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MARKET TOWNS OF KENT (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Aylesford in 1836

AYLESFORD, a village in Kent, on the right bank of the Medway, a little to the left of the road from London to Maidstone, thirty-two miles and a half from the former, and about three miles and a half from the latter. The village consists only of one street. The church, a handsome building, with a square tower at the west end, is situated on an eminence at the back of the village. It contains a costly monument of Sir John Banks, bart., who died 1699. The ground rises so abruptly, that the churchyard is higher than the chimneys of the houses in the street. There is a stone bridge of six arches over the Medway ; and in Aylesford-street is a building erected for an almshouse, and endowed by the will of John Sedley, in 1605, for a warden and six poor persons ; but the greater part of the property has been perverted to private use, though now, by means of the commissioners for inquiring concerning charities, it is likely to be recovered, and the charity re-established. Aylesford has one fair in the year, on the 29th of June. The parish extends on both sides of the river : it contains 3,330 acres, and had in 1831 a population of 1,301 persons. It includes the hamlet of Milhale, on the left bank of the Medway, and in the civil jurisdiction of the Corporation of Maidstone.

The living is a vicarage in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Rochester. It is in the diocese and archdeaconry of Rochester. The church was granted by Henry I to the bishops of Rochester. One of these gave it to the priory of that city ; but by one of his successors it was, towards the close of the twelfth century, transferred to the newly-founded hospital at Stroud. The monks of Rochester priory appealed to the Pope ; and after many years contest, and many decrees and confirmations in favour of each party, it remained with the hospital, the master of that institution appointing a vicar to celebrate divine service. Just before the dissolution of the religious houses, the master and brethren of the hospital resigned their hospital and all its possessions to the prior and convent of Rochester; and when, by the dissolution, the possessions of the priory came into the hands of the king, he granted the advowson of the vicarage to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester, in which it is still vested.

An endowment of £20 per annum for a charity-school was bequeathed by a Dr. Charles Milner, of Preston Hall, in this parish, who died in 1771.

Close to the Medway, a small distance west of the village, was a Carmelite friary, founded A.D. 1240, by, or under the patronage of, Lord Grey of Codner. At the suppression of monasteries, the site, precinct, and lands of this were granted to Sir Thomas Wyatt, and on the rebellion of his son in the reign of Queen Mary were forfeited to the crown. Queen Elizabeth granted them to the Sedley family, and they are now in the possession of the family of Finch, Earls of Aylesford, In the mansion of this family, and in the domestic offices, many portions of the friary buildings are still visible. We take the following description from Hasted's History of Kent. "The greatest part of the ancient priory remains very fair, and by far the least demolished of any conventual edifice in these parts. The great gate from the road is yet entire. It opens to a large square court, in which are seen all the doorways to the cells. The side where the high buttresses are left, on the left hand within the gate, was the great hall or refectory, now divided into rooms. The kitchen was likewise on the east side of the square, as appears by the large fire-places in one part of it. The chapel was that part of the building which stands east and west ; the north side of it fronts the garden as the south does the river; the east window of it was where now is the dining-room or gallery-door with the iron balcony facing the town. The principal part of this priory, as the hall, chapel, cloisters, &c., was converted into stately apartments by Sir John Banks (who resided here in the latter part of the seventeenth century), and the cloisters were by him inclosed and paved with white and black marble. There is a fair high stone wall which fronts the road and incloses the garden, the same as when in its ancient state." (Vol. iv. 2d ed. 1798.)

There are in the parish the ruins of the ancient free chapel of Longsole, now used as a barn, and called, from its lonely situation, ‘The Hermitage.’ It is about two miles from the town, on the other side of the Medway. On the window-frame of a large ancient barn (belonging to Preston Hall in this parish), built of stone, as well as on an out-house near it, also of stone, and on a chimney-piece, are the letters TC with the date 1102 in Arabic figures. The use of these at so early a period has given rise to much discussion among antiquaries : the inscription is probably of a much later date, and refers not to the date of the erection of the building.

But the most remarkable monument of antiquity is that called Kit's Coty House, situated on the brow of a hill, about a mile N.E. of the village. It is composed of four large stones, of the stone called Kentish rag, according to Grose : while Hasted vaguely describes them as being ‘of the pebble kind.’ The following description of this monument is given by Stow in his Chronicle, and quoted by Mr. Colebrooke in the Archaeologia, vol. ii. p. 115 (pub. 1773) :- "I have myself, in company with divers worshipful and learned gentlemen, beheld it in anno 1590, and is of four flat stones, one of them standing upright in the middle of two others, inclosing the edge sides of the first, and the fourth laid flat aloft the other three, and is of such height that men may stand on either side the middle stone in time of storm or tempest safe from wind and rain, being defended with the breadth of the stones, having one at their backs, one on either side, and the fourth over their heads ; and about a coit's cast from this monument lieth another great stone, much part thereof in the ground, as fallen down where the same had been affixed." "This last stone," says Mr. Colebrooke, "lies about seventy paces to the N.W. in the same field. The thicknes is half buried ; but from its present position, it seems as if it had once stood upright." It has since been buried ‘for the convenience of agriculture.’ It may be observed, that the openings formed by the stones of Kit's Coty House are not of equal dimensions, but the larger one fronts between E. and N.E.. whence some writers (as Grose) describe them as forming three sides of a square. The upper stone is not quite parallel to the horizon, but inclines towards the W. or S.W. opening, in an angle of about nine degrees.

At the distance of two fields southward from Kit’s Coty House, in the bottom nearer to Aylesford, is a heap of the like kind of stones, some of which are partly upright, and others lying in a circle round them, in all to the number of nine or ten. Those that are partly upright, with a large one lying across them, appear to have once formed a kind of structure like that of Kit’s Coty House, and to have had the same aspect : the whole heap is now intergrown with elms and other coppice shrubs. This monument of antiquity is supposed to have been demolished by some persons digging a trench beneath it, in hope of finding treasure. Still nearer to Aylesford is a remarkable stone, called from its shape, the Coffin.

The manor of Aylesford was, at the time of the Domesday Survey, a royal demesne. It was subsequently held by the Greys of Codnor, the Wyatts, and others.

In one place in the parish are several springs, which change the stones in them, as well as pieces of wood, to a carmine hue, which becomes deeper when they are taken out and have become dry. The water flows from a deep chalky loose soil, is very chilly, and has a rough taste ; but there are no chalybeate qualities belonging to it.