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Date of the next Meeting - 19/11/2018
119th November 2018 at the Marriott Tudor Park Hotel. at 7.30pm.…

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A Brief History of Thurnham

Based on the evidence of neolithic farming in the area from 4000BC, there is little doubt that Thurnham was settled before the Roman conquest of AD43. Although it cannot be proven when this area was settled by the Saxons, it is possible that following the Battle of Aegelsthorp (Aylesford) in circa A.D. 455 the invaders spread out east and west of the river crossing. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that some Saxon names including the element 'ing' and 'ham' are of a very early date, with 'ington' and 'sted' being slightly later. Bearsted (Beorgham-Slede), the settlement on the open hillside, is a Secondary Unit developed from Thurnham (Thorn-ham), the homestead in the thorn bushes, and that Aldington (Ealda-ington), the settlement of the elder, may be another offshoot of Thurnham.

Thurnham is one of the oldest parishes in the borough and is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1085 and lists a church and a local population of some 150 souls. It also shows a hill worth 4 shillings and land for 8 ploughs. Following the Norman Conquest castles were built on the hills of Binbury and Thurnham. Although there is little evidence or recorded history of these, Thurnham Parish Council has been instrumental in the purchase of Thurnham Castle which is now to be included in the White Horse Wood Project.

Even before the Castle was built, there was a big Roman house at Thurnham. The foundations were found in 1833, but the excavators omitted to say where they found them. Exactly a hundred years later, in 1933, a Roman building was found about a mile from the Castle ruins. It may have been the same building, or another one. Either way, part of it remains under the Maidstone bypass.

Elsewhere in the parish there have been other Roman finds and in 1913 Anglo-Saxon graves were found, too. The most splendid of all local archaeological finds was the 7th century gold cross set with garnets which was ploughed up in a field in 1967.

Eight hundred years ago, the de Thurnham brothers, Stephen and Robert, sailed forth from their castle in Kent to go crusading with Richard the Lionheart and the rest of the nobility of Europe. But not before Robert de Thurnham had built the present fortifications, known as Thurnham Castle, in the reign of Henry II. (The remains of the 12th century Thurnham Castle can still be found about a third of a mile north of the church).

Robert de Thurnham was also given command of the English fleet, while his brother Stephen was entrusted with escorting the Queen Mother, Eleanor, on a mission to collect His Majesty's betrothed, the beautiful Berengaria of Navarre. Stephen saw the king and his bride safely married on Cyprus, where Robert was made governor, and later on Stephen was sent back to England, again as escort to the Queen and her mother-in-law. It was Robert who acted as chief fund-raiser when the crusade-impoverished flower of the English peerage was dunned into subscribing to the ransom demanded by the Emperor of Austria if they wanted their king-napped monarch back again. Kings men through and through were the de Thurnhams, and yet they survived all the hazards of their day to die peacefully in their beds at Thurnham. Where all the villagers who ploughed and sowed and harvested the lands that supported their castle lived and died we really do not know.

Another historical note is that in 1232 Alice de Bending, daughter of Stephen de Thurnham in widowhood, gave to Geoffrey de Braiboeuf her intended share of land in Ertenden.

In the early 14th Century both Eynton (Aineton) and Aldington existed with the current boundary of Thurnham parish. Both were important settlements in there time but have long since ceased to exist. In the case of Aldington-next-Thurnham it is believed that its demise came when its population was virtually wiped out by an outbreak of smallpox in 1659.

Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the welfare of the parish was the responsibility of the Church and levies were imposed on the wealthier to provide relief for the poor and destitute. These "vestries" continued until the Local Government Act of 1894 when Parish Councils were created.

St Mary's church has certainly been in existence since Norman times and probably before that. It is just beside the old Pilgrims Way and it contains several memorials to local families, stained glass windows dedicated to the memory of local men killed in the First World War, and a wooden plaque commemorating those who died in WW2.

The names of Thurnham's villagers have sounded through history. One, Richard Thurnham, was Clerk of Canterbury, another Richard was Town Clerk of Sandwich in 1490-93. In 1977 a stained glass window was installed in the church to the memory of Col Alexander Thurnham who was directly descended from the first Sir Robert de Thurnham in the 12th century. One of the people remembered here is Alfred Mynn, that Lion of Kent who distinguished himself in the game of cricket. He was born at Goudhurst and lived for some years at nearby Bearsted, but when he died in 1861 it was to Thurnham churchyard that they brought his body, and there he lies still. In 1882 Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the actor-manager, was married here, with the young Max Beerbohm, although only ten years old, acting as best man. The occasion was celebrated with two triumphal arches of flowers and branches, one at the gate of the church and the other at the garden gate.