Despite identifying itself as a Kentish town and being tantalisingly close to the beautiful countryside of Darent Valley, Swanley sits on the edge of London. 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.
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…).
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) moulded wet concrete into exotic panels to adorn the staircases and balconies of the pedestrianised square. Today a vibrant market takes place there every Wednesday (COVID-19 permitting…), to which people come from miles around.
White Oak Triathlon
The internationally famous sculptor William (Bill) Mitchell moulded wet concrete into exotic panels to adorn the staircases and balconies of the pedestrianised square.