East Lenham – another monastic manor

In my last post I talked about the manor of Lenham which belonged to St Augustine’s Abbey. Today I shall discuss East Lenham. Queen Ediva, the second or even third wife of King Edward (son of King Alfred) lived in the tenth century. She was a patron of the priory of Christ Church in Canterbury. A picture belonging to Christchurch bears the legend:

To Christs church of Canterbury did give indeed, Mooketon and Thorndenne the monks there to feed, Mepham, Cleeve, Cowling, Osterland,
East farleugh and Lenham as we beleeve

The year Domio MLXI of Christy incarnation.

She effectively chopped out part of the manor of Lenham – to the tune of five plough lands and gave it to the priory creating East Lenham in the process. Importantly she gave it to the monks free from secular service aside from the repair of bridges on the land and the repair of any fortifications.

In 1066 William the Conqueror (and I know that the people of Kent are very proud of their county motto invicta meaning unconquered) declared all the land was his. He retained 1/5 for his own use and gave a 1/4 to the church. The Archbishop of Canterbury became his tenant-in-chief. So just as the manor of Lenham was returned to St Augustine’s the manor of East Lenham was returned to Christchurch. Archbishop Lanfranc is identified as William’s tenant in chief – which is fine so long as the archbishop and the monarch were getting along without any problems. Unfortunately the Normans and the Plantagenets weren’t always known for their smooth working relationships with the Church.

Meanwhile East Lenham was a world in itself. It was an economic and political unit – not the same as a parish. It had to be self sufficient and to administer the law – in this case a mixture of Church law and common law. In the medieval period you had to know where you were as to which laws applied to you. There were also issues of who held the right to a fair, woodlands and mills. The use of the mill, the bakery or even a cider press was subject to the customary laws of the manor as were the rights to hunt, forage or to graze your animals. All of this would be recorded by the manor court.

In East Lenham the hierarchy shifted early on to add a secular lord to the dimension. In 1066 the archbishop was the tenant but by 1087 and Domesday Godifred, or as we would call him Godfrey, Dapifer who had previously been the archbishop’s steward was now holding East Lenham as a sub tenant to the value of a knight’s fee. So in time of conflict Godfrey had to present himself in return for his manor at East Lenham demonstrating that Ediva’s generous terms weren’t returned exactly the same way. Further investigation reveals that the archbishop’s knight held lands in Sheppey as well.

East Lenham was taxed at the rate of two shillings, it was composed of two carucates of demesne land – so the lord’s own land worked by villeins of whom there were 15 and 2 borderers or cottagers who held an additional four carucates between them. So think three field strip system. There were also six acres of meadow, a mill and a wood that would provide pannage for ten hogs. The villeins had 4 plough teams whilst the lord had a further 2 teams. Interestingly the two teams are described as belonging to the priory suggesting that perhaps the change of landlord was a recent transition – but that is only speculation and could have course been a secondary source assumption.

Essentially although there are secular tenants in the role of lord of the manor throughout the medieval period- the family of Godfrey Dapifer was superseded by the Hornes for example- the land remains Church land. Feudal incidents become more important with the passage of time. Rather than military service knights paid scutage or shield tax.

The social hierarchy shifted with the Black Death that reduced the number of available labourers, the Peasants revolted destroying, in many cases, the manor court records which recorded who was free and who was not.

Then along came Henry VIII with his marital difficulties. The priory of Christ Church was dissolved along with all the other monastic foundations but Cromwell recognised that the dioceses and the archbishops needed to be maintained so rather than the land being sold off or becoming Crown estate an act of parliament passed East Lenham back to the church. The archbishop duly let the manor for a term of 21 years at the annual rate of £55. East Lenham moved from the feudal system to the more modern lease hold.

By 1557 when the Wotton Survey was undertaken East Lenham had changed a little. Thomas Wotton held land on twenty manors including Robyns Tenement in East Lenham and Goldhurdfield.

Over time the field system shows piecemeal enclosure of some of the common land – those 6 acres of meadow mentioned in the Domesday Book.

By 1643 Sir Robert Honywood of Charing held the lease and from there it passed into the hands of Philip, Earl of Chesterfield. After his death the lease was sold to George Gipps who sub-let the manor to the Knatchbull family taking us to the eighteenth century with the Church still being the landlord. The Kent History Centre holds a bundle of Knatchbull papers pertaining to the Manor of East Lenham.

And before you ask does the Church of England still own land at East Lenham? The honest answer is I don’t know unless I applied to the land registry for information. Currently the Church owns 0.5% of England – which isn’t bad going. At the Reformation it received back from Henry VIII some two million or so acres – and that is the number based on Victorian glebe land calculations. By 1976 this number had dropped to 111,628 acres. In 2004 Shrubsole estimated that there was about 70,000 acres of land left but a 2019 figure was higher – because land is rather valuable these days if it’s in a prime location to be built upon. And it should be noted that the Church Commissioners aren’t required to publish a map of their landholdings.

Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Lenham’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (Canterbury, 1798), pp. 415-445. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol5/pp415-445 [accessed 30 November 2020].

Guy Shrubsole Who Owns England?