Earlier this month, we visited beautiful Kent and stopped off at a very special place – Chelsfield.
This is the village that the seven-year old Dora Saint – ‘Miss Read’ as she became known to readers – moved to after her mother became ill.
Those with the Michael Joseph hardback edition of Dora’s autobiography, Time Remembered, will recognise the distinctive white clapperboard building and peep of red-brick school from the cover. In the introduction, Dora writes: ‘I had suddenly exchanged the pressure of London life for the slower ways of the country, and it suited me… At Chelsfield, I came into my own and have never ceased to be thankful.’
The heart of the village with its pub, school and village hall, is packed with pretty cottages. Here’s Dora’s description of her first sighting of the school: ‘I could not believe my eyes. Where was the great three-storey building of red brick? Where was the vast expanse of playground? Here before me was a one-storey building with a slate roof. Steps led up to the small playground, and a row of pollarded lime trees towered above the railings.’
But I wonder how much of it Dora would recognise today. The train station felt very suburban but, when Dora arrived, she described it like this: ‘once the train had pulled away, everything was still and quiet… The peace of a spring morning enveloped us as we climbed the gentle slope, the wood on our right, and the deep railway cutting on our left … The larks were in joyous frenzy above. The sky was blue, the now distant wood misty with early buds, and the air was heady to a London child. A great surge of happiness engulfed me… This is where I was going to live… This is where I belonged. This was the country, and I was home there.’
Across the fields, you can distinctly see the soaring towers of Canary Wharf and glimpse the impressive curve of The Shard, reminding us that London is so close but, to the seven-year Dora, it must have felt a million miles away.