Event Reports for 2008
Autumn through to Spring Hedgelaying Project: Hedgelaying along Cambridge Lane continued through the winter. Frequent days were devoted to this spectacle and several people offered moral support as walkers were attracted by the activities! The Society volunteers met on most Sundays. Visit Project Page.
KENT CHURCHES - 30th January
John Vigar gave this talk is a highly regarded professional historian, specialising in church history and architecture. He has a particular interest in the alterations carried out by the Victorians. John has been referred to as 'one of today's most popular commentators on English history'
Structure related to function: a fresh look at Kent church buildings.
A group of over thirty members and local people gathered at Greenstreet Methodist Church on 30th January, to enjoy a fascinating presentation by one of the leading experts on the architectural history of Kent's churches. Using some fine photographic illustrations, John Vigar took us through the architectural evolution of churches in Kent, from the early simple two-cell structures to the elaborate aisled, glazed, and turreted parish churches of a later age. John emphasised the functional and social reasons behind the building styles. This approach gave an entirely fresh view of the subject. The early churches were built by the local population, not masons, using stone that came to hand such as flint and ragstone. Such construction was only possible in spring and autumn when there was no work to be done in the fields. Many churches were later expanded by the addition of aisles. The main value of these was not to increase seating capacity (there were no seats in mediaeval times) but to provide columns around which to have processions on holy days. Many churches are larger than the location seems to demand. This was not due to a large population, but related to the wealth of the residents: parishioners knew it was important to sponsor church building, in order to avoid a long stay in purgatory! Squint–holes between nave and chancel were not for the benefit of lepers (who were invariably locked up elsewhere), but so that the priest holding the service for the hoi-polloi on holy days in the nave, could see, and synchronise with, his colleague holding the normal service at the high altar.
As well as dispelling many myths. John explained the structure, function - and demise - of the rood screen, why church windows have 'eyebrows' and are bigger inside than out, and the value of limewash as a protective layer.
A clear and stimulating talk concluded with the good, and not so good, side of Victorian church restoration.
NOBLE CHAFER BEETLES - 19th March
Anita Burroughs spoke about locally sighted but very rare chafer beetles that rely on rotted heartwood in damaged fruit trees, especially plums.
The Noble Chafer Beetle and the Declining British Orchard.
The Society was pleased to welcome Anita Burrough of the People's Trust for Endangered Species. Anita is the Orchard Project Officer with People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and she joined us to explain how the general decline in traditional orchard methods across the country is resulting in an impoverishment of wildlife, and a serious threat to the survival of some species.
Anita began by defining an orchard as 'an enclosure for the cultivation of fruit trees'. The word 'orchard' is derived from 'wort' (plant, vegetable) and 'geard' (garden). She went on to compare and contrast different orchard systems, using an attractive set of pictures. Modern, intensive, orchards are stocked with trees on dwarfing rootstocks, to ease harvesting. Between them is short, mown grass, and weedkillers are used to eliminate plant competition immediately around the trees. The trees are replaced after about 15-years, before fruit productivity starts to decline. There is no dead wood. The range of wildlife is narrow.
A traditional orchard, by contrast, is an extensive system, with sheep grazing under large trees. Trees are left to mature and accumulate dead wood. Fruit harvesting involves ladder work. It is a haven for wildlife, with the longer grass harbouring small mammals, decaying wood attracting woodpeckers and supporting fungi, and the avoidance of chemicals favouring insects and their predators.
The area of British orchards has declined by 60% in the last sixty years, and the rate is much greater in Kent. There are only about 47,000ha. left in Britain, 28,000ha. of which are thought to be under traditional management. The decline continues, mainly because of neglect, development (an orchard often becomes 'The Orchard' housing estate, with no fruit tree in sight!), careless horse management, and cheap, imported fruit. There is little legal protection for traditional orchards at present, but there is hope on the horizon that at least some of this important landscape type and habitat can be saved for people to enjoy.
Anita explained how she was involved in a project to assess the nature and state of traditional orchards across nine counties. She regarded an orchard as a stand of five or more fruit trees. Many orchards were now owned by people who did not fully understand the significance of their possession. Anita could obtain aerial photographs and maps, but relied heavily on volunteer helpers – and these were now needed to 'map' our area of the Garden of England.
The second part of Anita's presentation was more of a demonstration. It centred around the rare noble chafer beetle, Gnorimus nobilis. This beautiful, glossy green beetle had been thought to be extinct in Kent – until it turned up recently in a plum orchard near Sittingbourne! The hunt is now on for more sightings! The insect spends much of its time in the larval form, the grubs feeding on the decayed wood in the heart of mature plum and other fruit trees. Adult beetles (dead), grubs (live) and their characteristic 'frass' (droppings) were on display.
Anita was pleased to know that we had a traditional community orchard and group in our parish – and a Society whose members carried out surveys and field projects. She left some maps of orchards in our immediate area that needed assessment, and details of where and how to detect the presence of the beetle. This had the makings of yet another project involving members of the Society. Several registered interest there and then, and the idea is to get together soon to discuss what could be done. Please contact the author on 01795 521 515 if you are interested in joining in. The beetle is most likely to be found in the decaying hearts of old plum trees. Would readers please contact me if they know of stands of such trees in the parish or locality - even if 'hands on' involvement is not for them?
GEMS OF KENT - 9th April
A talk by Brian Fagg (from the Ancient Monuments Society) at Greenstreet Methodist Church.
Brian Fagg's 'Gems of Kent' attracted a near-capacity audience to Greenstreet Methodist Church. Brian, a retired surveyor and respected historian first set the scene by reminding us of past famous residents of our county from Lord Nelson to Winston Churchill.
During the evening we were treated to a kaleidoscope of slides across Kent from the Straits of Dover to the outskirts of Greater London. As the talk proceeded we travelled from the familiar Canterbury Cathedral to the unfamiliar iron railings from St. Paul's Cathedral, now decorating a Lamberhurst street. We looked at the smallest public house at Aylesford, where only six people can stand at any one time and at Kent's highest windmill in Cranbrook. There were reminders of wartime Kent with a defence pillbox in a front garden in Pluckley which looked as if it had been erected by Dad's Army and a tank adorning a roundabout on the outskirts of Ashford. Some of the slides combined the old and the new such as one illustrating a modern Power Station viewed through the window of the Roman ruins of Richborough Castle. Some of the pictures showed typical local scenes such as a fruit orchard around Newington Church, a Kentish oast house and different aspects of the hop industry from the Hop Museum at Beltring.
There were unusual pictures too. The audience was interested to see the line up of old red BT telephone boxes at Teynham Station waiting to be taken, by rail, to their new destinations all over the world. Many of those present remembered seeing this strange sight.
My particular favourite 'gem' of the evening was a delightful slide taken inside St. Thomas a Becket church at Fairfield with its white painted box pews. It reminded me that I must go and see more of these unique Romney Marsh churches.
This was, of course, a personal selection of Brian's 'gems' and we must thank him for sharing these with us. However, I am sure that every person who came to the presentation could come up with his or her own personal gems of Kent, all of which would be different. We are truly lucky to live in a county that provides us with so much interesting history, archaeological treasures and breathtaking scenery.
RECORDING GRAVESTONES - MONUMENTAL INSCRIPTIONS WORKSHOP - 17 May
Project to recording monuments & inscriptions in Lynsted Church churchyard. Project leaders, Bob and Norma Baxter
The Churchyard Monumental Inscriptions project for the Church of SS Peter and Paul, Lynsted, Kent, was completed in the Autumn of 2009. Visit the web-based project.
The Monumental Inscriptions Working Group completed its survey in October 2009. The next stage is to transfer that data into an A5 booklet of text that will be available for personal retention at a modest charge to cover the cost of printing and postage. It is also the intention that an archived version will be lodged in the Church for use by visitors, which includes the inscription data in A4 format together with corresponding photographs. We shall also publish on this web site once all production, proof-reading and photographic recording is complete. [Last updated 5th June 2011 - new Stones for David & Peggy Bage]
First formed after our training event (5th May 2007) Members were invited to join a group to build a record of monumental inscriptions in Lynsted churchyard before they deteriorate even further. With over half the 182 gravestones catalogued before the winter month, there is still much to be done in 2008 with the warmer weather. It is our wish to record for posterity the inscriptions on the graveyard stones at the Church of SS Peter and Paul in Lynsted.
We hope during 2008 to record the remaining stones, re-assessing the 'difficult', badly weathered ones, preparing a map of the graveyard - and publication.
Norma and Bob Baxter thought it would be a good idea to have a session 'on-site' to launch the 2008 programme (17th May), compare notes and experiences on methods - and welcome members who would like to help with this fascinating project. The techniques are fairly simple, and these can be demonstrated at the session. There is a danger of damaging the very lettering one is attempting to decipher, however, so basic methods need to be understood. Anyone interested in joining one of our recording teams, helping in other ways, offering suggestions, or is simply curious, would be warmly welcome to join us. Equipment will be provided.
On 5th May 2007, Margaret Burns, of the Kent Family History Society, led a fascinating two-hour presentation that included a walk around the graveyard to see examples of problems we will face and techniques to unravel the more difficult inscriptions. There is a wide range of stones, ages and inscriptions; the stones are still (as yet) in family groups, though many are in an advanced state of decay. These Monuments and inscriptions are a priceless record of local history and it is important that they are recorded for the future. This permanent record would be available to all, in perpetuity.
Here is a short report on the training presentation and some Practical Hints offered by Margaret Burns. Memorials inside the church can be seen here.
EARLY MORNING BIRDSONG - 24th May
Members enjoyed a 7 am start for bird spotting and woodland walk near Kingsdown Farm. Somewhat blighted by the level of motorway noise nearby. No Report.
VINTAGE BUS TRIP TO BATTLE & HASTINGS - Saturday 30th August
The Members' enjoyed a day out to historic Battle and seaside Hastings. David Powell again kindly made available his 1947 vintage
Leyland Titan double-decker bus for a nostalgic owner-driven spin through the countryside of Kent and Sussex. No Report.
SOCIETY BOOKLET, AGM, AND "AT HOME" - 24th October
The Committee celebrated the careful and popular Chairmanship of Bob Baxter who stepped down in accordance with the Constitution after five years. We also celebrated the kind support of our thriving membership, by publishing a small booklet to coincide with this year's AGM (downloadable PDF file). As with previous years, the AGM was pretty short, with new Chairman, Neil Anderson, elected with some changes in Committee membership followed by an enjoyable "at home" with presentations, illustrations and reflections.
FROM MANSION TO PUBLIC PARK - 19th November
Helen Allinson spoke about King George's Playing Field, Sittingbourne.
From Mansion to Public Park - the story of King George V Playing Fields, Sittingbourne
Helen Allinson presented a highly entertaining, expert and revealing story about the King George V Playing Field in Sittingbourne - From Mansion to Public Park (19 November 2008).
Helen began and ended with a clarion call for an interpretation board in the Park so that the fascinating story and relics surrounding the park can be more widely and readily understood. A sentiment that the audience fully endorsed.
The talk was liberally illustrated with early images showing how the farmland (now largely developed) once supported a medieval, then thatched Tudor and finally a grand 18th-century mansion. All that remains of the mansion are the stables - now used for a variety of purposes - and the base of four pillars that once graced the portico entrance to the mansion.
We learned how the ownership moved through each rebuilding from the AttaGore family, Thomas Roydon of East Peckham, Colonel Harper, Frank Bradley (farmer), and George Smeed (once a smuggler then a self-made man in bricks, barges and cement - much sneered at by the local gentry). Before Smeed, we learned of the strong connection between Indian Raj and the mansion and its occupation - the money made in the Empire led to the grand developments (including moving a lane away from the mansion by 150 yards so that the poor people shouldn't be too close!).
The surrounding farmland gradually diminished and became encroached upon as Sittingbourne grew until only the open space we see today remained at the time of the death of King George V when many civic authorities bought land for public parks to commemorate the King. Otherwise, this land would almost certainly have been further developed in line with the comfortable and well-built houses that now surround the Park.
The land surrounding the 18th-century Mansion lent itself to sports and fetes over the years (with many thousands joining the fetes at the height of their popularity in the 19th century). The tradition was enthusiastically supported by George Smeed, who dismayed the local gentry by his annual invitation to people from the local workhouse to enjoy the grounds and receive gifts.
In its declining years, the mansion went through several unsuccessful auctions and was at times occupied by tenant farmers. During the First World War (1914-18), the mansion had just ceased to be used as a school (Bomber Harris attended that school) and was taken over by the army. We enjoyed the photographs of tents on the grounds! The army was a popular addition in many ways as they brought with them entertainment and a lively social life.....
In 1926 the house was demolished and the materials used elsewhere in buildings that sprang up in the parcels of land that were taken by developers. We heard how one family quite recently dug up their concreted garden to find a large medieval brick floor (the bricks being sold on as they are much sought after!).
And so the lecture closed, with recollections from several in the audience of their own use in recent times of this lively and popular public space. Several of the audience sought out the historical narratives that Helen has committed to books.