Society for One-Place Studies,
28 St Ronan’s Avenue,
Southsea, Hampshire, PO4 0QE
This is an ongoing study of the parish of Aldington in Kent. Its purpose is to discover as much as possible about the people who lived there in the nineteenth century. Some information relating to earlier times is also included.
The parish of Aldington is situated between the town of Ashford and the region known as Romney Marsh. In addition to the village of Aldington, it includes a number of small hamlets and several outlying farms.
The geography of the parish was described in some detail by Edward Hasted in his History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent(1):
The parish of Aldington is exceedingly pleasant and healthy. The great ridge of quarry or sand hills cross it in length about two miles and an half, and it extends northward into the vale beyond them as far as the Old Stour, and on the other side southward into Romney Marsh, in all about two miles. On the ridge of quarry-hills is the village of Aldington, through which the road leads from Limne to Smeeth and Ashford, having the church on the north-east side of it, and the court-lodge and parsonage-house on the opposite sides of the church-yard, from whence there is an extensive prospect over Romney Marsh and the sea on one side, and the inland country on the other. There are several hamlets in it, as at Aldington-corner, Stone-street-green, which lies in the vale near the river, and at Claphill, where the quarry-hills end, and you descend from it into the clays towards Mersham. Still further westward is Aldington-Fright, corruptly so called for the Frith, which was once a chase, for deer and wild beasts, belonging to the archbishop’s manor of Aldington, where they ranged at large as in a forest. This is now a large heath, of a very uneven surface, about two miles in length, and near as wide, but it is separated into two parts by some cottages and lands inclosed round them, which have been purloined from it. Round the whole of the Fright, there are numbers of houses and cottages, at different distances from each other. At the entrance of it, at the southeast corner, is a large old timbered mansion, being the court-lodge of the manor of Poulton Stansted, belonging to the archbishop, and leased out for many years past to the family of Gilbert, now held by Donald Macdonald, esq.
The corn-land in this parish is very fertile. There is some hop-ground, and but little wood, most of which lies to the southward of the village, on a height called Aldington-knoll; and at no great distance from thence an estate called Merwood, or Merrud, which formerly belonged to the Hugessens, of Provender, and now to Sir Joseph Banks, and Sir Edward Knatchbull.
We get an evocative description of Aldington Frith from The London Gazette of 1826(2):
Aldington Frith, commonly pronounced by the inhabitants of that part of Kent , “Allington Fright”, is a rude, uncultivated tract of broken and unequal ground, difficult for strangers to pass, in consequence of the bogs which fill the hollows, and skirted by thick woods. … From the nature of the Frith, over which a few cottages only are scantily scattered, and its vicinity to the Marsh, a better situation for smugglers could scarcely be found; and it has long been notorious as their haunt.
The Census tells us that the population of the parish in the 19th century varied between 504 and 741. There were 139 separate households listed in 1841, 41% of the householders were born in the parish. The mean household size (including boarders and servants) in 1841 was 5.3 (probably higher than the national average)(3).
It seems that there was a series of mortality crises in the first half of the 19th century. The causes are unknown at the moment, but it was the age group 1-20 that was most affected. The data were obtained from parish registers.
A band of smugglers known as the Aldington Gang plied their trade in this area between about 1817 and 1827.
Twenty-three different occupations are represented in the 1841 Census:
ag lab, beer seller, blacksmith, bricklayer, butcher, carpenter, carrier, farmer, gamekeeper, gardener, grazier, grocer, lime burner, miller, musician, publican, sawyer, schoolteacher, servant, shoemaker, surgeon, veterinary surgeon, wheelwright.
The proportion of agricultural labourers to farmers was more than 3:1.
According to the Tithe Award Schedule, ownership of land in the parish was divided between around sixty people, with the major landowner being William Deedes esquire, a gentleman of independent means who lived at Sandling Park, near Hythe. He owned well over half the land in the parish, including most of the larger farms.
Only eighteen of the property owners lived in the parish. All the major farms were occupied by tenant farmers.
Of the 3591 acres in the parish, around 1600 acres were pasture, 1200 acres were arable, 300 acres were woodland and 80 acres were growing hops.
The average farm size in Kent at this time was 143 acres(4). Most of the farms in Aldington were of this sort of size with only Court Lodge (570a) and Lower Park (259a) exceeding 200 acres.
Many of the craftsmen and tradesmen (and even a couple of ag. labs.) rented a few acres of pasture on which to keep a horse or cow. A couple of the grocers were more substantial farmers; Humphrey Philpott rented 80 acres of pasture and Robert Scott rented 35 acres of pasture and 51 acres of arable.
All the farmers with more than 30 acres employed labourers; Stephen Hart at Court Lodge employed fifteen. In addition to the outdoor labourers, many of the farmers employed indoor servants. Several of the craftsmen and tradesmen did too. 18.68% of households in the Aldington registration district contained at least one live-in servant in 1851(5).
The parish church, which is dedicated to St. Martin, is Early English with a Late Perpendicular tower.
It is large and handsome, and consists of two aisles and two chancels, having at the west end a handsome tower steeple(1).
Horse racing has been a feature of life in Aldington since at least 1809(6):
A cricket match was played on Aldington Frith between the gentlemen of Aldington and the gentlemen of Biddenden in 1812(7).
Cockfighting contests were held at the Walnut Tree Inn as late as 1904(8).
Pubs – The Walnut Tree Inn at Aldington Corner has sold beer and ale since 1704. In that year, the property was purchased by Jonas Quilter and he was granted a licence to sell ales and ciders. In 1749, the property was purchased by Thomas Gadhew who registered the alehouse under the name ‘The Walnut Tree’(8). It was the headquarters of the Aldington Gang in the later years of its existence, when their leader was George Ransley. It was owned and run by John Firman from 1841 and, after his death in 1849, by his widow Mary.
Aldington Frith had its own inn, The Good Intent.
Schools – In 1790 Mr W. Holmes took a class of ten pupils at the Lady Chapel in St. Martin’s Church. By 1815 the class had been enlarged to include twenty of Aldington’s poor children and by 1818 a further twenty-one girls had been recruited. By 1842 the class had become too large to be held in the Church and William Deedes paid for a school to be built at Aldington Corner(9). The Ordnance Survey map describes it as a National School. These schools provided elementary education, in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England, to the children of the poor.
In the 1850s, a short-lived private school was established at Upper Park. A high percentage of the pupils were from London.
Aldington Frith was the home of Cephas Quested, thought by some to have been the first leader of the band of smugglers known as the Aldington Gang. In more recent times Aldington has been home to Sir Noel Coward, the novelists Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Brown, the musician Noel Redding and the comedians Vic Reeves, Julian Clary and Paul O’Grady.
In the south chancel of the parish church are memorials for William Deedes, M. D.who died in 1738; Mary, daughter of Edward Metcalf, widow of Henry Gregory, who died in 1707; Humphry Blechinden, esq. of Ruffin’s hill, who died in 1639 and John Blechynden, esq. of Simnells who died in 1607. In the north chancel is a monument to John Weddeol and Maud his wife, who died in 1475. In the south isle was a tomb for James Godfrey and Katherine his wife(1).
Some of the most prominent families of Aldington are mentioned by Edward Hasted(1) in relation to farms in the area:
Simnells (Simnolds) takes its name from a family that owned it in the 15th century. It was owned and occupied by the Blechenden family between 1663 and 1715. William Deedes, of Sandling Park in the parish of Saltwood, was the owner in 1842. The tenant in 1841 and 1851 was John Matson.
Ruffin’s Hill was also owned by the Blechenden family, but was sold to Julius Deedes in 1677. It was owned in 1842 by William Deedes and occupied for several decades by the Goldup family. John Edward Goldup farmed 170 acres in 1861, employing five labourers and a boy. The tenants in 1881 were the Fuller family. John Fuller had died in 1877 at the age of 39, but his widow continued to farm the 136 acres with the help of her father-in-law James until 1886.
Goldwell takes its name from the family of the same name who lived there in the 16th century. The Cobb family also lived there in the 15th and 16th centuries. The estate was later broken up, but there is still a farm of the same name. It was owned in 1842 by William Deedes and occupied for most of the 19th century by the Fuller family. John Fuller (53) farmed 178 acres in 1861, employing four labourers and two boys.
Cobb’s Hall (Copthall/Cophall) was an estate in this parish, situated in the valley, at no great distance westward from Ruffin’s Hill. It was formerly the property of the family of Knight, who had resided here from the reign of Henry VIII and in whom it continued down to Henry Knight, gent, who died possessed of it in 1687. It eventually passed into the hands of the Deedes family. The Marshall family were the tenants for several decades: William in 1841, his widow Ann in 1851 and their unmarried daughter, Sarah, in 1861. They were all described as graziers rather than farmers.
Copperhurst (Cophurst) was an estate in the southern part of the parish and was anciently the property of the family of Godfrey in which it continued down to Thomas Godfrey who died possessed of it in the 6th year of Henry VII. Later owners were the Clerke and Honywood families. It was owned by William Deedes in 1842.
Goldenhurst (Falconhurst) was an estate in the southern part of the parish. The present building dates back to the 17th century and was owned by William Deedes in the 1790s and by Noel Coward from 1929 to 1956.
A Poll Book of 1790(10) lists 15 freeholders in Aldington:
Ralph Banks, William Borton, Thomas Crittenden, Charles Crothall, William Foord, William Hayter, William Hobbs, William Hobbs, John Hooker, Stephen Hooker, Thomas Hooker, William Hooker, John Saunders, Edward Steed and William Tilbee.
The most common surnames in the 1841 Census were Hooker, Butcher and Tutt.
2. Morning Post, London, 17 November 1826
3. Population figures are from the decennial Census and were published in the Victoria County History. They are available at http://kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/
4. Shaw-Taylor, L. Family farms and capitalist farms in mid-nineteenth century England. The Agricultural History Review, 2005, Vol. 53, Part 2
6. Kentish Weekly Post, 9 May 1809.
7. Kentish Gazette, 28 August 1812
1841 Census, HO107/477/2 (available at www.findmypast.co.uk and elsewhere)
1851 Census, HO107/1622 (available at www.findmypast.co.uk and elsewhere)
1861 Census, RG9/514 (available at www.findmypast.co.uk and elsewhere)
Kent parish registers (available at www.findmypast.co.uk and elsewhere)
Kent Tithe Award Schedules (available at http://kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/)
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Society for One-Place Studies,
28 St Ronan’s Avenue,
Southsea, Hampshire, PO4 0QE