Posted by: madkentdragon | April 11, 2011

Quirky Kent 12, Mysterious Tower, an Airfield and an unloved building


Right I’ve bored you enough with the Mallings, but there is still one thing left to see, West Malling had a medieval sub district that was

St Leonards Tower

administered separately from the rest of the area; it was known as St Leonards and that is still demonstrated by the name of the Street which comes off of the High Street; St Leonards Street. Follow the road round and after some distance you come to a medieval tower, no castle just a keep tower.

Believed to have been built by that man Gundulph (why do I want to call him Gandalf?), it stands tall and proud, but what was it for? There have been archaeological digs and no latrines or fireplaces have ever been found, so it looks like no militia where ever stationed there full time,
it was probably built at the same time as the Abbey and may have been erected as a defence for the local towns people to defend the Abbey and town which had been overrun by Vikings before the Norman Conquest. It was probably also used for administration purposes and it took its name from a chapel that once stood nearby, but it stands there a mystery to all! At some later stage the windows were blocked up and it was used for drying hops,  it can still be explored today.

We’ll continue along St Leonards and it takes us to the new town-like estate of Kings Hill – welcome to one of the wealthiest places in Britain, it has its own shops, pubs, school and all other amenities and there is even a dedicated bus service from the West Malling Station for all the
commuters living here. But it had an altogether different past when there had been a homeless hostel for women with children (no men allowed), remember the BBC film “Cathy come home”, apparently this was very much like that, but it closed in the 1960s.

Also here was the West Malling Airfield, originally used as a landing area in WWI, the site then opened as a private landing field and became home to the Maidstone School of Flying and by 1932 was known as Maidstone Airport. Air shows with people like Amy Johnson flying displays were regular occurrences in the 30s, but in 1939 it was taken over by the RAF and served on the frontline against the Luftwaffe; one of the more famous pilots was Guy Gibson who later went on to lead the Dambuster raids. During the doodle-bug raids the famous spitfires were stationed here to intercept them and after the war RAF West Malling became home to night fighter squadrons, before being taken over by the US air force, latterly becoming a US Naval Air station.

control tower

However that was closed in 1969 and it was used as a glider training school for Air Cadets but this was closed in the early 1990s as the local Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council wanted to utilise the space for building, and it now houses the Kings Hill complex which works alongside a large industrial and office complex on the same site.

During the 1970s and 1980s the War Birds displays were held here, and I can remember the great shadow of the Vulcan flying overhead virtually blotting out the sun as it reminded me of the angel of death! Many campaigned against the airfield closing but they did manage to get the officers’ mess and the control tower preserved, now listed as Grade II, with the officers’ mess now serving as the Council Chamber and called Gibson House, but the Control Tower lays derelict and unloved whilst a use is decided for it. There is a memorial on the new estate of an airman, fully kitted up running for his plane. Nearby is the original council estate built in the early 50s for those working at the airfield, it has names such as Spitfire Road and Beaufighter Close……

Airman Memorial at Kings Hill

Next time we’ll visit Trottiscliffe.

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