Reports of our 2017 meetings


There have been 22 extended members of Jane Austen’s family who spent at least part of their lives in Tonbridge. Dr Mark Ballard introduced us to the members of this successful family and showed us the houses in which they had lived.  

George Austen (1731-1805), Jane’s father, was born in Tonbridge. His father William was a surgeon. Sadly George was orphaned at six but looked after by his uncle Francis who paid for his school fees at Tonbridge School where George went aged ten. George was not the first Austen to attend Tonbridge School - his cousin Henry went there in 1734 and was head boy when George joined. His uncle Francis also paid for George to go to Oxford where he met his wife Cassandra. George came back to teach at Tonbridge School before becoming curate at Shipbourne. He then took up the post as Rector at Steventon in Hampshire where he and Cassandra had 8 children - James, George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Frank and Charles, Jane Austen being the seventh child. Nearly all George’s children had successful lives, except for his son George about whom little is known. 

At this time there were two other important families in Tonbridge, the Wellers and the Hookers, to whom the Austens were related by marriage. Jane’s great grandmother Elizabeth Weller married John Austen in 1693 and was left with seven young children when John died. Resourcefully she took a job as housekeeper at Tonbridge School in return for the education of her sons. Thomas Weller, who had leased Tonbridge Castle from John Hooker, was Jane’s great, great, great grandfather. This older generation bought property and land but the younger sons worked for a living.  George returned to Tonbridge in later years and lived in his father’s house (Powells, now called Lyons) for the rest of his life. He said that he regarded Tonbridge as his town.                                                                                                                                                           

V. Dussek


In the seventeenth century, the manufacture of gunpowder was a booming industry, making the topic very appropriate for this time of the year.

David Carder told us that it was the Chinese who invented gunpowder in 850, calling it black powder. They were vastly ahead of Europe, as a list of raw ingredients was printed in China in 1044 but not described in Europe until 1320.The recipe of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal has remained largely unchanged for 300 years   

Accompanied by some 1796 sketches of the mills in Faversham, David Carder explained very clearly the 12 processes involved, including crushing, refining, mixing, drying, testing, storing and packing. The two latter processes were carried out by women. Supplies of sulphur came from Sicily and charcoal was made on site from suitable woods. In 1630, the crushing was done by hand with huge pestles and mortars. The ingredients were crushed, not ground, as this would make sparks. By 1795, the crushing process was done by stone mills that were horse powered and later water powered. The finished mixture was heated, dried, poured into moulds and condensed into barrels for transport from Oare to Tilbury by barges with red flags or by punts along small canals.

A monopoly was granted to gunpowder making in the seventeenth century, as it was much in demand during the Civil War and for military purposes. It was not used after World War 1 as it had been superseded by dynamite, gelignite and other explosives.  

There is documentary evidence of local gunpowder mills at Faversham in 1573. This site expanded to cover a huge area and continued working until 1934. There were other local mills at Leigh and Dartford.  The elaborate process needed 40-50 separate buildings surrounded by blast walls, with a water source and large woodland trees to absorb the blast. The blast walls would contain the explosions upwards, blowing off the roof rather than exploding outward towards the other buildings. 

Naturally there were explosions and casualties. Records at Leigh from 1828-1927 show 22 explosions and 15 casualties, the worst year being 1830. The remains of the mill buildings at Faversham have been preserved in a country park and Chart Mill is now open to the public. We shall be visiting Faversham next year eager and well informed.  





Sheila Sweetinburgh's talk was based on her own research and that of K. M. Murray and the unpublished work of Dr Justin Cross.

The Confederation of Cinque Ports consisted of five ports, Dover, Hastings, Hythe, New Romney and Sandwich; however, Rye, originally a subsidiary of New Romney, became one of the Cinque Ports when New Romney was silted up. They had many 'limbs' or corporate and non-corporate members including Deal, Faversham, Folkestone, Lydd, Margate, Ramsgate and Tenderden.

Although the Cinque Ports may have Saxon origins, the first true evidence comes from the Domesday Book. In 1155, a Royal Charter established the ports to maintain ships ready for service to the Crown. Their obligation was to provide 57 ships for 15 days' service to the King annually. In return the towns received privileges. The turning of a blind eye led to smuggling becoming one of the dominant industries, though common everywhere at this time. In 1278, the ports also had the important duty of supplying and carrying an ornate canopy over the heads of the King and Queen during their procession to Westminster Abbey for their coronation.

The Cinque Port courts met regularly giving 40 days' notice, often using a horn to summon the commonality. Meeting in churches, a Mayor and 12 Jurats (commoners) were elected with a solemn procedure considered divine, with oaths taken at the altar.

The powers of the Cinque Ports peaked in 13C but declined in 14C, particularly following the Black Death and, in the early 15C, professional provision of ships was under better control. By the Tudor period the Cinque Ports had ceased to be of any importance.                                         

Gillian Hogg                                                                  


Sir Edward Cazalet QC gave a fascinating talk to a packed village hall. Sir Edward is a direct male descendant of Edward Cazalet, his great, great, great grandfather, who bought Fairlawne in 1871 for £100,000, wanting to be an English country gentleman.

The Cazalets were French Huguenots but, following persecution, Stephen Cazalet fled to England from France with his wife in 1701. 

His son Noah, whom we saw in a portrait with a splendid wig fashionable at the time, made a fortune from rope making for ships and great buildings such as the Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg.  

Noah's son, Peter, invented non-drip candles used in the thousand-candle chandeliers in palaces and great houses of Russia. 

Peter's son Edward made masts for ships in 1860 and bought a brewery that later became Heineken. He had a magnificent house in St. Petersburg that he lost when the Bolsheviks seized it in the Russian revolution. This Victorian Edward set about modernising the village of Shipbourne.  He pulled down the old Bull Inn and the forge and rebuilt Lord Barnard's beloved church of 1722 that was showing serious signs of decay. He made alterations to Fairlawne, building a "Real" tennis court, stables and a swimming pool. He died in 1883, still making plans to build a railway to join the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf.

Edward's only son William married Mollie and had four children. Mollie formed a great friendship with Queen Victoria, who asked to be photographed with the Cazalet children. We saw the photo of Mollie and the children and an elderly Queen Victoria in a donkey cart. Two of William's three sons, Edward and Victor, both fought in WWI. Edward was killed, aged 22, after only seven weeks of fighting. Victor was awarded a MC, but died in a plane crash in 1944. His daughter Thelma became one of the first women MPs. The third son, Peter, became well known in racing circles in 1932, riding 6 of the winners himself. It was Peter who became the Queen Mother's race horse trainer, initiating her many visits to Fairlawne. We were shown a photograph of the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth, chuckling with laughter over a joke whilst talking to a jockey. We were privileged to hear the reason for this. The jockey, who usually removed his teeth to ride, had not been able to put them back before he met them. 

The talk was illustrated with many such personal family photographs. The last photo was of Sir Edward in the wig and robes of a Queen's Counsel as, he said, he had spent much of his life in a wig in the family tradition of the original Stephen Cazalet in his seventeenth century wig.  

Driving into Shipbourne again, Sir Edward said that he felt he was coming home after 30 years of absence. Sir Edward has kindly allowed us to take copies of his slides for our archives.           

David Gurney set out many photographs, posters and documents relating to Fairlawne from our archives. 

V. Dussek 


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.                                                                   

V. Dussek


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