Friday, December 31, 2010

Double Murder at The Greyhound - A New Year Tale

Picture by Dr Neil Clifton

The popular Greyhound pub in the quiet village of Sutton At Hone on the outskirts of Dartford, Kent has a very dark secret.

Exactly 125 years ago today it was the scene of a horrific double murder.....

Following his customary routine, at ten o'clock in the evening, the 64 year old landlord David Smith had locked the front door for the night.
In the dimly lit taproom, two of his lodgers, Alfred Kemp a bricklayer's labourer and James Stroude a boot maker, shared a pot of ale at a table by the window.

A third lodger, John Crowhurst had already retired upstairs to bed.

Shortly after ten, 42 year old paper mill worker John Knocker entered the taproom, ordered a pint of beer and sat near the fireplace.

About fifteen minutes later, Knocker suddenly got up and walked calmly across to Kemp.

Without uttering a single word, he placed his left arm around Kemp's neck and with his right hand drew a razor deep across his throat.

Kemp fell sideways to the floor with blood spurting from the six inch wound to his neck.

In horror, Stroude saw Knocker making towards him but managed to effect his escape through the back door of the pub.

Passing the landlord Smith in the passageway he shouted "John's gone wrong tonight!" and set off to raise the alarm.

Smith entered the taproom and was immediately set upon by Knocker.

A ferocious struggle ensued but "old man" Smith was no match for Knocker who had served 25 years in the army.

Smith was pushed to the ground and his throat slit virtually from ear to ear.

On hearing the commotion, Crowhurst rushed downstairs to find the lifeless bodies of Kemp and Smith lying in a pool of blood on the taproom floor.

Of Knocker, there was no sign.

Shortly before midnight, John Knocker was apprehended by Police Constable Benge on West Hill, Dartford.

His face, hands and clothes covered in his victim's blood, Knocker immediately confessed to his crimes and was taken into custody.

An inquest was held into the tragic events.

Knocker had been resident at The Greyhound for around five months and had previously always been on very good terms with the landlord and his fellow lodgers.

His army conduct had been exemplary and Police Constable Benge who had made the arrest confirmed that he was not drunk.

So what had gone so terribly wrong?

At the inquest Mrs Smith told how Knocker had left The Greyhound in apparent good spirits on Christmas Eve for a short holiday but had returned the following Tuesday "a different man"....

We can only speculate what it was that tipped a sane man over the edge and made him commit such crimes.

Unfortunately I have not so far been able to find out what happened to John Knocker at trial but I can confirm that he was not hanged for his crimes.

In view of the circumstances of the case I imagine he may have been declared insane and committed to a lunatic asylum.

Nowadays, he would probably be tried for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

David Smith the landlord was buried in the nearby graveyard at St John the Baptist church on 10th January 1886.

If you have any comments regarding this post, they are most gratefully received.

Further posts you may enjoy....

The Meopham Air Disaster

Kitty Gordon - Kent's Colourful Silent Movie Star

They Burned for their Beliefs

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Please buy a fleece and support Help for Heroes

Help for Heroes is a charity that offers practical support to British servicemen and women wounded in the service of their country since 9/11.

If you would like to support Help for Heroes, you may wish to purchase a stylish Four Duck fleece - as fetchingly modelled by yours truly above (unfortunately George Clooney was not available to do the honours!).

All profits from the sale of the fleeces, priced at £ 17.99 each incl UK post & packing, will be donated to support Help for Heroes in their continuing work.

The cotton lined fleeces are brand new and come in sizes small, medium, large and extra large.

I have worn my Four Duck fleece on my walks around Kent in all weathers and can confirm that it certainly does keep you warm.

An ideal Christmas gift for any golfers, walkers, sailors etc in your family.

If you would like to purchase a fleece and support a very good cause, please follow this link to place your order now.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Foreign Fields

In practically every town and village in Kent you will come across memorials, such as the one pictured below, commemorating many thousands of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice during two World Wars.

Visit any churchyard in Kent and you will find the neatly tended graves of service personnel, not only from Britain but Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other far flung corners of the former British Empire.

Here are the stories behind two of those many thousands, both buried in foreign fields.

The memorial at St Peter & St Paul church in Farningham includes the name of my great uncle William Wansbury.

He was born in Kent in 1919 and joined the RAF in 1938, eventually progressing to the rank of Aircraftman 1st Class (ground crew).

In February 1942 RAF personnel, including William, were sent to assist in the defence of the Dutch East Indies which were being invaded by the Japanese.

The combined Dutch, British and Australian forces on Java were not able to withstand the ferocious Japanese onslaught.

On 8th March 1942, William was taken prisoner.

In April 1943 a contingent of around 2000 "fit and healthy" British and Australian POW's were shipped in inhumane conditions to a small coral island called Haruku in the Moluccas.

Those who had not died during the long voyage from Java were immediately set to work building an airfield which the Japanese intended to use as a base for bomber missions against Australia.

Using only primitive hand tools the prisoners were forced to break coral all day long in an attempt to level the ground for the runway whilst enduring continual maltreatment from the brutal Japanese guards.

Tropical diseases including dysentery, malaria and beri beri were rife in the camp and claimed the lives of over 400 men in the space of a few short months.

William succumbed to malnutrition and disease on 14th September 1943 aged just 23.

He is buried on the neighbouring island of Ambon with nearly 2000 further victims of the Japanese war crimes in a cemetery immaculately maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Flight Lieutenant Zdzislaw Henryk Przygodzki is buried in Watling Street Cemetery in Dartford.

He was born on 12th July 1918 and flew with 316 "City of Warsaw" Polish fighter squadron which was formed in 1941.

Several Polish squadrons were formed during the Second World War and they fought with distinction during the Battle of Britain.

On 8th September 1944, Flight Lieutenant Przygodzki took off from RAF Coltishall in his North American Mustang III fighter FB345, possibly on a mission to intercept incoming V1 rockets.

Due to bad weather he was forced to return to base and for unexplained reasons his aircraft crash landed near Bayfield Hall in Norfolk.

I have not been able to find out so far why Flight Lieutenant Przygodzki was buried in Kent and not nearer to the crash site in Norfolk.

The grave is sadly in neglected state at the moment. There is, however, a chance that this situation may be rectified.

I recently sent a copy of my photograph of Flight Lieutenant Przygodzki's grave to the founder of a web site called Polish War Graves. The web site commemorates many thousands of Polish servicemen laid to rest in the UK and other European countries.

He was in contact with a member of the Polish Government and brought up the condition of Flight Lieutenant Przygodski's grave and was given an assurance that "something would be done about it".

Only time will tell whether a Polish politician is any better than a British one, at keeping his word!

If you would like to leave a comment, please do so, they are always very welcome.

Further reading from the archives...

The White Cross of Shoreham

The Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial

Remembering "The Few" in Kent

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Kent - Invicta - The Legend

No matter where you find yourself in Kent, you will come across the County's insignia - the white horse and invicta motto.

The stories behind these two ancient symbols of Kent are very intriguing and shrouded in legend.

The white horse is said to trace it's history back to the fifth century AD when Saxon mercenaries, lead by brothers Hengist and Horsa, landed in Kent at the behest of Vortigern, ruler of the Britons.

Vortigern wanted Hengist and Horsa and their warriors to aid him in his war with the Picts and Scots. The Saxons were fearsome warriors and very successful in battle. Vortigern is said to have rewarded them by granting them control of the Isle of Thanet in East Kent.

The Saxons, however, were extremely ambitious. Sensing weakness, they turned against Vortigern, eventually forcing him to cede the whole of Kent to them.

The white horse is said to have appeared on Hengist's battle flag and has remained a symbol of Kent to this day.

Now to the second part of the story - the Invicta legend.

Fast forward to 1067. The Normans under William the Conqueror have defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and are marching on London.

According to tradition, close to the village of Swanscombe, William and his men were met by the Kentishmen lead by Archbishop Stigand and Egelsine, the Abbot of St Augustines.

Each of Kentishmen carried a bough giving the appearance of a moving forest descending rapidly on the Normans. At a given signal, the boughs were cast aside revealing the Kentishmen armed and ready for battle.

However, the Archbishop and Abbot met with William and assured him of their allegiance, provided he was willing to grant certain privileges to the people of Kent and to respect their ancient rights and traditions.

Not wishing to commit his forces to another major battle so soon after Hastings, William is said to have agreed to the request.

The word invicta, meaning undefeated or unconquered, was adopted as the motto of Kent.

The monument shown in the picture above can be found in the grounds of St Peter & St Pauls in Swanscombe and was erected in 1958.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always welcome.

Further reading from the archives ....

They Burned for their Beliefs

The Meopham Air Disaster - 21st July 1930

Visit to West Malling

Friday, October 08, 2010

Digital Scavenger Hunt

I was recently challenged to participate in a digital scavenger hunt by a friend on Blogcatalog.

All the participants were given a list of eight random themes and asked to post up digital photographs on their respective blogs representing those themes.

As this blog is specifically about the county of Kent, England, all my photos were taken locally.

The first of the themes was concrete (well I did tell you they were random!)

This modern art sculpture entitled "Boy with a Boat" by Paula Haughney, can be found on the front at Herne Bay looking out to sea. It was commissioned by Canterbury City Council in 1993

The next random theme is power represented by preserved mainline steam locomotive 44932 thundering past Gravesend one Sunday morning on the way to Faversham.

For the theme lost, I have included this memorial to South African Battle of Britain pilot Nathaniel Merriman Barry who died seventy years ago this week defending our country and way of life.

The memorial stone is located in Darenth and was erected by the nearby Shoreham Aircraft Museum.
For the theme dance, I have used a little poetic licence!

The water is "dancing" over the old weir at the former site of Westminster Mill on the River Darent in Horton Kirby. I will be writing more about Horton Kirby and the history of the mill in the next installment of "My Darent Valley Walk".

Autumn always reminds me of harvest festival when I was a kid. Kent is not as the Garden of

England for nothing. This year the hedgerows are packed with blackberries and the trees in the orchards are groaning with the weight of apples, pears, plums and cherries.

Smile! My son loves baking cakes but they usually only last about five minutes after they come out of the oven.

I managed to get a quick shot of this one before it ended up down his neck! Well Gordon Ramsay does always insist that his chefs taste their food....

Another random theme - confusion. Although this scene may look confused, the Kent Fire &

Rescue Service and Ambulance Service had everything under control. Actually it was a demonstration at the Northfleet Fire Station open day a few months ago.

Finally I was asked to post something funny so I thought I'd end with this little sign I found pinned to the noticeboard at St Peter and St Paul Church in Shoreham...

If you have enjoyed my first digital scavenger hunt, please drop in and have a look what some of the other participants have posted -

Lifting Me Up

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Demolition of Rugby / Cemex Cement Works Chimney

At 11 o'clock sharp this morning, the 375' chimney of the Cemex (former Rugby) cement works at Halling on the banks of the River Medway was demolished by a series of controlled explosions.
A large crowd of on-lookers witnessed the destruction of the local landmark.

The police closed the A228 main road through Halling, fifteen minutes before the demolition took place. Ten minutes later a warning klaxon was sounded which sent the pigeons and other birds, who had been roosting on the neighbouring buildings, skyward in a great flock.

The was a loud crack and the first set of explosives went off at the base of the chimney. A few seconds later a second set of explosives further up the chimney caused a crack to appear.

The strong breeze carried off large clouds of white dust across the River Medway.

Unfortunately it would appear that the explosives experts had misjudged the strength of the concrete in the chimney! When the dust settled, a large section of it was left defiantly standing.

No doubt the "experts" will be scratching their heads on Monday morning deciding what to do next.

The demolition of the chimney at Halling marks the end of around 150 year's of cement industry history in the local area and follows the demolition of the Blue Circle /Lafarge works at Northfleet which I wrote about a few months ago.

Lafarge have plans to build a brand new plant at Holborough (a couple of miles up the road from Halling) but despite having been granted planning permission in 2001, only site preparation work has taken place so far.

In light of the ongoing recession in the construction industry and ready availability of cheap imports I don't expect any developments in the near future. As a result there are currently no active cement works in Kent after over 200 years.

If you have any comments about this post, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Other posts you may enjoy...

Manston Airport and the Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial

Sunday, September 05, 2010

My Darent Valley Walk Part 3 - Otford to Chipstead and Sevenoaks

As regular followers of this blog will be aware, I am walking the Darent Valley Path through Kent in easily digestible segments, as and when time permits.

My latest walk set off from the picturesque village of Otford. I parked my car in a free car park opposite the Bull pub close to the Otford Solar System model I wrote about in My Darent Valley Walk Part 2.
Otford is a good starting point if you are interested in walking in Kent as three long distance routes converge there - the Darent Valley Path, the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims Way.

For the first part of my walk I followed the Pilgrims Way, at this point, actually a busy main road, for a short distance passing the Horns public house and restaurant pictured above. This is a former 15th century coaching inn.

The Darent Valley Path branches off from the Pilgrims Way on the outskirts of the village and passes through a small housing estate before crossing a bridge over the railway line into open fields. At this point the Darent Valley Path branches into two. You have the option of walking to Sevenoaks via Riverhead or to Chipstead via Dunton Green, as I elected to do.

It is a fairly short walk across the fields to Dunton Green where the path eventually emerges by Donnington Manor which now constitutes part of a Best Western Hotel. The manor dates back to the 15th century.

Dunton Green is unfortunately located on the very busy A224 and in order to follow the Darent Valley Path I had to cross over to the other side - easier said than done! Approximately ten minutes later I finally managed to do so and continue on my way.

The path leads across some scrubby heathland and then under the even busier M26 motorway. This section of the walk was spoiled for me by the ever present drone of the traffic in the background.

Moan over. The path continued on through open fields again and intersected the track bed of the long disused Westerham to Dunton Green railway. The line was opened in July 1881 but fell victim to Doctor Beeching's savage rail cuts, closing in 1961.

I found a very interesting web site with lots of pictures of the old railway here.

Eventually I came to Chipstead Lake, the end of this branch of the Darent Valley Path and the first leg of the day's walk. Unfortunately the lake is privately owned and used by the fishing and sailing clubs - members only.

The lake is actually man made. It is a former clay pit. The clay was extracted over many years and used for the local brick and tile industry.

Luckily the small village green overlooks the lake and I sat on a bench, had a bite to eat and consulted my map to work out my route for the rest of the day.

I decided to navigate from Chipstead via Riverhead through to Sevenoaks where I could pick up the other branch of the Darent Valley Path back to Otford. The downside was this would involve quite a lot of walking on tarmac rather than cross country.

On the plus side though my route took me via the centre of historic Chipstead village. Here are some pictures....

These cottages were built in 1694.

The former non conformist chapel parts of which date back to the early 1600's.

Hann's Store is now an office. It is good to see that the new owners did not paint out the old advertisement as often happens nowadays.

The George and Dragon pub built in the 16th century and still going strong.

My walk continued through Chipstead until I reached Riverhead on the outskirts of Sevenoaks.

The church of St Mary overlooks a road junction and dominates the town's skyline. The church is modern by Kent standards having been built in 1831 to a Decimus Burton design. As is often the case, I was not able to have a look inside the church as it was all locked up.

I continued along my "favourite" road, the dreaded A224 as far as Sevenoaks railway station where I joined the Darent Valley Path again to head back to Otford. The path, as far as I could see, is not very well marked at this point so it is advisable to have OS Explorer map 147 handy if you wish to follow the route yourself.

The path runs parallel with the railway for a while, through a housing estate, before entering Bradbourne Lakes. The lakes are a hidden gem. I was expecting some scruffy old gravel pits but they are actually small ornamental lakes which once formed part of the 18th century Bradbourne Estate. Over the years the estate was split up and sold off for housing developments. In 1935 the Lakes passed into the ownership of Sevenoaks District Council.

It is an ideal place to take small children. The lakes are full of very tame geese and ducks such as my friend Mr Greylag above. He was angling for a bit of my leftover sandwich but went away empty beaked!

On the other side of the lakes, the Darent Valley Path joins the A25. Once again I spent another age trying to cross this road. A continuous stream of cars and trucks thundering by in both directions.

Safely across the A25 the path skirts along the edge of some more lakes which form part of the Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve.

Unfortunately the lakes are fenced off and the trees and undergrowth are so thick it's not possible to see them properly from the path.

Surely a missed trick? In my opinion it would have made this part of the walk more enjoyable if a small clearing could have been made in the trees at some point along the way. You never know, maybe someone from Kent County Council is reading this blog....

Leaving the Wildfowl Reserve the path joins a very quiet country lane (Rye Lane). I followed the lane all the way back into Otford through fields full of sheep and past some of the smartest and colourful static homes I have ever seen before.

UPDATE - for Part 4 of My Darent Valley Walk please see here

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always welcome.

From the archives...

A Walk Around Grenham Bay

Winter Walks - Nurstead and Camer Park

The White Cross of Shoreham, Kent

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Remembering "The Few" in Kent

Today marked the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill's famous speech about "The Few"....

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed
by so many to so few"

To commemorate the occasion and the brave pilots, a Spitfire and Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made a whistle stop tour today of many former RAF airfields active during the conflict.

Several key front line fighter bases were located in Kent including Biggin Hill, West Malling and Gravesend.

Kent was a ideal due to it's proximity both to London and to the German airfields only a few miles away across the English Channel in France.

As you travel around Kent today, you often come across poignant reminders of the events of 1940 such as at the Garden of Remembrance at Manston airport (adjacent to the Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial which I wrote about in an earlier post).

The Shoreham Aircraft Museum is erecting memorials to all the Battle of Britain pilots who died within a ten mile radius of Shoreham. I came across this one to Flight Lieutenant James Alfred Paterson M.B.E. of the Royal New Zealand Air Force in Sparepenny Lane, Farningham during one of my recent Darent Valley walks.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have found this post of interest. Other posts from the archives you may like...

The Meopham Air Disaster

Visit to West Malling

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

My Darent Valley Walk Part 2 - Lullingstone to Otford

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am gradually walking the 19 mile Darent Valley path from the hills near Sevenoaks down to Dartford on the River Thames in bite sized sections.

Following on from the first part of my walk I wrote about a few weeks ago, here is the story of my most recent walk from Lullingstone to Otford....

I started my latest walk from Kent County Council's Lullingstone Visitor Centre. From there I followed the waymarked path out of the Centre passing around the back of Castle Farm. The farmers had been busy cutting and baling hay ready for next Winter.

The path follows the bottom of the valley and eventually the bank of the River Darent itself into the historic village of Shoreham.

Just outside the village there is a large cross cut into the hillside to commemorate the men lost during the Great War (I wrote about this in a post last year).

The river flows through the centre of the village.

I have traced my family tree back to the late 1700's and at that time my ancestors all worked as labourers on the local farms.

The village church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, was where they would have all been Christened, married and eventually buried!

The church, originally built by the Normans, has been much modified over the ensuing centuries. The striking tower was built in 1775. There are some beautiful stained glass windows inside the church.

The Millennium Window installed in May 2000.

A window depicting St George dedicated to the memory of Nigel Benjamin Cohen and Captain Stephen Behrens Cohen, only children of Sir Herbert and Lady Cohen.

Nigel was killed in a flying accident on 18th September 1931 aged only 23 and Stephen died on 10th February 1943 whilst on active service with the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. He is buried in Karachi war cemetery in Pakistan.

Leaving Shoreham the path continues through a golf course and open farmland.

I made a new beast friend on the way! (groan) I gave her some nice fresh green grass from my side of the fence and she then decided to follow me for the next half a mile.

In a recreation ground just outside the village of Otford, I came across a 1:5 billion scale model of the solar system. This was put in place as part of the village's Millennium celebrations in 2000 and is said to be the only one of it's kind in the world.

Each of the white plinths represents a different planet and the one with the chrome ball (to the right of the picture) represents the sun. Due to the scale, several of the "planets" are to be found on the other side of the village.

The path leads into the centre of Otford village where you will find the only listed duck pond in the country (in the middle of a roundabout). Up until Victorian times the villagers drew their drinking water supplies from the pond which was fed by a small stream.

Across from the duck pond is the church of St Bartholomew which dates back to the mid 11th century. The war memorial commemorates the dead of two World Wars.

Inside the church are several impressive monuments to various members of the Polhill family. The Polhills were direct descendants of Oliver Cromwell.

Detail from the memorial to David Polhill (died 1754), MP for Rochester and Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London.

Memorial to his brother Charles Polhill (died 1755) a merchant tailor in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) who later became a Commissioner of Excise in London. Both memorials were the work of the eminent sculptor Sir Henry Cheere.

Just around the corner from the church are the ruins of Otford Palace built around 1518 by Archbishop Wareham on the site of an earlier fortified manor house (the site had been used as a residence by the Archbishops of Canterbury as far back as Saxon times). In it's heyday the Palace covered an area of four acres.

In 1537 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was "persuaded" to cede the Palace to King Henry VIII. In 1601 Queen Elizabeth I sold the Palace to Sir Robert Sidney. Eventually the buildings fell into disrepair and the estate was split up and sold off as farm land.

I retraced my steps past St Bartholemews and the duck pond and headed out of Otford past the railway station. At this point, I joined the North Downs way for a long slog up Rowdow Hill.

I had noticed on the map there was a triangulation point at 204 metres and wanted to investigate. Whilst 204 metres may not be on the scale of Mount Everest or even Mount Snowdon, it is quite a big hill for Kent!

Although it was quite hard work getting to the top in the hot weather, the views on the way up were worth the effort. The triangulation point itself was in the middle of a newly cut grass field surrounded by trees.

Passing by the triangulation point I joined a narrow country lane heading back in the general direction of Shoreham. Someone had been overzealous when trimming the roadside hedges as I came across some BT men up a telegraph pole trying to repair the telephone cables which had also been liberally trimmed....

The lane continued past some farms and through glades of trees until I joined another public footpath which lead back down the valley and eventually came out on the main A225 Dartford to Sevenoaks road opposite the entrance to Shoreham railway station.

I crossed the busy road and continued past the station heading back towards Shoreham village. Just on the outskirts of the village I took a footpath which follows the rear wall of the graveyard of St Peter and St Pauls and then on through open fields.

I joined another path which lead back down to the main Darent Valley path passing by a small vineyard.

I'd noticed a mysterious monument marked on the O.S. map and once again decided to make a diversion off the Darent Valley path to take a closer look.

I walked along the very picturesque Mill Lane, named after the paper mill which operated there until the mid 1920's, up to the junction with the High Street and headed towards Lullingstone. A footpath runs along the edge of the High Street through fields and eventually joins Cockerhurst Road - the site of the mysterious monument shown on the map.

At first I couldn't find the monument but eventually I did locate it is hidden amongst the trees by the side of the road.

The stone monument stands about three feet tall.

On one face it is inscribed with a passage taken from the Bible (Hosea) - "Behold therefore I will allure her and will lead her into the wilderness and there I will speak to her heart". On another face the inscription reads "Pray for the soul of E.J.G.B" and on another "and of A.J.B".

Frustratingly I have not been able to find out anything about it so far but I would imagine it dates from at least the 1800's. If anyone out there knows who built it and/or why and who E.J.G.B and A.J.B were, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

I took Castle Farm Road passing through fragrant fields of lavender waiting to be harvested and finally found myself back at the Lullingstone visitor centre.

I wonder what my ancestors from the 1700's would have said if I'd told them that lavender and grape vines would one day be growing in their Valley?

You are welcome to leave any comments you may have about this post.

UPDATE - for Part 3 of my Darent Valley Walk please see here

UPDATE - the mystery of the memorial stone has been solved... please see here
You may also enjoy reading from the archives....

Day Trip to Rochester