III The Wotton Survey

‘The historic landscape [is] a human creation, made from a complex combination of roads, hedges, boundaries, woods, meadows, parks, slag heaps, railway lines and airfields. Buildings, which included castles, churches, country houses, farms, cottages, mills and bridges, contributed to the whole picture of a constantly evolving countryside.’1

Other than slag heaps and bridges, and, obviously, railway lines and airfields, all of the above feature in the survey that was made of the Wotton lands in Kent in the late 1550s. The purpose of this introduction is to describe why and how the Survey was compiled, to give an indication of its content, to set it in its historical context, and suggest how it might be used in research. It is not intended to carry out here any detailed analysis of any of the information in the Survey.

The ancient county of Kent, before boundary changes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, covered just under a million acres. It was the ninth largest English county. The population in the mid sixteenth century was perhaps 80,000.2 It had begun to grow rapidly in the 1540s, with associated social and economic problems.

1769 map of

Map of Kent

William Lambarde, contemporary of Thomas Wotton, and himself a substantial landowner in the county, described Kent in glowing terms:

‘The soile is for the most part bountifull, consisting indifferently of arable, pasture, meadow and woodland, howbeit of these, wood occupieth the greatest portion … except it bee towards the east, which coast is more champaigne than the residue…. It hath corne and graine, common with other shyres of the realme; as Wheat, Rye, Barley and Oats in good plenty.… The pasture and meadow, is not onely sufficient in proportion to the quantitie of the country itself for breeding, but is comparable in fertilitie also to any other that is neare it … In fertile and fruitfull woodes and trees, this country is most flourishing also….

Touching domestically cattel, as horses, mares, oxen, kine and sheepe, Kent differeth not much from others: onely this it challengeth as singular, that it bringeth forth the largest of stature in eche kinde of them: … Parkes of fallow deer, and games of gray conies it maintaineth many…’3

It was the different farming regions of Kent that gave rise to this rich and varied agriculture. From north to south, these regions are the marshlands of north Kent, the chalk of the North Downs, the greensand ridge, the Vale of Holmesdale at the scarpfoot, the Low Weald, the High Weald, and finally Romney Marsh. Although distinctive, these regions were interdependent, with many landowners and farmers having land in several, or all.4

A typical
                Kentish landscape.

©Mike Perring

View of the Low Weald from the Greensand Ridge in Boughton Malherbe

The Wotton estates were chiefly concentrated on the greensand ridge, in the scarpfoot and in the Low Weald to the south east of Maidstone, but outlying lands were scattered over the county, from Hadlow in the west to the Isle of Thanet in the east, from Cliffe in the north down to Romney Marsh. There was land in the marshes, on Downland, in Holmesdale and in the Weald. The bulk of the estate, however, was in Boughton Malherbe, where the family’s principal seat was, and in the parishes around.5

The Wotton lands had been accumulated over nearly 150 years, by marriage, inheritance and purchase. The first part of the estate, including Boughton Malherbe itself, was acquired in 1416, when Nicholas Wotton, Citizen and Draper of London, married Joane, daughter and heiress of Robert Corby, a substantial landowner in Kent. Their son, another Nicholas, added Paddlesworth and other lands to the family estates when he married Elizabeth, daughter of John Bamburgh. Nicholas and Elizabeth’s son Robert married Anne, one of the three sisters and heiresses of Sir Edward Belknap. The Belknap inheritance, which included lands in St Mary Cray, in Ringwould and in Lydd, was to cause ongoing problems for Robert and Anne’s son and grandson Edward and Thomas.6

Edward Wotton’s marriage to Dorothy Reed added more lands to the Wotton estates. Edward also made substantial purchases of land during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. When the Survey was compiled, the Wotton lands in Kent covered an estimated six thousand acres, a very large estate by Kent standards. Possibly only the ecclesiastical landlords and a handful of lay lords had greater estates in Kent than the Wottons. The majority of gentry families in Kent held only one or two manors, their estates totalling a thousand acres or less.7

The Survey was carried out by Thomas Wotton in the late 1550s and early 1560s. Its purpose was to establish what lands he held, where they were, how they were used, the size of each individual piece of land, when and how each piece had been acquired, and of whom and by what tenure it was held. In particular, whether it was ‘of the custom, nature and tenure of gavelkind.’8

Gavelkind was the ancient customary tenure of the county, described in the Custumal of Kent. The earliest surviving manuscript versions of the Custumal date from the early fourteenth century, but the custom itself is believed to be of much earlier date. It was traditionally believed that the ‘Custom of Kent’ was accepted as having the force of statute law in 1293, but elements of it almost certainly date from before 1066.9

According to the Custumal, ‘if a man die seised of landes in Gavelkind ... all his sonnes shall have equall portions.’10 Until 1540, the power of a freeholder to bequeath, or devise, his land by will was limited; however, owners of land held in gavelkind were supposed to have the right to bequeath them by will. This aspect of the custom is disputed, however; it is pointed out that there is no mention of it in the Custumal of Kent, which is the legal basis for the existence of gavelkind.11

It was accepted that lands held directly of the king (in capite) were not gavelkind; lands held of sub-tenants (by socage tenure) ‘are of the nature of gavelkind’.12 The Survey therefore records the feudal tenure by which the Wotton lands were held.

Gavelkind facilitated the emergence of the yeoman class in Kent in the late medieval and early modern periods. Many people had the opportunity to acquire land, by purchase or inheritance, and landownership in the county was broadly based. The custom of gavelkind may have been responsible for the large number of gentry families in Kent in the seventeenth century with modest estates between eight hundred and a thousand acres. Many families had several branches, each established on its own estates. The Boys family was perhaps the most extensive, with ten to a dozen branches. The Finch family had nine branches, the most senior headed by a peer. Each of these separate branches was probably established in the past by a son taking his share of his father’s estates.13

At the lower end of the economic scale gavelkind could lead to the fragmentation of estates, with all the sons of a small landowner inheriting some land, but none of them having enough to support a family. Gavelkind also operated against the interests of the larger landowner who wished his estate to pass on intact to his descendants over several generations.

There were, however, methods whereby landowners could circumvent the custom of gavelkind in order to bequeath their estates intact. One way was to create a ‘feoffment to use’. The land would be held by named feoffees or trustees. The original landowner would have the use, or benefit, of the land, but technically would not be the actual owner.

‘The landowner could provide for younger sons, daughters, bastards, remote relations, or charities, could vary the provision given by law to his widow, and could charge the payment of his debts and legacies on real property .... It was the use and not the legal title which passed on the testator's death.' 14

By about 1500, much of the land in England was held in use, in order to evade the limitations on devising land, and allow the landowner greater freedom in making provision for his family. Boughton Malherbe and other lands of Robert Corby seem to have been held by various feoffees before they passed to Nicholas Wotton.15

A feoffment could also be used to establish settlements or entails which prevented land being treated as gavelkind; these might be continued from generation to generation, thus avoiding the custom indefinitely. In his will dated 27 January 1523, John Roper, Kentish gentlemen and attorney general, created a feoffment to use to ensure that his lands ‘would never be parted among heirs male... going from the eldest issue male to one other the eldest heir and issue male of his [son's] body lawfully begotten for ever, undivided, and not parted nor partible among heirs male.’ 16

Nicholas Wotton the younger, who died in 1480, and his son Robert, who died in 1523, both enfeoffed their lands. Nicholas’s will does not survive. Robert’s will is dated 26 December 1523, just one month before that of John Roper. His intention was to create an entail. He divided his manors of ‘Sherifyscote’ in Thanet and Chilton in Sittingbourne between his sons Edward, Nicholas and George, ‘as gavellkynde lands.’ The manors of Boughton Malherbe, Powcyns and Burscombe, however, he willed either to Edward or Nicholas or George in their entirety 'never to be divided or departed'. The specified lands were then to pass to the eldest sons of the three heirs, and, failing legitimate issue of any of them, to pass to the survivor or survivors. In the event both George and Nicholas died without issue, so all the lands ultimately passed to Edward’s eldest son Thomas.17

Feoffments to uses were also a means of avoiding feudal dues to the king, thus reducing the Crown’s income. The Crown initiated a test case in Chancery, based on an inquisition into the estates of the late Thomas, Lord Dacre, who died in 1534. The inquisition was held at Canterbury, so Kentish gentlemen would have been well aware of the case. The Statute of Uses, which ensued in 1536, attempted to restrict the way in which feoffments were used. The Statute aroused opposition among gentry in some parts of England; it was a factor in the risings in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, in the autumn of 1536. Some of the objections to the Statute of Uses were dealt with by the Statute of Wills, 1540, which gave freeholders the right to dispose of freehold land by will. This was of no assistance to landowners who wished to dispose of gavelkind land, however. If they had been using feoffments to uses to circumvent the custom, they now had to find other means.18

Gavelkind tenure could only be altered by Act of Parliament. Some disgavelling took place in the early medieval period, and Acts were passed in the eleventh year of Henry VII and the fifteenth year of Henry VIII to disgavel the lands of Sir Richard Guldeford and Sir Henry Wyat. Then in 1539 an Act of Parliament was passed to disgavel the lands of thirty four gentlemen, including Sir Edward Wotton. This was the year in which legislation to dissolve the remaining monasteries was passed; many of these gentlemen would add to their estates when the monastic lands came onto the market. A second disgavelling Act was passed in the third year of Edward VI, 1549. Forty four men were named in this Act, including Edward Wotton and eleven others who had already had lands disgavelled under Henry VIII.19

The second Act was passed against a background of controversy at court, with the scheming, fall and eventual execution of the Protector's brother Thomas Seymour, and economic depression and public disorder in Kent. In the summer of 1548 about five hundred people pulled down recent enclosures of Sir Thomas Cheyney, one of the men whose lands were disgavelled. Enclosures of Sir Thomas Wyatt were also torn down. There were rebellious assemblies outside Canterbury and on Penenden Heath. ‘Popular disturbance was almost endemic in Edwardian Kent.’ Peter Clark suggests that the disgavelling may itself have been a cause of the disorder, along with enclosures, engrossing and rack renting. ‘Though it is not certain how far tenants saw disgavelling … as a threat to their rights, they may have regarded it as part of a general attack on peasant rights and customs.’20

The disgavelling may have been a response to the Dissolutions, which changed the pattern of landownership in Kent more than in many other counties. Elton suggests that confusion was created when Henry VIII made grants of former monastic lands without considering under what tenure the lands had been held before they came into the possession of the religious houses. ‘Much land, which was at first gavelkind, had come to be held in knight service [i.e in capite, and thus not subject to gavelkind], and yet the customary descent remained.’21

Thomas Cromwell heads the list of names in the first Act, and the name of Sir Christopher Hales, the Master of the Rolls, also appears, suggesting there was official impetus behind this legislation. Edward Wotton himself was a courtier in the reign of Henry VIII and a Privy Councillor under Edward VI. Many of the families that would be active in county affairs for the next century or more were associated with the two Acts - Culpepper, Darell, Harlakenden, Harte, Hussey, Lovelace, Moyle, Roper, Scott, Walsingham.22

There were no doubt also economic and personal reasons for the disgavelling. Zell suggests that the landowners ’may have believed that the transmission of their estates to their chosen heir would be more secure if their land shared the same common-law, impartible tenure by which most other English landowners held their estates. Or it may have been merely a matter of prestige to distinguish their estates from those of lesser men.’23 There may have been a fear that Henry VIII, having done away with the traditional practice of enfeoffment, might have turned his attention next to customary practices such as gavelkind; these landowners might have wished to protect themselves by bringing their estates within the framework of the common law.

Further research might show whether the impetus for the disgavelling came from the government, from the emerging county community, or from a group of courtiers, office holders, incomers and non-resident gentry wanting to adapt the customs of the county to their own benefit.

It was assumed that all land in Kent was gavelkind unless it could be proved otherwise. In the absence of any evidence that land had been disgavelled, it continued to be treated as if it was gavelkind. Demonstrating that land had been disgavelled was not necessarily easy. The disgavelling acts were private Acts. They were presented to Parliament in the form of petitions, which were either assented to, or not. Private Acts were not normally published; the second of the two disgavelling Acts was not printed. Nor, during the period in which the disgavelling Acts were passed, were private Acts routinely included in the Parliament Roll, the official listing of all statutes. There was thus sometimes no public record of the passing of such Acts.24

Since the disgavelling Acts are referred to by Hasted and other authorities on landholding in Kent, it must be assumed that they were not forgotten. However, there was no publicly available schedule specifying precisely which lands were covered by the legislation. In order to ascertain whether any piece of land was still subject to gavelkind, it was therefore necessary to examine ‘the inquisitions post mortem of the owners before and after the date of the Acts, the Patent Rolls for the date of any grants to them of lands taken from the monasteries, and the licenses of alienation (or pardons for aliening without license) of lands disposed of during their lives, and other records’25 Hence the necessity for the survey of the Wotton lands, to establish which were still of gavelkind tenure following the two disgavelling Acts.

The Survey was still in use in the early seventeenth century. A note regarding the sale of Pettes in Bredgar records the sale price which has come ‘to your lordships use’.26 This note must have been made after Edward Wotton was ennobled in May 1603. The history of the Survey subsequent to this is uncertain; it is not certain whether the owner of the Wotton lands at any time was aware of its existence, or the nature of the tenure of the lands which they held. Even before the greater part of the estate was purchased by Galfridus Mann, some of the land was sold piecemeal. The Survey is annotated with details of land disposed of even at the time the Survey was being compiled, or soon after. Much of Bynwall marshe in Iwade was sold to Myldred Taylor. The entire manor of Paddlesworth was sold to the Marshams of Cuxton in the mid seventeenth century.

Seventeen acres of woodland in Burscombe in Egerton were sold in 1699. Thirty six acres of woodland in the manor of Colbredge in Boughton Malherbe were sold in 1700. It is possible that the new owners of the disgavelled lands were unaware that they were no longer subject to gavelkind. Research into wills and family papers of subsequent owners of the Wotton lands may reveal whether or not the lands were treated as though they were still subject to gavelkind.27


Sixty seven discrete units of land were surveyed, including the demesne lands of twenty manors. They range from large manors such as Colbredge in Boughton Malherbe, to moderately sized ‘messuages and tenements’ or farms such as Robyns Tenement in Lenham, to small plots of land such as Goldhurdfeeld in Lenham. The description of Colbredge is nineteen pages long. That of Goldhurdfeeld is just two pages.

Each section begins with a preamble, stating the name of the land being surveyed, and when and by whom the surveying was done.

‘The boundes or lymetes and contennt or quantitie of allthe Demeane landes of the manoure of Ryngewolde, lyenge in Ryngewoolde in the Countie of kennt.’

‘The boundes or lymetes: and contennt or quantitie of certainelandes called Powcynes, lyenge in Bocton malherbe in the Countie of kennt.’

The parish in which the land lay was always stated. However, some manors extended over more than one parish, so some of the lands surveyed might lie in a parish or parishes other than the one named in the preamble. The demesne lands of the manor of Mynchincourte alias Fryringcourte lay in Shadoxhurst, Orlestone, Warehorne, Snave and Woodchurch. The manor of Wardones, in Egerton, had meadow in Charing. The manor of Burscombe in Egerton extended into Charing and Boughton Malherbe.

The Survey was carried out in the last years of Mary Tudor’s reign and the first years of Elizabeth. In his recitation of the regnal years in which the measuring took place, the scribe very correctly named Philip and Mary as King and Queen, and listed all their titles:

‘owre sovereigne lorde and ladye Philippe and Marye (by the grace of god) kinge and Queene of England Spaine, Fraunce, bothe Cicilles, Jherusalem and Ireland: defendoures of the faithe: Archedukes of Austria: Dukes of Millaine burgundie and brabante: Erles of haspurge flannnders and Tiroll.’28

Mary was Queen of England, France and Ireland. The English claim to France was based on the marriages of Isabella of France to Edward II of England and Catherine de Valois of France to Henry V of England. The Tudors could also assert a claim to the French throne through their descent from Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor. By Mary’s reign, Calais and its surrounding Pale was all that remained of English territory in mainland France, and that too would be lost in Mary’s lifetime. English sovereigns however continued to include France in their titles until 1800.

The remainder of the titles were Philip’s. His claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem was even more tenuous than that of Mary to France. The Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin in 1187 and had been under Ottoman rule since 1517, but several royal houses of Europe continued to lay claim to it. Philip‘s claim was derived from his relationship to the Aragonese royal family through his grandmother Juana. The Aragonese claim to Jerusalem had been acquired by a convoluted mix of inheritance, conquest, purchase and diplomacy.

Elizabeth laid claim to far fewer titles. She was ‘owre sovereigne ladye Elizabeth (by the grace of god) Queene of England Fraunce and Ireland Defendoure of the Faithe etc.’29

Nearly all the lands were surveyed between October 1557 and November 1560. Seynctling Okemere in St Mary Cray was surveyed in May 1562. Oldelongporte in Lydd was surveyed in May 1564. The surveying of these two manors was delayed by complications arising from the will of Edward Belknap.

Most of the measuring was carried out in the months of September, October and November and March and April. Presumably this was to avoid times when there were crops growing in the fields, and also the worst of the winter weather. The measuring was nearly all done by William Clarke, husbandman of Lenham, and Robert Kennett, labourer of Boughton Malherbe, ‘withe Roddes of xvj foote and halfe a foote in lengthe’. The rod, five and a half yards, or sixteen and half feet, was a standard unit for the measurement of land.

Thomas Wotton himself usually accompanied Clarke and Kennett. He was not present at the measuring of land in Boughton Malherbe and neighbouring parishes on 27 April 1560 (although he was at the measuring of New Park in Lenham the same day). Other than on this occasion, it was the measuring of those lands furthest from Boughton Malherbe that he missed - lands in Cliffe, in Hadlow, in Ringwould and in Chislet. Whenever Thomas was not present, his servant William Dymming was. The assumption must be that it was either Thomas himself or William who made notes of the measuring on the spot, to be written up later.

The occupier of the lands being measured, and the owners and occupiers of adjoining lands, were also often present. Richard Rabbet of Staplehurst, ‘fermoure’ of Newstedde, and William Feelde of Marden, were present when Newstedde was measured on 19 March 1559. Thomas Browne, Nicholas Munde, John Cocke and John Church of Cliffe were all present when Molland and Deanefee was measured on 29 November 1560.

The surveyors worked quickly. On 28 September 1559 they measured Mayes Tenement, Gibbes, Wryhalfeyoke, Robyns Tenement and Doddesdane, all in Lenham. On 20 April 1560, they measured Chapmansfold, Humphries and Cowpers, Powcyns and Woodfeild in Boughton Malherbe and Kennerden and Snothfields in Egerton. A large manor, however, might take three or four days to survey; Chilton, in Sittingbourne was measured on 6, 7, and 8 March 1559/60. Sherivescourte, in Minster in Thanet, was measured on 4, 5 and 6 April 1560. The lands measured ranged from plots of a few acres to moderately sized farms to the demesne lands of entire manors. Sandeland and Ketcroft, in Charing, were only two and a half acres and three acres respectively. Bourne's Tenement , also in Lenham, was about seventy acres, Austens or Upstreet, in Chislet, was over eighty acres. The demesne lands of Ringwould totalled several hundred acres.

Within the manor or tenement, each individual piece of land was described and its acreage given.

'A peece of Lande called Stoneteghe, nowe of the saide Thomas Wotton, and lyenge in Charinge aforesaid … conteynethe by Estimacion sixe acres one yarde threetie perches.'

‘A peece of lande called sowthfeelde, late of John Gibbe, nowe of the sayd Thomas Wotton lyenge in lenham aforesaid… conteynethe by Estimacyon Three acres/ one yarde sixteene/ perches.’30

Small fields surrounded by hedges were typical of much of Kent in the medieval and early modern period. Chalklin suggests that in the seventeenth century ‘in the Weald and along the sandstone ridge few fields were larger than ten acres, and on most holdings their size was between three and seven acres.’ 31 The demesne lands of the manor of Wardones in Egerton consisted of over two hundred acres of arable land and over eleven acres of woodland in forty one separate fields and shaws. The largest fields were Hartfeeld and Netherwellfeelde at eleven and a half acres each.

The largest fields tended to be found on the fertile arable lands of East Kent, where the land was too valuable to be left to hedgerows and woodland. On the Wotton estates, some fields belonging to Canon Barne in Thurnham were twenty or thirty acres. On the manor of Marleghe in Harrietsham there were fields of thirty, thirty nine and forty five acres. ‘The Greate Close’ in Minster in Thanet, belonging to Sherivescourte, was forty seven acres. However, there were some very small fields and closes, of three or four acres, in Austens, alias Upstreet, in Chislet. Detailed study of the Survey may reveal how precisely field sizes correlate with farming regions.

It is generally accepted that there was never any common field farming in Kent; or, that if there had been, it had died out by the early modern period. There were, however, open fields, subdivided between individual landowners and farmed separately. There is ‘evidence of arable fields subdivided into unenclosed parcels at Aylesford, Boxley, Charing, Harrietsham, Hollingbourne, Kemsing, Sundridge, and Westwell.’32

The existence of open fields is apparent in the Wotton Survey. At Thurnham, there were several pieces of land ‘lyenge in a peece of lande called Thornham feeld.’ References to enclosed land at Sherivescourt in Monkton suggest that much of the land there was not enclosed. The manor of Wardones in Egerton had lands in the ‘common meadow’ called Stowremeade in Charing. Detailed study of individual manors and tenements will no doubt reveal further examples.

A field at

©Mike Perring

The ploughed (brown) field west of Thurnham Church

Most of the land surveyed was arable or ‘earable’, meadow and pasture, or woodland. Wheat, barley and oats were the principal arable crops grown in early modern Kent. Generally, in Kent, wheat was for consumption as bread, barley for brewing and oats for fodder. The proportion of each crop grown varied from region to region of the county, and from farmer to farmer.33


Much of Kent was heavily wooded, and woodland was often recorded in the Survey. Sometimes there were large areas of woodland; on the manor of Burscombe in Egerton, Foxsmytheswoodd was eighteen acres. In all there were nearly ninety acres of woodland on the demesne.

It was quite frequently noted that ‘bycause the peece of woodland aforesaid was at this tyme somewhat highe, and verie thicke and roughe: And so for the hignes not well able to be seene throughe And for the thicknes not well able to be gonne throughe: the measurers aforesaid were verie vncertaine whether they had well and trulie measured the same peece of land ye or no.’34


©Mike Perring

Looking south from Pope's Hall Lane (Boughton Malherbe) to Coldbridge Wood

Woodland was too important a resource to be neglected in this way; it was normally carefully managed. Thomas Wotton kept a ‘booke of woodes’ in which he recorded the age of the timber on his lands.35 Leases imposed duties on tenants to maintain woodland. Further research might reveal whether this neglected woodland had been in   the Wottons’ possession for some time or had only recently been acquired, or whether it had been in the hands of careless tenants.

Timber had many uses; for building houses, barns and ships; for domestic fuel and for charcoal for industrial purposes; for carts and wagons and tools. The rapid destruction of woodland was of sufficient concern to the government for legislation to be passed in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth in attempts to control the felling of timber in the south east.

A few years after the Survey was carried out, Thomas Wotton was acquiring wood from a variety of sources for the fencing of South Park, his deer park in Boughton Malherbe. Six oaks were felled in Chapmansfolde in Boughton Malherbe to make fenceposts. Loads of timber for paling were carried. Several young beeches were dug up to be replanted in the park.

Often, woodland was recorded in the Survey as a ‘shave’ or ‘spring’. A shave or shaw was an irregular piece of woodland between fields, typical of Kent. 'Spring' was the new growth from the bases or stumps of felled trees. The implication is that the woods so described were being managed by coppicing. Thomas grew his coppice wood for ‘tenne, eleaven or twelve yeares’, at a density of twelve staddles or stumps to the acre.36

                      Shaw, Boxley
©Mike Perring

Yewtree Shaw, Boxley close to the Detling boundary


©Mike Perring

Coppiced trees in Wrinsted Wood, Frinsted

Many of these shaws or springs were small; often less than an acre each. On the manor of Colbredge in Boughton Malherbe, ‘a shaue or springe of woodde called Middlefeeld springe’ was ‘one yarde threetie perches’. ‘A peece of wooddelande called Barnecrofte shave’ belonging to Loyes in Hadlow was ‘one yarde twentie perches.’

Everitt suggests that shaws or shaves were ‘irregular strips of woodland left … around the edges of medieval assarts as settlement advanced; in many places they are still a faithful indicator of medieval assarting.’ However, Brandon and Short believe that ‘many shaws appear to represent the encroachment of trees and shrubs onto previously cultivated land and the development of shaws, far from being a relict feature of medieval farming, probably occurred when the valuation placed on timber… exceeded that of farmland, as during the peak of the charcoal industry in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.’ 37 Further research on the shaves or shaws described in the Survey may contribute to this debate.


The marshlands were important to the county economy. They were principally used for sheep pasture, but both Leland and Lambarde mention the large number of cattle grazing on the marshes. Downland farmers grazed their livestock on the marshes of the Thames shore or Romney Marsh for up to nine months of the year.38

In the Survey, fresh marsh and salt marsh were described at various places, including Bynwallmarshe in Iwade, Urnhammesmarshe in Upchurch, Sharleysmore (present day Shirley Moor) in Woodchurch, and Austens, otherwise Upstreet, in Chislet. The manor of Chilton in Sittingbourne had fresh marsh and salt marsh in Iwade. As with the woodland, measuring was not always easy. At Bynwall marshe in Iwade, ‘bycause the peece of marshelande aforesaid called Bynwall marshe was at this tyme verie wette and Fowle: And therefore vneasye to be gone in the measurers aforesaid were verie moche in Doubte whether they had truelye measured the same peece of Lande, ye or no.’

A view of some

©Denis Anstey

Holborough Marsh at Snodland


Various other types of land usage were recorded in the Survey. Hemp platts were mentioned frequently. Rope and canvas, both made from hemp, had many domestic and industrial uses. Hemp was regarded as so important for the Royal Navy that in 1533 Henry VIII required all owners or occupiers of land to set aside a quarter of an acre for its cultivation. There was a saffron close at Wardones in Egerton. Saffron, from the crocus, was used as a dye, for seasoning and for medicinal purposes. It was a profitable but labour intensive crop and therefore would normally be grown in small plots.

There was a hop garden at Boughton Malherbe. Hop cultivation was relatively new in England at the time of the Survey. Renolde Scot of Scots Hall in Smeeth, who knew Thomas Wotton, published A Perfite Platforme of a Hoppe Garden, the first English guide to hop cultivation, in 1574.

Also in Boughton Malherbe was ‘a peece of Lande called the vyneyard’. It is unclear whether vines were actually cultivated there at the time of the Survey, or whether this was simply a name that had survived from an earlier time, such as, for example, The Vines in Rochester. Vines were cultivated in England in the Middle Ages, by monastic houses and lay landlords, but their cultivation had declined by the mid sixteenth century. Contemporaries noted ‘places in this realm that keeps still the names of vineyards and upon many cliffs and hills are yet to be seen the roots and old remains of vines.’39

Various reasons have been suggested for the decline of vineyards in England; climate change making the country too cold for viticulture; shortage of labour following the Black Death; the Dissolution of the Monasteries ending monastic cultivation of vines; the need to devote more land to arable crops as the population rose in the second half of the sixteenth century. The cultivation of grapes in England continued in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries largely as a hobby for gentlemen. Samuel Pepys records being offered wine made from grapes grown at Walthamstow by his friend Sir W. Batten. Kentish gentlemen such as Lord Cobham, Sir Cheney Culpeper of Leeds and Sir Peter Ricard of Great Chart produced wine from their own grapes in the first half of the seventeenth century. Boughton Malherbe, on a south facing hillside, would be as well suited to the cultivation of vines as anywhere; perhaps the Wottons too produced their own wine.


It is not easy to establish precisely the limits of a manor. The lands of a manor may not lie in a compact unit. They may be intermingled with other manors, perhaps with detached portions lying at some distance. Upland manors typically had outlying pastures in the Weald or marshland, some distance away from the parent settlement. The manor of Chilton in Sittingbourne, for example, had marshland pasture in Iwade.

The locations of some of the manor houses, such as Chilton in Sittingbourne and Sherivescourte in Minster in Thanet are easily identifiable. Whiteherste in Marden survives as Widehurst. Others, such as Holmyll in Harrietsham, are now lost. Some of the farms or tenements, such as Frendes, Beadles and Gibbes, were recorded in the Survey simply by the names of their former owners; discovering their locations is not easy.

However, using the information given in the Survey, it might be possible to identify the locations of farmhouses and reconstruct the landscape of the 1550s and 1560s. The relationship of each piece of land to adjoining fields, woods or roads was described.

‘A peece of meadowe lande called Sednores meade, percelle of the Demeane landes of the manoure of Fyll aforesaid, and lyenge in Edgerton aforesaid, To certaine landes nowe of John Boicote … towarde the East: To the kinges highe waie leadinge from a place or Streete called Stonebridge in Edgerton aforesaid to Pluckleye in the same countie, toward the Sowthe: To certaine landes nowe of Thomas Sedgeweeke, And to certaine landes nowe of John Fidge, toward the West: And to a Streame or water Course there, toward the Northe.’

‘A peece of Lande called sealeshott, percell of the Demene landes of the manoure of molland and denefee aforesaid, and lyenge in Clife … To certaine landes nowe of Roger Adye, toward the East: To the kinges highe waye there, leadinge from Cowlinge in the said countie to a Mylle called Clifemylle: towarde the Sowthe: To certaine landes nowe of the heires of Richard Parke gentleman, towarde the West: To certaine landes, percell of the Demeane landes of the manoure of Islyngham in Frendesburye in the same countie, nowe of o[wre] said sovereigne ladye the Queene, toward the Northe.

Unlike many other English counties, Kent was not transformed by Parliamentary Enclosure in the eighteenth century. Changes to the landscape have occurred over time, however. In the sixteenth century, landlords were enclosing land, planting hedges and erecting fences. In 1567, Thomas Wotton himself was engaged in hedging, ‘palinge and inclosinge’ South Park in Boughton Malherbe.

The turnpike road from Maidstone to Ashford, laid out in 1793, and from Maidstone to Biddenden, laid out in 1803, passed through Headcorn, Harrietsham, Lenham and Charing, all parishes where Wotton lands lay. Any realignment of existing roads in the turnpiking process, or laying out of new stretches of road, would alter the extent of any lands where the bounds include ’the king’s highway’.

The sixteenth century landscape as described in the Survey is further obscured by the railway that cuts through Sherivescourte. The M20 motorway and the High Speed rail line divide Harrietsham, forcing the diversion of pre-existing roads. Seynctling Okemere, in St Mary Cray, is engulfed by suburban housing and industrial estates.

Reconstructing the landscape in the marshland areas in particular is not easy. The shoreline was changing frequently in the medieval and early modern periods, and has changed since, due to flooding, or reclamation of land. The course of the River Stour has altered over time. New drainage channels or sewers were dug, and flood defences were constructed. At Chislet, along the Stour and the Wantsum, a large area was newly inned or enclosed in the late sixteenth century.40 The bounds of Sheryuesmarshe in Chislet include ‘a common Watercorse or newe Seware there called the Newe Cutt.’

Map showing

© Kent Archaeological Society

The Chislet Valley showing drainage and flood
defences along the Wantsum

Part of Urnhammesmarshe seems to have been an island cut off at high tide:

‘A salte marshe called Vrnhamesmarshe Lyenge in vpchurche/ besyde Sytingborne in the Countie of kennt, To a streame or Ryver called the Mydwaye or Medwaye leadinge and runninge in the tyme of the fludde from Quynboroughe in the same Countie to Rochester in the Countie aforesaid, toward the West, Northe, and East: To a Cricke or streeme leadinge or Ronnynge in the lieke tyme of the fludde to halstowe in the same Countie, toward the East And To an other Cricke or streame there, toward the Sowthe:’

Elsewhere the defences broke down and the sea encroached. ‘The peece of marshelande aforesaid called Bynwalmarshe (lyeinge in Highewade otherwayes called Iwade in the Countie of Kent aforesaid) throughe an exceeding great highe tide Dryven (as it is supposed) into that Extraordinary Course by means of the wynde comminge in a verie blusteringe and tempestuous sorte out of the West northe west was, betweene the houres of ix of the clocke in the forenoone and iii of the clocke in the afternoone in the Firste of November 1570 then Weddensdaye emonge diverse other marshes in the Countie of Kent whollye surrounded.’41

Boundaries may have changed. The manor of Paddlesworth extended over the parishes of Leybourne, Birling, East Malling, Luddesdown and Paddlesworth itself. The parish of Paddlesworth no longer exists, however, having been subsumed into the neighbouring parish of Snodland.42

Even at the time the Survey was carried out, the bank known as Mildred’s mark, or St Mildred’s Lynch, which divided the manors and parishes of Minster in Thanet and Monkton, and formed part of the bounds of Sheryvescourte, was ‘at this present tyme in theese partes soo overgrowen withe busshes and other trees as the same Waie or marke is shortlie like to growe owte of mans memorie.’ 43

Other landmarks survive, however. In Thurnham, the bounds of ‘a peece of lande called Thornham feeld’ include ‘the churche yard of the parishe of Thornham aforesaid … toward the East.… to certaine landes called greate honnye hill … in Thornham aforesaid … toward The Sowthe… And to a foote pathe or footewaye leadinge from the church of Thornham aforesaid to Detlinge in the Countie of kennt aforesaid, towarde the Northe.’

The church, Honey Hill and the footpath still exist.

In Marleghe in Harrietsham and Lenham ‘the kinges highewaye lyenge vnder the Downe’ which forms the northern boundary of the thirty acre field called Sowthdowne is the ancient trackway known as the Pilgrims’ Way.

Research with large scale maps such as the Tithe maps and aerial surveys and fieldwork might reveal the existence of hedgerows, banks and ditches marking some of these bounds, especially if they are coterminus with the boundaries of demesnes, manors or parishes. It might prove possible to reconstruct the sixteenth century landscape, with its fields, footpaths and farmhouses.


Nearly thirty houses were described in the Survey, often with associated outbuildings, barns and stables. Some were large and complex buildings. At Sheryvescourte in Minster in Thanet there was

'A newe hawle withe a Chymneye: over the said hawle is one lofte or chamber withe a Chymneye: on the Sowthe parte or syde of the same hawle ar towe lowe chambers: over the said towe chambers, is one other chamber. There is also in the said Sowthe parte, an entrie: on the West parte of the said entrie, is a perloure on the West parte of the said parloure, is one lowe chamber: over the same perlor and lowe chamber, is one other fayre chamber. There is also on the Sowthe syde or parte of the same hawle, one other olde hawle: On the Sowthe syde or parte of the said olde hawle, is one lowe chamber: over the said chamber, is also one other chamber. In the west parte of the same olde hawle, is a kychin: and a newe maltinge howse, withe a fayre chamber over the same.'

Many of the houses described followed the pattern of a late medieval ‘yeoman’ house, with a central hall open to the roof and a two storied block of chambers at each end. At Browne's Tenement in Lenham,

‘In and belonginge unto the messuage or tenemente aforesaid, is firste a hawle: On the Sowthe syde of the same hawle ar towe little Chambers: over those towe chambers ar towe other little chambers: On the Northe syde of the same hawle ar towe other little Chambers: over those towe chambers ar towe other little chambers.’

At Frendes in Little Chart,

‘In and belonginge unto one of the messuages or tenementes aforesaid, is first a hawle: In the East syde of the said hawle ar towe little Chambers: over the said towe Chambers ar towe other Chambers. In the West syde of the same messuage or tenemente ar towe other little Chambers: over the said towe Chambers, is one other Chamber.’

This style probably emerged around 1400, and continued in use up to about 1530. It is suggested that perhaps as many as 15,000 houses of this type may have been built in Kent. Each parish in Kent may have had between ten and thirty houses of this style and period. Surviving houses of this type are found all over the county, but are most densely concentrated to the south east of Maidstone, one of the wealthiest regions of the county. Since this is where the greater part of the Wotton lands lie, it is unsurprising that these houses should be found on their estates.44

A typical house of the period with
                a with a central hall and wings at each end
©Denis Anstey

A typical house of the period with a central hall
with wings at each end

Kitchens were often referred to. Before brick hearths and chimney stacks, kitchens were in buildings set apart from the main house. Where surviving detached kitchens have been identified in Sussex, they are fairly substantial buildings. (The less substantial of course are less likely to have survived.) They ‘typically measured 7.9 - 11.6 m (26' - 38') long by 5.2 - 6.4 m (17' -21') wide [and were] two storeyed with at least one, and usually two upper chambers.’ The additional chambers, it is suggested were used for storage or perhaps sleeping accommodation for servants.45

The kitchens mentioned in the Wotton Survey were of precisely this type. At Mynchincourte in Shadoxhurst

‘There is also appertayninge vnto the Scite or Mansion howse of the same manoure, one ketchin, sentrallye sett of and from the Scite or Mansyon howse aforesaid: In the East end of whiche ketchyn is one lowe chambre: over the said Chambre is one other Chambre.’

At Brookes Tenement in Charing,

‘On the East syde of the said messuage or tenemente is a kitchen tiled severallie sett of and from/ the messuage or tenemente aforesaid: In the same kitchen ar towe lowe Chambers: over thoose towe Chambers is one other Chamber: In the said kitchen is also an hoste/ and an oven.’

One authority on vernacular architecture has suggested that ‘In both appearance and area of accommodation these structures closely resemble small houses.’ It is suggested that many buildings standing close to late medieval houses which have been thought to be separate dwellings were in fact detached kitchens. The descriptions of these kitchens in the Survey may help to identify any which still exist.46

W G Hoskins proposed the idea of a ‘Great Rebuilding’ of rural England in the early modern period. He suggested that ‘between the accession of Elizabeth I and the outbreak of the Civil War there occurred in England a revolution in the housing of a considerable part of the population.’ Due to rising incomes, especially in the agricultural sector, people were able either to build new houses or to improve their existing ones. Brick chimney stacks began to be added to houses. Thatched roofs were replaced with tile.47

Hoskins’ theories have been disputed subsequently.48 While the Great Rebuilding is still recognised as a phenomenon which took place, it is now thought that it started earlier and continued longer than had previously been thought to be the case. The Great Rebuilding may have started as early as the late 15th century in the better-off parts of southern and eastern England. What, if anything, can the Wotton Survey contribute to the debate?

Most of the houses described were thatched, but some, such as Burscombe and Wardones, both in Egerton, were tiled. Chimneys were a significant enough feature to be mentioned. At Wryhalfeyoke in Lenham, for example, 

‘In and belonginge vnto the messuage or tenemennt aforesaid, is first a hawle with a chymneye: On the northe side of the said hawle ar towe little chambers: over the said towe little chambers is one lofte or chamber. On the Sowthe side of the said hawle is a parler withe a chimneye and one little chamber: Over the hawle parler and little chamber aforesaid, ar three little chambers, wherof that chamber that is over the said parler, hathe in it also a chimneye.’

Elsewhere, such as at Mynchincourte in Shadoxhurst, there seem to have been no chimneys:

‘In and belonginge vnto the scite or mansyon howse of the Manoure of Mynchyncourte … is first a hawle In the East ende of the said hawle is one lowe Chambre: over the said Chambre is one other Chambre: On the west ende of the same hawle ar towe lowe Chambres: over the said towe Chambres is one other Chamber.’

Houses built in the early fifteenth century were no doubt in need of some improvement by the time the Survey was carried out. Some houses had already undergone rebuilding or alteration before the sixteenth century. Chilton, in Sittingbourne, is one such house. When surveyed in 1994 it was believed to have originally been an aisled hall dating from c.1290. By the time of the Survey it had been substantially altered and extended. There was

‘a hawle withe a Chymneye: On the Sowthe west syde of the same hawle is a Parlor with a Chymneye And towe other lowe Chambers or Roomes called a larder and a mylkehowse: over the same parloure ar towe other chambers, wherof thone Chamber hathe a Chymneye: And over the other towe lowe Chambers or Roomes ar three other chambers: On the said Sowthe west syde of the same hawle is also a gallerie: On the west syde of the said hawle is a little buttrie and a bakehowse: On the Northe syde of the same hawle is a kitchen
withe a Chymneye: on the Northe syde of the said kitchen is abrewhowse and an hoste to make malte in: over the same Brewhowse is one other chamber: Over the Porche thoroughe whiche ye maye goo, if ye goo into the said hawle, is a Chamber withe a Chymneye.’

Further alterations were carried out at later dates. At Chilton and
elsewhere, the Survey may reveal a stage in the history of a house that
would not otherwise be known.49

In only two of the houses was any description of the contents or fixtures and fittings given. At Browne’s Tenement in Lenham:

‘In the hawle aforesaid, a longe table: aboute three partes of the same/ hawle, Benches: and nyne shettinge wyndowes: In the kitchen an oven and an hoste to make malte in: in one of the fower severall Roomes aforesaid a malte Queerne To moste of the Dores of the chambers and Roomes aforesaid, dores, lockes and keyes.’

‘Shetting’ was an archaic form of ‘shutting’; the windows, in other words, were made to be opened and closed. Eight ‘shetting windows’ are mentioned at Bourne’s Tenement, also in Lenham. These items evidently belonged to Thomas Wotton, rather than the tenant. Since the names of the tenants or ’fermours’ are known, it might be possible to identify probate inventories which would show how the various rooms and outbuildings were furnished and used, and whether there had been any alteration to the buildings after the Survey.

From the descriptions of the houses and associated buildings, it is possible to determine which way each house faced. Brookes Tenement, for example, with chambers to the north and south of the hall and the kitchen to the east, must have faced west. This information about the orientation of the buildings may help to identify them where they survive, or survive much altered, under different names.

Outbuildings were also described. Nearly every house had its associated barns and stables. At Seynctling Okemere, in St Mary Cray, Thomas Wotton had a barn of eight bays, which ‘conteyneth by Estimacion in bredthe thirtie Foote, in lengthe fowerskore foote.’ The Survey did not record whether this barn was thatched or tiled. At Wardones, the house, kitchen and a ‘fayrebarne‘ were all tiled, while a stable, another barn, and a lodge were thatched. At Mayes Tenement in Lenham, the bakehouse, barn and stable were all tiled.

As well as the usual barns and stables, the Survey recorded many rooms or buildings used for food processing or industrial purposes, either in or near to the main dwelling house. At Bourne’s Tenement there were ‘a buttrie and a mylkehowse’ and ’a Smoke lofte to drie bakon.’ Bourne’s tenement also had a smith’s forge. At Wryhalfyoke there was a cheesehouse. At Browne’s Tenement there was ‘a Bakehowse and an hoste to make malte in.’ Archeleyes in Harrietsham also had an ‘hoste to drie malte in.’

At Cobbeshole in Eynsford there was a ‘Tylehoste’ or tile kiln. The house, barn and stable at Cobbeshole were tiled, but the ‘howse to sett cartes in’ was thatched. Possibly the process of tiling the buildings was underway at the time the Survey was carried out.

The chimneys recorded in the Survey must have required a substantial quantity of bricks. There is however no reference to brick making in the Survey. Brick making at this time did not require any permanent structures. Land where brick earth was dug was restored to its previous condition when the work was finished. So if brick making was not taking place at the time the Survey was carried out, or not taking place on Wotton lands, there need not be any record of it in the Survey.

There were, and are, many streams and rivers to the south east of Maidstone, and water mills are mentioned in several places in the Survey. There was a wheat mill and a malt mill at Boughton Malherbe. On the manor of Fyll, in Egerton, there were also ‘towe Corne mylles: that is to saye, a wheate mylle and a malte myll.’ Most of the mills would have been for grinding corn, but at Fyll there was also ‘a fullinge myll: that is to saye, a thicker and a wassher.’ Fulling was a stage in the process of making woollen cloth, when the woven but as yet undyed cloth was beaten and scoured in a vat of water with fuller’s earth, a clay which contained certain minerals. The purpose of the process was to remove impurities in the wool so it would take a dye better, and to make it thicker. Woollen cloth making was a major industry in sixteenth century Kent and the Medway Valley was an important source of fuller’s earth.

There were also two watermills on the River Cray in the manor of Seynctling Okemere in St Mary Cray. Seynctling Okemere contained the only urban area in the Survey:

‘In the East parte of the peece of lande aforesaid called the Markett place of Saincte Marie Craye is one longe tyled howse, meete for bouchers to laye and sell fleshe in: Wherin are xij severall stages or Roomes: in the Sowthe parte of the said peece of lande is one other tiled howse apte for the lieke purpose.’


Thirty one of the manors or tenements were said to have been occupied by someone other than Thomas Wotton. The names of the occupiers, and their status or occupations, are given in the Survey. Sometimes the same name appears more than once. Assuming these are the same people occupying more than one property, and not two people of the same name, there were twenty six different ‘fermours’ or occupiers of land. Three were gentlemen. Four practised a trade - ‘pailemaker’, smith, wheelwright, shoemaker. Twelve were husbandmen and five were ‘yemen’.

The meaning of ‘husbandman’ and ‘yeman’ or ‘yeoman,’ and the differnece between them is unclear. It is suggested that husbandmen were small to medium sized farmers, either freeholders or tenant farmers. Their farms were probably worked by family labour and produced little if any surplus for the market.50 Robert Spice, husbandman, occupied Burscombe, which was about ninety acres. Richard Adam, another husbandman, occupied the demesne lands of Wardones, over two hundred acres. Two hundred acres was a substantial farm. The occupier of even a ninety acre farm was more than a ‘small to medium sized farmer’ but rather verging on the yeomanry.

The meaning of ‘yeman’ or yeoman at this time was complex and changing. It is usually understood to mean a substantial, well to do farmer, of some standing in his community. As described by Lambarde, ‘the yeomanry is nowhere more free and jolly than in this shire [Kent]. . . In this their estate they please themselves, and joy exceedingly, insomuch as a man may find sundry yeomen (although otherwise for wealth comparable with many of the gentle sort) that will not yet for all that change their condition, nor desire to be apparailed with the titles of gentry.’ 51

The earlier meaning of yeoman, which was becoming obsolete in the sixteenth century, was servant or retainer. Thomas Wotton’s servants Christopher Gatis, Christopher Clement alias Arnold and William Dymmynge were described as ‘yemen’, so in the Survey the word was being used in both senses - a servant and a well to do farmer.

The Wotton lands need not have been the only lands occupied and farmed by these husbandmen and yemen. It was common for yeomen at least to lease or rent lands from a variety of landlords, in addition to any freehold land they might own. It is also possible that they rented or sublet some of the Wotton lands they held to others.

The Survey does not indicate by what tenure these ‘fermours’ held their lands. However, it does describe the tenure by which the Wottons held their lands. Land could be held either directly from the sovereign, as a tenant in chief, or in capite, or as a subtenant of the tenant in chief. This was known as socage tenure. The Wotton lands were mix of both types of tenure. The demesne lands of Holmyll, for example, were held in capite, while Mynchincourte was held by socage tenure. It was important for Thomas Wotton to know which of his lands were held directly of the Queen, as lands held in capite were customarily regarded as not being subject to gavelkind.


The manor had never been such a strong institution in Kent as in other parts of England. Labour services had never been so onerous as in some Midland counties. By the sixteenth century, ‘the Kentish manor was usually a geographically dispersed jigsaw, its main function increasingly limited to extorting minor seigneurial dues from tenants.’52

Nevertheless, the Survey reveals a complex array of rents, dues and services issuing out of the Wotton lands. Land changed hands frequently in the active land market of the mid-Tudor period, tenements were assembled then dispersed, often in piecemeal fashion. Keeping track of what was owed, and to whom, required close attention to detail.

The obligations are scrupulously recorded and paid, down to one farthing due to the manor of Lenham issuing out of six acres of land held by Thomas Wotton in a field called Snagboldane. The farthing is payable in lieu of ‘the yerelye custome or service of and in the Earinge or plowinge of thre feete and half a foote of lande… and by the yerelye custome or service of & in the reapinge of towe feete of wheate’ on the demesne lands of Lenham.53

In the Anglo Saxon and early medieval periods, when the manorial system was emerging, these services were of real importance in guaranteeing a workforce for the lord of the manor. By the sixteenth century their value was minimal, their significance purely symbolic.

Services related to agriculture, or money payments in lieu, were the most common obligations, but some of the Wotton lands bore more unusual charges. Two pieces of land called Eastyokes, part of the manor of Wardones in Egerton, were charged with replacing three of the bell ropes at Egerton church whenever they became worn. The ‘owner Fermoure or occupier’ of Eastyokes was entitled to have the old ropes. The manor of Marleghe was liable for ‘Blaunch rent’. According to Elton, this was a levy raised by Henry IV on the marriage of his daughter Blanche in 1403.54

The manor of Boughton Malherbe was subordinate to the manor of Ospringe, and therefore part of the Honour of Peverel. The Honour of Peverel consisted of 162 manors in Kent, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere. It was one of eight honours or baronies established in the reign of William I. They were responsible for providing men for the defence of Dover. By the time of Henry VIII the requirement to provide men had been commuted to a money payment known as ‘castle ward’ for the maintenance and repair of Dover Castle. The tenure of the lands of the Honour of Peverel had become confused and the rents decayed. Henry ordered enquiries into the tenure of the manors and their liability to pay castle ward. Legislation in the 14th and 15th years of his reign, and again in the 32nd year, attempted to make collection of the castle ward rents more efficient.55


The Survey recorded when and how the Wottons acquired their lands. While the Wottons established themselves as landowners in Kent primarily by marriage and inheritance, they also acquired a substantial amount of land by purchase.

Evidently the family had kept records over generations; details were given of the purchase of land by Robert Corby in the 1390s, twenty years or more before his daughter Joane married the first Nicholas Wotton;

‘The towe peeces of Lande aforesaid called the hill and little Ewewell weare purchased of John Roper and Thomas Ickham by Robert Corbey of bocton aforesaid Esquier, As by a deede of gifte of the said John Roper and Thomas Ikham therof made dated in the xixth daye of Marche in the xvith yere of the reigne of the late Prince of famous memorye kinge Richarde the Seconde.’

Nicholas the Lord Mayor purchased Frithes in the sixth year of Henry IV (1404/5). Robert purchased Brooke, Hockingstone and Daunceleaze in the eleventh year of Henry VII (1495/6).

There was at least one instance of the Wottons’ recording keeping being inadequate, however:

'Howe the manoure of Sherivescourte … came into the handes and possession of the Wottons, ys yet somewhat vncertaine vnto the said Thomas Wotton. But for as moche as the same Thomas Wotton hathe not yet founde anye deede or writinge of the gifte graunt or Sale of the manoure of Sherivescourte aforesaid, geven grannted or sold vnto anye of the Wottons. And for as moche as Nicholas wotton … greate granndfather of the said Thomas wotton was … in the daie of his deathe beinge the ix th daie of Aprill in the xx th yere of the Reigne of the late kinge of noble memorye kinge Edward the fourthe, seased of the manoure of Sherivescourte aforesaid … the presumption and likelyhoode is greate that the manoure of Sherivescourte aforesaid … did descend and come vnto the said Nicholas wooton as vnto the sonne and heire of Nicholas Wotton late Citizen Draper and mayre of london: whiche Nicholas wotton by semblable presumption and likelyhood had and held the manoure of Sheryvescourte aforesaid and the seuerall peeces of lande afore rehersed, percelles of the Demeane landes of the manoure of Sherivescourte aforesaid in the right of Johane his wife theonlie Daughter and heire of Robert Corbye/ late of bocton malherbe aforesaid Esquier.'

Hasted agreed, and in fact had a little more information:

‘The family of Corbie became possessed of this estate; one of whom, Robert de Corbie, died possessed of it in the 39th year of king Edward III [1365/6], whose son Robert Corbie, esq. of Boughton Malherb, leaving a sole daughter and heir Joane, she carried it in marriage to Sir Nicholas Wotton.’56

The largest acquisitions appear to have been made by Sir Edward Wotton, Thomas’s father, in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. In 1548 alone he purchased separate parcels of land which together amounted to about seven hundred acres. Some of Sir Edward’s purchases were very small. In 1536, for example, he bought a plot of land in Harrietsham that was only just over an acre.57

All land was theoretically held by the king, and granted out by the king to others (and hence could be forfeit to the king in certain circumstances.) Strictly speaking, the only way for land to be transferred from one individual to another would be for the king to take the land back into his own hands, then grant it out again to the new owner. Over the centuries, however, the legal profession had developed a number of procedures to circumvent this requirement.58 The Wottons used a number of these in their acquisition of land.

One of these procedures was conveyance of property by a final concord, or fine. Technically, this was a settlement of a property dispute, but was in reality a collusion between buyer and seller to obtain a legal record of the transfer of the property. The buyer and seller agreed a price. The buyer then sued the seller, claiming the property rightfully belonged to him. When the matter came before the court, the parties agreed to settle the matter out of court, then returned to the court to have the agreement confirmed. The ‘final concord’ or ‘fine’ was the written record of the agreement, and was the new owner‘s evidence of title to the land. The document was divided into three, each party taking one part, the third part, from the foot of the document, being the court’s record - hence the term ‘feet of fines’.

‘The peeces of Lande aforesaid called Doddesdane, Martynesdane, hokeswoodde, Swattelmere and Coppnettes crofte, [in Lenham] were purchased of william partriche by Thomas wotton of bocton malherbe in the Countie of kennt Esquier, As by a fyne withe due forme & order of lawe therof knowledged by the said william Partriche in the Octavis of Saincte hillary in the Sixte yere of the reigne of the late … kinge Edward the Sixte.’ In other words, between 20th and 26th January, 1553.

The recovery was another legal subterfuge used to transfer land. In this case, the prospective purchaser would claim in the courts that he had been forcibly ejected from his land and was seeking to recover it from the man who had wrongfully seized it. This procedure was sometimes used to circumvent an entail.

Kennerden in Egerton ‘for the Somme of fourtie pounde [was] purchased of Anthonye Philpott by the said Thomas wotton: As by a recoverie withe Due forme and order of lawe, therof passed againste and suffred by, the said Anthonye Philpott in a terme called Easter terme in the seconde and thirde yere of the Reigne of Philippe and Marie.’

The deed of gift was another means of transferring property. Despite the name, money did change hands in the transaction. Gibbes tenement was ‘purchased of Roberte Elviston and Richard Burgeoist then feoffes of John Gibbe by Edward Wotton then Esquier father of the sayde Thomas Wotton: As by a deede of gifte of the said Robert Elviston and Richard Burgeoist therof made, dated the firste daye of October in the tenthe yere of the Reigne of the late kinge … henrie the Eighte.’

Thomas Wotton would have been aware of the importance of being able to prove title, and how easily, even so, a landowner could be deprived of his lands. In the thirteenth century one of the Wotton manors, Colbredge, had been part of the extensive estates of Juliana de Leybourne, Countess of Huntingdon. These estates had reverted to the king in the reign of Edward III. He had enfeoffed them with the intention that, by his will, the profits of the estates should benefit three religious houses.

In the next reign, however, there were protracted disputes between the feoffees and the king (or, given that the king was a minor at his accession, his council), as Richard II apparently attempted to keep the estates in his own hands, and subsequently to grant them to his favourite, Simon Burley.59 The fact that one of the feoffees was Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop and Chancellor who was a particular target of the rebels in 1381, raises questions as to how altruistic the feoffees actually were in their handling of the estates. However, Thomas Wotton, given his knowledge of his estates dating back to the reign of Richard II, may well have been aware of the dispute.

The lands known as Beadles, in Thurnham, ‘By reason of the conviction of the said henrie (whiche for Divers reasons was attainted at Tonbridge … in the 14th Daye of June in the 29th yere of the Reigne of the late kinge … the Sixte [1451]) were seased into the handes and possession/of the said late kinge.’

The attainting was possibly in connection with the Jack Cade rebellion, which took place in the summer of 1450. Thomas Wotton had seen men with whom he himself was personally acquainted lose their estates by forfeiture, following the Wyatt rebellion of 1554, just a few years before the Survey was carried out.


Thomas Wotton’s father Edward was one of the gentlemen of Kent who acquired former monastic lands following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. The manor of Colbredge, and associated marshland pastures and other lands, had belonged to the ‘college of owre blessed ladye saincte Marye the Virgin and of Sancte Stephan Prothomartyr within the palace of Westminster.’ Fyll had belonged to the hospital of Saint Jacob in Thanington, near Canterbury. Sir Edward did not receive most of these lands directly from the Crown, but from a number of purchases on the local land market in the last years of Henry VIII and the reign of Edward VI.60

It was of benefit to the Crown to have local men with court connections acquiring these lands. Because of its strategically important location, between London and the Continent, the loyalty of Kent was crucial to the security and stability of the country. As well as bringing in much needed revenue, the redistribution of monastic lands to upwardly mobile and ambitious men in the county helped to secure their allegiance to the Crown.

As long as Mary was on the throne, there was a chance that the former monastic lands might be returned to the church. Even after the accession of Elizabeth, landowners did not dismiss the possibility - a reasonable approach, given how quickly things had changed, and changed again, over the previous twenty five years or so. Archeleyes Tenement was measured on 4th November 1559, just two weeks short of the first anniversary of Elizabeth’s accession. Archeleyes was held of the manor of Holmyll in Harrietsham, which had been part of the lands of the Friars Preachers of the Priory of King’s Langley in Hertfordshire.

‘If ever at anye tyme hereafter the manoure of holmyll aforesaid be by acte of parlement taken and evicted owte of the possession of the heires and assignes of the said Thomas Wotton, and restored unto the said late Dissolved priorie or howse of langeleye: And that then by the same acte it be provided that all suche Landes and Renntes as afore the Dissolution of the said late Priorie or howse of Langleye were holden of and paid unto the manoure of holmyll aforesaid should againe of the same manoure be holden, suche and the lieke tenure, Sute and Rennt: it maye yet by this said note appere by what tenure Sute and Rennt, and of Whom, and of what manoure the peece of lande aforesaid called Waterlane was holden:'


The Wottons, and no doubt other landowners, had personal experience of the inconveniences that could arise from the division of lands by gavelkind. Thomas Wotton’s estates included about thirteen acres of land in Lenham called Goldhurdefeelde and Lee Wood. Six acres had been purchased by Edward Wotton in 1534. The remainder had previously been purchased by Robert Wotton about 1510, from Gregorie Ogan, and Elizabeth his wife, John Humfreye and Dorothea his wife, John Turle and Alice his wife, Gregorie Peers and Agnes his wife, John Geffreye and Thomasine his wife, and John Cheeseman and Cicile his wife. Dorothea, Alice, Agnes, Thomasine and Cicile were almost certainly the daughters or sisters of the previous owner, who had inherited the land between them.

Edward Wotton purchased a tenement called Frendes in Little Chart, and other pieces of land, between 1545 and 1547. The land was bought from Richard, Henry and John Frend, William James and Catherin his wife, and Thomas Lorkin. Again, these are probably the heirs of the former owner. Investigation of wills, or manorial records if they survive, might confirm this.

The greatest difficulties were caused by the inheritance of Robert Wotton’s wife Anne. Her brother, Sir Edward Belknap, was a substantial landowner, with estates in Warwickshire as well as Kent. His lands in Kent included the manors of Ringwould in east Kent and Seynctling Okemere at St Mary Cray. When he died in 1521, his estates passed to his three sisters, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary.61 Ringwould and Seynctling Okemere were each divided into three parts.

The Wottons and the Belknaps.

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In 1548, ‘twoo partes of the manoure of Ryngewoolde …were purchased by Edward Wotton knight of Anthonye Cooke knight, one of the cousyns and heires of Edward Belknappe knight, and of Anne his wife; and of Marie Danet wydowe, one of the Sisters and heires of the said Edward Belknappe … As by a fyne withe due forme and order of lawe thereof.’62

Anthony Cooke was actually Edward Belknap’s great nephew, grandson of Elizabeth and heir to her share of the Belknap lands; ‘cousyn’ here is used to mean kinsman.

By the time Thomas Wotton inherited his father’s estates, the third share of the Belknap lands had passed to Leonard Danett, grandson of Mary Belknap. In 1558 Thomas purchased Leonard’s one third share of Seyntling Okemere.63 When the manor was surveyed in 1562, Anthony Cooke still held his share. He and Thomas Wotton each had ‘a mansion or dwelling house’ in St Mary Cray. Anthony Cooke’s barn stood next to Thomas Wotton’s. The orchard was divided between the two of them. Thomas Wotton owned two parts of the market place and Anthony Cooke one part.

In order to secure the division, Thomas Wotton had brought ‘a writt of particion … agaynste the said Sir Anthonye Cooke, by force of whiche Writte John Tufton esquier sherive of the Countie of kennt aforesaid withe Due forme and order of lawe, that is to saye by the Othes and veredicte of xii good and lawfull men did make appointe and assigne the division particon and lymytacion afore expressed: As by the Exemplification of the said particion Dated at Westmynster the xi Daie of Maye in the fourthe yere of the Reigne of owre sovereigne ladye Elizabeth.’ The Survey had in fact been carried out a week earlier, on 4 May.64

Thomas Wotton evidently felt a lasting sense of grievance against Anthony Cooke, because of the Belknap inheritance or some other cause. In 1574 he wrote ‘If Sir Anthony Cooke were eyther the man that afore the Lorde he ought to be, or afore the worlde wolde seeme to be, in so great age [Cooke was seventy in 1574], in so blessed dayes, in Sutes farre from lawe, farther from equitie, he wolde never doo as he dothe.’65

Thomas appears to have been on better terms with Leonard Dannet, the third heir, but some matters relating to the inheritance were still unresolved between them in 1580, and Thomas seems to have been considering legal action:

‘Right sorie wolde I be that between us two (in nature neere Kynsmen, by nombre of yeres now olde men), and suche thinge sholde arise as sholde be moche unfyt for every of us in age considered by hym selfe severallye, more unfyt for bothe of use in nature considered together jointly. The thing that ye deteyne from mee ys a parte of that that by graunt ye conveyed unto my late good uncle. Unto this thing I doo moche desire that without sute, in a quyet sorte, I mae be agayne restored. And hereunto I praye you about the myddle of the next terme let me have your reasonable answer.’66

Hasted records only the Wottons’ ownership of the manor of Seyntling Okemere. Further research may establish how and when Anthony Cooke’s share was acquired by the Wottons and the manor unified.67

The Survey only reveals a snapshot of the Wotton estates as they were about 1560. Their extent and composition was constantly changing, as they sold land as well as purchasing it. The Feet of Fines record sales of land by Sir Edward; seven acres of land in Rainham in 1530/1; eight acres of meadow and two hundred acres of marshland in Lower Halstow and Iwade in 1539/40.68

Some of the lands surveyed by Thomas Wotton were sold subsequently, the sales noted in the Survey. Eight pieces of land in Iwade, for example, had been sold to Myldred Taylor. The manor of Ringwould was sold to Sir Thomas Edolphe. The sums for which the lands were sold are sometimes given, but the dates of the transactions are not. Further research in the Feet of Fines and elsewhere might reveal more about the Wottons’ dealings in land.

The Survey is a rich resource for place name scholars. Archaic forms of place names such as Bocton for Boughton and Hedcrone for Headcorn were used. Urnhammesmarshe and Smeeden hammes in Goldenham in Headcorn seem to support Gelling’s suggested definitions of ‘land hemmed in by water… river meadow.’69 Many farms, fields, woodland, pasture and marsh were recorded by name, and their locations described. Many of these may be previously unknown names.

Other pace names recorded in the Survey may help in tracing the evolution of the spelling of known place names, or identifying location of lost places. Teinctefield was a piece of land belonging to Brown’s Tenement in Lenham. It may perhaps be identified with the twelfth and thirteenth century Tengefald, Teningefeld. Wallenberg identifies these with the present day Timbold Hill, in the north of the parish. However, the bounds given for Brown’s Tenement suggest that it was further south, nearer to the Pilgrims’ Way.70 Further study of sources for Lenham may reveal whether Teinctefield, Teningefeld and Timbold Hill are all the same place, or whether they are different places with similar names.

Study of the Survey alongside later surveys or rentals or other sources such as tithe maps may reveal whether field boundaries and field names survived over long periods.


The Wottons amassed a large estate, but much of the land came from other large estates that had been broken up by death, such as the Belknap estates, or by the dissolution of the monasteries. Many manors came to the Wottons through marriage. The manor of Boughton Malherbe itself was in the Wottons’ possession for a little over two hundred years, from the marriage of Nicholas Wotton to Joane Corby in 1416 to the death of Thomas Wotton in 1630. Research into the ownership of other manors would reveal whether this was a long or short time by Kentish standards.

Over time the Wotton estates in turn were dispersed, by sale in the lifetimes of members of the family, and by the ending of the male line in 1630. Research has been carried out into the land market in Kent at various dates; study of the previous and subsequent ownership of the Wotton manors and tenements may reveal how frequently lands changed hands through sale and purchase, and how often ownership was transmitted via the female line, through marriage or inheritance.

The Wotton Survey was carried out during a period of transition in England. Politics, religion, economy and society were all changing. While Thomas Wotton and his servants were walking the fields with their measuring rods, Elizabeth succeeded Mary on the throne and England became irreversibly Protestant. Many traditional and feudal customs were still being observed, the performance of services or payment of rents in lieu being carefully recorded. Other customs were dying out or being abolished or ameliorated by legislation. The landscape was changing to meet the needs of the growing population. The yeomanry was emerging as the class which would dominate the local economies and communities of Kent for the next century and a half. All of these can be observed in the Wotton Survey; it provides a record of the continuing process by which England was transformed from a medieval country into a modern one.


Part I  :    Introduction and Methodology

Part II :    The Wotton Family

Part III:    The Survey

Transcript of the Wotton Survey


Where books or articles are available online, a link to the website is given at the first reference. However, a subscription or password may be required to access some material.

1. Christopher Dyer, assessing the legacy of W.G. Hoskins, ‘Vernacular Architecture and Landscape History’, Vernacular Architecture, 37 (2006), pp. 24-32. https://lra.le.ac.uk/handle/2381/4164

2. C.W. Chalklin, Seventeenth Century Kent (1965), p.2; Patricia Hyde & Michael Zell, ‘Governing the County’, Early Modern Kent 1540-1640 (2000), p. 7.

3. William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent (1576) http://books.google.co.uk

4. Joan Thirsk, ‘Agriculture in Kent, 1540-1640‘, Michael Zell (ed.) Early Modern Kent 1540-1640 (2000) p. 75.

5. Michael Zell, ’Landholding and the land Market’, Early Modern Kent 1540- 1640 (2000), p.65.

6. Edward Hasted, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (1798), pp. 397-415, http://www.british-history.ac.uk; The Wotton Survey BL Add Ms 42,715, henceforward Survey, passim. See Part II of this Introduction for more extensive discussion of the Wotton family.

7. Peter Clark, English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: Religion, politics and society in Kent, 1500-1640 (1977), p.7; Chalklin, op. cit., p.50; Alan Everitt, The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion, 1640-60, (1966) p.34.

8. Survey.

9. Felix Hull ‘The Custumal of Kent’ Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. LXXII (1958) pp. 148-159. http://www.kentarchaeology.ac/custumal/Pages%20from%20LXXII.pdf

10. Lambarde, op. cit.

11. Charles Sandys, Consuetudines Kanciae, a history of gavelkind and other remarkable customs in the County of Kent (1851) p.281 http://books.google.co.uk See also Thomas Robinson, The Common Law of Kent, or, The Customs of Gavelkind (2nd edn. 1788) http://books.google.co.uk

12. Lambarde, op. cit.

13. Everitt, op. cit., p.35.

14. J.H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History (2002) p.248 http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/ELH/baker/Ch14.pdf

15. Baker, op. cit., p.252; Calendar of Close Rolls, Henry IV: volume 3: 1405- 1409 (1931), pp. 359-362. http://www.british-history.ac.uk

16. Charles I. Elton, The Tenures of Kent (1867) p.381 http://books.google.co.uk. The date is presumably Old Style; Roper died in late March or early April 1524. No such will appears in the National Archives’ index to PCC Wills.

17. Nicholas Wotton Inquisition Post Mortem, Survey p. 70; Will of Robert Wotton, TNA PROB 11/21

18. E. W. Ives ‘The Genesis of the Statute of Uses’ The English Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 325 (Oct., 1967), p.690.

19. Hasted, op. cit., Vol. 1 (1797), pp. 311-321; Survey p.8.

20. Clark, op.cit., pp.78-80, 424.

21. Elton, op. cit., passim.

22. Survey, p.9.

23. Zell, ’Landholding and the Land Market’, op. cit. p. 41

24. Survey, p. 9; http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Classification_and_Recording_of_Acts_of_Parliament

25. Elton, op. cit., p.380.

26. Survey, p.444.

27. Survey p.452; Hasted op. cit., Vol. 4 (1798), pp. 471-473; CKS U24 E18.

28. Survey p.184.

29. Survey p.256.

30. Survey p.136.

31. Chalklin, op. cit., p.10.

32. M. D. Nightingale, quoted in Alan R. H. Baker, ‘Field Systems in the Vale of Holmesdale’, Agricultural History Review, xiv (1966) http://www.bahs.org.uk/14n1a1.pdf

33. Thirsk, ‘Agriculture in Kent, 1540-1640‘, op. cit., p.80.

34. Survey, p.430, and elsewhere.

35. Will of Thomas Wotton TNA PROB 11/70.

36. Peter Brandon, The Kent and Sussex Weald (2003) p.156. Will of Thomas Wotton TNA PROB 11/70. Francis Bacon wrote in his Essays, Civil and Moral ‘Even as you may see in coppice woods; if you leave your staddles too thick, you shall never have clean underwood, but shrubs and bushes.’ http://books.google.co.uk/

37. Alan Everitt, Continuity and Colonization: The Evolution of Kentish Settlement (1986) p.27; Peter Brandon & Brian Short, The South East from A.D.1000, (1990) p.56.

38. Thirsk, ‘Agriculture in Kent, 1540-1640‘, op. cit., p.78.

39. Joan Thirsk, Alternative agriculture: a history from the Black Death to the present day, (1997) p.136.

40. Eileen Bowler, ‘For the better Defence of low and marshy Grounds': A Survey of the Work of the Sewer Commissions for north and east Kent, 1531-1930 Alec Detsicas & Nigel Yates (eds) Studies in Modern Kentish History (1983).

41. BL Add. Ms. 42,715 p.vi.

42. www.cityark.medway.gov.uk

43. Hasted, op. cit., Vol. 10 (1800), pp. 264-294; Survey p.497.

44. Sarah Pearson, The Medieval Houses of Kent - An Historical Analysis (1994) pp. 8, 9; Anthony Quiney, Kent Houses (1993) pp. 138, 142.

45. David & Barbara Martin ‘Detached Kitchens in Eastern-Sussex: A re-assessment of the evidence’, Vernacular Architecture 29 (1998), 85-91 http://www.vag.org.uk/VAarticles/kitchens1.htm

46. Ibid.

47. W. G. Hoskins ‘The Rebuilding of Rural England, 1570–1640’, Past and Present, 4 (1953 )

48. Matthew H. Johnson, ‘Rethinking the Great Rebuilding’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 12, (1993) pp.117-125.

49. Pearson, op. cit.  Subsequent work on Chilton suggests that the house may be even older than was originally thought. See Sarah Pearson, Vernacular Architecture, forthcoming. I am grateful to Dr Pearson for reading and commenting on this section of the Introduction.

50. Zell, ’Landholding and the Land Market’, op. cit., p. 69.

51. Jacqueline Bower, 'The Kent Yeoman in the Seventeenth Century', Arch. Cant., cxiv (1994) pp.149-163; Lambarde, op. cit.

52. Clark, op. cit., p.7.

53. Survey p.552

54. Elton, op. cit., p.284.

55. Hasted, op. cit. Vol.. 9 (1800), pp. 475-548; Elton op. cit. p.76.

56. Hasted, op. cit. Vol. 10 (1800), pp. 264-294.

57. Zell, ’Landholding and the Land Market’, op. cit., p. 65; Survey p. 540.


59. C. J. Given-Wilson, ‘Richard II and His Grandfather's Will’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 93, (1978), pp. 320-337.

60. Zell, ’Landholding and the Land Market’, op. cit., p. 65; Michael Zell, ‘The Mid-Tudor Market in Crown Land in Kent’, Arch. Cant., xcvii (1981).

61. Will of Edward Belknap TNA PROB 11/20.

62 Survey p.519.

63. Michael Zell (ed.) Kent Feet of Fines Philip & Mary Part 2 KAS Kent Records New Series Vol. 4 (2007).

64. Survey p.359.

65. G. Eland (ed.), Thomas Wotton’s Letter-Book 1574-1586 (1960) p.1.

66 Ibid., p. 34.

67. Hasted, op. cit., Vol. 2 (1797), pp. 112-125

68. Michael Zell (ed.), Kent Feet of Fines Henry VIII, KAS Kent Records New Series Vol. 2 (1998).

69. Margaret Gelling, Place Names in the Landscape (1984), p.41

70. J. K. Wallenberg, Kentish Place-Names (Uppsala, 1931), p.191; J. K. Wallenberg, The Place-Names of Kent, (Uppsala 1934) p. 227.

Text:  Copyright © 2011 Jacqueline Bower
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