One of the things you will be told about local history when you come to Upchurch is that Sir Francis Drake’s father Edmund was vicar of the village church. Unfortunately little more information is usually given. So who was this man whose son gained world fame as an adventurer and pirate? He certainly was not a conventional priest, as demonstrated by his story of fleeing Devon after criminal activity, living on a shipwreck and then progressing to becoming a village vicar with a wife and twelve children.Edmund Drake Vicar of Upchurch, Father of Francis Drake
Edmund Drake was born into a Devonshire farming family in 1514. He was brought up at Crowndale Farm near Tavistock comprising 157 acres of land, later increased to 191 acres. The family was well off by contemporary standards and the Lay Subsidy Rolls of 1524 showed that Edmund personally possessed four pounds sterling in goods aged only ten.
Edmund became a Shearman in the cloth industry but there was only part time work in Tavistock and he disliked it. After what was believed to be a brief period in farming he decided to enter the clergy. Originally he was a Catholic but after the religious changes made during the reign of Henry VIII he was converted to Protestantism at an early age. Little information is available about his ordination as a vicar but it is known that he became a lay preacher in Devon for a while and was vehemently anti Catholic, a trait that his son Francis inherited.

At about the same time in 1539 he got married and his first child Francis was born. He had twelve children in total. During these years Edmund struggled. He had a family to maintain but was unable to live well on his income as a priest. This was probably because he was unable to get promotion in the clergy because he was married. The church at that time preferred priests to be unmarried and celibate. He also failed to inherit the bulk of his father’s wealth as he wasn’t the eldest child.
According to the English Patent Rolls of 1548 Edmund, with the help of two accomplices, attacked a man named Roger Langiford just outside Tavistock on 16th April 1548. After beating him with staves and swords they stole his purse containing twenty-one shillings and seven pence.

Nine days later Edmund was involved in another incident when he and an accomplice attacked a man named John Harte at Peter Tavy near Tavistock. They stole his horse worth three pounds. However, in December 1548 Edmund was pardoned of both crimes. The reason is not clear but G. Woodcock, a local Devon historian, argues that it was due to influence and money. Edmund’s father knew the Abbot of Tavistock and Lord Russell who later became godfather to Edmund’s son Francis.

Because of the Catholic rebellion in Devon against the imposition of the New English Prayer Book in 1549 Edmund, who may have suffered religious persecution, fled to Plymouth then took refuge in Kent. He found a home in the hulk of an old ship on the banks of the River Medway and became a prayer reader to seamen and shipwrights in Chatham.
Later Edmund applied to the Church authorities in Canterbury to become vicar of Upchurch. He succeeded and took up the position on 25th June 1560. It is not clear how he managed to do this, particularly with regard to his past misdemeanours but influence and his contacts in Devon may have played a part.

At this time the Parish of Upchurch consisted of 40 dwellings and had a population of 250 people. There was also a small port nearby, thought to be at Otterham Quay where six boats were based. Fourteen men from the village worked there and by getting to know them Edmund was able to secure an apprenticeship for his eldest, twelve year old son Francis. Until this time Francis had continued to live in Devon with the family of his cousin John Hawkins who also became a famous seaman.
When he came to Upchurcb Francis did not attend school as Edmund taught him to read and write himself and did his best to give him a basic education. After this Francis obtained work on a small vessel that sailed to Kentish and nearby continental ports. He later inherited the boat when the owner who had taken a liking to him died.

Edmund continued as the vicar of Upchurch until his death in 1567. In such a small, rural village he got to know his parishioners very well and settled quickly. He never returned to Devon. According to his will of 26th December 1566 he requested to be buried in Upchurch churchyard. This request was granted when he died in 1567. Since then he has been remembered as the father of Sir Francis Drake. His name has been given to a housing estate in the village known as ‘Drake’s Close’ but few people in Upchurch know the story of the real Edmund Drake.

From Action Forum


In the years which immediately preceded the last war, I was local correspondent for the ‘Kent Messenger here in Rainham and in those days local news was considered more important than now, although in retrospect I believe that I was poorly paid at a penny per line (old money). The papers worked on the principle that if a person’s name was mentioned they had a reader, and if they printed a photograph that readership would last a lifetime. I could regularly rely on the reports of soccer and cricket matches, whist drives, deaths and marriages to fill a fairly long column, including a list of presents if either party of the marriage was well known. I did not like calling upon very close relatives of deceased residents, which is how I developed a knowledge of many local relationships as most of the older Rainham families were then, and still are, inter-related.

Although Rainham was one of the largest villages in Kent, its population was closely knit and inter­dependent and popular personalities tended to flourish far more than now — one such resident was Mr Henry George Samson known as ‘the grand old man of Rainham’ who eventually died in 1948 aged 95. He looked the part, being of stocky build with a short white beard and lived in a thatched cottage next to the congregational chapel in Meres Court Road (1924 map) although we still called it Chapel Lane. Incidentally I have a copy of the report of his death and the printed photograph at the time if any of his relatives would be interested. He was always good for a story, particularly when I took him an ounce of tobacco and now, in my old age, I understand what he meant when he said ‘to be able to enjoy your former life, in memory, is to live it twice over.

At that time Mr Samson was one of the very few persons left who participated in the last bare-knuckle prize fight to be held in England when it was already illegal. Apparently, Mr John and Mr Fred Scott arranged a £400 a side contest between Jimmy Roberts and Alec Hayes to take place at Farthing Corner at 4.00am on a morning in May 1885. Mr Samson was used to providing all the furniture for the various fetes and sporting events which took place in Rainham at that time, and he was entrusted with the task of providing and making the stalls, tables and benches for the expected spectators who came mainly from London to Chatham on the midnight train. They then completed the journey on horse drawn vehicles, which had been secretly arranged for the occasion. These visitors told those who were inquisitive that they were attending a ball, which must have raised some eyebrows.

Photo below of part of the rope that formed the ring where the bare knuckle prize fight took place - photo thanks to Debra Highams

Photo of rope formed the ring where the last bare knuckle prize fight took place

The fight lasted nearly two hours ending at ten minutes to six when Hayes, the better fighter, unfortunately damaged his fist on a ring post when he missed Roberts. A collection for the loser raised £100 and Mr Samson took him home and cared for him on the following day.

The village constable had become suspicious with the amount of unusual traffic movements and arrived at the scene just before the event was to commence, whereupon he was well entertained to a late supper or an early breakfast with limitless supplies of drink until after the fight. Some of those who attended were later charged at the Court of Sessions, which presumably would have been held at Sittingbourne, where all were found ‘not guilty’. This was hardly surprising as it was said that the Chairman had also attended the event.

I wonder how many of those who live nearby realise that they may be walking over the very spot where this historic sporting event was held, and perhaps those who regularly travel to and from London via the service area may reflect upon those who travelled overnight by mail train and horse drawn vehicles to see the last prize fight to be held in England.

In the newspaper reports at the time, the location is mentioned as Fardon’s Corner and I wonder if this was a mistake because I haven’t seen the name on any plan or map. I should be glad to learn if any reader has information on this point.

Freddie Cooper

November 2002


by Freddie Cooper

A recent newspaper report indicated that 25 acres of East Hoath Wood is to be ‘transferred’ to Medway Council on April 1st 2003. Although the area has been available for use by residents for as long as I can remember, the report indicates that safety work and fencing etc costing in the region of £60,000 is necessary before the woods can be used for recreational purposes.

Photo of East Hoath Woods Rainham in 2003

It is said that the woodland, mainly sweet chestnut and oak, supplied wood for shipbuilding as far back as Nelson’s time and although I cannot confirm that, it is obvious that this area, together with much of the land in the vicinity, was owned by the War Department a century ago. East Hoath Wood is bounded on one side by Hoath Lane, and to the east by the gardens in Edwin Road. The path, leading from Durham Road which comes out opposite the stile giving access to the Darland Banks, has become a very popular walk over the years. I don’t remember these woods containing very large trees like those in the Parkwood area, where there were some magnificent oaks and beeches, but then my woodland roaming ended 70 years ago. I imagine that Hoath Wood, like most others, was regularly coppiced because chestnut was so useful and profitable as a crop for the purpose of chestnut fencing, which was later superseded by plastic covered chain-link wire. I remember three wood yards in the Rainham area alone; there was Stan Huggins in Wakeley Road, Alf Warner in Maidstone Road and then Glovers in the Wigmore/Maidstone Road area, and until very recently Woods in Bredhurst. I must check to see if ‘Woodreeve Cottage’ is still in the loop section of Mierscourt Road.

The boundary between the Milton Rural District Council’s area and Gillingham ran south from the A2 along the line of the rear garden fences on the western side of Edwin Road and it then formed the ancient boundary between East Iloath Wood and Mark Oak Wood. This was the parliamentary boundary when Rainham was part of the Faversham Division and Adam Maitland was our MP. Rainham’s Parish Council administered the area from the river to Bredhurst. This boundary line at Rainham Mark turned sharply westward for about 200 yards from near the Hop and Vine public house and then turned northward to the river, running roughly parallel with Twydall Lane. I believe that this was the boundary which divided ‘Men of Kent’ from ‘Kentish Men’, for Edward Hasted, in his description of Rainhani in 1798, says ‘the whole of this parish is in the division of East Kent which begins here and the adjoining parish of Gillingham westward is wholly in that of West Kent’. It has always been my view that this is the origin of ‘Men of Kent’ and ‘Kentish Men although it was necessary to identify it more e~ the River Medway was chosen as the boundary 1908 map clearly shows that the land immediately to the east of Hoath Lane back to the boundary II cleared, presumably by the War Department, to the point roughly where the present factories c and much of the remaining area including Edwin Road, Marshall Road and all of the area to the was woodland. An area of Platters Farm, which reached by the track immediately opposite the Pump Lane on the A2, had been cleared and was used as orchard land.

Photo of East Hoath Woods viewed from Hempstead Hill 2003

I presume that East Hoath Wood was purch the Health Authority soon after its creation in when it was obvious that the area would need district hospital. Nothing happened for many but in the earlyl96Os some of us in local gove realised that St Bart’s and All Saints’ hospitaL totally incapable of serving the area in a satisf manner, so we pressed for the use of the Roya hospital which had then been recently vacated now known as the Medway Maritime hospital following the recent extensions is apparently considered to be adequate as the permanent di hospital, so the site at East Hoatb Wood is sw requirements. Some time ago the Regional Hc Authority applied for permission to develop tl for housing, but planning permission was reft presume that they have now decided to union area which has become a liability and probabl inadequate for a district hospital anyway.

I notice on reference to the plan that the wood type area between Hempstead Hill and Hoath was at the early part of the last century called Scrubs’, which is new to me. This area too, the best of my knowledge, is also owned by the Healt Authority as it was the site of the Alexandra 1 for infectious diseases, which although littlei quite a history. Infectious diseases were very prevalent in the early part of the l900s and in small isolation hospital was built on the site occupied by the Municipal Buildings in Cant Street, Gillingham. Smallpox was one of those diseases which many people feared and most were vaccinated on the arm and we bear marks to this day, because the small vaccination has grown until some are now about two inches across. However, in 1901 a man named Mallen was visiting the area and contracted smallpox which caused consternation because they did not wish to keep him at the newly created isolation hospital in Gillingham and sent him out to a caravan and tents in the Hempstead area where the population was still sparse. Unfortunately, Mallen and several others died from the particular outbreak, and it became apparent that a more permanent isolation hospital was necessary for Gillinghan,. Scarlet fever and diphtheria were vety common at the time and Rainham patients needing hospitalisation were sent to Keycol hospital as we were still part of the Milton Rural District Council’s area. The triangular piece of land between Hoath Lane and Hempstead Hill which comes to a point near the roundabout was owned by Mr R. Batchelor, the artesian well engineer who lived at Darland House, and he donated the land to the Gillingharn Local Board (the predecessors of the Council) on the condition that it was used for health pusposes and the isolation hospital was named Alexandra. 1 presume that the covenant has restricted its use, which is possibly why it has remained unoccupied and to some extent derelict, with a supporting wall down Ilempstead Hill which may become a liability for its maintenance. The hospital was erected on the northern side of the road which went from Hoath Lane down to the bottom of Hempstead Hill a long time before the tunnel was built. This was a prefabricated metal hospital (corrugated iron) purchased from Humphries Isolation Hospitals at Knightsbridge. It was opened in 1902 and closed in 1940 when it was prepared for emergency use during the war, but I understand was never used. Greens of Brompton demolished the hospital in the 1970s and the land seems to have been unattended since. It may be that the welcome donation by Mr Batchelor 100 years ago is now a liability to the Regional Health Authority

Freddie Cooper


Photo of Green Lion Public House Rainham Kent c1900
Photo of The Green Lion Public House Rainham Kent around 1900

Photo of The Green Lion Rainham 2006
Photo of Green Lion Rainham Kent in 2006 with Rainham Church in background

My husband and I ran the Green Lion public house from 1968 to 1986 and during the many alterations we had there it was discovered that the building was at least six hundred years old, This was confirmed by an environmental officer who we called down and by looking at the roof timbers he confirmed it was fourteenth century; that was in 1969. In the cellar there is an archway bricked up and
when the home in between the pub and the church was built the workmen uncovered a passageway that ran from the cellar to the church. When the tiles on
the roof were removed in the 1970s workmen discovered a ‘priest hole’ with several clay pipes and an old rickety bench in it. We assumed people hid there to escape the authorities, as the Green Lion was an old coaching house and this makes sense.

Annie Kitney, who used the pub from the age of eight years until she died well into her 90s, told us that the highwayman Dick Shepherd was captured in the bar of the Green Lion and a plaque was in the bar commemorating this but we never found it. We were also told he was hung at the top of Berengrave Lane. In the first years of our tenancy we used to do overnight accommodation and one of our clients, on his first visit to us was convinced he had seen a ghost of a woman in his room and it frightened him so much that, although he stayed on several occasions, he would never go into that room again. In the end we called for someone to exorcise the rooms on the top floor but they always remained very creepy.

Before the Second World War the back of the public house was a bowling green. This was dug up to help with the war effort. In those days it was known as the Green Lyon. When the front of the Green Lion was redecorated in 1973 they discovered a fire mark from Sun Alliance dated 28th February 1790. We wrote to the company and they sent us a copy of the original entry which gives the name of Peter Hard as the victualler. For his household goods in the dwelling part only and for the brick and tiled building the insured sum was £330.00. Utensils and stock therein only £30.00 Wearing apparel therein £30.00 Plate therein only £10.00 TOTAL £400.00 and duty on that sum 6d.

I think the Green Lion must be one of the oldest buildings in Rainham and I expect it could tell quite a few tales if only the walls could speak.

Hazel Staden

From Action Forum June 2004

Photo of The Green Lion in 2001



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