Brief history of Marden

person winding up a clockMost of this section has been taken from
“A Wealden Village – Marden” by Phyllis Highwood & Peggy Skelton (Meresborough Books, 1986, ISBN 0948193107) which gives a detailed account of the history of Marden up to the beginning of the Second World War. It is available from the Heritage Centre.

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Early History

Stone Age axe heads found in Marden and a later store of bronze from Bronze Age metal workings showed evidence of habitation in those early times. However, though a Roman Road ran through nearby Staplehurst, the Romans largely ignored the wet forests of the Weald of Kent. After the Romans left Britain, the Jutes created a kingdom in Kent which was split into ‘lathes’ or provinces. The lathe of Milton near the North Kent coast was in the possession of the king. It had its common land some 20 miles to the south beyond the river Beult in the marshes of the great forest of Anderida at a place known as “Meredenne”(Marden). It was here that herdsmen from Milton drove their stock in the autumn to fatten them for the winter on the rich harvest of acorns from the trees. They created small clearings known as ‘dens’ with temporary rough huts and perhaps stockpens. Over time the timber was utilised for building and charcoal. The forest was gradually cleared, permanent communities were established and crops grown.

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Medieval Times and Uprisings

There was a church, probably built of timber, in Marden by 1085, which is mentioned in the Domesday Monachorum, though there is no mention of the village itself in the Domesday Book. The Norman Conquest and the division of the county into hundreds brought little change to Marden as it remained part of Milton and so belonged to the King. During the 13th century Edward I gave the village to his mother, Queen Eleanor, who was granted the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. The prosperity which this indicated was cut short in 1349 by the arrival of the Black Death. The economic instabilty which resulted from the plague, led to the Peasants Revolt of 1381, with ten ringleaders from the Weald though none were from Marden. Nevertheless, one John Monselow of Marden was accused of plotting to burn down Maidstone and was tried but was found not guilty. In the 15th century grievances about the rule of Henry VI in Kent led to an uprising led by Jack Cade, in which Marden men and others from the Weald marched on London. Again those from Marden were fortunate. John Rolf, John Nash and Thomas Peppymbury, were pardoned after the affair petered out. The third uprising, the Wyatt rebellion of 1554, a protest against the Spanish consort of Queen Mary, Philip of Spain, had a less happy outcome for one Marden resident. Sir Henry Isley of Reed Court, one of the chief henchmen, was executed at Maidstone for his part in the unrest.

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The Cloth Trade

Marden, with its abundant supply of timber, network of streams to supply water power and suitability for the rearing of sheep for wool, was well placed to benefit from an act of Edward III in 1336 which invited continental cloth weavers to England. Their expertise, together with strict legislation to protect English trade, led to the development of a successful cloth industry in Kent which continued well into the 18th century. In 1640 three clothiers from Marden and Goudhurst invented a new process of dyeing. A map of 1680 shows a mill at Sheephurst in Marden, and another at Pattenden was later developed. The production of one piece of cloth involved as many as 20 to 30 men, women and children. So it can be seen that the industry brought employment to many and comparative wealth to the village, despite the up and downs of trade. Prominent clothiers in the 17th century, when the industry was at its height, included James Osbourne, Richard Cowtchman, Thomas Burden, Thomas and Richard Willarde, Abraham Whyte, Thomas Cornwell and the Maplesden family. A number of timber-framed houses date from this period showing the prosperity of the village. Flax was also grown in the area during this time and there were linen weavers in Marden.

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The Church until 1584

The Church continued to be in the centre of the village, physically if not spiritually in the lives of its parishioners, for most of the 16th century. The old timber Saxon church had been gradually rebuilt in stone and by the 15th century would have looked familiar to us today. In 1556/7 a fire destroyed the chancel, which for decades thereafter had no roof. As result, as Archbishop Parker reported in 1573, “the parishioners are so annoyed for lack of Rowme that many comme not to Church as they shulde”. Lack of a vicar before this time had led Archbishop Cramner to include Marden in a volume dealing with “The Heretics of Kent”. It is likely that non-conformist ministers were delivering “heretical” “ sermons at this time. However, the arrival in 1584 of Salomon Boxer as vicar marked the beginning of a period of stability and the Church remained in the care of a succession of Anglican ministers from then on.

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The Role of the Vestry and the Relief of the Poor

During the reign of Elizabeth I each parish had become responsible for the welfare of people born within its boundaries even if they moved away. The responsibility fell upon a group of parishioners who were made Overseers of the Poor. This group had to raise the necessary funds with a rate raised on house or land ownership. Marden’s Overseers built a Poorhouse or workhouse for those who could not support themselves at home, and they also helped others with extra money, clothing etc.. The Overseers were appointed by the Vestry, a body of people including the vicar and churchwarden, who did the work of the modern parish council, church council and welfare committee. They met at the Church or in nearby White Lyon House and effectively ran both village and the church affairs. In 1735 they dealt with gifts from Mary and John Allen for the “Poor of Marden” by the purchase of land which raised rent to provide for the poor. The sale of this land, some 200 years later, funded the Allen and Maplesden Charity, which is still in existence. The recasting of the Church bells and the large expense involved occupied the Vestry between 1738 and 1777 in which year the last of the 5 new bells was made. Another duty of the Vestry was the supervision and financing of the repair of the roads, never an easy task on the muddy clay soils of the area with heavy traffic including the transport of timber and iron from nearby iron industry. When the Turnpike Trust commissioners first mentioned the building of the Turnpike roads in 1764, it was the Vestry who negotiated with them. By 1780 they were built, one running from Maidstone via Stile Bridge through Staplehurst to Cranbrook, the other from Stile Bridge through the village via Pattenden Lane up to Goudhurst.

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Agricultural Riots of 1830

By 1800, with the cloth trade diminishing in the area and moving north, Marden consisted of some 300 houses and was largely self-supporting; local craftsmen supplying most needs and the economy rooted in agriculture. The local rich clay soil supported the rearing of cattle and the growing of crops. In 1801 the acreages were as follows: Wheat 600, Barley 60, Oats 500, Potatoes 30, Peas 150, Beans 100, Turnips or Rape 50, Hops 600. Hops would have been a cash crop, but an uncertain one as yields could fluctuate wildly due to pest infestations. 1829 was a particularly bad year made worse by heavy rain and wind. As a result no hops were sold at the autumn fairs and poverty began to strike hard. Although the numbers in the Marden Poor House remained fairly constant, the outdoor relief jumped from an average £100-£250 per month to £750 in October. The following winter was hard, with heavy snow that killed many plants and trees. By the beginning of 1830 the demand for relief for the poor was greater but the farmers had not raised enough to pay their labourers or the tithes and rents demanded by the clergy and landowners. In the Agricultural riots which followed, labourers were aiming to secure a wage of 2s. 6d per day in summer time. Marden labourers took part but, as in earlier unrest, with little violence. The vicar of Marden the Rev. Philip Le Geyt however was assaulted with sticks in Goudhurst having called for the Dragoons to read the Riot Act when some 100 men had gathered. By November the unrest against the farmers had lost momentum though the hardship continued. Pressure grew nationally to reduce taxes and bring about electoral reform to make Parliament more representative of the common people, rather than the gentlemen and aristocrats who then made up its numbers. The results of the 1831 Reform Bill saw Kent returning 4 MPs instead of 2 and, because copy holders, leaseholders and tenant farmers with land above a certain value now joined freeholders in having the vote, 64 people from Marden cast their votes in the 1835 election.

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The Coming of the Railway

The new Parliament had to consider an application from the South Eastern Railway to build a railway between London and Dover which would run through Marden. This was a very popular proposition in the village where muddy roads had long hampered the transport of produce, stock and supplies. By 1836 over a hundred local people had invested £200,000 in the venture. Opposition to the plan was strong in Maidstone, hitherto the staging post for goods between London and the Weald via the Thames estuary by barge. A successful Parliamentary Enquiry into the scheme resulted in a station at Marden some 6 years later in 1842. The direct rail link between Marden and the markets of the capital dramatically cut transport costs and times. This new form of transport opened up new markets for perishable goods in London and beyond, perhaps influencing the rise in fruit growing here at the end of the 19th century. The coming of the railway also affected the ease with which people were able to move about: by 1881 more than half of the population of the village had not been born here.

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Victorian Marden in 1851

As Marden moved into more familiar times, we know that at the time of the census in 1851 some 2,292 people lived here, of whom 732 were children under the age of 10. Farming was the key occupation with 66 farmers and 428 other land based labourers. James Day at the Plain held the most land with 472 acres. Of the other farmers, four were women, Fanny Austen, Mary Osbourne, Mary Hayes and Mary Leeds. The range of other occupations shows that the village was largely self-supporting. To feed the villagers, there were 3 butchers, 4 grocers and a bakery in Maidstone Road run by two sisters, Sophia and Sarah Southon. William Jude had a post office within his grocery store, and Frederick Hill had a drapery section in his, as well as performing the duties of Churchwarden. William Hammond and his son ground corn at Pattenden Mill. Four master boot and shoemakers and journey men, 2 tailors one with an apprentice, 2 straw bonnet makers and several dressmakers ensured that the villagers were clothed and shod. A number of craftsmen supported farming and other aspects of daily life, including a cooper, a farrier, a saddler, a harness maker , 4 wheelwrights, 3 master carpenters with 3 assistants, a thatcher, several brickmakers and 2 blacksmiths, one of who was a woman, Ann Stanley. Five carriers supplemented the railway in bringing in and taking out supplies and produce. Two of the publicans, Stephen LeFeaver at Stilebridge and Thomas Day at the Unicorn were also farmers. Another busy man was Henry Brown who had a fruit plantation at Mount Pleasant, employing twelve men, and an earthenware pottery employing ten. He too was a Churchwarden.

A number of people had moved into the village from elsewhere. Of the farm workers just under a third came from other parishes, perhaps because of the seasonal nature of the work. A tea dealer had moved here from Yalding. Edward Kenward a hop dealer had come from Sussex, while James Small from Surrey had set up as a timber broker. Doctor Robert Perry at Bridge House had come from Exeter. Two teachers running the National School, Edwin Boucher and his wife, originated from Gloucestershire, while Richard Langton, who had the Classical and Commercial Academy at Shepherd’s House, came from Norfolk.

The Congregational Minister, John Hedgecock, was able to afford one servant. However, the Rev. Julius Deedes was wealthy enough to employ a nurse, a footman, three house servants and a governess from France. He occupied the good living of Marden which together with the Extraordinary Tithe on hop acreage brought him a stipend of £945.19s.2d. This was a huge amount compared with average of £32 brought home by a farm worker for a full year’s work, if he was able to get it. Two workers notable for their age at the time of the census were John L.Noakes who, at 80, was still the Parish Clerk and 88 year old Thomas Botten who was the Beadle.

This snapshot in time shows a community of industrious and able people, yet Electoral Reform was still a controversial issue. Only men who had property qualification could vote and women could not vote at all. Indeed, as late as 1881 only 77 men out of a population of 2,321 people voted to represent the views of the village in Parliament.

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Agriculture in the 2nd Half of the 19th Century

The Public Record Office at Kew keeps records from 1867 of crops grown in each parish, including Marden. At that time most farms had sheep, cattle, pigs, poultry and arable crops: wheat, oats, barley, beans and peas. The wheat acreage was 1007. However farming practices across the Atlantic were soon to have an effect, as great quantities of cereals imported from the enormous wheat prairies of America, undercut trade. By 1901 wheat acreage had fallen to 298. In response to this competition Marden began growing more hops and more fruit. This was a viable option because for the first time farmers were better able to control pests and diseases which had plagued these crops in the past, with the use of chemicals. The first hand spraying machine in the village was made in 1893 and owned by Thomas Honess of Great Cheveney. Machines began to figure more generally in farming during this period. In the 1880s reaping machines began to be used and the 1881 census shows Alfred and Frederick Foreman of White Cottage who were Traction Engine and Machine Proprietors. They had a machine for threshing and Henry Britcher of Beech Farm was a customer. C M Fox had a steam engine at Dairy Farm. By the turn of the century he had 40 customers who had the the steam driven threshing tackle driven to their farms.

Despite these advances, agriculture still involved a a great deal of human and animal labour. Even though the Agricultural Riots of 1830 had aimed to secure a wage of 2s 6d per day for farm labourers, few earned this amount 50 years later. Families found it hard to make ends meet, particularly when illness and old age prevented earning – there was no sickness pay or pension.

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Since the early 1800’s there has always been a lively interest in education in Marden with scholars being instructed in the three R’s: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic; with Needlework for girls and Craft for boys. Before 1860 there was a National School run by the Church from a building in the churchyard. The Master in 1839 was William Nettleton. There were two other schools in the village, one run by the wife of the Congregational Minister and another at Shepherds House called the Classical Academy. In 1860 the new National School was built by public subscription and could accommodate 275 children both infants and juniors.

Agriculture was the main occupation of the village in the 19th and 20th centuries and the National School followed the agriculture year. If children aged 11 and over passed the “Examination for Labour Certificates”, held at Yalding, they were allowed to attend school as Half-timers. In 1902 on 3rd March, 14 boys and 5 girls took this exam and it is recorded that on 10th March “ frequent enquiries by their parents as to the earliest date their children may leave for the summer agriculture work” On 12th October 1903 it is recorded in the log book that ‘ More Half-timers (who have been absent all summer) returned to school for the winter months’. The Headmaster requested parents to apply to the School Board to gain permission for their children to temporarily absent themselves from school to assist them in hop tying. Children were given special lessons from the Headmaster on Hop Picking Accounts, particularly tallying sums. Lessons of such a practical nature show how the schools worked closely with the parents and had a great understanding of the local agricultural needs.

Schools were often closed for epidemic illnesses – diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough and measles. Without the benefits of modern medicine, teachers, parents and children often struggled with such diseases, with sadly some fatalities. Improved standards arrived with the 1907 Act requiring schools to carry out medical inspections. The National School often had an uphill struggle to keep children at school and it is to their credit that from this village school at the turn of the century there was a steady, if small, number of children continuing their education at specialised schools such as Goudhurst (Bethany) and Tonbridge.

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The Parish Council

The Local Government Act of 1894 meant the end of the Vestry. As the new Parish Council took over the running of village affairs, the hand of the Church, active since the reign of Elizabeth I in organising village matters, was gone for ever. The laws of the land came down from Parliament via the Maidstone Rural District Council to the Parish Council in Marden. The first Parish Council was elected on the 4th December 1894 and consisted of Frank Bray, Joseph Carpenter, Edward Day, Ernest Honess, James Mercer, Albert Pettett, Alfred Reeves, Stephen Stanley, Walter Taylor, Frederick Tippen and Spencer Thomas. Thomas Fowle was the Clerk, a post he held for 39 years as well as running a grocer’s shop. In all he served the village for 50 years, first with the Vestry then with the Parish Council. One of the early improvements to the village was the introduction of gas lighting in 1904, suggested by Frederick Tippen. In 1907 the Parish Pump was locked up by the Rural District Council as it was found to be contaminated. There was piped water in the village in 1900 but farms had to rely on their own wells. Sewage running into an open ditch behind the schools was the subject of an inspection by the Local Government Board and the Medical Officer of Health, however matters did not improve until 1933 when a new sewage works was opened. In the meantime, unfortunately, infection was frequent among school children and there was an outbreak of typhoid at Hertsfield Farm in the 1920s. The pressing matter of a full churchyard was resolved by the Parish Council purchasing land from Thomas Judd in 1930 for a new cemetery on Maidstone Road.

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1900 to 1939

In June 1907 the Parish Council requested that 3 “Motor Danger” road signs be erected around the villages. Car traffic was increasing. Times were beginning to change, but farming continued to be the focus of life. the First World War reversed the trend to import wheat from America, as it could not be relied upon. Farmers here were encouraged to grow corn to feed the nation and wages rose as the supply of able bodied men fell. However a depression followed the end of the war, wages dropped again and arable land lapsed into grass. Marden was in the fortunate position of being able to capitalise on its fruit trade which was continuing to xpand, and in 1927 the Marden Branch of the National Union of Farmers passed a resolution to advertise home grown fruit more extensively and to organise a better system of distribution. To these ends, and to improve standards generally, local growers formed the Marden and District Fruit Show Society which held its first show in 1933. This grew into a very important part of the farming year. By 1935 Marden had 2,160 acres of fruit.

Meanwhile mechanisation was increasing in the village. Farm workers showed their versatility by adding engineering to their skills as machines became more common. The first tractor was a Sanderson at Pattenden Farm in the early 1900s and many more followed. Droving of cattle and sheep gave way to motor transport as hauliers took up business in the village. The railway was a hive of activity with shunting, loading and unloading of shoddy and feathers for fertilisers, coal, fruit and other items, Every September the station saw the arrival of several thousand hop pickers from London to help with the hop harvest. In the autumn of 1936 electricity came to the village. Nevertheless, though more machinery was in use and links with the outside world were growing, at the outbreak of war in 1939 Marden was still a village with many men and women working on the land. In many ways it was self supporting, in education, in medical care and in entertainment – a close knit community with strong traditions.

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The Second World War

Marden’s geographical position ensured that the 1939-1945 war with Germany would impact on the village: it was in the front line for the defence of Britain. Kent was en route for London for the German bombers and unused bombs were off loaded here on their return. There were 19 airfields in Kent where Allied bombers were based, all of these were targets too. In particular West Malling, Ashford and Staplehurst airfields were nearby. Nevertheless normal life had to go on. While the Battle of Britain raged overhead, Marden villagers continued their work in the fields below: doing vital work, producing food for a nation under seige. Little wonder that this part of Kent was known as “Hell’s Corner”.

In all, 2424 German planes were shot down in the Battle of Britain but allied planes also suffered losses.

Two major tragedies occurred in the village. The first when five people died as a result of 2 bombs which fell during the night of 4th February 1941 destroying 2 houses and 2 shops in the Maidstone Road. The second great tragedy occurred on 3rd July 1944 when a flying bomb, shot down by anti aircraft fire, fell on the Army Camp in Pattenden Lane killing eleven people.

While their parents worried about air raids and invasion, for some of the children in Marden war was an exciting time. The sight of air battles overhead, and parachutists dropping from the sky, lives on in their memories now. Of course, Marden had its share of evacuee children too. In the early years of 1939 and 1940 a school from Plumstead, in S.E. London was sent here. Trying to fit them in to the school caused some problems: so the local children were taught in the mornings and the evacuees in the afternoons. This first batch of children soon returned to London because the expected bombing there did not materialise. When it did, another school was evacuated here, again from Plumstead, but this time the Memorial Hall was used to accomodate the evacuee scholars. To protect all the children, 2 large air shelters were built in the schoolyard, one for the girls, one for boys, and in 1943 school dinners were introduced to avoid children having to walk home in air raids.

It was not only the skies that brought the war to Marden. After Dunkirk, slow moving trains came down the line crammed full of returning soldiers. These heroes were plied with tea and food at the station by the villagers. Throughout the conflict there were convoys of troops in lorries passing through the area and sometimes spending time here. If need be they would commandeer farm land on which to set up camp. Troops were billeted in Gt Pattenden & this may have contributed to its later fall into disrepair . There was a great deal of activity and many foot soldiers in the weeks leading up to D Day: the villagers realised that something major was about to happen. In 1943-4, a pipeline was laid from the Isle of Grain to Dungeness to supply petrol through PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) to allied forces in France following D-Day. The pipeline crossed Marden parish from Murzie Barn to Mountain Farm. The buried pipeline was walked daily by officials checking for leaks; they also made sure nothing had been built, dug or placed on it. Some hedgerows still show the route of the pipeline from the concrete posts of the old War Department “stiles”.

Despite the many difficulties, privations and dangers that the war brought to the village, the hop pickers did not desert Marden. Even though they had been evacuated to all parts of Britain, the farmers paid their fares to come as usual for their annual holiday. “We are not afraid of Jerry – damned if we are!” was the comment of one lady of 70.

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