One of our hobbies as a family is to occasionally go Geocaching. A couple of years ago we visited a cache with the intriguing name ‘The church that moved’ in Reading Street near Tenterden in Kent, it is so named because the church was moved to its present location in 1858 from about a mile away. We decided this week to return to the area and find the cache placed on the outer edge of where the church had previously stood on Chapel Bank and, of course, visit the churchyard and its inhabitants that were left behind.
By the beginning of 1858 it had become apparent to the villagers that something must be done about their chapel. Sited at the top of a hill, a good walk away from the village and with no road or pathway upon which to reach it, the aging damp building was fast becoming ‘useless’ to them. Bad weather prevented children and the older generation attending at all during winter time and it had been damaged some years before by fire and was by now in a bad state of repair.
A well attended meeting was called by the Churchwarden, Overseer and Vicar and it was decided to remove the chapel from the hill and re-erect it closer to the centre of the small community, on land donated by a local gentleman. A list of subscribers was printed in newspapers all over Kent and beyond and a plan of action was drawn up. It certainly would have been a major undertaking especially in the days before lorries and heavy machinery.
The Kentish Advertiser reports in the 31st of August 1858 edition that the first stones of the new church in Ebony had been laid. A small time capsule with some coins of the time and a note of explanation had been buried at the same time and apparently the excited parishioners were given plenty of cake and wine to celebrate. Well it was a very special day, even the Archbishop of Canterbury was there!
And no doubt everyone was rightly pleased with their wonderfully restored church and its new Sunday School (excepting maybe some of the children..!) on its completion late that year. So much more conveniently situated for young and old to attend and join the congregation once more.
I wonder how they felt though about leaving their loved ones behind up on that hill. I can’t imagine they visited any less than before to tend their graves.
As we walked from the road towards the top of the hill I could see the 1858 villagers point of view. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the churchyard on foot. It was a cold windy day and we were quite chilly despite the exercise. We were lucky we had a concrete path to follow for some of the journey and a well worn path along the edge of the field after.
It was well worth the walk though. There were headstones everywhere! Peeping out from overgrown grass, hiding behind tree trunks, some clustered together and some standing alone. Sadly many of the inscriptions are beyond reading now*, exposure to the weather has worn them away. I was able to find some legible stones though.
I found Robert Walker who died in 1842 leaving his wife Sarah to eke out an existence as a laundress to support her children and sometimes receive some help from the church when work dried up 😉 Sarah joined Robert in 1881 closely followed by their son William. Their grave is pictured above.
Parish clerk and Postmaster William Catt has a grave, which he shares with his wife Philadelphia, enclosed by an old wrought iron fence. Close by is Stephen Weller, a shepherd, who along with his wife Susannah can gaze out over the Kentish countryside he once worked on. Just a few steps away is their daughter Rhoda who died in 1930 leaving a husband and a large family behind.
Innkeeper George Thomas Paine who died in 1877 aged 66 lies alongside his wife Ann who survived him by 2 years. George and Ann were married in 1840 and raised several children. After the death of Ann, the ‘White Hart and Lamb Inn’ was put up for auction. The listing for it tells us it had a bar, bar-palour, parlour, kitchen, washhouse, scullery, dairy, cellar, 2 attics, 7 bedrooms, a wool room, stables, cow lodge, sorry 2 cow lodges, a cart lodge, orchard, paddocks and a large garden. It must have been a coaching inn used as a stopover for long journeys.
The churchyard is far from forgotten, it is on a public footpath and so apart from occasional geocachers, walkers, wildlife enthusiasts and tombstone tourists, an annual church pilgrimage is organised, a service is read and with a picnic to follow it sounds like an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon.
Chapel Bank is a peaceful, albeit lonely place with a spectacular 360° view. If you are ever in the area do have a wander up there. We enjoyed our visit, its just a shame we didn’t find that cache!
*The website http://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk is an invaluable source of information including memorial inscriptions for many Kent villages -including Ebony- recorded many years ago when they were far more legible.