Reports of our 2019 Meetings

14 MAY 2019 - Invention & Discovery in Tudor Times

David Carder came at short notice to save the evening instead of our advertised speaker on Papermaking. He came to talk about the Tudor reign 1495 to 1603, often called the golden years of invention and discovery - so many were there.  

In Henry VII’s reign, Columbus and Cabot, both Italian, discovered the Caribbean and North America respectively. Also at this time Magellan and his fellow navigator, on a voyage to the East Indies, completed the first circumnavigation of the world. His fellow navigator finished the voyage taking three years, as Magellan died during the voyage. 

Thirteen years after William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for publishing the first translation of the Bible, Henry VIII authorised that Coverdale’s Great English Bible be read in churches throughout England. Much of the text of the New Testament was taken from Tyndale’s translation. Following this in 1549 the Book of Common Prayer was published.

Henry, always anxious about invasion, had gun forts in a new low design built at Sandown, Deal and Walmer. The same year the first iron cannon was made. After 1558 in the reign of Elizabeth I, the Swan theatre was built in 1576 during the first part of Shakespeare’s career. During this time there were some other very surprising inventions. Robert Record invented the equals sign, he said to avoid repetition of the words “is equal to”.  

David Carder showed us photographs of the first Elizabethan weights and measures and a drawing of the first flushing lavatory (1596) in which we could see fish swimming in the cistern. Imagine the invention of a national lottery as early as1557,  A ticket cost ten shillings and as well as the huge prize of £5000 it also gave the holder freedom from most of their crimes.   Tobacco and potatoes were discovered at this time and the pencil was invented in 1586.

This factual talk was full of humour and the evening finished with a quiz where the members were invited to guess whether certain Tudor quotes were Biblical or Shakespearean.   How interesting it was to realise that these quotes from 500 years ago were still in modern use.   David Carder will return in November to give us the sequel talk on Stuart inventions, and another quiz. This talk is not to be missed.

David Gurney made a display of photographs of Tudor houses in Plaxtol from our archives.                                                                    

V. Dussek

9 APRIL 2019 - Houses in Kent from Medieval Times to the Present

This presentation by Sir Paul Britton was remarkable and included 80 photographs taken with his own camera; not without hazard, having been accused of stealing a lawnmower at a property!

Most of the timber houses built before 1350 are lost to posterity. Surviving houses are those which were most valued belonging to yeoman famers and the gentry. The oldest example of a house in Kent can be seen locally: the remains of 'Old Soar Manor built from stone about 1290. Many houses of medium size with a classic layout were built for ecclesiasticals, eg. Court Lodge, Aldington built 1320 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Many fine timber framed houses were built in the 15C including the Bell Inn, Harrietsham. 

Chimneys were not used in domestic houses until after 1520 when upper floors were added. At this time too, jetties (projecting joists extending the upper floor beyond the wall below) became fashionable. Fine examples are Manor Farm, Cliffe, and three jettied storeys at the Sun Inn, Canterbury. In the 16C building material included brick and tile. The biggest and oldest brick building is Bell Harry Tower at Canterbury.

The gorgeous Red House in Sevenoaks was built by John Couchman of Tooting in 1686. When brick became fashionable many timber framed houses were faced with brick.  Facades then became plastered and painted, wood was faced with mathematical tiles, tile hanging and wood channelled to look like tiles. Fishtail tiles and weatherboarding were increasingly used. Yellow brick appeared in the 19thC. Pugin built 'The Grange' in 'Gothic style' for himself in 1843 at Ramsgate.                                                                                     

The German architect Walter Gropius designed Wood House, Shipbourne in 1937, in Scandi style. Following this, Kent's rural houses came closer to the common stream of building in England.


David Gurney, our Archivist, laid out a wonderful display, from our archive, of old Plaxtol houses.

Gillian Hogg 

Sir Paul Britton has kindly provided a list of the Kent houses that were included in this talk: KENT HOUSES

12 MARCH 2019 - Sevenoaks, a Past to Treasure

Ed Thompson delighted us with colour photographs of Sevenoaks 1960-1970 from his large collection.     

He started his collection in 1980 from his own photographs and colour slides, beginning by taking photographs of buildings that have since been demolished. The fruit of ten years' collecting has been made into books formed with his co-author Phillip Clucas who designed the books. Together they wrote the text. 

The talk was divided into sections such as schools, the town and its landmarks, countryside and the effects of snow and flooding. He wondered when the past becomes history, but it was clear that photographs were a historical record once buildings had been demolished. Sevenoaks had an industrial history shown by landmarks such as the Greatnesse silk mill and mill pond, the Goldings Brewery, the traditional brick making and the cattle market. The Carlton Cinema and many pubs have gone as have the gas cylinders. The Bat and Ball station was the original Sevenoaks railway station in 1862 and has now been fully restored with Lottery money and is a listed building. We were struck by the lack of traffic in the town and at the station and sad at the loss of the cattle market. There has been a market in Sevenoaks since the 13th century.   There were memorable photographs of this, the hop fields and the Kent countryside.

This was a nostalgic and visual delight. Each photograph has a history and formed part of a story and is an invaluable resource of local history.                                          

V. Dussek

12 FEBRUARY 2019 - The Saintly Pull of Canterbury 

It was a special occasion to welcome our speaker Dr  Janina Ramirez who is a known television history presenter. She has a special interest in Anglo-Saxon and Jutish culture that she has been researching for 20 years.

She began by explaining how the Romans had left a power vacuum when they withdrew from Britain after 410, causing the disintegration of the existing political, educational and military structure. The period in which the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britain is known as the Dark Ages but our speaker does not like the term. Academics still disagree as to whether this invasion was a blood bath or a less violent integration. However ,there is no proof since there are no burials from this early period. The Jutes settled in Canterbury but did not live among the Roman ruins. They settled in clusters of thatched wooden buildings outside the walls. They were illiterate, but brought their own Germanic culture and language. In later centuries, this became the bedrock of English language, the roots of which still remain in our place names. 

In 597, Pope Gregory sent Augustine from Rome to convert Britain peacefully to the new Roman Christianity that was based on St Peter and St. Paul. Also at this time, Kent gained significant importance because King Aethelbert was the most powerful ruler in Britain. He married Bertha, a Frankish Christian princess and under his rule a city started to form. Aethelbert rebuilt St. Martin's church for Bertha in Canterbury using the Roman stones and it is the oldest church still in use. Aethelbert became the first British Christian king.

Dr. Ramirez gave us a lively, entertaining talk with humour and great enthusiasm for the subject. It was a pleasure to hear her speak in person.                                         



8 JANUARY 2019 Maritime Kent

Jonathan Fenner gave an illustrated talk demonstrating the geographical and historical importance of Kent with its rich and diverse history along a 140 mile shoreway. The talk included history on the Medway raid by the Dutch in 1667 - one of the worst Royal Navy defeats, the dockyards at Chatham, Sheerness and Deal and the castles at Walmer, Deal and Dover. More recent history dealt with Martello Towers - 74 along the Kent and Sussex coast and the role of Ramsgate in the Napoleonic and both World Wars. Also references to Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and the lighthouses. 

Other highlights included:

Reculver Roman Fort (43AD) near Herne Bay. During WW2, this coastline was used to test prototypes of Barnes Wallis's bouncing bombs.

The Cinque Ports, consisting of Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich, all of which, in defence of the realm, pledged small fishing boats and men, in return for favours from the Crown. 

Romney Marsh, which was subject to great change in 1287 when a storm destabilised the marsh's sea walls.  A Scott Tax was imposed upon residents for maintenance. Those outside the boundaries were not eligible for tax and were said to have got away 'Scott Free'.

Hythe. St. Leonard's Parish Church is famous for its ossuary containing a large collection of human bones recovered when the graveyard was cleared in 13C. Inventors John Lukin (the lifeboat) died at Hythe in 1834 and Sir Francis Pettit Smith (ship propeller) born in Hythe in 1836.

Dover.  Its frontline history includes the raid on Zeebrugge in April 1918. It was the starting point, in 1875, for the first person Captain Matthew Webb to swim the English Channel. Special mention was made of the Memorial Window, installed in 2017 at St Mary's Church, marking the 30th Anniversary of the ferry disaster involving the 'Herald of Free Enterprise'. 

Our table display, by our Archivist, included a framed, coloured map of Kent by Johannes Blau mid 17c also two letters dated 1776.          

Gillian Hogg

Copyright: Plaxtol Local History Group 2019