General history: The weald

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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Edward Hasted, 'General history: The weald', The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797), pp. 293-303. British History Online [accessed 24 June 2024].

Edward Hasted. "General history: The weald", in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797) 293-303. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024,

Hasted, Edward. "General history: The weald", The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797). 293-303. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024,

The weald

THERE are two districts in this county, which merit a particular description, viz. Romney-marsh, and the part of Kent called the Weald, the first of which I shall take notice of when I come to speak of that part of the county, and the latter I shall take this opportunity of describing here.

The Weald of Kent was in former times nothing more than a waste desart and wilderness, not furnished with habitations, and peopled as the rest of the county was, but like a forest, stored with herds of deer and droves of hogs only, in testimony of which, in the antient royal donations to the churches of Canterbury and Rochester, which relate to the Weald, there is mention made of the pannage for hogs in these parts, and of nothing else. And in the antient rentals of the former of those churches, when they come to the tenants inhabiting the wealdy country, there the rent only is set down, without shewing for what antient service, what manner of custom, and for what special cause the same grew due and payable, as is expressed in all elsewhere. From whence it may be presumed, that even when the Weald was at first made to belong to certain known owners, as well as the rest of the country, it was not then allotted into tenancies, nor manured like the rest of it, but only as men were contented to inhabit it, and by peace-meal to clear it of the wood, and convert it into tillage.

This district was named of the Saxon word Weald, signifying a woody country. The Britons called it Coit Andred, from its exceeding greatness, whence the Saxons called it by a second name, Andredesleaz, in Latin, Saltus Andred, i. e. the great chace or forest. (fn. 1) There are diversity of opinions touching the true limits of this Weald, some affirming it to begin at one place, and some at another, which uncertainty arises from its having been from time to time made less and less by industry, and being now in a manner wholly replenished with people, and interspersed every where with wealthy towns and villages, it may more reasonably be maintained, that there is no Weald at all, than to ascertain where it ought to begin or end. Yet there are certain privileges still annexed to the lands in the Weald, which induce the owners of them to contend for their being within the limits of it, where their lands in general pay no tithe of wood, and it is said, that within the Weald the proof of wood lands having ever paid tithe lies on the parson, to entitle him to take tithe of it, contrary to the usual custom in other places, where the proof of the exemption lies on the owner; (fn. 2) nor are the lands in it subject to the statute of woods; nor has the lord waste within the Weald, the timber growing thereon belonging to the tenant, which custom of excluding the lord from the waste is called landpeerage. (fn. 3)

It is the general opinion, that the Weald antiently extended much farther than it is supposed to do at present, and that the bounds of it formerly began at Winchelsea, in Sussex, and reached one hundred and twenty miles in length and thirty in breadth, however that might be, it is certainly now contained in much straighter limits, which, according to the reputation of the country, are as follows in this county:

The Weald bounds on the west to Surry, and on the south to Sussex; on the north, beginning at Surry, the bounds are by the hill whereon Well-street stands; thence to the top of Ide-hill, River-hill, the hill above Fair-lane, and thence to Herst-hill; thence to the top of the hill above Watringbury, thence to Teston, where the river Medway comes in, but on the east side of it the hill begins again, and runs above Burston, and thence to the top of the hills above Linton, Boughton, Chart Sutton, Town Sutton, and Ulcombe, thence to the same hill at Boughton Malherbe, where Sir Horace Mann's house stands, and there the hill breaks, and from thence the bounds towards the east run by certain churches, as those of Egerton, Pluckley, Great Chart and Kingsnoth, and from thence to the hill on the edge of Romney-marsh, below Orlestone, near Ham, and so by Warehorne church, including the same, and from thence by the bottom of the hill below Kednardington church to Apledore, and so down the stream till they meet the county of Sussex. And here it may be noted, that where parishes extend into the Weald, and their churches stand above the hill, the land of these parishes are called by the names of both Upland and Weald; thus there is Sevenoke-upland and Sevenoke-weald, Sundridge-upland and Sundridge-weald, and the like, in a great number of instances.

The Weald, when viewed from the adjoining hills, which command a prospect over the whole of it, exhibits the most delightful scene that can be imagined. It appears to the eye an extensive level country (the few hills in it being so small and inferior to those from whence it is viewed,) covered with all the richness of both art and nature, the variety of small inclosures of corn and meadow, and the houses, seats and villages promiscuously interspersed among the large and towering oaks, which grow over the whole face of it, have the most pleasing effect, and represent to us, even at this time, something, though a great improvement of its original state, in the idea of an inhabited and well cultivated forest.

Mr. Lambarde, in his Perambulation, gives this tract of country a good character, both for health and fertility, which indeed it well deserves; he says, here are at once to be found the commodities cæli and soli, both of the air and of the soil. The soil is in general soft under foot, mostly clay, and full of marle, and this softness of ground enables them to perform all their carriage and husbandry business with oxen, and those unshod. But though this is the general soil of the Weald, yet there are other kinds in it, as sand about Tenterden, Cranbrook, &c. gravel about the lower part of East Peckham and part of Hadlow; and at Bethersden there is much broad stone, commonly called Bethersden marble, and in the parts near Sussex there is plenty of iron mines. The pastures in it are very rich and fertile, and great numbers of fine cattle are continually fatted on them, as well for the supply of this county as the London markets. The soil of the Weald is particularly adapted to the growth of the oak, which in these parts increase to an amazing size, one of which was felled a few years ago at Penshurst, in the park there, which had twenty one tons of timber in it, or eight hundred and forty feet. Every inclosure in the Weald is surrounded with these trees, and every coppice and wood is full of them, and though they yearly afford a supply for the royal navy of Great Britain, yet in all probability there will be sufficient remaining for the use of it for ages yet to come.

This great forest, being at first neither peopled nor cultivated, and filled only with herds of deer and droves of swine, belonging wholly to the king, for there is no mention of it but in royal grants and donations. Hence it had the appellation of Saltus regalis, sylva communis, &c. and it seems, at least the greatest part of it, not to have been parcelled out into either parishes or manors, till after the time of the Norman conquest, there being no mention in Domesday of any independent manors in the Weald, much less was it made any use of in the time of the Romans, who, in all likelihood, were kept out of it by the thickness of the woods and the depth of the soil. But in the royal donations of lands lying out of the Weald, as well to the religious as to others, there is frequent mention made of pannage for hogs in Andredesweald; thus, if a prædium, or possession, a farm, seat, or mansion was given to any one out of the Weald, in the nature of what we call a manor or lordship, it was the usual custom to accommodate it with an additional grant of a common of pannage in the Weald in the same deed; but this was with a limitation usually, and with reference to such and such a part of it, and these parts were called dens, denberies, or wealdberies, which had particular names assigned to them, and thus by degrees the Weald, being in this manner portioned out, came to belong to certain known owners, and began by little and little to be cultivated, as the rest of the country. After which, the lands in it being appendant on manors elsewhere, the tenants of them, in respect to their holdings and tenancies here, became liable to the lord, of whom they held, for services and customs, as other tenants elsewhere, such as fealty, suit of court, reliefs, and other local services and customs. As a farther testimony of which I shall only add, that in king Edward III. and Richard II.'s time, the then archbishop of Canterbury, and the prior and convent of Christ church, most probably, among other lords and owners of the wealdish dens, finding themselves aggrieved by their tenants there, and others, in the wasting and making havoc of their woods, which by the former feoffments they had expressly reserved to themselves, to quit and rid themselves of farther care and trouble in relation to the wood, entered into a composition with their tenants, and for a new annual rent of assise (generally equal to what money was paid before) made the wood over to them by indenture of feoffment in perpetuity, either to be cut down or left standing, at the tenants choice, reserving still their old accustomed rent, and all their former services, except what upon parting with their wood was unreasonable to require, pannage and danger, ever since which the interest of the lord so compounding has been taken off, as to the wood itself, and nothing left remaining but so much rent of assise, the new and the old, with the former services, as above mentioned. (fn. 4)

As to the people with which this county is inhabited, they consist, as in others, of nobility, gentry, yeo- men, artificers, seafaring men, and labourers, whose possessions in it were at first distinguished by the names of knights fee and gavel-kind, that is, the tenure of knights service and socage, the former appertaining to the soldier, and the latter to the husbandman. Which socage tenure of gavelkind has now so entirely swallowed up the other of knights service, that all lands within the county are presumed to hold by it, excepting they are particularly proved to be otherwise, which very rarely happens.

Although there are many antient families among the gentry of this county, some of which derive their origin from the Saxons, yet there are not so many in it as in those parts of Britain at a distance from London; the luxury of which having impoverished many of our gentry, they are forced to give place and are succeeded by citizens, merchants, and lawyers, who, having acquired wealth in that great city, and being desirous of procuring a permanent settlement somewhere, are continually purchasing their manors, houses, and lands; but with these the possession seldom remains for more than three generations, as may be seen by numberless instances, in the account of them hereafter.

The gentry in this county are not only noted for their civility and hospitality to strangers, and their good neighbourhood and convivial intercourse with each other, but for their liberal and generous carriage to their inferiors; and as to their charities to the poor, there are few counties where there are greater instances than in this. They generally cultivate a large part of their estates themselves, as well for the profit and maintenance of their families as for the pleasure which the employment brings with it. They are fond of the country recreations of hunting, shooting, and fishing, and take much pains to preserve the game on their manors, but this seldom breeds quarrels among them, as it does in most other counties.

The yeomanry, which in most other parts of the kingdom is confined to the common people only, as indeed the name shews, for it is so called from the Saxon word gemen, which signifies common, is extended much higher in Kent, for it here likewise comprehends the principal farmers and landholders, who either from their education or intercourse of life, are not esteemed by the gentry of equal rank with themselves, and yet, in point of wealth and possessions, they are frequently superior to many of them, who, though they write themselves yeomen, yet are usually and very properly stiled gentlemen farmers, for besides the largeness of their holdings, which are from four hundred to twelve hundred pounds per annum, they have in general good estates and freeholds of their own, and some even to the amount of what they hire. And as to their hospitality and expence of living, it is in general much superior to that of their landlords.

Below these are the common yeomanry, on whom those above-mentioned look down, as of a rank much inferior to themselves, though if there is any distinction between them, it must have been in the luxury of the times, and the accumulation of farms, that have given them this superiority.

The common yeomen appear in the honest homely garb of their profession, such as their forefathers wore, and mostly content themselves with the hiring of a single farm, and the addition of their own little estate, for they are in general possessed of some. Their manners and behaviour correspond with their dress, they are just and civil in their dealings and behaviour, and enjoy the domestic happiness of their own homes. But these yeomen or franklyns, the most useful and profitable set of men that this kingdom has in it, become fewer every year, and if luxury and the monopoly of farms increase, as they have within these few years past, they will be very soon extirpated, not only from this county, but from the kingdom in general.

From these yeomen last mentioned come the labourers, with which this county is supplied, the eldest son succeeds to his father's homestal, and the others, in general, seek their livelihood by service in the neighbourhood, either in husbandry or in the woods, and each son succeeding on his father's decease to a division of his freehold, by the custom of gavelkind, which everywhere prevails, every man becomes a freeholder, and has some part of his own to live upon.

This distribution of freeholds cements a good understanding between the gentry and yeomen, their lands being everywhere so much intermixed one with the other, obliges them to a mutual civility for their own interest and convenience, nor are the latter so much dependent on the gentry as the inhabitants of most other counties, by copyhold or customary tenures, of which there are very few in it, which state of freedom is productive of good will and kindness from the one sort to the other, there being no part of the kingdom where the people are more quietly governed, or submit with more pleasure to the laws and magistracy of the country.

The number of freeholds in the county of Kent are supposed to be about nine thousand, which is surprising, considering the large possessions which the two episcopal dioceses, the two cathedrals of Canterbury and Rochester, and several of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and other bodies corporate are entitled to in it; which, at a rack-rent, are computed at upwards of 80,000l. per annum, besides parsonages and portions of tithes.

In the time of the Saxons the contents of this kingdom were computed by the number of hides, in an antient schedule of which Kent, called therein Cantwarena, is estimated to contain fifteen thousand hides. (fn. 5) Various are the conjectures of the meaning of the word hide some taking it for a particular portion of land, containing one hundred acres; others think it means the same as carucata, a plough-land; others again will have it meant for a family or a dwelling, with the lands and appurtenances belonging to it, in nature of a manor; which last opinion seems best calculated for the above estimation.

By modern calculations it is supposed to contain 1,248,000 acres, and about 40,000 houses. There are supposed to be in it about 200,000 inhabitants, of which 60,000 are able-bodied men.

In the reign of queen Elizabeth, annis 1574 and 1575, the muster taken in this county was—able men 8960, armed men 6000, selected men 780, artificers and pioneers 800, demi-lances 15, and light horse 787. (fn. 6)

Before the militia of this kingdom was new modelled, there was, by the act of 12 Charles II. the sum of 70,000l. per month raised on the several counties of England and Wales, for the furnishing ammunition and other necessaries; of which sum this county paid 3655l. 11s. 2d. which was more than any other county, excepting Suffolk, which was equal, and London, which paid 4666l. 13s. 4d.

When the militia was altered to the present mode, the return made from this county of able-bodied men, fit to serve in it, was 16,757 in West Kent, and 9164 in East Kent, and in all, 25,921. According to which, the proportion of militia-men allotted for this county by parliament was, for West Kent, 621, for East Kent, including the city of Canterbury, 339, in all 960. It must be observed, that those dwelling in the cinque-ports, and their members were omitted, as well as all seamen, seafaring-men, men employed in the dock-yards, clergymen, and others excepted from this service by the militia laws, who altogether make a very considerable number.

The number of houses in this county paying chimney, or hearth money, being all those which were above the annual value of twenty shillings, and without any land, was, in the year 1685, 29,242. This tax was abolished at the revolution, and the land-tax was established, which proved a very heavy burthen, to this county in particular; for as the pretence for raising it was merely to oppose the designs of the French, and for carrying on the war against them at that time only, many loyal persons, and friends to the revolution in this county, gave in the value of their estates to the crown assessors, sent round among them for that purpose, at their real annual rent. Whereas others, more cautious, knowing that a tax when once imposed is seldom taken off again, gave in the value of their estates at an eighth, or a fourth, or a half of their annual rent; by which means the estates in the northern counties of this kingdom, whose inhabitants are noted for being wary, even to a proverb, are taxed at but an eighth, or a fourth part in proportion to this county; which is in general assessed to the land-tax at two parts out of three of the real rents, though several parishes are assessed at the full sum for which they are let.

This county, with the city of Canterbury, and the cinque ports, and their members, are assessed for 412,5661. and one penny farthing, and a fraction of the third part of a penny rents, which, at one shilling in the pound, amounts to 20,6281. 6s. 1d. farthing, and the part of the said fraction, being the proportion allotted to it towards raising the sum of 509,5271. 6s. assessed upon this kingdom.


  • 1. Lamb. Peramb. p. 223. Camb. Brit. p. 195. Somn. Rom. Ports, p. 107 et seq. Flor. Worcest. p. 545. H. Huntingd. p. 312, 351. M. Westm. p. 90, calls it Andredeswold.
  • 2. Why sylva cædua pays no tithe in the Weald, from an argument of Sir Robert Heath, in Com. Banc. among Harl. MSS. No. 980–304.
  • 3. Robinson's Gavelkind, p. 273.
  • 4. Somn. Rom. Ports, p. 108–115.
  • 5. Vide Spelm. Glost. p. 292.
  • 6. Peck's Desid. Cur. vol. i. p. 23.