There has been a flurry of interest, of late, in the man who gave his name to at least two place-names in the Parish. So I thought it might be of interest to draw together something of his life and deeds.
William Howard Aymer Vallance was born in 1862, of a family of Sittingbourne brewers and bankers. His father, Thomas William Vallance, did not himself continue in the family tradition: he was a career soldier, serving in the 5th Lancers and rising to the rank of Captain1. Captain Vallance served on Lynsted Parish Council from its inception in 1894 to1896. The family lived in Lynsted, at 'Aymers', a building named after Thomas' eldest son, and which, despite severe fire damage, was carefully restored, and survives to this day. Aymer had two younger brothers, who continued the family brewery business.
Aymer was educated at Harrow and Oriel College, Oxford, where he read classics2. He was a typical aesthete of his time, with a passion for mediaeval architecture and a strong interest in contemporary design and craftsmanship. He was also an excellent cricketer. He was a devotee of the Arts and Crafts Movement and was closely associated with of William Morris. It was Vallance who 'discovered' the artist Aubrey Beardsley.
Vallance was ordained into the Anglican Church in 1885 and served as curate at the Church of the Annunciation in Brighton, which contains stained glass designed by Morris and Burne-Jones. Whilst at Oriel, however, he had been strongly influenced by the Oxford Movement, which advocated a return to Roman Catholic practice and ideals. In 1889 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church.
He moved to London, where he spent his time writing and lecturing on Gothic architecture, and producing articles for arts and archaeological journals. Several of his accounts related to the history and buildings of Lynsted. He also wrote the first appreciation of the work of William Morris, and became a respected antiquarian. He was present, for example, at the official opening of a grave in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral in 1888, that was suspected of containing the bones of Thomas Becket3.
In 1920, aged 58, he acquired Stoneacre, a mediaeval Wealden hall-house in Otham near Maidstone. He proceeded to 'restore' and extend the dilapidated building, using materials from other buildings, and sculpture and woodwork from his own collection. A wooden mantelpiece incorporated into Stoneacre originated in an (unspecified) mediaeval cottage in Lynsted. He also incorporated his own stained glass designs in some of the windows. He married Lucy Ada Hennell in 1922. The property was given by the couple to the National Trust in 1928. He died in 1943, aged 81.
A recent communication received by the Lynsted with Kingsdown Society, perhaps sheds a different light on the great man: Paul Wood informs us that his great grandfather, William John Read, claimed to have been the illegitimate son of Aymer Vallance. Aymer had met the mother whilst at Oxford, the youngster had been adopted by the Read family and the mother had left for the USA shortly after. Apparently Aymer would not have William acknowledged as a member of the family, although his father, Thomas, was in favour of accepting him.
This article is merely a summary of the life of Aymer Vallance, and I or the Society would be most pleased to receive any comments, views and information that may further illuminate the life of this remarkable 'local boy'.
I am indebted to the Country Life Picture Library for permission to reproduce the portrait.
1. Clancy, J. The Vallance Family - Bankers and Brewers. The Archive, Issue 52, Historical Research Group of Sittingbourne. 2008.
2. The National Trust. Stoneacre. 2001.
3. Butler, J. The Quest for Becket's Bones. Yale University Press, 1995.