The history of the village of Burham can be traced back to Roman times. AD43 saw the Battle of the Medway at the crossing point on the River Medway where Burham is now situated, when the invading Roman legions, advancing west across Kent, were confronted by a massed army of the ancient British Tribes. The Roman victory altered the course of history in Britain, and the remains of Roman buildings have been found in Burham and the neighbouring village of Eccles.
There has been a Settlement in Burham since Saxon times, “ham” being the Saxon word for “Settlement” – the “Bur” part of the name comes from “Burgh”, or Borough, referring to the Borough of Rochester. The name “Burham” literally means “the village near the borough”.
In the Eleventh century the village of Burham belonged to the Earl Leofwine who was the brother of King Harold. He was killed along with his brother at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086 for William the Conqueror. It is listed as having six Sulings (about 240 acres) of land. There were two major farms, 15 “Villeins” each farming 30 acres and 20 “Borderers” each farming about 5 acres. There was a church and a Mill with woodland sufficient to support 20 Hogs.
Around 1830 Burham became a “Cement Village” on the Medway, after the discovery of the manufacturing technique for Portland Cement (so called because of its resemblance to Portland Stone). Some interesting memorabilia from Burham’s Cement Industry days in the form of Tokens for the local stores have been found recently.
By 1841 the village’s population had grown to 380 and increased to a maximum of 1725 in 1901. Today it is around about 1300.
More recently the village has been hit by tragedy when the Kent Air Ambulance crashed in July 1998, killing all three crew members.
The below was taken from the Burham community trail leaflet
About the village
The village of Burham lies at the foot of the Kent Downs and beside the River Medway in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This special position in the Medway Valley has shaped the village over centuries as a place of both farming and industry. Over 3,000 years ago people settled here using the fertile bank to grow crops, and the downs for animal grazing; later Bronze and Iron Age peoples manufactured shale bracelets here; 19th-century Burham saw dramatic change, with the establishment of the brick and cement works. But throughout its existence, Burham has also continued to be an agricultural area.
1100 – 700BC Bronze and Iron Age people settle here, on a site established by earlier Neolithic settlers – the first farmers. The late Bronze Age brings the beginnings of industry to Burham.
AD 43 Battle of the Medway takes place at Burham. British tribes led by King Caractacus fail to halt the Roman advance, significantly affecting the course of English history and leading to the Roman occupation.
1066 Burham belonged to Leofwine, brother of Harold II, who was also killed at the Battle of Hastings. In the 1086 Domesday Book it is listed as having two major farms, a church, a mill, and woodland sufficient to feed 20 hogs.
1400s Pilgrims on their way to Canterbury cross the Medway here, possibly using Burham church, and Snodland church on the opposite bank, for shelter.
1820s Beginnings of Burham’s industrialisation. Lime burning works established at Burham Court Farm, where land is described as ‘an inexhaustible mine of the chalk esteemed the most valuable for making lime.’
1901 Burham’s population increases to a maximum of 1725, having grown from only 380 villagers before the advent of the cement and brick industry. Today around 1,300 people live in Burham.
2016 Peters Village is being built with road links across the Medway towards Snodland. The village will be built on the former Peters Wouldham Hall Cement Works site, Work on a £50m new village and bridge over the River Medway started in 2014. Peters Village, near Wouldham in Kent, will be made up of more than 1,000 homes, at least 25% of them “affordable”, the developers Trenport said.
The new Medway Valley Crossing, with a separate cycle track and footpath, will link the A228 to the village.
The plans were approved in 2006 but postponed due to the economic downturn.
The project, which received £19.5m from the government, is due to be completed around 2022.
The plans were approved in 2006 but postponed due to the economic downturn
Memories of Burham life
There was no electricity in the village before 1936 and the streets were lit by gas lamps. The lamplighter lived at 269 Rochester Road.
One night two young men went out to Street Farm to steal swede which then cost 2d each. Times were bad and they needed food, so used to steal and poach whenever they could. They filled their sack and on their way home stopped at the war memorial gates where there was a gaslight. They looked into the sack at their haul, only to find that instead of swede they had stolen mangoldwurzel (cattle feed). Disappointed, they dumped the sack over the church wall, to be found by the vicar the next morning. The now elderly gentleman who told this tale with a grin on his face was one of the young thieves. They were so poor and had no food, they had to take risks. Times were tough after the war, but poaching was frowned upon by the landowners. If you poached a rabbit which was worth 6d you were fined 10 shillings. This same gentleman told me that his father took a fallen tree for firewood from the woods, and was fined 10 shillings, but luckily the wood he sold gave him a profit.
Before the second world war fish cost 2d and chips were 1d. There were two fish and chip shops in Baker Street. Mr and Mrs Turner used their front room as a fish and chip shop. Then they bought the Cream House and sold groceries as well as fish and chips.
Workers at the brick factory were allowed to draw their wages before pay day, usually for beer. There was even a token given out to spend in the ale houses.
In the early 19th century much of the natural woodland and scrub covering the top of the downs was cleared for agriculture. New woodlands of chestnut and ash were coppiced to produce hop poles, which were in demand in the Medway Valley.
Rose Villa was built for the first works manager, William Varney. Built of flint and chalk, its remnants could still be seen in the 1980s. Its water wheel is now in Brenchley Gardens, Maidstone.
In 1852 Burham became the site of the most advanced brickworks in the world, producing up to 30 million bricks per year! The Burham Brick, Lime and Cement Company was founded by Thomas Cubitt, architect of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House.
Although the bricks were made entirely by machine, the company employed up to 700 men and boys, including local agricultural workers who had previously relied on casual seasonal work. Skilled positions such as that of foreman and manager were usually filled by Londoners. Some workers travelled from as far as Maidstone. Landowners limited the building of workers’ housing in Burham itself, but dwellings were built on land nearby, developing the settlement of Eccles, then by the 1880s workers’ houses were also built in Burham.
The Burham Brick, Lime and Cement Company appears to have been quite self-sufficient – expansion into barge-building and engineering created transport for its products and produced the machinery for brick and cement manufacture. Formerly a quiet rural village, Burham must have been transformed into a hive of industry. It had a busy wharf and quay; tramways ran between the chalk quarries and the works; it seems that everything ran like clockwork and it was praised as being a “model brickworks”.
Until the mid-19th century the parish of Burham was held between a few landowners. The holder of the largest share was the Earl of Aylesford who, with the passing of the Enclosures Act in 1813, was able to secure Burham Common for his own use, rather than for the use of the villagers. He combined this with some of his other land to create Street Farm.
What remains of Street Farm (now only 80 acres) is run as a riding stables. It is on the opposite side of the road from where the farmstead, with its large pond and surrounding orchards, was sited.
There is no working farm based in Burham today, but the land is worked by farmland tenants who live in Wouldham and Aylesford.