This is an interactive history. The plaques you will find around West Malling commemorate but a few of our notable citizens, and their stories are not yet fully revealed. Further research and information is always welcomed.
Communities have a built and a social architecture - the histories of the people and the significance of their achievements locally and nationally. The historical social architecture is invisible, but both aspects are vital for success. This unique interactive history seeks to make visible the social architecture and enable further discovery by opening “portals” to the past. New information on the subjects of these plaques or suggestions for additional ones can be submitted to Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council. Click on the names below to find more information on our notable citizens of the past. Or see our map to find out where each blue plaque is located.
ARETAS AKERS, born in October 1851, spent his early childhood at St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling, his grandmother’s home. His father was the local parson.
He was Home Secretary between 1905 and 1908, and was a Conservative MP for East Kent constituencies from 1880 until 1911. He was the Chief Whip in Conservative governments between 1885 to 1892, an era of party splits and high political tension over Irish Home Rule. In 1911 he was created 1st Viscount Chilston, taking the name from his country seat, Chilston Park, which he had inherited in 1875, along with the additional surname of Douglas.
Akers-Douglas was a significant figure in his party for over thirty years, an able administrator who is credited with improving party discipline from the 1880s onwards. He was a friend of Lord Randolph Churchill, and corresponded with Lord Salisbury and Queen Victoria, as well as writing the nightly parliamentary letter to Edward VII during Balfour’s premiership.
After 1911 he retired almost entirely from public life, and he died in London in 1926.
Ellen Esther HILL was born in 1867 and married Fred BARTON in 1891. Living with his widowed mother in West Malling, Freda and her husband moved to Hadlow in 1893 and became interested in professional photography. In 1903 she became a firm friend of the notable London photographer, Henry Snowden WARD. An early member of the Royal Photographic Society, he was her mentor and instrumental in the improvement of her photography.
Between 1898-1905, Freda took many photographs of her family and friends, and in the Hadlow area. Being in demand and needing a larger property to work from, she moved, with her husband and three sons, to this house in 1905 which they rented. She set herself up as a commercial photographer under the name of Mrs Fred BARTON until her husband died in 1927, then as Freda BARTON Photographer until her death in 1940.
Her photographs include local gentry, their houses and a wide variety of subjects of exceptional quality in and around West Malling. The Freda Barton Collection is one of the very best portfolios of commercial photographs between the late 1890's and late 1930's providing a record of the social history of West MaIling for future generations.
THE BEATLES are generally recognised as comprising John Lennon (1940 – 1980), Paul McCartney (1942 - ), George Harrison (1943 – 2001) and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey, 1940 - ). The rock band was formed in 1960, although the individuals started playing skiffle in the late fifties. The original line-up did not include Starr, who joined in 1962. The Beatles continued as one of the foremost rock bands in the world until their break up which started in 1970. During their existence they published 12 albums in the UK and the Magical Mystery Tour in America. In 1970 their song Let it be won an Oscar for the best original song score. Amongst their many other awards were 15 Ivor Novello awards.
As well as being an album, the Magical Mystery Tour was also released as a 52 minute film. It was first shown on BBC1 on 26 December 1967 and was largely filmed at West Malling airfield, at the time a de-commissioned RAF airfield and now Kings Hill. Shortly after the beginning of the film, Ringo Starr went into a newsagent and bought tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour for himself and his “Aunt Jessie” from John Lennon. That newsagent was the Town Newsagency, then at 90 High Street, West Malling.
JOHN CUNNINGHAM was born in the middle of World War I and joined the Royal Air Force in 1935. He flew many types of aircraft and became known as a test pilot. In 1940 when he was flying Bristol Blenheims, his squadron took up night flying activities, and developed the use of the new airborne radar. In September of that year he became a Squadron Leader, and two years later a Wing Commander. Whilst flying night fighters, his squadron shot down twice the number of enemy aircraft as any other. In order to keep the advent of radar secret, the story was told that this was due to a diet of carrots to improve his night vision. This led to him becoming known as “Cats Eyes” – and it also helped to promote the value of vegetables in the diet of a population of a country at war. In 1943 he continued night flying in command of 85 Squadron based at West Malling.
Douce’s Manor was used as accommodation, and also served as the headquarters for RAF West Malling and the officers’ mess. After the war Cunningham continued flying as a test pilot and flew the world’s first jet airliner, the Comet. He never married and retired in 1980.
Also stationed at RAF West Malling between April and December 1941 was Guy Gibson, then acting Squadron Leader of 29 squadron of Bristol Beaufighters. Later Wing Commander Gibson went on to lead the famous Dam Busters raid in 1943 for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for bravery.
The Rt. Hon. CHARLES KENNETH DAIN C.B.E. (centre of picture) and his wife bought 58 and 56 Town Hill in 1923, this being one property. It was their home until 1956. Before retirement he was Treasurer of Uganda at Entebbe, President of the Tender Board and Controller of Savings. He was awarded a C.B.E. in 1927. He was responsible for advising the British Government on all financial matters related to the British Protectorate of Uganda. After independence, Dictator Idi Amin expelled 60,000 Asians. Many thousands of people were killed in ethnic cleansing. West Malling housed many Ugandan Asians.
Town Hill Cottage 58 and Top Hill House 56, Town Hill are Grade 2 Listed Buildings. Town Hill Cottage (No 58) was originally a detached, 16th century half-hipped house, of earlier origin with considerable surrounding land and outbuildings. In the late 18th century Top Hill House (No 56) was built as an extension to No 58 by the Martin family. Circa 1900 the property was bought by the Nevill (Earl Abergavenny) family becoming part of their Lantern Estate opposite, with Lady Agnew in residence until c.1920.
WILLIE DEDRICK was born in Snodland and died 18th March 1963 aged 77 years. His wife Doris Harriet died 2nd December 1981 aged 90 years. He was a scholar at Marlborough College and Managing Director of Snodland Paper Mill from 1919 to 1963. His father William was Managing Director before him and rebuilt the business following the disastrous fire of 1906 thus saving the livelihoods of many workers. Willie enabled the continued success of the business by links with The Times etc. A keen collector of art and antiques, he paid for the construction of windows in All Saints Snodland from medieval fragments left after a bomb blast. A beautiful window commemorating him by Moira Forsyth was installed in the ancient All Saints Church, Snodland in 1963, and a garden was built near the High Street. More information on the window can be found in Snodland Museum.
Willie Emerson Dedrick sat on the Bench at West Malling and was High Sheriff of Kent in 1952. The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular crown office. Originally the principal law officer, the role of Sheriff is now largely ceremonial.
At the end of WW2 Mrs Dedrick ceremonially planted a flowering crab apple tree at the North end of the small green on which stand the Town Sign and the Statue “Hope”. It is possible that the tree also commemorates his nephew Richard William Pearson killed in HMS Hasty off Malta June 1942 aged 22 years. The tree is still living at the date of writing.
Lord Abergavenny succeeded Willie as Chairman of Snodland Paper Mill 1963 and KJ Funnel, author of the book Snodland Paper Mill, became Managing Director.
JOHN DOWNMAN (1750 – 1824) was a minor but proliﬁc painter, primarily of portraits, carried out in pastels or watercolours, or a combination of these. His portrait style, rapid, bright and light, is instantly recognisable and became very popular with the aristocracy.
Downman studied with Benjamin West after moving to London from Lancashire in 1767, and went to Italy with Wright of Derby and others in 1773/74, returning in 1775. He initially settled in Cambridge, where he was supported by the Mortlock family, local bankers, painting a series of portraits of the family. He was in London from 1778 to 1804 before moving to West Malling (which he refers to as “Town Malling”), where his brother, Lieut-Col Francis Downman was already living at Brome House.
At Went House he enjoyed time in the garden, producing sketches of toads and robins which he had apparently tamed, and painting local personalities, including members of the Douce family into which his niece, Jane, had married; and the Larking family of Clare House, East Malling. After two years in West Malling he moved to live in the West Country, then London, Chester and Wrexham where his only daughter married and where he died.
A list of his portraits reads like a Who’s Who of the period including: Queen Charlotte; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Sarah Siddons; Horatio Nelson; Frederick The Great of Prussia; Richard Brinsley Sheridan; ‘Monk’ Lewis and so on.
*John Downman ARA by Dr Williamson (1907)
*Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 by Neil Jeffares (updated 2010)
Admiral JOHN FORBES (1714 – 1796) was mentor to John Locker, Horatio Nelson’s “Sea Daddy.” He refused to sign the Death Warrant of Vice-Admiral Byng.
Born in Minorca he was the son of the third Earl of Granard. He served on the Burford under his uncle Hon. Charles Stewart. In 1729 Stewart promoted Forbes to Lieutenant. He was Captain of the Poole, later commanding the Port Mahon, the Severn, the Tiger and the Guernsey. Commanding the Norfolk in 1742 he took part in the battle off Toulon in 1744, and gave evidence in the Parliamentary enquiry. As Rear Admiral of the Blue in 1747 he was second in command to John Byng. In 1748 he rose to Rear Admiral of the White. He became Vice-Admiral of the Blue 1755 and was elected to the Irish Parliament. Under William Pitt he became a member of the Admiralty Board. Forbes refused to sign the Death Warrant of Vice-Admiral Byng as he was convinced it was illegal. Many Europeans said that “From time to time the English hang an Admiral to encourage the rest”.
In 1758 he married Lady Mary Capel and became Admiral of the Blue, Admiral of the White 1770, and Admiral of the Fleet 1781. He bought Malling Place in 1779, where he lived until his death in 1796. He was highly respected.
Forbes passed his vast knowledge of naval matters to his friend and colleague William Locker, Horatio Nelson’s acknowledged mentor and so called “Sea Daddy”.
Reproduced with the kind permission of ©National Portrait Gallery x167928
Admiral Sir William Lowther Grant KCB (1864-1929) was born on 10th November 1864, the eldest boy in a family of six children. His father was a banker, and later a JP. They lived in the Portsmouth area, settling at Monckton House, Alverstoke in the 1870s.
Grant went to school at nearby Stubbington House, known as ‘the cradle of the Navy’, with close links to the training ship HMS Britannia, which he entered as a cadet in 1877. Although he had been placed twenty-third out of forty six successful candidates in the Naval Cadetship examination, he was described as ‘very promising’, and progressed from midshipman in 1879, to sub-lieutenant in 1883 after serving in the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882), and lieutenant in 1884.
In 1896 he qualified in torpedo duties and commanded a torpedo boat for manoeuvres in 1887. By 1893 Grant was recommended for promotion, as he was said to be ‘very trustworthy, and handles [the] flotilla with skill’. In 1896 he was commended again for his ‘zeal and ability’ in preparing a report on trials of a Howell Torpedo at Newport, Rhode Island, and in 1897 was promoted to Commander. From 1898 he worked at the Admiralty’s Naval Ordnance Department.
In January 1900 he landed in Cape Colony, was mentioned in despatches, and became a Captain in October 1900, in recognition of his service in the Second Boer War, where his detachment was nicknamed ‘Grant’s Guns’. He was in command of Monarch, Sutlej, Hawke and Cornwallis during the early 1900s, and was Naval Advisor to the Inspector-General of Fortifications. He acted as a Naval Aide-de-Camp to Edward VII in September 1908, and also became the Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence in the same year, before being promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral in October 1909, shortly before his forty-fifth birthday.
From 1910 he was based at Sheerness (where he was stationed till November 1911), for special service with the Vice-Admiral Commanding the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Home Fleet. In King George V’s Coronation Honours in 1911, Grant was appointed Companion in the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, becoming a Knight Commander (K.C.B.) in 1917.
At the outbreak of the First World War, he initially commanded the Sixth Cruiser Squadron from HMS Drake, based at Scapa Flow, before he was promoted to Vice-Admiral in July 1915 and transferred abroad. He was then made Commander in Chief of the China Station in 1916, then Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station in 1918. By now Sir William Lowther Grant, he was promoted to the rank of Admiral on 1st September 1918. When he left the United States in 1919, the American Secretary of the Navy expressed his ‘sincere regret’ at the departure of ‘this talented and gifted officer’. For his wartime service abroad he was awarded the USA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Légion d’Honneur, the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, and also the Chinese Order of the Striped Tiger.
Grant retired in March 1920 ‘at his own request to facilitate the promotion of younger officers’, but at the United States’ request led a delegation in May 1922, at his own expense. In 1920 and 1924 he was reported in the press as defending Admiral Jellicoe’s decision to prioritise avoidance of the loss of ships at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
William Lowther Grant married Mabel Emily Brodrick, the daughter of a clergyman, who conducted the ceremony, in 1892, and they had three children, Alan Lowther Grant born in 1897, Marjorie Harriet Grant born in 1898, and Richard Brodrick Grant, born circa 1901. During their married life the family moved around because of his naval career, but in the early 1920’s they settled in West Malling, at New Barns, where he died, after a short illness, on 30th January 1929, at the age of sixty four. His funeral was held in West Malling Church.
GUNDULF was born in Normandy, now part of France. Four years after the conquest of England in 1066, while he was a monk of Caen, Gundulf was called to England to assist Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the administration of that diocese. Gundulf was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1077. As a skilled architect he rebuilt the almost ruined Cathedral in the Norman style and founded a community of Benedictine monks to serve there. In 1078 King William I appointed Gundulf to oversee the building of the White Tower of London. He was responsible for the building of St Leonard’s Tower, here in West Malling, and many churches in the Medway Towns. In about 1090 Gundulf founded this Abbey (St. Mary's) for Benedictine nuns, one of the first post-conquest monasteries for women; it is the home of Benedictine nuns today. Gundulf was famous for his care of the poor and his devotion to prayer. He died on 8th March 1108 aged 85, and is still honoured as the patron of the Royal Engineers.
WILLIAM LOCKER (1731-1800)
Locker lived in Went House, West Malling between 1783 and 1786. By the end of the Napoleonic wars it was said that “[The British] are lords of the sea, and neither in this dominion nor in world trade have they any rivals left to fear”, and for the first and last time in history a single navy possessed half the world’s warships. Many factors contributed to this, including money, the provisioning of ships, seasoned timber and coppering. Alongside these, a hugely important factor was the professionalization of ship’s crews - William Locker’s career epitomised this professionalization. Coming from an academic and cultured family, he entered the Navy at the age of 15, serving on various ships during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), then with the East India Company after post-war decommissioning (sailing to India and China). He rejoined the Navy just before the Seven Years’ War (1757-63), and he was on board HMS Sapphire at the Battle of Quiberon Bay (1759). By 1777 he rose to command HMS Lowestoffe, sailing her to the West Indies. For a fifteen month period during this command Horatio Nelson was one of his lieutenants, and this proved to be the start of a lifelong friendship.
Locker lived in Went House, West Malling between 1781 and 1786. He ended his career as Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital and suggested the creation there of a national gallery of maritime art, subsequently realised by his son, Edward Hawke Locker.
There were three successive generations of the Luck Family who served in the British Army and rose to the rank of Colonel. They have memorials in St Mary’s church, West Malling, at the top of the High Street. The Luck estate (including The Hermitage - the family home, the origins of which could be more ancient than the 1952 record show) was large and included the land on which now stands both the school and the Roman Catholic church to the East. The Luck coat of arms is shown in a window of a building on the old Luck estate, and in stone above a door.
The three colonels are:
Colonel Everard Thomas Luck JP, 1844 – 1916.
Colonel Brian John Michael Luck, CMG, DSO, JP, 1874 – 1948.
Colonel Richard Frederick Luck, OBE, 1907 – 1963.
Within the Luck family as well was General Sir George Luck, GCB a very significant figure in the Army. He has his own entry in this website.
The family has pedigree from the time of Henry II and the Coat of Arms was proved by the Herald in 1634 at Rotherfield Sussex, where they appear to have been inter-alia ironmasters.
GENERAL SIR GEORGE LUCK was born in 1840 at Blackheath. During the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878 – 1880) he commanded the 15th Hussars. He was later posted to India where he became the Inspector-General of Cavalry. He then took on this post in the UK before returning to India in 1898, to become the C-in-C of the Bengal Command. He retired to Salisbury in 1903. Between 1905 and 1907 he was appointed Keeper of the Tower – a position in the British Royal Household and the most senior appointment at the Tower of London. He died in 1916. He and his wife Ellen Georgina (Adams) are entombed in the family vault in St Mary’s Church, West Malling at the top of the High Street.
Ellen’s father was Major General Frederick Adam, GCB, GCMG, a hero of Waterloo whose troops made a brilliant and decisive manoeuvre at the peak of the battle. He was later ADC to the Prince Regent and Governor of Madras. Together with the Nevill family, the Lucks let property in the High Street and Swan Street, and financed four local schools. The Luck family home was in West Malling at The Hermitage, Lucks Lane, where three other members of the family are commemorated.
The Rev WILLIAM NEVILL 4th Earl of Abergavenny (1792-1868) bought Lantern House and Estate (now called Malling House) in 1866 from the Heirs of Valentine Phillips, one of whom was Phillips of the famous Bond Street Auction House. William succeeded to the title of 18th Lord of Abergavenny in 1845. Chaplain to King William IV, he was Vicar of Frant and Rector of Birling. With General Luck of the Hermitage he let property in the High Street and Swan Street to finance four local schools.
He married CAROLINE LEEKE and they had seven children. Five were living in 1866, Henrietta-Augusta, Ralph Pelham, William (later the 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Abergavenny) Isabel and Caroline. The daughter, The Lady Caroline Emily Nevill 1829-1887, was an exhibitor at The Royal Photographic Society and a founder member of The Photographic Exchange Club, producing a series of Architectural views of Kent 1855-1858.
She was a pioneer of early waxed paper negative and luminous lint photography. Together with her two sisters (called “The Trio”) she produced embroidered artworks. She spent her time fundraising and helping the poor of West Malling, living most of her life here. She died in London, her body being transported from West Malling Station at walking pace to Birling by Mr Viner, Funeral Director. All work and business stopped throughout the district for the duration of the funeral out of respect.
RALPH PELHAM NEVILL (1832-1914) High Sheriff of Kent (married Louisa Maclean (1833-1919) and had seven children. They lived in Lantern (Malling) House until 1873. Ralph was a keen, able sportsman, huntsman, dog and cattle breeder. For eight years he commanded a troop in the West Kent Yeomanry. The family gave the small Green, on which stands the Town Sign and the statue “Hope”, to the Parish.
PERCY LLEWELYN NEVILL enlarged the Lantern estate by buying property in Town Hill c.1900.
During World War 1 the house was used as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital and the estate was eventually divided and partly built on. Malling House (Lantern House) is an ancient and commanding site. A 1986 survey showed it incorporated an early timber framed building with a gable end to the road with 17th, 18th and 19th century additions. In the 18th century it was a mansion owned by the Burt family. Mrs Burt wrote to Trollop’s, the wallpaper company in London, for advice on wallpaper. Valentine Phillips owned it before Earl Abergavenny but there are gaps in the record.
SILAS NORTON and his business partner Thomas Selby were solicitors and both from ancient Kentish families. Selby was part of a very ancient Kentish family of worldwide influence who had owned property in West Malling since at least the 15th century. The Bodleian Library holds documents relating to him. Norton was born and died in West Malling. He held his law licence almost until his death at the age of 90. He married Sarah Ann Bookham and they had six children. Cricket had been played in West Malling since at least 1705. Norton and Selby linked with William George 2nd Lord Harris (1782-1845) and formed Town Malling Cricket Club.
From a woodcut in 1891
The “New Ground” (or St Georges Field) was established, and the first match played in 1827. The well-known cricketer Fuller Pilch was retained on a salary of £100 per year. His duties included being Landlord of the Cricketer’s Arms in Ryarsh Lane and cutting the grass! First Class cricket was first played in 1836 and attracted a “gate” of 8,000. The Lords Harris have since been enormously influential in the development of cricket in England and India.
Long thought to be the inspiration and setting for Charles Dickens’s famous “Muggleton” match in the Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), Charles Dicken’s son wrote “Muggleton is perhaps only a fancy sketch of a small country town but if anywhere Town Malling sat for it being a great place for cricket in Mr Pickwick’s time.” Another woodcut of the High Street in West Malling was included in the edition of Pickwick Papers which celebrated the jubilee of Queen Victoria.”
GEORGE ORWELL was the pen name used by Eric Arthur Blair. He was born 25th June 1903 in Motihari in British India. His ancestral home there has been declared a National Monument. When he was one, his mother sent him to England with his older sister. They settled first at Henley on Thames. He was an English essayist, journalist, critic and novelist. Famous novels include 1984 and Animal Farm. Acclaimed non- fiction works include Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia characterised by well researched social realism. His work concerning totalitarianism created words and phrases such as Big Brother, Thought Crime, Cold War, Thought Police and Room 101 - which have become part of our language. Eric Arthur Blair stayed at West Malling Spike (workhouse) in 1931 and describes the characters and places with blunt realism. In the Hop Picking Diaries he describes trying to obtain work at Kronk’s Farm (Cronk’s Farm, Newbarns, West Malling) and working at Blest’s Farm (Best’s Farm). He travelled by train with other pickers. The realism of these experiences is reflected in his novel Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and used extensively in his novel The Clergyman’s Daughter (1935). West Accrington Station referred to in The Clergyman’s Daughter is thought to be West Malling. He died 21st January 1950 in London. The Times considered him second on a list of the 50 greatest British authors since 1945.
WILLIAM PERFECT was probably born in Bicester in 1737. His father became vicar of East Malling in 1742. From 1756 the family was resident in West Malling High Street. William married three times and fathered ten children.
In November 1749 William Perfect became apprenticed to William Everred, a surgeon in London. He also studied under Colin McKenzie who was a strong advocate against the practice of wearing swords and cloaks at births! By 1757 he was practising in West Malling referring to himself as Surgeon, Apothecary and Man-Midwife. His studies and subsequent books show he was at the forefront of the new medical interest in Mid-Wifery.
Perfect was also a noteworthy poet of the period. His poetry was first published in Martin’s Magazine 1755.
In 1765 Perfect became a Freemason despite the French Revolution creating public suspicion of the organisation. By Royal Patent of the Prince of Wales he was appointed in 1795 as Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Kent.
His second child, Sarah, went on to marry Sylvester Harding, a well-known miniaturist painter at the time whose work is still famous today, and London’s National Portrait Gallery once staged a retrospective exhibition of his work.
William Perfect died in 1809 was buried in the tomb he constructed in East Malling Churchyard. His triple oak and lead coffin was brought at midnight from West Malling by torchlight in a cortege drawn by black horses.
FULLER PILCH was born in Horningtoft, Norfolk on 17 March 1803. He had two elder brothers who were professional cricketers. He started his own cricketing career at Lords in 1820 playing for Norfolk against Marylebone. By the late 1820s he had become recognised as the best batsman England had produced, and that continued until the appearance of WG Grace in the 1860s. He developed a style of playing forward to the ball to rush the bowler. This shot became known as the “Pilch Poke”, and that term is still recognised today. In 1835 he transferred to the Town Malling team on a salary of £100 a year, and took over the Cricketers’ Inn which had a cricket field attached (Kent’s county ground at the time). The Cricketers’ Inn later became a private house and is recorded as the last building in Ryarsh Lane. In 1842 the county ground moved to Canterbury, and so did Pilch - to play for Kent’s county side, where he remained until he retired in 1855, having played for Kent through 19 seasons. He amassed a total of 10 centuries - which was quite an accomplishment when you consider how poor some of the pitches were.
There is a plaque at the Old Cricket Ground, which is now accessed from Norman Road, which gives a brief history of cricket in West Malling and Pilch's starring role in it. Pilch never married, and died on 1st May 1870 of dropsy, aged 67. He is buried in St Gregory’s Church in Canterbury, where there is a large monument to him.
Admiral CHARLES STEWART bought Malling Place in 1718 and installed in it a captured Spanish ship’s mast and leather covered doors.
The son of a Viscount, he saw service in the Nine Years War, wars of the Spanish Succession, Quadruple Alliance, Austrian Succession and other campaigns. Early in his career he lost a hand. In 1720 he commanded a squadron against the Sale Rovers and Mediterranean Pirates. He negotiated a treaty with Morocco and obtained the release of 296 British prisoners. He served as Commander in Chief in the West Indies becoming a Member of Parliament for Malmesbury 1723-1727 and Portsmouth 1737 until his death. A mahogany Spanish ship’s mast in the staircase and leather covered doors in Malling Place come from his active service.
PETER WOOLRIDGE TOWNSEND joined the Royal Air Force in 1933. He was one of three pilots that shot down the first enemy aircraft over England at the start of World War 2, which led to him being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). In 1940 he was a notable pilot in the Battle of Britain, acting throughout the action as squadron Leader of 85 Squadron in Hurricanes. In August 1940 he was shot down and wounded over Tonbridge. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1941. He went on to fly Spitfires and led a night flying squadron. In 1943 he became commanding officer of RAF West Malling, and was promoted to Group Captain in 1948. Douce’s Manor was used as accommodation, and also served as the headquarters for RAF West Malling and the officers’ mess. Townsend was credited with a total of eleven kills.
He is also known for his romance with Princess Margaret, whom he met when, after the war, he became equerry to King George VI. Unfortunately Townsend was divorced, and in the social environment at the time a marriage would have been met with severe disapproval, so the Princess broke up the relationship. He spent most of his later life as a writer.
Also stationed at RAF West Malling between April and December 1941 was Guy Gibson, then acting Squadron Leader of 29 squadron of Bristol Beaufighters. Later Wing Commander Gibson went on to lead the famous Dam Busters raid in 1943 for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for bravery.
Children of West Malling have been educated on this site for over three hundred years. The plaque in this photograph is in St Mary’s Church. It states in 1623 Francis Tress, gentleman, gave £40 for building a Free School, 15 shillings and 4 pence for repairing it, two silver cups and 6 shillings and 8 pence yearly to the poor to be paid out of a piece of land called Coussin’s Plat (sic) occupied by William Chapman a gentleman.
Little is known about Tress. His name could be a corruption of Tracey. There are ancient tombs attributed to the Tress family in Offham Churchyard. It is not known where Tress lived in West Malling. The house may stand today.
The Historian Edward Hasted in 1798 recorded that Tress also gave the land for the school and charged one of his houses here 13 shillings and 8 pence per annum for repairs. Four principal freeholders were appointed to administer the charity for ever which is vested in the Ministry. In 1798 it was being paid out of Robert Sutton’s estate. The schoolhouse was occupied at 2 guineas per annum by the Master’s widow. The Ordnance Survey Map of 1800 shows the building. The 1865 map notes it as a school for endowed boys. The school continued, and there are still residents living who attended as pupils.
In the mid twentieth century the school became private houses. The forty ton stone inglenook fireplace was removed from the Master’s house (no. 3) but the house still retains elements of Tress’s original school. The school is an important part of local social history. Anyone who has information should contact West Malling Parish Council.
JOSEPH WILLIAM MALLORD TURNER was described by the leading nineteenth-century art critic John Ruskin as the artist who could “most stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of nature”. Turner's youthful genius as a landscape artist is captured in three surviving watercolour sketches of West Malling dated by art historian Andrew Wilton to 1791-2, when the artist was aged 15 or 16. These depict the cascade in Swan Street, Malling Abbey from the north-west, and St Leonard's Tower under a stormy sky (unfinished, but a foretaste of his dramatic landscapes of later years). Two further pencil sketches of Malling Abbey survive dated 1798.
Turner's West Malling sketches have also proved invaluable as historical documents, not least in showing that the cascade was in existence well before 1810 (the date inscribed above the arch) and in recording the condition of St Leonard's Tower in the late eighteenth century.
The circumstances of Turner's visits to West Malling are unrecorded, but he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1790 onwards and may well have been introduced to the picturesque 'antiquities' of West Malling by John Downman ARA, then a seasoned Royal Academy exhibitor who inherited Went House (opposite the cascade) following the death of his uncle in 1783.
Sir THOMAS TWISDEN presided at the trials of the executioners of Charles I in 1660.
Born 1602 at Roydon, East Peckham he attended Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1614. He was admitted to the Inner Temple 1617, called to the Bar in 1626 and married Jane Thomlinson in 1639. Jane Thomlinson was the sister of the man who escorted Charles I to his execution. Twisden bought Malling Place in 1642. He became a Bencher in 1646 and changed the spelling of his name from Twysden to Twisden. At this time he became Member of Parliament for Maidstone but was excluded in 1648. He became Sergeant at Law in 1654 and bought The Manor of Bradbourne House, East Malling, Kent in 1656. After the Coronation of Charles II, he became MP for Maidstone again in 1660 and was knighted. After the trials of the Regicides (the signatories to Charles I death warrant) he was made a baronet in 1666. He died in 1683.
CLARE LAKE set in the historic former grounds of Grade I Clare House - and is now in the grounds of The Malling School.
The area around the Lake is a much valued accessible open space enjoyed by many East Malling residents, through the restoration programme, the community has united to improve the once historic grounds. Working together, the community have drastically improved the water quality, cleared the surrounding area of the lake, created Hibernaculum and improved the overall appearance. The work is still ongoing, as the community has ambitions to create a flower meadow as well as maintaining what has already been achieved.
Mrs Rosalind Isabel Wingfield-Stratford, MBE
Rosalind was born in 1858, the daughter of Hon Rev Edward Vesey Bligh JP and Lady Isabel. See footnote. She married Cecil Vernon Wingfield-Stratford in 1881. He was a lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. Being in the army meant that the couple lived in many places throughout their married life, but when Cecil retired in 1910 they settled into Fartherwell Hall (pictured above), which was part of a large estate just outside West Malling, and owned at the time by Rosalind’s parents. Her father died in 1908, and when her mother died in 1915, the estate was left to Cecil and Rosalind. Given the size of Fartherwell Hall (it had 14 servants) and the mother being on her own, it is likely that Cecil and Rosalind had moved in when he retired. Fartherwell Hall was demolished after WW2. It was just off Fartherwell Road, roughly where Fartherwell House now is.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Cecil was recalled to the army. At the time, Malling Place was owned by Percy Nevill, related to Rosalind through her mother. He offered it for use as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Hospital. The VAD was founded in 1909 mostly by the British Red Cross, to receive and treat wounded men returning from the front. By 1914 there were over 3,000 VAD Hospitals in the UK. Rosalind volunteered her services and was appointed Commandant here at what was known as “Kent 150”. She was awarded the MBE in 1920 for “services in connection with war refugees”. Sadly, given her important role with the VAD, we have been unable so far to find a photograph of Rosalind or her husband. Any further information or images would be welcome.
Cecil Vernon Wingfield-Stratford was born in 1853 at Addington Place, Addington. He was educated at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and joined the Royal Engineers as a lieutenant in 1873. From 1907 to 1910 he was Chief Engineer, Irish Command. He retired in 1910 but was recalled in 1914 to serve in WW1. He held a command on the western front as a Brigadier-General, participating in the battle of Loos in 1915, and the Somme in 1916. He was mentioned in dispatches four times, and was awarded the CBE in 1916 and the CB in 1918.
During his earlier life he played football (outside-left) for the Royal Engineers and earned one cap for England against Scotland in 1877. He played in the 1875 FA Cup final at Kennington Oval for the Royal Engineers against the Old Etonians. He died at Fartherwell Hall in 1939.
Hon Rev Edward Vesey Bligh JP was the son of Edward Bligh, 5th Earl of Darnley and his wife, Lady Isabel, was the daughter of William Nevill, 4th Earl of Abergavenney. They lived in Fartherwell Hall just outside West Malling. The son joined the British Diplomatic Service, and then he met his future wife. William Nevill insisted that his daughter married a clergyman (he was a clergyman himself), so Edward Bligh left the Diplomatic Service and joined the church, married as a curate and later he was the Vicar at Birling. Bligh was also a cricketer of some note: he played for Kent, Middlesex and England.
The Honeywood Family:
Five Kings, One Queen, One Bishop, One Archbishop, and Two Traitorous Knights
The group of buildings here on the corner of High Street and Swan Street is of national importance and has a remarkable documented history. Its relationship to the Norman abbey of West Malling has been revealed and there is much exciting research to be done.
In 1066 William of Normandy acquired the throne of England by conquest at the Battle of Hastings. Initially the land was assessed, redistributed and reorganised, followed by an intense period of castle and monastery building. Many churches were enlarged, and Saxon landlords were replaced by landowners with Norman French names.
In 1077 the famous military and ecclesiastical architect Gundulf was appointed Bishop of Rochester, and subsequently began building St Mary’s Abbey in West Malling, believed by some authorities to be sited on all or part of the site of a Saxon Monastery (according to information held by the nuns of Malling Abbey). He is also credited with starting the building of St Leonard’s Tower at the same time, and probably the unique Norman building to the rear of 67 High Street (Source - Memories of Malling and Its Valley, C.H.Fielding).
Starting with the first Abbess, named Avicia, the Abbey prospered, despite fire and plague, becoming one of the richest in England. In 1278 the Abbess claimed liberties granted by Henry III, including a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, together with ingfangtheif (the right to administer summary justice), granted by King John, and the right to hold fairs was granted by Henry III. The St Leonard’s Day Fair was still being held on November 17th until at least the end of the nineteenth century.
A market cross stood at the junction of Swan Street (then called Holyrode, or Holyrood, Street) and the High Street. The head of an early medieval holyrood, or crucifix, is shown on one side of a squared block which supports a beam under the medieval building at 57 High Street, currently Frank’s Restaurant. It is traditionally thought to be the head of the original market cross which was pulled down in the eighteenth century. There was a small prison or ‘cage’ in use on the little green on the High Street until the nineteenth century, so this area near the centre of West Malling was a focal point of the village until relatively modern times.
The Abbey is recorded as owning ancient vineyards on the North Downs at Halling, tanneries, a water mill, three West Malling inns and two blacksmiths’ forges, among other interests (Source – Land Deeds held by Malling Abbey). The Roman Catholic Church owned the Abbey until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, confiscating their wealth, treasure, and lands. The brave Abbess in 1539 resisted until the last, but the Abbey was passed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, then into the holding of Gervase Pierrepoint, and later, Hugh Cartwright. Cartwright’s widow carried her interest to her second husband, Sir James Fitzjames, and later it seems to have come into the hands of Humphrey Delind – and thus to the Brookes of Cobham via Queen Elizabeth I in recognition of the Brookes’ services to her.
In 1603, following the death of Elizabeth I, English courtiers plotted to depose King James I and replace him with Lady Arabella Stuart, with the financial support of the Catholic Spanish government, and both Lord Cobham and his brother, Sir George Brooke, were among the plotters. Lord Cobham planned to collect a large sum of money, travel to Jersey, then meet Sir Walter Raleigh and divide the money and use it to finance and spread sedition. Sir George was executed, and Cobham was imprisoned, along with Raleigh, in the Tower of London. Malling Abbey was confiscated from the Brookes, and the holdings transferred to Sir Robert Brett, his wife, and son Henry. Robert Brett survived his family and died in 1620. He is commemorated by an elaborate tomb beside the altar in St Mary’s church. Following his death without heirs, his lands and manors were granted to John Rayney by James I, and the estate was later inherited by his son, Sir John Rayney, Baronet of Nova Scotia, and confirmed by Charles II in 1662.
The plaque is attached to this fine medieval hall house at 1 Swan Street (obscured by 18th century modifications) the deeds to which were transferred as part of the Abbey to Sir John Rayney of Wrotham, Baronet, his wife Dame Ellen and his son on 6th February 1627 (see the schedule of notable former owners below). In 1671 Isaac Honeywood Esquire of Hampstead bought this building with Malling Abbey, whilst Frazer Honeywood later restored and altered the Abbey, and converted it into an elegant home. The property stayed in the Honeywoods’ ownership until sold by Sir John Courtney Honeywood, Baronet, in 1809. In 1883 Mr E. Baldock bought the building which is still in the Baldock’s family’s ownership. They hold the original vellum deeds.
The corner building of this medieval group is a hall house, originally with a yard and well. It is attached and laid into the medieval buildings to the east. The building has been plastered over, and the jetty to Swan Street and the High Street was underbuilt with brick during the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. This alteration may have occurred when the building was sold to the clocksmith and his business partner, the tallow chandler, in 1809.
The remarkably high status of the early owners and the high quality of the door details visible on the upper floor suggest that this building is very important and of exceptional quality. The well was shared with the building to the north (57 High Street) which itself may have formed part of the original group sold at auction in the Swan Hotel in 1809. After world war 2, the owner of the then bakery at 51 High Street reported “Our handyman was sitting on the edge of the well and he fell in. We searched for him for two days but couldn’t find him. We put a slab over the well.”
The building to the north at 57 High Street, has a fine medieval moulded stone arch below the cellar trap doors, as well as a superb crown post roof. There was some early modernisation in the form of a 16th century inglenook fireplace replacing the original open hearth, and the medieval stone head of the market cross supporting an oak beam. The latter was probably a repair, but perhaps was a way of respecting and retaining this feature of the demolished Market Cross. A dwelling was constructed over the building’s yard which is now 5 Swan Street.
The premises attached to the east of this building include a triple cruciform crown post roof and an oak tie beam approximately 25 feet long; such timber was reserved for royal or ecclesiastical use. A medieval inn sign, believed to be entirely authentic, depicting a swan painted on hand wrought oak was found nailed up as a repair to an inside wall of 57 High Street. This group of buildings probably formed the medieval ecclesiastical inn recorded as ‘Le Swan’ in the Abbey records. This would explain the extraordinarily high status of the owners.
Following is a list of this building’s owners as recorded in the original vellum deeds held by the Baldock family.
Sir John Walter, Knight
Sir James Fullerton, Knight
Sir Thomas Trevor, Knight
1627 (6th Feb) Sir John Rayney of Wrotham, Baronet,
his wife Dame Ellen and son
1671 (1st Feb) Isaac Honeywood, Esquire of Hampstead
Isaac Honeywood, Esquire (son of above)
Frazer Honeywood, Esquire of Malling Abbey
William Honeywood, Esquire and his wife Elizabeth
Sir John Honeywood (eldest son of William)
and his wife Dame Francis
Sir John Courtney Honeywood, Baronet
1809 John Godden, clocksmith
and William Williams, tallow chandler
(at this time the building was a tailor’s shop, house and yard)
1822 (1st Mar) Misses Margaret and Susanna Alchin (probably of New Barns)
(seem to have taken over Godden’s mortgage)
1843 Henry Godden, clocksmith (son of John)
1849 Miss Mary Ann Alchin
1883 Mr E Baldock
(Property has remained in Baldock family to date)
The property has also been indentured to other notable people, including two grooms to the Bedchamber of His Majesty Charles II, six clerks to the court of Chancery, and Sir Thomas Twisden.
The Ancient House, West Malling
The Ancient House (also known locally as the Norman House) is at the rear of 67 High Street and is now attached to it, forming part of that property. Its east wall (pictured) can be seen from Swan Yard, just off Swan Street. It is a Grade 1 listed building and much more information on it can be found at:
It is of Norman origin (c.1080) with many later modifications. It was built outside the Abbey walls, but at the same time, and was probably ecclesiastical in purpose. It is built of ragstone, with tufa blocks where needed structurally. The bottom right hand corner of the east wall is particularly interesting, and is shown enlarged below.
Evidence of a semi-circular tufa arch indicates the top of a doorway, and a tufa impost block supporting the arch can be clearly seen. Normally the impost block would be at roughly shoulder height, indicating that the doorway most likely extends downwards to ground level at the time of building – about a metre below ground level in 2021.
Thomas Selby was born in November 1791 in Gillingham, Kent. At the time of writing, we know little about his early life and any additional information would be gladly welcomed. What is known, however, follows.
His parents were Thomas and Mary Selby who were living in the Bishop’s Palace, Otford around the time of his birth. In 1817 he married Louisa Cline at Hythe, but sadly she died in 1831 and in the same year he married Marie de Loecker (a Belgian) in Lambeth. Basic information on Thomas Selby can be found here, although the mention of a third wife is believed to be incorrect.
In 1828 he went into partnership with his younger brother George, who was a solicitor practising in London, and his cousin Silas Norton joined as well. (There is a separate plaque in West Malling to Silas Norton.) Thomas continued to practise in West Malling, but in the 1850s the practice ran into financial difficulties. What actually went wrong is very complex, but it seems that he and his brother had accumulated enormous debts, amounting to over £20M in 2021’s value. The partnership dissolved in 1844 and all three went bankrupt. Thomas Selby and Silas Norton applied for discharge certificates in November 1855, and George Selby followed soon after in December of the same year. Perhaps Thomas was already thinking of retiring, but in the middle of 1855, he sold off his considerable assets (probably including Abingdon House) and a little later moved to France. His wife Marie died in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1858, and Thomas died there in 1874 leaving less than £200 to his son Thomas.
The story of the bankruptcies is a very complex one and they were no doubt very notable and scandalous events of the time. There is more information with links to external documents here.
In 1827, while he was living in West Malling, he and two others, Silas Norton and Lord Harris, founded the West Malling, then Town Malling, cricket ground (see the blue plaque for Norton). In 1835 Selby enticed Fuller Pilch to move to Kent (see the blue plaque for Pilch), and in 1836 Selby inaugurated a new Kent County Cricket Club with the West Malling ground as its headquarters, and he became the team selector for matches.
Thomas Selby was also a cricketer himself, and played on the Kent cricket team from 1839 to 1841. In this period West Malling was the centre of Kent cricket. Here Kent played the Town Malling Club itself as well as sides from Sussex, Nottinghamshire and England. Crowds of over 6,000 spectators would gather for these matches, in an outer circle surrounding only about half the current ground, in the pavilion corner. The circle would contain carriages of the nobility and gentry, hop wagons covered with awnings made of hop cloths, marquees and booths. Order was kept by the cracking whip of a “ringmaster”. The mower was a scythe, and players changed in hop oast houses.
Thomas Selby was part of a very ancient Kentish family of worldwide influence, and it is thought that he was part of the family that owned Ightham Mote. The Bodleian Library holds documents relating to the Selby family including 24 catalogued documents dating from 1450 concerning property in West Malling, still with their original seals.
Thomas Selby – additional information
The Selby name
It is very likely that Thomas Selby (and George) were linked to the Selbys of Ightham who owned Ightham Mote for a long time – but the link has not yet been established. Information on Thomas Selby and his immediate family can be found here. The early part of the family tree of the Selbys of Ightham can be found here.
Another tantalising Selby has also emerged. Dorothy Selby (1572-1641) married William Selby III, and she was a daughter of Charles Bonham of West Malling. The marriage was brokered by Walsingham, the Tudor spymaster. There is a bust of her in Ightham church which is said to have been carved by the Master Mason to the Crown, Edward Marshall, and as she was childless, several children feature on the memorial. Her claim to fame is that it is said that she exposed The Gunpowder Plot. Her love of needlework was her downfall, as she pricked her finger and died of blood poisoning.
Thomas Selby, Silas Norton and George Selby dissolved their partnership on 25 March 1844. This was almost certainly caused by the enormous debts they had accumulated, and they all became bankrupt. They applied for their certificates (of discharge) late in 1855, George on his own account as he worked out of London, and Thomas and Silas jointly. The court hearings were reported in detail in the Maidstone Advertiser and Kentish Advertiser, Thomas and Silas on 6 November 1855 and George on 11 December 1855. The reports can be found in the British Newspaper Archive, but readers will need to set up an account.
In the judgement on Thomas and Silas given on 23 November, the judge allowed Silas his certificate (although with a one year suspension), but denied any certificate for Thomas. He was judged to have committed fraud and a breach of trust in dealings with George and a Mr Hodges, George’s business partner in a manufacturing venture. Thomas had a deficit of funds of over £34,000. This was after he had sold his private property. He went to appeal, but lost that as well. The appeal court judges said Thomas’s conduct was “a breach of every duty which he owed as a solicitor to his client, and amounted to a malversation of the most serious character.”
George was not so harshly punished as his brother. He was judged to have been an accessory after Thomas’s fraud, and was granted his certificate, but suspended for two years. In giving his judgement, Commissioner Evans said this was the “case of a man who had once filled a most respectable position, and had carried on business in London as a solicitor. Like many others, he was not satisfied to let well alone, but had resorted to a variety of speculations, had entered into various partnerships, and had carried on several schemes until he had left himself in the court in the melancholy position of owing debts and liabilities to the amount of nearly £200,000, and had not sufficient to pay his creditors a farthing in the pound.”
As well as being a solicitor, one of George’s “speculations” was in the manufacture of iron and brass tubes, with his client and partner Mr Hodges. There is a lot of information on them here, but refer to pages 65, 74, 76-80, 92, 93, 129-133. The author describes George as “a very clever but dishonest solicitor: a fraudster and an archetypal Dickensian villain. Hodges, his client since at least 1828, was possibly just one of many that [George] Selby had defrauded during his, seemingly, successful career as a lawyer and businessman.”