Friday, 18 March 2016

The Chiddingstones - Part Two

Part Two - Chiddingstone Village 

In the first of what will be three posts about “The Chiddingstones”, I wrote about the small village of Chiddingstone Causeway; home to the company I have worked for these past 10 years. As I mentioned in that article the village is a relatively modern one which sprung up around Penshurst station, on the Tonbridge to Redhill railway line. It takes the first part of its name from the nearby village of Chiddingstone; a much older settlement which dates back at least to Anglo-Saxon times, and possibly before. It is Chiddingstone village that we are going to look at in this article.

The Chiding Stone (N Chadwick) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Chiddingstone lies in the Weald; the ancient forest between the North and South Downs. During mediaeval times the Weald was the centre of the English iron industry, but Chiddingstone’s history predates this period by several centuries. Legend has it that the name of the village is derived from the Chiding Stone; an ancient and mysterious-looking large sandstone rock formation, situated on the edge of the village. Rumour has it the stone was once used by ancient druids as an altar or place where judgments were made; or where offenders were punished.

These stories persisted in medieval times where folklore has it that nagging wives, wrongdoers and witches were brought to the stone to be chided as punishment by an assembly of villagers. This is where the most recent name for the stone comes from and with it possibly the name The Chiding Stone still holds a sense of mystery and has become an attraction that still draws interest to the village.

It is more likely though that the stone was used as a boundary marker by the local Saxons, and that Chiddingstone means "the stone or homestead of Cidda's family" - Cidda being a local Saxon leader. The name of the village was recorded as Cidingstane in the 12th century and has now changed to Chiddingstone.

Chiddingstone High Street (N Chadwick) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The village grew slowly over the years, until the middle of the 16th century when the history of Chiddingstone became intimately connected with the Streatfeild family, who were major landowners in the area. The first Richard Streatfeild made his fortune as an Elizabethan ironmaster and his descendants were squires and patrons of the village for over 450 years. The curious square stone building in the churchyard, with a pyramidal roof and a wooden door, is the entrance to the Streatfeild family burial vault.

The church of St. Mary also contains some handsome memorials to the Streatfeild family, and has a fine tower with a peal of bells. After a fire in 1624 much of the church was rebuilt, with the roof of the nave replaced at a lower level - the original higher roof level is still visible.
Chiddingstone Castle (not a real castle!)

In 1584 the Streatfeilds, purchased a dwelling in the High Street which was later to become Chiddingstone Castle. In the early 1800s Henry Streatfeild changed the face of the village forever. The old Manor House on the High Street was demolished and Chiddingstone Castle was built in its place. He then blocked the High Street at the Castle Inn and diverted the road around the Castle Lake and garden to prevent any villagers from gaining access to his land. During the 1930s the whole estate was sold off, and the house was occupied by the Army during the Second World War II. 

After a period as a school, the house was purchased in 1955 by Denys Eyre Bower, a passionate collector, as a home for his collections of Egyptian and Japanese antiquities. The house and collections are now owned by a trust and open to the public. The gardens include a park with woodland areas, the ruined Orangery, and the octagonal Gothic Tower of the old well-house.
Castle Inn

The National Trust has owned Chiddingstone Village almost in its entirety (excluding the school, the castle and the church) since 1939. It is described as the best example of a Tudor village left in the country, and its perfectly preserved buildings have been used in several period television programmes and films.

With all the history attached to the village, it comes as no surprise that Chiddingstone has an equally ancient pub in the form of the Castle Inn. The building dates back to 1420, but it didn’t become an inn until three centuries later. Like many of the buildings in this impossibly attractive village, the Castle is constructed in typical Kentish style, with half-timbered sides, gables and a red, tile-hung frontage and roof.

In common with the local tearooms, the village shop and post office the pub is owned by the National Trust who, as previously stated, bought these properties in 1939; along with other nearby houses, as "an almost perfect example of a Tudor one-street village". The Trust leases these properties out as businesses to suitable tenants, and after many years under one such leaseholder, the Castle changed hands a few years ago, and seems to be doing equally well under its new management.

Castle Inn - Public Bar
The Castle is that rarity these days in so much as it still has two separate, but linked bars. I usually head for the public, which occupies the right-hand third of the building, as not only is this bar unspoilt; it is also where the village characters congregate. Stepping into this bar really is like stepping back in time to a simpler age. With its quarry-tiled floor, low-beamed ceiling and log burning stove, the public bar is the haunt of proper country types, such as farm workers, gamekeepers and foresters who visit in their working clothes, often accompanied by their (working) dogs.

It is a place where the world gets put to right and where the cares of everyday life can be forgotten for a while over a well-kept pint of Larkin’s beer, brewed just a few hundred yards down the road. Larkin’s owner, Bob Dockerty, numbers amongst the locals here, but not normally until the day’s work at the brewery is finished.

Local beer at the Castle Inn
Although the Castle has the appearance that time has stood still, it is bang up to date in many other respects, not least of which is the high standard of food and drink on offer there. A free Wi-Fi connection is also available - other pubs please take note! It is many years since I set foot in the much larger saloon bar, but from memory it is more comfortable and more genteel; in fact it reminds me somewhat of a dainty 1930’s tearoom. The fact it is considerably more expensive than the public bar; and that isn’t exactly cheap either, is probably the main reason I haven’t ventured in to the saloon in recent times.

Still, you get what you pay for, and what you are getting at the Castle are the genuine attractions of a centuries old village inn, combined with modern standards of first class food and drink. The other attraction is that during the winter months, the Castle is one pub where the chances of obtaining a pint of Larkin’s Porter are practically guaranteed.

It is therefore well worth making the detour to Chiddingstone, and its unspoilt street of original Tudor houses plus, of course, the equally unspoilt Castle Inn. It will be a detour though, as Chiddingstone is well off the beaten track and some way from the nearest B road; let alone a major road. Perhaps it is this isolated setting which has helped keep the village in the condition it was centuries ago.

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