A Brief History of Capel

What is now the ecclesiastical parish of Tudeley cum Capel with Five Oak Green was originally two, Tudeley and Capel, with a church in each, although from 1596 one priest served both. All Saints, Tudeley, was always the parish church, with Capel, as its name suggests, a chapel. Tudeley is without doubt the more ancient community, being mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, when it was known as Tivedele, Saxon for 'Ivy Meadow' although some have translated this to the less appealing  'thieves' valley'.

Phillip Symonson's map of Capel drawn in the 1590's
Phillip Symonson's map of Capel drawn in the 1590's

Edward Hasted wrote in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 5, published in 1798:

"Capel is a very obscure and unfrequented place ... the surface of it very low and flat, except in the middle of it, where there is a small rise, on which the church stands; here the soil is sand and stone, but in the rest of the parish it is a deep, miry clay, the hedge-rows broad, and filled with large and spreading oaks; which makes it exceedingly gloomy."

The two parishes developed in a particularly complicated way: for centuries Tudeley was in three parts, one either side of the parish of Capel, and another, 'Middle Tudeley', in the centre of it. There was also a detached part of Capel known as 'The Hamlet', surrounded entirely by Pembury, roughly where Pippin's Farm is now. To add to the complication, the community of 'The Alders', around what is now called the Dovecote Inn, was in Pembury parish. This patchwork is well illustrated by the Tithe Map of 1843. It was not until 1885 that the two parishes were administratively united to form one widely scattered and sparsely inhabited civil parish, known as Capel. In 1934 parts of the parishes of Southborough, Pembury and Tonbridge Rural were added, and as recently as 1962 "At the Court of Buckingham Palace" the various separate parts of the ecclesiastical parish were formally united. But even now more remains to be done to achieve complete correspondence between the civil parish of Capel and the ecclesiastical parish of Tudeley cum Capel with Five Oak Green.

In 1801 the population of the parish was 731, by 1841 it had increased to 1159, and in 2001 it stood at approximately 2200.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that Five Oak Green, where most of the shops and craftsmen were to be found, became the focus for settlement. Quite why this happened is a matter of conjecture, but perhaps it was prompted by the business generated by railway navvies being lodged there in the 1830s. This was evidently a period of transition in the parish: Five Oak Green does not merit a mention in Bagshaw's "Directory of the County of Kent" of 1847 in his entries for Tudeley and Capel, nor does it appear on Crutchley's map of c1850 (where the hamlet of Crockhurst Street does), but it is shown on the detailed Tithe Map of 1843. By the 1880s one third of the parish's population was centred on it, and since that time almost all new industry and housing has been based in Five Oak Green. While it grew the original settlements of Tudeley and Capel were left relatively isolated, each standing in a green belt of fields with only farm buildings nearby.

Decline of Five Oak Green as a Commercial Centre

But, unlike neighbouring Paddock Wood, Five Oak Green's commercial life declined towards the end of the 19th century, and by the Second World War the parish had ceased to be a self-supporting community. Gone, or very soon to go, were the wheelwrights, thatchers, blacksmiths, butcher, bakers, confectioner, drapers, shoemakers, tailor, builders and carpenters. It is hard now to believe that there were once five grocers in the parish, and we feel fortunate still to have the Post Office Stores on the green, although this, unlike its various predecessors, is more for convenience than for supplying everyday shopping as it would have been when a journey beyond the parish boundary was a rare event for most people. Only older residents will now remember the post offices cum general stores in Tudeley, Whetsted Road and at The Alders.

The Churches

The parish is graced by not just one, but two ancient churches, All Saints, Tudeley, and St.Thomas a Becket, Capel. While both sit comfortably in the landscape the external appearance of neither is very striking, reflecting perhaps the modest communities they serve and the fact they have been much altered over the centuries. Nor can it be claimed that they have had especially eventful histories, the most significant thing to happen to either being the lightning strike to St.Thomas' tower in the "sudden and terrible tempest" of January 1639 which caused much of it, along with the south wall, to be rebuilt.

The glory of both churches is to be found in their interiors - the Chagall windows at All Saints and the 13th century wall paintings at St.Thomas's.

There are, of course, other church buildings in the parish, namely the United Church in Badsell Road, the old Congregational Chapel on Whetsted Road bridge and the former St.Luke's on the green (both now redeveloped as private residences), and the Hoppers' Hospital, which while not a church was run by clergy. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the map of 1908 shows a 'Mission Room' in Alders Road, not far from the Dovecote Inn.

Capel church was originally a chapel for pilgrims journeying from Chichester to St.Thomas a Becket's shrine at Canterbury, and no doubt there were houses of hospitality and victuallers nearby to serve them. The chapel was in the care of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, and their priest will have ministered to pilgrims and cared for the sick. Suppression of the Order, and later the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, brought the procession of pilgrims to an end, and with it a source of income to the parish. The loss of custom, and the absence of parties of merry travellers, must have been keenly felt.


The iron industry certainly existed here in Roman times, and although to a much lesser extent than in such places as Lamberhurst, continued long after they had gone. Kent in the Middle Ages was as much the foundry of England as the garden of England, but when more plentiful raw materials were discovered in the north in the 18th century the production of Kentish iron ceased, leaving Capel as a wholly rural backwater once more. All we have are the industry's pits and ponds to add interest to the landscape. It is possible, too, that the Black Death of 1348-49, which struck Kent especially severely, carried off many of the skilled iron-workers and caused smaller 'bloomeries' to fall into disuse.

Large Landowners and Patronage

With the departure from Capel of the Badsells, the Fanes and then the Despencers, successive great landowners, by the early 1600s the parish's potential patron had gone, leaving it for almost 250 years without a resident squire. Nowhere in Capel or Tudeley was there living anyone more important than a farmer. The d'Avigdor-Goldsmids did not take up residence at Somerhill until 1849, and the house and park was not included within our parish boundary until 1934, by which time the squirearchy as a local force for good was on the wane. While it is true that they became valued benefactors, as the Goldsmid Hall and Chagall windows testify, they did not have the same sustained impact on their community, its landscape and architecture, as did the long-established Nevills at Eridge or the Pratts at Bayham, for example.

The Railway Line

Building of the Tonbridge to Ashford line of the South Eastern Railway, opened in 1842, cut straight across the parish, and the 1843 Tithe Map below suggests that the original 'green' of Five Oak Green, occupying a triangle of land roughly between and to the west of Moat Farm approach road and Whetsted Road, was destroyed in the process. It is difficult now to imagine the enormous upheaval this must have caused, not least because of the influx of scores of navvies who were billeted in Five Oak Green to carry out the work. But in the end, once construction was complete, the parish was not affected very much.

Plans to site a station at Monckton's Arch, now carrying the A228 over the railway line close to Capel Grange, were thwarted when the landowner objected, and besides, the engineer, George Stephenson, wanted it nearer to the start of the Maidstone branch. And so it was built at, and initially named, Maidstone Road, and it was the tiny community of Paddock Wood which slowly but steadily grew as the century progressed, while the population and commercial activity of Five Oak Green changed comparatively little.

Vanishing Farms

Farming has undergone a dramatic change, both in its structure and crops grown. Where once there were dozens of farms and smallholdings supporting, either directly or indirectly, almost the entire population, there are now but a handful of large enterprises. The majority of those houses named 'farm' or 'farmhouse', such as Crockhurst Street Farmhouse and Dislingbury Farmhouse were once independent agricultural holdings, each sustaining an almost invariably large family making its living from the land, as were some now less easily identifiable as farms, Half Moon Cottage, Stream Cottage and St.Norton's Cottages, for example. Yet more, notably Glebe Farm and the original Church Farm, Capel, both on the 1843 Tithe Map, have disappeared altogether. Very few Capel residents work on the land these days.

Within the lifetimes of many current residents the crops grown, and therefore the landscape, have changed markedly. Gone is the patchwork of mixed farming, many of the orchards and virtually all of the hop gardens, and with them the hundreds of hop-pickers who descended every autumn. Instead we increasingly see acres of rape, beans and linseed.


There were two isolation hospitals in the parish, one in the grounds of Dislingbury Farm and the other in Sychem Lane. Each served the wider community for something like 80 years, providing treatment for such contagious diseases as scarlet fever, enteric fever and diphtheria. Between them they could accommodate almost 100 patients. Both brought employment to the parish, and no doubt bought produce and services locally, but both had closed by the mid 1960s.

Something like one in twelve of Capel's inhabited buildings are Listed, so are many other architectural features, making Capel's built environment particularly interesting. These range from the grand Somerhill, through two mediaeval churches, former Kentish hall houses, weather-boarded and tile-hung cottages and converted oast houses to humble agricultural buildings, tombstones and even walls.

It could be argued that Hasted's "unfrequented place" has remained so because fate conspired to deny it large scale development: the iron industry collapsed, pilgrimages ceased, agriculture is no longer a major employer, the S.E. Railway built its station just beyond the parish border, for a long time there was no philanthropic or entrepreneurial resident landowner, the hospitals closed and greater mobility helped shut down local businesses.

In a more positive light and balanced against the speed of change of the modern world, perhaps we should still rejoice in the fact that history has in fact been kind to us, and that we live in a beautiful area, dotted with fascinating and attractive buildings, and, despite the ever-increasing traffic on our roads, in comparative rural tranquillity.