The Larkfield Society

Where memories are recalled

East Malling Highway and Byway Names

Every village has its HIGH STREET, and most have several street names with origins sufficiently obvious for the caution usually needed with seemingly obvious places name derivations to be safely dispensed with. In East Malling these streets are mainly associated with buildings.

CHURCH WALK leads to the parish church of Saint James.

There is still a mill in MILL STREET. Corn was ground there until a little over two decades ago.’ It is now a builders’ workshop.

The Victorian chapel in CHAPEL STREET was demolished in the late sixties, though part of the front wall is still standing.

WATERINGBURY ROAD is, as its name implies, the road to Wateringbury. It is by this description, not by a name that is shown on the map of Isaac Gostling’s survey of 1706, though Gostling marked the stretch from the village to the cross-roads as “the road to the Heath”.

CLARE LANE is that part of the road to West Malling which runs by the park of Clare House, a Regency mansion, formerly the home of the Wigan family.

There are other streets and lanes named after natural features.

ROCKS ROAD is a reminder that East Malling is on the Greensand Ridge, and outcrops of Kentish ragstone are visible along the verges.

WELL STREET takes its name from the stream, once a mill stream, which rises there. (Old English ‘“well” had the meanings “stream” or “spring”.) It is now a watercress bed and there is no longer any visible trace of the mills that stood on its banks here until at least the eighteenth century though, further along, it is this stream that worked the mill in Mill Street. Well Street is really a detached hamlet some distance from the village, and its rural character prompts -the question why it should be a “street” not, as would seem more appropriate, a “lane”. Originally, Old English “street” came to be used for any paved road. There is no evidence that Well Street was ever a Roman road, and much to suggest that it was not. It is a fair assumption, then, that it was a made-up road in the Middle Ages.

This would support the writer’s, as yet very tentative, theory a once a cloth centre, one of those Kentish places or which it was said: –

“I thank my God, and ever shall,

“It was the sheep that paid for all”.

All the land adjoining THE HEATH is now cultivated, but on the map of 1706, where this lane is shown merely as “The road from Well Street”, a large tract of land on its southern side is marked “East Malling Hoath”. There are references to East Malling Hoath or Heath in other old documents, including mention of a review of the militia there.

There is some water beside BROADWATER ROAD, but it hardly merits the description “broad”. At some time in the past it may have been drained, or its source has diminished.

The origin of the name BLACKLANDS remains obscure. It is possibly descriptive of the dark marshy land which is now a lake, and beside which this lane runs. Further north, just beyond the Parish Boundary and towards the Medway, is a district shown on eighteenth century maps as “The Black Brooks”. There can be little doubt that both names have a common provenance.

A third group of names are more generally descriptive.

PIKEY LANE might be a trap for any place-name researcher who was not familiar with Kentish dialect. It suggests “Pike Stream”, “ea” being Old English for “river”, and usually rendered in modern spelling as “ey”. But “pikey” is an old Kentish word, still to be heard in East Malling, for “gipsy”. This quiet lane, away from buildings, but not far from running water and close to hop gardens and the vanished heath, was no doubt once a haunt of gipsies.

SWEETS LANE, until very recently, ran from “The Rocks” at the top of Rocks Road to the Wateringbury Road where it forms a cross-roads with The Heath. When the Council erected road signs a few years ago, either by mistake or odd intention, a long stretch of Sweets Lane as far as the junction with Easterfields (q.v.) was re-named “Rocks Road”, so that Sweets Pond is now in Rocks Road. The old form “of the name was SWEECH, and the 1706 map shows “Sweech Barn” across the lane from the pond. It is thought that “sweech” which occurs in several place-names in Kent, derives” from the Old English SWICE (which would have been” pronounced very much like “sweech-e”) “Swice” had several meanings, and in some place-names “trap” or “snare” is considered the most likely. It also meant “escape” or “departure”, and since Sweets Lane leads away from the parish, this meaning seems rather more appropriate in the East Malling occurrence of the name. However, this derivation must be treated with slight reserve. On the map drawn by Abraham Walter in 1699, both the pond and the barn are named SWITCH. This raises the question whether “Switch” was the original name in the sense “tum” or “bend”, and Sweets Lane certainly describes a half-circle. But it is improbable that a contemporary term like “switch” would give way to an archaic form like “sweech”. It is therefore thought more likely that Abraham Walter misspelt “Sweech” as “Switch”.

SWEET LIPS is the local name for a narrow lane leading roughly eastwards from Sweets Lane and which dwindles into a footpath to Oaken Wood and a farm track to Easterfields.  It ‘ clearly a charming corruption of SWEETS SLIP, “slip” having the sense “side road” or “way round” (as in Nuntslip Road, Dulwich which, incidentally, is now used by motorists to slip -round London’s only remaining toll gate).

It is tempting to surmise that EASTERFIELDS is the sole English place-name commemorating EOSTRA, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, after whom the Christian festival is somewhat incongruously named. But the origin is almost certainly much more prosaic, and no early reference to the name has been‘, traced. Although this lane is south-east of the village, it leads out of the parish eastwards to Ditton. The name is considered to be simply a contraction of “eastern fields”. When some of the older villagers were boys, and Easterfields was one of their favoured haunts, the place was known to them as “Giblets”. What this fading local name may have had a sinister origin in “gibbet” is supported by the field-name of the adjoining orchard – “Hangman’s”. This orchard is, however, on sloping ground and it is possible that “Hangman’s” is a fanciful rendering of “Hanger” from Old English “Hangra” meaning “slope”.

COUCH GREEN is shown on Isaac Gostling’s map of 1706, on the map of the Andrews, Dury and Herbert survey of Kent, 1769, and in Hasted, 1797, as CROUCH GREEN. It can therefore be safely accepted that the present from is a corruption of CROUCH. It is significant that is pronounced “cooch” (like the twitch grass, not like the furniture). In the absence of a record of the ancient spelling, its derivation presents several choices, the evidence ‘for each of which would appear to stand but for the conflicting evidence of the others. The Brithonic word CRUC had the meanings “hill” “hillock”, “mound” or “barrow”. Middle English CRUCHE meant “cross” and was derived from Latin CRUCIS by way of Old French. (In “Piers Plowman” the Pilgrim had “many a cruche on his cloke”.) Crouch Green is just low “Pine Tor”, a hillock which has all the appearances of a pre-historic site: it is therefore a good candidate for the Brithonic “cruc”, though Celtic survivals are rare in Kentish place names. It is at a cross-roads formed by the junction of Springetts’s Hill and Winterfield Lane with Clare Lane. It might well have been the site of a wayside cross since it is near the western parish boundary on the road approaching Malling Abbey. It could therefore have a double title to an origin in “cruche”. There is the further possibility that the place derived its name from someone named Crouch who lived there. Dr. Basil Cottle gives the derivation of the surnames Crouch and Croucher, like Cross, as “dweller by a market/wayside” cross or crossroads.” If such a dweller were traced, we should then be left to speculate whether he gave his name to the place, or his name derived from his living there.

WINTERFIELD LANE is evidently named after a nearby field “used in winter” by analogy with examples of names in WINTER quoted by the English Place-Names Society and by Ekwall.

NEW ROAD runs from the village centre to the London Road at Larkfield, skirting the park of “Bradbourne”, the manor house rebuilt by Sir Thomas Twisden in 1715. It is, of course, not unusual for the name “New” to have assumed respectable antiquity by the twentieth century as, for example, New College, Oxford (1380), the New Inn, Gloucester (circa 1455) and, nearer home, Newchurch, Kent, which is recorded in Domesday. Sir Roger Twisden found that the public highway passed too close to the windows of the earlier building; so in 1676 he obtained a Royal Licence to divert the highway between East Malling Cross and Larkfield to its present route. It was then in fact, as it remains in name, New Road.

EAST MALLING CROSS at the crossroads formed by the junction of the High Street, Church Walk, New Road and Mill Street, is a name no longer heard. The 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 war memorial on the small village green no doubt stands near the site of a mediaeval cross.

Of particular interest are the names which preserve the memory of former inhabitants. In East Malling they tend to be yeomen or craftsmen rather than gentry.

GILLETTS HOLE was re-named, regrettably, GILLETTS LANE when the bungalows went up. The parish register records that a daughter of John Gillet was buried in May 1594, and that Nicholas Gillet’s son John was baptised in December 1640.

STICKENS LANE takes its name from another local family. John and Mary Stickens had their daughter Mary christened in April 1731, and an entry in 1733 recalls the countryman’s pronunciation of the name of Mary’s new brother: “‘May ye 16, Baptz. Henery ye son of John Stickens and Mary his wife”.

SPRINGETTS HILL sets unsporting snares. It would be reasonable, and quite possibly correct, to assume that SPRINGETT derives from SPRING GATE, especially as the name Springate is pronounced “Springett” in Kent. Springate Farm is in Springetts Hill and according to the parish register John Pollard married Rebecca Springate in October 1694. It might seem safe to leave it at that; but the register also records, on 12th July 1797, the marriage of “John Springer of the parish of Ticehurst in the County of Sussex, bachelor, and Ann Huntly of this parish, Spinster”. John signs his name “Spingett” as it is spelt today. It is, of course, possible that John originally came of the East Malling ‘family of Springate, and that in the century between the two entries in the register the Ticehurst family changed the spelling of the name, though usage, to Springett.

JOAN-A-PLAIN-LANE is shown on Isaac Gostlings map of 1706 as leading southwards from the junction of The Heath, Well Street and Pikey Lane. All that remains now is merely a rough, nameless track, ceasing to be distinguishable as a path as it leads into the orchards adjoining West Malling airfield. The origin of its intriguing name has yet to be traced.

LUCK’S HILL crosses the parish boundary into West Malling. It really belongs to that parish, at least by name. In the parish church of West Malling there is a memorial Sacred to the memory of Thomas Luck, Esqre, or Went House in this Parish, who died Nov. 13th, 1857, aged 92 years ….” Went House stands at the West Malling end of Luck’s Hill. The name occurs also in Ditton and East Malling and it is interesting, if not entirely relevant, to observe that the room, once a solar, or the mediaeval house in which these notes are being written was, for about two decades up to 1968 the bedroom of Miss June Luck. Post-war development to the north of the village has added many new roads to the parish. Today their names hold no interest; but in the time of the first Sovereign Lady Elizabeth, to anyone concerned with place-names Gillett’s Hole would have held as little interest.

Acknowledgements. This little piece of place-names research owes much to the Vicar of East Malling who gave access to his copy of the parish register, to the invaluable facilities provided by the Kent County Archives Office, and to the writer’s friends in the village for unrecorded information.


Sinclair Williams,

East Malling,

September 1970.

Updated: 5th January 2017 — 11:50 am

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