It has been proposed that the boundaries of some English villages match the estates of Roman villas. It seems quite likely that Snodland would be one of these, serving the substantial villa by the river. Some of the parish boundaries have always been clearly defined. The river to the east and the stream to the south, bounding on the parishes of East Malling and Birling, and the border with the (once) separate parish of Paddlesworth to the west: all these seem to have been well established from earliest times. But the boundary with Halling was at first not so precise, perhaps because both Holborough and Halling were part of the same manor held by the Bishop of Rochester. Early residents living beside this boundary are sometimes listed in one parish and sometimes in the other. Ecclesiastical boundaries defined the extent to which each church was responsible not only for the cure of souls, but also for help (via the parish officers) for those needing social care of any kind.
Domesday Book, a detailed survey of the country made in 1086, sets out the answers to a series of questions from William the Conqueror. He sent commissioners to each place to ask:
1) the name of the place. Who held it (a) before 1066 (b) now?
2) How many hides? [a unit of about 120 acres]. How many ploughs, both those in lordship and the men’s?
3) How many villagers, cottagers and slaves, how many free men and Freemen?
4) How much woodland, meadow and pasture? How many mills and fishponds?
5) How much has been added or taken away? What the total value was and is?
6) How much each free man or Freeman had or has? (a) before 1066; (b) when King
William gave it, (c) now; and if more can be had than at present.
The answers for Snodland were:
‘The Bishop of Rochester holds Esnoiland. In the time of King Edward the Confessor [before 1066], it was taxed at six sulings, and now at three. The arable land is six ploughs. In lordship there are two ploughs and ten villagers, with six smallholders, having six ploughs. There is a church and five slaves, and three mills of forty shillings, and thirty acres of meadow, wood for the pannage of four hogs. In the time of King Edward and afterwards it was worth six pounds, and now nine pounds.’
Though King William gave his own followers possession of vast tracts of land in England, he took over both the organization of English society and the way the land was cultivated from the Anglo Saxon era – what we call the feudal system. At the head of the system was the lord of the manor – here the Bishop of Rochester. All villagers were subservient to him, being bound to their tenancy – with some forced to move at his command, forced to grind their corn at his mill, forced to till his fields on certain days of the year, forced to give him military service, and requiring his permission when giving their children in marriage. One remnant of this service in Snodland is probably the great earth rampart, formerly known as ‘the wall’, built to separate fresh water pasture from the salt marshes by the river. We can imagine the villagers toiling with their simple tools for many days to form this impressive earthwork for the Bishop.
Each manor was divided into its ‘demesne’ land – intended to provide for the particular needs of the lord’s own household – and the remainder, which was usually sub-let to tenant farmers for rent. All villagers needed land of their own to raise food for the families and this was distributed in individual strips scattered through one or two great ‘open fields’. Here was the fairest means of sharing out good and bad land to all alike. (The lord was always likely to have acquired some of the very best land – like ‘Bishop’s Reed’, a very fine field in the south of our parish).
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Domesday description is but the most impressive example of a number of early documents showing that those who governed the land, whether noblemen or clergy from the great cathedrals, monasteries or abbeys, had a detailed knowledge of their holdings and of those who lived on their estates. The amounts of land which the tenants farmed for themselves were used to assess them for taxes. So the Domesday entry for Snodland records that the Bishop himself had land for 2 plough teams, there was arable land for 6 plough teams, and the villagers themselves (in the common fields) had lands for another six. This area probably matches that of a Roman villa estate, so again we are led back to the villa by the river as the key for the extent of our parish. Here were ten ‘villagers’ – the highest class of peasantry – who, although required to serve the lord on his land, might also hold between 30 and 100 acres each in the common fields. The six smallholders were of lesser standing in the community, but higher than the five slaves – treated as chattels of the lord in every respect. With wives and children that suggests a total population of nearly 100 people.
Can we discover how this land was distributed? Yes, to a limited extent. Evidence can be deduced from surviving deeds and maps, even as late as the eighteenth century, for these show the last remnants of the strips of land tilled for centuries before that. Then there are a number of early mediaeval tax assessments which are also helpful. But perhaps most important of all is the evidence which can be superimposed on information from the documents: evidence now fast vanishing but available at least within living memory to anyone walking round the parish. It is the farms, and the sites of farms, which are the key to unlocking the secrets of the Domesday entry.
A seventeenth century map of the Bishop’s ‘Manor of Halling’ – to which both Holborough and Cuxton belonged – shows that his fields lay largely at that end of the parish, together with his mill at Holborough. Tenant farmers would have occupied his farm or farms by the mill. By the late 13th century one of these tenant families was that of Holloway, whose members lived on there until around 1500 and who gave their name to the property. Other early residents of Holborough and Halling, and who held land in both, were called Canon, Herring and Usher. All were well established there for several hundred years.
In addition to the Bishop’s manor, at least two others formed part of the parish of Snodland. One was the manor of Veles and the other was the manor of Potyns. Both seem to have been named after the families who owned and/or lived in them. The manor house of Veles was sited by the church and river-crossing (now part of the paper mill car park) and a large part of its land bordered on the river, taking in the villa site, but also extending into the parishes of Birling and East Malling. We may surmise that once the Roman villa fell into decay it was succeeded by this farm. It probably included another of the mills mentioned in the Domesday survey, served by the adjacent stream, and developed hundreds of years later into the paper mill. (Where, one wonders, was the third mill mentioned by Domesday?) The Vele family, or their predecessors, would certainly have been counted among the chief inhabitants of their time. They are mentioned in documents between 1242 and 1346.
The other manor, of Potyns, has a different pedigree. It always seems to have belonged to the lords of the adjacent manor of Paddlesworth. At the time of King Edward this was Godric. In 1086 Hugh of Port held Paddlesworth from Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Later it passed to the lords of Linton and Saye. The manor may have taken its name from ‘William Potin, Thurstan of Strood’, clerk of the works in building a new ditch and wall round the city of Rochester in 1225. By a legal settlement in Canterbury on 21 September 1227, Robert le Kempe was granted the tenancy of 5 acres of land at Holborough at a yearly rent of 12d., having acknowledged that the land belonged to William Potyn. A similar settlement in Rochester on 8 July 1271 showed the tenant of a house and (presumably the same) 5 acres of land now to be Robert, son of Benedict Hemer, and his wife Eleanor. The landlord was still a William Potyn, perhaps son or grandson of the other man of this name. A John Potyn was bailiff of the city of Rochester with William de Snodeland in 1271-2. Maybe this William was called Potyn too, for surnames were not yet well established. A person might be called after his profession, such as Miller or Baker, or, more commonly he might be named after his home parish or some identifiable place within it. Eventually the reverse happened, as here, with property being named after its owner or occupier. The principal farmhouse for this manor may have been the predecessor to what is now called ‘Cox’s Farm’, or ‘Woodlands’. Its sixteenth century name of ‘Newhouse’ implies that the present building replaced an earlier one. But the manor house might equally have been Mark farm – so called because of its position near the boundary of the parish – which is also very ancient. Members of a family called ‘de Merke’ can be traced around 1300 and after.
Two other families from the 13th century can also be associated with Snodland farms. Lad and Povenesse gave their names to Lad’s farm and Punish farm respectively. What others remain? Presumably those farms which by their size, position and known history were the equal of those above. One would be Grove farm whose site so close to Birling led to a legal ruling in the seventeenth century that it belonged to Snodland, although it still appears in the Birling censuses of the nineteenth century! Another would be ‘Home’ or Covey Hall farm on the Holborough Road, while a third would be centred on the timbered house in the High Street now known as ‘Mulberry Cottage’. All these had substantial amounts of land attached to them as one would expect for the property of a mediaeval ‘villein’ or ‘villager’. The ‘borderers’ or small holders would occupy smaller units. Again we can pick out certain properties as of ancient lineage and with a more limited area of associated land. The Bull, where the High Street and road to Rochester met, and ‘Benet’s Place’, formerly at the junction of the Paddlesworth and Birling roads, are two examples. Others are the buildings called ‘Prospect Cottage’ on the east side of Holborough Road, which seem to have developed from a single ‘hall house’ of the 15th century, and at least one more called ‘Acacia Cottage’, demolished by Charles Townsend Hook to make way for his imposing nineteenth century house in the High Street – which he confusingly called ‘Veles’. There was at least one more small holding at Holborough, later known as ‘Gilder’s Farm’.
In Snodland it seems that the common field devoted to arable land extended from the village westwards as far as the Pilgrim’s Way, with the Bishop’s lands on the north side. The 1844 tithe commutation map shows ‘Islands’ as the great field at the west end, but this is a corruption of ‘Highlands’. The common arable land for Potyns seems to have been located in the valley behind Lad’s farm. Each year part of the common land would be kept fallow while the other part was cultivated. Chalk does not favour trees, so the woodland tended to be cultivated as narrow ‘shaws’ around the edges of fields – which also served as wind-breaks. Larger wooded areas (where the soil allowed it) were confined to the downs where opportunity for cultivation was limited and where the game could roam freely. These were nevertheless an important feature of the environment, for they supplied both material for buildings and implements and fuel for heating. A third element was pasture land to provide food for the livestock and on which animals could graze when not working. Naturally it was the land near the river which best served this purpose and Snodland’s common pasture, part of which still survives, has always been known as ‘The Brook’ or ‘Blackbrookes’. More common pasture, probably for the Holborough manor, was next to the Medway near Halling. A final part of the ‘jigsaw’ was the glebe land granted to the rector of the parish for his own use. We have detailed descriptions of the glebe land from 1634 to 1848 and there is no reason to doubt that these would also be valid as far back as mediaeval times. They give a good idea of what was deemed necessary for his subsistence (considerably more than the 4 acres which seems generally to have been reckoned a feasible amount):
1) Half an acre of arable land (later reduced to a quarter) ‘lying in the South East end of Upper Mill Field’ [behind ‘Prospect Cottage’ in Holborough Road, now part of Willowside].
2) A quarter of an acre of meadow land ‘in the South-West corner of Parsonage Meadow’ [near the Brook].
3) An acre of salt marsh ‘in the Common Salts’ [near the Medway at Holborough]
4) Two and a half acres of arable land [near ‘Highlands’].
5) Three acres of arable land [near (4)] ‘in the Comon fields belonging to Holborrowe’.
6) An acre of arable land ‘in a common field called Lad’s’.
7) An acre of arable land in a field called ‘The hanging hill’.
8) Around 11 acres of arable and pasture land (on which the rectory itself was built after the Reformation) [now the cricket meadow and adjoining land to the south.]
The three centuries after the Domesday Book was compiled are thinly documented. Three main sources of information are available: the registers of the bishops of Rochester, books from the monastery of St. Andrew’s, Rochester, and a series of legal agreements known as ‘fines’. They record the comings and goings of the earliest known rectors, grants of land, and a varied crop of disputes and misdemeanours. From them we cannot glean much of the life of the village beyond the names of the chief inhabitants and they are perhaps best presented as a calendar (to which other items may be added by future research).
In 1193 Gilbert de Glanville freely paid the salary of a priest from the tithes of his own knights in Halling, Holborough and Cuxton for the support of the poor staying there.
The earliest known grant of land by ordinary parishioners here was made at Bermondsey on 9 February 1219. Philip de Allingg and his wife Emelina granted the tenancy of 3½ acres of their land at Snodland to Gilbert Pistor [Latin for ‘Baker’] and his heirs at a yearly rent of 1d., although he was required to undertake any service due to the lords of the manor.
In an undated document Robert Vitulus [Vele], with the agreement of his wife Emme and his brother Seunfredi gave to the monks of St. Andrew’s, Rochester, two acres of his own land in Snodland, held by his tenant William Enif at a yearly rent of 12d. He wrote that this was done ‘for the good of my soul and of the souls of the ancestors of me and my wife, and of my own free will.’
In an undated document Robert Vituli [Vele] releases to John and William, sons of Richard of Snodland, clerk, one virgate and four day-works of land placed between the land of the lord bishop towards the East, the King’s highway leading from Snodland to Rochester towards the West, a headland belonging to his messuage towards the North and lands of the bishop [of Rochester] towards the South. Witnesses: Phillipo de Powenesse, Ricardo le Veel Alexandro Harange, Johanne le Lad, Thoma de Kyngesmelle, Nicholas Godesgrace, Ada Syward, Willelmo de Merke, Nicholas his brother, Adam de Swanscompe, Johanne atte Penre and others. [Bishop’s registers]
In 1242 the villagers wealthy enough to be taxed (according to the amount of land they held) were Philippus de Povenesse [half a fee], Johannes le Vel [half a fee] and Walterus le Ladd [half a fee]. Between them they paid ten shillings.
In 1254 Reginaldus Harynge held a 10th part of the Fee in Snodilonde of the Bishop of Rochester; Henricus de Pevenseye held two parts […]; Anselinus Lad held a quarter part […]; Ricardus le Veel held a sixth part […]. 27th Edward III. Deed of Johannis le Usser: five dayworks of land. Witnesses: Philippo de Povenesse, Johannes le Veel, Johanne Lad, Alexandro Herynge, Johanne de Langeriche, Ada Lylye, Radulfo le Canoun, and others. [Bishop’s registers]
20 March Ed. III. Surrender by Johannes le Usser of three virgates and 2 day-works of demesne land in Colemannsfeld in longitude from the North by the lane called Broclane to the Bishop’s lands. Witnesses: Philippo de Povenesse, Alexandro Harange, Roberto de la Chambre, Johanne de Langeriche, Johannes le Lad, Ada Lylye, Willelmo de Holeweye, Henrico le Vitele. [John Thorpe, Registrum Roffense, p.602]
At the end of the century a Judge, Solomon de Rochester, was living in Snodland. But he was fined and imprisoned for corruption. Soon after he was poisoned by Wynand de Dryland, parson of Snodland. Wynand was charged with the murder, but the Bishop confirmed that he was a clerk in holy orders, and after a period of penance at Greenwich he was freed.
1300 – 1400
On 21 July 1303 Bishop Thomas of Wouldham ordered the vicars of Hallyng and Berlyng and the parish priests of Padeleswrthe, Snodlonde, Cuclestan, and Luddeston to admonish the persons who have broken his park of Halling, cut and carried off oaks and other trees, and taken his deer. They were to make restitution before St. Bartholomew’s Day, on pain of excommunication. The Bishop’s park, heavily wooded, is clearly shown on the 1634 map of his manor and even today a large part of it survives as ‘Greatpark Wood’.
1312. A dispute between Nicholas de Estmallyng with Roger, son of Hugh de Boxstede and Andrew de Lenn with Alice his wife concerning lands at Leyburn, Hallyng, Snodelond, Berlyng and Est Mallyng.
1314. Ralph Canoun of Snodelonde and Alice his wife are acknowledged as the owners of a house, 26 acres of land and 1 acre of meadow in Snodelonde
1316. In an agreement between Geoffrey, son of Adam de Gillingham, and John, son of John le Lad of Snodylonde, Geoffrey is granted the title to a house, 54 acres of land, 5 acres of wood, 4s. 8d. rent and rent of 1 goose, in Snodilonde. John is granted the tenancy for his life, which then passes to Alice, the daughter of Geoffrey, and after her death reverts to the heirs of John.
15 June 1322. Hamo, Bishop of Rochester, lets to farm to William de Herdefelde and his heirs, 7 acres of land in a field called ‘Rifshet’ in Snodelonde at an annual rent of 7 quarters of barley, worth 4d. a quarter. William also has 16 acres in Snodelonde and 16 acres in East Malling which are to come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop.
1322. The mill of Holbergh at the same time was new made of timber from Perstede [Bearsted?] and cost £10. [Life of Hamo of Hythe]
1326. The parishioners of Snodland and Halling were given permission by the Bishop to mix blackberry juice with their grape wine. Tithes had to be paid on the vines. [Life of Hamo of Hythe]
1330. At the death of Hamo, Bishop of Rochester, an inventory of Holebergh was taken: 16 cows, 4 oxen, each valued at 10s, 1 horse valued at 20s., 2 swans, seed from the goods of the deceased. 4 caructate and 1 from the goods of the deceased; forge and iron implements. [British Library, MS Faustina B.V, f.101v-102r]
1330. In an agreement between John de Melford with Katherine his wife, and William le Ussher of Snodelond, William is acknowledged as the owner of 2 houses, 41½ acres of land, 1 acre of meadow, 1 acre of wood, and 20s. rent, in Hallyng and Snodelond. He grants all this to John and Katherine and to her heirs.
25 June 1330. Document of Hamo, Bishop of Rochester. Johannis le Melforde and Johannis Herynge. Wynando le Veel, Henrico de Ponesshe, Johanne Lad, Willelmo de Chelesham, Willelmo Ussher, Willelmo Holloweye, Thome Canoun, Johanne Bakere, Roberto Noble. [John Thorpe, Registrum Roffense, p. 603]
31 August 1330. Wynand le Veel confesses an assault on John Pyr in the churchyard of Snodland. His penance is to procure the reconciliation of the churchyard, polluted by the drawing of blood. This affair dragged on and involved others. Wynand failed to appear before the Bishop’s Court and was pronounced “contumacious” [a wilful breaker of the law]. Eventually, however, on 30 March 1331, the Bishop granted the absolution of Wynand le Vel from excommunication, and Thomas Canon, Ricardus Lusk, Johannes le Meller, and Walterus Holeweye of Snodland from suspension upon Wynand’s undertaking to pay the procuration demanded at Midsummer and the others were to see that he did so. The rector of Snodland was guarantor for them all.
[Undated]: Let for rent: Johanne le Ushher/ Radulfo Canonn:
Ricardi Lulke: 5 acres in the same field
Galfridi Lylie: 2 acres in the same field
Johannes Herynge: 1 acre in the same field
Willelmi Pyr: 1 acre in the same field
Johanne Pyr: 1 acre in the same field
Johannis Wedone: 1 acre in the same field
Nicholai Lulke: 1 acre in the same field
Thome Duntefrenche: 1 acre in the same field [John Thorpe, Registrum Roffense, p. 603]
11 December 1330. The rector of Snodland is admonished to make good all defects in the books, vestments and chancel of his church before Easter under a penalty of 20 shillings.
21 February 1342. In the valuation of Strood hospital is a meadow at Snodland, valued at 6 shillings.
1346. Ricardo de Povenasshe, Johanne de Melforde, Johannis Lad and Ricardi le Veel are assessed for the half fee which Philippus de Povenasshe, Johannes Harang, and Walterus Lad held in Snodelond of the Bishop of Rochester. Johannes de Melford holds an eighth part and all are to pay 20 shillings.
1364. Henry de Scortneye was appointed to the Chaplaincy of St. Andrew, Holboro’, but no church or chapel appears ever to have been built.
10 June 1387. Grant of a property in ‘Holberghe’ by Thomas Brynton, Bishop of Rochester, to Peter Parker, which property came to the bishop on the death of Thomas Rokherst.
23 April 1391. An agreement between Peter Hattere, and Thomas Pole with Christina his wife. For 100 marks [£66. 13s. 4d.] Hattere buys from them a house with 120 acres of land (rent value 20s) in Hallyng, Snotheland and Cokklestan.
1400 – 1450
2 February 1403. Command that the Bishop of Rochester attend Chancery to give reason why there should not be a postponment of the hearing against Roger Punyarde and Agnes Piers of Snodelande, excommunicated for contumacy. They have appealed to the court of Canterbury. William Usher, Thomas Brewere, John Reynolde, each of London [?] ‘shipwright’ are mainprise for them. [Calendar of Close Rolls]
24 June 1407. Quitclaim. Amice Lulk, widow and relict of Geoffrey Lulk of Snodland, to John Jolyff alias Clerk of Snodland: Her rights in her estate [in Snodland] which her husband sold to John Jolyff. Witnesses: John Reneyt, William Stowne, William Uscher, Thomas Newman, John Lulk at Snodland. [DRc T639]
St. Matthew/ 1 Hen. VI . Grant of a croft to Peter Fyscher of Snodland by John Marchaunt and John Essex, both of Birling. Croft lying at ‘Sharnale’ in Birling. [Arch. Cant. X]