the wanderer returns

This article first appeared in 'Bygone Kent' (Vol.20, No. 10) in October 1999.It is reproduced here by kind permission of the publishers, Meresborough Books.

Staple is a village two miles east of Wingham and two miles South of Ash.  Many country guides ignore it, for Staple  is off the main road to Sandwich.  Its scattered hamlets are still quite distinct, the L-shaped  parish including Shatterling on the main road.  My family had a market garden called The Nursery, on the Lower Road for more than fifty years.  In only four acres just about everything edible was grown, including river plums and 'transparent' apples.'

Once electricity was connected (about 1949) Mother added chicks in the greenhouse, kept warm by light bulbs inside old flowerpots.  Before that the wireless set had to be supplied with a bulky glass accumulator every Tuesday by Mr Jacobs, the Ash ironmonger.  A single tap in the scullery supplied a sink and a copper vat for washing.  Produce was stored in a timber barn from which rodents had to be kept at bay until the lorries arrived to collect our baskets for market.

Profits were never lavish, so that the whole year to settle bills by the Humber Fishing and Fish Manure Company was a great help.  Our neighbours in Mill Road Farm emigrated to New Zealand, whilst we moved to Canterbury in 1953.  The nursery soon ceased to be a market garden, and was heavily modernised in the early nineties, being known now as 'Fancy's Folly'.

I have noticed changes in agriculture since the fifties.  Although the land was fairly open, hop growing has shrunk to one garden at Pedding Farm, Shatterling.  I miss the cherry orchard just west of the Three Tuns, now pasture, with one surviving tree near the old chalk pit.  Pigs are no longer in evidence, but a covered barn in Fleming Road (Piglet Place) reminded me of a very noisy sty just down that road.

Further East, the Barnsole Vineyard began in 1992, following on Bill Ash's successful venture at Church Farm, Staple, which began in 1974.  The vintage is labelled Staple St James, after the church's dedication.

On the debit side, the wheelwright's business run by Mr Arthur Spinner had wound down by 1963. having been run by three generations since 1830.  The wheelwright's was at Rosebank Cottage near the Three Tuns, but Mr Spinner also doubled as a blacksmith and farrier at the forge, which still stands at the foot of Buckland Lane.  A photo' taken in 1900 shows a shop stood next to the partly timbered forge, but this was not trading in my time.  The other noticeable change in Staple is the number if horses in small paddocks all around the village.

Staple had a Post Office Stores until 1997, having operated in two converted cottages since the turn of the century.  It was where a Mrs Boakes, and latterly Bob and Barbara Miles would get to know everyone in the village.  The shop had become self-service, but had maintained its character.  It sold postcards of the village.  Fewer people want to give their time to village shopkeeping nowadays, so the less mobile are worse off, but with four bedrooms, the Old PO makes a spacious private dwelling.

Some sources say the old-fashioned shop at the right end of the Black Pig Inn, Barnsole closed in 1948, but the village history panel puts closure in the sixties.  Both shops had the only call boxes nearby in the fifties, being Button A and Button B affairs


For many years the main business in the village was Chas. Petley, Auctioneers, Valuers, Estate Agents and Insurance Agents, in a house in School Lane, inscribed  C.P. 1905.

Housing in the village is varied.  Eastry RDC provided four blocks of council houses in lower road, called Jubilee Cottages, which implies the date 1935.  In contrast, a few thatched cottages remain.  In the Street, I remember Tudor Cottage being thatched, but elsewhere look out for Reed Cottage (1528) with its corn dolly on the roof, called Auntie Maud; Thatched Cottage in Durlock Road, a cottage next to Summerfield Farm, Gander Court and Yew Tree Cottage at Barnsole, and Rose Cottage in Fleming Road.

School House in School Lane is early sixteenth century and has exposed beams and inglenook fireplaces.

Staple has escaped excessive ribbon development, Rowan Close and Bates Close, fitting in seven and five dwellings respectively, fairly inconspicuously.  There has been some neo-Georgian infill near the school and beyond the church, whilst a hollow known as The Dell had to be levelled to expand housing on the South side of the Street up to the Old Forge.  This evicted some rabbits whom I remember were the previous tenants!

Some former agricultural property has been converted into homes.  Petley's Oast and outbuildings, including a stable block, became Oak Paddock, when Garden Of England Homes revamped the site in 1988, banishing those farmyard odours.

The parish once had five pubs, but I co not recall the Plough being in business in School Lane.  Rowan Close marks the general location today.  Shatterling had the Endeavour until Charringtons closed it in April 1967.  This seventeenth century highwaymen's haunt had been run by Eleanor Burton and her late husband for fifty-three years.  Now it is a private dwelling.

Only a quarter of a mile away the Green Man remains, the name respected in bus timetables, but the pub has been renamed The Frog and Orange.  The inn appeared on a map dated 1769.  In Staple the Three Tuns was described as modern in 1925, but I have seen a photo of an earlier and smaller building.  It is of solid brick construction with a central porch, and is still the first building in from Wingham.  A greater emphasis on food and motel status shows it has kept up with the times.

The Black Pig in Barnsole is much older (1588) and is mentioned by Pevsner.  It lost its brewing operation in 1912, but produced ginger beer for Gardner's Ash Ales until 1926.  The inn name may be unique, recalling a Kentish breed of pig.  A black pig occupied a sty nearby (for luck perhaps) until ca. 1970 when Whitbread Fremlins nearly closed the pub.  More recently the Grade II building was worth £275,000, and its 50-seat restaurant is widely known.

My Aunt Gwen ran a small library at the rear of the old wooden village hall, which was replaced in 1998.  Now a mobile library stops for fifteen minutes, once a week.  The new brick hall is still not enveloped by ribbon development along Mill Road, which recalls a windmill towards Summerfield, which burned down in June 1914.

Shatterling had a small infants school whose land was conveyed in 1875.  Staple School is also closed.  This red brick and slate roof school opened in 1867 with a combined chimney and bell tower.  Frank Barr taught my mother there.  When he announced the Great War had broken out, mother ran home to tell her parents, but they already knew, such was the bush telegraph in pre-wireless days!

The roughly rectangular school with detached WC block was enlarged in 1910.  It educated 100 children on 1910, but by closure in 1969 this had fallen to below 30.  The last head teachers were Mabel (Sally) Waterhouse and finally Olive Govier.  Many relics awaited buyers, including a weighing machine for the pupils, an attendance board, a plate warmer, a teacher's desk, rounders poles, 140 coatpegs and plenty of chalk.

Two graphic designers, Ned and Chrissy Sherring, bought the school for £2,500 and worked on it from 1972-74, respecting its character.  When it was put on the market in 1995 at an inflationary £165,00 , features such as the barrel vaulted roof trusses and stone corbels, also a surviving porcelain hand basin with taps were singled out.  The old school looks strange without its surrounding tarmac, but it resurfaced at Tilmanstone Cricket Club's car park!

In my time, we had two bus services passing along Lower Road.  The 14A to Canterbury ran from the Black Pig, the more frequent 76 to Deal from the Three Tuns.  To economise, the East Kent Road Car Co. extended the Deal route to Wingham.  To feed into the main Deal to Canterbury Route via Shatterling.  In 1971 the single fares to Deal were 15p, to Canterbury 14p, compared with 70p today.  The present diversion of 7 to 8 services via Staple from Ash/Wingham has lasted for over twenty years, so Staple is luckier than Goodenstone, who have said farewell to Stagecoach.

Staple station was three-quarters-of-a-mile north of the village, on Durlock Road.  The East Kent Light Railway fell back on farm produce and passengers when the coalfields failed to reach their potential (Wingham Colliery closed in 1914).  The lone ran from March 1912, coupling on a passenger coach from October 1916.  Staple was the busiest intermediate station, earning itself a brick station outbuilding with two offices separated by a booking office and passenger shelter.  There was also a corrugated iron shed used by C.W. Darley, Vegetable Merchants, later by a basketware maker.  There were two platforms, one for goods, a passing loop, windpump and water tank for the engines, and a dismounted old carriage used for offices.

Two to three trains a day took thirty five minutes to reach Shepherdswell, where a preserved line still operated the first part of the route.  After nationalisation, the line fell into sad neglect, passenger services going in November 1948, and freight from 25th July 1950.  The line was dismantled in 1954 and a poultry farm took over the site.  Telegraph poles still mark the route, but the sight of trains picking up speed on the straight through hop fields towards Wingham is now a distant memory.

My grandfather attended the Chapel Lane Baptist Church in Barnsole, but it became a private house many years ago and lost its ecclesiastical appearance.  A smaller chapel on the main road at the west end of Shatterling is still recognisable but much enlarged to the rear.     

Pevsner has written about Staple Church, which is dedicated to St James The Great.  In my time Mr Pengelly was the rector, living in a classically gothic Victorian vicarage, with a turret surmounted by a weathervane.  Later the church moved the vicar into a modern bungalow close to the driveway, but now the three benefices of Staple, Worth  and Woodnesborough are united, the rector being based at the latter.  Visitors should look out for the rare octagonal font in the East Anglian style, and the early one-handed clock, given to the church by Lady Lynch in 1789 and facing the driveway to Grove House, a manor which burned down not many years later.

Many improvements were done in the Rev. Albert Mapson's time (1951-63).  I recall large tortoise stoves, but these were replaced by electric tubular ad overhead convectors in 1960.  The church first got electricity in 1948.  Mr Mapson was quite an artist, restoring the numerals on the clock face.  The elaborate typewriter art in 'The Escallop', the parish magazine, was probably this vicar's distinctive contribution.  Eminent horologists have worked to restore the clock, which was finally wound electrically in 1883, saving much to-ing and fro-ing.  The visitor will also notice a fine, mid-seventeenth century lychgate and a war memorial erected in 1922.

The returning wanderer has noticed several other changes.  The Durlock stream, which feeds the Stour, is much more savoury than it was.  However, the windpump in a nearby field has vanished.  A family friend's home has been replaced by Layham's Nursery at Barnsole, and there is another nursery towards Summerfield.  The greater car-borne mobility has made such enterprises flourish these days.

In some ways, the passing in 1957 of Annie Pepper, widow of Tom Pepper, and the auction that came after at Groves, symbolised the end of an era.  A small-holding run by an old lady of eighty-four and one employee was hard labour, with no time for leisure.  The new village hall offers more opportunities for leisure for a wider age group.  My aunt moved to Cop Street before the WI was started in Staple (1954), but her successor as village voluntary librarian, Maureen Webb, also became WI President.  I too moved much further away for forty six years, but Staple is still recognisable as the same village, and neither suburbanised nor fossilised.  Perhaps the omission of Staple from those guide books is no bad thing.