(Compiled by Dawn Bramer-Revised December 2013)
Simon de Meopham and the Church
Simon de Meopham was born in the parish in 1272. After a distinguished ecclesiastical career he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1327. It was during this time that the Parish Church of St John the Baptist was built. He died in Mayfield, Sussex in 1333 and was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral but his parents are buried in Meopham (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). A later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay (c1342 -1396) restored the Parish Church, installed much of the stained glass and had almshouses built near by (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). From 1279 the Lord of the Manor of Nurstead was Sir Simon de Gravesend who was Bishop of London and was responsible for building the beginnings of what is now Nurstead Court.
Horticulturalist, John Tradescant the elder, was born in c1570 probably in Suffolk, although his family was of Dutch origin. In 1607 he married Elizabeth Day in Meopham and his son John was born there in 1608. At the time the family occupied a cottage which stood on the site of Pitfield House on Meopham Green. He reputedly planted four Mulberry trees in Meopham, the longest surviving being in the garden of the Limes, part of the grounds of Pitfield House. He travelled widely in Europe, Russia, America and Algiers and is attributed with introducing various fruit, vegetable and other plant varieties to Britain, including scarlet runner beans, apricots and poppies. By 1630 Tradescant had secured appointment working directly for Charles 1st as "Keeper of his Majesty's Gardens, Vines and Silkworms" at Oatlands Palace, Surrey. He also collected curiousities, his "Ark", which he left to his son. The collection included stuffed animals and birds (including a dodo), fossils, stones, coins, pictures and weapons. He exhibited his collection at his home in Lambeth .It was the first public museum of its kind. He died in 1638.
His son John also travelled widely in search of plants and took over as head gardener for Charles 1st when his father died. He is attributed with introducing ,inter alia ,the Horse Chestnut, the Tulip tree, the Pitcher plant The Bald Cypress, Phlox and Asters and possibly pineapples to Britain. He took over, added to and had catalogued his father's curio collection, which later formed the basis of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. One of his additions was the mantle of Powhattan, the father of Pocahontas, the Indian Princess buried at Gravesend. Both Tradescants are buried in St Mary-at-Lambeth Church. The church is now the Museum of Garden History and the knot garden, which was opened in 1983 by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, is in the style of the Tradescants (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Tradescantia virginiana (Spiderwort) was named in their honour as was Tradescant Drive in Meopham.
Military and Public Service
The survey of the gravestones of St John's Church by Meopham Historical Society reveals the distinguished military careers of many of the residents of Meopham, most notably among members of the Edmeades family of Nurstead and the Elwyn family .Similarly many memorials refer to those who have achieved prominence in public affairs .Most notable among these are Sir John Bayley 1763-1841 the eminent lawyer and Privy Councillor to King William 4th (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography),William Smith Masters of Camer who was High Sheriff of Kent in 1848 and Fleetwood Isham Edwards who became Keeper of the Privy Purse to Queen Victoria in 1895 (He also played cricket for the famous amateur club, Zingari).In earlier times Sir Peter de Huntingfield, whose family owned the manor of Dodmore( its manor house demolished in 1852 being on the site of the Skoda garage, Wrotham Rd) was also High Sheriff of the county in the reign of Edward 1st. Huntingfield Road is named after the family.
Sir Sydney Waterlow (1822-1906) of Trosley Towers was M.P. for Dumfries, Maidstone and Gravesend and Lord Mayor of London 1872-1873. His philanthropic works included the donation of Lauderdale House to St. Barts Hospital as a convalescent home and of land to London County Council as a public park, Waterlow Park (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). His son Sir Philip Hickson Waterlow (1847-1931) built the small Church of the Holy Innocents in Fairseat for the children of the nearby convalescent home. The family are remembered in the name, Waterlow Rd., Vigo and many members of the family are buried in Stansted Church. Rear Admiral Sir Edmund G. Irving (1910-1990) ran a consultant hydrography practice from his home in Camer Street after his retirement from the Royal Navy. He was chief admiralty hydrographer from 1960-1965 and President of the Royal Geographical Society from 1969-1971. He received his knighthood in the New Years Honours list for 1966 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Arthur Massey Skeffington (1909 -1971) lived at the old vicarage in Meopham. He was a Labour Party MP for many years, a Parliamentary Secretary first for the Ministry of Land and later Housing and represented amenity societies on Public Inquiries. In his youth he played for Surrey's 2nd eleven.
The War memorials on Meopham Green and in the churches pay homage to those local men who gave their lives in the service of their country during wartime. The" kentfallen" website gives an insight into how their deaths impacted on a community that was then much smaller than it is today.
Residents of eminence in public life today include David Moorhouse, Chairman of Lloyds register until 2011,who was awarded a CBE in the 2008 New Years Honours list for services to the Maritime industry and received a Lloyds list global award in 2010.
Science and Technology
The memorial in the church to Ralph Hart Tweddell (1843-1895) of Meopham Court makes no reference to his claim to fame. He was a civil engineer and invented the Hydraulic Tube Fixer and both a stationary and a portable hydraulic riveter. He twice received the John Scott Award (Philadelphia) for his work in hydraulics and was a member of the RSA (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
Eustace Short (1875-1932) who lived in Leylands,was one of three brothers who founded the first aircraft manufacturers in the world, initially on Sheppey,and later at Rochester. Their Short Sunderland flying boat did distinguished service in WW2 as an anti-submarine bomber. The Haven in Foxendown Lane was the home of the American Harvey Schwarz (1905-1988). Harvey was Managing Director of Decca Records in the 50s and early 60s. He was personally involved in the development of Decca's FFRR (full frequency range recording) technique, but, more importantly, he co-invented the Decca Navigator System which was first used to guide minesweepers on D Day, later saving thousands of lives when adopted into ships and planes. He was awarded an honorary CBE in recognition of his outstanding contribution to safe navigation of ships and aircraft.
Art and Literature
In the 1840s, the artist Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) painted a number of portraits of his Bromley relations while staying with them in Meopham and married his first wife Elizabeth Bromley in St John's Church in 1841 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).The more modern artists, Spencer Frederick (1878-1914) and Frederick (1913-2009) Gore have also featured Meopham in their works. The former spent some of his early years at Holywell Park (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). His mother (and wife of the sportsman Spencer William Gore) Amy Margaret Gore of the Bailliff's House, Meopham died in 1944 (The Times, 1944 December 9th p.1). A grandson of Amy Gore, the landscape painter Sir Roger de Grey (1918-1995) is buried in St Mildred's churchyard, Nurstead. He had a studio beside his dwelling in Camer Street (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). His wife Flavia Irwin, Lady de Grey who died in 2004 was also an artist and member of the Royal Academy. The painter Murray Urquhart (1880-1972) who studied under Sickert at the Westminster School of Art, lived at the Well House, opposite The George. The World War 11 veteran, author and Under-secretary-General of the United Nations (1971-1985), Brian Urquhart (1919-) KCMG, MBE is his son.The author and historian Donald Adamson resides here and is also current Lord of the Manor of Dodmore. Another literary connection is the well-known children's author Jeremy Strong, who was head-teacher at Culverstone Primary School for a period in the 1980s.
The distinguished surgeon and avid clock collector Cuthbert Hilton Golding Bird (1848-1939) lived for many years in Meopham and is perhaps better known locally for his histories of Meopham written during his retirement (The Story of Old Meopham 1918 and The History of Meopham 1934 - reprinted 1990) and for being churchwarden at St John's Church where he is buried. Local man James Carley has kept the historical record up-to-date by writing about many aspects of Meopham's past and collecting together old local postcards. The history of the cricket club and the Cricketers Inn (for a time The Long Hop) has also been well documented by William Gunyon, novelist, local historian and publisher. Ralph Arnold (1906-1970) was born in Meopham but lived in Cobham, the scene for his book "A Yeoman of Kent: an account of Richard Hayes (1725-1790) and of the village of Cobham in which he lived and farmed", 1949.
Meopham has also made its contribution to the world of sport. Valentine Romney the eminent Kent cricket player of the1740s was born in Meopham in 1708. As captain of the Kent X1, he is immortalised in a poem by James Love - Cricket, an Heroic Poem - which commemorates the famous match between Kent and All England at the Artillery Ground, Finsbury Circus 1744. His wife was buried in Meopham churchyard, sadly in a paupers grave. Thomas Nordish who was born in Meopham also played for Kent and in 1818 for England. Other Meopham players who played for Kent in the heyday of Meopham cricket club in the first half of the eighteenth century were Henry Nordish, Alfred Mynn, Joshua Lott and Robert Hills. William Smith-Masters (1850-1937) of Camer also played for Kent but locally played for Cobham. Graham Dilley (1959-2011),the Kent and England fast bowler,was brought up in Meopham, and as a teenager played cricket on Meopham Green. He famously played his part in an heroic stand with Ian Botham in 1981 at Headingly, saving the Ashes. Another notable cricketer was wicket keeper/batsman David Nicholls (1943-2008),who famously scored 211 for Kent in a County match at Folkestone in 1963, whilst still only 19. Lord Paul Drayson, a past Minister for Science, grew up in Meopham and has combined his political career with being a top flight racing driver.He was awarded the prestigious Simms Medal by the Royal Automobile Club's Technical Committee for his World Electric Land Speed Record runs in 2013. Lewis Woodward Lewis, vicar of Meopham (1875-1900), regularly played chess for Kent, as did his wife, and a cup in his honour is still played for in county matches. He also started a magazine to publicise local matters. This was the forerunner of the Meopham Review. Footballers Alexander Rae (1969- ) who played for Millwall, Sunderland, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Glasgow Rangers and Kevin O'Callaghan (1969- ) who played for Republic of Ireland, Portsmouth and Millwall lived in Meopham for a time, as did David Young who played in the Sunderland team that won the FA Cup in 1973. David was also involved in the founding of the Meopham Sports and Leisure Club.
Entertainment and Media
In the field of entertainment and media, Meopham also has connections. On the 10th March 1936 Harry Price, the famous psychic researcher, made the first "live" broadcast investigation into a haunting from Dean Manor. During the opening scene featuring a cricket match, Meopham Windmill appeared in an episode of The Prisoner filmed in 1967 titled The Girl Who Was Death. Cherry Hay Inn, one of Meopham's pubs of the past, was used as the setting for some of the scenes in Russell Thorndike's Dr Syn novels. The comedy actor and TV game show host, Hughie Green (1920-1997) grew up in Meopham and the acclaimed actor and sports car enthusiast, Michael Gambon, currently lives here. The latter's son Fergus is a regular 'expert' on the Antiques Roadshow on television.The Irish born film director Brian Desmond Hurst (1895-1986),responsible for over 30 films as director, lived in the 50s at Barncote Cottage in Harvel where he entertained many celebrity visitors. The property was then occupied by the actor Donald Gray (1914-1978). A long term resident of Meopham and former chairman of the Parish Council, John Palfreyman, was a great lover of Jazz and was instrumental in establishing Jazz at Meopham School. He organised 50 Jazz concerts in the 1980s, raising thousands of pounds for charity. His memorial service was featured on the BBC News and involved a New Orleans-style Jazz band leading a 200-strong procession between the School and St. John's.
It will be interesting to watch the careers of young people from Meopham who have only recently launched their careers such as the media producer Alex Hryniewicz who was part of a team that won a BAFTA in the interactivity category in 2009, the TV presenter Laura Hamilton (Dancing on Ice, A Place in the Sun, Beat my Build), award winning animator Lucy Izzard, and actor Steve Butler who has recently branched out into publishing with his "Wrong Pong" series of children's books. Fictional Lords Meopham have appeared in the works of Jane Austen (A New Beginning) and Captain Harry Graham (Lord Bellinger: an autography). Infamous, rather than famous, the cross-dresser, fascist and perjuror, Lillias Irma Valerie Arkell Smith (nee Barker 1895-1960) lived for a time at a stables in Meopham. While in Kent she met and married her first husband Lieutenant Harold Arkell Smith in 1918. From 1923 she began five years of successfully masquerading as a male war hero Sir Victor Barker DSO (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
Other Individuals and Families
Over the years many individuals and families have made unique and extensive contributions to the life of the Parish. Victor Mackley was the proprietor of "Mackley Stores" which is now Kings Estate Agents near Meopham Station. His proud boast was "Enquire within for everything" a fairly accurate description of what was available. He was a very genial man and ran the shop from 1922 to 1970, when it closed to become an off-licence under Barry Friend and later his father Bill. Bill Friend formerly had a fish shop on Camer Parade and was the licensee of the Railway Tavern until 1973. His advertising claim was "Whisky specialist" and at the peak he was able to offer as many as 150 brands. The longest trading business in Culverstone was Cook's stores. The family's activities spanned building, cycle repairs and maintenance, audio equipment, vehicle repairs and petrol sales, and haulage. From 1953 to 2004 their activities were run from the large hardware and mechanical maintenance store on Wrotham Road, which has since been demolished to make way for the supermarket. The family retains a lawn-mower repair business. The contribution of the Bugg family to cricket and the Cricketers Inn, where they were publicans, has spanned over a century (1766-1895). From at least 1753 to 1804 the family also had the George Inn.
The children of Meopham have been well served by a series of dedicated staff. Both Meopham and Culverstone primary schools have had three headteachers that have served for more than 20 years: Mr Whail (1878-1902), Mr Percy Carrington Windo (1902-1934) and Mr Frank Strand (1934-1966) at Meopham; Mrs Jeal (1914-1944), Miss Randell (1944-1966) and Mr Dibble (1966-1987) at Culverstone. Mr Windo was very talented at handicrafts and drawing and the pupils craftwork reached a high standard. He also served as Parish Clerk. During the 1940s Mr Strand was a regular member of Meopham Cricket X1 and for many years he was a Parish Councillor and was Parish Council Chairman from 1959 to 1961. Strand Close is named after Mr Strand and his wife, who was also a school teacher.
Similar dedication is found in the medical services. Dr Hasler practised in Meopham for 40 years until his death in 1966 and set up a bursary for young people living in Meopham who wish to further their education. Working alongside him for many years was Dr Jenman, who combined his medical activities with serving in the Home Guard and annually playing Father Christmas to the residents of Holywell Park Residential Care Home. Nurse (Jean) Collie arrived in Meopham about 1950, as a brief stand-in as the District Nurse. She was a larger than life personality, with a broad Scottish accent, who supervised the home delivery of a large proportion of the babies born in Meopham over the next decade. During much of that time she lived in Clements Reach with the Ashenden sisters who took in ironing.
Reverend Vernon Nicholls
Reverend Vernon Nicholls was the Vicar of Meopham from 1946 to 1956 and was another of the parish's large personalities According to the Meopham book "he made church-going fashionable and drew every village club into the church's orbit". When not conducting services and visiting parishioners, he could be found umpiring cricket matches on Meopham Green or in the Winter refereeing matches for Meopham Football Club. He also found time to take part in productions for Meopham Players and was elected to both Meopham Parish Council and Strood District Council. He left Meopham to become Archdeacon of Birmingham and later Bishop of Sodor and Man (1974-1983). He revisited Meopham on several occasions, most notably in 1982, when as Bishop he took both the morning service and the annual Civic service in the evening. He died in 1996.
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Donald Adamson. http://www.dodmore.co.uk/
Ford Madox Brown. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Madox_Brown
Steven Butler. http://www.authorsabroad.com/authors/profile/steven-butler
Graham Dilley. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Dilley
Michael Gambon. http://www.rexfeatures.com/set/734946
Frederick Gore. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Gore
Hughie Green. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Hughie_Green
Laura Hamilton. http://www.laurahamilton.co.uk/
Alex Hryniewicz. http://www.filmteractive.eu/speakers-alex-hryniewicz.php
Brian Desmond Hurst http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Desmond_Hurst
David Nicholls. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Nicholls_(cricketer)
Arthur Massey Skeffington. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=32955323
Harvey Schwarz. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decca_Navigator_System
Short Brothers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Brothers