In many ways the Black Death was a turning point in English History. Up till then there had been a great expansion of population putting pressure onto land resources. In part this was resolved by opening up new agricultural land. In Kent this was done by the clearance of woodland such as on the Weald and drainage of marshes.

Silting of the Wantsum channel was accelerated by building embankments and digging drainage ditches. Improving agricultural practice also brought some increased productivity.

Did the Black Death Come to Mongeham?

Although there is no direct evidence that the village was ravaged by the scourge of the fourteenth century there is a hint that the plague took its toll. The estimated population in 1087 was about 120. It is believed that the population of England halved as a result of the Black Death. However a calculation based on the Poll tax record for 1377 estimates the population at 146.

In a paper of 1985 Keith Parfitt described the excavation of a mediaeval site between Cherry lane and Northbourne Road three years earlier. Pottery fragments uncovered during the excavation were dated to the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries (the Black Death took its greatest toll in the 1350s). However Parfitt concludes that the site was probably occupied until late Mediaeval time.

Although it cannot be conclusive, the balance of evidence suggests that the village survived relatively unscathed.

Nonetheless Population growth outstripped food production, often leading to famine. It is estimated that the plague of 1348 and subsequent plagues over the next few years halved the population of England. This led to a labour shortage, and lords of the manor had difficulty in maintaining the profitability of their holdings. The feudal system started to break down as peasants were attracted from their manors for higher wages. In spite of draconian laws introduced to enforce old feudal obligations the trend continued. The growth of towns also drew people from the countryside By the time of the reformation the old manorial system which tied peasants to the land was almost a thing of the past.This increase in mobility also brought about an increase in vagrancy. As now, at times of economic growth labour was in short supply. However recession brought hardship for the peasants and many tramped the roads in search of employment.

Frequent foreign wars brought prosperity as armies needed to be supplied. Peace brought soldiers and their families back. They were discharged at the port of disembarkation to swell the ranks of the displaced on the roads. In 1477 Elizabeth Palmer, the wife of a Calais mercenary found herself in just that situation. What was her port of arrival is not known, but from her itinerary it could well have been Sandwich.

Apparently destitute she wandered around east Kent. She was in Great Mongeham for 29 days from 6th March until Maundy Thursday. Then she walked the seven miles to Lydden where she was given a sheet and left the following Saturday. A further seven miles took her to Lyminge where she stayed the night. The following day, Easter Sunday, she walked the twelve miles to Romney. It appears that during the latter part of her journey she had taken up with a local tinker. She was made to leave the town and the company of the tinker.

Under gavelkind land tenure was quite secure. However if he so wished a landowner could also write a will. He might also bequeath land to the church or even donate it in his lifetime to speed his soul through purgatory. In the Canterbury Cathedral Archives there are documents recording several grants of land to Canterbury cathedral Priory. A transcription of a typical example of one of these, a grant From Robert of Worth to the prior and convent of Canterbury Cathedral Priory made in the mid thirteenth century, can be seen in the box.

Grant of Land in the Thirteenth Century

2 acres of land in Great Mongeham (‘upmuningeham’), of which 1½ acres lies east and west on ‘Lefsiesdune’, with the land of John Grange to south and 1 acres of land which the priory bought of John son of Ivo of Ickham to north, and ½ an acre lies south and north on ‘Iefsiesdune’ descending towards ‘Eilmeresdane’ with ½ an acre of land which the priory bought of John son of Ivo to east and the land of ‘Dominus’ Bertram to west. For an annual payment of 1 rose, payable as specified to him and his heirs by Matilda, daughter of William broccherl; payable in their house at Mongeham. For this the priory has also paid 43s as a gersum fine.

On acquiring a new property the owner or tenant paid the Lord of the Manor a gersum fine which was paid for permission to take possession

It is interesting to note that “Dominus Bertram” owns land to the west. This must be Bertram de Criol, Lord of the Manor. The priory was not the only landlord to be increasing landholdings. Holdings were bought and sold throughout the Middle Ages, but increasingly so as time went on. The Crayfords steadily increased their wealth and social standing through the middle ages.
When Edward I returned from the crusades in 1274 to ascend the throne he found the crown weakened by civil war and corruption in local government. He decreed that “inquiry was to be made into the king’s rights which had been usurped by lay and ecclesiastical lords, and into the excessive demands of sheriffs, escheators and coroners, and also of bailiffs and other officials, whether royal or seigniorial”. The enquiry for Kent was recorded in the document known as the ‘Kent Hundred Rolls’. Twelve jurors were appointed for each hundred in the county. Among the jurors for Cornillo hundred were Elias of Betteshanger and Adam de Monyngham. The rolls describe many abuses of position throughout the county. One of the most blatant perpetrators was Hamo de la Forstall, serjeant of both St. Augustine’s and Eastry. Instances of his corrupt practices were recorded for several villages in bothe lathes, including Great Mongeham. “Then they say that Hamo de la Forstall unjustly took the horses of William Marshal of Great Mongeham and kept them until he gave him 2s. contrary to surety and pledge.” He gained his position through corruption, bribing the County Sheriff (see panel).

Hamo de la Forstall

Hamo bribed his way into high office and then exploited his position. The rolls for the lathes of St. Augustines and Hedeling (later Eastry) record several instances of extortion and other corrupt practices by Hamo. The Rolls reecord that “they say that Sir Henry Malemains the sheriff, demised the lathe of St Augustine Canterbury and the lathe of Hedeling for £32 to the bailiff Hamo de la Forstall an extortionist causing severe hardship to the country whereas before these lathes used to be demised for £18”. The rolls also record many of Sir Henry Malmain’s misdemeanours.

In 1288 the authority of the king was called upon to save land which had been reclaimed from the sea along the Wantsum Channel. Storms had done great damage to the reclaimed land, and a higher authority was needed to co-ordinate the efforts of the landowners. It is notable for containing the first record of the name Mongeham Brooks. The full story can be found in the panel.

The King Orders Maintenance of the Wantsum Marshes

Longshore drift caused the extension of a shingle bank across the mouth of the Wantsum Channel. This altered the currents which scoured the channel and led to its silting up. Landowners, particularly the monasteries, accelerated the process by a process of “inning”, building a system of dykes to retain sediment and channels to drain the reclaimed land. During the second half of the thirteenth century England’s coasts were battered by a series of violent storms. Storms broke down the dykes and the subsequent inundation threatened the stability of this reclaimed land. Particularly bad storms in 1287 left the land in a sorry state. The following year, as a result no doubt of petitioning, the King decreed that “by reason of the defect in repair and support of the Banks, Ditches, &c. on the Sea-coasts, and adjacent Lands, lying in the parts of East-Kent; very great damage through the violence of the Sea, and overflowing of the fresh waters, had hapned; and that greater would ensue, unlesse some speedy remedy were applied”. He appointed Edmund de Passele, Iohn de Ifelde, and Stephan de la Dane to supervise the repair in Monkton and Minster marshes. The following year (1289) Iohn de Lovetot and Henry de Apuldrefelde, were appointed to oversee repairs to the banks and sewers of Cornilo and Eastry Hundreds. Their first task was to identify all the holdings on the marshes in those hundreds. Of the 1,600 acres in Cornilo Hundrred just ten were situated in the “Brokes of Monyngeham”. Another 1146 acres were in Eastry Hundred. Twelve jurors, six from each hundred, were appointed to carry out this task and to collect dues from land holders to pay for the upkeep of the drainage and sea defences. The value of marshland in Cornilo was valued a t £35. 8s. 4d, which works out at about 5d an acre old money or 2p new.

Here are some other cases dealt with at Westminster and relating to the village.

The manor of Northbourne was held by St. Augustine’s Abbey, who had a grange (manor farmhouse) where Northbourne Court is now situated. There were barns and a large fishpond, and was reputedly one of the favourite possessions of the monks. In 1316 the monks sought to enlarge their gardens by enclosing the road.. They were granted

“Licence, after inquisition ad quod damnum made by the sheriff of Kent, for the abbot and convent of St. Augustine’s, Canterbury, to enclose a way in Northburne, leading from the town of Northburne to Upmonyngham, adjoining their dwelling place, for the enlargement thereof, provided that they make another way as large on their own soil next their dwelling place on the south side thereof in its place”.

Does this explain the right angled bend in the road coming out of Northbourne village?

In an age where prisons were only used to hold political prisoners and people awaiting trial there were a whole series of punishments for miscreants. Not least of these was outlawry. An outlaw lost all identity in law. Consequently he could be cheated, robbed, beaten or even killed with no recourse to the law. He could not even be employed or sell his produce at market. In effect he became a non-person. This fate befell John le Taillour because he failed to appear in court on a charge of trespass. In 1321 he was granted a royal pardon

“Pardon to Richard Wyncent of his outlawry in the county of Kent for non-appearance in the Court of King’s bench when impleaded by the abbot of Langedon for trespass. The like to the under-mentioned impleaded by the said abbot, viz.— John Randekyn atte Gore. John le Taillour of Great Monyngharn.”

In1358 John de Gildesburg, before setting off for Brabant, needed to leave his affairs in the hands of those he could trust. In consequence the entry in the court rolls for June 3rd of that year stated that he

“has letters nominating Peter de Belgrave, parson of the church of Blounham and Thomas de Gildesburg parson of the church of Great Mungeham as his attorneys in England until Michaelmas. Nicholas de Spayne received the attorneys with the licence of Walter Power.”

The roll of 27th November, 1388 records a gift of land

“with the assent of the Council and in consideration of his losses and perils in going on the king’s secret affairs to divers countries beyond the sea, to Richard Henley, of a tenement and eighteen acres of land late of John Dany, in the parishes of Mongeam and Rippley in the hundred of Cornello in the county of Kent, which by reason of some default of the said John are in the king’s hands and do not exceed the yearly value of 2 marks, and which he is to hold for life so long as they remain in the king’s hands for that reason, but if they exceed that value he is to render the surplus at the Exchequer.”

One can only guess what the default of John Dany might have been to cause the loss of his holding.

In August, 1409 Richard Grene (“the king’s servant”) of Mongeham was given the office of

“gauger of wine in the Cinque Ports and all their members as Thomas Walsyngham had of the king’s grant by letters patent, surrendered”.