by Bryan Clark
An overview of one of the most historically interesting parts of Sittingbourne.
The Parish of Murston once had three manor estates, Murston Manor, Meres Court and East Hall; the two farm houses of Meres Court and East Hall, once the manor houses, still exist. Murston Manor court house was pulled down in 1880 when the Smeed Dean Co industrialised the area. The Parish was run by a council up until 1930 when it was disbanded and became part of the Sittingbourne Urban District Council, now Swale Borough Council.
An account of Murston is written in the 1908 Sittingbourne, Milton & District Directory as follows: ‘Murston is a populous and industrial village situated three-quarters of a mile from the centre of Sittingbourne, and adjoining that town. It is in the North-East Kent Parliamentary Division, the upper division of the Lathe of Scray, the Union and Hundred of Milton, the Sittingbourne County Court District, and the Sittingbourne Petty Sessional Division. It is 1293.97 acres in extent and possesses three miles five furlongs of district roads. In the parish also are five acres of water, 23 of tidal water and 147 of foreshore. The population at the last census was 962, but this is now estimated to be 1,320, no less than 70 new houses having been erected in the parish since 1901. The rateable value is now £8,867. Murston possesses several miles of frontage on Milton Creek and the River Swale, and on large tracts of land near these waterways are situated the extensive brickfields and cement works of Messrs, Smeed Dean and Co. Several portions of the parish are detached, one of them a narrow strip of land extending from Chilton Farm, Sittingbourne almost to Bottom Pond, Frinsted. Another detached portion is situated at Four Oaks in the Faversham Union. Much of the soil of the parish is brickearth and has been “worked” for brick-making purposes. The subsoil is chalk. Mr P.T. Herbert Wykeham is Lord of the Manor and the principal land owners are the trustees of the estate of the late George Smeed. There is a ferry crossing the Swale from Murston to Elmley. The Parish Church is dedicated to All Saints. It was erected in 1873/4 on a site in Church Road at a cost of £3000. It is built of flint and stone in the Early English and Perpendicular styles and has a tower with two bells. The Church seats about 300 persons. The registry for baptisms dates from the year 1561 and for burials from 1562. The living is a Rectory held by the Rev. James George Easton, MA of St John’s College, Cambridge. The living which is in the gift of St John’s College is of the net value of £450, with 45 acres of glebe and residence. The Rectory was built in 1867 and stands in a fine timbered park of seventeen acres. The parish is in the Diocese of Canterbury, the Archdeaconry of Maidstone and the Rural Deanery of Sittingbourne.’
The Rectory was pulled down in the 1960’s to make way for the houses adjoining Canterbury Road Estate.The original ferry crossing at Elmley which could take cattle as well as passengers was replaced by a motor launch which ceased to operate in about the 1950; the last ferryman was Jack Wade. Nobody occupied the Ferry house or cottage after the 1953 floods, but a chap named Brown bought two old minesweepers and berthed them at the ferry and his family lived on one.
MURSTON MANOR. At the time of the Norman Conquest a large part of Kent was granted to Bishop Odo, the half brother of William Duke of Normandy, but in 1084 William the Conqueror as he became known, seized the estates of Bishop Odo and confiscated them to the crown for his “seditious and turbulent behaviour” (according to Hasted.)The Manor of Murston was granted by William to Hugh de Port, one of the six knights who had come over with him in 1066; he also supplied the guard at Dover castle for defence.The manor then passed to a Bartholomew de Murston who assisted King Richard I at the siege of Acon in Palestine; his descendant a John de Murston, held the manor in the reign of King Edward III in 1347 of which he paid one knight’s fee. Before the end of the reign of the next king, Richard II (1377-99) the family became extinct.A Walter, Lord Fitzwalter was the owner in the reign of Henry VI (1422-53). Hasted states “bearing for his arms, or, fefs between two chevrons, gules”. He seems to have transferred the property to Sir William Cromer who was Lord Mayor 1413-1422 and when he died in 1433, the Manor passed to his female coheir who was married to John the eldest son of Sir Edward Hales of Tenterden, knight and Baronet. It continued in this family down to Sir Edward Hales bart of St Stephens near Canterbury; he later sold it to a Rebecca the widow of Sir Roger Twisden bart of Bradbourn in the late 1700’s. The living of the church was an appendage to the manor owner until Sir Edward Hales sold it to the Reverend Thomas Leigh Rector of Murston 1732-74.George Smeed bought the manor house which stood on the opposite side of the road to the old church in what is now called Stadium way, there are no known photo’s of the manor house.
The farm, originally behind the old church, must have still been workable in the early 1800’s. According to the 1851 census, a David Cornford who was a farm Bailiff, lived there and a Leonard England, a farm labourer lived in Murston Court cottages, which must have been close by, but the farm must have ended with the start of the brickfields because by 1861 a John Wildash, grocer lived in the court lodge or manor house, as did Henry Sidders, a labourer in 1871. There is no mention of the manor house in the 1881 census owing to it being pulled down in about 1880. Later, two blocks of eight houses were built on the left hand side of the road then called Gas Road and No’s 18 – 20 were where the Manor house had been.
EAST HALL. An estate in the parish of Murston it was once accounted a Manor as described by Hasted in his book about Kent as; ‘The largest of the three Manors it is a 15th century house (according to Syd Twist), but later extended by a brick built addition in the 19th century’.
A family named Easthall held the Manor in the reign of King Henry III (1216-72), Hasted states a Joane de Easthall is recorded in a book in Davington Priory as being a good benefactor to the nuns there. After this family became extinct, it passed to the De La Pines (their crest bore three pineapples) one of their descendants James De la Pine who was a sheriff of Kent possessed the Manor and died in 1364, his son Thomas De La Pines who sold it to Thomas St Leger about the beginning of King Richard II’s reign (1377 – 99), it was his grandson Henry Aucher who sold it to Humphry Eveas in 1442 who died in 1454 it passed to his son John who died 1488 and lies buried in the old church at lower Murston in what was the north chancel, a brass commemorating his death and his family was removed from there in 1950 and relocated in the new Murston church next to the school. It depicts a full face effigy of a bareheaded man in armour a dog at his feet also a side face figure of his wife Mildred and below are their three sons. The inscription on the brass reads as follows,
John Eveas, late son of Eveas Knight and Mildred Consort of the said John, which same John died 27th Nov. A.D. 1488 on whose souls God have mercy”.
It seems his wife Mildred who survived John remarried a Lewis Clifford Esq of Bobbing, she died in 1506 in possession of the Manor, her grandson Humphry Eveas dying in 1536 left four daughters one Alicia married Thomas Hales whose son Christopher transferred it to Sir Anthony Aucher of Otterden in 1552 and the following year he sold it to Thomas Gardyner, he in turn sold it to a Mr John Norden in 1568 and 7 years later in 1575 he sold it to William Pordage of Rodmersham. Hasted states it continued in this family until sold to an Iles by a daughter and the name went by marriage to Hazard, then to Shard from whom it passed to Seath, a Richard Seath owned the Manor in 1790.
In 1841 it was owned by Thomas White, he died in 1859 also buried in the old churchyard at lower Murston in a family grave which was surrounded by iron railings partly gone due to vandals or travellers. The Manor carried on in the White family as the census of 1861 / 71 / 81 / 91 shows Harriet White, Thomas White’s widow, farming the land. She employed 16 men and 2 boys and it seems after she died, in 1892, her son William sold the estate to Smeed Dean & Co in the late 1890’s which was then farmed by tenant farmers. In the 1901 census a George Bourn a Brickfield labourer was living there.From then a Mr Parker farmed the land as did Len Baker after, Mrs bridges moved into the now called farm house in the 1950’s her daughter then moved from Meres Court to be with her in 1960 and was there ‘til 2001.
MERES COURT. An estate in the parish of Murston once esteemed to be a capital mansion. It appears not to have any owners of that name according to Hasted. It was owned by Thomas Abelyn in King Edward I’s reign (1272-1307) of which he paid one Knight’s fee. He died in 1276, his grandson Thomas succeeded him and his widow married Henry de Apulderfield who possessed the Manor when young Thomas died 1293. It then passed to the Savage family from Bobbing. Sir Arnold Savage died in 1376 and his grandson had also died, so his sister Eleanor became his heir she married William Clifford Esq in whose descendants it continued until it transferred to the Croft family. A Daniel Croft who died in 1580 left it to his daughters Helen and Margaret who became joint heirs on his son John’s death. They sold the Manor to Stephen Hulks in 1600, his descendant a Nathaniel Hulks died without a male heir, so his daughters Mary and Anne became coheirs. Mary married a John Austen from St Martins Hill near Canterbury who died in possession of the Manor in 1770. Mary, who survived her husband, was entitled to his share also to her sister’s share when she died unmarried. The Manor was sold by her descendants on her death in 1781 to John Lemmey, who was buried in the old church at lower Murston. In 1828, his son George owned Meres Court, according to the 1841 and 1851 census, and when George died it was said to be owned by the Staines Family who had a letter ‘S’ marked on their boundary stones. It seems from the 1861 census Meres court had a Geoge Lundruge, a labourer, living there and 1871 the census states a John Medhurst employed as a farm servant was there as well as in 1881 and 1891 census.Then, in the 1901 census, a John Bensted, who died in 1922 and buried in lower Murston old church was living there. He probrably owned Meres Court after Staines because Smeed Dean & Co purchased it from a John Bensted in the late 1890’s. Smeed Dean & Co had tenant farmers Lampell, Beacham, Betty Gates (Bert Bridges daughter) during the 1950’s – 60’s, Triek Bridges 1960 – 1981, and from 1981 to present time, David Gates who descends in the Bridges family. The cottage attached to the Farm house, now disused, was the home of a farm worker named Franklin during Beacham’s tenancy.The owners from George Smeed & Co were the Red Triangle, then the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (APCM) name then changed to Blue Circle, from whom Lafarge bought out the company and now Trenport are the property owners who are developing the surrounding area. Like Meres Court, owners from Smeed Dean & Co were via Red Triangle, APCM then as Blue Circle to Lafarge and now Trenport who are developing East Hall.Prior to the redevelopment work that surrounds these two fascinating buildings a series of archaeological excavations have been carried out by Oxford Archaeology.They have discovered the remains of an Iron Age settlement (pre Roman) there and we understand that we will be given a copy of the report upon its completion. This information gives us a very interesting view of our areas early past indeed. We will keep you posted!