Henry Pye was born to William Pye and Frances Knell at Cuxton, by the River Medway, in 1824. He was to become a most influential and innovative landowner and farmer during his lifetime.
By 1850 Henry had come to the Hoo Peninsula and lived at St. May’s Hall, St. Mary Hoo, it was whilst living there he married Elizabeth Guy and that their children, Henry, Emmeline and Maria were born. Henry was to live there until he was eighty-five years old dying in June 1909.
The Hoo Peninsula was seen as an excellent area for sheep rearing and the growing of wheat since early medieval times and, with its accessibility to both London and European markets, was a highly prized area. However, with the ever increasing improvements of transportation: better roads, the introduction of railways etc. it was clear that the farmers on the Hoo Peninsula needed to diversify.
It was Henry Pye who saw that this was the case and he started to introduce a change by the growing of different crops, including, fruit growing, potatoes, fruit orchards and hops, and a number of improvements to agricultural techniques.
Henry Pye could see that it was necessary to ensure that the produce grown should be readily available to the open market so, together with other local farmers, he successfully led the way for discussions with the South Eastern Railway Company to open a railway line across the Hoo Peninsula.
For many years the area around Cliffe and the Hoo Peninsula had been associated with ‘foul air’ - ‘Marsh Fever’ – ‘Ague’ or, as it is better known, Malaria.
There had been various recipes for the ague sufferers which have included the growing of hemp of which the dry leaves would be smoked in the form of cannabis. Opium was also taken to combat the fevers although this remedy was more prevalent in the Fens. More commonly the intake of alcohol was seen as a more customary remedy. One Cliffe vicar complained that, “the poor do not attend church from the use of spirituous liquors which the bad air seems to render necessary as a protection from agues.” (Lambeth Palace Library, MS 134/1-6).
Other remedies have included that proposed by Thomas Mouffet (1553-1604), father of Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme fame, prescribed 'a spider gently bruised and wrapped up in a raisin or spread upon bread and butter to be taken three times a day as a preventative against agues, (which may help to explain why Little Patience Muffet grew up with such a horror of spiders.)
It was clear to Henry Pye that one reason for the Agues to be prevalent was the stagnant waters that dominated the area of the marshes and that housed the Anopheles mosquitos. Henry set about planning methods of improved drainage which, due to their success, were quickly adopted by other landowners in the area and, by 1880, it is said that every farm on the Peninsula had been drained in a similar matter thanks to Henry Pye.
The influence that Henry had on the lives of the people of the peninsula earned him the title of ‘King of the Hundreds’.
© July 2015, D. Green - Cliffe History