A Brief History of East Farleigh - Farleighs' History Society

Ancient to Roman Times

Roman Kent in 410 - sourced from www.wikipedia.org

The Medway Valley has been occupied from ancient times and many palaeolithic tools have been found in Coxheath. Quarry Wood camp (once part of East Farleigh), in Loose, was a late Iron Age oppidum, or proto-town constructed around 40BC which would have served the typically dispersed villages and farmsteads of these times although no Iron Age roundhouses have been discovered in the parish, to date.

In Roman times, villas and temples were spread along the banks of the Medway and archaeological investigation is currently underway on what appears to be a dwelling and several farm buildings just off Lower Road. In Roman times, the quarry off Dean Street produced ragstone for London's buildings and walls as well as the shore forts of Reculver and Richborough and it has been suggested that the Roman farm in East Farleigh provided food for the workers in the quarry. Roman pottery and coins have been discovered in several sites throughout the village and two cremation urns have been found in Gallants Lane.

Medieval Period to English Civil War

St Mary's Church in East Farleigh - photo by Adam Palmer

In 961, East Farleigh manor was given by Queen Ediva, the mother of king Edmund, to Christ church Canterbury. Following the conquest, the manor is listed in the Domesday Book and was held by Bishop Odo of Bayeaux (also Archbishop of Canterbury), William's half-brother. Mention is made of 110 villagers and slaves, (but probably only counts the men of the parish), 4 mills, 6 fisheries producing 1200 eels pa, woodland for 145 pigs and a church. In the Domesday Book the village is called Ferlaga; usually translated from Saxon as “the way of the passage” (over the river) or from Gaelic as a “clearing in the woods (or grass, or alder)”. By 1300 it is referred to as Fearnlega in the Book of the Church of Rochester and on a map of 1575 as East Farly.

In about 1120, The Normans rebuilt the Saxon church; all that remains of the original is a little tufa stonework on the outside of the north-west corner. The tower was added in the 12th century and the aisles in 1835.

The medieval bridge is said to be the finest in Southern England. Although it is unsure exactly when it was built, the earliest known mention of the bridge dates from 1324. General Fairfax crossed Farleigh Bridge on 1st June 1648 to outflank the Earl of Norwich whose Royalist troops were camped on Penenden Heath. Significant numbers of cannon balls have been recovered from the area surrounding the bridge together with a handgun (now lost). Trenches dug on the Barming side of the bridge produced many bones of men and horses as well as a canon which was kept outside the Victory pub for many years. It is clear that there was Royalist opposition at the bridge but Fairfax reported the crossing was relatively easy. The subsequent Battle of Maidstone was one of the fiercest fought of the civil war starting at 7pm and finishing at midnight in St Faith's churchyard with the Royalist surrender.

19th and 20th Centuries

Memorial Cross for Cholera Victims in St Mary's Church East Farleigh - photo by Adam Palmer
In 1801, the population of the village was 642. Over the next 30 years it more than doubled to 1,461 and on to a peak of 1,668 in 1881. This increase in population matches the increase in hop production which the tythe map of 1841 shows covered 25% of all land in the parish (40 years before peak production). The last village oast house ceased working in 1977 and today no hops are grown in the parish. In 1849, an outbreak of cholera among the hoppers resulted in 45 deaths, 43 of whom are buried in a communal grave under a wooden memorial in St Mary's churchyard. Edith Cavell was one of the nurses who treated the victims and received an award for doing so. Two sons of William Wilberforce, both of whom were vicars of East Farleigh, are buried in St Mary's churchyard. William Wilberforce himself spent some time at The Old Rectory shortly before he died.

The village's first “school” was in the church porch. Around 1820, a National School was established next to the Old Vicarage where it remained until 1846. As a result of a public subscription raised by Rev. Henry Wilberforce, a new school was built next to the church (now the church hall). The school was re-sited in 1930 to its present location but burnt to the ground in 1953. As a temporary measure the school moved back to the Victorian school house until the new brick-built school was finished in 1956.

April 2009
Duncan Spencer
Farleighs' History Society

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