One of the things that people love best about visiting Chiddingstone is the rich history of this picturesque Tudor enclave. So, if you fall into that category yourself, one of the things you absolutely must do is to visit the wonderful village store that’s just a few steps away from The Castle Inn.
Incredibly, this amazing little treasure trove, now known as The Tulip Tree, is believed to be the oldest working shop in the country. What is more, while the earliest surviving records date from the late 1500’s, it is very likely that the shop was here much earlier – with the building itself dating back to 1453.
To put that into some sort of context, at that time, Henry VI was still on the throne, Chaucer’s seminal work, The Canterbury Tales, had yet to be published and Shakespeare wouldn’t be born for more than a century. This was also the year that saw the end of the Hundred Years War, the fall of Constantinople and the start of the feud that would lead to the Wars of the Roses.
“It really is incredible when you think this beautiful old building has been standing for almost 600 years – and that the shop, too, could well have been here for as long as that,” says owner and manager Nicoletta Fahie-Wilson. “Needless to say, there are also many interesting stories surrounding its history.
“For example, we know that Anne Boleyn’s father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, owned the building, then known as Burghesh Court, for several years. Also, the room upstairs, now a private residence, was once used for collecting taxes. In fact, it is believed that the entrance door was built deliberately small to prevent attackers coming in brandishing a sword!
“Then there’s the two big pillars propping up the centre of the shop. We know from the records that these are in fact old cannons, believed to have been made at a nearby forge. Whether they were ever used before ending up here, though, we do not know!”
Move to Chiddingstone
A long-time fan of the village, Nicoletta first fell in love with the place many years earlier after moving into a property a few minutes down the road. Although at that stage, she was working up in London at Canary Wharf, she had long had a dream of owning her own shop. So, when the opportunity arose to take on the store in the village, she didn’t think twice.
“It was the funniest thing because, the way it happened, it seemed almost like fate really,” she says. “We were actually visiting the village that day to have lunch here at the pub. However, as it was a Bank Holiday Monday, there was a bit of a wait for a table, so we decided to have a stroll around the village beforehand. Then, low and behold, I spotted the sign saying ‘shop for sale’.”
Today, six years later, as well as being a source of interest on a historical level, the store is a huge success in its own right. Packed to the rafters with an amazing array of enticing goods, it sells everything from giftware, jewellery and greeting cards to candles, scarves and groceries. And that’s not to mention the selection of 30 different old-fashioned ‘sweets in jars’ that are sold by the 100g.
Then there’s the tea shop next door, where you enjoy a lovely cream tea and a cake, and they also host special events such as flower-arranging courses.
“We always have something new in the shop as I like to keep it fresh and interesting for our customers,” says Nicoletta. “Also, we only stock a few of each thing, so that if someone in the village buys something, they know that everyone else won’t have it!”
Stepping back in time
Speaking of which, as a special ‘heritage village’ owned by the National Trust, it’s well worth making the time to have a good wander round. One of the best-preserved examples of Tudor architecture in the country, additional highlights include the fascinating Chiddingstone Castle, the beautiful old church and the mythical Chiding Stone – believed to have been used by ancient druids. So, what is Nicoletta’s favourite thing about the village?
“It’s such a pretty little place, there is so much to see and, with no entrance fee, it’s also very good value,” says Nicoletta. “I think the thing I love the most, though, is the sense of escapism you get here. It really is like stepping back in time.”