The Kings Hill development is located on the ever-decreasing remains of an airfield site which existed from about 1930 and which became prominent during WWII.
The first noticeable building on entering the Kings Hill development from Gibson Drive is the Officers Mess or Gibson Building and is so called because of Guy Gibson V.C. who served at West Malling during the war; this was built in 1945. The building is virtually untouched and closer inspection can reveal the remains of camouflage markings on the brickwork. Also the roof and walls of the middle ‘wing’ shows repairs carried out following bomb damage. Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council now use the Mess for their work but a new building to the east has become their central office.
Internally the only difference is the addition of benches and seats that have been put in the Officers lounge or anteroom to accommodate the council chambers. This is a Listed Building
The mock-Georgian design was repeated over England, this made the job of ‘settling in’ for Officers changing stations due to postings easier as they knew the layout of their ‘home’.
Further along Gibson Drive on the left are the offices of ‘Genzyme’. This was the Airmen’s Mess and the basic structure still survives but has cosmetically been changed to accommodate its current use.
Opposite this building is Churchill Square around which the billets or ‘H’ blocks were built in 1942. These provided sleeping accommodation for the airmen on the station and are currently used for small business offices.
Carrying on further down Gibson Drive are the Station Headquarters, which have been taken over by Rouse Kent from the beginning of their time here when redevelopment started. This building is likely to be demolished to make way for the new Village Centre development. The adjacent guardhouse has recently been demolished to accommodate the new Community Centre. Plans are in place to erect a memorial to RAF personnel on a site close to the Community Centre and funds are currently being raised.
The present control tower was built in early 1942 and will be the only ‘air side’ building to remain once the development is finished. The building is currently a Listed Building and this will make sure it stays as a reminder of Kings Hills’ former history.
On the extremity of the development in Tower View there is a 100’ observation tower. This was built towards the end of the war and acted as a lookout position that was connected by phone to the control tower to warn of approaching enemy aircraft. There are in fact two towers separated by an inch so that the guns mounted on the top wouldn’t interfere with the sensitive locating device mounted adjacent on the ‘other’ tower top. The RAF regiment and the Home Guard manned the tower. This tower is unique to RAF West Malling.
In December 1940 the ‘Startled Saint’ public house opened, built in 7 months by Whitbread Fremlins, by the Offham cross-roads. The name was based on the probable reaction of St.Leonard, who once stayed at West Malling, should he have returned and found the airfield with its take-offs and landings. The Pub's sign, whose wooden and wrought iron support can still be seen in the garden adjacent to the road by the cross-roads, consisted of a saintly figure looking upwards to his halo which was made up of circling planes. The pub was in the bounds of the station, so it was necessary for customers to show their I.D. cards before they were allowed into the bar!
Another building worthy of mention, situated on St.Leonards Street opposite the lake in the Country Park, is Douce’s Manor. This building was used as the Officer’s Mess prior to a permanent site on the airfield. In the basement was the ‘Twitch Inn’, so called because pilots kept looking over their shoulder to keep an eye out for enemy aircraft while flying. The ceiling of the bar is covered by names of the pilots written in candle smoke! The culprit was held upside down by fellow officers while a candle was held between the toes and their name written on the ceiling! Although owned by CGU you can visit the Manor on Heritage Days in September each year.