Finding roots in Maidstone, Staplehurst, Headcorn

Trip Start May 12, 2012
Trip End Jun 06, 2012

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Where I stayed
Aylesbury House Maidstone
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
The River Medway, the Carriage Museum, The Maidstone Museum, All Saints church

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Our plan was to travel to Maidstone, Kent, where Terry's ancestors had lived, and stay for four nights while we took two day trips by local buses to the nearby villages of Staplehurst and Headcorn to further explore Terry's roots.  Roy and Karen were heading up to Scotland for a week, and we would be meeting back up with them in London.



We said goodbye to Roy and Karen, and left Oxford about 9:30 am after we all took a taxi to the train station.  Our trip to London's Paddington Station was fast. As soon as we got off the train we had to quickly find our way to the exit and stand in a long queue for the next available taxi.  We "raced" across London to the St. Pancras station (taking much longer than we hoped) and had to ask information where to find the platform for our connecting train to Strood.  We just made it to the train with only a couple of minutes to spare. 

On the train, we asked the helpful conductor about the Strood station and found out that there was no elevator at that station and that we would have to carry our heavy luggage down twenty seven steps, drag them through a tunnel and then up twenty seven steps again, all in less than six minutes.  Ugh!  He arranged for two strong coworkers of his to meet the train, and they quickly carried our bags to the next platform with a couple of minutes to spare.  They wouldn't even accept a tip!  Great service guys!  That train took us the rest of our way to Maidstone. 

I had researched where the Maidstone West station was and knew that our B&B was only a short walk up the hill, so we dragged our luggage up to the Aylesbury House B&B ourselves.  We had a lovely room on the third level overlooking the back garden.  The weather was getting pretty warm now, so we needed a little time to freshen up before we headed to the White Horse Pub a few doors away for a light lunch and a pint.  We made it just before they closed the kitchen for a couple of hours.  Then we walked down to the River Medway and crossed the Millennium foot bridge that took us right to the All Saints Church where several of my ancestors were baptized, married and buried. We didn't have any luck finding the headstones in the churchyard, but we went inside the church and looked around while the organist was practicing her playing.

From there we walked walked over to the Carriage Museum but found it closed.  We were too late in the day for that, so we walked up High Street and looked at all the old buildings.  We headed up to St. Faith's street and toured the Maidstone Museum.  It's quite a surprise to find such a varied collection of artifacts in a small city like this: everything from an Egyptian mummy, Kent military history to a Lady Godiva status, Victorian fashion and dinosaurs. From there we walked up through the to the White Rabbit Pub for a very refreshing pint on their outdoor patio. Then walked back down Pudding Lane to High Street and dropped into the Druids pub for some dinner.  After dinner we took a leisurely walk back to our B&B.


After breakfast we walked up High street towards the Chequer's Mall and the central bus depot.  We caught the #5 bus to Staplehurst. Along the way we got several glimpses of oast houses that were used to dry the hops that this area used to be famous for.  When we got to Staplehurst we got off the bus near Chapel Lane where a Boorman ancestor used to have a wheelwright shop.  We walked up to where there is still a wheelwright shop sign hanging outside a residence that was converted to a duplex from the former business. We took lots of pictures of the place and, getting no answer at the right side door, we talked to the young renter on the left side, but she knew nothing of the history of the place and didn't invite us in.  Further down Chapel Lane were farmers' fields and a white church.

We then walked up a footpath opposite the wheelwright building that lead beside some pretty meadows and led up to the churchyard of the All Saints Church.  We looked at lots of headstones but again couldn't find or read any with the Boorman name on them.  We went into the church and found workmen doing repairs and renovations.  I heard some men's voices coming form a side chamber and, hesitant to interrupt a meeting, I tried to find an unobtrusive way to get noticed.  Finally I opened the door and apologized for the interruption, but told them I was looking for some information about the church and the burials in the cemetery since I am a descendant of one of the early church members.   They asked my name and remarked that that Boorman is a well known name in this area.  They gave me the name of a lady who is the local historian and drew a map of the way to her farm a couple of miles away.  The didn't have a phone number so I wasn't sure that we wanted to walk all that way on sore feet, not knowing if she was even home. 

We walked back down the main street, popping into any place that was open to see if we could find a phone book.  At the Post Office the postmaster looked up her number on his computer and dialed her farm phone for us, then he handed me the phone.  I told her who I was and what we were doing in Staplehurst, and she said she'd meet us back at the church in a few minutes.  When she arrived she was carrying a file full of information that she had collected about the Boorman family and a binder of information about the cemetery.  Anita Thompson is her name and she was part of a group of people in the Staplehurst Historical Society who transcribed the monument inscriptions in the cemetery some twenty years ago, in the evenings so they could shine a flashlight on the stones from an angle to better read the inscriptions. So she knew just where to look.

She soon found the gravestones for my ancestors near the far front of the church yard.  I carefully pulled some ivy and moss off the 2 stones and their associated foot stones and could barely read part of the inscriptions as they were very weathered.   Anita was such a great help to us, and said that the stones had definitely been moved to their present location sometime in the past because the foot stones were propped right against the headstones. 

Then she suggested that we pick up some fish and chips and take them back to her home and talk about the Boorman family after lunch.  We soon were at her fourteenth century farmhouse, sitting in the living room surrounded by antiques, eating our lunch on our laps along with her husband and one of her sons.  She served us some homemade elderflower punch that was delicious!  Claudia was thrilled to see an old Aga stove in the kitchen, something she had only read about in English novels, as we don't have them in Canada.

After lunch we sat at the dining room table and looked through the file that she had collected on our family.  Much of it we already had as it came from people we were already in contact with.  We learned from her that the Baptist Church meeting hall on the corner of Chapel Lane is where our ancestor William Boorman's wheelwright shop had been located.  The other shop was a later business.  William Boorman had donated the land to the Baptist Chapel when he closed his business.  Before leaving, Anita showed us the oast house (where hop crops used to be dried) on her property, now used as a museum chocked full of interesting old treasures.

Anita drove us back to High Street where we were able to catch the bus back to Maidstone. We chatted with a friendly local couple on the bus who we recognized as being on the bus out that morning.  They had been on a long walk around the Staplehurst area and highly recommended the many walk trails in this area of Kent.  We also found out that they love ballroom dancing. 

Arriving back in Maidstone, we walked up towards our B&B and stopped at the White Horse Pub again for an excellent dinner of steak and ale pie with lots of vegetables.  It's a really great place to eat. Then back to the B&B for an early night.


This morning we walked down to the River Medway and went down along the walking path beside the river for a nice walk downstream.  We walked a couple of miles and finally got to the Whatman Park that we reached via a footbridge.  Along the way we saw a skull rowing team practicing and several narrow boats.  We looked around at the newly built park and then decided to try and walk back on the other side of the river, but needed to cross back over again on the train bridge near the Maidstone East station. 

We cut back into the Breachley Park and walked down through the Fremlin Walk Mall where the historic brewery was once located. Walking down Week Street to Gabriel Hill and on to the Knightrider Street, we saw the Thirsty Pig Pub, a really old-looking and sagging building with Tudor half timbered construction and really low ceilings and doorways.  Unfortunately the inside was filled with modern gambling machines and the only ale that they had gone bad.  I couldn't even drink the sample that they poured for me.  It smelled as bad as it tasted!

We carried on to the Carriage Museum and spent quite a long time looking over the huge collection of wheeled carriages and other horse drawn vehicles. We then walked past the College of All Saints and down to the river walk to look at the amphitheater before crossing the footbridge to the new entertainment centre. It is all movie theaters and health spas along with fast food places.  We walked over to the Broadway Shopping centre and bought some cold food (coldslaw and pork pies) at the grocery store and took it back to our room at the B&B for a late lunch. 

Claudia went down to read in the quiet back garden while I rested inside.  Later we went to the White Horse pub for some excellent curried chicken that was big enough for us to share, and some pints to quench our thirst.  Back to our room, we reviewed our plans for a day trip to Headcorn by bus the next day.


This morning after a lovely breakfast we went straight to the bus station and bought two return tickets to Headcorn, (total 12 BP)  The bus left Maidstone at 9:45 and got to Headcorn at about 10:15am.  We walked through the village green to find the town sign with the windmill. At the post office we bought a Headcorn magazine that was put out by their historical society. We also bought a couple of walking route maps for public footpaths. We tried to contact the local historian who was listed in the magazine, but with no luck. 

We walked down to the Anglican Church of St. Peter and St. Paul where we tried to find Boorman gravestones.  Again we couldn't find any family graves. We looked through the church and took lots of photos. On the way back up High Street we looked at the small Methodist church (not frequented by my ancestors), and finally found the Baptist Church at the other end of town.  In the cemetery at the back of the side yard we found the graves of two families or more of Boormans that were my ancestors, and these were the ones that my cousin Rita had also found on her trip to Headcorn a few years ago.  We tried to write down all the headstone inscriptions that we could read. 

The temperature was about 29c and feeling very thirsty, we walked back up High Street to the George and Dragon where we stopped for a pint.  Terry even met the Queen there, at least a cutout version of her! We had some time to spare so we decided to go for a walk on one of the footpath trails that started back at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.  Following one of our maps, we walked through shady tree-lined lanes and through fields of rape seed (canola) and over many stiles, down country lanes and up farm roads.  We didn't have time to do the whole loop, so we cut across to connect up with the other side of the trail and made our way back to High Street in Headcorn one hour later.  We had just enough time to buy a cold drink and a scone before catching the bus back to Maidstone .

We wandered through some different areas of Maidstone for a while before buying dinner at the Muggletown Inn, a JD Wetherspoon pub. That night we did some hand laundry and packed our bags in preparation for leaving the next morning.

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