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The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

The Oldest Shop in England

Chiddingstone possess one of the oldest surviving rural shops in England, the street where it stands is also one of the most pleasing in Kent.

The shop was first recorded in a deed of 1453, when owned by William Hunt. It was by far the largest in the row and comprised a hall and cross wing. The double-fronted shop, which now trades as Chiddingstone Stores, has a striking façade and leaded lights, with such a disarming aspect that even the most casual passer-by feels compelled to enter, if only to purchase a jar of local produced honey or chutney.

Hunt and his neighbour, Roger Attwood joined
Jack Cade's Rebellion in 1450 and marched against Henry VI. After narrowly failing to take the Tower of London, the revolt was quashed and Cade murdered, Hunt and Attwood fortunately received pardons, although many of their compatriots were rounded up and hung. Hunt's home was later bought by Sir Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne, who also owned Hever Castle.

Unlike Hunt, Sir Thomas Boleyn sought to charm and ingratiate his own monarch, Henry VIII. Intelligent and well-educated, Boleyn is nevertheless usually portrayed as a Machiavellian character as in The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, and the recent BBC production, The Tudors by Michael Hirst. His self-serving beliefs would eventually expose his weak-willed nature. When Henry ordered the execution of Anne and her brother George, it would appear that Boleyn made no attempt to intervene to save his own children, allegedly because he wished to safeguard his own interests. However, he fell out of favour soon after, and never regained the court status he so desired.

The building next to Chiddingstone Stores, in the middle of the row, has the initials of, the onetime occupants, George Beecher and his wife Jane Elye, carved above the parlour fireplace and dated 1638 – a lasting and tangible expression of their affection for each other. Of the half dozen, houses that make up the street, this is perhaps the most impressive in appearance; with stout oak pillars upon stone plinths, which form the porch, and support the overhanging upper floor.

This remarkable building harmonises with the adjoining houses of steeply-pitched red tile roofs; projecting gables and casements, exposed joists, half-timbered and tile-clad or patterned brick walls and studded doors, which, as a whole, may have a rightful claim to being the most perfect ensemble of Tudor architecture in the county. Little wonder then, that the National Trust sought to secure them for posterity with a generous legacy from John Arthur Fallows in 1939.

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