Post-Medieval (1485 – present)

The period from the 15th century onwards saw the emergence of a modern market economy, and the decline of the more communal aspects of the preceding period, although enclosed land held in severalty was always a factor in the Kentish landscape. Cliffe is unusual in that the open arable fields survived into the 19th century, comprising the largest acreage in Kent – 2000acres in 1778. The arable lands of the coastal plain were a key grain supply for London up to the 17th century, with a mix of wheat and barley, supplemented by peas, beans and oats. Sheep grazing remained an important factor on the marshes. From the 18th century,cattle also became increasingly important until a severe distemper epidemic in the 1740s. By the early 19th century, the landscape of Cliffe comprised a complex mix of open field arable, severalty (privately-owned) enclosures and marshland pasture. The built heritage of this period is represented the Listed Buildings within the Village: the Manor House), West Court Farmhouse and its associated Granary. Metal-detecting around the village has revealed a scatter of coins,whistles and a military pendant. The marshland was a valuable resource and much of it was leased out as‘commonings’, attached to land holdings on the upland interior and usually carefully regulated. Much of the marsh was used for sheep pasture, and a number of sheepfolds and sheepwashes were scattered around the marshes until destroyed by recent clay pitting, although remains of one survives as a short length of wall and a timber gate post on a small promontory isolated by a lagoon. A survey plan of 1800 recorded 179 acres of common meadow at Redham Mead  – the plan (not illustrated) showed the northern part of the Reserve divided up into a complex series of irregular plots of various sizes. They ranged in size from 7 acres, 3 roods and 15 perches7 (owned by the Earl of Darnley, the largest landowner with 135 plots totalling over 18 acres) down to a tiny plot of 14 perches (owned by the Rev. S. Brooks).

A number of people owned several plots scattered around the meadow, perhaps reflecting their lands on the common arable field. The plots were shown on the plan as separated by solid lines, with no indication of what they represented on the ground. However, given the highly irregular ‘crazy-paving’ layout of plots,these are probably indicative indications of grazing entitlements rather than are presentation of specific pieces of land (an earlier map of 1697 shows the area as a large irregular field surrounded by much smaller enclosed plots, emphasising the open common nature of the meadow). This pattern survived into the 1840s, to be recorded on the Tithe map. The common meads were enclosed by Act of Parliament in 1852, with allotments granted to the commoners in lieu of common rights – these plots were subsequently purchased by the Earl of Darnley, who sought to consolidate them – a number of draft contracts recording these transactions survive in the Medway Archives Centre (e.g U0565/T133). The 1876 OS 6-inch map clearly shows the former commonland divided up into a number of rectangular fields,the geometrical layout of which contrasting dramatically with the surrounding enclosures. The sequence of 6-inch maps shows the mainly open and empty nature of the landscape at this time, although disturbed at the southern end by encroaching industry. Air photographs of these fields show a dense network of parallel corrugations across the surface of the fields,representing ridge-and-furrow style ploughing carried out to optimise drainage.
The marshes were still protected by sea-walls. Legislation was passed in 1531 (A General Act concerning Commissions of Sewers: 23 HVIII) establishing groups of commissioners responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of all reclaimed marshland, a system that remained in place until abolished under the Land Drainage Act of 1930. A fresh impetus was given to draining marshlands at this time,with early maps of the period showing that new land was being inned. Records show that the frontage at Cliffe was under constant pressure from erosion, with timber piles being ‘blown’ and chalk rubble washed out. By the end of the 18th century, the embankments at Cliffe were absorbing 4-6000piles and up to 2000 tons of chalk and stone every year. A report of 1847 finally called for the replacement of piles and chalk with embankments of stone. However, earthen embankments were clearly still constructed – correspondence between the Commissioners and the Commanding Royal Engineer, Gravesend in 1889 referred to the necessity to raise the wall at Cliffe Fort – they stipulated that the construction was to be well-rammed earth, but not taken from the adjacent saltings, and measuring30 feet at the base, 6 feet at the top, with sloping battered sides 20 feet in length. These detailed instructions prompted a number of slightly sarcastic responses from the Engineers officer, who clearly resented being advised by civilians – he had already measured other walls in the vicinity, recording heights of 5-5’ 6” above high water. Later records from 1907 indicate that the sea-wall south of the creek was raised at least once due to flooding. Historic map evidence shows that the the original smaller defence lying just to the east, its line followed by the present cinder track. Other records held by the Sewer Commission reveal further details of the seawalls and the associated features – an Ordinance of 1882 identified serious levels of decay in the walls, creeks, sewers, ditches and sluices. An application dated 1901 from the War Department, requesting permission to supply mains water to Cliffe Fort and the Lower Hope Point Battery, referred to a berm running alongside the wall within which the pipe could be laid (at a depth of 2 feet), although it was absent in the Cliffe Creek area, where the pipe would have to be laid within the body of the wall.

 

Source: R.S.P.B/Archaeology South-East


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