Spotlight on: Chislehurst
- Credit: Archant
Combining the best of both worlds - country living in a friendly community but within striking distance of the city – Chislehurst is thoroughly desirable
In pretty, village-like Chislehurst, with it duck ponds, country pubs and green spaces, you would be forgiven for thinking you were deep in the Weald of Kent. Yet it is just 15 miles from central London, so living here really is the best of both worlds.
With mainly Victorian architecture, an historic Royal Parade of shops and restaurants, a village green, an ancient church and its vast commons, there is little wonder why so many city workers prefer to come home to a house in Chislehurst.
It is only around 25 minutes by train from London and with good schools and plenty of places to walk the dog nearby, it’s always popular with families looking for that country idyll. It was even, once upon a time, good enough for French royalty.
Chislehurst is probably best known for its 20-mile labyrinth of man-made tunnels. Mysterious in their origins, the caves are impossible to accurately date but they do appear on a charter of 1250.
The caves have had many uses in their time. During the First World War they became part of the Woolwich Arsenal and were used as an ammunitions depot, with a light railway installed in the passageways.
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During the Second World War it became a huge air raid shelter, housing up to 15,000 people and with an underground church, shop and hospital area. During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s the caves became a live music venue with famous gigs from The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.
Today the caves are a popular tourist attraction, open Wednesday to Sunday and every day during school holidays and offering group tours by lamp light.
There is also an education centre for school groups, an outdoor picnic area, a café and a gift shop. And if you’re lucky you might meet resident cat, Chalky. Visit www.chislehurst-caves.co.uk
Scadbury Park nature reserve is 300 acres of countryside and forms part of the wildlife corridor linking open countryside from Jubilee Country Park through Petts Wood and Scadbury along the ‘London Loop’. Particularly popular with families and dog walkers, it’s a green oasis only 25 minutes away from London with footpaths that lead through ancient woodland and past the ruins of the old Scadbury Manor, surrounded by its moat.
Chislehurst Common and St Paul’s Cray Common are expansive green spaces saved from development in the 1880s. Today they are at the heart of Chislehurst, giving residents and visitors a chance to wander through woodland and open grassland.
There are dozens of footpaths and bridle paths snaking around the commons and plenty of places of interest to spot along the way, including the ‘Cockpit’ – a depression in the ground once used for cock fighting.
Shopping and eating
For what is considered a village, the variety of shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants is impressive, with everything from charity shops to luxury gift emporiums.
Just a handful of the latter are Davina Boutique (0208 3166842) for fashionable footwear, Bagga (0208 2951355) for trendy menswear, bridal boutique Heading Up The Aisle (0800 0556008) and smart wine shop Champion Wines (0203 5819935).
Chislehurst also has an historic shopping area which is as fashionable and vibrant today as it was when it was built in the Victorian era. Royal Parade is a row of high-end stores and cafés, including art and antique shops, designer boutiques and a beauty spa. Look out for glamorous occasion wear boutique La Belle Femme (0208 4676661), Michael Sim Antiques (0208 8571313), prestigious art store The Royal Gallery (0208 4675575) and even an Aladdin’s cave of miniature marvels – Doll’s House Parade (0209 2950688). Don’t miss quaint Donna Alexandra Mews, a cute little passageway lined with restaurants.
When it comes to eating you’re spoilt for choice. Some of the most popular independents are the Italian Due Amici (0208 4674496), The Bickley (0208 4687613), The Bengal Lancer (0208 4677088) and Denny’s seafood restaurant (0208 4675612). If it’s a coffee break from shopping you’re after, head to Annabel’s II gift shop and tearoom (07733 014565) or The Chestnut (0208 4675158).
Lizzy de Maid from The Chislehurst Society
Tell us about The Chislehurst Society
The Chislehurst Society is a registered charity established to protect and enhance Chislehurst. The society provides a wide range of activities, from organising local children’s events, talks on topical subjects for our members, reviewing local planning applications and providing grants to local interest groups seeking assistance to improve our local amenities.
It’s a fabulous organisation supported by more than 4,000 members, which makes it the largest civic society in London. For our little society, that’s pretty impressive!
How did you get involved?
I gave up my career when I had my two girls, which left me with (a little) spare time. Once I had my children, I spent an awful lot more time in and around the village and realised that the society was an organisation which actually made things happen. I went along to a couple of committee meetings and realised that I could help and luckily, they wanted my help too. The rest is history.
What do you love about Chislehurst?
Chislehurst is individual, with a thriving community. Both the residential and business communities are passionate about the place where they live and/or work.
If you go along to one of the locally organised events, like the Big Draw or Chislehurst Rocks, you notice the familial sense of belonging. The other thing that truly sets Chislehurst apart is its beautiful commons. When you wander over the commons you don’t imagine that you’re only a short train ride away to London.
Your favourite places to eat?
We enjoy a curry at the Bengal Lancer (020 8467 7088), and also tend to frequent Pizza Express (020 8295 0965) and Thai (020 8467 7746) on the High Street.
When we bought our house, my husband’s primary focus was nearby drinking establishments. Needless to say we now live within a comfortable stumbling distance of two of our best pubs: The Bull’s Head (020 8467 1727) and The Crown Inn (020 8467 7326).
And your favourite shops?
We have some lovely shops, Annabel’s (07733 014565) and Annabel’s II spring to mind. As a treat I take my girls to the latter for tea and delicious cakes and they love it.
Wrattens (020 8467 7400) in the High Street showcases local independent retailers; I always seem to leave having bought something I’m sure I don’t need.
We also have an excellent butcher, Higgs (020 8467 0423); my (very picky) husband says the pies there are the best he’s tasted.
Another favourite is Champion Wines (020 3581 9935). I pop in here with friends for a glass of interesting and different wines or go along to one of their wine tastings, which are always very popular.
Favourite place for a walk?
We take our dog Holly for a walk every day on the common but at the weekends we tend to do longer walks either around Scadbury Park, or through the Petts Woods at the end of Botany Bay Lane.
Visit www.chislehurst-society.org.uk n