Posted by: madkentdragon | June 23, 2011

Mrs Keppel, A Hidden Castle and The Mighty Atom, The Suttons, Quirky Kent 19


Chart Sutton

A few miles south of Maidstone are three villages, all with the name Sutton in their title and this has been a puzzle for some time and I think I can now explain it.

Sutton Valence also used to be known as Town Sutton, East Sutton was a part of it that was obviously to the east of the “town” and Chart Sutton was originally Caert Sutton which means the heath beside Sutton. The Domesday Book records it as Certh by Sutton and was recorded as having
vineyards! These dated from Roman times but by late Middle Ages seem to have disappeared; the area has now started growing them again.

All three were owned by the naughty fellow Odo and then confiscated back by the King and eventually all ended up under Simon de Montfort who instituted the first fully elected parliament and rebelled against Henry III and lost his head!

Chart Sutton in pre-Saxon times was on a route used by nomadic herdsmen, taking their cattle further south to fatten them up on the rich forest lands, there was a settlement round the wooden church to offer shelter to them, but there is no trace remaining although a Charter was given to the settlement to make it a village in 814.

The Normans rebuilt the church but this and the surrounding village disappeared during the plague in the early 14th Century, and the present village was established much later and there are now two principal residential areas, one round the green and pub (Buffalo’s Head) and the other
nearer Sutton Valence, near the church.

St Michel’s Church, although built in the 14th Century, seems to have suffered several setbacks, the most notable when it caught fire after being struck by lightning in 1779, even the church bells melted! It was rebuilt in 1782 by Henry Holland who also built Woburn Abbey; several repairs have been carried out since.

There is one notable inhabitant of the village – The Mighty Atom – Sydney Wooderson, who unsuccessfully competed in Hitler’s Olympics – he
withdrew because of an ankle injury, however he held the British record for the mile for five years up until 1939 – his time was four minutes six point four seconds, he also held the records for eight hundred metres and the half mile and won two gold medals at the European Games in 1938 (1500m)  and 1946 (5000m) – not bad for a “five foot six nine stone weakling”!

The next village is East Sutton, again it is an agricultural area and you do have to look hard to find the village, because it is down another windy country road and the area is best known for being the home of HMP East Sutton which is a women’s prison.

The village was probably established in Saxon times and the original church was built then, however the Normans rebuilt over the wooden
structure in 1150, but the tower was not completed until 1450.

One quirky fact was that whilst under the ownership of the Earl of Pembroke, Henry IV gave permission for the village as well as Sutton Valence to be sold to raise the ransom demanded by Owen Glendower when he captured the Earl!

The residence of the lords of the manor was East Sutton Park, which was built by the Filmer family in the 16th and 17th Century, it remained in their possession until the death of the last, Sir Robert Marcus Filmer during the First World War in 1916, his ancestor Sir Robert Filmer wrote essays on the divine rights of kings amongst other subjects.

The dower house, in the rolling grounds of East Sutton Park became notorious as the home of Mrs Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII; it had become known as “The Pleasure House” but during those years and a few years later was known (and shown on maps) as “The Tower House”; it has now reverted to the former name and is now a private dwelling.

Finally Sutton Valence, or as it was known in earlier centuries Town Sutton, the “Town” denoted it was quite a large village and was Sutton or the south settlement according to the Saxons. Roman and Iron Age artefacts have been found here as well as a Roman cemetery and the main road
that runs through the village is probably Roman – who else would build a straight road up such a steep hill?

This village was owned by King Harold’s brother, Leofwine Godwinson and is in the Domesday Book, by 1166 it was in the hands of Baldwin de Bethune who was friends with Richard the Lionheart and was captured on return from a crusade in Richard’s place. Simon de Montfort held it but lost it when he rebelled against the king and it was granted to William de Valence – hence the Sutton Valence.

There is a local legend that the local playing field, called Bloody Mountain is the site of a Saxon Battlefield, but there is no proof – but it makes a nice story. However, I have discovered there was a castle there – one fact I didn’t know!

The castle was probably built by Baldwin de Bethune in the mid 12th Century and is located overlooking the road from Maidstone to Winchelsea and it dominated the weald of Kent. It was confiscated by the crown after the fall of Simon de Montfort when it was passed to Henry III’s half
brother William de Valence and stayed in the family for about eighty years; some household accounts have survived from this time.

There are few further references to the castle, but the ruins of the keep and curtain wall are under the ownership of English Heritage.

However, not only was the village sold for a ransom, in the mid 14th Century the name was changed to Sutton Hastings as it was owned by the de Hastings family, but when they sold it for the ransom it reverted to either Town Sutton or Sutton Valence. The area had two mills and was involved in the fulling and weaving of cloth from wool as it was illegal to export unprocessed wool.

The Saxon church suffered the same fate of the other two Suttons and was rebuilt as a Norman one, the 14th Century altar which was in triptych form is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Three vicars of note are Nicholas Wooton vicar from 1519-1530 who was privy councillor to four Tudor Monarchs and a Royal Ambassador, Thomas Scriven who was removed from the living in 1386 for beating his wife and finally Edmund
Henshaw who in 1614 had the local constable thrown into jail for being consistently late for evening prayer and refusing to take an oath. The
constable was cleared by a civil court but the church kept him in prison for fifteen years!

The church building however became unstable and in 1823 it was demolished and rebuilt at twice the estimated cost (some things never change!). A couple of bits to be re-used were a pair of grotesque corbels at the east end of the aisle arches and the font which was slightly renovated. The
grave of John Wilkes, whom cricket fanatics will know as the father of the over arm bowling method is found in the churchyard.

One last point in this – sorry – rather long narrative is Sutton Valence School, founded in 1576, by resident William Lambe, Master of the Clothworkers’ Company and a member of the Chapel Royal as a free Grammar School and is now well known as a private school with many overseas pupils. It surrendered and became a mixed sex school in 1995.

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