The Geography of Higham
The Parish of Higham nestles between the River Thames and the North Downs midway between Gravesend and the Medway towns. Higham (from the Old English, meaning ‘high village‘) is part of Gravesham Borough within the county of Kent. Higham has developed as two parts, the original Saxon village of Higham to the north (now Lower Higham) and a more recent settlement to the south around the main road linking Gravesend to Rochester, which grew in size and importance during the 1800s.
About the village
The Parish consists mainly of agricultural farmland but set within its countryside are the villages of Higham Upshire, Lower Higham and Three Crutches, the small hamlet of Church Street and Higham’s several remaining great houses.
Upper / Mid Higham – The village, lying to the east of Gravesend, is located on relatively high ground to the west of Telegraph Hill. The village, which has historical connections with Charles Dickens, lies on the north side of the Gravesend/Rochester Road (A226), enjoys a range of facilities and has attracted much residential growth in the past. The A289 Medway Towns Northern Relief Road junction is situated just to the east of the village. This has had a major impact on the character of the dry valley to the south and east of the village.
Lower Higham – The village occupies the lower terrain to the north of Higham Upshire and straddles the North Kent railway line and the adjoining disused Thames and Medway Canal. It is a settlement with few facilities and a piecemeal development pattern. The availability of rail travel from this location has attracted residential growth.
Further extension of this settlement is not envisaged, in order to prevent the further spread of residential development into its open agricultural surroundings and to avoid conflict with Green Belt policy. Any new development is expected to be relatively minor.
Key Dates in Higham’s long history
- St Augustine lands in Kent on a mission of conversion from Pope Gregory.
- 'Heh-Ham' mentioned in Charter of Offa, King of Mercia
- Higham listed in the Domesday Book with church (St Mary's)
- King Stephen grants manor of Lillechurch to his daughter Mary for a nunnery
- Lillechurch Priory buys the Manor of Hugham. The nuns move to a new site near St Mary's Church a few years later
- A Papal Indulgence allows the nuns to raise money for repairs to St Mary's Church.
- The Priory is dissolved
- St Mary's Church spire is erected
- Thames and Medway Canal is built through Higham
- The building of St John's church in Hermitage Road, Upper Higham and reflects a shift in the population of the village
- Charles Dickens purchases Gad's Hill Place
- Canal bought by South Eastern Railway Company
- St Mary's Church placed in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.
For more information on the history of the Parish of Higham, visit the Higham Village History group’s website:
Buildings of Note in Higham
St Mary’s Church, Lower Higham
Set in orchards on the edge of marshes running to the Thames. It is a church of much charm and eccentricity, with its striped walls of ragstone and knapped flint and a near-symmetrical arrangement of two naves and two chancels, surmounted by a western shingled spirelet. Originally Norman, it was remodelled and enlarged in the 14th century, perhaps when a priory of Benedictine nuns was established nearby. There is some memorable woodwork including a 15th century chancel screen in its original position, a 14th century pulpit and a particularly fine south door by the same hand, treated like a four-light window with much delicate carving and some original ironwork. A restoration of 1863 provided most of the furnishings and the glass in the chancel windows. St Mary’s is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust (was the Redundant Churches Fund).
St John’s Church, Higham
St. John’s was dedicated on 29th January 1862 and replaced St.Mary’s (Saxon foundations) as the Parish Church in 1987. The church was initially under the episcopal care of the Bishop of Fulham from 1st Sept 2009 until such care was transferred to the Bishop of Richborough in 2015. To this day, St John’s remains, the official parish church of Higham with an active group of worshippers in the village.
The parish is called ‘Higham with Merston’. Merston is a village which had ‘disappeared’ by the fifteenth century. It lay to the west of present day Upper Higham. Merston’s Church of St. Giles lies under the fields today but some of modern Higham is within its boundaries.
Gads Hill Place
The Grade One listed Georgian property in Higham is where Dickens penned classic novels such as ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.
The house was built in 1780 and purchased by Charles Dickens for £1790 in 1856. It is thought by many to be the home owned by Mrs. Haversham in ‘Great Expectations’ and also described in ‘A Christmas Carol’. The, Chalet given to Dickens in 1860 and where he did most of his writing was situated on the opposite side of the Gravesend Road. This Swiss-style structure was transferred to the ‘Dickens Centre’ in Rochester High Street. The tunnel built by Dickens under the Gravesend Road, giving safe access to both the Chalet and the ‘Falstaff’ public house still remains.
Since 1924 Gads Hill Place has been a private school. September 2013 saw the opening of new school buildings schools in the grounds of the old house, increasing public access to the historic Gad’s Hill Place.
The Sir John Falstaff Inn
Originally built about 300 years ago, it takes its name form Henry IV’s friend and partner in crime at Gads Hill. There is some evidence to suggest that the old Doctors surgery next door was the location of the original hostelry. The Falstaff’s situation on the old Dover Road, about halfway between Rochester and Gravesend, brought it much trade form travellers and passing traffic. A former resident at Gads Hill in 1833 wrote
“Between 70 and 80 coaches, vans and mail carts passed that way, besides private carriages, specially those of travellers posting to or from Dover. Regiments too, often passed on their way to Gravesend before they embarked for India; and ships’ companies paid off, rowdy and half-tipsy, made the road really dangerous.”
The Falstaff, as with many village pubs, became on of the mainstays of social life in the 19th century. The Parish Council held their vestry meetings in the Inn and the guardians of the North Aylesford union met there to discuss the poor.
Dickens, describing the Falstaff in his book ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ says the inn is
“a little hostelry which any man possessed of a penny was ever known to pass in bad weather. Before its entrance, are certain pleasant trimmed limes; likewise a cool well, with so musical a bucket-handle that its fall upon the bucket rim will make a horse prick up its ears and neigh, upon the droughty road half a mile off. This is a house of great resort for haymaking tramps and harvest tramps, insomuch that they sit within, drinking their mugs of beer, their relinguished scythes and reaping hooks glare out of the open windows, as if the whole establishment were a family war-coach of Ancient Britons”
The stone drinking trough now on the verge opposite the old doctor’s surgery was originally sited on the other side of the road near the Falstaff. The trough and drinking fountain were two of several things proposed to celebrate Queen Victoria’s sixtieth year of reign in 1897. The trough was moved about 1920.
The Larkin Monument
The monument on Telegraph Hill is in memory od Charles Larkin (1775-1833), a Rochester auctioneer, for his work in promoting Parliamentary reform of 1832. This reform gave the vote to every occupant of a house with a rental value of more than £10. It was not entirely successful for, to an existing electorate of about 435,000 in England and Wales, it added less than 250, 000 new voters, and actually cut out many who had voted before.
It was decided to erect a monument in his honour after he died and was buried in Gillingham. A subscription was opened in October 1833 and by November, had raised nearly £150 from 64 subscribers. By January 1834, the subscription was still being added to, but erection of the monument was delayed because of the difficulty in finding a site.
At some time after January, work on the monument was begun and by September, 1835 – exactly two years after Larkin’s death – the monument was completed.
A contemporary newspaper report said
“It is column nearly 60ft in height, built of a composition called concrete, in imitation of stone, and the structure, by its correct and elegant proportions, reflect great credit upon the architect, Mr Ranger”
A few feet up form the base of the monument was a cornice and below it, facing south, was the inscription:
“The Friends of Freedom in Kent erected this monument to the memory of
In grateful testimony to hi fearless and long
Civil and Religious Liberty
And his zealous exertions in promoting the
Ever Memorable measure of
Built originally as a vicarage, The Knowle is perhaps the best-known house in Higham: being the most promininetly positioned house in the village.
The Knowle was built by Rev. Joseph Hindle in the mid-19th century. Joseph Hindle was a vicar of Higham for the 45 years from 1829-1874, the longest incumbency ever served by a vicar of Higham. He was living at Gads Hill Place in at the time that Charles Dickens bought it in 1856. Dickens allowed him to stay there until March 1857.
Joseph Hindle was a wealthy man and much involved with the public life of Higham. He was a subscriber to the Primary school when it was built in 1847, had St John’s church built in 1862, re-seated St Mary’s Church in 1863, built the Knowle and was responsible for the erection of the present vicarage in 1876, though he died before its completion. When he dies, he was interred in the vaults of St Mary’s Church.
For many years, The Knowle was owned by the Rosher family. When Mrs Rosher died in 1919, her nine children endowed a find in her memory. The fund provided prizes for children at Higham primary school for knowledge of the holy scriptures.