Off the beaten track: Offham
By Bob Ogley
Offham is a charming Kentish village surrounded by hop gardens and orchards.
The name Offa was the name of a Saxon landowner and Ham is a village or homestead. It goes right back to 823 when Aethelwulf was king of Kent and this would have been an ancient Anglo Saxon settlement.
The village is not far from the A20, a few miles from West Malling and it sits at the foot of the North Downs with many splendid views.
The parish church was founded by a Saxon lord of the manor who built it as a private chapel in 832 (or something like that). That was replaced by stone building after the Conquest and all that remains of this building is the lower stage of the tower. St Michael’s has seen many changes since then.
It’s an extraordinary church. I found it locked but the keys were available at the farm next door and when I went in I found myself in a kind of Norman time warp with a nave and a chancel of equal size, whitewashed walls and a remarkable feeling of great space in what is a small church.
The church lies just outside the village centre I walked about half a mile down the country lane, Church Road, from the quintain on the green and the only remaining pub, The King’s Head.
I had lunch in the pub and that gave me the opportunity to learn a little bit about the history of the building which was erected as two cottages in the time of Elizabeth I. It fell into the hands of a saddlery and harness maker who ran his business there until 1680 when it was granted a licence.
So it’s been dispensing liquor for 325 years with each successive landlord or landlady having to give an answer to the one question that strangers always ask. “What is that strange, medieval looking object on the village green?”
There’s a wooden post on the green, six foot high and has a freely revolving arm on the top. One end of the arm is flat and from the other hangs a heavy object. In the age of chivalry the horseman rode full tilt at the quintain with his lance extended and the object was to strike the flat end (or eye) and gallop on before the heavy arm swung round, hit the competitor on the head and knocked him to the ground.
It was very popular in England and on the continent during the 17th century. Tilting the ring, as it was called was a tournament sport. And that’s where the expression “full tilt” came from.
The sport of tilting the ring was revived some years ago as part of the May Day celebrations when villagers dressed as Saracens and Knights and caused much merriment in Offham. There are photographs in the pub describing one of these memorable days. I think it should be restaged.
The original manor house called Offham Manor, Pepingstraw and Snodbeane have long since gone but the old names linger on. Jack Straw was born at Pepinstraw and Sir Richard Culpeper’s grandaughter Jane was born at Offham Manor, and they were well known.
Sir Richard Culpeper, of this well known Kentish family name, and his wife had three daughters who inherited the great manor and estate.
One of the daughters, Joyce married Edward Lord Howard and their daughter Jane Howard became the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Jack Straw who was born at Pepingstraw was a 17th century rebel who joined Wat Tyler in what became known as the Peasant’s Revolt.
They gathered a great army of 10,000 and marched on London in a bid to end the ubiquitous poll tax. Yes, Howard and Straw – political names today – but no connection. It seems strange that they should have been born in such a quiet village.
There’s been a lot of local controversy over quarrying activities in recent years because as soon as the ragstone has been quarried the hole in the ground becomes a landfill site. Places like Offham and Borough Green where chosen for London’s rubbish and for many years gigantic ARC lorries left London for the villages in order to fill the quarries with metropolitan waste. Blaise’s Farm at Offham was one.
I know that ragstone has been quarried locally since Roman times and has been used extensively for building walls, fortifications and prisons (keeping people in and out!) The Medway made it easy to carry ragstone by barge as far away as London.
It is the most famous building stone in Kent and is so-called because rag means difficult work which makes it also difficult to destroy and it’s used as a road stone too. Offham is a ragstone village and because of that it looks attractive.
last updated: 16/04/2008 at 08:51
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