Posted by: madkentdragon | April 8, 2011

A Heart in a Box, a Castle and Custard Pies, Quirky Kent 10


I didn’t think that I would still be finding more and more things to find about this county, but I am! We’re going back to the A20 and continuing from Aylesford to Ditton the next village on our trek; mentioned in the Domesday Book as a village with 38 dwellings and was called Dictune which means “Village on the Dyke”. The Bradbourne Stream passes through the village and the original ford is still in existence.

It is a long narrow parish based on the A20, London Road, and developed into a thriving community in 1922 when the paper mills were
established, before that it was mainly a farming community. The parish was first noted as belonging to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux who was also Earl of Kent and it was further noted that the parish had to contribute towards the upkeep of
the fifth pier of Rochester Bridge! There was already a church there by the time of the Domesday Book.

After the court case on Penenden Heath (see Maidstone 9) Odo lost the manor and it came under the crown. It was then passed to William de
Ditton who lived  at Borough Court at Ditton, confusingly it was also called Brooke Court and it was bought by the Colepepers in the early 14th Century and eventually in 1484 the three daughters of Sir Richard Colepeper sold the manor to Francis Shakerly until in Henry VII it was in the hands of Sir Thomas Wriothsley – he was an absentee landlord and spent most of the time at court – Wriothsley had the manor and that of East Malling rent free from the king as well as some other, long gone manors in the area.

Poor old Ditton didn’t seem to stay in anyone’s hands long, perhaps it wasn’t posh enough or produced enough goods and the manor house no
longer exists, it is now a disused quarry that has been turned into a nature reserve of special scientific interest, the other main house, Ditton Place built in the 16th Century is now a housing estate.

However there are one or two interesting modern quirky facts, Ditton is the place of the first “Ducks Crossing” warning sign and is now the home of the World Custard Pies Championship.

Larkfield follows on the A20 from Ditton and its name is supposed to have come from the fact that there were a large number of sky-larks here.

Some Bonze Age burials were found in Larkfield, but were not recognised as of any interest and the site has been lost/destroyed by building
at the turn of the 20th Century. The original hamlet of Larkfield was one street wide and there is still a Larkfield Road, but subsequent building on farmland in the post WWII era and in the 60s has considerably enlarged the area the old disused gravel pits are now lakes and are open to all for boating and fishing.

Leybourne, although now smaller than its neighbour Larkfield has a castle and a Saxon Church, the site of the remains of the castle has yielded up flint arrow heads from the Mesolithic era and also pottery and a spear head from the bronze age; and the area round the castle seems to have been used right through, a medieval bakery with the oven still intact have been discovered. Roman archaeology and a charter undated
but from the reign of Edmund, King of Angles and Mercians, who reigned between 941– 946 has been found and it mentions “Lillieburne” – later Leybourne.

Odo, that Bishop again, built a castle here just after 1066, but it was believed to have been of wood and there are traces of the ditch still to be seen. The Domesday Book records the Saxon Church and a mill, but for some reason the amount of land that Odo owned here was left blank.

In 1166, Sir Phillip de Leyburn bought the manor and rebuilt the castle in stone, de Leyburn came from a York town of that name and the village still share the coat of arms with Leyburn in Yorkshire. Eventually Lillieburne became Leybourne. The first Baron Leybourne, Sir Roger embarked on a crusade in1270, but fell ill and died in France and his heart was removed and sent back to the church where it still sits in a box in a niche on the north side of the aisle.

The next Baron, Sir William – son of Sir Roger was the first Englishman to be given the title Admiral; on 25th October 1286, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castille visited Sir William at the castle and the legend says they left two crowns as an offering to the church. However it is thought that the crowns, on show in the church, are of a later date – but it makes a nice story.

After William’s death the castle was given to a London abbey and it fell into disrepair after the dissolution. It was bought as a building site by the Golding family who incorporated some of the walls into their house, however although the castle walls and tower remain, that Tudor house has disappeared. A new stone mansion is now there and that also incorporates some of the old walls.

The church tower was struck by lightning in 1966 and it caught fire, the tower had previously collapsed in 1580 and was strengthened in 1874. It has now been restored again.

There was a large mental hospital here from 1936 – 1996, it could hold over a thousand patients and sat in about 270 acres of grounds. Although much of it has been demolished, a school and riding centre for children with mental illness and disabilities has been established there. Leybourne shares the Lakes with Larkfield and new estates are being built in the area.

Next time it’s the Mallings.

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