March 2018 Group Meeting Report
Christoph Bull described his presentation on The Downland Parishes of West Kingsdown, Ash, Ridley, Fawkham, Hartley, Longfield and Southfleet at our March meeting as a tapas meal. Delivered with his customary aplomb, Christoph certainly provided plenty of tasty morsels for us to savour.
Known as The Hundred of Axtane from Anglo Saxon times, from 1958 to 1974 these parishes formed part of Dartford Rural District Council, the capital being Swanley. The odd shapes and variety in acreage are the result of the landholdings of the local lords of the manor in times gone by. Changes in agricultural practices and railway expansion had an impact on population growth and fall in the nineteenth century. Later changes include the garden village of New Ash Green in 1967, increasing the population of the parish of Ash greatly. There are even a couple of’ lost’ parishes – Maplescombe and Woodlands.
The names of the parishes evoke less complicated times – the shape of the parish for Longfield – the abundance of ash trees for Ash – where the reeds grow in a clearing for Ridley – clearing where deer are seen for Hartley – south of the river Fleet for Southfleet.
These parishes have churches with treasures to explore such as St. Edmund’s Church in West Kingsdown, bought by local people twice to prevent it’s destruction in the name of development. Ash is graced with St Peter and St Paul Church, parts of which date from the thirteenth century. In the churchyard is the grave of war artist Thomas Barclay Hennell who also painted scenes of the vanishing agricultural way of life in the 1930’s. The Norman and Medieval church at Fawkham deserves a visit to view the wall paintings. A well-known feature of Hartley is The Oratory of St Frances De Sales RC Church, a former barn with a thatched roof and St. Nicholas Church at Southfleet dates from the fourteenth century.
Several manor and yeoman houses still survive in Southfleet, Ash Manor and North Ash Manor and handsome Ridley Court. Situated up on the downs and away from marshland, the parish of Fawkham was renowned for being a healthy place – which is fitting as the Victorian manor house is now a private hospital. When he died in 1625 John Walker, the squire of Pennis in Fawkham bequeathed in his will money to buy coats and gowns for two of the poorest men and widows, which they were then to wear to Christmas dinner at the manor. This property was said to be plagued by poltergeist activity after the skull, said to be of a murdered nun, was removed from a cupboard and buried in the garden.
As a former librarian, the libraries were mentioned too as well as some specific features parishes are known for – such as Brands Hatch, opened in 1929 for pedal bike and motor cycle racing and the nearby King’s Lodge nightclub, a favourite haunt of our chairman in his youth!
Christina Tyler, Programme Organiser