Chapter 2:  Historic Routes - Swalecliffe to Canterbury

Route 2: Swalecliffe to Canterbury

Very little has been recorded about this route which is believed started about Long Rock where the ancient Burnan, the Swale Brook presently known as Swalecliffe Brook, flows out to sea. In those far off days of early history, the coastline would have been further out to sea but what could have been there to initiate a 'highway' to Canterbury? There is salt of course, known to have been harvested there although not given as much support in the annals of history as the salt works of Seasalter. There are references to 'goods' being landed about there and transported to Canterbury. But, why there?

There is some thought that Canterbury's River Stour once made its way to this area, which of course would have made it a likely place for an early port with a roadway to that city.

The answer, although truly lost to time, may partly lie in the nature of the land structure, the sea bed of old before sea encroachment and inundation set the modern shoreline. The hard clay and rock of the Long Rock area sea bed would have resisted erosion, some parts remaining at a higher level, perhaps above the tide line and therefore avoid inundation. The erosion against the hard clay/rock base may have presented a suitably deep water berth for the small shallow draft vessels of the day in comparison with the shallow tidal flats to the west. The hard bed would most likely have restricted the estuary of the Burnan, later The Swale Brook now the Swalecliffe Brook, to a fairly narrow but reasonably deep waterway. If the Burnan outflow was towards the west side, then its estuary with the exposed Long Rock providing shelter from onshore winds and tides would have provided a protected 'port'.

Regardless, it is known that a 'roadway' to Canterbury existed in the 10th Century being written of as 'the High road to Canterbury.' We do not know to what extent subsequent sea encroachment effected either the extent of local habitation or the use of that 'high road'.

While the sea encroachment closer to Sheppey has been referred to as 'up to two miles' or '2½ miles', that off Swaleciffe's Long Rock, illustrated in the following sectioned Map 8, was reportedly less, perhaps as little as 3/4 of a mile.

The red line on the following Map 8 represents the perceived Swalecliffe to Canterbury 'Highway'. The first panel illustrates the 'Highway' from the coast southwards to just beyond Shrub Hill. The second panel continues the Highway' to Tyler Hill just south of the Sarre-Penne Brook. As before, some present day features are noted in black text. More major roads or lanes in dark grey including the Salt Way, Canterbury Road on the second panel in purple and minor lanes or tracks in light grey.

Map 8: Perceived Swalecliffe to Canterbury highway

Once again, any evidence of the seaward end of a roadway from the shoreline has been lost to the sea and the passage of time. Said to have been the site of habitation since prehistoric times, the Domesday survey recorded only eight cottagers in Swalecliffe in a scattered settlement. There is some small evidence of Stone Age habitation in Swalecliffe and a 1922 cliff fall exposing a hoard of bronze objects with a 1975 Bronze Age pottery 'beaker' find on the foreshore tend to confirm continuing habitation through the Bronze Age.

References to goods being landed about today's Swaleciffe, Saxon Soanclive in the Domesday Book, indicate there could have been a named settlement on the early foreshore, probably about our 'Roman' shoreline.

There is some thought that the landing place, the mysterious Le Craston, may have been off Long Rock although such a name is indicative of Norman rather than the Roman era or pre Roman times. Goods were recorded as having been landed at Le Craston for Canterbury. Other sites have also been identified as the possible location of Le Craston which it is said devolved to 'Greystone' reputedly perpetuated in the name of a local family and Greystone Road. Like Grimshill Manor, it is amazing that the site of Le Craston is not known as references to its actual use occur as late as the early 1800s.

It is logical to accept that any ancient landing place would have been in or about the mouth of the Burnan, today's Swalecliffe Brook, wherever it was at the time. In the absence of hard evidence to the contrary, we can only consider any track or 'roadway' carrying those goods to Canterbury would have crossed the line of today's shore close by Swalecliffe Brook.

The mouth of the Swalecliffe Brook and the general Long Rock location achieved some notoriety and permanency in the more recent history of the Napoleonic Wars. Many French Prisoners of War were incarcerated in old hulks in the lower reaches of the River Thames. Some simply escaped, some were wealthy enough to bribe guards and buy local help to return to France. We won't concern ourselves here with the mechanics of the bribery. Suffice to say that many of those prisoners of war were smuggled via the inland countryside of Seasalter, Whitstable and Swalecliffe back to France at some profit to Whitstable men.
We briefly revisit the subject when we examine our third 'Highway' (Seasalter to Canterbury) and, finally, 'The Turnpike Road.'

An Area of Some Note

Our 'Swalecliffe to Canterbury 'Highway' does not have the known colourful history of the other routes to Canterbury but it appears to have passed through an area of some note in feudal times. Chestfield Manor, within the Parish of Swalecliffe, was in the possession of King William's half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux during the Domesday Survey. The other end of this 'Highway' passes through Tyler Hill which was also granted to Odo so it is possible the length of this 'Highway' from shore to Canterbury primarily served Odo's estates.

Some idea of the standing of Chestfield Manor can be understood when in the next century, the 13th, the Manor's James de Chestevill paid the feudal aid to Knight the Black Prince. The Manor and the area appears to have gradually slipped into rural obscurity until the 20th century.

Chestfield derives from Caet (forest) through Caetville and was a settlement in the 7th century. Our 'Highway' served a very small Swaleciffe population, as noted Domesday recording a mere 8 cottagers including 4 in Chestfield. Although the population was small, it left us with some of the most ancient premises in the district. Those of Chestfield's 4 cottagers remained as Bodkin Farm, Balsar Street Farm, Highgate Farm and, lastly, the former Chestfield Manor. Perhaps Chestfield Manor is unique in British history for over the years following its manorial decline it served as a Dower House, a row of cottages eventually becoming a Golf Clubhouse in 1924!

An Alternative Route

There is some contention that the 'Highway' ran westwards from Swalecliffe towards Church Street hamlet, before turning south west to join The Salt Way about Bogshole. As there is evidence of earlier settlement around Swalecliffe than Church Street, the establishment of a more direct route to Canterbury, also serving Odo's estates, would be more likely. A route eventually linking those ancient farms and the extensive lands of 'Chestfield Manor'. The name of Highgate Farm, which our 'Highway' passes close by is indicative of being on a 'high road'. A late 1700s map supports our 'red line highway' of the above maps. In addition there is literary evidence of a 'road' from the north terminating at the River Stour where the present St.Stephans Road from Tyler Hill thence Swalecliffe joins the river. That part of the River Stour was a well established port for Canterbury before silting eventually closed the river to freight traffic.

The Final Stage

Back to Chestfield from where the 'Highway' runs through undulating pasture land to Clowes Wood with little of any historical note until about the entry into Clowes Wood. Here we find The Radfall, originally a double row of earthworks flanking a clear belt of what was common or 'free' land. The earthworks are believed to be of Saxon origin, the name Radfall deriving from the earthworks being 1 Rod (about 16½ feet, 5 metres) apart and 'Fall' where people had free access to fallen timber thus keeping the area clear. Typically a 'radfall' marked the boundary between adjacent properties at the same time providing a cleared access, a clear thoroughfare.

Perhaps the singular 'ownership' of Chestfield and Tyler Hill in Norman and mediaeval times is why there are no old farms along the route between Chestfield Farm and Brittancourt Farm in Blean and that farm to the Sarre-Penne Brook where we leave this 'Highway'.


Chapter 2