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Riverside Players
Eynsford
Kent
DA4 0AA
01322 861001

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THE HISTORY OF EYNSFORD


The Eynsford story can be traced back centuries: evidence suggests that man was roaming the fertile hills and valleys as long ago as 6000 years. There were certainly Iron Age settlers, who later must have colonised this part of the Darent valley: archaeological digs have unearthed Iron Age pottery vessels and evidence of dwellings all around Eynsford. The Roman occupation of Britain is well documented in this part of Kent. Historians have concluded that there were Roman households about every 15 miles between Orpington and the coast, most scattered along the rivers Darent and Medway, which would have been important arteries to bring trade in from the rest of their empire and to export the produce cultivated from this era. Probably the most complete example of one of these homesteads is the villa at Lullingstone, about half a mile outside Eynsford, which was excavated in 1949 This villa is one of the most important Roman-British finds this century, dating back to around AD 100. Lullingstone villa gives us a fantastic insight to the opulent life style that these guys used to have. The building spanned around 3 centuries, ever changing and adapted. In the 3rd century the glorious mosaic floor was laid - and it is still in immaculate condition for all to see.

After the Romans left Britain, the Saxons invited themselves to the Darent valley. It is from this point that historians believe that a structured community was started. The name Eynsford is most likely of Saxon origin, probably derived from Aegen's Ford. Saxon burial grounds were unearthed by the cutting of the railway line in the mid 1800's, further proving that, at this period in time, there would have been a substantial settlement. It is known that Saxon strongholds existed at three crossing points in this part of the Darent, one at Dartford, another at Otford and, last but not least, one at Eynsford. Collectively, these were known as Holmesdale. Eynsford was, in this period, part of the Axstane hundred, adjoining the hundred of Codsheath at Shoreham. Obviously, detailed accounts of Saxon occupation are sketchy but, with finds being unearthed throughout the Darent valley, it is fair to assume that Eynsford had started to develop in this brutally tribal period.

By the time the Domesday survey was commissioned in 1086, Eynsford was a thriving manor. There is mention of 2 churches and of 2 mills, suggesting Eynsford's importance and it's relative prosperity. All over Kent, the Normans were busy erecting churches and castles, strengthening their influence on their newly conquered island. One such example of their castles can be found in Eynsford, probably one of the most complete examples of it's kind in England.

Around a 100 years after the Norman Conquest, one Sir William de Eynsford held the now established manor. William held a position of great importance in the court of Henry II, possibly in an advisory capacity. It was at this point in time that Sir William's grandfather; William Fitz Ralph bestowed St. Martins church with all its appurtenances to the monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury. This was obviously not the choice of Thomas Becket who duly appointed a chap named Laurence. Sir William, at the thought of being undermined, turned Laurence out of the church which in-turn led Becket to excommunicate Sir William. Although, in these times, the church was a power to be reckoned with, you didn't step on the Kings toes. After Sir William appealed to the King, the monarch, according to ancient custom, forbade such a sentence on a baron of the realm. Oh dear, Mr Becket was really digging a hole for himself and, as an ever widening gulf appeared between the church and the crown, it was at this juncture that Henry exclaimed "Will none of the laggards eating my bread rid me of this turbulent priest?" Enter Reginald Fitz Urse, William de Traci, Hugh de Morville and Richard Brito. After a wee bit of plotting, they galloped off to Canterbury where, on December 29th, 1170 they savagely slayed this turbulent priest at the alter in Canterbury Cathedral.

Over the ensuing years, various families took their turn in running the estate at Eynsford. After the de Eynsfords, there the Crioll family followed by the eminent Zouche's of Harringworth who, according to records acquired the land by underhand means... intriguing. With all these goings on historians sometimes lose track of the every day Eynsfordians whose existence must have been tough. Throughout the Middle Ages, the main industry was agriculture. The soil was good and with the clean waters of the Darent, there was a perfect blend for growing crops and grazing cattle. The land would have been distributed into strips so that every villager had a fair crack of the whip. They had rights of pasture, wood gathering and turf cutting.

In the Thirteenth century there was an agricultural boom. With an it's expanding population and changing market Eynsford started to prosper - or rather - the lords of the land did. By the 14 century, there was a general slow down in the populace and hence a general slumps. It seems that, around this time, the locals were realising that they were not necessarily bound to the soil and working for the good of the manor. Some enterprising villagers broke away from the main estate and farmed for themselves, may be the first real start of the Eynsford we know today. Tudor England heralded times of great change. Certainly in Eynsford, the standards of building improved and, with the introduction of foreign glass making skills primarily for the benefit of these new constructions, flourishing glass-making works were set up. With the expansion of the village and the various industries that were now springing up, traders such as saddlers, blacksmiths and farriers would have set up stall, further creating the fabric of a truly rural community.

One of the most powerful men in Eynsford at this time was Sir John Peche of Lullingstone, a courtier to the crown and a fine soldier. He was amongst King Henry VII's forces when the Perkin Warbeck rebellion was crushed at Blackheath. It was at this confrontation that the then John Peche was knighted. He was also present at the world's first peace treaty, ha ha, the Field of the Cloth of Gold, when Henry VIII took a delegation of 5000 men to France to broker peace with the French; it must have been a grand sight indeed, although futile. Sir John went on to rebuild Lullingstone castle, where he resided. It is said that Henry visited Sir John on his way to Otford, when visiting Archbishop Wareham at the Archbishop's palace that was situated there. On Sir John Peche's death in 1522, his sister was found to be his heiress, upon which her husband, John Hart of the Middle Temple, became entitled to Sir John's estate. John Hart's son, Sir Percival Hart succeeded him and became Chief Server and Knight Harbinger to Henry VIII. Sir Percival held the manors of Lullingstone, Orpington, Crockenhill as well as Eynsford. As these paragraphs unfold, you will see how influential this family has been in this part of the Darent valley.

In the 17 century, Eynsford was prospering, as was the rest of Kent, from its profusion of orchards and high quality crops. Kent was fast becoming London's back garden, with the boundless amounts of apples, pears, cherries and other succulent soft fruits, the growing and training of hops for ale was in its formative stages and wheat and rye was grown for the making of bread; the Garden of England had arrived.

Of course, that century brought the terrible spectre of civil war upon this country. Records suggest that Eynsford, in its own inimitable way, sailed happily through these troubled times. Eynsford nowadays, going by the surviving structures of this period gives us a fairly good idea of how the village would have looked

Lullingstone House, at the beginning of the 18th century, was in the possession of Percyvall Hart, Esq.: 1666-1738. He made alterations and general improvements to the great house, undertaken in honour of Queen Anne, who once stayed there. On his death the estate passed on to his daughter Anne, whose second husband was Sir Thomas Dyke of Horeham. The descendants of Anne and Sir Thomas Dyke have remained in possession of Lullingstone Castle down to its present owner, yet another Hart Dyke.

One of the flourishing businesses in 18th century Eynsford was the paper mill. This mill remained a viable concern from 1648 until 1952. Throughout its history, the mill was responsible for producing specialist stocks such as Unbleached Arnold, Eynsford Loan and Russell Flint.

In the 1900's Eynsford was benefiting from localised tourism, aided by new road links and later by the railway. It is known that Charles Dickens would fly fish at Farningham, so it is most likely that on these excursions he would have paid the pretty Darent valley village of Eynsford a visit. One character who definitely deserves a mention at this time was Elliot Downs Till; who was a great benefactor of the village. Born in 1853, he lived at the Priory and, at his own expense, planned and built the village hall. He also single handedly saved older buildings from demolition, thus preserving Eynsford's architectural heritage. Although undoubtedly a good man, he also had the knack of getting up the villagers noses: when he rebuilt the public house then known as the Harrow (now the Castle Hotel) he imposed a restriction of one drink per person per day! Well, you can imagine how this puritanical approach went down with the locals: not well. It was only when the brewery got involved that this rule was, thankfully, revoked. One of his other cataclysmic blunders was the re-introduction of the stocks in the village, purely as an aesthetic feature. Unfortunately this addition awoke local memories of the old stocks where in 1838 a man nearly died from exposure, people power came into play and a group of locals pulled them down. However, when he died in 1917 at the age of 82, from, of all things, a bee sting to his ear, he was forgiven for his misdemeanours and a lynchgate was erected in his memory.

The 20th century brought Eynsford all the trials and tribulations that all the small communities in the Darent valley had to bear: two World wars that, inevitably, sapped the village of some of its fine young men, the ever changing face of agriculture and increasingly new demands for housing. Eynsford did adapt, older industries disappeared and some of the longer established farms re-evaluated their centuries old traditions, but essentially the village has been left unscarred. Still one of the most beautiful villages in the area, with new businesses now thriving and all the old charms that have made people gravitate to Eynsford, still firmly intact. As with all Kent communities our very framework can be undermined by the large corporate giants, that now seem to dominate most towns, but with the sense of purpose and want not to shun their heritage that has been passed down over the last Millennium. It is hard to believe that the people of Eynsford would ever let anything get in the way or harm the fabric of this historical gem.

As we enter the new Millennium, Eynsford, as the entire Darent valley communities, must look forward, but, if you stand on Eynsford hill, you can look back. For over a straight mile, you can view the Roman Villa, then the Norman Castle ending with the site of a Saxon settlement. Lengthen that mile slightly and you can see a Tudor Gateway in Lullingstone Park, a view probably unparalleled in rural England.


Many names and dates have been left out of this brief history, so for a detailed account of Eynsford's past, a book entitled EYNSFORD is available from local outlets.

With thanks to William I. Curnow, Barbara Laming, Peter Gee, Alan Bignell (The Kent Village Book) and the Farningham and Eynsford historical society, apologies for any omissions.

Source for Information Kent Communities




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Welcome to 2004 and we have a varied programme in store for you this year. We have just completed our annual pantomime "Babes in The Wood", and have both a musical and dramatic treat lined up for you this year, please see the site for more details.


Copyright 2004
Glyn Turner