The History of Stansted Civil Parish

The villages of Stansted and Fairseat form the civil parish of Stansted in the Tonbridge and Malling district of the county of Kent, England. The parish is situated on high ground (400 to 700 feet) on the top of the North Downs.  It is close to the M20 motorway and the main Gravesend to Wrotham Road.  The parish is 25 miles from central London but has remained an attractive rural location.  The London Golf Club, which opened in 1993, and Brands Hatch racing circuit are both nearby.  According to the 2011 census the parish population is recorded as 484, a small increase from 2001 when the population was 473.

Field adjacent to Malthouse Road

Stansted comes from the Old English word ‘stān’ meaning a ‘stone, rock’ together with ‘stede’ as a ‘place, site, or locality’; therefore, a ‘stone place’. There is no evidence of Roman occupation in Stansted but the place name is Anglo-Saxon and with the discovery of earthworks at Coldharbour and in Fairseat, it is almost certain that the area was inhabited long before the Norman Conquest. Stansted is in the deanery of Shoreham and is within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the diocese of Rochester. The Civil Parish includes the village of Fairseat and the ecclesiastical parish was changed in 1982 to include Vigo village.

A History of Stansted Parish by Dick Hogbin.
First published in November 2019

Note: References to ‘Hasted’ in this content relate to information from ‘The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent’ by Edward Hasted, published in 1798.

Stansted is not mentioned specifically in the Domesday Book of 1086 as it was part of the ‘Hundred of Wrotham’ which is recorded as having 90 villagers, 19 smallholders, 20 slaves, and 12 cottagers.  Hasted refers to Roman remains found in the Parish but explains these could be Roman implements used by the indigenous population rather than conclusive evidence that there was a Roman camp or villa in the area. Roman settlements certainly existed within a few miles along the Thames, Medway, and Darenth valleys. Consequently, it is more than likely that Roman pottery, jewellery and other forms of merchandise were introduced into the villages for use by the indigenous population and could account for Roman remains being found at a much later date.

In the late Anglo-Saxon period, local chapels were very commonly founded by the aristocracy, often in close physical association with their residences, for reasons of piety, social status and the lucrative appropriation of tithes. This may well be the case of the Anglo-Saxon church at Stansted, which would have been built immediately adjacent to the substantial manor-house at Court Lodge. The exact location chosen for the late Anglo-Saxon church may have been influenced by the ancient yew tree which still survives adjacent to the porch, bound with chains to prevent its breaking apart. The form of the original Anglo-Saxon church is unknown, but it is likely to have been small and the presence of re-used masonry in the present structure indicates that it was built out of stone similar to the nearby church at Dode.

A ‘chapel at Stanstede’ is first explicitly mentioned in the Textus Roffensis (The Tome of Rochester), which was compiled between 1122 and 1124 from earlier Anglo-Saxon documents.  Stansted church is mentioned as a chapel dependent on the church at Wrotham, which paid sixpence a year in ‘chrism’ fees to Rochester cathedral. It has been argued that this sum preserves an Anglo Saxon custom, and gives further evidence for the chapel’s pre-conquest origins.

Site of the post-Norman manor in Fairseat, close to present-day Crabtree Close
Site of the post-Norman manor in Fairseat

The earthworks in Fairseat (near the telecommunications centre) were excavated by the archaeologist John Caiger between 1964 and 1966 and he concluded that they are the remains of a manorial dwelling, approximately of the period 1150 to 1320.  The earthworks that survive are described as the main enclosure containing living quarters and a compound for livestock on one side. The living quarters consisted of an original hall house with several smaller and later buildings superimposed upon it.  The excavations also revealed a possible cattle pond; a small mound which was the remains of a look-out tower destroyed by fire in the mid 13th century; the footings of a windmill (unusual for this period), an oven and much iron ore perhaps indicating a bloomery for smelting iron. The bloomery was the earliest form of smelter capable of smelting iron. A causeway of a slightly later date was also found.

Hasted mentions a list of knights holding land of the Archbishop, dated 1210-12, and refers to a half fee in Stansted held by Walter de Perepunt or Pierrpoint, (a knight’s fee being an area of land held in return for military service). Hasted also records that Ralph de Sandwich held his lands in Fairseat, as a quarter of a knight’s fee from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the reign of Henry III (1216-72), a family called Grapinell held the manor of Stansted which in 1307 passed by marriage with Grapinell’s daughter to Judge William de Inge who was the owner of the manor of Ightham. During the reign of Henry VI it passed to the Colpepper family, after which it was sold to Thomas Leigh.  In the reign of Elizabeth the First it was devised to Richard Blunt and afterward alienated to Robert Byng who died in 1595.

Soranks Manor, not the present building in Fairseat, existed in the 13th century when there was probably also a house on the site of Church Cottage in Stansted. The manor of Stansted, always held by absentee landlords, was subordinate to the manor of Wrotham, which then extended 3 or 4 miles north and south the present village and was held for centuries by the Archbishops of Canterbury.

Stansted church is not included in the list of churches contributing to the “Taxation” of Pope Nicholas IV made between 1288 and 1291 so it was probably still a chapel at that time. The church was completely rebuilt in the 14th century and it replaced an earlier chapel which suggests that an appreciable population existed at this time. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and is today, a Grade II* listed building.

Stansted Mill - Hundreds of Wrotham 1797
The Stansted windmill sited to the south of the top of Windmill Hill (now Stansted Hill)

At the beginning of the 14th century there are two small communities one in Stansted and the other in Farsee Street (now Fairseat), each situated around a manor house.  In Stansted, it would be usual to find a church and a house for the Priest, and almost certainly an alehouse, a blacksmith, and a mill.  The ‘Hundreds of Wrotham’ map, published by Hasted and dated 1797, shows a windmill sited to the south of the top of Windmill Hill (now Stansted Hill).   An earlier map from 1736 also confirms a windmill in this location.

In Fairseat the Manor passed to Edmund Sorank whose name is recorded in the Assize Roll of 1313 as a juror for Stansted and by 1322 the Manor had passed to John Sorank, also a juror. It is thought that Edmund Sorank built a house on the site of the current Sorank’s Manor which fell into disrepair and was replaced with the current building in the 19th century.

Stansted next appears in the documentary record in 1312, when John de Hynton took refuge in St Mary’s Church. In 1316 the right to hold a fair on Assumption Day was granted which suggests that this was a prosperous period.

Surrounding the nucleus of the village (the manor house and its farm or demesne, as it was called) would be the glebe land, the common land and meadows and the broad stretches of ‘wast’ not yet ploughed or cultivated (the Ordnance Survey maps show such areas e.g. “Lord’s Wast”). On the boundary would be the woodland and copses through which, by long usage, paths and roads had been worn.

Fairseat and Stansted at this time would probably have had similar social and architectural structures except, perhaps, for the absence of a church in Fairseat. Since there is no record of a church in Fairseat before 1930, it is a matter of speculation as to which church was used by Fairseat people in those very early days of the 14th Century. The footpath from Fairseat certainly gives very direct access to the Stansted church and is a shorter route than by the road. There is, however, another possibility; Hognore Lane ran from the Vigo Inn to Wrotham and, since it touched the Fairseat boundary it may have presented a shorter and safer route to a place of worship at Wrotham.

Sometime between 1418 and 1440 John Walgrave cast two bells for St Mary’s Church. One of these is thought to be the oldest bell within the district and has a Latin inscription which translated means “His name is John”.

Fairseat Manor has origins which date to the 15th century if not earlier. The house was much extended by John Cox in the 1700s but the older part was kept and is still lived in.

The Vigo Inn was built in about 1471 and was originally named the Upper Drovers (the Lower Drovers being at the bottom of Vigo Hill). It was built on an ancient drovers road from London to Hythe that passed through Farningham, Kingsdown, Stansted, Fairseat, Trottiscliffe, Addington and Larkfield. It was renamed, so it is said, by a local man, who having fought under Admiral Rooke at the battle of Vigo Bay in 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession, returned home and bought the inn with his prize money. In recent times the Vigo Inn has been linked with a naval destroyer bearing the same name. This ship presented the inn with a copy of its badge, in exchange for a copy of the inn sign that now hangs in its wardroom. In 1948 this destroyer was part of the naval escort for Queen Elizabeth II at a time when she was Princess Elizabeth.

At the northern end of Wises Lane on the Ash Lane, sits the Anchor and Hope public house. This delightful old inn had a special brand of warmth and rustic charm and was built around the year 1537. Nearby is grade II listed South Ash Manor which has been much restored but still retains a 16th-century porch. Nearby Rumney Farmhouse, grade II listed, has a 16th century framed structure.

In Stansted three houses have been dated to the 16th century although parts of them might be much older: first is Church Cottage by the gate of St Mary’s church, which probably replaced a much older building and which has a C16 frame; the second is a fascinating and ancient building known as Old Manor Cottage. This very old dwelling has been built onto the outside wall of a much older house that was burnt down. Consequently, the outer face of the old wall, with its jettied first floor is now viewed from inside the cottage; thirdly Coldharbour off Wrotham Hill Road which has been much restored.

The ancient yew tree at St Marys Church, Stansted
The ancient yew tree at St Marys Church, Stansted

In 1560 John Hudsull (cf. Hodsoll), of Stansted, a yeoman, was indicted for robbery; there were cases of highway robbery in 1581 and 1584, and in 1588 Thomas Potter, a butcher, was hanged for stealing sheep from Stansted farmers. In 1593 Joan Foster was acquitted of murdering three people by witchcraft, two of them being members of the Wolden family. This may well be the Woddin family, whose memorials can be found in the church tower and under the yew tree in the churchyard. The yew tree at St Mary’s church is thought to be over 1,000 years old and the various sections of trunk are held together by two thick iron chains to prevent its collapse.

The parish register was found intact at the sale of the Stansted rectory and gives a record of the births, marriages and deaths of past parish residents from 1564 until 1837. During this period it was mandatory by Act of Parliament to record such events in parish registers.

In the 17th century part of Court Lodge, Stansted was constructed.  A wing at the rear and the block at the front was subsequently added in the 18th century. Further afield and just outside the Parish boundary, there are the 17th century (or earlier) houses, these being the Old Malt House and Berry’s Maple in Malthouse Road, and Horns Lodge in Fairseat Lane.  Horns Lodge has a plaque with the date 1490 on its front elevation.

In the turbulent times of the Civil War and Commonwealth, the division of loyalties was particularly intense in Kent and divided the gentry in the area. Sir John Sedley of St Clere, a Roundhead, was at loggerheads with many of his neighbours, such as the Rayneys of Wrotham. In 1643, the moderate anti-parliamentarian forces set up their headquarters at Wrotham and made efforts to appease the extremists. Later in 1647, a force of about 7,000 Roundheads came through a “thickly wooded” area around Stansted. This an elaborate manoeuvre culminated in the capture of Maidstone.

In 1647 an Act of Parliament created Stansted as an ecclesiastical parish and the church became a separate parish church. In 1656 William Hatch added a tenor bell to make three bells. At the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, the Church of England was restored as the national Church in England, and St. Mary’s reverted to a Chapel of Ease to the church of Wrotham. People reportedly “pranced around Maypoles as a way of taunting the Presbyterians and Independents” and “burned copies of the Solemn League and Covenant”.

A curious weather-related event took place in the locality in 1666. It was recorded over 100 years later by Edward Hasted:
“About Easter, in the year 1666, a pasture field in this parish, which is a considerable distance from the sea, or any branch of it, and a place where there are no fish ponds, but a scarcity of water, was scattered all over with small fish, in quantity about a bushel, supposed to have been rained down from a cloud, there having been at that time a great tempest of thunder, hail, wind etc. These fish were about the size of a man’s little finger, some were like small whitings, others like sprats, and some smaller like smelts. Several of these fish were shewn publicly at Maidstone and Dartford.”

In the 1700s, the principal inhabited area in the parish seems to shift to Fairseat from being near to the church in Stansted. This was, presumably, because of the closeness of the Gravesend to Wrotham Road.

Fairseat Manor 1940
Fairseat Manor 1940

In the early 1700s, the ownership of Fairseat Manor passed to Mr John Cox from Sir Roger Twisden. He added an early Georgian” façade to a much earlier farmhouse and called his new residence ‘Fairseat’. John Cox died in 1736 and memorials of the Cox family are to be found in St. Mary’s Church, Stansted.

Edward Hasted, writing later in the century, tells us that the village was commonly called Farsee from the pleasantness and extensiveness of its situation. Old maps also record the village being called Farsee or Facey Street.

Between 1770 and 1775 on the western edge of the parish boundary, the present-day A20, the Horse and Groom Inn was built by John Martin. John was a ‘Wheeler’ and was a fourth-generation member of this Stansted family to have been a wheelwright.

In 1798 Edward Hasted recorded the following entry for Stansted:

“Stansted lies the next parish northwestward from Trottesclive, on the summit of the chalk hill, on stony soil, as its name implies, ‘Stane’ signifying a stone, and ‘stede’ a place in the Saxon language.  This parish lies in a most unfrequented dreary country, upon very high ground, about a mile northward from the summit of the great ridge of chalk hills. From its high situation, it lies very cold and bleak, being much exposed towards the north and northeast, where it has a beautiful and extended prospect.  The soil of it is very poor, consisting either of chalk or red stiff earth, both mixed with quantities of flint stones; in the western part, there is some coppice wood.  The church and village through which the road leads from Ash to Wrotham are situated at the western part of it, not more than a mile from the 22nd milestone on the high London road from Farningham to Wrotham and Maidstone.  In the eastern part, there are two hamlets, called Hodges-street and Farsee, in the latter of them is the seat of Mr Wilson, which will be further mentioned hereafter.  The road from Longfield through Hartley bottom leads through it to Trottesclive.”

The Vigo Tollhouse and Tollgate

Until the 1820s the road from Gravesend finished at the top of Vigo Hill. In 1825 a law was passed allowing the building of toll roads and shortly after the section of road from the Fairseat – Trottiscliffe junction to Wrotham was built as a toll road with an accompanying tollgate – ‘The Vigo Turnpike’. The tollhouse and tollgate were opposite the Vigo Inn, on the site now occupied by Wychendene.

In 1841 the population of Stansted Parish is recorded as being 427. This is the year of the first official census in Great Britain and is likely to have been the first systematic and rigorous recording of population numbers. The census reveals that the principal inhabited area was Stansted. The population had been rising to reflect the increase in agriculture in the area but the 1860/70s saw the beginning of a decline in population in the area, which did not stop until after 1900. From 1901 until 1961 there was a steady increase in population.

in 1841 James Fremlin kept the Black Horse public house and Thomas Verrill the Horse and Groom. A boarding school for young ladies had been established in what is now Fairseat House.

In July 1841 barrister John Herbert published a detailed report on behalf of the Tithe Commissioners of all the land in the Parish of Stansted. The detail in the report includes field and farm names and areas, landowners and occupiers and land use. Unfortunately, the 1841 census did not record property names very coherently so the Tithe maps are a valuable record of the buildings that existed at that time.

In 1846, in the first year of the Incumbency of Samuel George Booth White, the St Mary’s Church tower was rebuilt. As part of the works, the chancel of the church was thoroughly repaired and the roof of the nave was ‘ripped and ceiled’. At the same time, Samuel White built a Rectory House to replace the old one which had been demolished.

In 1847 the Black Horse was owned by John Beale of Kent Brewery, Wateringbury, and it has been an inn ever since. In the 18th century, the Black Horse pub was a dwelling named “Palmers” and was owned by Thomas Humphrey. In 1778 at the death of another owner, James Acost, the property was described as, ‘Barns, Stables, Edifices and Buildings, Gardens and Orchards, Yards, Backside Lands, Arable Meadows and Pasture’. Between 1833 and 1847 Palmers was owned by Joseph Fremlin, a baker in Wateringbury and connected with the Fremlin family (later the Maidstone brewers), who licensed the house and changed its name to the Black Horse.

Melville’s 1858 Directory of Kentish Villages recorded that the Rev Thomas Nunn was rector of St Mary’s church and that there were 4 people who counted as ‘Gentry’ – they all lived in Fairseat and their names were Mrs Goldicutt, Horace Grant Esq., William Edward Hickson Esq. of the Manor House and Mr Edward Partridge.

There were 4 publicans who were: James Bodiam (Horse and Groom), Harriet Goodwin (Anchor and Hope), Jeremiah Jeal (Vigo Inn) and Thomas Skudder (Black Horse). There were also seven farmers who were: John Crowder (fruiterer), Edward Crowhurst, Friend Godley, William Hawkins, William Potsick, John Sparks and William Walter. Among the other inhabitants were traders such as Henry Wood Hills (Broker), William Jarvis (Shoemaker), Edmund Wadlow (Blacksmith), Henry Walter (Carpenter), Miss Hannah Grant (Ladies’ boarding school) and Miss Sarah Ward (Day school).

Commemorative Brass Plaque – St Marys Church, Stansted

Hanna Grant, as mentioned above, ran a Ladies’ boarding school for 33 years in Fairseat House from 1835 to 1868. The house had been purpose-built as a school by Horace Grant and was run by his sister. In 1841 the school had 52 pupils, 4 teachers and 4 domestics. When Hannah Grant retired the house was sold to Major General John Kemball. The large wing that housed most of the school was demolished in 1935. Following Hannah Grant’s death in February 1887, a commemorative brass plaque was mounted in St Mary’s Church, Stansted.
September 1860 saw an earthquake strike a small area of Kent including Stansted and Fairseat. The event was recorded by William Hickson of Fairseat Manor in a letter to the Kentish Gazette. The earthquake was distinctly noticeable but the magnitude must have been quite small as no serious structural damage occurred.

In 1871 the population is recorded as being 425 (a decrease of 15 in the previous 20 years) living in 85 dwellings.
Miss Mary Skudder was now the landlord of The Black Horse and William Bryant was at The Horse and Groom. The Royal Insurance Co had an agent at Fairseat. The ladies boarding school continued in Fairseat House.

In 1872 John Marius Wilson in his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales records “Stanstead (sic) as a parish, with Stanstead village and Fairseat hamlet, in Malling district, Kent; 5 miles SW by S of Meopham railway station, and 7 miles NE of Sevenoaks. Post town, Sevenoaks. Acres -1,956. Real property – £2,371. Population – 403. Houses – 73. The property is divided among a few. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Canterbury. Value – £400. The Patron is the Archbishop of Canterbury.“

Stansted School 1901
Stansted School 1901

On 3rd August 1874, the Church of England opened a primary school in what is now Malthouse Road and 44 pupils were enrolled. One of the first photographs of the pupils of Stansted school was taken on 24th January 1901, two days after the death of Queen Victoria and the accession of her son Albert as King Edward VII. The Headteacher was Miss Sutherden and 39 children attended that day.

In 1881 the population is recorded as being 408 (a decrease of 17 in the previous 10 years)

An establishment called Hook and Hatchet also existed on the site of what is now Holly House, Hatham Green Lane, Stansted. The date that this establishment opened and closed is uncertain but the 1881 census records Thomas Lawrence (39) living there with his family as a beer housekeeper so it must have been after that. The old building had become derelict and was demolished in the early 1990s.

In 1883 St Mary’s Church was restored following the earlier rebuilding of tower in 1846, many of the furnishings within the church were probably installed at this time and the small vestry constructed on the south side of the chancel. All the windows of the church appear to have been replaced, and there is evidence that the chancel roof had been wholly rebuilt. It was probably at this time (or earlier in 1846) that the church was tiled with Kentish clay peg tiles which are still in use today.

The house in Fairseat called Sorank’s Manor was built in the late 1800s on the remains of a much older building. It is thought that it was built by the Hickson family, who lived in Fairseat Manor, for their eldest son William Edward Hickson. At this time much of the farmland in Fairseat was owned by the Hicksons including the land on which the present Soranks Manor stands.

In 1887 Sir Sidney Waterlow built Trosley Towers just outside the Parish boundary. Trosley Towers cost £250,000 to build in 1887 (£25m equivalent in 2018) and was demolished in 1936 having stood for only 49 years. Sir Sydney was one of the principal landowners in the area and remained so in 1895, with Arthur Hart as bailiff. Colonel Grevis-James continued the age-old condition of absentee landlords of Stansted Manor, albeit now with very few powers.

In 1891 the population is recorded as being 372 (a decrease of 36 in the previous 10 years). Kelly’s Directory for that year records the following:

STANSTED is a parish and village, 3 miles north from Wrotham station on the London, Chatham and Dover railway, 12m north-west from Maidstone and 10m north-east from Sevenoaks, in the Mid division of the county, Wrotham hundred, Aylesford lathe, Mailing union and petty sessional Maidstone county court district and in the rural deanery of Shoreham, archdeaconry of Maidstone and diocese of Canterbury. The church of St. Mary is a small building of flint in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, porch and a tower on the north-west with spire, and containing 3 bells ; the interior was re-pewed in 1855, and in 1865 a vestry was built principally at the cost of the late Jonathan Rigg esq. and considerable improvements in the interior were made during the years 1875-1878: in 1882-3 the buttresses on the south side were rebuilt, a third bell placed in the tower, the seats altered and two stained windows inserted: on the north side of the churchyard is a yew tree estimated to be over 1,000 years of age: there are 180 sittings, 90 being free. The register dates from the year 1564. The living is a rectory, yearly value from tithe rent charge £388, with residence and 56 acres of glebe, in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and held since 1873 by the Rev. William Eastgate Middleton Nunn M.A. Trinity College, Dublin. Trosley Towers is the residence of Sir Sidney Hedley Waterlow bart. J.P. The principal landowners are Colonel Demetrius Wyndham Grevis James JP of Ightham, lord of the manor, Sir Sidney Hedley Waterlow, bart. J.P. and Frederick Charsley esq. of Wrotham Hill Park. The soil is stiff clay and flinty ; subsoil, chalk. The main crops are grain and hops. The area is 1,954 acres; rates value, £ 2,424; the population in 1881 was 408.
Fairseat, 1-mile south-east, is a hamlet of this parish.
Coldharbour, the site of a Saxon camp, the ramparts of which are still visible, is half a mile south.
Parish Clerk, William Webb.
Poor & M. 0. 0., S. B. & Insurance & Annuity Office. Fairseat – Edwin Turbille, receiver. Letters through Sevenoaks, arrive at 8.15 a.m. & 12.15 p.m. ; dispatch at 10.50 a.m. & 5.55 p.m. The nearest money order telegraph office is at Wrotham. Wall Letter Box: near the church, cleared 5.30 p.m. weekdays & Sundays at 12.40 p.m.
National School (mixed); average attendance, 45; Miss Agnes Hughes, mistress

Nunn Rev., William Eastgate Middleton M.A. [rector], Rectory.
Bensted Henry – farmer, Booker George – farmer, Booker William – farmer, Brooker Joseph – farmer, Burnett Edward – farm bailiff to Edward Pink Esq, Capon Alfred – grocer, Cooper Henry – farmer, Hawkins John – farmer, Haysman William – Horse & Groom P.H., Hills Joseph – Black Horse P.H. & grocer, Jarvis Peter – shoemaker, Manley John – Vigo P.H., Parsons James – farmer, Sparks John – farmer & hop grower, Wadlow Thomas – blacksmith, Walter Hy. – wheelwright, builder & farmer, Woodger John – farmer.

Goldicutt John, Hinchcliff Mrs. – Manor house, Kemball Major-Gen. John Shaw, McDermott Frederick – Old Manor house, Nutter Mrs, Waterlow Sir Sydney Hedley bart. J.P., – Trosley Towers; & 29 Chesham Place SW; Reform club SW & City Liberal & Hurlingham clubs, London, Hills Thomas – farmer, Semark Walter – farmer, Walker Mark – farm bailiff to Sir Sydney Hedley Waterlow.

In 1897 Stansted Post Office opened in one of the houses near the Black Horse pub in what is now Tumblefield Road. The Postmaster was William Webb, who was also the Parish Clerk. It remained there until the 1920s when it was moved The Old Post Office in Hatham Green Road next to Hook and Hatchet Cottages.

In the 1901 census, the population is recorded as being 341, a decrease of 31 in the previous 10 years, and a decrease of around 100 from 1851. This is a 23% fall in 50 years and was mainly due to the great agricultural depression that took place between 1873 and 1896.

One of the most basic needs of a community is a water supply and in 1905 the Mid Kent Water Company constructed a mains water supply to both villages. Previously, water had been obtained from wells and ponds or by collecting rainwater. Water for drinking had to be boiled before use. Even after the introduction of piped water, Parish Council records show concern at the level of water charges and complaints about discoloured water.

Although it is outside the Parish, the well opposite Ridley Church is a sad reminder of the dangers in those days. It was excavated under the direction of the Rev. Thomas Bowdler, Rector of Ash and Ridley from 1811 to 1823. Legend has it that his children died of disease after drinking polluted pond water. This may be a tale or other children may have died from such a cause. Whatever the cause Bowdler cleaned and deepened the roadside well near Ridley church and erected its thatched well-house. It is still known as ‘Bowdler’s well’. (Note: It was Thomas Bowdler’s uncle who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare, which gave rise to the verb ‘to bowdlerise’).

By 1907 cricket had been played in Stansted for years on Clamber Dene (the field behind Stone Rocks, Plaxdale Green Road – previously called Chambers Dene). It was not until after 1939 that the Cricket Club’s ground was moved to the Recreation Ground.

WW1 cavalry passing the Horse and Groom public house. Courtesy of Lost Heritage

It was around 1910 that the telephone also came to the villages. The date is not certain but photographs of this vintage have telegraph poles in them. The photograph included in this article shows WW1 cavalry passing the Horse and Groom public house with a telephone pole and wires prominent in the image.

In 1911 the population is recorded as being 400 (an increase of 59 in the previous 10 years) and in 1912 the children of Maude Berry of Fairseat built two homes for the aged in Tumblefield Road. The second two homes were added in 1926.

On Sunday 2nd August 1914 the Reverend Arthur Round Cronk announced to the assembled congregation in St Mary’s church that “the war between Austria and Serbia is spreading” and led a call to prayers instead of delivering his usual sermon. Neither he nor the community could have foreseen that war, unlike any previous conflict, would soon engulf Europe and spread across the globe. In Britain, it would profoundly affect village life and the established order. Nothing would be quite the same again and this was as true in Stansted, Fairseat and nearby hamlets as anywhere else.

Hasty preparations were made by village Emergency Committees and in Stansted, this activity was led by Colonel Pitt of Fairseat House (who would lose both his sons in the conflict). Fifteen men with strong connections to the villages lost their lives during the conflict, including five during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. A biography of each of the fallen is included in the People>Memorials section of this website and a WW1 timeline is available on the History page.

The fallen were:

Alfred Thomas Betts – Private, Royal Army Service Corps
Henry George Blackman – Private, 1st Grenadier Guards
Frederick Charles Bowyer – Driver, Royal Engineers
Lionel Vernon Brown – Private, 2nd Royal West Surrey Regiment
Victor Randolph Brown – Driver, Royal Field Artillery
Ernest John Burnett – Private, 3rd Royal West Kent
Gilbert Anthony Goodman – Lieutenant, Royal Air Force
James Frederick Johnson – Company Serjeant-Major, Kings Royal Rifles
Arnold Henry Kemball – Lieutenant – Colonel, 54th Canadians
Alexander Mann Kirton – Sergeant-Major, 11th Australians
John Alfred Martin – Private, 28th Australians
James Maxwell Pitt – Lieutenant, 1st Dorsetshire
William Neville Pitt – Major, 3rd Lincolnshire
Arthur ‘Leonard’ Solomon – Private, Post Office Rifles
Benjamin Ralph Streatfield – Private, 7th Royal West Kent

Towards the end of the war, the Reverend Cronk died aged 74. He was replaced by Rev Francis Fisher and thoughts turned to the best way to commemorate those who died during the war and to remind people of the terrible price paid by the young men of the villages and their families.

Stansted had long had a brick and timber-framed Tithe Barn to the right of the drive entrance to the Old Rectory at the bottom of Plaxdale Green Road (then Stone Rocks Hill). Sadly it was demolished in 1920 but the footings still exist but no photographs have yet been found to show what it looked like.

Stansted had held a village Fete each year for a long as anyone can remember. It was held in conjunction with one of the Horticultural Shows, probably the Summer show and took place in the School and field beneath the church even before it was officially a Recreation field.

In 1921 the population is recorded as being 426 (an increase of 26 in the previous 10 years) and there were 94 dwellings in the Parish.

Stansted War Memorial unveiling in July 1923
Stansted War Memorial unveiling in July 1923

After the end of World War I, Stansted, like many Parishes in the Country, decided that it would be fitting to erect a war memorial to honour those who had died.  Sir Gerald Hohler of Court Lodge Farm offered to provide the site of a drovers’ pond at the foot of Windmill Hill (now Stansted Hill) for a permanent memorial.  Sir Gerald’s brother, Sir Thomas Hohler commissioned a statue from the Hungarian sculptor, Alojos Strobl (1856–1926), one of Europe’s finest sculptors.  It was based on a life-sized palm bearer that Strobl had made in 1898. The statue was mounted on a large plinth in the middle of the village and was unveiled in July 1923 by Colonel William Pitt of Fairseat House.  The Memorial bears the words of Kipling’s Recessional and the names of the fallen from the two World Wars.

The Church of the Holy Innocents at Fairseat, known as Fairseat Chapel, was built in 1930 by Sir Phillip Hickson Waterlow, to the memory of his wife, his father and his mother and other relatives who lived in Fairseat. The architect was Michael Waterhouse. It replaced an earlier place of worship which had been created in one of the farm buildings adjacent to Fairseat Manor. The first church had many gifts from the Waterlow family members, including an American organ by Sir Philip, the altar crucifix by Sir Edgar, and a stained glass window now in the south side of the present church, given by Lady Waterlow in memory of her sister. Lady Waterlow had previously established a children’s convalescent home at the adjacent Manor House which gave free convalescence to children from the London hospitals, in particular from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. It was therefore fitting that the church to her memory was so closely connected with it. Sadly, Sir Philip died a year later in 1931 and a stained glass rose window to his memory was gifted to Fairseat church by his children.

In 1931 the population is recorded as being 469 (an increase of 43 in the previous 10 years). It was in the 1930s that much infill development took place in both villages. In particular, the semi-detached houses in Vigo Road were built by Frank Waters of Honey Cottage. The population of the Parish increased by over 10% as a result.

The Leavers’ store and Post Office in the 1930s.

At this time Stansted also had a thriving grocer’s shop in the Old Post Office in Hatham Green Lane, just below Hook and Hatchet.  The shop had existed for some time prior to that as there is a 1911 record of it being run by John Brooker of the well known Brooker family.  The shop, from before WW2, was run by George Maynard and his wife Ada and they are listed in the 1939 Register.  Their shop catered for the whole of Stansted providing postal services, rations and general supplies.  Paraffin was popular as there was no mains electricity.  The Faiseat post office did not supply groceries during the war so it is likely that many Fairseat residents shopped here too. The shop continued to be run by the Maynard’s son, Les, when he returned from war service. The grocers closed but the Post Office continued until the 1980s after which it was taken over by Brian and Mary Keast at the Black Horse.

The opening of Margaret McMillan House by HRH Prince Albert, The Duke of York, 1936. Courtesy of Topfoto.

In early May 1936 Prince Albert, the Duke of York, opened Margaret McMillan House on land between the Gravesend Road and Fairseat Lane. This was the first purpose-built outdoor centre in the UK and was created in memory of Margaret McMillan who had died in 1931. She and her sister Rachel were pioneers of nursery education in deprived areas and promoted a play-centred approach to improve health and learning. Margaret also promoted the provision of free school meals. The Centre was located on land donated by Grace Taylor of Platt House Farm in 1930 and was built with generous financial support from Viscountess Nancy Astor who was a subsequent owner of Platt House Farm.

Both before and after the war, Stansted School played an important part in the social life of Stansted and Fairseat before the event of the village halls. Children’s parties were held at the School and the Horticultural Society held its shows there. Other public events throughout the year also centred on the school. In August 1938 the Keg Meg Club in the Kent Messenger reported on just such an occasion when a cup was presented at the school for Stansted’s success in collecting silver paper.

In 1939, the last year before World War II, mains electricity was provided to Fairseat by the Kent Electric Power Company. The work in Stansted followed the War and was completed in 1948/9. Prior to this lighting was by oil lamp and heating was largely by coal. Radios were powered by ‘Dry’ batteries which had to be replaced each week. Only the larger houses had generators and even then they were only turned on when electricity was required.

Alfred and Dora Wintle in their house at Coldharbour, Stansted
Alfred and Dora Wintle in their house at Coldharbour, Stansted

A second war against Germany had been predicted by many. Winston Churchill referred to this period as ‘the Gathering Storm’ and more locally.  Colonel Wintle of Coldharbour, Stansted, said in his biography “ten years after World War One it should have been obvious, even to a one-eyed ignoramus of a Cavalry Captain (himself), that a resumption of war with Germany in the late thirties was inevitable.”

Preparations had been made but, more importantly, developments in flight and aeroplane technology meant that just 21 years after the end of WW1 the devastation of trench warfare was no longer a threat.  It is not known how many people from the Parish served during World War 2 as records were not kept but the names of six men with local connections who lost their lives are recorded on the War Memorial as follows:

William Arthur Colegate – Leading Stoker, Royal Navy
Edward Roy Gould – Private, The Royal Scots
Craven Goring Hohler – Wing Commander, Royal Air Force
Charles Kingsley Hooper – Petty Officer, Royal Navy
Geoffrey Charles Philip Lance – Lieutenant-Colonel, Somerset Light Infantry
Peter Albert Nash – Pilot Officer, Royal Air Force

In the villages, certain changes were evident from 1939: a Home Guard was formed under the leadership of Hugh Pasteur from Fairseat House and air raid shelters were constructed – including a brick-built one at Stansted school with a reinforced concrete roof. Household shelters were often based on the Anderson shelter which comprised corrugated steel panels covered in soil. A concrete observation/defence hut was built at the top of Windmill (Stansted) Hill.

From 1939, evacuee children started to arrive in the villages; some via the Government scheme and some by private arrangement with relatives. They were educated at Stansted school and their names are identifiable as they were recorded in red in the school register. Some, such as Stan and Jeff Marchant, made the villages their permanent home.

Air Raid Wardens (‘Get that light out!’) were active from 1939 but in particular in two phases of German aggression in 1940 and in 1944.  The ferocity of the battle of Britain in the skies above the Parish during the Summer of 1940 can be seen when on successive days in August a Hurricane crashed into the ground near Coldharbour, Stansted, killing its pilot Colin Francis and then a Messerschmitt emergency landed behind the church.  The German co-pilot was dead and the pilot was arrested.

On the land, even greater emphasis than usual was put onto food production and certain crops were grown under Government direction.  Learning the lessons from WW1, many occupations were exempt from conscription in WW2 including farmers and agricultural workers.  A unit of the Land Army was formed and a temporary camp for the volunteers was built in Fairseat.  Stansted Recreation Ground (only purchased as such in 1939) reverted to pasture for livestock and St Mary’s churchyard was used for hay.

King George VI visiting Wrotham Camp (OCTU) in 1943

In the early part of 1942, it was decided to standardise basic training and send all potential officer cadets to a pre-Officer Cadet Training Unit camp for up to eight weeks prior to their attendance at their ‘specialist’ OCTU.  With a few exceptions, all officer cadets were required to attend this newly formed pre-OCTU (Wrotham Camp) which was situated on and around what is now the site of Vigo Village. Training areas extended northwards through all of ‘Happy Valley’, almost to Meopham, and south to farmland beyond the Pilgrims Way.  The camp handled the vast majority of officers for the British Army for four years.  It was significant in size and trained up to 10,000 men at any one time.

In 1951 the population of the Parish is recorded as being 537, an increase of 68 in the previous 20 years. The recorded population of Stansted Parish had increased from 341 in 1901 to 537 in 1951. This is a 57% rise in 50 years. In 1961 the population is recorded as being 562 (an increase of 35 since 1951).

In August 1959 St Mary’s Church was awarded a Grade II* listing as a building of special architectural and historic interest.

Fairseat Village Hall was erected in 1963 and Stansted Village Hall followed two or three years later.  Hugh Pasteur, from Fairseat, was instrumental in the provision of both buildings.  He was a Director of J&E Hall in Dartford and for no charge acquired the emergency offices that they had erected to replace older ones bombed in the War.  They were erected on an acre of land in Fairseat that had already been donated by Mrs Anderson in about 1956.  The total cost was about £1,000 which was partly met by a grant from the County Council and partly by local fundraising.

Stansted also wanted a Village Hall to be located in the Recreation Ground which until the 1930s had been Glebe land owned by the Church.  Local people were able to buy from the Post Office for £600 the old sorting office that was being replaced in Longfield but there were difficulties because a covenant had been put on the land when it passed from the Church to the Parish Council that no more than one building should be on the land at any time; and there already existed a cricket pavilion ‘hut’ (and in later years a Hockey changing room).  Eventually, it was agreed that cricket facilities would be provided in the new Village Hall and the impasse was resolved.  For many years Stansted school used the hall for many of the things that a bigger school would have had in their assembly hall and which Stansted did not have (cookery, PE, etc) and that helped to pay the expenses of the village hall.

Between 1969 and 1970 Malling RDC provided mains sewerage to Fairseat.  This was not extended to Stansted until 1976 (part) and 1981 (remainder).  By the later dates, Malling RDC had been replaced by Tonbridge and Malling District Council.  Because the area is hilly the engineers could not rely on gravity to dispose of the waste and collection and pumping stations were installed.  The largest of these are next to Stansted Village Hall and further north along Malthouse Road.  Prior to this, most houses had either a soakaway, a cesspit or a septic tank in their gardens and many examples of these remain.

The building of New Ash Green in the 1960s/70s put great strain on existing infrastructure, particularly the water supply.  In order to improve water pressure for New Ash Green, a large above-ground tank/reservoir was built at the top of Stansted (Windmill) Hill.  The then newly formed Stansted and Fairseat Society helped persuade the Water Board to reposition the reservoir so that it could be screened and become almost invisible from the road.

In the early 1970s, various routes were being considered for the motorway network between Dartford and Sevenoaks and one of the three options being considered ran through Stansted.  The Stansted & Fairseat Society was also instrumental in persuading the Department of Transport to opt for a longer route for the M20 which avoided the Parish altogether.

In 1982 Vigo was added to the Ecclesiastical parish of Stansted via a Pastoral Order which established the parish of Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo, served by St Mary the Virgin Church, Stansted, the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, Fairseat and a base in Vigo Village.

The Great Storm arrived in October 1987 and many people will remember Sevenoaks losing six of the trees that gave the town its name.  Fairseat was completely cut off by fallen trees and was without electricity or telephone services for five to seven days.  Stansted was not so cut off but probably lost more trees.  Damage to property was quite random with one property in Fairseat not losing a single slate from the roof whilst one nearby had 225 kilograms of lead ripped from the roof by the wind.  Altogether an extraordinary event outside of living memory.

The six refurbished church bells arriving in Stansted, Kent in 1992
The six refurbished church bells arriving in Stansted, Kent in 1992

On 9th June 1991, one hundred and fifty intrepid walkers accompanied the oldest bell in St Mary’s tower, named John and cast in 1420, back to Whitechapel Bell Foundry, a distance of 26 miles.  Dressed in medieval costume they raised £15,500 towards the Bells project, a quarter of the funds needed to install a new bell frame, a ringing gallery, and cast three new bells to create a ring of six.  A service of dedication was held at St Mary’s on 16th May 1992.

1996 was a time of both sadness and celebration; sadness because the 1923 war memorial statue by Alajos Strobl had been stolen the year before but celebration because the Village had the means to commission a replacement bronze statue.  The celebrated sculptor Faith Winter had previously completed statues of Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding and Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris both of which stand outside St Clement Danes, London at the junction of the Strand and Fleet Street.  The original statue in Stansted had been stolen once before in 1964 but had been recovered intact from a quarry in Swanley and had been replaced onto its plinth.

From 1968 to 1997, the ground floor of Fairseat Farmhouse (opposite Fairseat Manor and next to the access road to the Recreation Ground) was a Village Shop and Post Office.  It was known locally for many years as the Pink House.  It was a lovely, old-fashioned shop and was run by Len and Kay Pointon assisted by their daughter Melita Gandolfo.  It is now a private residence and is called Fairseat Farmhouse.

The Fairseat Post Office had originally opened in 1871 in what is now Fairseat Cottage and Stella Henden had served there from 1916.  In 1930 (or thereabouts) the Post Office moved to what is now The Old Post House and Stella Henden ran the service, a shop, and the telephone exchange.  This continued until she fell ill and died in 1966. The telephone exchange was removed from The Old Post House at this time.

In January 2007 the village was used as a semi-fictional location in the filming of an episode of EastEnders broadcast in the United Kingdom over the Easter 2007 holiday season.  Additional scenes were filmed at Wormshill and Ringlestone as ostensibly the same village location, notwithstanding that they are some 20 miles (30 kilometres) from Stansted.

Also in 2007, British Airways mistakenly used inflight ‘Skymaps’ that relocated Stansted Airport, Essex to Stansted in Kent.  Skymaps show passengers their location, but the mistake was luckily not replicated on the pilots’ navigation system.  BA blamed outside contractors hired to make the map. “It was the mistake of the independent company that produced the software,” said a spokeswoman. “The cartographer appears to have confused the vast Essex airport, which handles 25 million passengers a year, with Stansted, a small Kent village.”

In a bizarre incident on Saturday, 29 December 2007 Daniel Tucker a 39-year-old precision engineer, of Adisham Green, Sittingbourne was fatally shot by firearms officers after he called the police to Tumblefield Road, Stansted, claiming he had seen a man pointing a gun at him.  Although no-one could be certain, it appeared that he had wanted to commit suicide and he had chosen this as a way of achieving it.

Vigo Inn (top left), Horse and Groom (top right), Black Horse (bottom left), Anchor and Hope (bottom right)

For several centuries the Parish was served by a number of public houses.  Following the 2007 ban on smoking in enclosed spaces, many pubs reported a fall in trade and this, coupled with tax changes and cheaper alcohol being sold in supermarkets, has resulted in many pubs becoming uneconomic and closing.  In Stansted three pubs have closed since 2007 namely; the Vigo Inn, the Anchor and Hope, and the Horse and Groom. Only the Black Horse remains open and long may it continue as one of the centres of the community.

For many years there had been egg farms at Oakwood Farm, Fairseat, and at Plaxdale Green Farm, Stansted. A national need for more housing coincided with legislation that made egg farms less viable and both sites were redeveloped with new houses. Eight new dwellings were approved in Fairseat and about seventeen in Stansted. The overall population in the Parish increased by about 10% as a result of these two developments. This was almost certainly the biggest increase in the local population since the building of new houses in the villages before and after WW2.

A primary school had existed in Stansted since 1865 and the present building was opened as a Church of England school in 1874. The school premises were extended by Kent County Council in 2003 at a cost thought to be around £650,000 to allow more pupils to be educated but was closed as a mainstream primary school in August 2015 after a series of critical Ofsted reports.

St Marys Church, Stansted, with Cloisters added in 2015
St Marys Church, Stansted, with Cloisters added in 2015

On October 15th 2015 the new extension to St Mary’s Church, ‘The Cloisters’, was officially opened and consecrated by the Bishop of Rochester. This was the culmination of ten years of hard work by the Rector, the PCC and many local residents. Architecturally the building is a fine addition to the ancient church and the activities within it help to ensure the continuation of an active community spirit.

In November 2018 an exhibition was held in the Cloisters to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.  As a result of original research by a small team of volunteers about 100 posters were produced to show the impact of two World Wars on the Parish.  Much of the information had never been seen before.  There were over 600 visitors during the week of the Exhibition and the material was used to produce a booklet for all households in the three villages. The exhibition was repeated in Vigo in November 2019.

Members of the research group for the Exhibition decided to continue the project and set about creating this local history website.  The Stansted and Faiseat Society was resurrected in April 2019 after being in abeyance for ten years or so to give guidance to the project.  The first objective of the Society was to produce a website that reflected the November 2018 Centenary Exhibition and to include the detailed information that space had meant could not be shown.  The second objective was to digitise the wider historical information in the Fairseat archive and include a full range of the local history of the three villages.

Following the purchase of the Stansted school site by the Parish Council, arrangements were made to let it to Grange Park School for use as an annexe to their main premises in Wrotham.  Extensive adaptation work was carried out to the premises and the car park in 2018/19 and from September 2019 Key Stage 2 pupils (Years 4, 5 and 6 pupils – ages 8-11) with Autism Spectrum Condition are educated there.  It has to be said that there was massive disappointment over the closure of the primary school for local children but the Parish Council through its vision and determination was able to keep the site in educational use and, for that, the community is grateful.

A local history project featuring the pupils from Stansted Primary School, produced in 2012.
Thanks go to Kate Charlwood for sourcing this video clip which is also available on the Stansted & Fairseat Yesteryear blog at