When it comes to architectural contributions to the world, Kent is none-too-shabby. With its oast houses, breathtaking castles (Hever, Leeds, Tonbridge, Dover, Walmer etc), fine houses (Knole, Ightham Mote, Scotney Castle to name only a few) cathedrals and churches (Canterbury, Rochester, Tudeley, Cooling, Chevening) stunning art galleries (e.g.Tate Modern in Margate and not to mention numerous small independent galleries round the county) and so on..... Kent can hold its head up high as the neighbour to London with many stunning historic and contemporary destinations which stand alongside almost any ‘day out’ the UK’s capital city nearby has to offer. Did you know though that Kent also offers a village with the country’s only listed traffic roundabout? Probably not, but here at Keep it in Kent we like to make sure we keep you apprised of all the salient points.
However, if you were to be under the illusion that Otford is just one of those villages you pass through on the way to Sevenoaks or the M25, even if you were appreciative of its very pretty duck pond occupied by unusually traffic-alert waterfowl, you’d be wrong. There is so much more to this attractive village.
The name Otford is probably derived from an earlier name of Otterford and whilst there is evidence of people living here from way back when (Bronze Age, Roman etc), episodes of note kick in from the early medieval period and in 776 there was a Battle of Otford when the King of Mercia fought against the Kentish Saxons. The old Pilgrims’ Way runs through Otford and Thomas Beckett (a.k.a. Archbishop of Canterbury 1162-1170) was once a resident of the area. Although not the building Thomas Beckett would have known, there are remains of an Archbishop’s Palace dating from the 1500s.
To bring you up to date though, these days Otford is a very popular village, with an array of small independent shops and creative individuals whose businesses and products make it a worthwhile destination in its own right despite its proximity to larger retail centres.
Otford has the aura of a place from a time before larger companies became too rampantly successful and every business person still had their own trade premises . Certainly, you scratch the surface and all this amazing talent comes bursting out.
There are shops such Hall & Co for super chic ladies clothing (www.halland.co) and Mille Fleurs, a shop offering a bespoke millinery service where the whole process of hat or fascinator creation takes place on site – with the work room out the back (www.millefleurshats.uk), not to mention a constantly changing stock of beautiful accessories. Run by the lovely Jane Cave who trained with renowned milliner Graham Smith, and who started by sewing the sequins on veils and headpieces for Royal ladies, her creations are stunning – managing to combine traditional and classic with the contemporary and thoroughly fashionable. If you have a wedding or a day at the races coming up – this is a must-visit place to go. The Bill Skinner Jewellery Shop & Studio (www.billskinnerstudio.co.uk ) close by offers you fun and attractive costume jewellery. Bill himself has worked freelance for Asprey, Garrads, Van Cleef and Arpels as well as a long-standing association with Butler & Wilson and Vivienne Westwood. He also has his own Royal connection in that he has had several Royal commissions but don’t let such classy patronage discourage you if your budget is somewhat less grand – there are items for all purses including non-Bill Skinner designed stock.
(Non- Bill Skinner designed items, gorgeous Bill Skinner elephant bracelet, a range of recent hats made by Mille Fleurs, Bill Skinner
in his workroom working on a piece, dying the sinamay so your hat completely matches your outfit and colourful cotton spools at Mille Fleurs Hats).
The Studio Art Gallery (http://www.otfordshopping.co.uk/shops/the-studio) is a great promoter of local artists and there are many tempting works of art and small pieces to be found there – quite a few of them depicting the gorgeous Kent countryside in which Otford sits – in a sloping well of the north downs.
Then there is the shop that has a clever twist for its name: Bridesdress Revisited (www.bridesdressrevisited.com) where you can find second hand bridal dresses in near perfect condition for considerably less than they would cost to buy new. Any potential brides might find it a worthwhile visit.
Otford Interiors (http://www.otford-interiors.co.uk) is perfect for the habitual browser who enjoys a treasure hunt. Mooch amongst genuine antiques alongside contemporary furniture and pictures. It is something of a tardis in that it is much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside and you might get lost for a while...
(inside Otford Interiors)
There are also a couple more antique shops, a florist, gift shops, chemist and other interesting shops, with pubs and restaurants so quenching your thirst/hunger afterwards would be just a question of choice.
There is also a good cafe at the back of the charity shop, another cafe by the pond and the sports shop sells sandwiches and offers two tables and chairs outside but if you are in your car another place to consider is ‘Cabbages and Kings’ in Halstead – about a 5 minute drive away. They do a lovely lunch in there.
(Cabbages & Kings in Halstead, 5 mins from Otford by car)
There is no doubt that Otford is the home of many creatives – the houses and their beautiful gardens are testament to that but two whom I’d especially like to bring to your attention are: the artist Ann Bridges (www.ann-bridges.com). For much of her successful career (25 years) Ann was based in North Wales but she is now settled in Otford and producing some lovely work drawing strong influence from her new surroundings. Here are a couple of recent works of hers – in this case Ann has used stencils and oil based printmaking inks. (Please note aforementioned Otford duck pond).
(Images by the artist: Ann Bridges)
Also, the rather wonderful Angela Bishop who has lived in Otford for more than fifty years, who found a second career – after beginning working life as a nurse – as a sculptor. She has exhibited at many galleries and created a special head bust of H.M. The Queen Mother for her 90th birthday. Her pieces range from delicate bronzes and glass figures to larger garden statues. (www.angelabishopsculptures.com)
(Sculptures and figures by Angela Bishop)
If you were interested in seeing either Ann or Angela’s studios and their work then it would be wise to arrange in advance of your visit to Otford.
You can arrive in Otford via the train – station only a short walk from the centre of the village or by car. There is a reasonable sized car park, with inexpensive charges in the centre of the village. If you are not already familiar with this attractive Kent village then let me urge you to go and visit.
Many thanks to this week's Guest Blogger: Sarah Simpson of Shimmering Moon Photography for the article and fabulous photographs she takes for Keep it in Kent!
"My name is Sarah Simpson. I worked for nearly twenty years in television production including 15 years in television drama, working directly for broadcasters before setting up and running an independent production company. Throughout that time, I have always been a keen photographer. Now based in Kent, and notwithstanding the realisation that the more I learn about photography I find how much more there is to learn about it(!) I am starting to work as a freelance photographer and also to take on commissions for websites and social media purposes etc. If you want to have some good photographs of your products/place of business etc please call me to discuss. I am obviously more expensive than doing it yourself but I am very reasonable compared to a properly professional photographer – who, to be fair, will come with rather more experience and quality kit than I do. But my pictures are pretty. I can give references from people whom I’ve already provided photographic services for. I look forward to hearing from you."