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Last Updated 19/10/11

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A brief history of Sittingbourne
Early Days

Shown on the right is a map of 1769 which shows Sittingbourne as a small town bordering Watling St. in the County of Kent. The Romans created Watling St. as the main road from London to Dover and Sittingbourne, roughly half way between London and Dover has a long history of catering for travellers.

The history of Kent is also often different from that of other English Counties. Kent had its own system of inheritance called Gavelkind which helped to create the Kentish Yeoman independent of any great Lord and apt to protest over interference by King or Parliament. Men from Sittingbourne were involved in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

 The Old Dover Road - 1670s

The Romans

There is evidence of settlement in the area dating back to the Iron Age and the Romans found it a good place to establish themselves with its good road communications between London and the continent. Also just north of Sittingbourne lies Milton Creek a convenient port for ships trading with London and the continent. The sites of at least 10 Roman villas lie in the area immediately around Sittingbourne and excavations such as the vase shown, indicate a sophisticated society.

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Roman lamp excavated near Sittingbourne in the mid 19th century

 

Domesday   

After the Romans left around 400 A.D. Sittingbourne continued as a small hamlet, too small to merit to merit an entry in Domesday Book in 1086 where we were part of the Hundred of Middleton (Milton) with a total population of 309. Farming, salt pans on the marshes and Oyster fisheries were among the local industries.

Origins of the name "Sittingbourne"

Hasted writing in the 1790s in his History of Kent states that "Sittingbourne was anciently written Sedingbourne, in Saxon, Saedingburga, i.e. the hamlet by the bourne or small stream."

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  Murder

Our Parish Church of St. Michael. Parts date back to the 13th century

In 1170, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was murdered in his Cathedral. His tomb rapidly became a shrine for pilgrims and Sittingbourne developed a lucrative trade catering for pilgrims. The town had two hostels. The building of our own church began around this time and it was added to in succeeding centuries.

English Kings had possessions in France and the era of continental travel was beginning.

A Town of Inns

 

Our High St. consisted largely of inns. At any one time there would be up to a dozen of them. Several still exist though much altered. The most famous is the Red Lion, known formerly as The Lyon. Henry V stopped in Sittingbourne on his return from the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Henry VIII was in the town in 1522 and in 1532. Parts of the Banqueting Hall of the Lyon have survived.

As travel increased, the High St. was busy, with coaches passing through every hour. In 1708 the Rose Inn was built and was described by a noted traveller as one of the best in England. The upper front windows of the original building are still to be seen if you walk through the High St.

 

The Rose Inn, from a 19th century engraving

 

  End of an Era
 

Brickworkers, Circa 1890

In 1858 the railway came to Sittingbourne and Sittingbourne’s centuries as a traveller's town were over. Fortunately building Victorian London created a vast demand for bricks and Sittingbourne had the brick earth and the barge transport to convey the completed bricks from Milton Creek to London. Men like George Smeed created a major industrial complex for the raw material and manufacture of the bricks. By 1880 Smeed was making some 50 million bricks a year.

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News  

The second half of the 19th century saw the birth of the popular daily newspaper and in 1870 Edward Lloyd founded the Sittingbourne Paper Mill. Again, the Creek was on hand for importing logs and the railway provided transport for the finished product to the presses of Fleet St. Early in the 20th century, the Sittingbourne Mill was the largest producer of newsprint in the world. Sittingbourne had become a busy industrial town

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Above: Mill workers change shift in 1960

  Times Change

The 1940s shop, part of the museum display

As it was when it was a coaching town the passing years of the 20th century have brought further change. We no longer produce bricks and the paper mill in Sittingbourne has closed(2007), leaving Kemsley mill concentrating on high quality paper and packaging. By the 1960s the availability of the motor car and the electrification of the railway meant that people could live in Sittingbourne and work in London and elsewhere. The arrival of many newcomers has made it even more important that we show something of the past which has made Sittingbourne what it is today.

In 2011 we are facing a period of immense change in the town.  All the more reason why we should try to preserve artefacts and images for future generations.

   
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