West Kingsdown

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West Kingsdown Baptist Church

West Kingsdown - A Brief History

Early Days   Kingsdown Church

1066 and all that   1066 to 1440   1440 to 1630   1630 to 1784

1784 to 1870   1870 to 1914   1914 to 1945

 1946 to the present

Early Days

West Kingsdown sits on top of a hill - Gorse Hill - on the flattened northern rim of the North Downs in west Kent. Although the Downs provided a good vantage point for travellers, settlements exploited the fanwise developments along the valleys, where it was easier to use the land for crops. The higher ground, which was studded with woodlands and thick forest was more suitable for allowing cattle and pigs to forage.

While there is plenty of evidence of Roman occupation along the Darenth valley at the foot of the hill, it seems that it was Anglo-Saxon farmers who carved pockets of land out of the woods to provide arable land and formed the first attempts to settle in the woods. It was also the Saxons who left behind the name by which the village is known - Kingsdown, meaning ‘the King’s own hill pasture’. There is also evidence that the parish church in the woods, St Edmund King and Martyr, was originally of Saxon construction.

Kingsdown Church

A mention of Kingsdown Church is found in tax records of 1287, when a figure of 6 13s 4d was made to the Rochester Priory of St Andrew under the instructions of a charter devised by either William II or Henry I. A Saxon church was apparently constructed just before 1066, possibly around 1030. It is possible it was the chapel built for the lord of the manor - the Manor House, no longer in existence, was located a few yards away - and served a small number of Saxon families who lived in huts around the church.

The original building was a relatively simple structure built in stone and flint, comprising a nave, chancel and square tower. Extensions to the church were made in the twelfth century but these proved something of a disaster, weakening the building and in the thirteenth century these were either demolished or fell down. The repairs were subsequently hidden by rendering, which was in turn later removed in the early 1900s. One of the interesting features of the church is the depiction of the story of Cain and Abel around one of the windows, which is dated around 1100.

Church in the Toolshed book cover

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St Edmunds

1066 and all that

The conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 brought about changes which directly affected Kingsdown. The record of the land and property the Normans acquired with their success, the Doomsday Book, 1086, makes no mention of Kingsdown, although it is possible to interpret references to the local region and the church as references to Kingsdown. What seems clear is that as Edward the Confessor had owned Kingsdown, the name was retained and the property passed into the ownership of William I.

Kingsdown to Kingsdown - 1066 to 1440

Evidence suggests that Henry I gave Kingsdown to others and the first named holder, Ralph Picot, Sheriff of Kent from 1155 to 1160, received a charter to hold the land from Henry II. Through marriage the land passed down into the FitzBernard family. The landscape had by this time changed from that into which the Saxons had settled. In 1259 Kingsdown Manor had 226 acres of arable and 32 acres of pasture land, with 67 acres of woodland. Other land was being farmed by tenant farmers. Just over a century later the amount of arable land had reduced - possibly due to the effect of the Black Death plague on the local population - to 200 acres, with 180 acres of pastureland. From the FitzBernards the  rights to the land passed through marriage into the hands of various families until the late 1300s. The estate was by then separated into four holdings. Two of these passed back to the Crown when their owners forfeited their land - one for supporting Lancaster in the War of the Roses, the other for his part in a conflict between the House of Lords and the King in 1388. The third quarter was inherited by Edward, Earl of March, later King Edward IV. The final portion reverted to the Crown when the owner, Margery Wentworth, died without an heir. So what had been the King’s down was once more Kingsdown in both name and ownership.

The Lovelaces - 1440 to 1630

Events after the mid 15th century saw the Manor and its farming land decline in importance. Richard, a poet,  and Robert Lovelace bought land in nearby Kemsing in 1437. Richard then bought Hever in Kingdown. The name ‘Hever’ derives from Hever Castle, 12 miles away, because the property was probably held by the de Hever family around the 1240s. Richard’s grandson (or great grandson) built Hever Place Farmhouse, complete with its own chapel. The home became the most important building after the church and the family built up an estate of 2500 acres. After 1630, when the land passed through marriage out of the family, Hever Place became a tenanted farm - the manor house became the farmhouse and the chapel became redundant. The house was demolished in 1960.

Absentee Landlords - 1630 to 1784

For about 150 years after the Lovelace estates passed to Margaret Lovelace, wife of Henry Coke and mother of 9 children, the area of Kingsdown largely lived under the sway of absentee landlords while the Cokes lived out their lives elsewhere. Coincidentally, a record of the Coke farms under the title ‘Kingsdown’ (a wider area than occupied by the present village) from the 1700s lists 9 farms, including Hever Place and Brands Hatch farms.

These were not the only farms in the area and there are records which give an indication of the ‘ordinary’ folk who lived in Kingsdown. Records from 1664 show there were around 30 houses in the parish, indicating there may have been a population of maybe 150 people, a third of whom were too poor to pay tax. A census in 1676 to establish how many Roman Catholics and nonconformists there were in the area recorded 90 people aged over 16. No-one was, or admitted to being - a Roman Catholic or a nonconformist.

Roads through the village were increasing in importance. Turnpikes were set up to provide an income to maintain and improve the main road, now the A20. Around 1780 improvements were made to the alignment of the route, making it easier to travel through the village and improving the descent down the steep Wrotham Hill on the way to Maidstone.

Early Days   Kingsdown Church

1066 and all that   1066 to 1440   1440 to 1630   1630 to 1784

1784 to 1870   1870 to 1914   1914 to 1945

 1946 to the present

Emerging Lives - 1784 to 1870

As the nineteenth century approached the lives of the general population of Kingdown began to emerge in an increasing number of records. A list of properties, the owners and the number of occupants was made. The first national census was conducted in 1801 recording the total number of inhabitants. From 1841 names, ages  and occupations were collected and in the next census the relationships of the members of a household were noted.

It was also during this period that a community of Baptists was established in the village. The parish church had suffered with absentee rectors from 1776 and it was perhaps this that encouraged the nonconformists to meet in homes. There had also been a Christian revival in North Kent early in the  nineteenth century, which had revived the desire for spiritual teaching and worship. In 1861 a toolshed was brought up Gorse Hill to the site of the present Baptist Church on Fawkham Road and the Baptist Church was established as a visible part of the community.

Schooling - 1870 to 1914

Prior to the Education Act of 1870 there had been a mixed attitude to schooling in the Kingsdown area. One of the rectors at the parish church had educated a few local children. There were private schools in the homes of local residents. Later, in 1851, a school was built about two miles outside the village and some children walked there and back each day. In 1894 a National School was built on what is now School Lane, close to the old village rectory. The school later moved to its present site on Fawkham Road, next to the Roman Catholic Church, St Bernadette’s, and Kings Church holds its services in a new building on the School Lane site.

In (Between) the Wars - 1914 to 1945

Prior to the First World War the population of the village had remained stable. Between the Wars there were substantial changes. What had been a small and relatively self-sufficient rural situation burgeoned into a scattering of holiday homes and  garages, shacks and smallholdings. Commuters escaped from the boundaries of London to find a home in the countryside from which, with the aid of motor cars and coaches, they could travel to work. In 1918 there were only two shopkeepers in the village. By 1938 there were six garages, nine shops and ten cafes.

The present lines of roads emerged as Kingsdown estate was sold in 1919 and broken up into lots and then plots. The Depression meant that farmers found more profit in selling land for housing than in growing crops. The introduction of a regular Green Line service in the 1930s brought Londoners out of the capital at the weekends. New houses, some built by their owners, replaced the caravans, old railway carriages and sheds that had served as homes. Electricity was introduced in 1937 but mains drainage was belatedly only installed in 1968. It was during this period that Brands Hatch Farm opened its land to cyclists for racing, the precursor to Brand Hatch Racing Circuit. The Village Hall, now closed, was built on land opposite the Baptist Church in 1938.

From Then to Now, West Kingsdown - 1946 to the present

Post the Second World War Kingsdown continued to flourish  as a growing community. Between 1951 and 1961 the population almost doubled. A spate of cul-de-sac construction added to the existing roads. Several mobile home or park home estates were built for older residents. A new primary school on Fawkham Lane was required to take the growing number of children. The A20 was widened to a dual carriageway (subsequently reduced to single carriageway) and the trees that lined the road lost to the village. In due course the M20 taking traffic down to Dover was built and West Kingsdown was no longer a major thoroughfare for cars, coaches and lorries headed down to the coast or up to London. The village reached a population high in the 1981 census, with just over 4900 people.

In the 1950s Kingdown changed its name at the request of the Post Office to avoid confusion with other villages in east Kent with the same name and became West Kingdown.

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For the history of

West Kingsdown Baptist Church

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Year

Population

1801

337

1811

364

1821

438

1831

431

1841

466

1851

423

1881

411

1891

412

1901

506

1911

407

1921

427

1931

743

1951

1774

1961

3382

1981

4904

1991

4699

2001

4209

2011

6062

Source: www.visionofbritain.org.uk

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Material and chronological subdivisions taken from West Kingsdown: The Story of Three Villages in Kent by Zena Bamping, published by West Kingsdown Parish Council, 1983.

 

telephone: 01474 852054

West Kingsdown Baptist Church

Fawkham Road

West Kingsdown

TN15 6JP

email: wkbchurch@hotmail.com


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