He was Home Secretary between 1905 and 1908, and was a Conservative MP for East Kent constituencies from 1880 until 1911. He was the Chief Whip in Conservative governments between 1885 to 1892, an era of party splits and high political tension over Irish Home Rule. In 1911 he was created 1st Viscount Chilston, taking the name from his country seat, Chilston Park, which he had inherited in 1875, along with the additional surname of Douglas.
Akers-Douglas was a significant figure in his party for over thirty years, an able administrator who is credited with improving party discipline from the 1880s onwards. He was a friend of Lord Randolph Churchill, and corresponded with Lord Salisbury and Queen Victoria, as well as writing the nightly parliamentary letter to Edward VII during Balfour’s premiership.
After 1911 he retired almost entirely from public life, and he died in London in 1926.
Ellen Esther HILL was born in 1867 and married Fred BARTON in 1891. Living with his widowed mother in West Malling, Freda and her husband moved to Hadlow in 1893 and became interested in professional photography. In 1903 she became a firm friend of the notable London photographer, Henry Snowden WARD. An early member of the Royal Photographic Society, he was her mentor and instrumental in the improvement of her photography.
Between 1898-1905, Freda took many photographs of her family and friends, and in the Hadlow area. Being in demand and needing a larger property to work from, she moved, with her husband and three sons, to this house in 1905 which they rented. She set herself up as a commercial photographer under the name of Mrs Fred BARTON until her husband died in 1927, then as Freda BARTON Photographer until her death in 1940.
Her photographs include local gentry, their houses and a wide variety of subjects of exceptional quality in and around West Malling. The Freda Barton Collection is one of the very best portfolios of commercial photographs between the late 1890’s and late 1930’s providing a record of the social history of West MaIling for future generations.
THE BEATLES are generally recognised as comprising John Lennon (1940 – 1980), Paul McCartney (1942 – ), George Harrison (1943 – 2001) and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey, 1940 – ). The rock band was formed in 1960, although the individuals started playing skiffle in the late fifties. The original line-up did not include Starr, who joined in 1962. The Beatles continued as one of the foremost rock bands in the world until their break up which started in 1970. During their existence they published 12 albums in the UK and the Magical Mystery Tour in America. In 1970 their song Let it be won an Oscar for the best original song score. Amongst their many other awards were 15 Ivor Novello awards.
As well as being an album, the Magical Mystery Tour was also released as a 52 minute film. It was first shown on BBC1 on 26 December 1967 and was largely filmed at West Malling airfield, at the time a de-commissioned RAF airfield and now Kings Hill. Shortly after the beginning of the film, Ringo Starr went into a newsagent and bought tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour for himself and his “Aunt Jessie” from John Lennon. That newsagent was the Town Newsagency, then at 90 High Street, West Malling.
JOHN CUNNINGHAM was born in the middle of World War I and joined the Royal Air Force in 1935. He flew many types of aircraft and became known as a test pilot. In 1940 when he was flying Bristol Blenheims, his squadron took up night flying activities, and developed the use of the new airborne radar. In September of that year he became a Squadron Leader, and two years later a Wing Commander. Whilst flying night fighters, his squadron shot down twice the number of enemy aircraft as any other. In order to keep the advent of radar secret, the story was told that this was due to a diet of carrots to improve his night vision. This led to him becoming known as “Cats Eyes” – and it also helped to promote the value of vegetables in the diet of a population of a country at war. In 1943 he continued night flying in command of 85 Squadron based at West Malling.
Douce’s Manor was used as accommodation, and also served as the headquarters for RAF West Malling and the officers’ mess. After the war Cunningham continued flying as a test pilot and flew the world’s first jet airliner, the Comet. He never married and retired in 1980.
Also stationed at RAF West Malling between April and December 1941 was Guy Gibson, then acting Squadron Leader of 29 squadron of Bristol Beaufighters. Later Wing Commander Gibson went on to lead the famous Dam Busters raid in 1943 for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for bravery. see below for further information.
The Rt. Hon. CHARLES KENNETH DAIN C.B.E. (centre of picture) and his wife bought 58 and 56 Town Hill in 1923, this being one property. It was their home until 1956. Before retirement he was Treasurer of Uganda at Entebbe, President of the Tender Board and Controller of Savings. He was awarded a C.B.E. in 1927. He was responsible for advising the British Government on all financial matters related to the British Protectorate of Uganda. After independence, Dictator Idi Amin expelled 60,000 Asians. Many thousands of people were killed in ethnic cleansing. West Malling housed many Ugandan Asians.
Town Hill Cottage 58 and Top Hill House 56, Town Hill are Grade 2 Listed Buildings. Town Hill Cottage (No 58) was originally a detached, 16th century half-hipped house, of earlier origin with considerable surrounding land and outbuildings. In the late 18th century Top Hill House (No 56) was built as an extension to No 58 by the Martin family. Circa 1900 the property was bought by the Nevill (Earl Abergavenny) family becoming part of their Lantern Estate opposite, with Lady Agnew in residence until c.1920.
WILLIE DEDRICK was born in Snodland and died 18th March 1963 aged 77 years. His wife Doris Harriet died 2nd December 1981 aged 90 years. He was a scholar at Marlborough College and Managing Director of Snodland Paper Mill from 1919 to 1963. His father William was Managing Director before him and rebuilt the business following the disastrous fire of 1906 thus saving the livelihoods of many workers. Willie enabled the continued success of the business by links with The Times etc. A keen collector of art and antiques, he paid for the construction of windows in All Saints Snodland from medieval fragments left after a bomb blast. A beautiful window commemorating him by Moira Forsyth was installed in the ancient All Saints Church, Snodland in 1963, and a garden was built near the High Street. More information on the window can be found in Snodland Museum.
Willie Emerson Dedrick sat on the Bench at West Malling and was High Sheriff of Kent in 1952. The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular crown office. Originally the principal law officer, the role of Sheriff is now largely ceremonial.
At the end of WW2 Mrs Dedrick ceremonially planted a flowering crab apple tree at the North end of the small green on which stand the Town Sign and the Statue “Hope”. It is possible that the tree also commemorates his nephew Richard William Pearson killed in HMS Hasty off Malta June 1942 aged 22 years. The tree is still living at the date of writing.
Lord Abergavenny succeeded Willie as Chairman of Snodland Paper Mill 1963 and KJ Funnel, author of the book Snodland Paper Mill, became Managing Director.
JOHN DOWNMAN (1750 – 1824) was a minor but proliﬁc painter, primarily of portraits, carried out in pastels or watercolours, or a combination of these. His portrait style, rapid, bright and light, is instantly recognisable and became very popular with the aristocracy.
Downman studied with Benjamin West after moving to London from Lancashire in 1767, and went to Italy with Wright of Derby and others in 1773/74, returning in 1775. He initially settled in Cambridge, where he was supported by the Mortlock family, local bankers, painting a series of portraits of the family. He was in London from 1778 to 1804 before moving to West Malling (which he refers to as “Town Malling”), where his brother, Lieut-Col Francis Downman was already living at Brome House.
At Went House he enjoyed time in the garden, producing sketches of toads and robins which he had apparently tamed, and painting local personalities, including members of the Douce family into which his niece, Jane, had married; and the Larking family of Clare House, East Malling. After two years in West Malling he moved to live in the West Country, then London, Chester and Wrexham where his only daughter married and where he died.
A list of his portraits reads like a Who’s Who of the period including: Queen Charlotte; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Sarah Siddons; Horatio Nelson; Frederick The Great of Prussia; Richard Brinsley Sheridan; ‘Monk’ Lewis and so on.
Born in Minorca he was the son of the third Earl of Granard. He served on the Burford under his uncle Hon. Charles Stewart. In 1729 Stewart promoted Forbes to Lieutenant. He was Captain of the Poole, later commanding the Port Mahon, the Severn, the Tiger and the Guernsey. Commanding the Norfolk in 1742 he took part in the battle off Toulon in 1744, and gave evidence in the Parliamentary enquiry. As Rear Admiral of the Blue in 1747 he was second in command to John Byng. In 1748 he rose to Rear Admiral of the White. He became Vice-Admiral of the Blue 1755 and was elected to the Irish Parliament. Under William Pitt he became a member of the Admiralty Board. Forbes refused to sign the Death Warrant of Vice-Admiral Byng as he was convinced it was illegal. Many Europeans said that “From time to time the English hang an Admiral to encourage the rest”.
In 1758 he married Lady Mary Capel and became Admiral of the Blue, Admiral of the White 1770, and Admiral of the Fleet 1781. He bought Malling Place in 1779, where he lived until his death in 1796. He was highly respected.
Forbes passed his vast knowledge of naval matters to his friend and colleague William Locker, Horatio Nelson’s acknowledged mentor and so called “Sea Daddy”.
GUY GIBSON was born on August 12th 1918 at Simla in India. He was the son of a British civil servant. At age 6, Gibson returned to England where he had a typical middle class public school education. It was said that a tutor of Gibson owned a WWI biplane fighter and took the boys out for a spin. Perhaps this is where his love of flying came from.
He attempted to join the RAF but was rejected because he was too small. He reapplied and was accepted when he was 18. He was commissioned on 31st January 1937 and was posted to 83 Squadron after his pilot training. Coincidentally, 83 Squadron moved its Hawker Hind biplane light bombers to RAF Scampton (where 617 Squadron were later based).
In January 1939, 83 Squadron were equipped with Handley Page Hampdens. Gibson went straight into battle on the day war was declared. His was one of 27 bombers sent out over the North Sea to locate and attack the German fleet. In poor weather they found nothing and returned home deflated after ditching their bombs.
A period of inactivity followed for 83 Squadron and Gibson did not fly his next operational sortie until April 1940. While the pilots of Fighter Command waged war on the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain the pilots of Bomber Command soldiered on and Gibson completed his first tour with 83 Squadron collecting the Distinguished Flying Cross in the process.
After a brief post as a flying instructor, Gibson wanted to be back in operational action and moved to 29 Squadron flying night fighters Bristol Beaufighters from RAF Digby. He flew 99 operations for 29 Squadron during which he claimed three kills. He was promoted to Squadron leader and gained a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross.
Again he returned to flying instruction but again wanted to be back on operational flying despite having no obligation to do so after completing his two required tours. Furthermore he had seen many (if not most) of his fellow comrades with whom he started the war in their graves. Never the less he was sent to 106 Squadron at Coningsby in 1942. 106 Squadron were just having their Manchester’s replaced with new Avro Lancasters.
During the next 11 months at Coningsby and later Syerston Gibson flew 20 more operations. At the end of his third tour he had completed 170 sorties and was promoted to Wing Commander. He also added a Distinguished Service Order and bar to his decorations at the age of only 24.
Due to his formidable operational record, reputation for seeing through a task, leadership skills and experience flying the new Lancaster, Gibson was the perfect choice for Harris to lead the Dambusters. Gibson undertook command of 617 Squadron with no idea of the task ahead. Unusually Gibson was given the authority to pick his own new Squadron.
Gibson flew only the Dambusters raid with 617 Squadron despite them flying more precision bombing missions after. The success of the Dambusters eclipsed Gibson’s previous outstanding record and gave him a place in history. He was awarded the Victoria Cross; the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was now the most highly decorated pilot in the RAF and a national hero.
Gibson could have seen out the rest of the war from a desk but as in the past he wanted to be back on operational duty. He managed to get a post at a Lincolnshire bomber base at East Kirkby on a strictly non-operational basis. It would have been a serious blow to British moral and boost for German propaganda if he had been killed or captured and taken prisoner of war. Cochrane and Harris knew this but after persistent pestering from Gibson they decided to let him lead a bomber squadron into Germany.
On September 19th 1944, Gibson led a huge force into Germany as master bomber to attack railways and industrial targets at Monchengladbach and Rheydt. Gibson did not return from the operation in his Mosquito. Mystery and controversy have surrounded his crash ever since. He orchestrated the attack and ordered the bombers home but was then never heard from again. His Mosquito was seen plunging into the ground at Steenbergen in Holland. Part of his remains were later found.
What caused the crash will never be known but Harris said in his memoirs he had been wrong to let Gibson back on operations. He and Coachrane deeply regretted their decision. Whatever happened, in that moment Britain lost one of its greatest heroes.
Wallis described Gibson best of all saying:
‘For some men of great courage and adventure, inactivity was a slow death. Would a man like Gibson ever have adjusted back to peacetime life? One can imagine it would have been a somewhat empty existence after all he had been through. Facing death had become his drug. He had seen countless friends and comrades perish in the great crusade. Perhaps something in him even welcomed the inevitability he had always felt that before the war ended he would join them in their Bomber Command Valhalla. He had pushed his luck beyond all limits and he knew it. But that was the kind of man he was…a man of great courage, inspiration and leadership. A man born for war…but born to fall in war’.
Harris described him as “As great a warrior as this island ever produced”
GUNDULF was born in Normandy, now part of France. Four years after the conquest of England in 1066, while he was a monk of Caen, Gundulf was called to England to assist Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the administration of that diocese. Gundulf was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1077. As a skilled architect he rebuilt the almost ruined Cathedral in the Norman style and founded a community of Benedictine monks to serve there. In 1078 King William I appointed Gundulf to oversee the building of the White Tower of London. He was responsible for the building of St Leonard’s Tower, here in West Malling, and many churches in the Medway Towns. In about 1090 Gundulf founded this Abbey (St. Mary’s) for Benedictine nuns, one of the first post-conquest monasteries for women; it is the home of Benedictine nuns today. Gundulf was famous for his care of the poor and his devotion to prayer. He died on 8th March 1108 aged 85, and is still honoured as the patron of the Royal Engineers.
Locker lived in Went House, West Malling between 1783 and 1786. By the end of the Napoleonic wars it was said that “[The British] are lords of the sea, and neither in this dominion nor in world trade have they any rivals left to fear”, and for the first and last time in history a single navy possessed half the world’s warships. Many factors contributed to this, including money, the provisioning of ships, seasoned timber and coppering. Alongside these, a hugely important factor was the professionalization of ship’s crews – William Locker’s career epitomised this professionalization. Coming from an academic and cultured family, he entered the Navy at the age of 15, serving on various ships during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), then with the East India Company after post-war decommissioning (sailing to India and China). He rejoined the Navy just before the Seven Years’ War (1757-63), and he was on board HMS Sapphire at the Battle of Quiberon Bay (1759). By 1777 he rose to command HMS Lowestoffe, sailing her to the West Indies. For a fifteen month period during this command Horatio Nelson was one of his lieutenants, and this proved to be the start of a lifelong friendship.
Locker lived in Went House, West Malling between 1781 and 1786. He ended his career as Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital and suggested the creation there of a national gallery of maritime art, subsequently realised by his son, Edward Hawke Locker.
There were three successive generations of the Luck Family who served in the British Army and rose to the rank of Colonel. They have memorials in St Mary’s church, West Malling, at the top of the High Street. The Luck estate (including The Hermitage – the family home, the origins of which could be more ancient than the 1952 record show) was large and included the land on which now stands both the school and the Roman Catholic church to the East. The Luck coat of arms is shown in a window of a building on the old Luck estate, and in stone above a door.
The three colonels are:
Colonel Everard Thomas Luck JP, 1844 – 1916.
Colonel Brian John Michael Luck, CMG, DSO, JP, 1874 – 1948.
Colonel Richard Frederick Luck, OBE, 1907 – 1963.
Within the Luck family as well was General Sir George Luck, GCB a very significant figure in the Army. He has his own entry below.
The family has pedigree from the time of Henry II and the Coat of Arms was proved by the Herald in 1634 at Rotherfield Sussex, where they appear to have been inter-alia ironmasters.
GENERAL SIR GEORGE LUCK was born in 1840 at Blackheath. During the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878 – 1880) he commanded the 15th Hussars. He was later posted to India where he became the Inspector-General of Cavalry. He then took on this post in the UK before returning to India in 1898, to become the C-in-C of the Bengal Command. He retired to Salisbury in 1903. Between 1905 and 1907 he was appointed Keeper of the Tower – a position in the British Royal Household and the most senior appointment at the Tower of London. He died in 1916. He and his wife Ellen Georgina (Adams) are entombed in the family vault in St Mary’s Church, West Malling at the top of the High Street.
Ellen’s father was Major General Frederick Adam, GCB, GCMG, a hero of Waterloo whose troops made a brilliant and decisive manoeuvre at the peak of the battle. He was later ADC to the Prince Regent and Governor of Madras. Together with the Nevill family, the Lucks let property in the High Street and Swan Street, and financed four local schools. The Luck family home was in West Malling at The Hermitage, Lucks Lane, where three other members of the family are commemorated.
The Rev WILLIAM NEVILL 4th Earl of Abergavenny (1792-1868) bought Lantern House and Estate (now called Malling House) in 1866 from the Heirs of Valentine Phillips, one of whom was Phillips of the famous Bond Street Auction House. William succeeded to the title of 18th Lord of Abergavenny in 1845. Chaplain to King William IV, he was Vicar of Frant and Rector of Birling. With General Luck of the Hermitage he let property in the High Street and Swan Street to finance four local schools.
He married CAROLINE LEEKE and they had seven children. Five were living in 1866, Henrietta-Augusta, Ralph Pelham, William (later the 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Abergavenny) Isabel and Caroline. The daughter, The Lady Caroline Emily Nevill 1829-1887, was an exhibitor at The Royal Photographic Society and a founder member of The Photographic Exchange Club, producing a series of Architectural views of Kent 1855-1858.
She was a pioneer of early waxed paper negative and luminous lint photography. Together with her two sisters (called “The Trio”) she produced embroidered artworks. She spent her time fundraising and helping the poor of West Malling, living most of her life here. She died in London, her body being transported from West Malling Station at walking pace to Birling by Mr Viner, Funeral Director. All work and business stopped throughout the district for the duration of the funeral out of respect.
RALPH PELHAM NEVILL (1832-1914) High Sheriff of Kent (married Louisa Maclean (1833-1919) and had seven children. They lived in Lantern (Malling) House until 1873. Ralph was a keen, able sportsman, huntsman, dog and cattle breeder. For eight years he commanded a troop in the West Kent Yeomanry. The family gave the small Green, on which stands the Town Sign and the statue “Hope”, to the Parish.
PERCY LLEWELYN NEVILL enlarged the Lantern estate by buying property in Town Hill c.1900.
During World War 1 the house was used as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital and the estate was eventually divided and partly built on. Malling House (Lantern House) is an ancient and commanding site. A 1986 survey showed it incorporated an early timber framed building with a gable end to the road with 17th, 18th and 19th century additions. In the 18th century it was a mansion owned by the Burt family. Mrs Burt wrote to Trollop’s, the wallpaper company in London, for advice on wallpaper. Valentine Phillips owned it before Earl Abergavenny but there are gaps in the record.
SILAS NORTON and his business partner Thomas Selby were solicitors and both from ancient Kentish families. Selby was part of a very ancient Kentish family of worldwide influence who had owned property in
West Malling since at least the 15th century. The Bodleian Library holds documents relating to him. Norton was born and died in West Malling. He held his law licence almost until his death at the age of 90. He married Sarah Ann Bookham and they had six children. Cricket had been played in West Malling since at least 1705. Norton and Selby linked with William George 2nd Lord Harris (1782-1845) and formed Town Malling Cricket Club.
The “New Ground” (or St Georges Field) was established, and the first match played in 1827. The well-known cricketer Fuller Pilch was retained on a salary of £100 per year. His duties included being Landlord of the Cricketer’s Arms in Ryarsh Lane and cutting the grass! First Class cricket was first played in 1836 and attracted a “gate” of 8,000. The Lords Harris have since been enormously influential in the development of cricket in England and India.
Long thought to be the inspiration and setting for Charles Dickens’s famous “Muggleton” match in the Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), Charles Dicken’s son wrote “Muggleton is perhaps only a fancy sketch of a small country town but if anywhere Town Malling sat for it being a great place for cricket in Mr Pickwick’s time.” Another woodcut of the High Street in West Malling was included in the edition of Pickwick Papers which celebrated the jubilee of Queen Victoria.”
GEORGE ORWELL was the pen name used by Eric Arthur Blair. He was born 25th June 1903 in Motihari in British India. His ancestral home there has been declared a National Monument. When he was one, his mother sent him to England with his older sister. They settled first at Henley on Thames. He was an English essayist, journalist, critic and novelist. Famous novels include 1984 and Animal Farm. Acclaimed non- fiction works include Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia characterised by well researched social realism. His work concerning totalitarianism created words and phrases such as Big Brother, Thought Crime, Cold War, Thought Police and Room 101 – which have become part of our language. Eric Arthur Blair stayed at West Malling Spike (workhouse) in 1931 and describes the characters and places with blunt realism. In the Hop Picking Diaries he describes trying to obtain work at Kronk’s Farm (Cronk’s Farm, Newbarns, West Malling) and working at Blest’s Farm (Best’s Farm). He travelled by train with other pickers. The realism of these experiences is reflected in his novel Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and used extensively in his novel The Clergyman’s Daughter (1935). West Accrington Station referred to in The Clergyman’s Daughter is thought to be West Malling. He died 21st January 1950 in London. The Times considered him second on a list of the 50 greatest British authors since 1945.
WILLIAM PERFECT was probably born in Bicester in 1737. His father became vicar of East Malling in 1742. From 1756 the family was resident in West Malling High Street. William married three times and fathered ten children.
In November 1749 William Perfect became apprenticed to William Everred, a surgeon in London. He also studied under Colin McKenzie who was a strong advocate against the practice of wearing swords and cloaks at births! By 1757 he was practising in West Malling referring to himself as Surgeon, Apothecary and Man-Midwife. His studies and subsequent books show he was at the forefront of the new medical interest in Mid-Wifery.
Perfect was also a noteworthy poet of the period. His poetry was first published in Martin’s Magazine 1755.
In 1765 Perfect became a Freemason despite the French Revolution creating public suspicion of the organisation. By Royal Patent of the Prince of Wales he was appointed in 1795 as Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Kent.
William Perfect died in 1809 was buried in the tomb he constructed in East Malling Churchyard. His triple oak and lead coffin was brought at midnight from West Malling by torchlight in a cortege drawn by black horses.
FULLER PILCH was born in Horningtoft, Norfolk on 17 March 1803. He had two elder brothers who were professional cricketers. He started his own cricketing career at Lords in 1820 playing for Norfolk against Marylebone. By the late 1820s he had become recognised as the best batsman England had produced, and that continued until the appearance of WG Grace in the 1860s. He developed a style of playing forward to the ball to rush the bowler. This shot became known as the “Pilch Poke”, and that term is still recognised today. In 1835 he transferred to the Town Malling team on a salary of £100 a year, and took over the Cricketers’ Inn which had a cricket field attached (Kent’s county ground at the time). The Cricketers’ Inn later became a private house and is recorded as the last building in Ryarsh Lane. In 1842 the county ground moved to Canterbury, and so did Pilch – to play for Kent’s county side, where he remained until he retired in 1855, having played for Kent through 19 seasons. He amassed a total of 10 centuries – which was quite an accomplishment when you consider how poor some of the pitches were.
There is a plaque at the Old Cricket Ground, which is now accessed from Norman Road, which gives a brief history of cricket in West Malling and Pilch’s starring role in it. Pilch never married, and died on 1st May 1870 of dropsy, aged 67. He is buried in St Gregory’s Church in Canterbury, where there is a large monument to him.
Samuel Lee SMITH was born on 14 June 1856, to Sarah Lee, age 28, and Alfred Smith, age 30. In Lambeth, Surrey. He was baptised on 18 Jul 1856 at St James Church, Clapham Park, Surrey.
Samuel Lee’s sister, Maude Sarah, was born in 1857, in Clapham, Surrey when Samuel Lee was 1 year old. When he was nearly 4, his second sister, Isabella Christiana was born at St James Clapham.
In 1861 at the age of 4 he was living in Rochester St Margaret, Kent. In October 1862, when he was aged 5, his third sister, Eleanor Lee was born.
In 1866 Samuel’s Brother, Stuart Alfred was born while the family were still living in Rochester, a year later, in July, his second brother, Herbert was born.
In 1871 Samuel lived in London, as a scholar / border aged 14 at St Botolph without Aldersgate, London.
In 1881 aged 24 years Samuel Lee Smith moved back home to Rochester St Margaret, Kent wher he drew up plans for Larkfield Hall which was built sometime between 1884 and 1899 for him, he owned a cement company at Halling. He was a JP and worshipped at Holy Trinity church, and was its leading benefactor, after the Wigan family. He presented the church with some land – to enlarge the churchyard, the present brass alms dish, a set of hymn books and psalters, the vicar’s stall and choir stalls, and money to enlarge the chancel. In his memory, his executors paid to have the altar lengthened and refurbished, and for the communion kneeling benches. A wooden lozenge on the north wall, near the pulpit, commemorates his name.
1891 at the age of 34 he is head of the household at Number 23 New Hythe Lane and was a Lime and Cement manufacturer, with 5 servants.
In 1901 he is living in 55 Larkfield ‘assuming the building number shown as 55 Larkfield on the census being The Hall’ and is shown as a cement manufacturer.
In 1911 he is shown as living in the Hall, with 4 Servants. He was now shown in the census as a Merchant.
After he died, the estate was sold by auction, see ‘The Sale of Larkfield’ and the hall was taken by the Rudolph Steiner School for Curative Education, which specialized in teaching handicapped children.
The school continued to function here until the land was sold for development, and construction of the Trees estate began in about 1962. Thus started the programme that was to transform Larkfield and Lunsford from rural, agricultural, communities into the urban conglomeration to which we belong today.
The son of a Viscount, he saw service in the Nine Years War, wars of the Spanish Succession, Quadruple Alliance, Austrian Succession and other campaigns. Early in his career he lost a hand. In 1720 he commanded a squadron against the Sale Rovers and Mediterranean Pirates. He negotiated a treaty with Morocco and obtained the release of 296 British prisoners. He served as Commander in Chief in the West Indies becoming a Member of Parliament for Malmesbury 1723-1727 and Portsmouth 1737 until his death. A mahogany Spanish ship’s mast in the staircase and leather covered doors in Malling Place come from his active service.
PETER WOOLRIDGE TOWNSEND joined the Royal Air Force in 1933. He was one of three pilots that shot down the first enemy aircraft over England at the start of World War 2, which led to him being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). In 1940 he was a notable pilot in the Battle of Britain, acting throughout the action as squadron Leader of 85 Squadron in Hurricanes. In August 1940 he was shot down and wounded over Tonbridge. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1941. He went on to fly Spitfires and led a night flying squadron. In 1943 he became commanding officer of RAF West Malling, and was promoted to Group Captain in 1948. Douce’s Manor was used as accommodation, and also served as the headquarters for RAF West Malling and the officers’ mess. Townsend was credited with a total of eleven kills.
He is also known for his romance with Princess Margaret, whom he met when, after the war, he became equerry to King George VI. Unfortunately Townsend was divorced, and in the social environment at the time a marriage would have been met with severe disapproval, so the Princess broke up the relationship. He spent most of his later life as a writer.
FRANCIS TRESS Children of West Malling have been educated on this site for over three hundred years. The plaque in this photograph is in St Mary’s Church. It states in 1623 Francis Tress, gentleman, gave £40 for building a Free School, 15 shillings and 4 pence for repairing it, two silver cups and 6 shillings and 8 pence yearly to the poor to be paid out of a piece of land called Coussin’s Plat (sic) occupied by William Chapman a gentleman.
Little is known about Tress. His name could be a corruption of Tracey. There are ancient tombs attributed to the Tress family in Offham Churchyard. It is not known where Tress lived in West Malling. The house may stand today.
The Historian Edward Hasted in 1798 recorded that Tress also gave the land for the school and charged one of his houses here 13 shillings and 8 pence per annum for repairs. Four principal freeholders were appointed to administer the charity for ever which is vested in the Ministry. In 1798 it was being paid out of Robert Sutton’s estate. The schoolhouse was occupied at 2 guineas per annum by the Master’s widow. The Ordnance Survey Map of 1800 shows the building. The 1865 map notes it as a school for endowed boys. The school continued, and there are still residents living who attended as pupils.
In the mid twentieth century the school became private houses. The forty ton stone inglenook fireplace was removed from the Master’s house (no. 3) but the house still retains elements of Tress’s original school. The school is an important part of local social history. Anyone who has information should contact West Malling Parish Council.
JOSEPH WILLIAM MALLORD TURNER was described by the leading nineteenth-century art critic John Ruskin as the artist who could “most stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of nature”. Turner’s youthful genius as a landscape artist is captured in three surviving watercolour sketches of West Malling dated by art historian Andrew Wilton to 1791-2, when the artist was aged 15 or 16. These depict the cascade in Swan Street, Malling Abbey from the north-west, and St Leonard’s Tower under a stormy sky (unfinished, but a foretaste of his dramatic landscapes of later years). Two further pencil sketches of Malling Abbey survive dated 1798.
Turner’s West Malling sketches have also proved invaluable as historical documents, not least in showing that the cascade was in existence well before 1810 (the date inscribed above the arch) and in recording the condition of St Leonard’s Tower in the late eighteenth century.
The circumstances of Turner’s visits to West Malling are unrecorded, but he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1790 onwards and may well have been introduced to the picturesque ‘antiquities’ of West Malling by John Downman ARA, then a seasoned Royal Academy exhibitor who inherited Went House (opposite the cascade) following the death of his uncle in 1783.
Born 1602 at Roydon, East Peckham he attended Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1614. He was admitted to the Inner Temple 1617, called to the Bar in 1626 and married Jane Thomlinson in 1639. Jane Thomlinson was the sister of the man who escorted Charles I to his execution. Twisden bought Malling Place in 1642. He became a Bencher in 1646 and changed the spelling of his name from Twysden to Twisden. At this time he became Member of Parliament for Maidstone but was excluded in 1648. He became Sergeant at Law in 1654 and bought The Manor of Bradbourne House, East Malling, Kent in 1656. After the Coronation of Charles II, he became MP for Maidstone again in 1660 and was knighted. After the trials of the Regicides (the signatories to Charles I death warrant) he was made a baronet in 1666. He died in 1683.
RAYMOND FRANCIS (6 October 1915 – 24 October 1987) was an English actor best known for his role as Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Lockhart in the Associated-Rediffusion detective series Murder Bag, Crime Sheet and No Hiding Place. He played the role of Lockhart in these series from 1956 to 1967, and the character was one of the first recurring television detectives.
Born in London, his first listed television role was as Dr. Watson alongside Alan Wheatley’s Holmes in a 1951 BBC TV series entitled Sherlock Holmes, the earliest TV adaptation of the tales. He later reprised the role in a 1984 film The Case of Marcel Duchamp.
His distinguished appearance often led to roles as senior policemen, military men and English aristocracy; he played such parts in series including Dickens of London, Edward & Mrs. Simpson, The Cedar Tree, Tales of the Unexpected, After Julius, Drummonds, the first Joan Hickson Miss Marple episode “The Body in the Library” as Sir Henry Clithering, and his final appearance was in a 1987 Ruth Rendell Mysteries adaptation.
He was also a noted stage actor and made several appearances in films such as Carrington V.C. and Reach for the Sky. He was married to actress Margaret Towner, lived in East Malling and had three children; his son Clive Francis is also an actor.
JOHN LANGTON HAYDON DOWN, DS (18 November 1828 – 7 October 1896), was a British physician best known for his description of a relatively common genetic disorder, now known as Down syndrome, which he originally classified in 1862. Buried in Leybourne Grange Grave Yard
RICHARD LEWIS HEARNE, OBE (30 January 1908 – 23 August 1979) was an English actor, comedian, producer and writer. He is best remembered for his stage and television character Mr Pastry.
Born in Norwich, Norfolk, in 1908, the son of Richard and Lily May Hearne. Richard senior came from a theatrical family – his mother had been on the stage and he himself was a performing acrobat. Hearne worked on and off for the BBC for thirty years; he became the first performer to be known as a “television star” and also believed to be the first to have his own television series. The black and white series, with the theme tune “Pop Goes The Weasel”, had episodes lasting 25 minutes in which Hearne assumed the character of “Mr Pastry” – an old man with a walrus moustache, dressed in a black suit or raincoat and with a trademark bowler hat. Each week the bumbling old man would have adventures, partly slapstick, partly comic dance, with two young friends. Jon Pertwee also starred in the show in a variety of roles.
The Mr Pastry character had originated in the 1936 stage show Big Boy in which Hearne had appeared with Fred Emney. A Mr Pastry film was subsequently made but portrayed the lead character as a pathetic figure coming out of prison and totally different from the TV series’ bumbling comic.
His act first appeared on the US Ed Sullivan Show in 1954, and thereafter Hearne appeared on the show frequently.
He was interviewed for the starring role of the BBC series Doctor Who after the departure of Jon Pertwee, but a disagreement over his interpretation of the role (he wanted to play the Doctor as Mr Pastry) led to no offer being made by the producer, Barry Letts. The role was subsequently offered to Tom Baker.
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1959 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre.
In 1963 Hearne became President of the Lord’s Taverners charity and he subsequently raised money for hundreds of hydrotherapy pools. In 1970 he was awarded the OBE for his charitable work.
Hearne died in Bearsted, Kent, in 1979, aged 71, leaving a widow Yvonne and two children. He was buried in a churchyard in the village of St. Mary’s Platt, near Borough Green in Kent. He had lived at Platt Farm, a fifteenth-century property in Long Mill Lane, in the village from the 1940s, from where he ran a market garden. He was a frequent visitor to East and West Malling.