St. Mildred's Church, Acol
Acol shown within Kent
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||South East Coast|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
|UK Parliament||South Thanet|
Acol (formerly Acholt) is a hamlet and civil parish about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Birchington in Kent, England. It is one of the smallest communities in Kent, and over the years large parts of the parish have been transferred to other neighbouring communities. Acol is close to the Western end of the runway at Manston Airport.
A village called Acholt was recorded at Sparrow Castle, or Kemp's Corner - the Junction between Shottenden Road (B2049), and Manston Road (B2050), in 1270. The name derives from the Old English, ac meaning oak and holt meaning wood. This indicates the original proximity of the village to a small area of oak trees. Most of the inhabitants perished at the start of the Black Death in 1347, and when the village was burnt down to stop contamination, the decision was made to move the settlement to its current position. The new village's first name was Millbrough, and then variously Ville in the Oaks, Ville in the Woods or Ville of Woods. Later the name became Acoll and finally Acol.
The Ville in the Woods first appears on Thomas of Elmham's map of the Isle of Thanet, Circa 1412 (now housed at Trinity Hall, Cambridge). A later reference is found in Rural Rides of 1823, written by William Cobbett was a Member of Parliament and a celebrated radical publicist and agricultural critic. He visited Thanet in the September 1823.
The aftermath of the Napoleonic War was a cruel time for small farmers and farm workers. Starvation wages, low prices and crippling taxes drove many to desperation and caused social upheavals on the land. At first sight, Cobbett was most impressed:
- "When I got upon the corn land in the Isle Of Thanet, I got into a garden indeed." He avoided Margate as being "full of Stockjobbing Cuckolds at this time of year..." He breakfasted at a little Hamlet (Acol) "But could get no corn for my Horse, and no Bacon for myself." Regarding the local conditions, Cobbett was moved to comment, "The Labourers houses, all along, through this Island are beggarly in the extreme. The People dirty, poorlooking, ragged, but particularly dirty. It is impossible to have an idea of anything more miserable than the state of the Labourers in this part of the country".
In reality, the condition for labourers throughout Kent at the time were deteriorating to the point where unrest brought about the start of the Swing Riots in 1833-4. At the same time, many labourers left Kent, often with the grateful assistance of their parish councils who did not want to keep supporting them, to take up new lives in the colonies in North America and particularly Australia and New Zealand.
The Smugglers Leap
Close by Acol is the famous chalk pit where Exciseman Gill and Smuggler Bill met their deaths as told in the well-known poem, The Smuggler's Leap by Richard Harris Barham. Exciseman Gill sold his soul for a demon horse that had the ability to catch Smuggler Bill. In the swirling mist on that night in Thanet, just as Exciseman Gill caught up to the Smuggler, he drove his horse off the top of the chalk pit as did the Riding Officer. The bodies of the two men and only one horse were found later and are still said to haunt the area.