A group of buildings that has been a workspace for artisans and craftspeople for more than 200 years is being brought back into full use, fit for the 21st century.
Carpenters Yard, on the edge of the Pembury Road between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, had space for a joinery workshop, a forge, and a cottage when it was operating in the 18th century. Later a sawmill opened on the site.
The position of the yard, on the edge of Pembury Woods, meant there was an almost inexhaustible supply of timber that could be turned into useful products, but as many of the tasks it performed moved to other parts of the Estate, the yard became redundant.
In recent years the Hadlow Estate has restored the dilapidated brick buildings to meet the growing demand for smaller workspaces suitable for local makers and other businesses in need of premises in an accessible location at a sensible rent.
Long-standing residents remember Carpenters Yard as a fully operational maintenance centre for the Somerhill Estate, now the Hadlow Estate, in the middle of the 20th century, from which all building works on the Estate were managed.
Retired Estate Foreman Mick Cheeseman, who started as an apprentice carpenter on the Somerhill Estate in 1970, recalls cycling up to Carpenters Yard every day when he joined the building team. He learned his trade working on joinery for the Estate’s houses and agricultural buildings, making doors, windows, oast cowls, fences and gates.
Research has shown that the long brick range at Carpenters Yard was used as the main carpentry workshop, including a nail and fixing room, paint shop and store. The Victorian sawmill was equipped with a large saw on a rack bench, powered by a steam engine outside the building, while next door to the old smithy was a tree nursery, growing chestnut coppice to transplant into Pembury Woods.
Carpenters Yard remained the hub of Somerhill, then Hadlow Estate’s building maintenance operations, until the 1990s. As the A21 Pembury Road became increasingly busy, the Estate’s maintenance yard was moved to a more central location at Park Farm, Tudeley.
The sawmill and main brick range has now been restored and the next phase will see the renovation of Carpenters Cottage, following the granting of permission to divide it into two dwellings. Works are due to be completed in the Spring.
The work so far has involved significant structural repairs, including re-roofing, new walls and floors, plus insulation and double glazing throughout, as well as repointing the brickwork with breathable lime mortar.
Tenants now on site include beauty treatment company, The Transformation Clinic, which has relocated from Tonbridge, and taken over the space in the old Sawmill. The long brick range now provides space for a community interest company, Aspects Together, which provides woodworking space for young people. There is also a Tunbridge Wells-based drum teacher who is providing lessons, and an independent furniture maker.
Estate Surveyor David O’Rorke, who has overseen the renovations said: “It has been wonderful to see Carpenters Yard transform from the point of dilapidation into a really vibrant community of workspaces. We have worked hard to balance the retention of heritage features with sustainability targets to provide bright, healthy spaces for local creative businesses. I am so pleased that Carpenters Yard can now continue as a hub for rural enterprise for many years to come.”