By Freddie Cooper, December 2001  

I am fortunate in having some of the notes of the late Mr W.J. Smith, and Mr Stuart L. Jelley who both wrote about the history of Rainham. The former will be remembered by older residents as Headteacher of the Council School in Solomon Road who then took over the new Senior Boys’ School in Orchard Street when it opened in 1933. The latter was a proprietor of a large outfitters shop on the corner of Pudding Road, now the restaurant, whose father Edwin Jelley with Marshall Harvey developed that area of Rainham Mark which bears their names.  [note the original article by Freddie refers to Edwin Jelley but the shop photo shows it spelt as Jelly)

Berengrave Lane Photo

In one of Mr Smith’s writings he explained the origin of various place names including Berengrave which he said took its name from the ‘Berens’ family who were well known in Kent. I had no reason to doubt its accuracy until I recently examined a map dated 1801. This was fairly small scale and the roads were not named but the one which continued to the river directly opposite to the one leading to Bredhurst and Wigmore showed a ‘Burying Grave’ about a quarter of the way down the lane and the words spanned both sides of the road. I emphasise that this was small scale but the wording is just south of a ‘link’ to a road which I take to Bloors Lane and presume to be the present pathway.  

Berengrave Lane Photo

The rather unusual description may or may not have significance because Roman burial grounds are marked on later maps as ‘Roman Cemeteries’ as is the one just east of the road to Motney Hill where many valuable articles were found, some of which are said to be in Eastgate Museum, Rochester. This was distinctly separate from the seven Roman burial urns found on the Saltings to the north of Rainham Creek between Bartlett Creek and Nor Marsh in January 1881 which contained human remains.  

On the other hand, the Manor of Queencourt comprised some 485 acres of arable, pasture and marsh land, much of which was either side of Berengrave Lane, with a water mill beside Rainham Creek ‘at the end of a little lane to the east of Bloor’s Place’, probably now Motney Hill Road. There were about 36 acres in Upchurch and Lower Halstow. With the exception of ‘Berengrave House’ and 30 acres the rest of the property was sold by Mr ‘Squire’ Walter and his sisters to various purchasers in 1900. Berengrave Lane was known to many older residents as Walter’s Lane, and the Squire owned various other properties in Rainham, including The Parsonage.   Going back into history the Manor was given by Queen Alianore (sometimes Eleanor) wife of Henry III to the Master and Brethren of St Katharine’s Hospital in 1273. This was to re-establish a charity to support six poor bachelors and six poor spinsters. I do not know if the institution still exists but last century its title was The Royal Hospital and Collegiate Church of St Catherine providing schools for boys and girls, a guild for past scholars, and a chapter consisting of a master, three brothers and three sisters. The Queen’s nurses had a house and offices there.  

I’ve strayed somewhat from the origin of the name of ‘Berengrave’ but I have tried to show that this was a very important area somewhat independent of the village, although only four houses are shown as built in the lane up to 1901, a lot of workers must have been employed. The population of Rainham in 1801 was 722. On the other hand I did wonder if a ‘Burying Grave’ might have been placed remote from the village when residents were afraid of infection during the Plague. This seems unlikely in such close proximity to the Manor House but perhaps others may cast light on the subject.   So many place names have been corrupted over the years that I can quite easily see how ‘Burying Grave Lane’ became ‘Berengrave’ but I’m afraid that readers must decide!  

The present Berengrave Lane is very different from that which I frequented as a young boy in the early 1920s. It was then a very eerie road at night with no pavements, the wind howling through high overgrowing trees and only three single mantle gas lamps from the top down to the railway line. If you reached Berengrave House you’d hear footsteps on crackling brittle dead holly leaves and then suddenly the old donkey would start braying which made an already nervous youngster take off. There was also the popular legend about the headless horseman who galloped down the lane at midnight. If I had known that there was also a Burying Grave lower down I’d have been petrified!  

P.S. I have been reminded that some older readers consider that the main house in the Lane should be spelt Berengrove and not Berengrave, so I consulted Mr Peter Sargent at the Map Shop who, having checked with the Ordnance Survey Agency, found that the five maps issued between 1878 and 1933 showed the residence spelt with an ‘a’ but those issued in 1938 and 1959 (just before it was demolished) had an ‘o’. The current map shows the Council ‘plant area’ off Bloor’s Lane as Berengrove Nursery. Cozenton Farm, which was next door to Berengrove? House, was described as Corzenton on the Deeds in 1888 whereas the map of 1891 shows it as Cozenton. There is an area at the bottom of Blue Bell Hill called Cossington which probably had the same origin.  

Many roads and place names have been changed over the years, even the village itself has apparently been Rygingaham, Raegingaham, Raenham, Raynham, Reinham, and Renham before getting to Rainham.

Freddie Cooper


WATTS THE CHEMIST , Rainham Kent  

Action Forum, July 2002  

Among the archives of Watts the Rainham Chemist, whose name can still be read above the boarded-up shop in Rainham High Street, are several books dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Two contain the notes made by different members of the family as they studied for their pharmacy qualifications. These books both begin with lectures on botany and elementary chemistry, the first page in one case being headed ‘Special Short Notes on Pharmacy. Minor Lecture No. 1’. The lectures, ending with No. 59, are recorded in a soft-back school notebook, but the student’s attention was not always wholly engaged. Beneath the page entitled ‘Lecture 7’, on practical dispensing, is written ‘A lecture far too long, of facts (too) well-known to write’. And inside the back cover the owner has practised the signature ‘R. Watts’ many times. A second, hardback, notebook which is un-named has similar notes on the sante course of lectures, dated 1885, and also includes ‘Practical Notes on Photography’.

Photo of Watts Chemist Rainham Kent

Robert Watts was the nephew of Henry Watts, a widower, who had been in business as Chemist and Druggist in Chatham High Street from the mid-nineteenth century. In 1881 Henry had two apprentices, Robert, aged 17, and Frank Dixon, who was 16. Robert stayed with his uncle at the shop near the bottom of Hamond Hill for at least ten years. but by 1899 he had taken over the premises of George Andrew, Chemist and Druggist. They were at No. 126 High Street, Rainham, next to the ‘Waterman’s Arms’, and opposite Ivy Street. For many years a gas lamp standard, with ‘Watts Chemist’ painted on the glass enclosing the light, stood outside. During the early part of the twentieth century Watts also acted as an insurance agent. The heading of a partly-used duplicate book makes it clear that he was now fully qualified: ‘Robert Watts, Dispensing Chemist (by examination)’.

Of more general interest are two volumes in which have been collected recipes for the wide variety of products sold by a Victorian chemist — not just medicines, but ink, fly glue, hair pomades and tonics, ginger beer and lemonade, label varnish, curry powder, Nubian blacking and lavender water. Many of these have been cut from papers and stuck in, others are hand-written. Some have been crossed through, perhaps because a more effective ‘chilblain specific’ or ‘remedy for warts’ has emerged. Medicines for sick dogs, sheep, cows and horses play a significant part. The earliest note dates from 1842, but other hands have continued the collection beyond 1880.

Photo of Watts the Chemist shop in 2001 (centre of the shot with red WATTS on green sign)

This ‘Cure for the Ague’ is never known to fail if taken regularly:

Powder bark
Ground black pepper

Snake root powder

Poppy syrup

Treacle sufficient to form an electualy.

This was to be taken every four hours ‘when the fit is oft’. The compiler remarks that for ‘wealdy wemen and children’ the snake root should be omitted. Also preserved is a counter prescription book, which opens in August 1900, from the Rainham shop At the front is an index of account customers, with details of the medicines which were frequently required by them. Then begins the record of what was dispensed each day, occasionally with marginal notes — ‘heart shaky’; ‘tuberculous glands’; ‘slight sunstroke’. By 1912 prices are sometimes added: 1/-was standard. After this date the book has been used only intermittently; in 1919, in 1922 for a while, then in 1936. About ten prescriptions were dispensed daily, each transaction carefully numbered.

After the 1950s fewer and fewer medicines were mixed on the premises, and the prescriptions read ‘tabs’ of branded products, such as ‘Dequadin loz(enges)’. From 1960 the inclusion of the name of the doctor becomes more frequent, and when the record ends in the early seventies, by which time perhaps 50% of all prescriptions are for ‘the pill’, it is always noted.  

According to a street directory of 1954/5 there were by then two other Chemists in Rainham, Fenwick’s at 31 London Road and Hickmott’s at 85 London Road, while Watts remained at the original site. The section of the A2 known as London Road at that time extended as far as ‘The Cricketers’. Watts the Chemist finally closed about twenty years ago, as the trading centre of Rainham moved west and other pharmacies, closer to doctors’ surgeries, flourished.          


Dene Holes found in Rainham, Kent

A number of 'Dene Holes' have been discovered in different locations in the Rainham area. Their true origins are not known, but there is speculation that they may have been chalk mines, underground storage for grain or for shelter from Danish invaders, hence 'Dane holes'. The basic design consists of a narrow shaft cut straight down until it widens into a larger chamber. Their age is uncertain, but some were still being dug around a hundred years ago, while some apparently show marks indicating that they were dug with picks made of bone, supporting the view that in some cases their origin may pre-date the Romans.


A dene hole was discovered in Twydall Lane in 1931 by Mr Harlow. He excavated the site and produced plan of the dene hole shown here. Niches were found at points A and B which were about 9 feet in height but not reaching the surface. These shafts were blackened with smoke so it may be that they were chimneys for torches or fires.

There is still a dene hole that you can see at Capstone Country Park near Hempstead.

In 1980, several dene holes were discovered during the construction of the Platters Farm estate off Marshall Road. The pictures show the dene hole at the junction of The Goldings and The Platters. This was excavated by the builders and refilled prior to construction of the houses, but after the road had been built.

Dene Hole Photo Rainham 1980

Photo of Dene Hole Rainham 1980

Photo of Dene Hole Rainham 1980
Dene Hole discovered in Rainham Kent, July 1980 Trench that discovered Dene hole running parallel to road Dene Hole After Excavation
The same Dene Hole location
The Goldings/Platters junction facing towards Marshall Road

See the following links for more information.

Dene Holes on Wikipedia

Details of Dene Holes from "Off The Beaten Track-A Short History of Bredhurst, Wigmore and Hempstead" by Geoffrey Hutton. Published by Meresborough Books 1993, available from Rainham Bookshop.


By Freddie Cooper, from Action Forum, December 2002

Mr William Henry Barling (late W. Rush) was in Manchester House, next to Ivy Street, and sold ‘up to date drapery goods of every description, with a splendid selection of dress materials and curtains’. He was the agent for Frister & Rossmann’s sewing machines and Mortimer Brothers High Class Dyers and Cleaners.

Photo of Ivy Street Rainham Photo

Old photo of Ivy Street, Rainham Kent

George Whayman was on The Banks, almost opposite Ivy Street, an 'Outfitter and Boot Merchant' who sold men’s clothing of every description, ready made or gentlemen’s suits to measure for 24/6d (£1 22 ½p) or trousers for 7/lid (40p). Edwin Jelley nearly opposite at Cheapside on the eastern corner of Pudding Lane also boasted the most up to date stock of reliable clothing with gentlemen’s ready to wear suits at £1. He gave 5% discount for cash and was agent for six stated brands of footwear.

Glass and Son, the family Bakers, were two doors east of Marlborough House and were very popular as pastry cooks and cake manufacturers beside being corn, flour and seed factors with van deliveries to all parts daily. They had their name painted high up on the side wall and I remember buying 2d of stale buns when an aunt told me to wait for lunch.

THE GREEN LION PUBLIC HOUSE  was a very busy hostelry being headquarters to The Cycling, Cricket and Football Clubs, The Cottage Gardeners Society, Ancient Order of Foresters and The Court of Anglo Saxons. Like all pubs they had their own Benefit Society which paid members during sickness or upon death with a share out in December. Phil Curling, mine host, was ‘handicapper to all the principal Club and Race meetings in the District’. Professional running and cycling were popular even in the 20s and 30s and I remember seeing Sam Ferris the Olympic long distance runner who had been challenged to compete against a man named Walters from Upchurch.

The Rainham and District Co-operative Society Ltd, with all departments in Station Road, had only recently been formed at the turn of the century but its turnover in 1907 was £16,000 with profit of £1,500 and a membership of 505. Its telephone number is not quoted but I believe it was number 4. There were no multiples except perhaps the Co-op which was owned by the members so the proprietors would know most of their customers and become important personalities within the village. A majority of the shops listed in 1908 were still within the same family ownership 20 or 30 years later.

A business which needed no advertisement locally was that of George Longley, Nurseryman and Florist, then operating from Mardale Nursery in Chapel Lane (now Miers Court Road) and Pond House just west of the present Durland House. Numbers 29 and 31 Miers Court Road still have the name Mardale Nursery 1905 high up on the front. I understand that the family came from Sheldwich in 1819, were founder members of the original English Rose Society in the 1890s and were the only Rainham firm to be granted the Royal Warrant which was exhibited on the front of Pond House. The rose gardens were a wonderful sight adjacent to the railway line between Station Road and Berengrave Lane and later on both sides of the lane below the railway arch. Although some members of the family branched out into farming the present Berengrave Nursery is operated by a direct descendant of those who came to Rainham nearly 200 years ago and I hope to write a separate story in a future issue as the history of the Longley family is very typical of the history of Rainham over the last two centuries.

Freddie Cooper

You can view a list of the businesses with telephones in Rainham in 1908 here


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