Reports of our 2016 meetings

13 December 2016 - THE KING'S SUPPORTERS

One of our favourite speakers, Pat Mortlock, returned to talk to us about how the women in the life of Henry VIII supported him. 

Henry was only 17 years old when he became king. His grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, was devoted to him. She was married at 11 years old, divorced at 12, remarried before she was thirteen and had four husbands in all. She was still only 14 when Henry was born. This astute, intelligent, competent woman, educated and influenced Henry. He was grateful to her and adopted the portcullis from her coat of arms into his own. This coat of arms can be seen at Ightham Mote. 

Henry married his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, when she  was 16 years old. She was beautiful, clever and well versed in politics. Catherine was a great supporter during their 24 years of marriage but, having lost three male babies through miscarriages, was not able to give him a desperately needed son and heir. Pat Mortlock told us that the Tudor dynasty needed an heir and a spare. When Henry fought the French in 1511, he left Catherine in charge in England, during which time the English army had a great success at the Battle of Flodden against the Scots. 

Two of Henry's six wives were unsupportive and divisive, namely Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Ann Boleyn was scheming and unpopular. She divided the country. The marriage to the flirtatious 18 year old Catherine Howard, when Henry was 50, was a big mistake. It only lasted 17 months, after which she was executed for adultery. 

His adored wife, Jane Seymour, died within days of giving birth to a son, Edward. She was devoted to Henry as he was to her since she was mother of his only son. She appears in many of the portraits, more than any other of his wives.  

The marriage to Anne of Cleves was another disaster and was never consummated. After the annulment, Anne stayed on in England, remained on good terms with Henry and became a supporter of Henry in his later years.   

A strong supporter in the later years was the twice widowed Catherine Parr. She looked after Henry's health, making herbal remedies to dress his old jousting wounds and even recommended reading glasses. Henry made Catherine regent in his absence during the French war of 1544. Since he had executed Thomas Cromwell, he relied on his wife. It was Catherine who reunited Henry's children, bringing the 26 year old Princess Mary to court. Catherine was in sole control of the education of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Edward. She did more than anyone else to secure the Tudor dynasty.

Pat Mortlock is an authority on Tudor history and really made us feel as if she knew Henry and his wives personally.  

David Gurney, our archivist, made a display of photos of the many Plaxtol butchers' shops dating back to 1890.                                                                                                                         

V. Dussek


Restitution, not punishment, was the concept behind the oldest code of law in the 6th century written in Anglo Saxon and brought in by Ethelbert the first Christian king of Kent. Our speaker Roy Ingleton is an author who has written extensively on criminal and police history.

King Ethelbert's law was based on a complex set of fines relating to such felonies as murder, rape, arson, bestiality and theft. The only copy of the law is preserved in Textus Roffensis the 12th century manuscript. The fine for theft under this code was six shillings or compensation to the value. If you were high born, the fine was 12 shillings. The fine for murder was 100 shillings and for rape 50 shillings - a great deal of money. If front teeth were broken, the fine would be four shillings, or six shillings per tooth if several were broken. Compensation was never paid to a woman but to her husband or father. Non-payment of fines would demand a court appearance.

After the 13th century the concept of restitution changed to punishment. Sentences were harsh. Serious crimes carried the death penalty and petty theft under the value of 12 shillings carried a sentence of whipping or branding. Drunkenness, prostitution or highway robbery could mean the loss of a hand or ear, whipping, pillory or the stocks.

When in the 16th century assize courts became criminal courts and judges took over, treason became more serious than murder and was punished by hanging, drawing and quartering, a grisly sentence. Only pregnant women and the clergy were not hanged. To prove they were clergy, they had to read a biblical text that many learned by heart.

If the defendant pleaded not guilty and had no witnesses, he was tried by ordeal of water or fire. If the defendant sank in the water, he was innocent. If he could walk several paces holding a hot iron and his wounds healed, innocence was proven. Nearer home, Penenden Heath was where public hangings took place until 1819, when Maidstone Prison was built, after which executions took place outside the prison walls. 

Finishing on a lighter note, Roy Ingleton read an amusing 16th century account of a theft of a sheep.   The accused man hotly denied theft, but escaped after a chase. On searching his cottage, legs of lamb were found in a pail under his wife's bed whilst she was lying asleep.

V. Dussek


David Williams, one of the co-authors of Ightham at the Crossroads, the history of Ightham, gave us a completely new view of these two parishes, looking at their similarities and differences under various headings. 

He started with a map of the two adjacent parishes, both straddling the A25. The parish of Seal was lozenge shaped and originally joined to Kemsing, and that of Ightham was long, shaped like an ostrich head attached to the body of a chicken, our speaker said. Both parishes have similar topography, both were mentioned in the Textus Roffensis and both have churches with towers and Saxon origins. Ightham church has monuments to the Cawne and Selby family of Ightham Mote and Seal church has a large number of hatchments. Both have big houses - Ightham has Ightham Mote, St Clare and Ightham Court, whereas Seal has the Wildernesse, Stonepitts and Underriver House. In Seal, Lord Hillingdon's family owned many houses for several generations and also founded the school.

Under the agricultural heading, David Williams explained that there were more hops and orchards in Ightham, whereas Seal had small holdings growing strawberries and cherries. Ightham had brickworks and Seal had minerals and a good industry making farm tools.  

Under the history heading, Ightham wins hand down. There are Paleolithic and Neolithic remains at Oldbury.This hillfort belonged to the Belgae tribe but was taken over by the Romans at the time of Julius Caesar, although there is no evidence that the Romans lived there afterwards. All this was researched by Benjamin Harrison, the well-known Ightham archaeologist.

Both Ightham and Seal were in the news for murders. There is a grisly story that in 1750 a murderer was condemned to be hanged in a cage on what is called Gallows Field in Ightham. Years later, the remains of the cage was discovered when a mill was pulled down. In 1908, the famous murder at Seal Chart of Caroline Luard, the wife of Major-General Charles Luard, was never solved. Some time later  the distraught Major-General Luard took his own life.  

This talk was a cleverly constructed comparison of the two parishes. Although Ightham has more history to offer, Seal was shown to have many hidden interests. Our speaker invited us to vote on which was the more interesting place.  Ightham was the clear winner.  

V. Dussek 

13 September 2016 - WEALDEN HALL HOUSES

Richard Marsden gave an excellent PowerPoint presentation with audience participation, identifying the main characteristics of a typical Wealden Hall House:

Roof - Steep pitch, clay peg tiles, crown post, central ridge, hipped, gablet, open vent, no chimney stack and no gutters.

Walls - Timber frame on stone plinth, curved bracing, wattle and daub plastered panels and paired forward projecting jetties. Beams would be painted red, possibly with ochre.

Windows - Mullions, some with internal shutters but no glass, small upper windows under roof overhang, central double height window.

Doors - Pointed entrance doors at either end of the screens passage.

Slides showed Old Soar Manor, c1290 and two excellent examples, Alfriston Clergy House c1360 and Bayleaf Farm House c1480 which is now a feature at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

The open hall in the middle of the house was entered from the screens passage. Next to the passage are the buttery and pantry. At the other end of the hall a door gives access to stairs to an upper chamber known as the 'solar'. 

Typical size was 120 - 130² m. which showed that the owners were prosperous: they were traders and craftsmen in towns and yeomen farmers in the countryside..In the period 1360 - 1510, one third to two thirds of the population of Kent were living in these houses.

Later slides showed a number of examples in Plaxtol when Little Damas and Nut Tree Hall featured and in Ightham when reference was made to the Town House, Tudor and Sycamore Cottages, the Old Forge House and the George & Dragon.

Gillian Hogg 


One of our favourite speakers, Dr Ann Kneif, returned to talk about the nine hall houses of Southfleet. The vicar had the best one of them all, she told us.  It is most unusual to find so many hall houses in a small farming village, but this was because of the rich soil and proximity to the River Fleet, a tributary of the Thames. Farmers were said to be very respectable and opulent. There were more hall houses in Southfleet than anywhere in the locality. This started her interest in researching hall houses and the interest was further kindled when she was invited to follow the restoration of Church Cottages from the beginning to their completion.

Hall houses followed a pattern and, with the help of diagrams from the Royal Commission of Historic Monuments, our speaker explained clearly the main features. The timber framed hall with central fireplace came first in the fifteenth century with a separate kitchen outside the hall due to the fire risk. The outside beams were plastered over until the sixteenth century when they were exposed. In the fifteenth century two wings were a feature, one for the service room and servants and the other for the lord and his family. The jettied upper floor came into being following a tax on the land on which the house stood.  King or queen crown posts held up the roof and side struts stopped the house moving. 

As Southfleet was under the jurisdiction of the church of St.Nicholas, six of the nine houses had church connections, now echoed in the names such as Church House, Chapter Farm and Church Cottages. Friary Court, built in 1323 by the rector Thomas Alkham, was a double hall house faced with flint and having pointed arch windows, resembling the church. It was once a friary and the story goes that the house is haunted. The tale concerned philandering between a monk and nuns. There may have been a secret passage from Friary Court to The Limes, the house opposite. The ghost of a nun has been seen as well as of that of a nurse called Brown Lady, who was locked in the cellar and starved in 1874. 

Both The Limes and Church House were later renovated with Georgian brick fronts. Chapter Farm House was a hall house in the fifteenth century and up until recently had farm labourers in one wing and the farmer's family in the other wing. The Black Lion public house caught fire twice in 1999 and 2009 and is no longer there but The Ship exists and The Wheatsheaf, although no longer a pub. We saw from the photographs that all these beautiful houses have been carefully restored.

V Dussek 


George Buswell, our speaker, is a retired history teacher and Chairman of Tonbridge Historical Society. He described medieval Tonbridge as seen through the eyes of a medieval traveller. He talked specifically about the period of 1066-1485. 

There is no documentary evidence of a settlement on the castle site before 1070, when William the Conqueror rewarded Richard de Clere with this strategic piece of land with its river crossing.  It was he who built the first motte and bailey with wooden palisade fence and wooden tower. This would have been constructed within 3 months. Unfortunately wood is prone to being destroyed by fire as it was after William the Conqueror died and there was fierce local in fighting.  

However, the de Clere family still owned the land and in 1265 Gilbert de Clere, called Gilbert the Red, built the formidable gatehouse in stone with its five portcullises and the surrounding walls of stone. This gatehouse is what the medieval traveller would have seen and what we can still see today. What we do not see today is the outer gatehouse and medieval market situated where the Old Fire Station now stands. Near here was an east gate, commemorated in the name East Street. Gilbert died in 1295 and his son died in 1314 without issue.  

Illustrations of the medieval market showed a butcher's shop, an apothecary and grocer's shops. Three gallons of ale cost one penny, a gallon of wine one and a half pence, 425 eggs one penny but sugar, considered then as a spice, was very expensive at seven pence a pound. A live in maid would earn 50 pence for an entire year's wages. 

As recently as ten years ago, excavation discovered a 14ft well and evidence of metal working for swords, knives, armour and nails. Our medieval traveller would have noted the 13ft wide, 14ft high earth fosse bank built in 1259-1300. A very small part of this can still be seen near the castle. The name Bordyke commemorates the outer ditch. Another stone building seen would be the Norman church, still there today, but no evidence of the priory housing 20-30 friars. Some 13th century houses still remain in the town, most notably Blair House and The Chequers pub.

Medieval Tonbridge was a busy town with a population of 300 but, after the 16th century, the castle fell into disrepair. We have to be thankful that, in the 1990s, Tonbridge Town Council took responsibility for renovation and restoration so that we still have a magnificent gatehouse remaining today.

David Gurney set out several Tonbridge-related booklets and articles from our archives.          



Our speaker, Fiona Martyn, and her assistant Barbara both work on the National Trust Educational Programme at Knole. Using the portraits of the Sackville family at Knole, examples of the clothes and a mannequin, Fiona illustrated how wealthy Tudor men and women dressed. 

Much can be learned by looking at inventories and wills but the portraits give us so much more detail and colour. Tudor fashions were dictated by the dress of the royal court and these fashions did not change very quickly. Portraits showed the subject as they would wish to be seen by others, thus  making a statement about their high status and education. The portrait of Sir Thomas More was an example that showed he was wealthy, a cleric and educated since he holds a crucifix and points to a book. His daughter Mary is also richly dressed and holds a book. Cloth such as silk and velvet were imported and were extremely expensive and highly embellished. Such items of clothing were often passed on in wills.  

Richard Sackville, the 3rd Earl of Dorset was profligate with money and spent a great deal on clothes. At his death aged 32, he owned 100 items (Queen Elizabeth I owned 300 items). In his portrait, he wears embroidered silken hose, elaborate shoes and rich doublet and cloak. Such clothes would have been the correct clothes for the royal court and not worn every day. His wife Anne Clifford, also richly dressed, wears "mourning strings" in memory of three sons who died. 

On the mannequin was exhibited a man's black velvet doublet and breeches. Black velvet would have been even more expensive due to difficulty of dyeing.  

The real treat was when Fiona modelled clothes similar to those worn by Mary Curzon, wife of the 4th Earl. Starting with four different coloured petticoats, she told us that up to eleven petticoats were worn.   On top of these came the padding around the waist and the embroidered underskirt. Every item was either tied on or buttoned. Last came the heavy deep blue velvet robe and stiffened linen ruff, jewellery, embroidered silk hose, silk shoes and gloves. We were told that the whole outfit was very heavy. It would have been difficult to move or bend down, let alone run.

This was a very enjoyable, lively, colourful and informative talk that brought the portraits at Knole alive.

V. Dussek 


Our speaker, Mark Williams, is the lead archaeologist at the Rochester office of Wessex Archaeology. He came to talk to us about the 1st century Roman building exposed on the Fairlawne Estate in 2009 during the laying of the gas pipeline from Farningham to Hadlow. Further archaeological investigation was undertaken in 2011 at the request of Fairlawne Estate to find out more about the building. Our speaker said that he would first talk about the Anglo-Saxon burials also exposed by the pipeline dig and go on to talk about the villa.

An Anglo-Saxon cemetery was found in the chalk near Pilgrim's Way, Wrotham. The principal burial barrow was surrounded by a ring ditch, and contained a man aged between 18-25 years who had been buried in a wooden coffin. At the edge of the barrow was a child's burial. Nearby was a burial with no evidence of a coffin or barrow but with a sword and decorated drinking vessels. This was thought to be a warrior. Neolithic flints were also found at this site.  

After the remains of a villa were discovered in Fairlawne park in 2009, Kent County Council requested that the pipeline should be in a tunnel five metres beneath the building. An Irish mining company was commissioned to carry out that work. Wessex Archaeology's excavations discovered the villa to be a standard building built of ragstone with substantial, symmetrical rooms and a corridor, and that it was occupied during the 1st and again in the 3rd century. We saw plans of the building, its location and photographs of the site. It had a well and evidence of ovens. From the Roman coins and pottery found, it seemed that the villa had been in domestic use during the 1st century and then was used again (possibly as a barn) during the 3rd century. No roof tiles were found, it being assumed that they had been taken away for use elsewhere, possibly locally at the Sedgebrook villa. Further investigation was hampered by the limitations of the width of the excavation area and the number of test pits dug. No hypocausts or floor tiles were found. 

We were able to see the quinarius Roman coin found that was struck for the British usurper Allectus (AD293-296) and the spring and rearward hook of a brooch of Colchester type in use through the 1st century. Also displayed were many examples of pottery, ceramic building material, iron nails and glass found on the site. It was a pity that excavations at the time were constrained by the pipeline and that there are no plans to excavate further, although modern technology showed that there might have been more to discover at a deeper level.


12 January 2016 - THE EARLY KINGDOMS OF KENT, 100BC TO 600AD

Deborah Cole, our speaker, gave us a clear summary of the complicated history of the early kingdoms. It was Aethelbert who united the east and west of Kent, making it stable enough to welcome Augustine who converted him to Christianity.  

Our speaker commented on the good share of archaeology in Plaxtol, also pointing out that Oldbury hill fort, one of three hill forts in the area, was not only strategically important but a refuge before and after the Roman occupation. 

There were four requisites for governing the early kingdoms, namely, wealth, ancestry, proof of a relationship with God and a successor. A grave containing a skeleton with an elaborate helmet, sword and shield, dated 200BC was found in Deal. This discovery was proof of a kingly burial, since in classical times kings did not wear crowns. 

The Roman conquest in 54BC was an amazing coup, since Britain was considered to be a dangerous island in an "ocean" surrounded by treacherous seas.  Julius Caesar's writings name  four kings of Kent, who regarded the Romans as their protectors. Local resources such as iron and livestock provided material for the Roman empire. Once the Romans left, there was a power vacuum filled by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.    

Clearly the most important king was Aethelbert in 600AD. He was a Christian king with his wife Bertha. Statues of both of them stand in Canterbury. Bertha wears jewellery and holds a bible. Aethelbert had great wealth and influence, claimed relationship with the god Wotan and is sometimes depicted with a halo. He united the east and west kingdoms of Kent by sharing them with his son. 

We were shown examples of coins dating back to the Roman occupation and the later Anglo Saxon jewellery. Gallic coins were found in the London and Thames area confirming the big connection between Belgic Gaul and Kent. We shall particularly remember the photographs of the delicate brooches and jewellery found at Sarre and Ash, made with gold filigree and garnets.     

David Gurney, our archivist, set out a display of photographs of the Iron Age site at Stonewold excavated in 1955, various illustrations of Plaxtol Roman artefacts from excavations at Sedgebrook in 1986, a Roman trackway at Ducks Farm field in 2006 and a villa at Fairlawne in 2009.  

V. Dussek                                                                                                                                       #GoToTopOfPage