Canterbury Tales

Margie Hofman
Copyright 2004 by Margie Hofman



This is the second year of my history course taking place in Canterbury, Kent. Our lecturer is Martin Taylor . Last course we stayed in Canterbury and studied, visited, walked inside the amazing old houses of Canterbury, oldest one built in 1450 and now occupied by a retired admiral and his wife! This time we are walking out into the countryside around Canterbury. Each week one of us has to write a report on the church/village/old house . This was my effort on the Black Robin pub.

The Black Robin pub stands at the entrance to the village and some think it is named after a highwayman but the term ‘Black Robin’ is old Kentish slang for a highwayman, similar to the Cockney ‘tea leaf’. It was probably more likely that the pub was used by smugglers. There was a network of smuggling gangs , the most notorious being The Aldington Gang – otherwise known as The Blues who operated from 1820 – 1826. They used local pubs to drop off their goods where they would then be sold to people within the community – at a price without the heavy tax.

They would unload their goods in the Deal – St. Margaret’s Bay area and even on the Romney Marshes. The leader at the time was Cephas Quested who was doing quite well until he and two gangs were involved in a battle with the Customs men at Brookland. The battle took place in February 1821 when the gangs were caught unloading, they successfully loaded up their goods while fighting off the excise men and scattered. The leader Quested in the confusion of battle turned to a man near him, gave him a musket and told him to ‘Blow the officer’s brains out’ unfortunately the man he turned to was a midshipman of the blockade force who promptly turned the gun on Quested, who was later arrested and sentenced to death at Newgate.

George Ransley took over as leader of the gang, he had excellent organisational abilities. It is said that as a result of a fight between gang members one night, one of their number was murdered in the Black Robin and dragged outside and left on the road. George Ransley was eventually captured and found guilty of charges that carried the death penalty but their lawyer, a local gentleman from Maidstone, got their sentences reduced to transportation to Van Dieman’s Land.

George proved an excellent farmer, a good administrator, was pardoned, given 500 acres of land and his wife and ten children were allowed to sail out to join him. He farmed at River Plenty, Hobart. He died there in 1856.


KINGSTON – 10th November, 2004

Kingston sits among the fields near Barham. The way to the village is past the Black Robin pub and then on to the old barn and church.

The church St Giles, dates from 13th century. The first vicar was noted as Alexander de la Knolle in 1265.

It has a Jocobean lectern and the font was dated the beginning of the 13th century with an interesting notice placed near it.

This font was cast out of the church on account of its age and shameful to relate, used to hold pig food – was at length rescued from profanation and placed here in 1775

The walls contained many interesting memorials which Martin read by torchlight. One of a young woman who died aged 21 with her baby.

Photo of the font at the Chuch of St. Giles.

 Another unfortunate who had the Christian name of Posthumous – but maybe not as strange as the church we went into last year where a woman whose Christian was Bennet had unfortunately married a Mr. Kennet. – Bennet Kennet ! The other plaque on the wall which took my attention was of a later time the names of those in the area who had died in the First World War. Three of them had the surname STANNARD. Looking around the internet I found one had parents who lived in Canterbury and is remembered on the memorial to the missing in Tyne Cot on the Somme, another Stannard was buried in India and another buried in Canterbury cemetery.

Walking from the church down the road, we visited a jettied house dating from 1526 with a horseshoe on the gatepost and horses as a weathervane.

We then left the village and went to nearby DIGGES HOUSE , a large house with large and interesting gardens. The house was extremely old with the first JOHN DIGGES residing there in the reign of Henry 2nd. The occupants always had a connection with nearby Barham and John Digges was Rector of Bishopsbourne and buried in Barham in 1379.

John’s brother Roger was an MP for Canterbury in 1355. He died in 1375 and is buried with his wife in the North Transept of Barham Church and a brass rubbing is shown of his likeness.

JAMES DIGGES was Sheriff in 1511. He is also buried in Barham church. He left 20 pence for the prisoners of Canterbury Castle and 20 pence for the prisoners of Westgate in Canterbury.

The descendants of this family were scientists and writers and one is thought to have invented the telescope before Galileo.

The present owner showed us round . Portraits on the wall depicted Rembrandt’s mistress, but painted ‘in the style of Rembrandt’ by a painter, whose name I have forgotten, but who was born without hands. Similar paintings of the same woman were on display in New York and postcards of the same were attached to the painting. In the next room was a portrait of The Raising of the Green Howards, a famous fighting regiment. The owner of the house said that the Green Howards was her husband’s regiment, he had also been a Warden of Dover Castle. Another portrait of a lady hung on the wall. I asked the owner if it was a relative as the straight nose looked the same “Yes “ she said “It is my grandmother” . I had thought she also bore a resemblance to Rembrandt’s mistress – but kept that to myself.

We had a look at the huge barn which had been the scene of peasant riots where gangs had broken in and thrown the threshing machinery into the pond.

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