Published: 06:00, 25 May 2021
Think of the classic Kentish village scene; there's a green, a church and a sprinkling of village stores. And, pride of place, there's a pretty, hop-decked pub.
Because, legend has it, the pretty hamlet, a few miles south of Dartford and sat within the Sevenoaks district, is one of just a handful of 'dry villages' - where the sale of alcohol is banned.
Some even remember, in the 1950s, with the village having three churches and no pub, bus conductors calling out "Holy City" as the bus pulled into its centre, to let passengers know where they were.
And the cause is a covenant placed on the village more than 100 years ago.
But all, it appears, may not be as it seems.
Yes, no pubs exist, yes covenants from the 19th century remain in place, but it seems hope may yet spring eternal for those hoping for a local boozer.
Yet it is a remarkable tale comprising of a heady cocktail of religion, wealth and a famous author, mixed with the blurred vision of the passing of time.
So where does the truth start and the myth begin?
Let's start by taking a trip back through time to October 22, 1890 to be precise.
Because it was on that date the inaugural meeting of the Hextable Total Abstinence Society took place. It wasn't, as the name suggests, an evening of pint-swigging and general merriment.
Staged at the village's then world-renowned horticultural college, the roots were planted for ideas and beliefs which would stretch for more than 100 years.
The man chairing this get-together is instrumental to the story. Barrister John Todd owned Hextable Lodge in the village and was a man well versed in the law.
He was also an ardent support of the Temperance Movement - an organisation established in the 19th century which was opposed to the consumption of alcohol due to its effects on those who fancied a tipple or two. Headed by social reformers who saw booze as a threat to society's well-being, its members advocated a teetotal lifestyle.
This first formal meeting - following a number of temperance get-togethers in a tent in the village - came about at roughly the same time plans were afoot to develop the village.
Explains Graham Mitchell of the Hextable Heritage Society: "Hextable was, historically, just a load of nurseries with very few properties and those nurseries were mainly owned by Quaker families."
And Quakers were, the history books tell us, active in the Temperance Society movement.
The village of Bournville, to the south west of Birmingham, was famously built by the Cadbury family - those of a sweet tooth and a chocolate empire - to house staff who worked in the Cadbury factory. Even today, alcohol sales are banned on the original historic estate that first formed the site.
Back to Kent, the heritage society's John Meakins elaborates: "When Hextable first started to be developed at the end of the 19th century there was an ambitious plan by a developer for it to be a village of a high-class residential nature. As such, there were to be no cottages and four villas were built on Rowhill Road before the builder went bankrupt.
"One of the villas, at Hextable Crossways, was named Hextable Lodge and was bought by John Todd. There had been no public houses within the nucleus of the old settlement of Hextable and John Todd was determined that none would be built to fulfil such a need in the developing village.
"He was a wealthy man and the story goes that he was able to buy up the corner plots, which would have been convenient for the purpose of siting a public house. Another of the large villas, on Rowhill Road, was purchased new by a Mr Tweedy who then sold it, in 1905, to the well-known journalist and author of the original Children's Encyclopaedia, Arthur Mee.
"Arthur Mee shared John Todd's strong temperance views and was also responsible for buying up a corner plot, this being at the junction of Rollo Road and College Road. Here he built a new post office, which he persuaded friends to open.
"He also visualised it as being a lending library, a tea shop and a sort of community centre. His reason for doing this was because he resented using the existing post office which was situated at an off-licence.
"Even after John Todd's death and Arthur Mee's move away in 1915, it appears that their strive to keep Hextable 'dry' was perpetuated, possibly in no small way by the Methodist Church which was a strong supporter of the Temperance Movement."
But covenants on properties forbidding the sale of alcohol do exist - but they are confined to those corner plots. Known as restrictive covenants - as they forbid something from happening on the land and form part of the deeds handed down from home-owner to home-owner - they can, arguably, last in perpetuity.
Which explains why there are two stores in the village which have off-licence permissions.
Adds Darren Kitchener, chairman of Hextable Parish Council, and a councillor on Sevenoaks District Council: "I've lived here my whole life and I think we can honestly say we all thought [the covenant] covered the whole village.
"The original story was that we all thought we couldn't have a pub in Hextable full stop.
"But that is clearly not the case - it's a common myth.
"It's not like we've had a Cadbury family here in the past - I think it just happened there were some people at the time who objected to selling alcohol.
"We can't 100% say that's the situation, but you can only go by the information we do have and that's what we now believe."
Which brings us to the issue of could a pub finally come to a village where much of its population believes such a thing is outlawed?
Explains Graham Mitchell, who in addition to his work at the Hextable Heritage Society is also a chartered surveyor: "In my profession, I do come across these things from time to time. Once in Greenhithe I was shown a 16th century document that showed some sort of rights or restrictions on a piece of land which still persist today. It's amazing how some of these things drag on.
"Generally, they run for the benefit of the original landowners.
"As I understand it, wearing a surveyor’s hat rather than a lawyer's one, where you have one of these restrictive covenants attached to land it has got to be the people who originally imposed the restrictions, or their descendants, to be adversely affected by a breach of that clause to raise an objection. Because there's no one else who could uphold it.
"Therefore, you really have got to have one of the families left in the village, or have religious objections to a licensed property, to be able to mount a case for it to be upheld."
So that’s one hurdle overcome.
And Cllr Kitchener gives hope: "You wouldn't say it's impossible there could be a micropub coming to Hextable, and I don't think there would be too many objections to that. I can see that happening.
"The parish council would look at any proposal, as we would any business proposition that brings employment.
"I'm sure some people may have a different view as they've had that belief they weren't allowed all the time they've lived here.
"Technically speaking a pub could be built in Hextable, but whether there would be an appetite for it now, I'm not so sure."
But have the good folk of Hextable missed not having a pub to call their own - so often the beating heart of a local community?
"There isn't a general feeling that we must have a pub," explains Cllr Kitchener. "There's no more than there is that we must have a fish and chip shop - which we also don't have.
"I would think a number of people would have loved to have had a traditional village pub on the side of the green..."
"I personally have never missed having one. We all accepted that."
There are, of course, pubs nearby - some within a staggering distance home for the tipsy villager wishing to brave the scorn of the neighbours.
However, not everyone's as sanguine about the situation.
Adds Graham Mitchell: "We only moved in 16 years ago, but I would think a number of people would have loved to have had a traditional village pub on the side of the green where you could go and have a nice drink.
“For a long while there wasn't a decent pub within walking distance. Generally, it's been the one thing the village has missed."
Ah, now if only there was a nice pub for Mr Mitchell and Cllr Kitchener to share a pint and discuss the issue...