Posted by: madkentdragon | February 8, 2012

Romans, A Quarry, A Miracle and A Workhouse Quirky Kent 20


There is a little village to the south of Maidstone called Boughton Monchelsea; it’s a pretty little place full of hills and a large quarry; that quarry was an adventure playground for us as kids. It was also full of wild flowers and butterflies, some now nearly extinct  We used to walk (shock horror!) about two or three miles from our homes in Loose through farmland to reach this exciting place, but we certainly didn’t know its history.

Iron Age remains have been discovered on the outskirts of the quarry, dated from before 40AD – they were probably erected to withstand the Roman Invasion, without success as the Romans developed the quarries. Remains of a bath house and villas are testament to this.

The quarry produced Kentish Ragstone which was used in the building of local castles, forts and the walls of the city of London; in Norman times it was used in the building of Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster and also for repairs to Rochester Cathedral.

To get it there, the huge chunks were floated by raft down the Loose Stream to the Medway and from there to the estuary, round the Isle of Sheppey and up into the Thames, no mean feat.

Henry V is also believed to have ordered some 7,000 cannon balls from the quarry and when Mary lost Calais, she left one reminder of Kent – it’s rumoured that there is still a remnant of a cannon ball wedged into the town hall structure! The final quarry closed in 1960, having been in use for nearly 2,000 years!

 

There was a civil uprising here -in October 1830, following crop failures and political unrest about 500 men met in the Quarries to march on Maidstone but they were confronted by a small militia and the Mayor of Maidstone, ordering them to disperse – they didn’t until the cavalry appeared. The leaders were seized and the rest disappeared, but unrest continued for the next couple of years.

The village was originally owned by the Godwine family, probably Harold – he of the arrow in the eye – until the Norman Conquest, when it was handed to Bishop Odo by William the Conqueror, he had it taken from him and handed it to a Norman family by the name of Montchensie who fought alongside William. Odo shouldn’t have been such a naughty Bishop.

The name was then changed to its present form after that family; the Boughton comes from the Saxon Boc Tun which means Beech Tree Settlement and the two were combined to make Bocton de Montchensie –it was also mentioned in the Domesday Book as Bouton – well not many people spelled things the same way –and as no one moved outside their villages much, no one cared!

The eleventh century church, dedicated to St Peter, is on the greensand ridge and other churches in the area such as the ones at Linton and Sutton Valence are all built along a primitive ridge road and may have been built on top of Roman Temples although no trace has been found.

Boughton Place was rebuilt in Elizabeth I’s time and was let to a Robert Rudston by Thomas Wyatt, who as you know lost most of his possessions when he rebelled against Mary marrying Philip of Spain; later regaining them all.

After this the village seemed to settle into a quiet life of agriculture and quarrying, but in the nineteenth century a miracle is supposed to have occurred. According to a gravestone in the churchyard, a Sarah Tomkins who had been blind for twelve years had her sight restored on “Occule Sunday 19th March 1865”; Occule Sunday is named after Psalm 25 “Mine eyes are ever to the Lord” the designated Psalm for that Sunday.

The village still remains much the same, although much of the agricultural land is now used as industrial; Bottlescrew Hill, Cliff Hill and Teasaucer Hill containing houses built of the local ragstone now mingle with modern housing and new residential estates.

There are two other “Manors” attached to Boughton, one is Boughton Mount and Boughton Mount Farm and the other is Wierton Place. Wierton, originally Wiarton, after the family who built it during the reign of Henry III, had a church attached to it which was destroyed during the Civil War in the seventeenth century. Most of Boughton Mount farm is now either residential or industrial.

Coxheath which links up with Boughton Monchelsea was originally included in that parish because apart from a small hamlet near the inn called The Cock- built in the time of Elizabeth I, the whole area was heath land occasionally used for cricket matches and as a haunt of highway men. It’s only other claim to fame at this time was that it was the location of one of the Armada beacons – a replica is in situ now.

In 1756 this all changed when 12,000 Hanoverian and Hessian troops were quartered there in preparation of the Seven Year War, having lost its highway man reputation it now gained a new one as a large number of duels were fought for the favours of the ladies of Maidstone! Maidstone Corporation was not amused about this and tried to claim the right to punish and imprison them – the military authorities refused.

The area became a mini Salisbury Plain and practice manoeuvres were frequently held, the road that runs through the centre of the village, Heath Road, was engineered by the RE of that time and runs perfectly straight for over two miles. This gives an indication of the size of the encampments here.

George III with Queen Charlotte visited and reviewed the troops in 1778 and honoured the then Mayor of Maidstone, William Bishop, at the same time. Most of the troops remained here until Napoleon was defeated and finally closed in 1815 by an act of parliament.

Unfortunately this did not benefit the village that had grown up round the camp with local services and inns, things became even worse when in 1817 the heath was enclosed by local landowners which removed the right of the locals to use it.

The workhouse that had been established under the poor law in 1771 was rebuilt in 1838 to encompass the Maidstone Union, the Coxheath one being more in demand than the Maidstone one – probably because of the land enclosures, the area covered included all the villages in the area – it housed up to 700 inmates!

The workhouse finally closed in 1929 and evolved into a hospital, called Linton Hospital which was closed by the health authority in the late 1960s, apart from the South East Ambulance control centre, all that is left of the Workhouse and hospital is the church which was built for the workhouse in 1884 and was sold to the Diocese of Rochester for the grand sum of £1 in the 1996.

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

Coxheath wasn’t even a parish with its own council until 1964, it just did not have enough inhabitants; the 1960s and 1970s saw new housing built on the heath land and farm land. The last point of interest is that Clockhouse Farm –the house had been originally used by the officers of the troops encamped there, was, until his death, part owned by Richard (Stinker) Murdoch (no relation to Rupert!)

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