The parish of Aldington in the English county of Kent lies between the town of Ashford in the west (5 miles away) and the coastal town of Hythe to the east (6 miles away). Conveniently located just off the A20 and M20, the parish covers an area of around 3,300 acres (1,376 hectares) and stretches into the low-lying coastal region of Romney Marsh.
Aldington is steeped in history and features more than 50 buildings of historical or architectural interest. The Parish church of St. Martin’s was originally the chapel for one of the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s palaces, whose ruins remain. Court Lodge Farmhouse was its manor house and hunting lodge, particularly favoured and improved by Archbishops Morton (1486-1500) and Warham (1508-1532), both of whom also embellished the adjacent parish Church of St Martin. The house, park and chase (1000 acres) were bought and extended by Henry VIII of England in 1540, the whole complex said to have 5 kitchens, 6 stables and 8 dovecotes.
After the Napoleonic Wars, Aldington was the stronghold of The Aldington Gang, an infamous band of smugglers who roamed the marshes and shores of Kent plying their trade. The gang’s leaders, Cephas Quested and George Ransley, natives of Aldington, made the Walnut Tree Inn their headquarters and drop for their contraband. High up on the southern side of the inn is a small window through which the gang would shine a signal light to their confederates on Aldington Knoll.
Aldington Knoll was one of a chain of viewpoints used for the Anglo-French Survey (1784–1790) linking the Royal Greenwich Observatory with the Paris Observatory. This ground-breaking example of early international scientific co-operation was led in England by General William Roy.
Aldington Knoll itself is the subject of local and wider legend. Traditionally, it is said to be the burial site of a giant and his sword and is protected by murderous ghouls who will kill anyone attempting to flatten the area. Ford Maddox Hueffer‘s poem “Aldington Knoll” is inspired by this legend. Others, including H. G. Wells, on account of its lush wooded slopes, have suggested that it is the entrance to a fairyland.
In 1511, Erasmus of Rotterdam, the theologian and scholar, was appointed rector of Aldington by Archbishop Warham. He lived at the rectory next to the church in what is now called Parsonage Farm. Erasmus spoke Latin and Dutch but no English. He could, therefore, not preach to the English congregation. He resigned one year later after a kidney complaint, which he blamed on the local beer.
Today Aldington parish covers approximately 800 households and includes a primary school, a public house ( The Walnut Tree), 2 shops and 2 community buildings.
Bonnington is a dispersed village and civil parish on the northern edge of the Romney Marsh in Ashford District of Kent, England. The village is located eight miles (13 km) to the south of the town of Ashford on the B2067 (Hamstreet to Hythe road).
Bonnington has under 100 inhabitants and has historic connections with smuggling. It is also home to arguably the best rising sun Skyline in history due to it’s elevated position. The parish used to boast its own school at the T-junction with the former B2069, and a public house (The Oak) located nearly two miles south east of the village. Both are now converted into houses, with the closest shops, public house and primary school now being in Aldington. The tiny parish church, dedicated to St Rumwold, is about half a mile to the south of the hamlet, on the Royal Military Canal.
Like Aldington, Bonnington has an historic connection with smuggling through the infamous Ransley Gang.
An old oak tree known as the Law-Day Oak that from at least the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England, if not before, has played a significant role in the governance of Bonnington parish. The Law-Day Oak provided the setting for Courts held to hear local pleas, and to this day the Bonnington Annual Parish Meeting is held under the remaining branches of this ancient oak.
In 1889 a Mrs White wrote in a learned journal about the Law-Day Oak:
“In the out-of-the-way villages on the borders of Romney marsh, the former home of shepherds and smugglers, the light of civilisation has not long shone, and many rites and superstitions connected with the worship of the oak are still persisted in by the inhabitants. A special sacredness appertains to the vows of lovers exchanged beneath the Bonnington oak, and its leaves, gathered with a certain formula at a certain time of night, are still sought by childless women and made into a medicinal draught, with the same intention as in Druidical days.”