Friday, 13 January 2012

Early Harty

I was having a glance through the late Sheila Judge's excellent book "The Isle of Sheppey" for the umpteenth time the other day, it really is head and shoulders above any other book on Sheppey's history. As a result I found myself picking out a few mentions of Harty's early history, although they were fairly scant. Clearly it wasn't one of the most hospitable or habitable parts of Sheppey, something that could still be attributed to it today, thankfully.

In 1873 the stock from a Bronze Age foundry was discovered at Harty, stock consisting of various moulds, knives, hammers, etc. This hoard was able to yield valuable information on the methods of bronze casting in the first century B.C. This might not neccesarily be the earliest find relating to Sheppey as others have been found around the Island but I relate only to those found at Harty
Julias Ceasar arrived in Kent in around 55 B.C. and although he seemed to be only aware of the Island in passing, remarked on the number of sheep grazing there. As a result, by the time that he had left Britain, the Island was known as Insula Ovinium - The Island of Sheep, which has slightly corrupted into how it is still known today.
A hundred years later, Claudius invaded Britain and some Romans were stationed on Sheppey. Although no major sites of buildings have been found, some smaller items have. On Harty specifically, roofing tiles, Samian ware and coins of Constantine have been found and nearby at Shellness, a kiln for burning shells. Roman coins have also been found in the Leysdown area and so possibly the eastern tip of Sheppey and the high ground of Harty had some strategic importance in guarding both the approaches to Sheppey and the back door that The Swale represented. As someone who has stood at the Raptor Viewing Mound on numerous occassions and near froze to death, one thing's for sure, if the traditional pictures of Roman soldiers dressed in thin tunics and sandals are correct, they must of found it a bit draughty around their bits in the bleak mid-winter!

The Romans were in Britain, and possibly Sheppey, for around four centuries before finally leaving in the fifth century, after struggling to repel repeat attacks from various Germanic tribes with diminishing forces. As a result, by A.D. 442 the Saxons were now the dominant invaders in Britain and unfortunately it wasn't long before the country had returned to the ruinous disorder of pre-Roman times. Various fortifications from that time have been found on Sheppey and the remains of a moated earthworks at Sayes Court are said to have been of Saxon origin. It has also been suggested that Harty got its name from Saxon origins, being called at one time Harteigh, after the Saxon words Heord-tu, meaning land filled with cattle, which is currently apt.
Despite the visit from the Saxons and a later lengthy occupation by the Vikings, no other remains from either race have been reported as found at Harty. The Vikings initially did much damage in Britain when they began to invade regularly, as is quoted for A.D.893. "Three hundred and fifty sail of ships under Haeston arrived in Sheppey and spoiled it, the like they did four years later."

Little else relating to Harty appears until 1066 when in the Domesday Monarchorum of the time it is noted that an earlier version of Harty Church was obviously in place because it was paying annual dues to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The current, tiny church was built in the 13th Century and even in these modern times services are still lit by candles and oil lamps.

Perhaps I'll write about more recent history at a later date but one item from Sheila Judge's book did catch my eye and is worth relating here. Apparently around 1571, Mote Farm, which was part of the Manor of Sayes Court, was sold by a John Chevin to a Thomas Paramour. However, John then declared that he was under age at the time of the sale, having resold it to John Kyne and Simon Lowe. Those two gentlemen brought a law suit, called a "writ of right", against Paramour for recovery of the land, but they lost the case and Paramour was given possession. This came about because on receiving the writ of right a trial of battle was demanded by Paramour, and awarded by the court, a regular way of deciding a legal action at the time.
The Queen intervened and ordered that they were not to fight themselves but the formalities had to be observed. Therefore Champions chosen by each party, properly dressed in full armour, met at Tothill Fields, Westminster, on the appointed day. Apparently four thousand people had also gathered to watch, such was the enjoyment in those things.
The Justice of the Common Pleas were also present as Judges of the Duel, but when, after much formal ceremony and making of proclomations and declarations, the non-appearance of Kyne and Lowe was recorded, a non-suit was requested and made, and the land judged to belong to Paramour. What a tame end to a much anticipated day!

There are currently two major farmers who own most of Harty and who in the past have allegedly had their disputes, wouldn't it be great if we could reinstate such ways of settling disputes - the Battle of Capel Corner, or the Ruckus at the Raptor Mound, maybe.


  1. Very interesting history lesson Derek.Was unable to comment on your blog yesterday trouble with blogger? Glad to hear that the reserve is still holding good numbers of Birds, must get out there again soon.