Hartley has come a long way since the "clearing in the wood where the deer are" of a thousand years ago, to the small dormitory town of today. No great events of national importance have happened here, and few famous people have made Hartley their home. And yet this story of ordinary people's lives is in its own way the story of England itself.
The story begins many years ago in the Cretaceous era when much of England was under the sea. it was in these deep waters that the chalk which makes up the North Downs was deposited. A later incursion by the sea added the clay-with-flints familiar to gardeners. More recently the Ice Age has made its mark on the landscape. Although the glaciers did not reach Hartley, the tundra like permafrost allowed seasonal rivers to flow over the otherwise porous chalk, thus creating the "dry valley" at Hartley Bottom.
(more details) (photo of Hartley Bottom dry valley)
At the time of the Domesday Book, 15 families and 3 slaves lived at Hartley. This had probably increased to around 150 people in the early 1300s, although records are very sparse. In 1377 fifty-three people paid the poll tax, indicative of a population of about 85. It is around then that we get the first good picture of life at Hartley (1392 Manor Survey). At the small manor house lived the bailiff, who managed the demesne lands which were more or less identical to those owned by Hartley Court in the 1800s. The tenants were freeholders, who had to pay a nominal rent and attend the manor court; one of the few remaining services due was that they had to fold their cattle on the lord's land for part of the year to manure it.
Gradually over the next two centuries the picture becomes clearer, and Hartley of 1650 would not have been too different from that of 1850, in that all the farms were in existence then in more or less their recent form.
Hartley was largely untouched by the religious upheavals of the 1500s, William Potter managed to remain as rector through the reigns of four monarchs! Queen Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain provoked a revolt in Kent, the rebels were defeated at Wrotham in 1554 and fled making their last stand in Hartley Woods.
In the second half of the 17th century the village had grown a little to 90-100 people, and thanks to the surviving probate inventories, we can get an idea of how at least the yeoman farmers lived. John Young of Fairby (1688) possessed a clock, books, plate, feather beds, cushions and other such "modern" comforts.
Hartley continued to grow slowly - Hasted writing at the end of the 18th century could still say that Hartley "is but little known or frequented".Hartley House and Yew Cottage are both 18th century creations; and the cottages in Castle Hill amongst others belong to the last century. However in 1841 only 224 still lived in the village, a far cry from today. Then nearly everyone made their living from the land. there was a blacksmith at Forge Cottage and the Wheelwright at Bay Lodge, as well as the Black Lion and King's Arms pubs!
The Lords of the Manor
The Domesday Book of 1086 simply tells us that "a woman" used to own the manor, which was then given to Ralph Fitz Turald. In the following centuries Hartley manor was owned by a succession of absentee landlords, who left the day to day running to a steward. Part of one such steward's gravestone can be seen in the Church. Reginald de Grey owned the manor in 1402 and may have had to sell it to finance his ransom, after he was captured by Owen Glendower in Wales. The early lords had considerable powers - in 1279 the then lord claimed the power to hang thieves and kept gallows at his other manor at Swanscombe. However the villagers reported that on one occasion they had blown down and an Adam Taskermale was hanged from a tree in Hartley instead.
The first local owners were John and Joan Urban of Southfleet, who bought the manor in 1405. Another Southfleet family, the Sedleys 'purchased it in c 1550 and continued to own it until the last century when the Evelyns became the owners. George Evelyn decided to live at Hartley Wood Farm in 1872 and renamed that Hartley Manor.
Smallowners Ltd acquired Hartley manor from Sir William Chance in 1912, and split up the estate. They ceased trading in 1931 but it is uncertain whether they still were lords of the manor, or whether they had transferred the title with all their other land and manorial rents to the company secretary Jane Foote Maxton in 1928. She had previously lent the company money.
Hartley since 1900
The 20th century begins with two key events that were to shape Hartley's future, first the decision was taken to not to resite Longfield station at Pinden; and secondly mains water arrived in 1902. The first attempt to develop occurred soon after, when Payne Trapps & Co sold 25 feet wide building plots at Wellfield, Larksfield etc. They borrowed heavily to buy the land and it is said they got a lot of people down from London, plied them with drink and then parted them from their money!
Another key event early this century was the purchase of most of Hartley by Smallowners Ltd in 1911-13. They attempted to create a community of smallholders, they built houses, ran lectures on poultry keeping and ran local shops, as well as one in London to market the produce. They split up the fields into smaller units and most of their purchasers ran small scale pig or poultry farms, or planted orchards. Smallowners also opened a jam factory to provide- a market for orchard fruit. Unwittingly they facilitated, the urban development of Hartley, as many of the holdings have since been built over.
The best picture of Hartley at the beginning of the last century comes from the Valuation Office records. This was when the Valuation Office was begun in 1910 they surveyed the whole country. Each property was plotted onto a map of the area and given a parcel number. Then the surveyor wrote up their notes on each parcel in their Field Book, these record details of ownership and a description of the property, as well as the valuation you would expect. The maps and field books can be seen at the Public Records Office at Kew.
Post War Hartley
Hartley has not quite fulfilled Rev Bancks's prediction that it would become part of London. But nevertheless massive expansion has occurred since the war and a new village at New Ash Green has grown up, at the expense of one of Hartley's two remaining farms at New House. Pevsner in the Buildings of England is full of praise for New Ash Green, remarking that if the pattern of development there was followed rather than that of Hartley, there might be some countryside left in North Kent, but it was fiercely opposed by locals at the time. In recent years the parish council has successfully preserved Bancks's Meadow in Hoselands Hill for future generations.
In the early 19th century children went to school in a room at one of the Black Lion Cottages, in 1831 there were 25 on the school roll. A new school was built on Hartley Green on land donated by the Smith-Masters family in 1841, this was rebuilt in 1907. This in turn was replaced by the present building in Round Ash Way, which was opened by Professor Eric Laithwaite in 1970.
The Roman Catholic School began in 1942 when the Sisters of Mercy of Alderney took over the building in Woodlands Avenue that had been the Raymond-Barkers Boys School. Hartley also had schools at Old Downs (whose teachers included the 1950s T.V. personality Gilbert Harding); Merton House; the Fairby High School at the Stoep, Fairby Lane; and Bonsalls in Church Road.
Founded in 1921, the Wl has long since been an important part of village life. The first hall (burnt down in 1971) was built in 1925. From early days it housed the village library. It came into its own during the war, when it ran lectures on housekeeping and a cooperative fruit preserving centre, as well as fundraising. The Wl Drama Group kept going during the war years when the Hartley Players were temporarily disbanded.
Bus and Train Services
The railway was built in 1861, but Longfield station did not open until 1872. This building was replaced in 1902 after a fire, and rebuilt in 1971. The line was electrified just before the war, but it was many years before the company could be persuaded to set up safety fencing. Many people used to walk to Longfield Halt in Whitehill Road to catch the train to Gravesend West Street.
Bus services began in 1925 with the Maidstone and District service 42 from Dartford. Other early services were operated by the Grey Motor Service and Enterprize Bus, all of which were taken over by London Transport in 1934.