|Middle Farm, Church Road, Hartley last updated 1.8.2008|
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Map showing Middle Farm superimposed on the modern roads (the red and blue are the division of the estate in 1625.
If you live in Stack Lane, Carmelite Way, Green Way, Woodlands Avenue, Gresham Avenue, Dickens Close (mostly) or Larksfield (eastern end) then you are living on the former fields of Middle Farm. Today all that survives of this 90 acre farm is the house itself and the adjoining barn - now the RC Church. However two of the field names were preserved in house names - Little Stirrup, Church Road, and Homefield, Stack Lane (now called 'Brushwood').
The present farm is Hartley's oldest domestic building. Gerald Cramp (Hart, Feb 1982) dates it to cl550. The earliest documentary reference to a farm building being there is 1576, but earlier evidence of landholding is sparse.
It is likely that Middle Farm was owned by the Cotyer family in the 15th century, possibly, given later history, by John Cotyer of Stocks Farm (fl 1451). The Cotyers were a comfortably off yeoman family with fairly extensive landholdings owned by the two branches of the family, which included Hayes (Woodins) and Bassedene (Mintmakers) farms, as well as Veseys Grove (Bazes Shaw). In 1528 there was probably no farm house, but the land was left in the will of Peter Cotyer of Dartford to his daughter Mary. In his will he says that he bought the land. It was still in the hands of the family in 1541, but then we lose sight of the ownership for a while.
It appears to have been sold soon after to the Gens family of Southfleet. Robert Gens died on 24 November 1575, having made his will four days previously. In it he left his lands in Hartley to his son Nicholas. These included Stocks Farm as well as: "And of and in one field called Northfelde containing an estimated 80 acres of land, furze and heath in the parish of Hartley, formerly being parcel of the manor of Hartley. And of and in one other tenement with 30 acres of land, arable land and 20 acres of furze and heath in the said parish of Hartley, in which tenement William Heywarde lives....", valued at £4 per annum.
James Gens sold Middle Farm to Richard Best for £400 in 1589. So began the Best's connection with the farm which was to last almost three centuries. The family came from Ash but appear to have farmed land in Hartley as early as the early 16th century.
Richard's son, also called Richard (1558-1624) was constable of Axton hundred. He was also juror at a civil trial at Maidstone in 1602 when the losing plaintiff declared "he will not put any of his matters on the perjured drunken jurors of Kent!" On his death the family lands in Hartley, Ash and Fawkham were divided between his four sons in 1624 (Feet of fine). Middle Farm, including the house itself, was divided between John and Edward Best. The Bests seem to have been adept at minimising their liability for the 17th century hearth tax, by reducing the number of hearths from seven in 1662 to just four 11 years later.
It appears that the Bests ran into financial difficulties a few years later and they were forced to first mortgage the farm for £200 to Thomas Young of Fairby in 1686 (feet of fine), and then to sell their remaining equity for £90 in 1689. However they remained as tenants. The Youngs did not keep the farm for long, in 1698 it was conveyed to Thomas Copland of Camer in Meopham (later owned by the Smith-Masters family) (feet of fine). The Smith-Masters were public spirited owners and conveyed land for the village school on the green in 1841.
Originally the family name was Masters Smith. William Masters Smith died in 1860 and left Middle Farm to his nephew Allan Cowburn. He changed his name by Royal Licence on 3 April 1862 to Allan Smith Masters. The Gravesend Journal of 23 January 1867 reported on a concert at Camer given for the people of Meopham by Mr Smith-Masters.
On 19 November 1880 he sold Middle Farm to James Smith of Fairby for £3,450. Thereafter its history follows that of Fairby Farm with the exception of the Woodlands Avenue side which was bought by Payne Trapps & Co for their "Fawkham Park Estate" in 1905.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the rents drifted gradually upward, from £30pa (1749) to £33pa (1765), £42pa (1793) and then £90pa + £20 for each acre cultivated (1814). But in 1826 the rent for the 90 acre farm fell to £70pa. The last Best to live in Hartley was George Best who lived here until 1880, the Dartford Chronicle records the sale of his farm implements on his move from the district on 2 February 1880.
In 1844 the ancient fields were still recognisably the same. Then the farm was almost totally arable with about 1½ acres each of orchards and hops. The orchard being where the RC school is today. In 1880 it was a similar story, however Poem Field, Kitchen Cratt, Northlands and Great and Little Stirrup Fields had been consolidated into a very large 40 acre arable field, which was to get even larger after 1880 when the Farm became part of the bigger estate.
What remained of Middle Farm was purchased by Miss Beatrice Davies-Cooke in 1913. She converted the bam into the Roman Catholic Church and also sold some of the land in Stack Lane. In 1941 just 8 acres of farmland remained, and while a century before the farm was mostly arable, now it was mainly orchard. The farmer, Father McTear, also kept some poultry and had some land where Carmelite Way is now ploughed up to help war food production. The Ministry inspector was impressed, giving him an "A" grade - uncommon for a part-time farmer.
Before the war Middle Farm was lived in by Miss Davies-Cooke herself for a while. Later it was given to the Carmelite Friars, it is now in private ownership.
Peter Mayer 2008