|Old Houses - Hartley Cottage|
Standing facing the green in the dewy calm of the early morn (before all the traffic!), it is not too difficult to imagine yourself back in the Hartley of a century ago. Then there would have been Hartley Cottage and Yew Cottage on either side of the green, with the cottages of Castle Hill stretching off into the distance. Behind you would have been the old Church of England school, built in 1841. A little further afield, Old Downs house and lodge would be barely ten years old.
Hartley Cottage is by some way the oldest house at Hartley Green. It did not get its name until the 1920s, but to confuse matters Hartley House near the Black Lion was originally called Hartley Cottage! It has had a varied history - being at times a Blacksmith's, a grocer's shop and a boot maker's, as well as the centre of a 9 acre smallholding.
Its construction can be dated with some degree of confidence to between 1604 and 1646 and Dr Gerald Cramp confirms that the architecture is consonant with such a date. For it was not mentioned in 1604, when the Overy brothers John and Richard of Fairby divided their Hartley estates between them. However the cottage was very much in existence when elder brother John Overy sold it in 1646 to Thomas Edwards of East Malling for £103. The property was described as a house, smith's forge, barn and 9 acres of land in the occupation of Edward Gislinge. A month later John sold Forge Cottage to Mr Edwards. Other members of the Edwards family lived at Stocks Farm.
Hartley Cottage was not parted from the Fairby estate for long, for Mr Edwards sold it (now no longer a blacksmith's) to Thomas Young of Southfleet in 1658, who bought Fairby about this time also. At this time the tenant was William Oliver, possibly the ancestor of the later tenants of New House Farm. As he is not recorded in the Hearth Tax returns of four years later, we must assume that he had already left by then. It appears that the French family took over the tenancy. A Richard French paid tax for one hearth in 1662, and Matthew French paid at the same rate in 1673.
Meanwhile the freehold was inherited by Thomas Young's son John in 1688. He died in 1713, and by his will of 1704 he left Hartley Cottage, consisting of a house, barn, gardens, orchard and 9 acres of land in the occupation of Matthew French, to his younger son John Young. John also inherited Stocks Farm and Forge Cottage.
Hartley Cottage was owned by the Youngs for another two generations. John's grandson William was the owner between 1796 and 1822. The tenancy was held by his first cousin Richard Treadwell of Fairby, and then by his brother in law William Wharton, who moved here from Longfield. After 160 years of being in the family, William Young sold the cottage to William Bensted of Hartley Court in 1822. It was probably about this time that Hartley Cottage was shorn of its 9 acres and reduced to its current size. Of the house's 19th century tenants one name stands out - the Longhursts. In the 1841 census William and Harriet Longhurst and their family shared the cottage with William's mother Susan (recently I received a letter from a lady in Australia who is descended from Susan by another of her children). In 1851 the now widowed Harriet was the head of the household, and made a living by running a grocer's and baker's shop, presumably attached to Hartley Cottage. Ten years' later, her eldest daughter Eliza had taken over the business.
Eventually the freehold passed to Smallowner's Ltd in 1913, at this time the tenants held the house on a weekly tenancy of 5 shillings a week. In 1920 Smallowners sold the house and a block of land in Stack Lane to Sarah Green for £205. Her husband William was a boot maker with a shop here, who numbered Woolwich Arsenal amongst his customers, and the present owners continue to dig up boot nails in their garden. He was one of those who dug for victory in the first world war, cultivating a 5 acre holding in Hartley with wheat and other crops.
Hartley Green was sold by Mrs Green to Francis Comont for £450 in 1926. Mr Comont was a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture, and also owned land in Castle Hill. For a while he appears to have rented the place to the Townley family, as the Gravesend Reporter of 11 August 1945 records the marriage of their daughter Junior Commander Mollie Townley to a Captain Basil Northen.
Mr Comont put the house up for auction in 1950, it was described as "this charming cottage is in an excellent state of preservation and has been most carefully improved and maintained, retaining all its original character yet offering an easily run and economical home, and should prove of particular interest to the town worker". The buyer was Keith Jennings, an accountant from Sidcup. He only stayed a year before selling it to David Owen. He was succeeded by Mr and Mrs Lavender in 1959, who lived there until 1982.
Peter Mayer, 2007