Parishes: Keston

Pages 37-46

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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IS the next parish eastward. It was antiently written Chestan, the found of the Saxon C being often expressed by the letters Ch, and was so called probably quasi Chesterton, i.e. the place of the camp or fortification; but the Britons pronouncing the C as we do K at this time, it came to be called by its present name of Keston; and some ingenious etymologists have fancied they have discovered something of Cæsar's name in it, from whence they would have it derived, quasi Kœsar's Town, as the Britons always pronounced his name. The liberty of the dutchy of Lancaster claims over this parish, as being within the jurisdiction of the duchy court of Farnborough. (fn. 1)

Keston is but a small parish, lying mostly on high ground, the soil is in general poor and thin, but in the vallies, especially towards the east, it is rich and loamy; there is no particular village, but there are two clusters of houses, which lie at about a mile distance, north and south; the latter built round Leaves-green, in the road leading to Westerham. There are several good houses in the parish belonging to John Nesbit, esq. Col. Kirkpatrick, Mr. Yates, and Capt. Pocock, but the principal mansion is that of Holwood-hill, for the accommodation of which the old broad road, which used to go at the eastern side of it has been lately turned by Mr. Pitt, and now winds beautifully round the west side of the hill, leaving the church, parsonage-house, and Keston court, a little to the westward, and thence leads on to Leavesgreen and Westerham. Holwood-hill is surrounded by much rough ground, on the west side of which is the antient Roman camp, near which the river Ravensborne takes its rise, on Keston common, at a small distance to the west of the camp, and directs its course through this parish, between those of Hayes and Bromley, and so on towards Beckenham and Lewisham, and having received into it several small streams, it passes from thence through the town of Deptford, and presently after empties itself into the Thames.

The remains of the above mentioned camp, which certainly is the finest piece of antiquity in all these parts, consists of a LARGE AND STRONG FORTIFICATION, (fn. 2) of an oblong form, commanding an extensive view on every side; the æra whereof is partly inclosed with rampiers and double ditches, of a vast heighth and depth, especially on the south and west sides. It is so large as to be near two miles in compass, containing near one hundred acres of ground; one side of the innermost vallum being, by measurement, above seven hundred yards in length, from the brow of the hill towards Holwell-house, and must have been the work of much time and many hands, and is most probably Roman, not only from its form, but from the quantity of Roman bricks, tiles, antient foundations, and other remains, which have continually been discovered and turned up by the plough hereabouts. Coins of the middle and lower empire have likewise been frequently picked up by those whose curiosity has led them to examine this place. From this camp are the remains of a plain way down towards the spring head of the river Ravensborne, which lies at a very small distance north west from it; by which the soldiers were, no doubt, well supplied with water. This spring was formed into a beautiful bath, at the expence of the late Mr. Burrow, who inclosed it with pales, and planted it round with trees. The late broad road across the camp, mentioned above, leading from Keston mark to Leaves-green, was but of a modern date; the south east part of the area was made into a lawn by the late Mr. Burrow; and this road has been turned more to the westward on the other side the house, as has been already noted before a few years ago.

Some have imagined this was the camp which Julius Cæsar made when the Britons gave him the last battle, with their united forces, just before he passed the Thames, in pursuit of Cassivelaun. If so, it must have had great additions since from time to time, to bring it to that state of strength and magnitude which its remains now point out, for it is not probable that Cæ either had time to cast up such a work, or that he would not have mentioned so considerable a one in his Commentaries. Others have supposed this to have been the remains of the Noviomagus, the first Roman station from London towards Dover; in support of which they urge, that the antient Roman road, instead of going through Deptford, as the present one does, directed its course much more southward, making a circle to avoid the marshes between Lambeth and Deptford, which were then passable with much difficulty, from their lying so very low; and as the river was not then imbanked, were overflowed upon all spring tides, as they are now upon all extraordinary ones. Others have conjectured this station to have been about Bromley, some as far off as Woodcote and Croydon in Surry; but Keston being more northern, and consequently much nearer the direct line from London to both Rochester and Maidstone, seems a much more likely spot for it than either of those places, especially as the number of miles, which this place is distant from London, will very nearly answer those in Antoninus's Itinerary, in which Noviomagus is described as the first station, ten miles distant from London; for supposing some part of antient London to have stood on the southern side of the Thames, as it is said it did, and that the Romans reckoned their distance from the extremity of the suburbs, it will not be much, if at all, farther than ten miles distant from London; but its distance to the next station, Vagniacæ, whether that was at Southfleet or Maidstone, will not answer so well, it being much less than eighteen miles, the distance marked in the Itinerary, from the former, and much more from the latter of those places. But many of the learned in antiquities, among whom are bishop Stillingfleet, Somner, Burton, and others, conjecture, with more probability, that this station of Noviomagus was at or about Crayford; the grounds for which opinion the reader will find in the description of that place.

Mr. Horsley observes, in his Britannia Romana, that the ground within the compass of this fortification is too large for a station, even though garrisoned with horse; the largest, that he knew of, not being a tenth part of this compass. He says, it looks more like the Castra œstiva, or summer quarters, and such he believed it to have been; by which he supposes, with others, that the station could not be far distant.

This camp has been conjectured by many, and with great probability, to have been the place where Aulus Plautius, the prætor, after his fourth action with the Britons, encamped with his forces, whilst he waited the arrival of the emperor Claudius, as mentioned by Dion. Indeed, its nearness to the Thames, its size, strength, and other circumstances, are induce ments to think it could hardly be made for any other purpose. (fn. 3)

There is another small intrenchment not far off, by West Wickham, which was cast up by Sir Christopher Heydon, lord of that manor, in the reign of queen Elizabeth, at the time he had command in these parts, and trained the country people to the use of arms. In the same manner there are many other places in this county, which may seem to have been camps and intrenchments, made in more antient times, though in reality they will be found to be of a much later date; among them are several which were made by the lord Cobham, lord lieutenant of this county in that reign, in pursuance of orders sent to him to make trenches, &c. in those places, where the enemy was most likely to land.

There are no parochial charities.

KESTON was one of those manors with which William the Conqueror enriched his half brother Odo, bishop of Baieux and earl of Kent, as may be seen in the survey of Domesday, taken 1080; in which it is thus entered, under the general title of that prelate's lands:

The same Gilbert (Maminot) holds of the bishop (of Baieux) Chestan. It was taxed at 1 suling. The arable land is In demesne there is 1 carucate, and 4 villeins with 1 carucate. There is wood for the pannage of 5 hogs. In the time of king Edward the Consessor, and after, it was worth 60 shillings, now 40 shillings. Sberne Biga held it of king Edward.

Four years after the above survey, all the bishop's possessions were consiscated to the crown, after which Gilbert de Magminot above mentioned, who was before tenant to the bishop for this manor, became immediate tenant to the crown for it, of which he after wards held it in capite by barony, as of the king's castle of Dover. In his descendants Keston continued till Wakelin de Maminot dying without issue, in the 3d year of king Richard I. his sister Alice became his coheir, and brought this place, with much other inheritance, to her husband, Geoffry, second son of William de Say; (fn. 4) after which it appears, that William de Pefun held this manor in the reign of king Edward I. as half a knights fee, of William, great grandson of the above mentioned Geoffry de Say. (fn. 5)

In the 20th year of king Edward III. Sir John de Huntingfield was in possession of it, and then paid aid for it, held as before mentioned. Towards the latter end of this reign this family terminated in two female heirs, Joan and Alice Huntingfield; the former of whom married John Copledike, and the latter Sir John Norwich.

In the next reign this manor was in the possession of Sir Robert Belknap, chief justice of the commonpleas, who was attainted and banished to Ireland, in the 11th year of king Richard II. This manor efcheated to the crown in the 2d year of king Henry V. by the death of Juliana his wife, who was then in possession of it. (fn. 6) In which year the parliament, on the petition of Hamon Belknap, their son, enabled him in blood and land to Robert his father, notwithstanding the judgment made against him in the 11th year of king Richard II. (fn. 7) for though the parliament, in the 20th year of that reign, had permitted Sir Robert Belknap to return from banishment, yet his attainder still remained as before. (fn. 8)

The manor of Keston, alias Southcourt, with the appendant manor of Baston, situated in the adjoining parish of Hayes, was soon after this alienated to Sque rie of Squerie's-court, in Westerham, (fn. 9) and Tho. Squerie of West Wickham, was found, by inquisition, to die possessed of it, in the 17th year of king Henry VI. and that John Squerie was his son and heir. (fn. 10) On his death, without issue, in the 4th of king Edward IV. his two sisters became his coheirs, of whom Dorothy, the youngest, marrying Richard Mervin of Fontels, in Wiltshire, he, upon the partition of their inheritance, became in her right possessed of this manor, with that of Baston likewise, and soon after conveyed them to Philip Reynolds and Thomas Tregarthan, in trust, for certain uses; and they, in the 8th year of king Edward IV. alienated them to Richard and Stephen Scroop, from whom, about the latter end of the same reign, they were transmitted by sale to Henry Heydon, esq. of Baconsthorpe, in Norfolk, afterwards knighted; since which these manors have remained in the same owners that the manor of West Wickham has, in his descendants and the Lennard's, but by the marriage of a female heir of the latter, they became the property of John Farnaby, esq. who is the present possessor of both these manors; but the scite of the manor of Baston, with the demesne lands in the adjoining parish of Hayes, have been a long time ago alienated from the manor, and are in other hands, as has been already mentioned before.

HOLWOOD-HOUSE is a seat in this parish, which takes its name from its situation on the hill of that name. In the year 1673 it was the property of Capt. Richard Pearch, who settled it, in 1709, on the marriage of his niece, Elizabeth Whiffin, with Nathaniel Gatton, esq. of Beckenham, in special tail. He left an only son and heir of the same name, whose only surviving daughter and heir, Mary Dippen, left Anne Dippen, her only surviving daughter and heir likewise; who, in 1765, alienated this seat to Peter Bur rell, esq. of Beckenham, and he, in 1766, conveyed it to Wm. Ross, gent. of London, who in 1767, passed it away again to Rob. Burrow, esq. who made great improvements to it, and resided here till his death. He was descended from Robert Burrow, who was of Longfield-house, in Longfield, in this county; in the latter end of queen Elizabeth's reign, one of whose descendants, Tho. Burrow, esq. was of Clapham, and bore for his arms, Azure three fleurs de lis ermine. He left three sons, Christopher; Robert, LL.D. and Sir James Burrow of Sterborough castle. Christopher, esq. the eldest son, was of London, and left Robert Burrow, esq. the possessor of this seat, as before mentioned, after whose death it was alienated to the Rt. Hon. William Pitt, second son of William the great Earl of Chatham, who now makes it his country residence, being at this time one of the privy council, first lord of the treasury, and chancellor of the exchequer, constable of Dover-castle and lord-warden of the cinque ports, &c. &c. and prime minister of this kingdom.

The fine woods, the variegated grounds, lately much improved under the direction of Mr. Repton, and the commanding prospects on every side, have ranked this seat in the opinion of all competent judges among the finest situations in this part of the kingdom.

There are no parochial charities.

KESTON is within the ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION of the diocese of Rochester. It is a peculiar to the archbishop of Canterbury, and as such is in the deanry of Shoreham. The church stands on the southern side of Holwood-hill, nearly in the middle of the parish, it is a small neat building of one isle, and a chancel, having a cupola at the west end, in which hangs one beil.

In the church are the following mouuments and inscriptions. Among others, at the west end, on a grave stone, a memorial for Christopher Clarke, A. M. archdeacon of Norwich, prebendary of Ely, and rector of this parish, obt. May 19, 1742, æt. 70. In the isle, a memorial for Alice, sister of the Rev. Arthur Kay, obt. 1761, æt. 44; another for Mr. Dunc. Colchester, obt. 1746, æt. 42. In the great chancel, before the rails, a memorial for Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Francis Lee, gent. of Bagerle-hall, in Chester, ob. 1688, æt. 46; another for Jane, relict of Edward Smith. gent. of London, daughter of Tho. Pyke, late rector of this parish, obt. 1701, æt. 61. On the north side, is a memorial for Mr. Rich. Hetherington, commissary of marines, obt. 1711, æt. 45. On the south side, within the rails, a memorial for Judith and Elizabeth, the wives of Capt. Rich. Perch of Holwood-hill, the former died in 1683, the latter in 1704. In the west window is a shield of arms, being those of the see of Canterbury, impaling or on a bend, second. (fn. 11)

This church, in the reign of king Edward I. was valued at one hundred shillings. By virtue of a commission of enquiry, into the value of church livings, in 1650, issuing out of Chancery, it was returned, that Keistone was a parsonage, having ten acres of glebeland and an house belonging to it, worth forty pounds per annum, one master Thomas Picke enjoying it. (fn. 12)

It is a discharged living in the king's books, of the clear yearly certified value of forty pounds per annum, the yearly tenths of which are thirteen shillings. (fn. 13) It is a rectory, in the patronage of his grace the archbishop of Canterbury.

Church Of Keston.

Or by whom presented.
Archbishop of Canterbury. Robert de Hegham, in 22 Edw. I. (fn. 14)
William Sterling, buried Dec. 20, 1545.
Edward Smith, 1625.
Nicholas Pearson, 1602, 1637.
Thomas Pike, 1637, ob. Jan. 17, 1657.
Robert Lowe, obt. Jan. 1659. Wood, 1665.
Edward Taylor, 1679. Medcap, 1680, 1684.
Thomas Chapman, 1684.
George Taylor, ob. Ap. 12, 1704.
Christopher Clarke, A. M. April 1704, obt. May 19, 1742. (fn. 15)
William Best, D D. induct. June 10, 1742.
Lamb, 1761, ob. 1774.
James Hodgson, 1774. Present rector.


  • 1. Parl. Surveys, Augtn. off.
  • 2. Camb. p. 219. Harris, p. 168. Horf. Brit Rom. p. 423.
  • 3. Of this opinion was Dr. John Tabor of Lewes. See Phil. Trans. No. 356. p. 785. See Dion Cassius Hist. Rom. lib. lx. Claud. v. p. 768. A. et feq.
  • 4. Philipot, p. 203.
  • 5. Book of Knight's Fees, in the Exchequer.
  • 6. Rot. Esch. ejus an.
  • 7. Cott. Records, p. 540.
  • 8. Barr. ant. Statutes, p. 278.
  • 9. Philipott, p. 203.
  • 10. Rot. Esch. ejus ann.
  • 11. See the monum. and inscrip. in this church at large in Reg. Roff p. 1007.
  • 12. Stev. Mon. vol. i. p. 456. Parl. Surveys, Lambeth library, vol. xiv.
  • 13. Bacon, Lib. Regis.
  • 14. Prynne, p. 599.
  • 15. Also rector of Hayes, archdeacon of Norwich, and prebendary of Ely.