History of Ulcombe
History of Ulcombe
The earliest settlers in Ulcombe lived in neolithic times, according to the archaeological evidence. Bronze Age and Iron Age occupations followed, and Iron Age cremation burials have been found near Jubilee Corner and in the church burial ground. A Roman road from Rochester to Lympne is believed to pass through the south of the parish and the remains of a Roman settlement have been discovered in the same area.
The Domesday Book 1086 refers to Olecumbe as having 23( free) villagers and 8 smallholders with 7 ploughs (holding their huts at their lord’s pleasure ), a church, a watermill and a meadow with 80 pigs. There have been several versions of the village name over the centuries (eg: Ullascumb, Vlancumb, Wulecombe), and no one is certain of the origin. “Cumb” is the Anglo- Saxon word for valley or large hollow on the side of a hill, and “Ule” is Anglo-Saxon for owl. Ula is a female Celtic name and “Ul” and “Ulla” are female Scandinavian names. Ullascumb could mean the valley of Ulla. The Danes did occupy Ulcombe but it was restored in 941 by King Edmund to Christ Church Priory, Canterbury. There are pronunciation variations too. Quite a few older residents some years ago pronounced Ulcombe as Ukham or Ookem, which shows how a place name can evolve in speech.
All Saints’ Church sits on the Greensand Ridge with commanding views over the Weald of Kent. The site was a pre-Christian sacred place and has two ancient yew trees. Old Yew has been judged to be at least 2400 years old and Young Yew 1400 years. However, yew trees do not always produce rings and it has been said that their age could be twice this conservative estimate.
There was a Saxon church on this site but no traces remain today. Construction of the present church began shortly after the Norman conquest and it was enlarged and embellished over the next 400 years. The church has some fine memorial brasses and medieval wall paintings. The manor of Ulcombe and the patronage of the church were held by two Norman knights who came over with William the Conqueror. The first was the Count of Eu, and then, in 1086, the manor passed to Robert St Leger whose family held the patronage for the next 500 years. In 1213, Archbishop Stephen Langton established a college of priests at Ulcombe. They lived at Ulcombe Place. It was the oldest of the seven collegiate churches in Kent. The Church is believed to have a vault. Ralph St Leger, who accompanied King Richard on the 3rd Crusade, is said to be buried in the vault in a leaden shroud. However, there is no reference to any vault after the church restoration in 1865, when it must have been closed. In 1983, Baron St Leger and some of his family came to Ulcombe and said they had documents to prove the existence of the vault. It still remains to be discovered.
The patronage of the church was held by the St Legers, then the Clarkes, and finally the Butlers (Marquesses of Ormonde) who are descendants of the St Legers. Two Butlers have been rectors of Ulcombe, but the patronage was returned to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1981.
Ulcombe Church was in the news more recently when Saint John Henry Newman became the first English Saint of the modern era. He was canonised by Pope Francis in 2019 . When he was an Anglican priest he had looked after the parish of Ulcombe in 1826 and 1827 and he wrote religious tracts and poetry during that time whilst staying at the rectory. He was a key influence in starting the Oxford
movement to restore the tradition of Catholic worship to the Church of England . He eventually converted to Catholicism and became a Cardinal in 1879.
In the 19C the Ormondes diverted the road around Ulcombe Place and placed it closer to the field. It used to go past the post box in the wall and exited through the gate on the north side.
The Old Harrow pub used to be near the converted stable block at Glebe House. The Ormondes built the current Harrow pub, the two cottages next door to it, and 4 cottages adjoining the entrance to Chapman’s Place. With the Provender ( formerly The Carpenter’s Arms) becoming residential, Ulcombe now has only 2 pubs - The Harrow and The Pepper Box ( formerly The Horseshoes) .
The Marquess of Ormonde also built the school in the early 19C, which was one of the first in a Kentish village.
There was a grocery store and post office opposite the school until they closed respectively in 1987 and 1998. The butcher’s shop and slaughterhouse were originally at Chestnut Farm but moved to what is now Glenville House before closing down when converted to a residence.
The New Village Hall opened in the late 1970s adjacent to the Recreation ground which had been donated by the Tassell family to the village. The old Parish/Village Hall in The Street was resited at the Museum of Kent Life in the 1980s.
Most houses in the main village of Ulcombe date from the 20th century. There are 35 listed buildings in the parish but it is a curious feature of Ulcombe that there are only two houses in the lower village which are over 400 years old. The other 33 listed buildings include the church and a number of historic manor houses and farms in the wider parish, which is 4 miles long and 2 miles wide.
It is thought that the medieval village was sited to the East of the church, close to the springs and the mill pond, in the valley between Ulcombe Hill and Windmill Hill. Why the village moved is not known, but access into a valley with steep sides and many springs could have been a factor. Plague may have been a factor too.
For most of its history the people of Ulcombe have worked on the land. Agriculture is still the prevailing industry but very few residents are employed on the land. Village life has radically changed. Car ownership makes commuting to work possible and the digital revolution makes working from home an easier option. There is no doubt that the last few decades have seen more change, prosperity and hope in the lives of the majority than at any time in history. At this moment (2021) we have endured a year of a global pandemic but, unlike during the plagues of the past, most of us are still healthy and thriving.