Ightham Tourist Guide
Ightham, pronounced ‘item’, is a village in Kent located about four miles east of Sevenoaks and six miles north of Tonbridge.
The parish includes the hamlet of Ivy Hatch. It is the most westerly of the parishes in the Borough of Tonbridge and Malling and lies spanning the A25 and the A227 roads and the railway line from Otford to Maidstone. It is a quiet place with many of the populace work in London and the nearby towns.
Although Ightham was not recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086, it was probably in existence long before then.
It is commonly agreed the name Ightham originates from the initial Anglo-Saxon period, and was in the beginning Ehtaham which derived from 'Ehtam', a Jutish personal name and 'Ham' meaning a settlement. The neighbouring hamlet of Ivy Hatch almost certainly dates from the same period, because its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Heuvy Hatch’ meaning 'High Gate'.
Even before the Anglo-Saxons arrived there was a great Iron Age Hill Fort on Oldbury Hill. This is now National Trust property and lies inside the parish but just outside the village.
The church was first built in the 12th century and stands on a impressive site overlooking the village. It is noticeable from the Ightham By-pass. It is a characteristic mediaeval parish church and was reconstructed early on in the 15th century. It was almost certainly preceded by a Saxon building. Early Norman features survive - two small blocked windows high in the east wall and extremely thick chancel walls. The present church was more or less completely rebuilt at the turn of the 14 - 15th centuries, and so it has remained, apart from the north aisle which was reconstructed in distinctive mellowed brick in 1639. The first Rector was presented to the benefice by Henry III in 1232.
It was at Ightham Church, in 1570, that William Lambarde, writer of the first English county history, ‘A Perambulation of Kent’, married his first wife, Jane.
A fascinating monument in the church is to Dame Dorothy Selby who was a great needle-woman. She created numerous pictures, one of which showed the Gunpowder Plot. There is a legend that she took part in the discovery of the Plot, but this is the consequence of a misreading of the words on the memorial, which reads in part "whose art disclosed that Plot". The true sense of the words is no more than that she displayed the Plot in her needlework.
During the Second World War numerous bombs fell in the parish, but the church was not hit. It did nevertheless lose much of its glass. The east window was replaced in 1949 and a plaque states that it was put up in memory of parishioners who lost their lives in the two World Wars.
In 1336, King Edward II approved a licence for a fair to be held every twelve months in the village for three days. This was called the Coxcombe Fair. The fair was revived in 1977 for the Queen's Silver Jubilee and since then further fairs have been held in 1988 to remember the defeat in 1588 of the Spanish Armada and in 2002 for the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
The three great houses of Ightham were Ightham Court, Ightham Mote and St Clere. The latter is currently in the parish of Kemsing. Ightham Court was the home of the James family for many years.
The village is most well-known for the close by medieval manor of Ightham Mote, now National Trust owned, even though the village itself is of even greater antiquity.
During the Civil War the Rector of Ightham, the Reverend John Gryme, achieved infamy by causing a Royalist rebellion. Parliament issued an Ordinance demanding all clergy to take an oath of allegiance and to compel it on their parishioners. Mr Gryme, knowing the sympathies of the parishioners, refused to obey. A troop of horse was despatched to take him into custody. A scuffle followed in which a member of the parish was killed. The action sparked off a rising throughout the district, which required parliamentary troops to suppress.
Ightham was famous for growing Kentish cob nuts. These appear to have been grown first by a James Usherwood who lived at Cob Tree Cottage. There was a public house in close proximity called the Cob Tree Inn but which has now returned to being a private house. There are still a number of cob trees in and around the village, but the work of pruning them and picking the nuts is very labour intensive and the industry has fallen into decline.
One of the great village characters was Benjamin Harrison who lived from 1837 to 1921. He was a grocer by trade, but an archaeologist by preference. He won international credit as a pioneer in the subject. He discovered flints in the pre-glacial drift on the North Downs near Ash, which he argued were artefacts so predating the antiquity of man.
The hub of the village is quaint with its half timbered houses and does not appear to have altered much over the years . The village is tidily and neatly presented and though all the shops and Post Office have closed, there are public houses in the centre. There are other public houses in the parish.
Two VCs have been awarded to Ightham men. The first was Williarn Sutton, a bugler with the Royal Green Jackets, who won his medal in 1857. The second was Riversdale Colyer-Ferguson of Ightham Mote whose award was made posthumously in 1917.
Industry in the parish consists of farming, including some sheep and fruit farming, and an organic farm. There is a sandpit where sand is still removed and concrete blocks manufactured. There are quite a few plant nurseries and a number of prosperous house building businesses.
The parish has sports facilities such as football pitches, cricket field and tennis courts. Badminton is played in the village hall. Riding is a popular pastime and there is a wide network of bridleways and footpaths.
The WI and WRVS are active and there are societies which cater for most tastes. For the younger people there is a Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack. There is a village hall where a variety of activities and meetings take place. There is a flourishing primary school and a playgroup which meets near the school. For secondary school education, children have to go elsewhere.
There were a number of dark happenings in the village’s past...
In 1908, Caroline Mary Luard was shot and killed in an lonely summer house in the woods near Ightham. Her husband, Maj-Gen. Luard, discovered her, dead of head wounds. The Major came under local suspicion and was the victim of hate gossip and unsigned letters. Not capable of coping, he threw himself under a train. It was later suggested that a man hanged for a murder on a train may have been the culprit.
In 1984, Barbara Harrold, a 53-year-old grandmother opened a gift wrapped parcel delivered to her home on The Street in Ightham. It was a bomb filled with air gun pellets and parts of fireworks. She died of her injuries six days later. In 2002, Keith Cottingham, Kent-born businessman who had been on European "most wanted" lists was extradited from Spain to stand trial for the murder. He had, it was alleged, been involved in property dealings in Spain with the Harrolds. Unfortunately, he proved too ill for court and died in London's Belmarsh prison a year later.
In the early 18th century, a murderer was hanged for a crime committed near Oldbury, the Iron Age formation above the town. He was then left in chains "for some considerable time" as "a spectacle highly edifying to the morals.." according to Edwardian historian F.J Bennett. In 1905, digs near a burnt out mill exposed the iron cage in which his body been displayed.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015