A slice of English history in Aylesford

Kathy Carter


There’s so much history packed into this charming part of Kent in the UK that you may not know where to start. A medieval, five-arched bridge; a neolithic long barrow monument known as mini-Stonehenge; a working medieval friary, and a diminutive high street dotted with notable eateries. You can be here in under an hour from London, immersed in what King Henry VIII called ‘the garden of England.’

Standing on Aylesford’s bridge – a 360 view of English history

In Aylesford village, the epicentre of a district that now spreads out into a larger town, you can stand on the medieval bridge and witness historical interest in all directions. An example of a multi-span bridge, with arches supported on piers, Aylesford bridge is considered to be of national importance, showcasing revered medieval masonry techniques. To the left is the imposing and deceptively spacious church of St Peter and St Pauls. Dating back to Norman times, the church’s origins are close to 1000 years old; it boasts a spectacularly painted Victorian organ, and a dynamic, inclusive vicar by the name of Reverend Ruth Peet, who introduced many Zoom-based services for local residents during the 2020 lockdown.

Cast your eye beneath the church as you scan the vista before you, and you will see several buildings utilising the famous Tudor architecture. (The Tudors, notably King Henry VIII and his six wives, had a special connection to Kent, owning residences and castles in the region, including close to Aylesford.) The Chequers pub (seen roughly below the church in our photo) and the George hotel and pub (now a private residence), date from at least 1840, and are bedecked in the earlier Tudor style. With the river Medway meandering beneath you, this is a real picture-postcard view of English history.

The region’s jewel in the crown: The Friars at Aylesford

Just a short stroll from the high street, the Friars at Aylesford is a medieval priory that serves as the principle base for the religious order of Carmelite friars, who first set up the monastic house in 1242. The stunning, restored monastery is still home to the Carmelites, who having been forced out of their place of worship hundreds of years previously, returned in the mid-20th century to purchase the then-privately-owned property. Visitors come from all across the UK and indeed the globe to visit this awe-inspiring place.

Featuring a fine medieval courtyard, 17th-century thatched barns, tranquil gardens and a thriving hostelry for pilgrims, the Friars is also used for retreats and celebrations, as well as religious services. The Friars are heavily involved within the local community, spreading gospel values where needed, for example as local hospital chaplains. Featuring a homespun restaurant in the oak-beamed Pilgrims’ Hall, a stunning former brewery, as well as a popular café serving delicious homemade cakes and lunches, the Friars is an outstanding example of interweaving religious history and relics with community involvement.

One for the history buffs - great battles fought at Aylesford

The famous Battle of Aylesford took place in 455, when the Germanic Hengist fought the Welsh Vortigern, King of the Britons. Horsa (Hengist's brother) is said to have fallen in this battle. Historical reports do vary, but when the Anglo-Saxon leader Hengist defeated the Britons, the victorious invaders devastated the settlement at Aylesford, driving the surviving Britons into the surrounding forests and hills. Within two years that saw more bloody battles, Hengist and his son Oisc would become the Kings of Kent, and the present ‘English’ nation was established.

It was at Aylesford too that Alfred the Great gained victory for Wessex against the Danes in 893. Alfred was King of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and was one of the outstanding figures of English history. For any history scholars (including school children), the region, with its many interesting castles, cathedrals, monuments and battle sites, is indeed a melting pot of historical facts.

Kent’s Stonehenge - Kit's Coty House

Kit's Coty House is one of the most notable prehistoric relics in England, its name thought to originate from Kit Coit, or tomb in the woods. The 4000 year old megalithic tomb, of which only the massive framework, consisting of upright stones covered by a huge capstone, now remains. Nearby is Little Kit's Coty (also known as the Countless Stones), a now ruined example of a similar burial chamber. Both sites are classed as ancient monuments, protected by English Heritage.

The sarsen stones of Kits Coty - from the word Saracen, meaning devilish or heathen - were believed to have been left in the area during the Ice Age. Access to the area today is allowed but somewhat tricky, as the monument is not sign-posted, and there is no immediate parking, meaning Kits Coty House is something of a well-kept local secret. Incidentally, the famous Aylesford bucket, an iron-age ceremonial drinking vessel found in an ancient grave in 1886, was found nearby and is now at the British Museum.

The Royal British Legion Village and the world-famous poppy appeal

Aylesford has another claim to fame. Remembrance Sunday is a British commemoration of the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian service people in the two World Wars and later conflicts. Coordinated by the military veteran organisation, the British Legion, whose headquarters are in the wider town of Aylesford, the event is held every second Sunday in November. 

It’s widely marked across communities and on TV in the UK. The original British commemoration of the end of World War 1 was held at Buckingham Palace by King George V in 2019, and the Royal British Legion began selling Remembrance Poppies to raise funds for ex-service men two years later. HRH Queen Elizabeth buried a time capsule at the site in 2019, when opening a new care facility for veterans.

Stay at London’s Langham Hotel, and your train ride from St Pancras train station to Aylesford is just under an hour. Visit the Hengist restaurant on the high street for fine dining and a classy cocktail bar.

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