The Larkfield Society

Where memories are recalled

Derbies Well Street East Malling – A potted history from Mr Sinclair-Williams former occupant.


There is evidence to suggest that Well Street is a remnant of a Roman road. The Saxon term ‘streat’ was used in rural areas only for ‘made up‘ roads, and after the departure  the Romans and until the advent of Macadam there were no rural metalled roads in England. Less than a foot below the present road surface of Well Street there is a stone paved or cobbled road. The stones are rounded by wear. This old stone road extends under the front garden of Derbies.

Derbies was built in several stages to become eventually e cross-wing hall house. The oldest part is the eastern end of the cross wing, now the dining room with the former solar over. The original massive ground-cills survive on its northern end western sides, and the original corner posts survive at each end of the northern wall. The original bressumer on this northern wall has the mortice end peg holes of the original close studding. Although the floor level has been lowered slightly, the bressumer shows that the ceiling level was originally very low, even by medieval standards, suggesting that the original little house may have been an upper-floor hall – A type of building extremely rare here in Kent. The upper room has moulded wall-plates and tie-beam. The tie-beam formed part of a simple speer screen. Above is s splendid sans purlin roof with braced collars. This type of roof became obsolete in Kent with the introduction of crown posts with a centre purlin, round about the year 1350, Anachronistic sans purlin roofs are known in various parts of England and have been dated as late as the sixteenth century; but these would have been “poor man‘s” roofs. The heavy scantling of the heart oak used for Derbies’ roof, the use of braces for the collars, and the moulding of the wall plates exclude the possibility that this archaic style of roof was built to save money. Furthermore, there can be little possibility that it was built in ignorance of what might then have been new building methods; not only was Kent in the fore front of building techniques throughout the Middle Ages, but Derbies was built on lands of Malling Abbey, and before 1490, as we shall see, it was occupied by a mason who very probably worked for the Abbess. Again, the house opposite (‘The Barracks‘) has two fine crown-post roofs, and there are other crown post roofs, all dating from the fourteenth century, in East Malling and West Malling. A small pottery shard found in the garden of Derbies, and which may be evidence of early occupation of the site, was firmly dated by the curator and the archaeologist of Maidstone Museum as between ‘1250 and 1560 – “earlier rather than later,“ All the evidence, therefore, points to the oldest part of Derbies dating from around 1500 or perhaps earlier.

This little hall-house was extended westwards at an uncertain date, though still in the Middle Ages. The main range (present sitting; room etc.) was built as an open hall as the third stage, still probably medieval. The western extension of the original hall, which new forms the cross wing, was then probably used as service rooms (buttery and larder) with a ladder type stairway leading to the chamber over, and the solar. This explains the sewn joists with mortice holes.

The new hall was ceiled over probably around 1600 or perhaps earlier. It will be noticed that although the joists (forming the ceiling of the present sitting room) are morticed into the beam over the fireplace, they only rest on the bressumer of the medieval wall at the northern end. The chimney and fireplaces in the ceiled over hall (present sitting room) and chamber above would have been constructed at the same time.
Although brickwork is not regarded as every reliable guide to dating, the piers of the ‘inglenook’ fireplace, chimney and fireplace in this chamber (present main bedroom} are built with 2-inch ‘bricks which appear to be hand shaped. These bricks certainly indicate an early date, possibly Tudor. It will be noticed that there is a deep indentation in the bricks of the main bedroom chimney pier; it has been used to sharpen tools or knives. It has been said that when open halls were ceiled over, at first there was some uncertainty about the best use to which the new upper room should be put. Sometimes they were used as mere stores, sometimes they became workshops. It will be seen later that Derbies was at various times occupied by craftsmen. At about the time of this late Tudor or early Jacobean “modernisation” a frieze window was cut in the northern wall of what is now the dining room, the upper part of which out into the bressumer soffit. The recently uncovered three-light window with lamb s tongue moulded oak mullions in the northern wall of the chamber over the service rooms possibly dates from the same time. It was designed for leaded lights (the diagonal oak bars are modern – the originals would have been iron glazing bars. The timber frame was infilled with bricks at an uncertain date, probably replacing wattle. The grooves for the hazel wands of’ the wattle can be seen in that pert of the exposed western ground cill which serves as the threshold of what is now the door of the dining room.

These alterations possibly took place then the house was repaired after a fire. The nondescript roof over the main range includes much reused oak, some of which is scorched. There are deep scorch marks in the bressumer of the former service rooms where flames have swept downwards between the joists. There is a

reference to “one piece of land and a garden lying in Well Street celled Burnthouse Crofte” in an East Malling will dated 1618,

That the original house had moulded woodwork other than that which survives in the solar is suggested by the moulded timbers, re-used with the moulding inwards, in various partition walls upstairs. These partition walls are, judging from their poor workmanship, seventeenth century reconstruction after the fire.

The outshot (the present kitchen) was added possibly in the late seventeenth century or early eighteenth century. The earlier date is suggested by the use of oak rather than softwood. The date of the southern massive stone well is uncertain. Quite late in its history the front of the timber framed building was enclosed in very hard brick. The vaguely Georgian fenestration almost certainly dates from that time. Under the roof of the outshot the brick infilled timber frame as it appeared in the seventeenth century is undisturbed. The rendering over the rest of the exterior is modern.

Derbies is unusually well documented for a house of its size and origins. It is easily identified in surveys as it was always bordered by demesne lends to the north end east, the highway to the west and an ancient farm (now Springhead Farm) to the south.

The earliest known reference occurs in a rental of the manor of East Malling drawn up for Malling Abbey in 1410. Translated from the highly abbreviated medieval Latin, it reads:

“John Derby holds in messuage, and within the same place, 1 acre and 3 roods. Best land. The same in croft at Goderystreet 2 acres, medium land. Sum: 9d farthing.”

(The original of this is copied over the fireplace in the present dining room.) There is later evidence to prove that this entry refers to Derbies; but it is also suggested by the rental itself since than it was, as it remains, the third holding up Well Street from the springhead. This rental has now been published in translation in volume XXI of the ‘Kent Records‘ series of the Kent Archaeological Society (1979) pp. 27-78 – probably now in the local library, certainly at Springfield.

Thomas Cowhert, a mason, died in the parish of St. Oleve, Southwark, in 1490. As he was an East Malling man, it seems likely that he was working for the Abbess of West Malling who had property there. His will provided for the sale of his “tenement with.appurtenances celled Derbies sett in Well Strete in ye poch of Est Malling in the Countie of Kent that is to wit Betwene the Lende late of John Dene ayenst the South.and the Land late of Henry Lynch toward the Est and North mid the

Kynges high Wey there towards ye West ..,” These bounds remained virtually unchanged until after the Tithe Survey in 1839/42, where Derbies is accurately and clearly drawn on the map – though by then its ancient name had been forgotten.‘ With evidence of the derivation of the name in the 1410 rental, the house is firmly identified with the house to which the name “Derbies” has been restored (An extract from the will of Thomas Cowhert was published in Archaeologia Cantiana vol. XXIII, 1892, but the name appears there as “Desbies“. This was a misreading of medieval short R (r) as S.

No references to Derbies in the sixteenth century have been traced. There is evidence that it was occupied by a John Boorman some time before 1609, end Edmund Peirson, a carpenter, who died in 1638.

In 1646, Thomas Piggott, a yeoman of Withyham, Sussex, conveyed to Moses Tomlyn, a yeoman of East Malling “All That one Messuage or Tenement, one Barne, one Garden, one Orchard and Two severall peeces or percells of lend conteyning by estimacon Three acres … at or neere unto a certaine place called Well Streete in the parishe of Eastmallinge aforesaid Abbuttinge and bonndinge to the Kings highe way there towards the West To file lands of Anne Manningham widdow towards the North and East and to

the lands of the said Moses Tomlyn towards the south … late in the tenure of Susan Mills, widow …“ From other sources we know that Anne Manningham owned the land to the north and east of Derbies, and Moses Tomlyn owned what is now Springhead Farm to the south. The Manningham family at that time held Bradbourne and the manor of East Malling.

But this conveyance of Darbies may have been merely a mortgage for in 1659, James Peirson, a carpenter, of St. Margaret’s near Rochester, and evidently either the son or grandson of Edmond Pierson (see above), conveyed to the Brothers William Tomlyn, yeomen of East Malling, Moses Tomlyn, yeoman of Basildon, Essex, and Walter Tomlyn, yeoman of East Malling “All that one Messuage or Tenement One Barne One Garden.One Orchard and two severall peeces or parcells of lend conteyning by estimation Three acres … At or neere unto a certeyne streete called Wellstreet in.the parishe of Eastmalling aforesaid Abutting to the high there towards the West To the lanes of Thomas Twisden Serieant at Law towards the North and East and

the lane of William Tomlyn towards the South .3. and now or late in the occupation of John Syndersby …“ (John Syndersby was probably a carpenter — later his family certainly were carpenters.) Judge, later Sir, Thomas Twisden had acquired Bradbourne and the manor of East Malling from the Manninghams, and its estate included the land abutting Derbies to the north, and East. William Tomlyn had inherited the farm (now Springhead Farm) from his father Moses.

In 1660 the brothers Moses and Walter Tomlyn conveyed their interests in Derbies to their brother William. The wording of the deed show that like the deed of 1659, it was dervived from the deed of 1646, particularly in describing the bounds.

1n 1675, William Tomlyn, by then known as “The Elder“ bequeathed to his second son John “All that one messusge or tenement and barns end other the outhouses and buildings and also one garden and orchard and two pieces and parcells of land thereunto belonging … East Malling .. conteyning by estimation three acres … bounding and abutting to the Kings high streete there towards the west to the land now or late of Sir Thomas Twisden towards the north and east ..,“(the southern boundary is omitted). This land is exactly that which Thomas Cowhart had bequeathed in 1490, and approximates closely to the present garden of Derbies

(though this was recently widened and shortened), the adjoining is farmyard and what is now a paddock at the bottom of the garden, which, it will be found, adds up to about three acres. Observing the ancient Kentish custom of gavelkind, and to enable John to set up in e small way as a yeoman farrmer William bequeathed to him parcels of land mostly lying to the east and southeast of Derbies, named as “Pathefield“ (identical with “Parkfield“?) “Squirrells”, Dalefield“ and “Beeres Wood”, bringing John’s total holding up to around 17 acres.

A survey of the estates of Sir Roger Twisden (son of Sir Thomas) made by Abraham Walter 1680-84, and a similar survey by Issac Gostling in 1706, both show the abutment of Derbies as the land of John Tomlyn, though, because John Tomlyn, like the previous owners, was a freeholder and therefore outside the manorial demesne lands, no details are given.

In 1734, Alexender Meopham appears as a freeholder in East Malling for the “Poll for the Knights of the Shire”. He died in 1746, leaving his house and lands to his wife Ann, and on her decease to his son Thomas. We know that this was Derbies, for in 1757, Thomas Meopham the Elder of East Malling, yeomen, and Thomas Whittle of East Farleigh, yeoman, conveyed to John Edwards the Younger, of West Malling, house carpenter, a “messusge or tenement in Well Street, East Malling, with buildings, one garden, one orchard, and one hop ground, containing by estimation two acres, together with parcels of land named “Perkfield” (3 acres), “Squirrells” (4 acres}, “Dalefield” (5 acres) and “Beers Wood” (9 acres}. The property was late in the occupation of Alexander Meopham and Thomas Meopham.

No work has been done on the history of the house beyond that late, but the survey for the commutation of tithes in 1839/42 shows Derbies (plot 733} as owned by Mrs. Tansen Whittle and occupied by Thomas Webb junior. The property is described as a beer shop. Mrs. Whittle also owned the lend to the south of Derbies (the present Springhead Farm) then occupied by William Higgins , and the Twisdens still owned the land to the north and east. Mrs. Whittle is believed to have been a Tomlyn who married a descendant of Robert Whittle, vicar of East Malling from 1627 to 1679. Derbies was then still a single dwelling.

It was later divided into two cottages and so remained until it was restored to a single dwelling by the Sinclair Williams in 1969. But in the early nineteenth century The Barracks opposite Derbies was already divided into three cottages, and Mrs, Tamsen Whittle lived in the middle one. The Barracks wee restored to a single dwelling around 1969.

Like many of the very oldest houses in Kent, and in England generally Derbies has an unremarkable exterior, and has therefore escaped listing. The District Council have undertaken to view the building with this object on their next survey.

The property was listed in 1986

TQ 6956 (east side) 14/192 Derbies 12.11.86
Grade II*
House, probably containing former upper floor hall-house. C14 with additions of C15/C16 and elevations of C19. Timber-framing and rendered on rendered plinth.
Plain tiled roof, hipped to left with off-ridge stack to front, off-centre to right. Wing to left at rear with cou-pled and stacks. 2 storeys; irregular fenestration of 3 windows on 1st floor and 4 windows on ground floor, casements with segment-heads. Entrance with late C20 half-glazed door in right return front. Interior: Re-mains of upper floor hall with moulded beams and cornice in bedroom of rear wing. Uniform scantling roof above with braced collars but no purlins and no evidence of there having been any purlins. Evidence of tim-ber framing throughout building. Large stop-chamfered wooden bressumers to fireplaces in both drawing and dining rooms on ground floor. This building is listed II* due to the rarity of upper floor timber-framed halls in Kent and its early date, probably 1350-1400.

Listing NGR: TQ6943256530 Entry Name: Derbies Listing Date: 12 November 1986 Grade: II*

Source: Historic England Source ID: 1363131 English Heritage Legacy ID: 179367 Location: East Malling and Larkfield, Tonbridge and Malling, Kent, ME19

County: Kent District: Tonbridge and Malling Civil Parish: East Malling and Larkfield Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent Church of England Parish: East Malling St James Church of England Diocese: Rochester


With thanks to Christine Woodger for supplying the information

Updated: 1st December 2018 — 12:11 pm

Blog Stats

  • 39,211 hits
© The Larkfield Historical Society 2015-2018