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A Brief History of Wingham

 

The following text is taken from fromWingham: A Kentish Village and is reproduced reproduced by permission of the Wingham Local History Society
 

 

Wingham, with its broad tree-lined streets and old black and white houses, is a pleasant village to visit, and to live in! But also it is interesting because of its antiquity and its unusually close connection with history and because so much of the past can still be seen. It is situated where the last slopes of the North Downs are lost in the plain. The soil is rich, and Wingham has been a settlement for many centuries. It was certainly occupied in the New Stone Age, and by the Celtic tribes who entered Britain from the Continent and established in Kent a settled civilisation of their own.
 
55BC - 410:AD: The Romans
In 55 BC (2041 years ago) the Romans invaded Kent. We do not know whether Julius Caesar actually set foot in Wingham, but the invaders marched East from Walmer, and men from the Wingham area must have been among the army of Britons, with their horses and war chariots, who met Caesar's 'reconnaissance in force'.
Coming from the sophisticated urban civilisation of Rome, Caesar's Men  must have noted with interest the appearance of the Britons with their long hair, flowing moustaches and bodies dyed blue with a herbal dye (woad) which is said to have been particularly long-lasting.
The following year Caesar returned with a larger force (800 ships), reached the Thames, forced the Britons to acknowledge defeat and agree to pay lump sums annually, although only a few did so. The Romans did not return for another hundred years, but then remained until about 410 A.D., quickly turning Britain (except for the unruly Caledonians) into a peaceful, civilised state on their own pattern - with good roads, thriving agriculture and manufacture, theatres and stadiums, an efficient army and navy, and temples and churches, first of all Paganism, and later Christian. There was another side to the coin - slavery was universal; criminals and other outcasts were cruelly treated e.g. by being killed by wild beasts at the public shows, and any attempt to obtain freedom was brutally stamped upon.
Under a field behind Wingham Court lies a Roman Villa belonging possibly to a Latin speaking Briton, a prosperous farmer, no doubt supplying grain to the water-mills at Ickham, where supplies were centralised and distributed to the army. Probably the corn was taken by barge, for the sea, or at least the estuary of the Wingham_River, came right up to the village.  
 
410AD - 1066AD: The Anglo-Saxons
There may have been Anglo-Saxons (Jutish) settlers at Wingham as early as 500 A D using the villa as a dwelling-place or camping in its ruins, The Saxons could have been troops imported by the Romans to eke out their own forces, or they could have been part of the great invasions which ended in the whole of England coming under Saxon Rule. Since East Kent would have been one of the earliest places to be settled, Wingham lived as a Saxon Community for about five hundred years. The Jutes who came to Kent had their own gods - Woden and Thor (whose names are still preserved in Wednesday and Thursday). It is possible that some Christianity may have survived among the native Romanised British.  
It is likely that Wingham got its name early in the Saxon period. Probably it was first of all Wigingaham. This kind of name was common to the early years of the Saxon migration, and probably means 'settlement or village of the people of Wigga'Wigga being the name of the leader who brought his people to Wingham. It is also possible that Wigga was a remoter ancestor*.  
Wigingaham was a farming community, and in addition to crops, cattle, sheep and pigs were pastured on the rich grass near the river and in the wooded Downland. In the summer, the flocks were driven up into new pastures - the name of 'Oxenden' probably means 'summer pasture for oxen'.  
Probably other settlements were formed round these pastures, and this may have been the origin or places like Womenswold, Nonington and Goodnestone. The whole estate of 'Wigingaham' - on which the later manor seems to have been based - may have amounted to 20,000 acres.
The manor, one of the richest in Kent, came into the possession of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cathedral community. How long this was after St. Augustine landed in 597 to spread Christianity among the Saxons, we do not know. Nor do we know exactly when the first church, of timber, wattle and thatch, was built on the site of the present Mary's Church in Wingham, but it may have been as early as 600 AD
 
1066 - 1500: Normans and Plantagenates
Wingham appears in the  Domes Day Book (1086 A.D.) as one of the Archbishop's manors and still a rich one. It was the centre of a 'hundred' or division of the shire containing Ash,  Dover and two other small parishes. The population of the Manor then probably amounted to about 500.
One of the most important events in the history of Wingham was the foundation in 1286 of the College of Secular Canons (i.e. monks not attached to any particular Order). This is described elsewhere (in the booklet) as is the love- story of Elizabeth, widow of the Earl of Kent  and Sir Eustance d'Aubrichecourt. But this story does tell us that Wingham, still the Manor of the Archbishop, saw in person many of the famous figures in history. In 1170, for example, Archbishop Thomas A Becket passed through the village on his way to Canterbury. The priest and people of Wingham came to meet him as he rode through the village, shouting "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord". Less than four weeks later he was brutally murdered in the Cathedral.
We know Richard I (the Lion Heart) was in Wingham when he returned from his captivity in Austria in 1194 and the village also saw his brother King John in 1213. In 1255 the King of France gave a 10 year old elephant as a present to Henry III. It walked through Wingham on its way to Canterbury where it unfortunately only survived a month or two. Edward I, who was concerned in the establishment of the College, visited the buildings in 1295, Edward II in 1315 and Edward_III in 1332.
A grant of a weekly market was obtained in 1252. It was held on Tuesdays in what is now the wide centre of the village. We happen to know that in 1299 two pullets cost 11/2d. 1 partridge 11/2d. A whole lamb 6d. and beer per gallon was 1d. There were also two fairs a year held in the churchyard in May and October but in 1444 they were expelled because of "noise and ribaldry"
There was at least one vineyard in Wingham in the middle ages and the fact that the Roman Villa is sited in a field called "The Vineyard" suggests that they too may have cultivated the vine. In 1315 Walter de la Vineterie (which means vineyard or wine dressing place) and his wife Johanna, sold a "messuage" (property) for £5 to Henry, Seneschal of Dene
 
1500 - 1600: The Tudors
As the years went by and the The Tudors were on the throne of England, great changes had taken place in the life of the people. Arable farming gave way to sheep-rearing, to the disadvantage of small farmers. But an even greater change was to take place in their religious way of life. Henry VIII first took possession of the Manor House (now Wingham Court) but eventually in 1547 the College itself was dissolved and the buildings sold The Provost's House (which in those days stood beside the church) to Sir Henry Palmer for £519.11. 4d. + £20 to the Vicar.
When Queen Elizabeth I stayed with Sir Thomas Palmer in 1573 she is said to have scolded the parishioners for the state of decay into which the church had fallen. Money was raised to restore the church and (despite the embezzlement of some of it by a Canterbury brewer) this was the time when the beautiful chestnut pillars were erected which can be seen to this day. But there was a darker side to this age. The Court Records of the period show us the severity with which the system would deal with wrongdoers. For example, in 1598, William Barnes, labourer, was found guilty of burgling a house in Wingham and stealing 36 pairs of shoes. He was sentenced to hang. In 1599 James Sinythe, husbandman, was found guilty of stealing a gelding (S4) from J. Robson at Wingham. Sentenced to hang. In 1587 Thomas Hayward, cook, and John Wamborne, labourer, were charged with burning a house in Ash. Wamborne was convicted and sentenced to hang. Hayward was "at large".
 
17th Century and The Civil War
From this time the history of Wingham is quite largely bound up with the history of the great families such as the Palmers and the Oxendens. It was they for example who had to try to decide whether the district should follow King or Parliament in the Civil War. In the event, East Kent never decisively supported either side and there was a good deal of wise neutrality. We know that John Boys of Trapham was a member of the Parliamentary Committee which governed the district under Cromwell. This Committee sometimes sat at the Red Lion, to the embarrassment, it is said, of Sir Thomas Palmer, an avowed Royalist, who lived opposite. Throughout this period the Oxenden family are said to have played an important part behind the scenes in keeping the temperature down and the community alive. It is known that in 1639 when an expedition against Scotland was being prepared and workers being press-ganged into service "even at the plough's handle" in East Kent, Sir Henry Oxenden managed to evade the obligation to provide men from Wingham. This was a difficult time for Wingham. Well might a local squire say in a letter - "God of his mercy send union."
At this period there was nothing like what we call local government but there were traditional ways of administering the village. Every householder was obliged to serve a turn - usually for one year - as a parish officer. Some acted as churchwardens, others as overseers of the poor, overseers of highways, or petty constables. The Constables were responsible for public order and could call on all to assist in preserving the peace. They served writs and escorted offenders to Petty Sessions, which up to 1886 were held in the Red Lion.  
 
18th and 19th Century
During the 18th and early 19th century the size of Wingham remained almost constant. In 1758 there were 148 houses, by 1786 the number had decreased to 124, but by 1806 had risen again to 164. In 1758 the people of Wingham were favourably reported on by their Vicar: "The People of this Parish are, in general, well disposed, and I know not of any who either profess to disregard Religion or who commonly absent themselves from all public worship on the Lord's Day."
Education in a formal sense was beginning. In 1686 Sir James Oxenden founded a school to teach twenty poor children reading and writing, and this school survived for over 200 years becoming in the later stages of its life a National School.
Another social problem was always there to worry the citizens. We read in a Court report of 1721 a complaint that Mr. Matson, a Farmer in Wingham­Street, was giving lodging to large numbers of rogues and vagabonds and wandering Idle Persons. He was ordered to put locks on his barns and outhouses and the rogues and vagabonds were ordered to be whipped in the sight of Mr. Matson and sent away.
A long list of "Overseers of the Poor" stretching from 1705 - 1859 shows how constant was the struggle with poverty in the 19th century. The Union or Workhouse came to supplement the Parish's efforts and we can guess that not all Workhouse officials were possessed of the qualities asked for in an advertisement in the Kent Herald of 1839:
"Elham Union wanted a competent, managing middle aged woman of good character, without encumbrance to undertake the duties of schoolmistress and to take the general care of the children in the workhouse. Salary will be £15 per annum with board and lodging."  
Though the industrial expansion industrial expansion of the 19th century did not in the end radically change Wingham, it did touch the village in two important ways. In 1875, while attempts were being made to bore a channel tunnel, coal seams were discovered which led in the end to the exploitation of the Kent Coalfield and to the establishment of a colliery at Wingham among other places, in the 1890's. This in its turn led to the building of the East Kent Light Railway. There were three stations at WinghamWingham Colliery Halt, Wingham Town, and Canterbury Road. It was said that unwary travellers bound for Canterbury alighted at Canterbury Road on occasion only to find that the line went no further!
Wingham Colliery exists no longer, nor does the railway, but it is interesting to speculate what the village and its surroundings would now be like if Sir Patrick Abercrombie's plan for the coalfields of Kent, which he drew up in the 1920's, had been carried out. This provided for a town called "New Wingham"­with a population of 25,000, to house the workers in a developed colliery.
It is not the purpose of this article to take the history of Wingham into the 20th century except to say that, despite the advent of TV aerials and lorries, it is a community that feels, as well as shows in outward appearance, very strong links with the past.
Archaeologists often use the names of fields to elucidate the history of a village. The field names attached to the Tithe map of Wingham in the early 19th century - Old Alder Field, Cat's Close, Oziers, Corner Shaw and Stickfast - seem to speak of something sturdy and enduring about this community whose fortunes we have followed for more than a thousand years.