Heritage Open Days

New displays, new activities and a special commemoration of Newington's 'Extraordinary Women' will all be part of this year's Heritage Open Days.We will open up St Mary's church for the nationwide event on September 8 and 9 so that everyone can see our lovely murals, go into the tower, find out about Newington's history and enjoy some scrumptious cakes.There'll be advice about tracing your own family history as well as lots of activities for children and adults.A special exhibition for 2018 commemorates the extraordinary women who have lived in Newington and contributed to community life, as well as those who have done extraordinary things elsewhere. How many of them do you know?Do join us. Entry and all activities are free of charge. The church is open from 2pm-5pm on both days.

Fun at the Festival

Our regular appearance at the annual Newington Festival was made even more fun this year by the addition of Navy, a former seafarerwho’s served his time fighting Napoleon!

Navy is the living history alter ego of Leslie Allman (www.voicesfromvictorianlondon.com) and his appearance at the Festival, offering a dead rat for sale and constantly scratching at his flea bites, got a range of reactions from delight to bewilderment. 

Leslie prides himself on his historically accurate clothing and knowledge of the era. As Navy, now a street sweeper, he has gruesome tales of life in the rookeries of Victorian London, the slum areas inhabited by the lowest, often criminal, classes. 

As well as being educational, his persona is hugely entertaining – he and others in his ‘family’ were recently guests at the exclusive Savile Club in Mayfair accusing members at a black-tie function of being father to a foundling. Read the story here 

As always, there was lots of interest in NHG’s research, particularly our WWI project, and sales of the 2nd edition of Newington Remembers, our tribute to the Newington men who fought in the Great War, went well. 

Unique project ensures 'We will remember them'.

There are people who say it’s difficult to get young people interested in history.They’re wrong.A successful Year 6 history afternoon, building on a unique four-year WWI partnership between Newington History Group and Newington CE Primary School, has had outstanding results. 

More about the four year project in a moment. 

Looking at the history afternoon, the class of 25 had four activities: 
to find and label the home of each of the Fallen on a map of Newington;to write a letter on behalf of one of our soldiers to a friend, describing Newington and the lives of villagers during the Great War. They had old photographs from NHG’s archives to help.to identify the former occupations of each soldier and work outemployment, friendship and social connections prevalent in the early 19th centuryto discuss and present what might have encouraged men to volunteer for war.Guided by NHG founder, Thelma Dudley, and members Richard Thompstone and Sue Flipping, each child took part in each activity in turns. We finished with a session on epitaphs and the youngsters had a go at writing an epitaph for their chosen soldier, restricting themselves to the 66 character limit that families faced at the time. They were fascinated by the old photographs, which encouraged discussion about the infrastructure of the village and the way people lived at the time. They learned about 19th century society, discovered the difference between volunteering and conscription and why conscription was introduced.But you’ll see that there’s more happening here than history alone. They used English language skills to write the letters imaginatively,
identified and discussed the British values that led men to volunteer for war, and demonstrated maths skills in ordering dates and presenting information through, for example, Venn diagramsIn the two hour session, there was barely a moment when each child wasn’t enthusiastically discussing, writing or asking considered

The epitaphs that they wrote for the soldiers in the final session were thoughtful and touching. 

The success of a session like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum and the partnership between NHG and the school has been bringing history to life for the children over the four year period of the First World War centenary.

Since 2014, the school has hosted a commemoration service for each of Newington’s Great War Fallen on or near the 100th
anniversary of his death. The information is supplied through NHG research and NHG members have attended each one. The impact has been so memorable that, where the homes are still standing, children are able to point them out and talk with familiarity about their previous residents. We are so grateful to the teaching staff at Newington CE Primary for enabling us to share our love of history; particularly headteacher, Mr Krafft, Year 6 teacher, Miss Calder and Miss Holton, who often leads the services. 

We’re lucky to have locally a school with such vision; we're not aware of any other school in the country that has so positively ensured that ‘We will remember them’ is a promise rather than a hope.

Remembering Aylmer Davison

June 25, 2018

We were delighted to be joined again by a descendant of the Newington soldier being remembered at the commemoration service at Newington CEP on Monday, June 25.

Rita Major is a great-niece of Aylmer Allsworth Davison, who died on that day 100 years ago during shelling outside the French town of Albert. 

Along with the pupils and staff at the school, Rita and her husband, Malcolm, heard how Aylmer was brought up in Stockbury, a neighbouring village. He then found work at Thrognall Farm in Chesley, a hamlet of Newington. The year after the First World War started, Aylmer married 23 year old Ethel Alice Conley at the church in Stockbury on Saturday August 21 (and if you’re interested, it’s possible to find out what the weather was like that day by visiting the Met Office Digital Library and Archive – an amazing source of historic weather information).Aylmer and Ethel moved into a cottage on Thrognall Farm and a year later had a daughter, Kathlean. 

The baby was only a few months old when Aylmer enlisted. Why he chose that moment, when he had a relatively new bride and a young child at home, we don’t know. We do know that he went to the Bull pub in Newington’s High Street, home to the recruiting office, and enlisted in January 1917. 

Aylmer was originally posted to 11th Lewisham Batt, Royal West Kent Regiment. Within weeks, the unit was disbanded and on March 16, 1917 he was transferred to the Rifle Brigade 1/28th London Regiment.

He served in France and then in Italy. By June 1918 he was back in France and engaged in the heavy fighting around Albert, whichchanged hands several times during the war. 

Albert was well-known for its ‘leaning statue’. The main church had on its spire a gilded statue of the Madonna and Child. Its prominent position and colour made it an excellent target and landmark and in 1916, German troops tried to knock it down, However, they succeeded only in dislodging it. A legend sprung up that the statue would fall only at the end of the war. Imagine how soldiers like Aylmer must have looked and wished that it would just tumble to the ground. 

For Aylmer, it didn’t fall soon enough; he was killed by an exploding shell just outside the town on June 25. He was 27 and is remembered on the Memorial Cross in St Mary's churchyard.

After the service, Rita and Malcolm joined members of Newington History Group to lay a cross at the Memorial and to hold a minute’s silence. Aylmer’s cross will later be moved into the Lady Chapel of the church, where the crosses of those Newington soldiers who died before him are already on display.They can be seen by appointment or at Newington Uncovered, our Heritage Open Day event on Saturday September 8 or Sunday September 9 when the church is open to visitors from 2pm-5pm.

Tales of the (Medway) Riverbank

June 15th, 2018

When, it seems, every sentence with the word 'Medway' also includes the word 'regeneration' it can be easy to forget that, until recently, the river was a place of thriving industries which showcased Britain's expertise in engineering, shipping and aviation.David Burton doesn't forget, His family has been intimately associated with the river for five generations and his extensive research into his family and their work made for a fascinating talk to our group at the June meeting. The talk took us on a journey chronologically and geographically, using photographs, documents and a mystery item. For millennia, the main purpose of the river was as a transport route. So David's talk really begins with the development of Chatham dockyard following the infamous Battle of the Medway in 1667 when poor defences allowed the Dutch to make their way upriver, destroying the English fleet as they went. The dockyard was subsequently developed, first as a refitting yard and later as one of the most important boat building yards in the country. It dominated the river front.. Other industries grew up around it. There were large structures at Gun Wharf where the Navy stored supplies for the fleet at anchor off Chatham. Further upriver, from the 18th century there was a tide mill at Strood. Shorts factory on the Rochester bank turned out items as varied as seaplanes, bus bodies, barges and even prams. On the other bank, at Strood, Aveling and Porter, later Wingets, produced steam rollers, traction engines, trams and lorries. Past the dockyard, at Gillingham, was the torpedo factory run by Louis Brennan, the da Vinci of his time. Like the famous artist, Brennan's inventions were often way ahead of the technology that was available to him.Nearby were Gillingham gas works, producing town gas from coal tar, a cement factory and, across the river, Kingsnorth airship station. Further downriver was the copperas works and, from Rainham to Lower Halstow, extensive brickfields. In between were numerous boatyards and wharves serving both cargo and fishing fleets. David didn't hold back when evoking how it would have been to live with such industries. The gas works, the cement works and the sewage outfall surrounded the Strand and public swimming pool, despite enthusiastic promotion of the Strand by the council as an excellent place to take the air. An animal feed factory emitted pungent odours at Strood. A flour mill and a brewery added to the mix. When you take a walk along the Saxon Shore Way now, it can be difficult to imagine just what a smelly, dirty, noisy and busy place the river was. David's talk brought it all back to life, just for an hour. David Burton has a number of talks about the Medway area in addition to his Tales of the Riverbank. He can be contacted at djburton@live.co.uk if you would like to find out more.

Commemorating the Fallen

How moving to have two descendants of Percy Millard at the school service on May 25th to remember him and Frederick Jordan on the 100th anniversary of their deaths.David and Clive are Percy's great-nephews and still live in Upchurch. They heard how Percy grew up in a family of nine children on the watercress farm in Boxted Lane, sang in St Mary's choir and became a gardener. He must have been adventurous for the times, emigrating to Canada in 1913. But he came back in 1916 to fight for his country. India first, then Mesopotamia and finally, in 1918, in France. He died five weeks later. Three of his brothers also fought and all survived. Frederick Jordan was a railway clerk, possibly working at both Newington and Sittingbourne stations. Like Percy, he had brothers who also served, Walter and Herbert. Frederick and Herbert fought in the same unit; only Herbert survived.Felicity, the teacher who leads the services, does such a great job of taking these facts and making the people real for the pupils; one of the most moving things about these services is seeing how 180 children under the age of 11 sit hushed and entranced by the stories. After the service, David and Clive joined members from NHG committee at the Memorial cross for a minute's silence in honour of Percy and Frederick. They laid Percy's cross at his memorial stone, which has recently been restored through NHG special projects funding. The school/history group services are unique as a joint project to commemorate the Fallen of the Great War. It is very rewarding to hear children talk about the men with a sense of familiarity, recognising where they lived and worked. Another step to ensure the sacrifice of the men who didn't return is always remembered and, we hope, it has sparked an interest in history for many of the pupils. 


At our AGM on May 10, all committee members excepting Treasurer, Sue Jones, stood for re-election and were unanimously elected by the members. Tony Mould will take over as Treasurer. There is a vacancy on the committee and applications are invited from current members and from anyone else who would like to join NHG and become part of a vibrant and effective local history group. The Chair reported on the previous year's events and thanked all those who have enthusiastically promoted the values of the group.