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The hidden history of a popular sports club - Jane Bokowski

Hidden beneath the 1960s bungalows winding through Tunbridge Wells’ “Lake District” and still faintly visible in the day to day life of nearby Rose Hill School are the remains of an old sports club which once attracted well-heeled local residents in droves.

The smooth greens and challenging curves of Culverden Golf Club were still much in evidence when developers moved in to build the modern housing estate featuring Rydal Drive and Coniston Avenue, Thirlmere Road and Derwent Drive, apparently named after the developer’s favourite holiday spots.

The cash-strapped club had been forced to close back in 1950 and, as the post-war housing surge gathered pace, the large site at the top of the town in Culverden Down was ripe for redevelopment.

A local headmaster was one of the first to see the potential. With his every growing prep school feeling increasingly cramped in its Victorian base down in London Road, Rose Hill Head Jack Grange jumped at the chance to buy a large plot of land from the bankrupt golf club in 1950.

His plan, after years of having to march pupils across the road to play cricket and other sports on the Common, was to turn it into a school sports field, an idea much welcomed by staff and pupils. By 1951, it was up and running.

However, the canny school-master had another plan up his sleeve and, as construction workers hammered away at the new housing development nearby, he worked on his own pet project: to build a brand new school using money raised from the sale of the old London Road site.

In the end, as he struggled to balance the costs, Kent County Council forced his hand. With families steadily moving into the new housing at the top of town, an extra primary school was desperately needed. Eyeing up the Rose Hill sports field, KCC threatened to serve a compulsory purchase order to gain access to the land they needed.

Realising he had to bite the bullet, Grange immediately informed the council that he too, was planning to build a new school and, while Rose Hill was fee-paying, he was prepared to sell off part of the field for Bishop’s Down Primary School. But even as the 20th century development swarmed inexorably across the old golf course, reminders of the once celebrated club remained.

“Rose Hill covered about half of the original nine-hole course,” recalled one former pupil.

“In the 1970’s there were still bunkers dotted around the grounds. Even today, there are a few man-made ridges still visible.”

Back in the summer of 1950, a range of club stock and equipment auctioned off at the castle Hotel in Tunbridge Wells had included a large timber clubhouse to be re-erected or broken up for building materials. Evidently unsold, it was still standing 20 years later, used by the school groundsmen to store tools and teach the boys carpentry.

Culverden Gold Course opened in 1896 and, with local grandee Sir David Salomons as its president , soon attracted plenty of members keen to belong to what rapidly became a local institution.

With restricted membership, they could be sure they would rub shoulders with other leading citizens as they practised their strokes or gathered in the clubhouse, and the growing number of similar clubs across the area offered plenty of good competition.

The club also featured a busy ladies’ club as well as an affiliated artisans’ club to attract working class members.

Unlikely to have been allowed to enter the main clubhouse, the artisans met in the upper floor of a barn off Lower Green Road in Rusthall. Typically these cheaper, less prestigious clubs had limited playing rights, ran their own competitions and were expected to carry out unpaid maintenance on the course.

After more than half a century, however the club was struggling.

The war years had been hard, money was tight and , while it retained selective membership, the Nevill Golf Club, at the other end of town, was open to all comers.

In 1950, it filed for bankruptcy, and within weeks its once velvet greens had returned to nature, closing another chapter in the town’s long history.

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