A SAXON CEMETERY
If Roman rule declined in the area after the fourth century, and the villa was abandoned, what happened to the land? There is surprisingly little evidence of settlement along the Medway in the centuries after Roman occupation and it is quite possible that previously cultivated areas became overgrown. Yet the river crossing would continue to bring people to Holborough and Snodland, so there was always a likelihood that some would take up residence, however temporary, close by.
In 1952, continued chalk quarrying revealed a series of 39 graves between the prehistoric and Roman barrows. Some others had already been lost to the diggers, but a full investigation of those remaining was carried out. Apart from one infant grave, all were lying with the head to the west. As occurs in other locations, it seems likely that the Bronze Age barrow was deliberately chosen as the site for these burials. The cemetery gradually spread from the first graves, dug into the prehistoric barrow, south and east down the slope. Again this is a practice known elsewhere. Some burials were in lidless wooden coffins and some had grave goods buried with them: buckles, shields, spears, swords, knives, bowls and other utensils, and pottery. It has been suggested that some of the finds, especially two buckles, indicate a Christian connection for these people. One buckle has a cross similar to known Christian forms of the time; the other has a bird motif which compares with another from Faversham with a fish – also a Christian symbol. In 604 Justus had been ordained as the first Bishop of Rochester by Augustine and a small church dedicated to St. Andrew was built in the city – later enlarged to become the cathedral – so Christianity was already established in the area.
The cemetery was begun in the seventh century and continued into the next, to serve a group of settlers living by the stream at Holborough. It cannot have continued for too long, judging by its relatively small extent. The finds can all be dated to a span of some fifty years, but the later burials had no grave-goods in them.
By the ninth century, when the first documents appear, Snodland had gained its name in the form ‘Snoddingland’. Since nearly all the -ingland names are derived from personal names, it is thought probable that a man called Snodda lived here and gave the place its identity. All land was held by the King, but he would freely present parcels of it to favoured noblemen and others. So it is that the earliest Snodland charter reads as follows:
‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, saviour of the world, A.D. 838, I King Egbert, with the consent of my dearest son King Ethelwulf, give to my bishop Beornmodo all that land of mine: four ploughlands in the place called Snoddingland and Holanbeorge, granting that they should be free from all service…And a mill on the stream called Holanbeorges burna, and on the King’s hill fifty loads of wood, and also four denberries [in the Weald]: Hwetonstede, Heahden, Hese, Helmanhyrst.’
Two examples of extraordinary continuity are supplied by this charter. Although it is no longer working, the mill at Holborough is likely to be on or near the site of its predecessor more than 1100 years earlier. The fact that the gift of land was made to the Bishop of Rochester, enabling it to descend through his successors and not be dependent on the fortunes of a family line, seems to have preserved its identity for almost as long. At any rate, among the last of the manorial documents for this area, dating from the 1820s and 1830s, are lists of the Bishop’s tenants and the rents paid by each. These all relate to Snodland, Holborough and Halling, except for a final group, headed ‘Wild Rents in the Borough of Wested [Whetsted] & Tudely’. Here, it seems, are the remnants – if not more – of those four ‘denberries’ in the Weald.
All the earliest records mentioning our village were copied into one of the most famous of early English manuscripts: the Textus Roffensis. This great book was compiled at Rochester during the bishopric of Ernulf [1115-1124]. It includes a register of royal charters and grants to the cathedral including those, like the one above, of which independent copies survive.
In 841 Ethelwulf (who was King of the West Saxons) added two ploughlands at Holanbeorge to the gift and many other small bequests from lesser men increased the Bishop’s holdings in the parish in later centuries. However, recent research suggests that the two early Snodland charters are not all they seem. It is proposed that they are tenth century forgeries made by the monks of Rochester to strengthen their claim to the land in a feud with local Saxons as appears below.
It is thanks to some shifty dealings in the 10th century that Snodland again comes to notice. The will of a couple from Meopham in A.D.950 shows that one Aelfere bequeathed his holdings of land at Bromley, Fawkham and Snodland to St. Andrew’s at Rochester, a gift confirmed by his wife Aescwyn. However, priests stole the charters of Snodland from the Bishop and sold them secretly to Aelfere’s son Aelfric. (Perhaps he was annoyed that he had been excluded from enjoying rights of the property in his turn). The Bishop, of course, demanded the return of the charters. In the meantime Aelfric died, so the Bishop then demanded them from Aelfric’s widow Byrhtwaru. It was her son, Byrhtic, with his wife Aelfswith, who made the Meopham will, bequeathing Snodland to St. Andrew’s, Rochester, ‘after Byrhtwaru’s day’. In any case, a court in London had decreed that the stolen charters should be returned to Rochester and to the Bishop, with compensation to be made for the theft.
Some time before 1011 another court, held at Canterbury, deliberated for a long time concerning a further tussle for land at Snodland – this time between the Bishop of Rochester and the ‘shiresman’ Leofwine [of Ditton] (who had an abbot, Aelfun, to support him). Eventually the Bishop was asked to grant the land to Leofwine for his lifetime, and he agreed. For his part Leofwine pledged that the land would then revert to the Bishop without argument ‘and gave up the titles that he had to the land which had before been alienated from the place, and all the messuages which he had west of the church, to the holy place [Rochester].’ This last sentence is particularly interesting, for it confirms that there was a church in Snodland before the Norman Conquest and that there were also houses lining the High Street leading to the west. For military help the village would have looked to Rochester, where the fortifications had been developed by the Romans. The maintenance of Rochester Bridge was the responsibility of the whole district. The bridge was made of wood and had nine piers and a tower (used for defence and as a gate) near the east end. Around 975 A.D. we read:
Then is the ninth pier the Archbishop’s, which is the land pier at the west end, belonging to Flyote and to his Clive and to Hehham and to Denetune and to Melatune and to Hludesdune and to Meapeham and to Snodilande and to Berlingam and to Peadleswyrthe and all the men of the dens, and four rods to plank and three supports to place….These shall repair the bridge at Rochester whenever it is broken, and let it be noticed that all the beams which are placed in this bridge ought to be of large dimensions, that they may well support the planks, and the great weight of all those things that pass over them.’