Westerham is a small town in western Kent, with a population of just 5,000 souls. The town lies south of the high ridge of the North Downs, ten miles west of Sevenoaks, but within the parish is Kent’s highest point, at Betsom's Hill just north of the town.
Westerham is recorded as early as the 9th century, and was mentioned in the Domesday Book ordered by William the Conqueror in 1086 as Oistreham (which is almost the same as the name of Ouistreham in King William's native Normandy). The name simply means westerly homestead.
The River Darent flows through the town, and formerly powered three watermills.
Westerham is just north of Clacket Lane Services on the M25, but is not overwhelmed by the motorway, as it is not by a motorway junction.
There is evidence that the area around Westerham has been settled for thousands of years: finds such as an Iron Age fortification (c 2000 BC) and a Roman road are close by, along with the remains of a Roman encampment just past the ruins a of tower south of the town at the summit of Tower Woods.
The tower dates back to the 18th century, and was originally constructed by an ancestor of the Warde family, the present owners of Squerryes Court as a folly for their children's amusement. A romantic, if erroneous, theory is that the folly is in a mediæval watchtower, a tale which has been further embellished by a few fanciful locals who insist that it may have been the holding place for Anne Boleyn on her journey from Hever Castle to London for her trial and execution. (Anne Boleyn's family originally hailed from Chiddingstone and then, later, owned and lived at Hever Castle. It is reported that on Anne Boleyn's execution, King Henry confiscated Hever Castle and kept it as his own.) This is however a fanciful theory at odds with the knowledge of the Warde family themselves who built the tower long after King Henry's day.
The manor was originally run by Godwin, Earl of Kent and later by his son Harold, who became King Harold II briefly before falling at the battle of Hastings. The first Norman lord of Westerham was Eustace II of Boulogne, and the town appears in his ownership in the Domesday Book, recorded as Oistreham.
By 1227, Henry III had granted Westerham a market charter, making the new village a major player in the buying and selling of cattle in Kent, a tradition that survived to 1961 when the last cattle market was held.
St Mary's Church is thought to date from the 13th century, although it is much altered in Victorian times. In 1503 the Protestant martyr John Frith was born in the town.
The Warde family have lived at Squerryes Court since 1731, their home is a tourist attraction. Interior and exterior scenes for the 2009 BBC mini-series Emma were shot at Squerryes Court: the house appearing as Emma Woodhouse's home Hartfield, while exterior scenes were shot at Chilham, Kent.
General James Wolfe was born in the town in 1727 at what is now known as the Old Vicarage due to a terrible storm on the night he was born. He lived in Quebec House - many streets and buildings are named after him and St Mary's contains not only the font in which he was baptised but also a memorial window to him by Edward Burne-Jones. The town square contains statues to both Wolfe and Winston Churchill.
Alice Liddell, famously cited as the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was born in Westerham and lived there for most of her life until her death in 1934.
In 1922 Winston Churchill MP bought Chartwell Manor on the outskirts of Westerham, which, apart from the time he spent at 10 Downing Street, was his home for the rest of his life. Chartwell is now administered by the National Trust.
A statue of Sir Winston Churchill stands on the village green at Westerham. It was sculpted by Oscar Nemon and stands on a base of Yugoslavian stone, the gift of Marshal Josip Broz Tito.
Chartwell is accessible from the B2026 from either Westerham to the north or from Edenbridge to the south.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
- Community, Business and Tourism in Westerham
- Westerham Town Web Site
- Villagenet page
- Squerryes Court
- Westerham Brewery
- Adam Williams (2 October 2009). "A classic setting". Kent Messenger (What's on section, p3).