STONE CASTLE

This structure, in the parish of Stone, situated in the Hundred of Acstane displays at the eastern extremity, a square tower; being now the only portion of the residence which bears the appearance of a castellated dwelling. In the reign of Edward the Third, however, a castle existed at this place, founded by the ancient family of the Northwoods, as their armorial bearings, formerly existing in the old stone-work, now fallen to decay, implied. In the twentieth year of the above reign, John de Northwood paid respective aid for this Manor and Castle, where Edward the Black Prince received the order of knighthood. "And, although," says Philipott, "it now lye wrapped up in its own ruins, yet the shell or skeleton of it, within which Sir Richard Wiltshire laid the foundation of that fabric now extant, represents to the eye some symptoms of its former strength and magnificence."

From the Northwoods, Stone Castle passed by sale to the Butivants, corruptly called Bonivant, and from the latter family it devolved to the Cholmleys. We next find the Chapmans held this estate, when Elizabeth, widow of one of that family, having re-married John Preston, Esq., the latter, in her right, held this property. Towards the close of the reign of Henry the Eighth, Thomas Chapman, son of the above-mentioned Elizabeth, left this castle and Estate to Anne, his sole heir, who, having espoused Mr. William Carew, the inheritance devolved to that family. The church or chapel of Stone has long been desecrated; the foundations of which are still apparent on the side of the field north of the high London road, between Judde and Beacon Hills. In the walls, numerous Roman bricks were found intermingled with the flints; the whole structure was, to all appearance, thirty-two feet long, and the chancel twenty-four, being in breath about twelve feet. From the remnant of a portion of the wall, the tower most probably rose between the church and the chancel.

The castle dates back to Norman times (circa 1060), although the only ancient part still standing is the wing of the left of the picture. – (on front cover). It had two main functions; guarding the London to Canterbury Road and protecting that part of the Thames southern bank lying beneath it.

The first historical reference to the castle is in Domesday Book, in which it is mentinned as the place where William the Conqueror signed a treaty with the Men of Kent whom he never conquered in that area. It is recorded that Thomas A. Becket stopped there on his way to Canterbury about 1165, and it must still have been a place of some importance two centuries later as the then owner, Sir John de Northwood, had to pay half a knight’s fee in respect of the castle when Edward III made his son, the Black Prince, a knight. This doubtful privilege of contributing to the royal exchequer was accorded only to the more important estates. The amount paid was forty shillings – big money in those days.

From that time onwards the castle does not seem to have found reference in history, but it was one of the manor houses for the country around which was centered the social and economic life of rural England for centuries and without which the nation would not have prospered as she did.

 

HISTORICAL NOTES

It is only during the periods when military buildings were in the hands of the Crown that we are most likely to ascertain any facts respecting their condition, because official surveys were made at those particular times, and the result of such enquiries carefully stowed away among the national documents, and so preserved to us; but where such structures belonged to private individuals such surveys were rarely taken, hence there exists a paucity of information regarding the private castles, or fortified mansions, of England; so it is with the castellated residence known as Stone Castle, we find no record of its former strength and magnificence, no tale of martial glory, no legend of dark deed; its very origin is lost in the mist of the past – perhaps it may be one of the 115 castles reported to have been built with the consent of King Stephen, and not demolished in compliance with the articles of agreement made between that monarch and "Duke Henry" (afterwards Henry the Second); or the property being formerly a Manor, for which, in the twentieth year of King Edward the Third, John de Northwood, or Norwood, paid a fine, it is possible that one of his predecessors obtained permission to fortify and embattle this his Manor-house, as in 1380 Sir John de Cobham received authority from Richard the Second to fortify his Manor-house at Cowling, upon which still remains an inscription deeply engraved, stating the fact, thus:-

"Knoweth that beth and shall be

That I am made in help of the contre;

I knowing of which thing,

This is chartre and witnessing."

This description of building, sometimes called a "castle," but more properly a "hall," belongs rather to domestic than military architecture although some of them present a very warlike appearance, and were stoutly defended on behalf of Charles the First. As the country became more peaceful, their owners found them inconvenient dwellings; many were pulled down, while others were greatly altered. The square tower is probably the only part of the stronghold that now remains at Stone. The Norwoods are an old family; in Minster Church there is a very ancient tomb to one of its members; they were Lords of Stone until the early part of the reign of Henry the Sixth, when the castle became the property of a family named Bonevant, one of whom, Nicholas Bonevant, died in 1516, and is buried with Agnes, his wife, in Swanscombe Church. It is a curious incident that a few years since a lineal descendant of the former owners, Charles M. Norwood Esq., one of the present members for Hull, became lessee of, and resided in, this castle, the ancient home of his ancestors. The property is now held by the rectors of Crayford, Fawkham, Gravesend, Milton-next-Gravesend, Luddesdown, Ridley, Stone, and Swanscombe; the civars of Cobham, Northfleet, Plumstead, Dartford, Eltham, Frindsbury, Greenwich, Halling, Higham, Horton Kirby, Shorne, and Chatham, in trust, under the will of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Plume, who died Archdeacon of Rochester, in 1704, for the augmentation of small livings within that diocese, and for other good and charitable purposes connected with the Church of England.

 

EXTRACTS FROM

HASTEDS HISTORY OF KENT

AXSTANE HUNDRED – STONE NEAR DARTFORD

Stone-castle is an ancient castellated seat in this parish standing on an eminence, a small distance southward from the high road from London to Dover. The square tower at the east end of it is the only part that bears the appearance of its ever having been a fortress. It had once the reputation of a manor, as appears by the book of aid in the 20th year of King Edward III when Sir John de Northwood answered for the manor of Stone-castle as half a knight’s fee, which Henry de Northwood before held in Stone of the bishop of Rochester.

It afterwards came to a family of the name of Bonevant, or Bontfant, one of whom, Richard Bonfont, mercer of London, was possessed of it in the reign of King Henry VI and died owner of it anno 37 King Henry VI. Nicholas Bonevant, died in 1516, and lies buried, with Agnes his wife, in Swanscombe church. From this name this seat passed into that of Chambley, and thence again, in the latter end of the reign of King Henry VIII to Robert Chapman of London, merchant-adventurer, who died possessed of it in 1574, and was buried in this Church. His second wife, Ellen, by whom he had no issue, survived him, and held this seat for her life; and being afterwards remarried to John Preston, he, in her right, became possessed of it, but on her death it devolved to Anne, daughter and sole heir of Thomas Chapman, of London, eldest son of Robert, by his first wife Winifred, who was married to William Carew, esq. of London, and he, in her right, became possessed of it; whose arms, Three lions passant in pale, points him out to have been descended of the ancient and noble family of the Carews, of Devonshire; as does his epitaph, which says he was the esquire, descended by birth and blood. He died in 1588, and his grandson, Mr. Henry Carew, continued owner of it in 1656. From this name it soon after passed to Atkins, and thence to Dr. Thomas Plume, archdeacon of Rochester, who died in 1704, and was buried in Longfield church-yard. He devised by his will about eighteen thousand pounds, to be laid out in lands, for the maintenance of a professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy, in Cambridge; which money was accordingly laid out, and he bequeathed Stone-castle, with the estate belonging to it, and a farm at Tudeley, in this county, to certain charitable uses, in the feoffees of which it now remains. The present lessee of Stone-castle is John Talbot, Esq. who resides in it.

This charitable devise of Dr. Plume did not take place till some years after his death, owing to a suit in chancery, carried on by the trustees with his executor and heir at law, which was heard in 1710, when this charity, by the decree then given, was put under proper regulations, and the trustees as appointed in the doctor’s will (twenty clergymen of the diocese of Rochester) were made perpetual feoffees. The first feoffment was dated in 1722, by which the trust of this charity was vested in the twenty trustees by name, and the several uses of it declared, but many difficulties still arising, nothing further was done in it till 1734.

The uses of this trust were, for the preaching of twenty-six sermons, in the summer half year, every Wednesday, alternately at Dartford and Gravesend, the expense of which, together with other necessary costs and charges, incidental to the estate, being deducted out of the annual profits of it, the remainder of the rents and profits was directed to be laid out by the trustees towards the augmentation of such poor parsonages and civarages within the diocese of Rochester, as were under sixty pounds per annum, to be paid to such incumbents of them as the trustees should see best to deserve, and have most need of it; but it was provided, that no living should have above ten pounds in one year, and that Town Malling should always be one.

[Note: Written after 1777.]