The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 was an important measure of ecclesiastical, social and economic reform that commuted arbitrary and uncertain levies of tithes in kind into varying annual rent charges regulated on a uniform national basis.’ 1This major undertaking has left a wealth of very useful historical information so that the property of today can be traced back. This essay will look at the Parish of Bethersden in Kent with particular reference to its landlords and tenants, size and type of farming and likeness to the present day landscape. It will also note particularly a holding on the borders of the parish, which has been our family farm for over sixty years, noting the changes that have taken place there.

The Tithe Commutation Act came into being partly because of the unrest and trouble amongst the agricultural workers and the perceived unfairness of the tithe system. For ‘almost a thousand years——–tithes were the heaviest tax on farming.’2 Dissenters did not want to support the Church of England and the poor of the parish resented having to give of their little to support rich clergy who were often absentees. The government became alarmed when riots broke out in 1830-2, with the breaking of machinery and widespread arson.3 Many parsons were attacked. As Kain says ;- ‘When violence erupted in Kent in the autumn of 1830 it was directed not only against farmers’ ricks and workhouses but in many parishes angry mobs attacked the parson.’4 There does not seem to be any reference to mob trouble in Bethersden or the surrounding villages. Hobsbawn and Rude do not list any of the local villages in their record of occurrences but there was trouble in the Ashford, Canterbury and Dover triangle, which was not far away.5

With the growing unrest, four attempts were made between 1833 and 36 to get a Bill through the house to commute tithes. Then, on 9th February 1836 Lord John Russell introduced the Commutation Bill, which was passed as an act on 13th August.6 This commuted all tithes in kind into money payments with a method for calculating the amount to be paid. The Tithe Commission was set up with three Commissioners – William Blamire, Rev Richard Jones and Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller. These are the names that appear on the tithe maps to verify them and Blamire and Buller signed the tithe map for Bethersden. Nevertheless, the man most instrumental in coping with the enormous amount of work involved was Lieutenant Robert Kearsley Dawson.7 He organised and superintended all the land surveys. ‘Boundaries had to be established, field names, rights of way, land use, farming, landownership, and farm and house occupancy.’8 Dawson wanted maps of a set pattern, preferably three chains to one inch, throughout the country, but he never achieved this. The Bethersden map is six chains to one inch as are many others. Some maps were classed as first class and duly sealed by the commissioners. Others were classed as second class. Bethersden’s map must have been accepted as first class as it is sealed and signed on 30th September 1842.9 Kent’s tithe maps were good, on the whole. Just over half of them were passed as first class.10 One of the main map makers of the area was Thomas Thurston of whom it was said ;- ‘Those map makers who consistently distinguish between copying and original work, as Thomas Thurston of Ashford, are shining exceptions to the general rule.’11 Nevertheless, the Bethersden map is not a Thomas Thurston but was produced by G. Durey a surveyor of nearby Great Chart. Kent tithe maps were all produced by men from London or Kent The exception being Woodchurch, produced by J. McLachlan of Stowmarket.12

The Bethersden Tithe map and apportionments show that the Bethersden parish was 6023 acres 1 rood and 16 perches. Out of that 4644 acres 1 rood and 1 perch were titheable.13 All woodland and coppice was exempt and had been ‘from time immemorial.’ 14This applied to most if not all of Wealden parishes. The woodland, in Bethersden, amounted to 798 acres and 30 perches. The titheable land was divided mainly into arable, meadow and pasture. Arable was land judged to have been ploughed within the previous three years for crops, grass or fallow. Meadow was mown grassland and pasture was grazed land valued in shillings per acre by the number of stock it supported.15 Bethersden had 2728 acres 1 rood and 24 perches of arable and 1712 acres 1 rood of meadow or pasture. It also had a small amount, 121 acres and 3 roods, of hops. This was very small compared to the neighbouring parish of High Halden where extra money was noted as being charged, on the tithe apportionments, for the hop yield.16 The apportionments also covered roads, wasteland and glebe lands which were subject to tithe when not used by the rector. Quite a sizeable portion of the tithe income was to be paid to the Impropriator who had bought or come by the right to the tithe and thus received the tithe payments. Some of these impropriator tithe holdings went back to the Dissolution of the Monasteries when the Crown sold tithe rights to laymen.17 In this instance it was Earl Cornwallis who owned a considerable amount of land in this part of Kent. He was to be paid £436 – 10s – 6d and a further £44 – 9s in respect of tithes of corn and grain. The vicar was to be paid £97 and 4d per acre on glebe land if not used by him. The valuer was John Stevens senior of nearby Pluckley. His valuation, in the apportionments book, was wheat at 57/1/4d per bushel, barley at 53/11 1/2d per bushel and oats at 2/9d per bushel. The values were also given in decimal.

The tithe apportionments give a picture of the village around 1840. They show the owners of the land, their tenants and the size of the holdings. At the back of the apportionments book is a summary of all the landowners. There are quite a number so Bethersden was not under a squirearchy. Many of the holdings are tenanted and the owners include the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers as Governors of Aske Hospital, Sir Edward Cholmely Dering Baronet and the Trustees of various roads. There are very few holdings of over 100 acres. William Wriothesly Turner Baldwin who lived at Harrietsham owned one of 264 acres and another of 194 acres and the Earl Cornwallis had properties amounting to 555 acres, which were mainly farmed as two holdings. The Earl of Thanet also had a holding of 205 acres but most of the remaining holdings were under 100 acres and many much smaller. The Bethersden apportionments book gives figures of Inbound and Outbound acreage. The outbound acreage was the total area and this included woods, hedges and ditches and the inbound acreage was the area that could be cultivated.18 This was not shown on all tithe apportionments.

The family farm, referred to in the introduction, was of similar size to many of the holdings in Bethersden at that time. It was 35 acres 1 rood and 9 perches outbound and, of that, 32 acres 1 rood and 9 perches were for cultivation. The occupier also rented a further 10 acres in the parish of Woodchurch,19 which abuts the farm and a further 9 acres from the Rev Nicolas Toke, the nephew of the recently deceased Nicolas Roundel Toke of Godinton. The holding, known at that time as Gabriels Hook Farm, consisted of a homestead, pasture, arable and meadow. The owner was the Rev Henry Boucher Wrey and the tenant was Joseph Buckman.

The Rev Boucher Wrey was an absentee landlord, being a vicar in Tawstock in Devon.20 He had come by the property through his wife, Ellen Maria, who was the only child of Nicolas Roundel Toke Esq. of Godinton. The Toke’s had been at Godinton for four hundred years. Nicolas Roundel Toke had died in 1837 21but he had bought the property, with other holdings, in 1830, after the death of Mr Thomas Avery. Nicolas Roundel Toke was very wealthy and may have seen a good opportunity as Mr Avery had died with heavy debts.

Not many of the fields shown as farmed by Joseph Buckman, are part of the present holding, but several fields which are part of the present holding and on the same side of the road as the homestead, are shown as being farmed by the tenant across the road. The farm across the road, known as Burnt Oak Farm, was owned by Edward Curteis Esq. and farmed by George Capeling. It was a holding of 85 acres. Edward Curteis also owned around 400 acres in other holdings in Bethersden. The field numbers on the tithe map show those that were farmed by George Capeling in 1840 but now belong to Gable Hook. They are all the fields on the same side of the road as the homestead. On the tithe map these fields were all arable, meadow and pasture. Strangely, one of the fields that Joseph Buckman rented from Rev Nicolas Toke, nephew of Nicolas Roundel Toke,22 was on the Burnt Oak side of the road but the road was probably not of any great importance to farmers in those days. The Tithe map numbers of the fields farmed by Joseph Buckman and owned by the Rev Henry Boucher Wrey were 835, 836, 837, 838, 839, 840, 841, 842, 843, 844 and 846.(see Fig. 1) The field rented by Joseph Buckman from Rev Nicolas Toke was 845 along with part of 846. 845 was over the road by Burnt Oak and 846 was the road slip. Of the fields rented by Joseph Buckman 836, 837, 838 and 842 were taken over by Brissenden Farm before 1904 when Mr Mold died. 23 Mr Mold,as will be apparent later, became the owner of Gable Hook in 1859. Burnt Oak Farm had fields numbered 338 – 357. Of these, numbers 349-355 are now part of the Gable Hook property and were in 1904.

Another interesting point noticed from the tithe apportionments and the map, is that Rev Boucher Wrey also owned Brissenden Green Farm of 140 acres which is the adjoining holding to present day Gable Hook, and on the same side of the road. This was tenanted by William Norley who also owned and farmed a further 16 acres, further along the road, towards the village of Bethersden.

Thus, it is evident, that the fields and holdings are in much the same position as at present but that Joseph Buckman did not farm many of the fields now farmed on that holding. The answer to this is given in Rev Pearman’s ‘Notes on Bethersden,’ published in Archaeologia Cantiana. He says that Nicolas Roundel Toke had bought all the Brissenden Green land, which included Gabriels Hook Farm, in 1830. At his death, in 1837, it came to his only daughter and her husband, the Rev Boucher Wrey. In 1859 Mr and Mrs Wrey sold their Bethersden properties to Mr Mold of Alderwasley in Derbyshire along with other people in Bethersden probably including Edward Curteis. Mr Mold had moved into Brissenden Farm, greatly enlarging the house and improving the property. He was reputedly a very good farmer as a report in the New York Times of 1878 shows. An agricultural representative from America had visited Bethersden especially to see Mr Mold’s farm and he was very impressed by his farming methods and the superiority of his crops especially his wheat.24 Mr Mold died in 1904 and at the sale after his death the Gable Hook holding was the same acreage it is now and the same fields.25 Therefore it is apparent that the land owned by Mr Mold was redistributed during his ownership. As Hoskins says:- ‘single large landlords generally in the eighteenth century or the nineteenth, sorted out historic anomalies between boundaries and created a more workable pattern of farms.’26 The tenant of Gable Hook, Edward Barton in 1859,27 took over all the fields around the house on one side of the road and handed some over to Brissenden Farm. Burnt Oak had the fields on the other side of the road. The outline shape of the land is still the same but ownership or tenanting of different parcels of land has changed. The only field that was treated differently was 845, on the other side of the road, which Gable Hook no longer held but which never appears to have become part of Burnt Oak.

There is also lasting proof, in the landscape, of what occurred. Mr Mold redeveloped his whole estate leaving very few old trees. Rackham tells us that the price of oak was very high between 1810 and 186028 and as ‘ the terms of farm leases usually reserved the timber for the landlord,’29 he would have made the best of his assets. It is evident he did a lot of tree planting and most of the trees in the hedgerows and copses are of a similar age. They are around one hundred and fifty years old. Careful study of the outlines of the tithe map in relation to the fields at present reveals ancient hedge boundaries. The boundary between George Capeling and Joseph Buckman in what was then field 350 can still be seen in the raised ground level of that field. Looking at the present day farm plan (see Fig. 2), the fields which were farmed by Joseph Buckman are now numbers 4025 (843), 4726 (844), 3189 (840), 5086 (841), 3908(839). The fields farmed by George Capeling are 6216 (348), 6297 and 4904 (349), 5086 (350), 5086(351), 6880 (352), 7894(355), 7207(354). Not all fields are exactly the same shape or size but that is hardly to be expected after 170 years.

Figure 1: Section from Bethersden tithe map showing the Gable Hook Farm area in 1840. Kent Tithe Map Project, Kent County Council

Figure 1: Section from Bethersden tithe map showing the Gable Hook Farm area in 1840. Kent Tithe Map Project, Kent County Council

Figure 2: RLR map from 2010 showing the current area of Gable Hook Farm. Rural Land Register.

Figure 2: RLR map from 2010 showing the current area of Gable Hook Farm. Rural Land Register.

The object of the Tithe Commission was to sort out the unfairness of the tithe contributions and reduce everything to money payment. Thus, the Tithe Apportionment book gives all the payments that had to be paid at that time. Joseph Buckman paid 14/2d to the Rector and £2-13-6d to the Impropriator for his 35 acres at Gabriels Hook. He also paid 3/8 1/2d to the Rector and 8/6d to the Impropriator for the extra fields he rented from Rev Nicolas Toke. George Capeling paid £1-12-9d to the Rector and £6-5-0d to the Impropriator for Burnt Oak. These must have been quite large sums to find if there was a bad harvest.

This essay has shown the great importance of the Tithe Commission and the work it did. It not only dealt with the unrest and dissatisfaction in the countryside but also left a lasting record of the land use in the 1840s. The essay has shown the type of land use in the parish of Bethersden and the fact that much of the land was tenanted and farmed in what today would be considered fairly smallholdings. It has noted the extent of Joseph Buckman’s holding and the fields now farmed by Gable Hook which were then under the stewardship of George Capeling. There was also the monetary effect of the Tithe Commission in the charges, which the farmers and landholders now had to pay. It has noted the change of ownership, firstly with the death of Nicolas Roundel Toke and the coming of Rev Henry Boucher Wrey, who also owned the adjoining property of Brissenden Farm. Then the time of the big change with the coming of Mr Mold and his modern farming methods and his mark left on the landscape in the hedge boundaries and the trees. This small part of a small Kentish village nevertheless shows the great value of the work of the Tithe Commission. As Roger Kain puts it:’ they are uniquely accurate, comprehensive records on the eve of sweeping change.’30


Primary Sources

Bethersden Tithe Map– held at Bethersden Parish Church

Bethersden Tithe Apportionments Book – held at Bethersden Parish Church

Census Returns 1851,1861

Deeds of Gable Hook Farm form 1904 – held at the farm

Kent Tithe Map Project C.D. Bethersden (Kent County Council, 2008)

Memorial Tablets in Great Chart Church

Rural Land Register Map 2010.

Secondary Sources

Brandon, P., The Kent and Sussex Weald, (Phillimore, 2003)

Hobsbawn, E., & Rude, G., Captain Swing,(Lawrence & Wishart, 1969)

Kain, R., & Prince, H., Tithe Surveys for Historians (Phillimore, 2000)

Matthews, M., Captain Swing, (The Hastings Press,2006)

Pearman, A.J. Notes on Bethersden, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 27 (1905)

Rackham, O., The History of the Countryside, (Phoenix Press, 2000)

Rackham, O., Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, (Phoenix Press, 2004)

Roberts, G., Woodlands of Kent, (Ashford, 1999)

WEBSITES accessed 13/01/2011 accessed 12/01/2011

Marion Pont
Gable Hook Farm
TN26, 3BQ

H1740 Economic and Social Change in Kent from the 16th to the 20th centuries

Tutor: Dr Phil Betts

1 R. Kain & H. Prince, Tithe Surveys for Historians, p.ix

2 Ibid.,p.1

3 Ibid., p.xi

4 Ibid., p.12

5 E. Hobsbawn, & G. Rude., Captain Swing, p.190

6 Kain & Prince., op.cit., pp 14-15

7 Ibid., p.16

8 Ibid., p.ix

9 Bethersden Tithe Map., held in Bethersden Parish Church

10 R, Kain., The Tithe Commutation Surveys in Kent, Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. 89 p.113

11 Kain, & Prince., op. cit., p.50

12 R.Kain., The Tithe Commutation Surveys in Kent Archaeologia CantianaVol 89 p.110

13 Bethersden Tithe Apportionments Book., held in Bethersden Parish Church

14 P. Brandon.,Kent and Sussex Weald, p.14

15 R.Kain., The Tithe Commutation Surveys in Kent, Archaeologia Cantiana., Vol 89 p.109

16 accessed

17 Kain, & Prince., op. cit., p.4

18 Information supplied by Dr. Phil Betts

19 accessed 13/1/2011

20 A. Pearman, Notes on Bethersden, Archaeologia Cantiana, vol 27 p.202

21 Information from memorial tablet in Great Chart Church

22 S. Houfe., Godinton.,pp. 18-19

23 Pearman, op. cit., p.202

24 Agricultural Methods Abroad, New York Times, August 11th 1878

25 Information from Gable Hook Farm unregistered deeds held at the farm

26 W.G. Hoskins, History from the Farm., p.22

27 Census 1851 & 1861

28 O. Rackham., The History of the Countryside.,p.222

29 O. Rackham., Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape., p.190

30 Kain & Prince., op.cit., p.85

Image: flickr photo shared by Tim Sheerman-Chase under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license (resized from original image)