If you live in Stack Lane, Carmelite Way, Green Way, Woodlands Avenue, Gresham Avenue, Dickens Close (mostly) or Larksfield (eastern end) then you are living on the former fields of Middle Farm. Today all that survives of this 90 acre farm is the house itself and the adjoining barn - now the RC Church. However two of the field names were preserved in house names - Little Stirrup, Church Road, and Homefield, Stack Lane (now called 'Brushwood').
The present farm is Hartley's oldest domestic building. Gerald Cramp (Hart, Feb 1982) dates it to cl1550. The earliest documentary reference to a farm building being there is 1576, but earlier evidence of landholding is sparse.
It is likely that Middle Farm was owned by the Cotyer family in the 15th century, possibly, given later history, by John Cotyer of Stocks Farm (fl 1451). The Cotyers were a comfortably off yeoman family with fairly extensive landholdings owned by the two branches of the family, which included Hayes (Woodins) and Bassedene (Mintmakers) farms, as well as Veseys Grove (Bazes Shaw). In 1528 there was probably no farm house, but the land was left in the will of Peter Cotyer of Dartford to his daughter Mary. In his will he says that he bought the land. It was still in the hands of the family in 1541, but then we lose sight of the ownership for a while.
It appears to have been sold soon after to the Gens family of Southfleet. Robert Gens died on 24 November 1575, having made his will four days previously. In it he left his lands in Hartley to his son Nicholas. These included Stocks Farm as well as: "And of and in one field called Northfelde containing an estimated 80 acres of land, furze and heath in the parish of Hartley, formerly being parcel of the manor of Hartley. And of and in one other tenement with 30 acres of land, arable land and 20 acres of furze and heath in the said parish of Hartley, in which tenement William Heywarde lives....", valued at £4 per annum.
James Gens sold Middle Farm to Richard Best for possibly £400 in 1589. So began the Best's connection with the farm which was to last almost three centuries. The family came from Ash but appear to have farmed land in Hartley as early as the early 16th century.
Richard's son, also called Richard (1558-1624) was constable of Axton hundred. He was also juror at a civil trial at Maidstone in 1602 when the losing plaintiff declared "he will not put any of his matters on the perjured drunken jurors of Kent!" On his death the family lands in Hartley, Ash and Fawkham were divided between his four sons in 1624. Middle Farm, including the house itself, was divided between John and Edward Best.
Map showing extent of Middle Farm and how it was divided between branches of the Best family
The Bests seem to have been adept at minimising their liability for the 17th century hearth tax, by reducing the number of hearths from seven in 1662 to just four 11 years later.It appears that the Bests ran into financial difficulties a few years later and they were forced to first mortgage the farm for £200 to Thomas Young of Fairby in 1686 (feet of fine), and then to sell their remaining equity for £90 in 1689. However they remained as tenants. The Youngs did not keep the farm for long, in 1698 it was conveyed to Thomas Copland of Camer in Meopham (later owned by the Smith-Masters family) (feet of fine). The Smith-Masters were public spirited owners and conveyed land for the village school on the green in 1841. The Gravesend Journal of 23 January 1867 reported on a concert at Camer given for the people of Meopham by Mr Smith-Masters. Three years later he had sold Middle Farm to James Smith of Fairby; thereafter it passed through a number of hands until the Woodlands Avenue side was bought by Payne Trapps & Co for their "Fawkham Park Estate" and the Stack Lane side was acquired by Smallowners Ltd.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the rents drifted gradually upward, from £30pa (1749) to £33pa (1765), £42pa (1793) and then £90pa + £20 for each acre cultivated (1814). The Centre for Kentish Studies has a lovely detailed map of Middle Farm in 1810. Then Little Homefield and Great Haddocks were grassland (1&10 on the above map), with most of the rest being arable. In 1826 the rent for the 90 acre farm fell to £70pa. The last Best to live in Hartley was George Best who lived here until 1880, the Dartford Chronicle records the sale of his farm implements on his move from the district on 2 February 1880.
Middle Farm about 1914, lady in chair is believed to be Miss Davies-Cooke
Note how the Tudor nature of the house was hidden by weatherboarding then.
What remained of Middle Farm was purchased by Miss Beatrice Davies-Cooke in 1913. She converted the bam into the Roman Catholic Church and also sold some of the land in Stack Lane. In 1941 just 8 acres of farmland remained, and while a century before the farm was mostly arable, now it was mainly orchard. The farmer, Father McTear, also kept some poultry and had some land where Carmelite Way is now ploughed up to help war food production. The Ministry inspector was impressed, giving him an "A" grade - uncommon for a part-time farmer.
Before the war Middle Farm was lived in by Miss Davies-Cooke herself for a while. Later it was given to the Carmelite Friars, it is now in private ownership.
of Peter Cotyer of Dertforde, 1527 (KAO DRb PWr 8/132b)
the name of God Amen. The 13th day of January in the year of Our
Lord 1527 and the 19th year of King Henry the Eighth (1528). I Peter
Cotyar of Dertford, whole in mind, make my testament this wise.
First I bequeath my soul to the Holy Trinity, my body to be buried
before St Thomas's altar in the parish Church of Dertforde. Item: I
give to the high altar of my parish church - 20d. Also I give to
Elizabeth my wife, my cache with all my moveables. Also I give to
Mary Cotiar my daughter, my part of the "skaye" that is
betwixte Holbek and me. Also I give to Mary my daughter all my lands
that I did purchase in the parish of Hartly, and to her heirs
of her body lawfully begotten. And for lack of issue of the said
Mary, I will that Thomas Cotyar my son shall have the said land to
him and his heirs of his body lawfully begotten. And if it fortune
the said Mary and Thomas to die without issue before Margery Cotyar
my mother. Then I will that she shall have the land for term of her
life, and then to return to the next heir. The residue of all my
goods, my debts and legacies paid, I give to Elizabeth my wife, whom
I make my sole executrix. And I make Thomas Larke, citizen of
London, supervisor of this my last will, and he to have for his
labour - 6s 8d. Witnesses hereof, Sir Robert Johnson, clerk, Thomas
Haslelen, Walter Yffelde with other.
at Dartford, 28th January.
of Manor of Fawkham, 28 April 33 Henry VIII (1541)
did not include Middle Farm, but it included one field that bordered
bounds of all the land pertaining to the one half of the manor of
Facham, made and bounded by the knowledge of Thomas Walter of Facham
aforesaid, the 28th day of April in the 33rd year of King Henry the
in a field called Dunechis abutting upon the land of John Overey
north; to the King's highway leading from Dartford to Hartley east;
to the lands of the heirs of Peter Cotyer south; and to the king's
highway leading from Dartford to Asshe west; and containing by
estimation - 5 acres.
of Fine 1545
CP25/2 23/146 (Hillary 36 Henry VIII, 1545)
William Adye, plaintiff, and Thomas Swan gentleman and Jocasa his
wife, Robert Gense and Dorothy Swan, deforciants, concerning 5
messuages, 5 gardens, 5 orchards, 140 acres of land and 14 acres of
wood with the appurtenances in Southflete and Hartley. Consideration
Post Mortem of Robert Gens, 1576
held at Maidstone, 20th March 18 Elizabeth (1576) before Jasper
Heale, escheator of the lady Queen in the said county.... to inquire
after the death of Robert Gens yeoman deceased, by the oaths
of Thomas Reynolds etc.... who, sworn in and charged say on their
oaths that the said Robert Gens...... long before his death and on
the day of his death was seized in his demesne as of fee of and in (1
messuage and 8 acres in Southfleet where he lived; 3 cottages and 4
acres in Southfleet). And also of and in 1 messuage or tenement
called Stockhill with 20 acres of arable land in the parish of
Hartley in the said county of Kent, now or recently in the occupation
of Henry Ashedowne. And of and in one field called Northfelde
containing an estimated 80 acres of land, furze and heath in the
parish of Hartley, formerly being parcel of the manor of Hartley.
And of and in one other tenement with 30 acres of land, arable land
and 20 acres of furze and heath in the said parish of Hartley, in
which tenement William Heywarde lives.... (also lands at Stockhill in
Oxted, Surrey).... being so seized thereof he died so seized. And
further the said jurors say on their oaths ..... that the said
messuage called Stockhill with the appurtenances in the parish of
Hartley aforesaid is held of, and on the day on which Robert Gens
died was held of Richard Colepeper esq. as of the said manor of
Hartley in socage for fealty and a rent of 8s 4d. And it is worth
30s annually in all revenues besides expenses. And that the said
tenement in Hartley with the appurtenances held by William Heywarde
aforesaid is held of the said Richard Colepeper esq. as of his said
manor of Hartley in socage for fealty and a rent of 20s 10d and is
worth £4 pa. in all revenues besides expenses. Which all and
singular premises seized above were and from the time when memory of
man runneth not to the contrary, always were of the nature and tenure
of gavelkind and partiable between heirs male of the said Robert
Gens, according to the custom of the county of Kent. And further
they say on their oaths that the said field called Northfelde in the
parish of Hartley aforesaid is held in chief from the said lady Queen
for a 100th part of a knight's fee, and is valued at 50s pa. in all
revenues besides expenses..... And they further say that the said
Robert Gens died on 24th November last (1575). And that James Gens,
Nicholas Gens, and Edward Gens are his sons and heirs for all the
said lands etc. expressed and declared to be of the nature of
gavelkind..... And that James Gens is sole son and heir for all the
of Fine 1589
TNA CP25/2 164/2505 (Easter 31 Elizabeth, 1589)
Richard Beste senior, plaintiff, and James Gens, deforciant,
concerning 2 messuages, 2 gardens, 2 orchards, 140 acres of land, 10
acres of meadow, 100 acres of pasture, 40 acres of wood and 20 acres
of furze and heath with the appurtenances in Hartley. Consideration
1 January 1624
dated 1 January 22 James I (1624), made between:
Best of Ash next Farningham, yeoman
Best of Hartley, yeoman
Best of Hartley, yeoman
Best of Hartley, yeoman
Comfort of Ash and John Overy of Hartley
Richard Best died, seized of lands in Hartley, Ash and Fawkham, which
have descended to his sons by gavelkind. This deed is a partition
barn, ½ acre orchard, The Mead (1a 1r); Little Barnfield (2a);
Homefield (6a); Westfield (6a); Bussards (9a); Beanshawe and Old
Orchard (2a); Langley (7a); Lovelacereede; part of Greatreede to
south of rest of Great Reede (3a). To Richard Best, with
remainder to Rebecca his wife.
of house; The Stirrupp (12a); Orchard adjoining (½a); Northlands (9a
1r) as it is marked out to be divided at the south west end of
Panefield (for access to Northlands?); Huttock (8a); woodland called
Huttock Spring (1a); Haydings (4a); Pightell alias The Strake (½a).
To John Best.
of house; Homefield (8a); Dunchins (4a); Dunchins Spring (woodland,
½a); The Reede (8a); Kitchin Croft (3a); Panefield (10a); woodland
called Panefield Spring (2½a); Salletthaught with two little springs
or coppices adjoining (10a); Longcrofts (2 fields - 4a). To Edward
Barnefield (7a); residue of Great Reede (9a); woodland called Great
Reede Spring (½a); and other land in Fawkham. To William Best.
dated 30 June 1625
all faithful men to whom this present writing shall come, John Best
of Hartley in the county of Kent, yeoman, greetings in the eternal
lord. Let it be known that I, the said John Best, for and in
consideration of £120 of legal money of England paid to me by the
hands of Edward Best of Hartley aforesaid in the said county, yeoman;
wherefore I confess I am fully satisfied and paid, and by the
presents the said Edward Best, his hers, executors and administrators
are discharged and exonerated therefrom forever. Have bargained,
sold, given, granted and by this present writing have confirmed to
the said Edward Best, his heirs and assigns: all that parcel of land
commonly called Huttocks, containing by estimation 8 acres more or
less; another parcel of land commonly called Haydings, containing by
estimation 4 acres more or less; all that parcel of wood commonly
called Huttocks Springe, containing by estimation 1 acre more or
less, situate, lying and being in the said parish of Hartley
aforesaid, and now in the tenure or occupation of the said (?) John
or his assigns. To have and to hold all the said parcels of land,
wood, with all and singular their appurtenances to the said Edward
Best, his heirs and assigns, to the sole and proper use and enjoyment
of the same Edward Best, his heirs and assigns forever, from the
chief lord of that fee, for the services owed therefrom and of right
accustomed. And furthermore I the said John Best and my heirs by the
presents shall warrant and defend forever all the said parcels of
land and wood with the appurtenances to the said Edward Best and his
heirs to the use and enjoyment of the said ..... (gap here?) against
me and my heirs. In witness of this fact I have placed my seal to
this present writing. Given on the 30th day of June in the first
year of the reign of our lord Charles, by the Grace of God king of
England, Scotland, France and Ireland, defender of the faith etc.
dated 9 October 1627
dated 9 October 3 Charles I (1627)
Best of Hartley, yeoman
Best of Hartley, yeoman
consideration of £195, John grants to Edward: All that messuage or
tenement being the west part of a messuage as divided between John
Best, Richard Best, Edward Best and William Best, brethren of the
said John Best. And all that little yard or parcel of ground
containing in breadth 1 rod or perch, heretofore parcel of a yard
called the Streetyard next adjoining tot he said west part of the
aforesaid messuage. And all that yard called the Backyard, lying on
the north side of the aforesaid messuage or tenement. And all that
parcel of land called the Stirrup (12 acres), and one orchard thereto
adjoining (½ acre). One other parcel of land called Northlands (9
acres). One parcel of land containing one rood as it is now divided
from the south west end of a parcel called Pomefield to make a way to
lead, drive, carry to and from the said parcel called Northlands.
All that parcel of woodland called the Huttocks Spring (1 acre).
Also that parcel called Pightell, also the Strake (½ acre). Now in
the occupation of Edward Best.
heretofore two other parcels already sold called Huttocks (18 acres)
and Hayding (4 acres) by an indenture dated 5 January 23 James I
(1625) made between John Best, Richard Best, William Best, Edward
Best, brethren, sons and coheirs in gavelkind of Richard Best, yeoman
John Best and Elizabeth his wife.
dated ?1685 CKS U1127 T20 Bundle B
for £200, made between:
Best and Dorothy Best, widow, his sister
on: All that the west part of the messuage, tenement or farmhouse as
it was formerly divided by a wall directly across the middle of the
“flokes chamber” from the south side to the north side, and so
right down into the “boultum room”. Also all that yard called
the backyard. Also all that stable being part of the west end of the
said messuage. Also one rod or perch in breadth of yard called the
Street Yard next adjoining the said west part of the said messuage as
it is found from the said yard by him the said John Best and doth
extend itself in length from the east corner of the west part of the
messuage to a gate post whereon a gate usually hangeth, in a hedge of
Homefield. And all that yard called Back Yard on the north side.
Also Stirrupps (12 acres), orchard adjoining (½ acre), Northlands (9
acres). Also one rood of land to be set out at the south east end of
Pomefield to make a way; Huttocks (18 acres); Huttocks Spring (1
acre); Haydings (4 acres); Pigutle or the Strake (½ acre). All
which said granted premises now are in the tenure or occupation of
Edward Best, brother of him the said John Best.
have and to hold unto the said Thomas Young for 1,000 years at the
yearly rent of 1 peppercorn. If John Best pay Thomas Young £6 on 5
October next and £206 on 5 April 1686 then this present bargain and
sale shall be void.
Indenture dated 25 May 1698
Indenture dated 25 May 10 William III (1698), made between :
(1) John Young, yeoman, and Mary his wife; and Edward Best and Ann his wife
(2) Thomas Copeland of Meopham, mercer
In consideration of £595 paid to John Young, and 5s paid to Edward Best by Thomas Young, the first parties grant: all that messuage wherein the said Edward Best did dwell as the same was divided from the west part thereof between the said Edward and John Best his brother. And one barn, one stable and all other outhouses, buildings belonging to the east end. And also one yard, one garden, one orchard and 6 pieces and parcels of land arable containing 50 acres to the east end of the messuage. And also all that the west part of the said messuage as it was formerly divided by a wall directly cross the middle of a chamber of the said messuage called the “Flokes Chamber” from the south side to the north side and so right down into a certain room under the said chamber called the “Boulting Room”, and also that yard called the backyard and also that stable, being part of the west end and one rod or perch of ground in breadth, parcel of a yard called the Street Yard next adjoining to the west part of the said messuage as it was formed from the said yard by the said John Best; and also all that yard called the back yard, lying on the north side. And also Stirrups (12 acres) and also orchard adjoining (½ acre); Northlands (9 acres); one rood of land out of Pondfield; also Huttocks (18 acres) and a wood ground called Huttocks Spring (1 acre); also Haydings (4 acres); Strake (½ acre) in the occupation of Edward Best. And all the other messuage and land of John Young and Edward Best. One cottage newly built on land of 5 acres now in the possession of Richard Day.
Indenture Tripartate 4 June 10 William III (1698)
(1) Thomas Copeland of Meopham, mercer
(2) John Young of Hartley, yeoman; and Margaret Burrows, widow
(3) Elizabeth Burrow, her daughter
In consideration of the marriage between Thomas Copeland and Elizabeth Burrows and of £300 paid by Margaret Burrows and a further 5s paid by John Young and Margaret Burrows to Thomas Copeland, it was agreed that Thomas Copeland was to be seised of: all that messuage wherein Edward Best of Hartley did dwell as the same was divided from the west part thereof by him the said Edward Best and John Best his brother; and also land of about 50 acres to the east of the messuage and also the west part as divided by a wall across the middle of a chamber called “Foks Chamber” from the south side to the north side of the chamber. Also land called Stirrups, North Lands, Huttocks, Huttocks Spring, Haydings containing about 40 acres. In the occupation of Edward Best and John Best.
dated 2 June 10 William III (1698)
Copeland of Meopham, only son of Christopher Copeland (vicar of
Meopham, and Margaret his wife
has given son £300 to buy all that messuage lately in the occupation
of Edward Best as it was divided from the west thereof between the
said Edward Best and John Best his brother. Mentions £10 rentcharge
issuing out of lands (detailed)
dated 2 June 10 William III (1698)
Copeland, mercer, only son of Christopher Copeland, clerk, vicar of
Copeland and Margaret his wife.
of yearly rentcharge of £10 issuing out of messuage and lands
(detailed) by Christopher.