Audley Willicombe Park Retirement Village has a rich history

Posted in News on 13th May 2013

WILLICOMBE Park in Tunbridge Wells has a long and varied history, beginning its days as a private residence for a renowned local architect.

Today it is the setting for a luxury retirement village, which was opened by Archie Norman, MP for Tunbridge Wells, on June 9, 2000, and is now enjoyed by a new community of people.

Willicombe House first appears on public records in 1872 and was a gate lodge for William Willicombe, an architect, who was renowned in the local area at the time as the Cubitt of Tunbridge Wells for the number of houses he built in the area.

He was also a student of Decimus Burton, the prolific English architect and garden designer who is associated with projects such as London Zoo, as well as the layout and architecture of Tunbridge Wells itself.

The village today takes its name from William, who remains a central figure in its present as well as its past.

The building remained empty for a number of years until being turned into a private nursery training college, St Christopher's, in 1906 by Constance Barker.

The staff looked after a range of children including several newborns from the Barnardo's organisation.

In 1947, the villa was taken over by Barnardo's itself to care for babies and young children.

The young women studying and working at St Christopher's formed a close-knit community. Working long hours they, like the famous Norland nannies in London, were a familiar sight in their pink uniforms, pushing prams and pushchairs through the town.

The charity went on to open a new day care centre on the site in 1985, transferring services out of the main house.

Left empty, the villa was damaged by vandals and suffered two fires which ravaged many of the original features.

In 1998, the organisation agreed to a sale with Audley, which wanted to restore the heritage building and develop a luxury retirement village at Willicombe Park.

The charity decided to use the income generated by the sale to invest in new services and facilities.

In 1999, work began to restore the Victorian villa, as designed by William Willicombe, to its original beauty.

Significantly, and to honour the heritage of the site, Audley retained the name and the village became known as Willicombe Park.

Today it is a well-established community, consisting of 67 retirement apartments and cottages, in four acres of landscaped gardens. At the heart of the village is a grand Victorian villa which houses the Audley Club that includes a health and wellbeing centre, swimming pool, treatment rooms, lounge, bar/bistro and restaurant.

Retirement properties at the village are available for those over 60 wishing to live an independent later life in Tunbridge Wells.

For a tour call 01892 616444.

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