The Manor of Westcliffe
or the Manor of Cliffe
There is evidence of human activity in and around Cliffe since the Mesolithic period and settlement since the Bronze Age. It wasn’t until the early Saxon period that a settled structure came into being where an extended family would live and work together and these ‘homesteads’ grew into small hamlets. The typical homestead/hamlet would contain a main house or hall, living quarters, farm buildings for livestock and produce and the inhabitants would control areas of pasture, farmland, woodland and waterways.
The Manor of Westcliffe (often referred to just as the Manor of Cliffe: not to be confused with the Parish of Cliffe) was no exception and it would appear that the small hamlets of Cliffe and Westcliffe amalgamated at some point prior to in invasion by the Normans with Westcliffe, and its manor, becoming part of the parish of Cliffe. In today’s topography Westcliffe included the area of West Court and the area of Redham Mead and, according to Textus Roffensis, there was once a chapel at Westcliffe.
The Parish of Cliffe, with all its trappings, was held by the Archbishop of Canterbury via the House of Benedictine Monks of Christchurch, Canterbury since 725. However, Christchurch, Canterbury consisted of secular clerks and not of monks. Apart from the fact that a monastic chapter was a comparatively late institution even in English cathedrals, there is the conclusive evidence that the head of Canterbury was always a dean before the Conquest and never a prior. The introduction of the monks therefore was only brought about in the time of Archbishop Lanfranc after the Norman invasion.
The Parish of Cliffe was overseen by Canterbury and the rectors of parish church of St. Helen’s was only answerable to the Pope, until the establishment of King Henry VIII’s creation of the Anglian Church of England, and the Archbishop of Canterbury: this lasted until 1845.
After the Norman invasion there was a reallocation of church lands by Archbishop Lanfranc whereby the manors of Westcliffe, Mallingden and Berrycourt remained in the procession of Christchurch, Canterbury for the use ‘for their subsistence, clothing, and other necessary uses, to the monks of Christ church’, whilst the Manor of Prior’s Hall, Hersing, East marsh, Bishop's-Marsh, and others, Lanfranc kept as part of the revenues of the see of Canterbury, for the use of himself and his successors.
According to the Domesday Book the entries for Cliffe is in two parts: one in which the original ownership was the Archbishop of Canterbury and continued to be held by Christchurch, Canterbury and the other being once held by the Crown, King Edward, and then owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux.
‘Ernulf de Hesdin holds CLIFFE for the Bishop of Bayeux. It is assessed at half a sulung. There is land in demesne is half a plough, and 2 villeins, and 10 acres of meadow and pasture for 100 sheep. TRE (at the time of King Edward), and afterwards, it was worth 30s. 2 brothers, Ælfric and Ordric, held it of King Edward.
The archbishop himself holds CLIFFE. It is assessed at 3½ sulungs. There is land for 6 ploughs. In demesne are 1½ ploughs; and 20 villeins with 18 bordars have 5½ ploughs. There is a church, and 2 slaves, and 36 acres of meadow and woodland rendering 12d. TRE (at the time of King Edward), the whole manor was worth £6; and afterwards £7; and now £16.’
There is an assumption that monks from Christchurch, Canterbury ruled over Cliffe but, like all the manors belonging to Christchurch Priory, the manors were placed into geographical groupings, for which one monk, known as a warden, was responsible. The day to day running of the manors were left in the hands of a bailiff who was not a monk but someone who was employed especially for the purpose.
In 1531 King Henry VIII granted to Sir George Brooke, Lord Cobham, the manors of Westcliffe and Bury-court, with the lands and appurtenances belonging to them; the marsh grounds, called Great Hersing Marsh, Shepherd's Hope, South Marsh, and Tuckney's, in this parish.
Later, by 1774, the much of the land of Westcliffe came into the hands of Earl Darnley who purchased great swathes of land in the parish of Cliffe.
Some of the major tenants were:
1720: Thomas Berry1741-1762: Thomas Collier (Colyer/ Collyer)1762 to1763: John Smith1763 to 1774: John Proby - 11 year lease 420a - tenanted by John Boghurst 1767 to 17741774-1791: John Curling & John Knight1791 to 1806: Richard Knight Snr and Richard Knight Jnr1806 to 1846: Richard Knight Jnr1846 to 1879: George Wood1879 to 1885 William Wood1888: sold (presumably freehold) to Frederick Wright who held it till 1911 and still remains within the family.
Exactly where the manor house, or administrative site, was during the Saxon period is difficult to say. A very possible candidate for Westcliffe may well be the site of the present West Court Farm and it is here that the chapel that is referred to in the Domesday Book, and repeated in Textus Roffensis, may have been.