The low Kentish ragstone walls that front our properties in Montreal Park and connect us as a community can easily be overlooked and forgotten. Many of us will know that they were built from the stone from the original Montreal House when it was demolished. Few of us knew that the stone used to build Montreal House dates back even further, possibly to Saxon times.
As far as we know, at one time a wayside shrine dedicated to St John the Baptist was set up somewhere at the bottom of what is now St John’s Hill, at Bat and Ball. This in time was developed into a chapel and eventually a hospital was established alongside. It was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1538-39. In his book, The Pleasant Town of Sevenoaks*, John Dunlop explains what happened after the Reformation:-
“It will be remembered how the ancient Hospital of St John the Baptist at Greatness, which had existed since Norman, perhaps Saxon times, fell into disuse after the Reformation. The stones were purchased by the Culpepper family and carted away to be used to build their new house of Brooks at Riverhead. Brooks was bought by the Amhersts and became their family home. When General Sir Jeffrey Amherst came back in triumph from Canada he planned a park and mansion on a grander scale. So he pulled down Brooks and used the material in the construction of Montreal. At length Montreal was being demolished. Kentish ragstone is well-nigh indestructible. The stones of Montreal were used to make the front garden walls of the new estate. So scattered somewhere along Marlborough Crescent or Lyndhurst Drive or the other roads are the original stones of the Hospital of St. John”.
The walls remain an integral feature in the character of Montreal Park along with the wide verges and the trees and the undulating landscape. Kentish ragstone is rare and difficult to source these days. Ragstone with such a history is probably unique. It would be a shame to lose this history and the character of the estate, so please value, protect and preserve your low stone walls.
*'The Pleasant Town of Sevenoaks' by John Dunlop (Caxton & Holmesdale Press 1965). With thanks to Alyss Dye for drawing our attention to this little bit of history.