Posted by: madkentdragon | May 10, 2011

Bears? Cricketers, Laws and don’t forget to curtsey! Quirky Kent 19

The Castle Remains

The reason I am writing this one is that my son skyped me and said “Mum, did you know that there is a castle at Thurnham?” – I didn’t and
he kindly sent me some information on it – so here’s another Quirky Kent:

Thurnham claims to be older than Bearsted and I am not going to say which is the oldest of the two, however Thurnham does have the Pilgrims
Way going through it and Bearsted can claim to be where the second set of codes of law were issued in 695AD.

Thurnham’s name comes from pre-Roman times and means a homestead in the thorn bushes whereas the “sted” in Bearsted dates from a
slightly later time. The Pilgrims Way possibly follows earlier Neolithic tracks as evidence of Neolithic farming has been found; as has at least one Roman building. Foundations of one Roman house was discovered at Thurnham in 1833, but the archaeologists failed to leave details of the area, but a century later further excavations found a Roman building, but cannot say whether it is the same one! It is a moot point anyway, as part of it now lies under the Maidstone by-pass.

There have been other Roman finds and Anglo Saxon graves were uncovered, however the most spectacular find was a 7th Century gold cross set with garnets ploughed up in a field in 1967.

There was already a church at Thurnham before the Norman Conquest and its origins probably date back to early Saxon times, but as is the
norm in this part of the country Odo acquired it until he was found to be a naughty boy and it then passed in to the hands of Gilbert Magminot, but their descendants changed their name to denote where they came from, thus it was that Robert and Stephen de Thurnham who built the castle in the 12th Century.

There is some evidence that the castle was built on a previousfortified Saxon site and the original owner was a Saxon nobleman called
Godardus, the castle ruins are also known as Godard’s Castle. The later Castle built by the brothers de Thurnham was mainly flint and unfortunately there’s not much left of it now. The County Council bought the ruins when they acquired the White Horse Millennium Wood and Country Park.

The de Thurnhams seemed to have found favour with the king as Robert had been given command of the king’s fleet and Stephen accompanied the king’s mother, Eleanor to collect the prospective bride of Richard I, Berengaria of Navarre, to Cyprus where the marriage took place, Robert was governor of Cyprus at the time. Stephen escorted the two queens back to England and later after Richard was kidnapped by the Emperor of Austria; it was he and Stephen who raised the ransom money from the lords of the land.

There are no local records of the castle and its occupants, or the villagers, remaining; the only records come from the crown.

Between Bearsted and Thurnham is a seam of white sand which was quarried in the 16th Century and used to improve English glass blowing techniques.

OK, we’ll go up the road to Bearsted, contrary to popular belief, it’s not called “Bear”-sted after the animals on the church tower, but Berghsted
which means a settlement on the hill. I’ll talk about these creatures later!

There was a church here before 695AD because it was in that year that Wihtred, king of Kent put out a second code of law here; the first had been done by his father or grandfather. It gave the laws of Kent and gave much power to the church but it also made “irregular” marriages, pagan worship and work on the Sabbath punishable under law. A copy of the code has been preserved in a later manuscript called the Textus Roffensis which is still in existence today.

The lords of Kent and both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Rochester were present at this event. One thing is obvious from
these laws, although Christianity had been established for well over one hundred years, the old pagan beliefs had not completely died out.

The village of Bearsted has expanded from its original site on the banks of the River Len before it meanders through Mote Park and into
Maidstone to the Medway.

The church seemed to have escaped Odo and his ambitions and belonged to the priory of Leeds, which is unusual in this area and after the
dissolution came under the new chapter of Rochester. The church tower has three beasts on three of the corners and even past historians considered them bears, but it is now considered that they are a lion, a panther and a griffin, but they are so weather worn that it is hard to tell, however this does seem apt as in medieval heraldic beast symbols, they represent the holy cross and that is the name of the church.

My own mother thought these were bears – and that was from close acquaintance as the school would climb the stairs of this 15th
Century tower and sing hymns of Ascension Day and then they would get the rest of the day off!

A trip round the church and cemetery gives you a history lesson, various cricketers and a football player lie near philosophers and authors; Sir Thomas Fludd who was war treasurer to Elizabeth I and his son, Robert Fludd who was a philosopher, mathematician and much more – there is a memorial to them. Richard Hearne (Mr Pastry) can also be found here as well as Baroness Orczy who wrote the Scarlett Pimpernel. This lady was so grand that she expected all the village girls to curtsey to her as she drove past! One of the first cars was also found in the village, the local doctor had it with the registration MD 1! These last two facts came from memories of tales told by my mother and grandmother – but have noticed them in various other research.

Also the very last person to be hung on Penenden Heath was buried here in 1830 – his name was John Dyke.

The village has a beautiful village green which is surrounded by medieval, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian villas and in the centre of the green is what is claimed to be the oldest cricket pitch in the county and the village sign on the green depicts a gentleman in whites, complete with top hat at the wicket on the green. This was “the lion of Kent”, 18 stone, 6 foot 2 inches tall Alfred Mynn, who played for Kent at the same time as WG Grace, his love of cricket was so great – and he was an excellent all-rounder – that he went bankrupt and eventually died a pauper in his brother’s house in London, but as a member of the Leeds and Hollingbourne Volunteers – forerunner of the TA, he was entitled to a military funeral and was buried, curiously, in the Thurnham church of St Marys, next to other members of his family. Cricket is still played on the green.

Bearsted ChurchBearsted Village


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