On the south wall of the nave in Birling church is a memorial:
Sacred to the Memory of John and William May sons of John and Jane May of this Parish. William May ob. [died] 25th August 1777. aet . [aged] 41.
John May ob. 2nd September 1805. aet . 71.
(‘1805’ has previously been misread as ‘1803’ – it is not easy to spot the difference). In her book Birling – A Backward Glance (1982), Margaret Collins suggests that John May senior lived in Sandy Lane. During the 1730s, through bequests, he inherited cash, securities, leases and stock. We shall see that at that time he bought the Snodland Court Lodge estate and built (or possibly rebuilt) the paper mill. On 18 October 1738 he acquired further property, including the ‘Red Lion’, Shernall and hopground in Birling , Hope’s marsh and a tenement in Halling . He added other property in Borden, Bredgar, Halling, Luddesdown, Meopham and Tunstall. He died in 1760 and was buried at Birling on 24 November. In his will he shared his property between his two sons William and John (his wife having pre-deceased him). In Snodland William received the Courtlodge estate (including the paper mill and ‘Red Lion’) and John the Holborough Court estate which his father had bought from Thomas Pearce. When William died in 1777 John inherited his share.
John May junior was baptised at Birling on 12 May 1734. (A previous son John, baptised on 31 May 1732, had died a year later). By 1777 he had become an extremely wealthy man. But as we shall see, he established two endowments for the village in 1800 which have earned him much praise and thanks in succeeding years. The Gentleman’s Magazine reported his death:
September 1, 1805. ‘At his house at Snodland , in Kent, aged upwards of 70, lamented by all who had been honoured with his acquaintance, or had shared his bounty. John May, esq.. He went to bed seemingly in good health the preceding night, and was found dead in the morning.’
He was buried at Birling on 6 May. His will is lengthy and complex, since he had no family, and was entrusted to four executors. It begins by wiping out debts of £4000 owed to him and then lists his property as follows:
Godings farm in Wrotham with 28 acres; Wyarton House in Boughton Monchelsea with 215 acres; three cottages with 5 acres in Boughton Monchelsea ; 8 more acres; Holloway Court in Snodland and Halling ; Lad’s farm in Snodland and Halling ; Halfhead’s in St. Margaret’s parish, Rochester;Gassons in Snodland ; Rumsey’s ; Rectory of Halling ; house and 89 acres in Luddesdown and Meopham ; Birling Hole and land in Birling ; Whitehorse woods in Birling and Luddesdown : 126 acres; house and Boghurst Down (6 acres) in Luddesdown ; several houses and planted woodlands inBirling , Leybourne and East Malling ; ‘Butlers’ and ‘Peat Pale’ in Birling ; house called ‘ Contaers ‘ there; house and 1 acre planted with ash in Birling ; three acres in East Malling called ‘Hynes’ and ‘ Barrams ‘; 6 new hopkilns and land called ‘ Boarfield ‘ and ‘Lodge Brooks’ in Wrotham (8 acres);Snodland Court Lodge in Snodland and Birling (50 acres); Manor of Veles in Snodland ; Snodland Mill and Wharf.
The will concludes with a few monetary bequests. His own debts and responsibilities satisfied, the four executors could each receive the rents of various parts of the property and could jointly administer or dispose of it, which they gradually did.