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URGENT THREAT - Demolition of Hextable Heritage Centre where Crowe, Colvin, Perry studied...

This is an urgent request for anyone interested in women's horticultural history. It is easy to register your protest but it must be done by MONDAY 10 SEPTEMBER by 5pm.

The easiest and quickest way to do this is as follows:

  • Please use this link : https://maps.sevenoaks.gov.uk/crowdsource.../index.html... 
  • Close the notice that appears on the screen by pressing the X
  • Then on the right- hand side of the screen scroll down to Site: HO73 - The Parish Complex – this is the Heritage Centre
  • Scroll down the screen and click the small green box with a speech bubble to make your comments.

 

In brief, Sevenoaks Council is considering a planning application that would include the demolition of the Hextable Heritage Centre in Kent. This is the last remaining building associated with the famous Swanley Horticultural College when some of our greatest women gardeners and landscape architects such as Sylvia Crowe, Brenda Colvin and Frances Perry studied. 

 

The Heritage Centre is the former Botany Laboratory of Swanley Horticultural College which was founded in Hextable in 1887. This college was the first women’s horticultural education institution in the country and possibly the world. The Heritage Centre building was the educational centrepiece of the Women’s Horticultural College and therefore has vital historical significance. It shows the importance of horticulture in this area and is also a legacy to the famous women who were educated at the college. In 1918 Brenda Colvin CBE, an influential figure in 20th century landscape design, author of many works in the field and an influential force in horticulture, enrolled on the Swanley course. She went on to be the first female president of the Institute of Landscape Architects in 1951. In 1920, Dame Sylvia Crowe DBE, the next outstanding female landscape architect of the 1900s, also began at Swanley and in 1957 she too became president of the same institute. Crowe went on to be a famous voice in the field, publishing an extensive body of written work between 1956 and 1988. Frances Mary Perry MBE VMH, gardening writer and broadcaster, was also a student of the college.

Today the Heritage Centre exhibits original horticultural tools and equipment which have been preserved and there are photos which show students engaged in activities inside the building and surrounding grounds. These photos are informative for those who want to know about the village’s past and the building is an apt public venue for storing them. Beyond this, the building itself offers an even more important legacy, being a real and tangible connection to the history of the village. The Heritage Centre building, which remains relatively unchanged since 1937, enables visitors to be transported to the village’s past, offering an opportunity to gain real insight into the lives of the women students. This is something that photos alone cannot achieve.

Few villages of Hextable’s size are fortunate enough to have a physical link to women’s history. There is a very relevant, important and interesting British Pathé video about the college. This video is titled “Land Students in Training 1939" and is available here: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/land-students-in-training The scene of the women in the Botany Laboratory at the windows shows that this building retains many original features today and demonstrates some of the daily activities of the students. Swanley Horticultural college is referred to in literature across the World. One example https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669882?seq=1...Manage JSTOR.ORG “A Triumph of Brains over Brute”: Women and Science…

For all these reasons I am strongly opposed to the demolition of such an iconic building and, in particular, the erasure of a significant part of women’s history. In this Centenary year women's history should be recognised and celebrated. This Heritage building represents the only enduring monument to Hextable’s history as a centre of horticultural education and industry, and the people who worked and studied there.

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