Posted by: madkentdragon | March 22, 2011

Aylesford Part 4 The Friars (i) Foundation/Dissolution/Beyond

Now I’ve bored you with archaeology, let’s get back to the village and drive carefully along the High Street, it’s so narrow in places that it was necessary to have those car parks. As we drive through you’ll see the Little Gem Pub, it was opened as a pub in 1968, but may have been one in
the past, sadly it’s now closed and the lease is up for sale. It was reputed to be the smallest pub in Kent.

At the junction with Bull Lane turn left and you enter the Friary, but as an aside – the other lane leads up to the little Village of Eccles. This village was formed by the Christian Britons who fled from the pagan Hengist so that they could retain their faith. The name Eccles denotes
this, I know it’s confusing as there is a large town called Eccles and one called Leeds, and we have a village and a castle called Leeds – used to confuse me as a child!

Welcome to the Friars! The original Priory was founded in 1242 when the first Carmelites arrived from the Holy Land and Richard de Grey,
who was the Lord of the Manor of Aylesford and also just returned himself from the crusade gave them a small piece of land to occupy. Five years later, the Bishop of Rochester held a General Chapter (Conference?) here; it was the first one outside of the Holy Land. At this, the Carmelites were changed from hermits to mendicants which meant that their income relied on charity and they preached to and served the poor, they were also known as the White Friars.

The following year, the site of the new church was blessed as was the cemetery, but the church was not built until the following century and this was most probably caused by the plague or Black Death which swept through the area. It isn’t far from here that the “lost village of Dode” is situated; the whole village was wiped out by the plague!

One of the early Prior Generals of the Order was St Simon Stock who may have been born in the area and certainly lived for a while at the friary, several miracles and tales have grown round this man and the Roman Catholic Church and School in Maidstone are named after him.

The Friary continued successfully until the dissolution and in 1538, Sir Thomas Wyatt of Allington Castle took possession, but of course, if you’ve read the Maidstone posts, you will know that he rebelled against Queen Mary’s marriage to Phillip of Spain and they lost possession and it passed to Sir John Sedley who made quite a few alterations to the buildings.

After holding the property for about fifty years, the Sedley family sold it to Sir Peter Rycaut a Dutch international financier, who was a Royalist and the Friars were confiscated and used as the meeting place for the Parliamentary Committee for Kent. Sir Peter died penniless in 1653 and there is a plaque in memory in the Aylesford church. His son, Sir Paul struggled to pay of the debts and emerged as a renowned writer and traveller, his works on the State of the Ottoman Empire was recognised and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and knighted. He died in 1700, having been born at the Friary in 1628.

After the Civil War, Dame Mary the widow of Sir Peter had to sell the property and it was bought by Sir John Banks in 1657, Sir John was a
business man who sold supplies to the Royal Navy and after turning the property into a Caroline Museum, invited his friend Samuel Pepys who was one of the principal officers of the navy administration to stay.

On his death, his daughter Elizabeth inherited the Friars and she and her husband Heneage Finch the first Baron Guernsey settled there.
Finch became the first Earl of Aylesford – yes we actually have an Earl! The current one is the 12th Earl of Aylesford and was in the 2009 rich
list; Charles Heneage (Finch-Knightley), who no longer has any connection to the village and as he is also the 12th Baron of Guernsey, calls himself Lord Guernsey!

The family also acquired other properties and the Friars were either used as a dower house or rented out.

I’m going to leave it here so that I don’t bore you and next time I’ll bring the Friars into the 20th and 21st Century


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