded Preston Hall was tended by those recovering from this disease, and the area, including some hostels for
the recovering patients became known as Preston Hall Colony. In 1921 the Canadian ex-services association built a set of chalets with verandas on the opposite side of the London Road. The avenue between the two sets of bungalows is based on the original avenue as established by Betts and lines up with the drive to Preston Hall. These bungalows are still in use today for ex-service personnel or their widows, the patient’s bed would be pushed out on to the veranda as fresh air and bed rest were the only known cure for TB, antibiotics were not yet available. The provision of these bungalows meant that families could now be with the patients. Unmarried patients lived in barrack-like blocks or if really
unwell in the hospital itself.

The Red Cross were not able to continue with hospital and so it was passed to the British Legion in 1925 and renamed the British Legion
Village, (they weren’t “Royal” then) and a Disabled Men’s Industry was set up. This industry, not only provided farming jobs but also handicrafts for those unable to work properly and at one stage there were two salesmen on motorcycles and sidecars selling the wares.

Over the years more housing was built and the farm was dispensed with, some of the grounds sold off which had been happening since the early 1900s, and the Industry on the site expanded with at one time a printing works and a soap factory in existence on the site. More family housing was built and also flats with wardens to assist the elderly. The complex spanned both sides of the A20 and a Club with an attached Institute endowed by Mr Capel Morris in memory of his son Arthur Capel Morris was added in the late 1920s. There was a restaurant and shop, the single men being able to purchase their meals with tokens received as part of their wages, if they did not want a meal then that
token could be used to purchase goods in the shop. An underpass was built by the front of Preston Hall so that the restaurant, shop and club could be reached easily. This was shut in the late 1980s and a pelican crossing was installed.

In 1948 when the National Health Service was formed, the Legion joined with it and the hospital was run by a joint board until the mid
60s when the Legion relinquished the hospital to the health service who also took over many of the old barrack type buildings and the outside wards.

A housing association was formed in 1964 The British Legion Housing Association and the new houses were offered to the ex-service community, it had its own village council and was the envy of most housing estates. Unfortunately, by the late 1980s it had run into trouble with the Housing Corporation, and was forced to sell of all its properties nationwide to other housing associations and is now no different to any other estate.

The next major event was the renaming of the Village to The Royal British Legion Village which happened on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Legion in 1921, followed by the building of a purpose built complex for use by the Poppy Appeal, opened by the Queen in the following year of 1972. It is from here that most of the wreaths and poppies are despatched worldwide.

At the same time as the housing was sold off, a report was published by Ernst and Young which advised the RBL that its trading arm the
Royal British Legion Industries should be separated from the charity and thus the Legion, apart from the Poppy Appeal and Poppy Travel has no further involvement in the Village.

Unfortunately some of the earlier buildings were on land that was sold for commercial use and the large Sainsburys stands on the site of
the old Club, although the original shop is still preserved it is no longer used, further land was sold for the Aylesford Retail Park. Now most of the village, apart from the little bungalows on Hermitage Lane stand within the original walls of Preston Hall.

However the Royal British Legion Industries has taken over the reins and there is a hostel for homeless ex-servicemen, high dependency
flats in Queen Elizabeth Court, opened by The Princess Royal;  a large nursing home with more high dependency apartments, The Gavin Astor House which was opened by Lady Astor and ground was donated for the building of a hospice. The Heart of Kent Hospice was opened in
1992 by the Late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Village still has a Legion Branch and has produced some of the National Chairman including Lt Col Sir C Gordon-Larking and Mr C Busby and the streets and most of the buildings are named after Branch Chairmen. The original patron of the Village was the Prince of Wales and in recent years has been the Duchess of Kent.

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Responses

  1. Pat, this has been wonderful to read ~ so much history in your shire 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. My parents met at the British Legion Village at Preston Hall because their fathers were both wounded in the first world war and contracted TB. Both families were housed and worked there. My Mother lived in the Crecent, which was later demolished. They married in the last year of the war Mum being in the Wrens and Dad in the Air Force Recently my father died aged 91years and the Royal British Legion standard bearers came to his funeral to mark his service in the Royal Airforce during the 2nd World War. Mum would dearly like to scatter Dads ashes at Preston Hall but we don’t know who to contact. Mary Barratt


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