Ditton is a large village and civil parish in the Tonbridge and Malling district of Kent, England. The village is 4.6 miles (7.4 km) WNW of Maidstone and 1.8 miles (2.9 km) east of West Malling. The parish, which is long and narrow, straddles the A20 (the old Dover to London road), with farmland to the south and industry to the north. It lies in the Medway Valley, on the northern edge of the Kent Weald, and adjoins the ancient parishes of Larkfield, Aylesford and Barming.
The origins of the village can be traced to the stream which runs through the parish and gave rise to a number of corn mills along its length. The earliest recorded mention of the village is in the Domesday Book of 1086. The village contains a number of listed buildings, which include a 12th-century church, an old mill house and two oast houses.
More recently, ragstone and newsprint industries have developed and become important sources of local employment. The population of the village grew rapidly with the overspill of housing from the nearby town of Maidstone. Today Ditton has a mixed agricultural and industrial economy, with a wide range of social and leisure facilities. In 2001 it had a population of 4,786.
The name Ditton comes from the Saxon “Dictune” meaning the village situated on the dike, or trench of water. This derives from the Bradbourne Stream which rises near East Malling and passes through the village. Today the stream supplies the Aylesford Newsprint site, the largest paper recycling factory in Europe, with part of its water supply.
Evidence of the early occupation of Ditton is scant. A Mesolithic tranchet axe, a sharpening flake, three microliths and 36 blades were found at Ditton, but the exact site of the find is now unknown. Mesolithic flint implements, Iron Age pottery and pit dwellings have also been reported in the Holt Hill area of Ditton.
An Anglo-Saxon spearhead was found in July 1962 by D. Tamkin in a cutting through a natural knoll of sand on Messrs Reed’s playing fields at Cobdown, Ditton. It is possible that the spearhead came from a grave on the top of the knoll, destroyed during the making or widening of the cutting. The first recorded mention of Ditton is in the Domesday Book, with an entry dated 1086. At that time the village had 31 dwellings. The Domesday Book states: “Haimo the sheriff holds of the bishop (of Baieux) Dictune. It was taxed at one suling. The arable land is four carucates. In demesne there are two, and 20 villeins, with five borderers, having three carucates. There is a church and 6 servants, and one mill of 10 shillings, and eight acres of meadow, and 35 acres of pasture. Wood for the pannage of six hogs. In the time of King Edward the Confessor it was worth 8 pounds, when he received it 100 shillings, now 8 pounds. Sbern held it of King Edward.”
There was another estate (manor) in the parish at that time called Sifletone, which also belonged to the Bishop of Baieux (Bayeux), and was entered into the Domesday Book: “Vitalis holds of the bishop (of Baieux) Sifletone. It was taxed at three yokes. The arable land is one carucate. In demesne there is one caracate and an half, and six villeins, with one borderer, having half a carucate. There are six servants, and one mill of 10s. There are ten acres of meadow, and thirty acres of pasture. In the time of the Confessor it was worth 40 shillings, when he received it four pounds, now 100 shillings. In the time of king Edward the Confessor, two men, Leuuin and Uluuin, held this land in coparcenary, and could turn themselves over with this land to whomever they would.”
Thus there were three manors within the parish; Ditton Manor, with the appendant Brampton Manor, and Sifletone, all of which were owned by the Bishop of Bayeux at this time. The Bishop of Bayeaux was Odo, Earl of Kent, half brother of William the Conqueror. In 1082, after it was discovered that Odo planned a military expedition to Italy, he was imprisoned and his estates (including Ditton, Brampton and Sifletone) were confiscated to the Crown. Following this, Ditton Manor appears to have been held by the Clares, earls of Gloucester, by a family who assumed their surname from Ditton. Likewise, Sifletone was confiscated and went to another family who took their surname from it.
Ditton has a ford which, along with St Peter’s Ad Vincula’s Church, is situated in a conservation area on the west of a large green. The church is dated to the 12th century with a later 14th-century tower and the first bell of Ditton church was hung there in 1656. Ditton parish register has as its opening words, “The Register book of Ditton beginning Anno Dom. 1663. William Jole, rector, inducted Rector of Ditton, 1st August, Anno Dom. 1663.” Also at the commencement it is recorded, on 1 August 1711, that every acre of woodland in the parish of Ditton by immemorial custom pays tithe to the rector. In 1798 Ditton was recorded as being within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Diocese of Rochester, and deanery of Malling. This parish, among others, was obliged to contribute to the repair of the fifth pier of Rochester bridge. The church was restored in 1860 by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The north nave window has fragments of fourteenth-century glass, and the nave has a good selection of hanging wall monuments and a benefactions board. A lead plaque on the nave wall, removed from the tower roof in 1859, has a picture of a ship from Nelson’s time scratched on it. The mill that was recorded in the Domesday Book, Church Mills, was located close to the ford and closed down around 1912.
In 1798 the parish was described in the following terms: “The high road from London, through Wrotham, to Maidstone, crosses the middle of it, at the thirty-first mile stone; the village stands on it, and the church about a quarter of a mile further southward, on an ascent, beyond which, the parish reaches into the large tract of coppice woods, which extends as far as Teston and Barming. The stream, from Bradborne Park runs through this parish and village, across the above road, and having turned two mills, one above and the other below it, runs on to the River Medway, which is the northern boundary of this parish, near the north-west extremity of which, on the road leading from Larkfield to Newhith, and not far distant from that hamlet and the river, is Borough Court. This parish is rather an obscure place, and has nothing further worthy of notice in it.”
The three manors (estates) of Ditton, Brampton and Sifletone were back in common ownership in the reign of Henry VII, when they belonged to “Thomas Leigh of Sibton in Liminge”. The subsequent history of the manors is as follows:
Ditton Manor included a mansion named Ditton Court or Ditton Place that was built in the 16th century, and stood on the present site of Troutbeck House. At the beginning of King James I’s reign it was the residence of the Brewer family, many of whom lie buried in the churchyard, and remained with them until the beginning of the 18th century when, by mortgage or purchase, it came into the possession of the sheriff, Thomas Golding of Leyborne, in 1703. He bequeathed it to his nephew, Thomas Golding of Ryarsh, who sold it to John Brewer, counsellor at law. Brewer’s niece, Mrs. Carney of West Farleigh, re-conveyed it back to Thomas Golding again in about 1735 and from whom his son, John Golding, inherited it. There is reference in Organa Brittanica to an organ built by renowned organ builder John Avery which was moved in the late 18th century from West Malling Parish Church to a recess in the hall of Ditton Court, described as the manor house of the area and owned by the Golding family. Ditton Place was destroyed by fire in 1987. Today a modern apartment block, named Troutbeck House, has been built on the site of Ditton Place (as shown on an 1896 map), and lies at the centre of a modern housing estate. One of the roads of the estate takes its name from the original house.
Brampton Manor probably stood on the site of the New Road Industrial Estate. After the manor was destroyed the site was known as Brampton Field, at least until the 18th Century, and indeed one of the streets of the housing estate which covers the site today is named Brampton Field.
Sifflington Manor (Sifletone) was an estate within Ditton parish and appears to have been incorporated into Ditton Manor at some stage before the 19th century.
A manor house, Borough Court (also known as Brooke Court), stood in the northernmost part of the parish; though it no longer exists it probably stood in the vicinity of the modern Aylesford Newsprint site. The Culpepper family of Aylesford owned the house during the reign of King Edward III (1327–1377). The High Sheriff of Kent in 1426–27, Walter Culpeper, was the owner until the house devolved onto his heirs, eventually passing to Richard Culpeper (later Sir Richard Culpepper) who also owned the manor house at Oxon Hoath. Sir Richard Culpepper died in 1484 without issue and the house was divided amongst his three daughters, one of whom was Joyce Culpeper—whose daughter was Catherine Howard and would become the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. The house was then sold to Francis Shakerly who hailed from Shakerly, Kent. notable people
William Kempe, the parson of Ditton, was sued for £80 in 1534 for being absent from his parish and for taking a stipend for saying prayers for the souls of the dead (which was prohibited by a statute of 1529). Although Kempe admitted being absent, he claimed that he was chaplain to baron John Zouche and thus entitled to receive two benefices.
William Boghurst was an apocethary, and native, of Ditton, who remained in London during the Great Plague of 1665. During the plague his medical practice expanded and he made his name. He stayed in the city throughout the epidemic, treating by his own account “40, 50 or 60 patients a day”. By the end of the year his reputation was sufficient to attract offers from the corporation of Norwich, which tried to employ him when the infection reached there. He wrote a book about his experience which, although not printed at the time, was subsequently published in 1894 for the Epidemiological Society of London under the title Loimographia :an Account of the Great Plague of London in the year 1665. In later life his fortunes appear to have declined, as he could not afford the livery of his company in 1682. Boghurst died on 2 September 1685 aged 54 and was conveyed from London to be buried in the churchyard at Ditton.
Thomas Tilson was the rector of Ditton from 1679–1702 and was in correspondence with the Protestant cleric Richard Baxter. In one letter Tilson described how a woman from Rochester had gone to her father’s house in West Malling where she died on 4 June 1691. While on her death bed, at two o’clock in the morning, she appeared as an apparition to a nurse in Rochester, some nine miles away, where her children were being looked after. It had been the dying woman’s wish to see her children before she died but she had been persuaded not to travel because of her ill health. Baxter included this account in his subsequent book The Certainty of the Worlds of the Spirits published in the same year. Tilson died in 1750 and his memorial in St. Peter’s AD Vincula Church records a bequest he made to the poor of “£100 in money, the yearly produce to be distributed annually on the feasts of All Saints and the Purification, in wood and wheat”.
Reverend Samuel Bishop (1731–95) was a poet, headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ school and rector of Ditton. His posthumously published book entitled Poems (1796) was much admired and several times reprinted. Not everyone was complimentary about Bishop and his verses: “the character of Bishop’s countenance is not very intellectual, and there is a timid, and almost mean expression about the mouth. He looks but little qualified to insist upon the discipline necessary to be observed at Merchant Tailor’s (sic) school, or to wield the weapons of Dr. Busby. But, we suppose, he did both occasionally, besides writing his epigrams, and composing verses to his wife, — “To Mrs. Bishop.” Of this lady he sings sometimes more like the tea-kettle than the nightingale”.
Thomas Golding, sheriff of Kent in 1703, was living in the nearby parish of Leybourne when he bought Ditton Court, around the start of the 18th century. His arms were “argent, a cross voided between four lions passant, guardant gules” (a red hollow cross between four lions lying down with their heads and front paws up, on a white or silver background). He left Ditton Court to his nephew, another Thomas, who seems to have sold it and then bought it back again around 1735.
The surname Golding is synonymous with a variety of hop known as Goldings and, although it is not certain who discovered the hop, it has been accredited to John Golding (who died some time before 1811), the great nephew of Thomas and the owner of Ditton Court, or to his son John (who died at Ditton Place in 1851).
Lt. Col. Clifford Sheldon, DSO, was joint managing and senior director of Reeds, the paper manufacturer, and was connected with that firm and its associated companies from 1911 until his death in 1950 at the age of 62 years. He gave his name to the Clifford Sheldon Club House, a converted oast house, which subsequently became the Manor and Greenside Oast.
The current A20, which runs through the village, was once a turnpike, probably established between 1780 and 1820 to connect London with Dover. The Turnpike Act of 1744 required that Turnpike trusts set up milestones along these roads. A series of mileposts made in cast-iron appear on the stretch of road between Aylesford and Addington; at Ditton, Larkfield and Ryarsh. The one at Larkfield is shown on an 1862 Ordnance Survey map and the Ditton post is shown on a similar map of 1869. Both the Larkfield and Ditton posts are classed as Class II listed buildings.
In 1663 the population was recorded as 218. The 1831 Topographical Dictionary described Ditton as “a parish in the hundred of Larkfied, lathe of Aylesford … containing 192 inhabitants.” In 1851 the population was 235 and by 1872 the population was 255, with 51 houses in the parish.