Swanley sits in a prime location, right on the edge of London but with access to the beautiful countryside of the Darent Valley. It also benefits from lots of restaurants, shops, the charming Cotton Mill Micropub, the stylish Rowhill Grange & Utopia Spa, a Premier Inn with a popular Beefeater Grill, and, the pride and joy of the area, Swanley Park. Swanley Park has 60 acres of parkland with numerous play areas, a miniature train, a paddling pool and boating lake, a cafe, nature areas and so much more. The lively Wednesday and Sunday markets in the centre of town attract visitors from miles around. With good connections via road and footpath to the Darent Valley, Swanley is a great station to start the journey…
History: Horticulture and Hospitals
Once simply a crossroads, the area grew with the advent of the railway in 1861, around a station known as Swanley Junction. The Swanley Horticultural College opened in 1887 and encouraged workers to move into the area. With this came the opening of local nurseries and florists and still, to this day, some properties in the town still have some of the original apple and pear trees from the first orchards.
Attractive to doctors keen to send their patients away from London smog, Swanley also became home to several convalescent hospitals, and an artist called James Dickson Innes, claimed by some to be Britain’s first and most original impressionist, long before Manet and friends, came to Swanley to be treated for tuberculosis at the tender age of 27, but died a while later. Houses built along town lanes provided accommodation for all the hospital and horticultural workers. To find out more, check the Swanley History Group website.
Swan Mill has also provided a lot of jobs for locals, making paper products over the years, from paper napkins, wrapping paper, to plates and notebooks. It is still in operation today, albeit supplying to a much more international market.
Crispian St Peters, the son of nursery owners, musician and top hit writer of You Were On My Mind, grew up in Swanley, worked at the paper mill and eventually got married in Farningham Village Hall – but said he should have been more famous than the Beatles, with better songs (allegedly tongue in cheek…). His musical tradition lives on in Swanley with Supajam – a fabulous organisation which works with young aspiring musicians – and a high number of recording studios in the area.
In the post-war years, as the National Health Service took over health provision, the hospitals closed. A huge Asda (one of the UK’s biggest) and a school replaced two of them.
A large shopping centre was built in the centre of town and internationally famous sculptor William (Bill) Mitchell (of Harrods Egyptian Hall fame) molded wet concrete into exotic panels to adorn the staircases and balconies of the pedestrianised square. Today a vibrant market takes place there every Wednesday and Sunday.
White Oak Triathlon
Musician and top hit writer of You Were On My Mind and The Pied Piper, grew up in Swanley and attended Swanley Secondary Modern School.