Reports of our 2017 meetings


Ten million people left Britain between 1815 and 1829 to seek a better life elsewhere in North America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This broke up families and some never saw their relatives again. Having an interest in population movement, our speaker Gillian Rickard researched into the subject to find it had become a very large study.

One of the reasons for leaving was the lack of employment for soldiers returning from the Napoleonic wars in 1815. Another was the lack of employment in industry and the increasing mechanisation of farming. Overseas there was unoccupied land, employment for trades and financial help from government schemes from 1832. Emigration was funded by parishes in Kent since it reduced poor relief and helped to get rid of trouble makers. There were encouraging adverts in the Kentish Gazette offering passages on sailing ships.

The parishes also supplied money for food and clothes for the journey. In 1830, this amounted to £6 for each adult’s passage, £2 for clothes and shoes, £2 for the journey and subsistence on arrival and five shillings for hospital expenses. The £2 did not last long so that employment soon after arrival was necessary. 

In 1838, sailing ships departed every 6 weeks from Rye and Gravesend. The Atlantic crossing was terrible. Three hundred to five hundred emigrants were packed into the sailing ships like slaves. They travelled below decks in steerage from London to New York for four to seven weeks, sleeping in tiered bunks 6ft 3ins for a couple. There were no washing facilities and drinking water was stored in barrels and tasted of fish or oil. In bad weather the hatches would be shut. Many children died on the journey and many babies were born during the passage.  

Nevertheless overseas trades were in demand and the survivors found employment, land, and wages, such that they would never have had living as a pauper in Britain. The highest wages were for the building trade.

A man from Headcorn travelled 840 miles, settled in the prairie, built a house and farm and later sent for his wife. Single women aged 15 to 30 were welcomed and agencies offered passages. One woman found a good placement three days after arriving. However, there was evidence of mistreatment among the destitute boys and juveniles from prison hulks sent by agencies. After 1912, emigration continued but no paupers were accepted.

Gillian Rickard was to be congratulated on a well-constructed and comprehensive talk on how and why emigration had evolved. This was researched through parish records, since there were no passenger lists until 1890. 

Out of the 40 members attending the talk, eight had relatives who had emigrated overseas.  We saw copies of original documents, letters and the lists of emigrants regularly published in the newspapers of the time.                                                                   



The timing of this talk took into account our intended visit to Smarden in August and provided an historical background for that visit.

The name Smarden means 'fat pasture'. The origin refers to pasture where pigs and hogs were brought to for grazing.

The discovery of kilns dating back to 180BC are evidence of pre-Roman history in pottery making.  Pits containing pottery dated 11-14thC have been discovered and excavated. The 1838 Tithe map shows an extensive Roman-era iron working site located in the area of Romden to the east of the Parish.

In 1241, a Norman was murdered in the Woods of Hinenden. A very heavy fine was imposed called 'Murdrum', defined as 'a fine exacted under the Norman kings from the hundred in which a person was slain unless the slayer was produced or proof was given that the slain person was not a Franco-Norman. The village was heavily fined again in 1250 because they failed to call out the 'hue and cry' when Allan de Radingate, who had been convicted of theft, sought sanctuary in Smarden Church but later absconded.

The local woollen industry prospered, leading to King Edward III granting the village a Royal Charter in 1333 permitting them to hold a weekly market and annual fair, elevating their status from village to "town".

The Peasants' Revolt 1381 spread to this part of Kent, which also experienced Jack Cade's Rebellion 1450 and Thomas Wyatt's Revolt in 1554.

Elizabeth I, on a royal progress through Smarden in 1576, reaffirmed the previously granted Charter. Some fine houses were built in the 15th and 16th centuries, many of which remain today. During this prosperous time, high quality broad-cloth would have been taken from Smarden to the port of Faversham, trading as far as the Mediterranean. The industry lasted for 300 years, followed by Smarden's hop growing which spanned 100 years when there were 50 oast houses working. 

The presentation ended with a brief history of the Victorian era and World Wars, to the present day planning applications.                                              

Gillian Hogg                                                                       


Rod Shelton, a professional writer, with a past career in advertising and film, said that we should sit back and relax since he would not give a heavy history talk. It was a lively, broad canvas approach interwoven with tales and histories of the villages with many illustrations.  

The river Darent is 22 miles long with 16 ancient villages and two market towns. None of them would have existed but for the river. Their history, from 100BC to the present, has left its mark in hillforts, castles, Roman villas, medieval churches, rag stone quarries and paper mills. Rod Shelton coloured the history with tales of rebellions (Jack Cade 1450), battles, smuggling and murders. Residents of the area included artists, writers, inventors and wild musicians. 

There was a drovers' track from Sevenoaks to Hastings that established the fish run from Rye to London. There was a large fish market at Chipstead, the name means a mackerel plain, that lasted to 1636 when Rye and Winchelsea silted up, after which the new trade of smuggling flourished. 

We were surprised to hear that three million pounds of tea in total passed through Kent. We were not surprised to hear that Sevenoaks was the first town to charge for road use by introducing turnpike charges.  

One of our greatest landscape painters, Samuel Palmer, lived in Shoreham in 1824, partied and swam there as a young man. In 1925 two wild musicians, Ed Moeran and Peter Warlock shocked the village of Eynsford with their heavy drinking and bohemian lifestyle. Peter Warlock scandalised the neighbours by riding his motorcycle naked. 

But it is Dartford that had the fine 19th century engineering and manufacturing heritage. Donkin installed the first Fourdrinier paper making machine in 1851. Trevithick designed a rail locomotive in 1802. Appleyard in 1843 introduced a silk printing machine and Boroughs and Wellcome set up their pharmaceutical factory in 1880.

Rod Shelton's eye for the unusual and unexpected, his humour and passion for the area made him compulsive listening that inspired and informed us.

V. Dussek   


This presentation by Sir Paul Britton was a remarkable insight into the design and making of stained glass windows and it was supported by excellent photographs. 

Basic plain glass was made from silica: 2 parts sand, 1 part wood ash and a dash of lime, often producing a greenish tint from impurities in the mix. Colour was added with compounds including iron oxide. Flash glass was plain glass coated with silver nitrate or enamelling. Glass making arrived here with the Norman Conquest. However the oldest surviving stained glass in Kent is dated 1160 at Braebourne Church, near Ashford whilst Canterbury Cathedral contains many wonderful windows in deep colours, dated 1180, showing compelling stories and miracles.

Windows dated 1200 at Hastingleigh, near Wye are similar to those in Salisbury Cathedral and, more locally, Nettlestead Church has huge windows dating back to 1438. By 1460 it was not uncommon for windows to memorialise the people who paid for them. 

There was no secular glass in the middle ages and between 1550 and 1580 most windows were painted with a heraldic design. Travellers to the continent returned with stained glass.

William Peckitt created a panel with religious content at Lullingstone in 1760.

Notable glass designers emerged in the 19th century including, in 1832, Charles Winston, Thomas Williment and A.W.N.Pugin. By 1860 there were many stained glass designers and makers with exquisitely drawn glass with the highest artistic content and using some acid colours, but they were not appreciated. Clayton and Bell were prolific makers of stained glass and continued making glass until the 1930s. William Morris made the glass at Langton Green. Speldhurst is the best place to see pre-Raphaelite glass. Glass diversified in 1870 and John Janes, John Hardman and Charles Eamer Kemp were influential glass makers 1875-1890. Sir Ninian Comper (died 1970) also designed church furniture in 1906. Christopher Whall made glass for Tonbridge School in 1906 and St. Luke's church at Chiddingstone Causeway contains a gem of stained glass by Wilfred von Glehn.

Between 1965 and 1980, twelve windows were designed by Chagall for All Saints Church, Tudeley. These windows were commissioned by Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid as a memorial to his daughter who drowned in 1963.

Stained glass windows remain popular today in private houses, commercial premises and shopping malls.

Gillian Hogg


Our speaker, Wilf Lower, was born in Rochester where his life-long love of the river began. He is an author, has worked for the BBC and has organised maritime events in London and Europe. He gave us a lively and entertaining talk. 

It is well known that the river Medway is a natural barrier that divides Kent into two factions. In the east are the Men of Kent and in the west are the Kentish Men. He described the Medway as having been a working river for centuries. In the nineteenth century, there were 400 fishermen, Britain's largest cargo fleet, working barges, and 34 barge yards. From 1850, factory workers and families could take a paddle steamer trip from Margate or Chatham to Southend for £1. At Gillingham and Upnor the council laid sand over mud to create beaches where there were donkey rides and pierrot shows. 

Into the historical picture, our speaker wove tales of historic vessels. The Medway Queen, a paddle steamer built in 1924, made three trips to Dunkirk rescuing 8,000 soldiers. She was left to rot in 1985, but was brought back to the Medway on a barge for restoration when money was raised by the Medway Queen Preservation Society for this ongoing project. The Edith May, a 1906 sailing barge, was restored over 10 years by a father and son, Geoff and Edward Grandsen. Edward VIIth's yacht, Sorceress, was literally dug out of the mud to be beautifully restored with French polished wood and brass fittings. This took two years.The King raced Sorceress at Cowes in 1878 and also used the yacht for intimate dinners with his mistress, Lily Langtree.

V. Dussek