Eccles from Blue Bell Hill
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It is the site of a Roman villa estate and pottery kiln, excavated between 1962 and 1976. It replaced an Iron Age settlement, and was occupied until the end of Roman rule. Also, a cemetery was found with six skeletons all of whom showed injuries caused by weapons. Three had single long sword cuts to the left side of the skull. The other three had multiple injuries - one had been hit three times on the left side of the skull, another had been hit in the spine by a projectile, either an arrow or a javelin, which probably disabled him and a single sword cut to the head. (information from British Archaeology, Sept 1999)
Origins of the village
Prior to 1850, the area now occupied by Eccles was mostly farms and arable land. Around that time, the renowned Victorian master builder Thomas Cubitt bought 2 farms near the river and opened a brickyard and cement works. The brick works was the most advanced in the world producing up to 30 million bricks a year. Situated on a gentle slope, the buildings were positioned along tram lines so that each stage of manufacture moved closer to the quay; with this arrangement production progressed by gravity rather haulage. At its peak, the works employed almost a thousand men and boys. The plant formally closed in 1941 and was later demolished.
As the brick works was established, a local farmer Thomas Abbot built a terrace of 22 cottages to house the workers, the settlement soon increased to 300. The area was known as ‘Bull Lane’ before it adopted the name of ‘Eccles’. The former name still appears on the Ordnance Survey map of 1897.
Although the village did not acquire the name ‘Eccles’ until some time in the second half of the 19th century, the name is not new. In her book “The Place Names of Kent”, Judith Glover traces it in its present form back to 1208 and suggests that it derived from the 10th century 'Aecclesse', meaning the 'meadow of the oak'. The Domesday Book records Eccles as ‘Aiglessa’. It has also been suggested that the name 'Eccles' comes from the Latin word 'ecclesia' meaning 'church', implying that a post-Roman Christian community existed in the area, although there is no evidence for this. Volume 4 of "The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent", published in 1798, reports that Eccles was a manor of the parish of Aylesford, "which was of some note in the time of the Conqueror, being then part of the possessions of Odo, bishop of Baieux, the king's half brother, under the general title of whose lands it is thus entered in the book of Domesday". The site of the manor of Eccles was lost to public knowledge by the 18th Century, but it was surmised to be somewhere at the eastern extremity of the parish, near Boxley hill.
A detailed history of the village of Eccles can be found in the Book "The Medway Valley: A Kent landscape transformed".
There is a school, a church, a pub, a convenience store with post office services, and a doctors’ surgery with dispensing facilities. There is also a church hall, which is used by the village pre-school, and a drop-in centre for the over-50s in Cork Street.
At the centre of the village is a large park (‘the Rec’) with a skate park, children's play facilities and exercise equipment for adults. On weekends there are junior football games. Nearby, there is a sports field which has been used by Eccles Football Club since the 19th century.
St Mark’s School, Eccles, is a well-resourced, Church of England Primary School. It was rebuilt in 2002 on a green-field site close to the small Victorian building that it replaced. It is set in attractive grounds, with solar roof panels, a large science and sensory garden, allotments, a modern ICT suite and a new sports court.
A library bus visits every Tuesday afternoon.
Location and surroundings
Although Eccles enjoys a quiet semi-rural location, it has good access to national transport routes. It is just 3 miles from junctions 5 and 6 of the M20 motorway, and the same distance from junction 3 of the M2 motorway. Maidstone East Station is 4½ miles away; a journey of 12 minutes or less by car. The village also has road access to communities on the west bank of the Medway by way of Peter’s Bridge which was opened in September 2016.
Eccles sits between Aylesford village (1 mile away) and the nearby village of Burham (also 1 mile away), below the North Downs whose shelter provides a favourable micro-climate for both the village and the adjacent vineyards.
There is a good network of footpaths around the village providing access to the surrounding countryside, vineyards and the River Medway. There are all-weather footways south to Aylesford Priory and north to Pilgrims' Way and hence to Burham. Beyond Burham, there is a combined footpath and cycle way down to the Riverside Walk at Peter's Village.
Eccles features on a number of popular ramblers’ routes. For example, it is part of the ‘Ancient Sites of Aylesford’ walk which incorporates the ancient monuments of Kit's Coty House and Little Kit's Coty House.
Kit’s Coty vineyard
The vineyard adjacent to Eccles village is located on land acquired by the wine producer Chapel Down in 2007. It is named after the ancient monument which is situated on the slope of the North Downs immediately above. The conditions for viniculture are reputed to be similar to those of the Champagne region in France. By coincidence, the route of the 2007 Tour de France through Kent included a section of Pilgrim’s Way that lies immediately along the northern boundary of the vineyard.
At one time, prior to its acquisition by Chapel Down, the land had been designated as the site for the Mid Kent Parkway Station on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. However, following strong opposition from PEFTT (Protect Eccles From The Train) and other local groups, it was eventually decided that the rail route would not run along the Medway Valley past Eccles and Burham but would instead pass through a 4 km tunnel under Blue Bell Hill, and run alongside the M2. Among those claiming credit for this decision were a coven of White Witches from Hastings who had previously performed a ritual at Little Kit’s Coty House on the Countless Stones to protect them from any disturbance by the railway.
The 95 acres of the vineyard are planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Bacchus grapes. The Chardonnay grape is used in a premium single-vineyard range of wines which are marketed as the Kit’s Coty Collection.
- Sharon Bennett, English Illustrator, designer, artist and author
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- Originally reported in the Local Kent Messenger at the time. Details clarified by email correspondence with a participant.
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Media related to Eccles, Kent at Wikimedia Commons