While we may not have star power quite like Hollywood, Kent has been no stranger to stardom over the years. From blockbuster movie stars, beloved television personalities to musical legends, some of the biggest names in entertainment may have lived on your doorstep.
One of these stars is a popular comic and TV personality. Jo Brand, who spent much of his formative years at Benenden, a small village in the borough of Tunbridge Wells which has only about 800 inhabitants. Initially Brand had moved to St Mary’s Platt near Sevenoaks from London at the age of four, then a year later to Benenden. Here she and her family lived down a long country lane in a converted old oasis house.
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While in the village, she attended St Mary’s Platt Primary School and Benenden Village Primary School, before moving to Tunbridge Wells Grammar for girls up to the age of 16. Although a modest and humble Kentish village on the outside, the place is absolutely steeped in fascinating history.
In the 11th century, Domesday Book surveyors noted Benenden as one of only four places in the Weald of Kent to contain a church. Currently St George’s Church still stands and holds a regular service for the village.
In the 14th century, the region prospered thanks to its prosperous steel and cloth industries. However, this did not last forever as by the 18th century both industries had moved to the industrial north and the prosperity of the area declined.
Currently, Benenden remains a popular location for those looking for a break from busy city life and prefer greener things. As an area of outstanding natural beauty with green pastures and vast forests, the place is ideal for those who enjoy walking in nature.
Perhaps the area’s best-known feature is Benenden School, a Tudor structure that underwent extensive renovations between 1860 and 1912. The private school has an impressive reputation as one of the best in the county and counts many famous alumni.
The likes of Princess Anne, aviator and sportswoman Lettice Curtis and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz have all been boarders at the school. Another key landmark in the area is the Royal Sanatorium, built in 1907 as an institution designed to treat working-class Royal Mail workers suffering from the bacterial epidemic of tuberculosis.
It is this aim that is largely reflected in the design of the site, with the wide wings and the emphasis on many open green spaces, demonstrating the belief that disease could be better treated with fresh air and l exercise, alongside more orthodox medical care.
A relic of a bygone era, the hospital went unused for the better part of a decade, with the local council approving plans for its demolition and conversion into living quarters in 2013. However, the building still stands , unique architecture and all, and faced local opposition to the destruction of its distinctive appearance.
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