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FARNBOROUGH, Kent, should not be confused with the better known Farnborough in Hampshire and from places of the same name in Berkshire and Warwickshire. It is a village on the high road to Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Hastings, 14 miles from London, and about 350 feet above sea level. It lies on the northern slope of the North Downs, partly on the chalk and partly on the edge of the Thames basin.
The parish includes the site of Caesar's Camp, which was excavated in the 1970's.
Mammoth bones have been found in the flint pit on Green-Street-Green, and palaeolithic flint implements are plentifully scattered over the fields. A small piece of common is known as Leach's Green from the family of the same name, still resident, whose house adjoining the common was only pulled down when the present Board School was built. The name does not appear in the register before 1775.
In an Anglo-Saxon Charter of AD 862, Ethelbert, King of Wessex gave to his minister, Dryhtwald, ten hides of land, about 1200 acres, in Fearn Biorg,
The ‘The Domesday Monachorum’ is an ancient book in the archives of Canterbury Cathedral. It was compiled on the orders of Archbishop Lanfranc when he came into office in 1070. This book contains a list of churches which paid a ‘Chrisom Fee’ to their diocesan bishop for the ‘consecrated oil’ he supplied for use during Christenings. Christening had to take place in the church of the parish in which one was born - even today you need your parish priest's permission to be baptised elsewhere - and the size of the fee reflected the value of the parish. Parishes with a resident priest were listed as Churches and those without a priest were listed as Chapels to the parish where the priest resided. ‘Faernberga’ paid 6d as ‘Chrisome fee’ as a Chapel to Chelsfield. Research has shown that the list in the Domesday Monachorum is a Saxon list, hurriedly found and copied out to meet the instructions of the Archbishop. (Many churches known to have existed in 1070 are missing). Farnborough Church existed before 1070, perhaps as a wooden structure (like Greenstead Ongar, in Essex), which had either fallen down or was considered of no value when the Domesday Survey was made in 1085.
Bishop Gundulf became Bishop of Rochester in 1077 and he recorded in his Chronicle that he received the Tithes from both Chelsfield and Farnborough. He also recorded that Tithes had been bestowed on the Bishoprick by Arnulf of Chelsfield, who appears in the Domesday Book of 1085 as Arnulf of Hesdin, Lord of the Manors of Chelsfield and Farnborough. In 1085, the income of the Manor of Chelsfield was some twenty times larger than that of the Manor of Farnborough, so Arnulf would have made his headquarters at Chelsfield with his Priest residing there. Neither Chelsfield nor Farnborough are recorded as having a church in Domesday times.
It is recorded in Bishop Courteneye’s register of 1385 that John de Dountone was Rector of Farnborough only, an occurrence which did not happen again until John Montague was ‘put in [as Rector of Farnborough] by parliament’ during the Commonwealth period in 1650.
1538 saw the introduction of the Parish Register and each Parish had to provide One Book into which all the Baptisms, Marriages and Burials that took place in the Parish were to be entered. The top of the first page of the Farnborough Register reads:
‘ Matrimonia Baptismata et Septurae in Farnbro Tempore
Regis Henrici 80 incoat 30 A0 ejus Regni et AO Dm. 1538 '
The second line states that it was the 80th order issued in the 30th year of the reign of King Henry the VIII in the year of Our Lord, 1538.
King Henry’s introduction of Parish Registers caused alarm at first as people thought it was being done to produce a Taxation Register, but it was his son Edward VI who ordered an inventory of the goods in each parish to be made every three years. In 1552, the Churchwardens, John Lambe & John Marshall, ‘of the parishe Church of Farneborowe’ showed to the King's inspectors, one Communion Cup, a Brass Cross, two Copes, two altar frontals, a large Bible and a book of Erasmus. They also showed them three bells in the steeple. The inspectors gave them a clean sheet, certified that they had no ‘Popish’ items in their charge and that they had not illegally disposed of any of the church’s property. The local Rural Dean carries on this type of survey annually to this day.
Farnborough’s original paper Register in which, apart from the required entries, information was recorded of the change of Kings and Rectors and other interesting facts, is still in existence. The first entry of this kind is a change of Rector, recorded in 1576:
‘ Septembris 18, 1576, Gulielmo Gybbins, sepulto, Rector ecclesiae Chelsfield et Farnborough, cur. Successit Georgeius Smith, Artium Mr. Collegii Alsol. Oxon, socius 300 Aetatis do caturiae natus’.
This states, in Latin, that in 1576 William Gibbins, the previous Rector had died and had been succeeded by George Smith, Master of Arts of All Souls, Oxford, aged 30 years. At this time, Farnborough Parish and Chelsfield Parish constituted a Combined Benefice, a long-standing arrangement which continued almost to the end of the 19th century. This meant that the revenues of both parishes were paid to the same priest, who was Rector of both Parishes, each having its own Registers, Churchwardens and Parish Officers. George Smith, named here in the Register, was the first of three generations to be Rector of both parishes, being succeeded by his son, George Smith II, and by his grandson, George Smith III, who died in 1650 during the time of the Commonwealth (1640-1660). On his death, Parliament installed John Montague as Rector of Farnborough and Robert Miller as Rector of Chelsfield. On Charles II’s Accession in 1660, all the Acts of the Commonwealth Parliaments were declared non existent and the two parishes once more became a combined benefice, with its previous patron, and Robert Miller became the Rector of both parishes.
As Farnborough was the poorer of the two parishes, the Rectors spent most of their time in Chelsfield, some having left not even a signature in the Parish Registers, the parish work being left to the Curate they had appointed. Thus it reveals that Robert Jegon, who was Curate for many years in the 18th century, recorded in the Parish Register that he had paid the Duty up to date to Thomas Jones, the official collector. This Duty was a Tax which in 1694, was 2 shillings for every birth registered, 4 shillings for each funeral and 2 shillings and 6 pence for each wedding, plus annual tax of 1 shilling on each bachelor and widow living in the parish. The Tax was simplified in 1794, with a charge of 3 pence for every entry in the Church Register.
Lord Hardwick’s Act of 1753 saw the introduction of an official book of marriage forms. Farnborough partially complied with the act but the existing Marriage Register was ruled up in the same way as the official forms, and continued to be used. The official book was obtained somewhat later than officially required.
The Rector at this time was Charles Meetkirke who had been presented to the bishop by his cousin Adolphus Meetkirke, who had obtained the Avowson (the right to present a new Rector to the parish when the living became vacant) from Thomas Norton, Lord of the Manor of Chelsfield. The Avowson had been held with the Lordship of the Manor of Chelsfield since the time of the Norman Conquest. Charles Meetkirke was invested in 1751 and succeeded by Adolphus who, soon after, disposed of the right of presentation to All Soul’s College, Oxford, who were to provide future incumbents for some time. On his death in 1774, Charles Meetkirke chose to be buried in Farnborough rather than Chelsfield and he lies today in front of the Altar, facing his parishioners. His ledger stone reads:
‘Here lies Inter’d the Body of Charles Meet Keske, LL.B., rector of Chelsfield with Farnborough, and Died Lamented. The 11 day of February, 1774. In the 64th year of his age. Also the body of Ann, his wife, Daughter of William Mant, Gent., who Died the 25th Day of Novr., 1773, Aged 51 years.’
John Edward Tarleton became Rector in 1834, and in 1840 a tithe survey was carried out. The income from the Tithes amounted to about £30 and the area of the Parish was the same as that given to Dryhtwald in 862 by the King of Wessex. This income was by 1849, when Folliot Baugh became Rector, judged sufficient to support an incumbent, so on his retirement the Benefice was divided and each parish has had its own Rector from that date.
George William Hingston became Rector in 1876 and over the next few years many changes were to take place. The Parish Vestry consisting of the Rector, Churchwardens and Overseers, who had had to carry out all civil duties in the parish, such as raising local taxes, looking after the poor and repairing the roads, was replaced by an Act of Parliament in 1894, by an elected, (Civil) Parish Council, whose area of administration was the same as the Ecclesiastical Parish.
In the case of Farnborough, this Civil Parish became combined with other Civil Parishes to form Orpington Urban District Council, later to become part of the London Borough of Bromley.
In 1938, the part of the Parish to the south of Shire Lane was detached to form, along with part of the Parishes of Chelsfield and Knockholt, the new Parish of Green Street Green. This was probably the first change in the boundaries of the Parish since it came into being.
After the Second World War, the Parish began to grow in numbers. New housing developments were established and by the 1950s it was recognized that an additional place of worship was needed to serve the increasing number of parishioners now resident on ‘the other side of the Parish’, cut off by the bypass. On Sunday 22nd June, 1958 ‘The New Hall Church’, situated in Leamington Avenue, was opened and dedicated.
Ten years later the Hall was re-named St. Nicholas’ Church Hall.
Farnborough St Giles the Abbot is an Ancient parish church. Farnborough is in the poor law union of Bromley and, ecclesiastically, was in the diocese of Canterbury [from 1860 to 1905 when it was returned to the diocese of Rochester], in the archdeaconry of Maidstone and in the deanery of Dartford. The church is named for St. Giles with registers commencing 1558.
The church was built in the 17th century, and included in the parish was the Bromley Union Workhouse. The site of the workhouse infirmary later became Farnborough Hospital. This was replaced in the early part of the 21st century by a modern hospital named Princess Royal University Hospital.
Farnborough has entries in the International Genealogical Index for years 1558-1875 baptisms (Batch numbers C131311, C131312) and Marriages 1559-1875 (M131311, M131312) Pallot's index has entries 1790-1812.
Bromley Archive Catalogue has holdings of Farnborough Composite register 1558-1747 P/144/1/1 Farnborough Baptism Register and Marriage Register 1749-1812 P/144/1/2 has deposited parish records for later periods.These are held at Bromley Local Studies LibraryTelephone High Street Bromley, BR1 1EX: 020 8461 7170 Fax: 020 8466 7860
Levi Boswell was known as the "The Gypsy King" and his death in Farnborough in 1924 lead to an extraordinary gathering of thousands of mourners and hearse drawn by six horses.
The Times of 8th May 1924 wrote:-
"The death has occurred at Farnborough, Kent, of Levi Boswell, the head of the Boswell tribe of Romanies, who have relatives in all parts of the world. His widow, Urania Boswell, known as the Gypsy Queen, is a descendent of the original Gypsy Lee. For 300 years the two great Romany tribes, the Boswells and Lees, have intermarried. Levi Boswell was formerly a widely known horse dealer, but for some years he had been living in retirement in a Farnborough cottage. The funeral at Farnborough this afternoon will be attended by Gypsies from all over the country."
The funeral was also reported in The District Times, on 9 May 1924:
"The passing of a Gipsy king – Death of Levi Boswell – Yesterday's funeral pageant
The passing of a great Gypsy King, Levi Boswell (whose spouse is allied to the famous Lee family, and is popularly known as 'the Gypsy Queen') occurred on Thursday of last week, at the age of 77 years. The great Boswell was known to every horse fair and fete in the country. As a horse dealer he was without an equal, and his aid was sought by many in search of a horse if not a kingdom – and they could always rely upon Boswell for a square deal. Then, what of his herds of donkeys – and such donkeys they were. The young people tested their capabilities by the thousands in every quarter of the country at fetes, shows and fairs.
Levi Boswell had acquired the property which he occupied at Willow Walk, Tugmutton Green, Farnborough, and here the family (and donkeys) thrived. Now, alas, there is a widowed Gypsy Queen, and all that remained of the famous Boswell was committed to mother earth at Farnborough churchyard yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. There was an attendance of nearly a thousand people, many of whom came from various parts of the country, and there was a large percentage of the Gypsy tribe amongst them…"
Urania Boswell died on 24 April 1933 aged 82 years at 7 Willow Walk, Farnborough. On the death certificate she was the "widow of Levi Boswell, horse dealer". The cause of death was "carcinoma of stomach and degenerative myocarditis". The informant was "Mary Ann Georgina Costin, daughter, 7 Willow Walk, Farnborough." This was her daughter, Georgina Boswell.
A full report appeared in The Kentish Times, on 28 April 1933:
"Queen of the Gypsies dies – forecast her own passing – "Death bird" sign for Gypsy Lee
Outside the tiny bungalow at Farnborough, where for the last 40 years she had spent nearly six months in every year and where now she lies in her coffin, 'Gypsy Lee's' brother told a Kentish Times representative of his sister's passing. Even while he was talking some of her relatives arrived and entered the door to gaze for the last time upon her, as she lay, framed in white, with a bunch of flowers on her breast, with the peaceful smile of death on her old, wrinkled face. It was a queen, lying in state, for Mrs. Urania Boswell, widow of the late Mr. Levi Boswell, had been, since her husband's death, the accepted leader of the great clan of Lees and Boswells, almost the last great families of the Romany tribe.
It was like a scene from a Borrow novel, to stand within those walls, hung round with faded photographs of the late queen and her family, with the spotless, polished brass work round the fireplace, and to hear her brother, now the last remaining member of her many brothers and sisters, talking to another of her relatives in the quaint Gypsy tongue, unintelligible to all 'outsiders'. Outside was the group of cottages and bungalows that formed the encampment, an old caravan that still seemed to bear the dust of its many miles of travel, a battered old trap in which she once rode often, a few hens scratching in the dust, her favorite cat still as a statue. It was as though one had been transported back through the years.
And her brother, Mr. Job Lee, "Joby Lee", well known to all the sporting fraternity throughout the country', as he described himself,
a gnarled figure of a man, tough as oak, despite his 70 years, with knotted hands that spoke eloquently of many hard fights in his boxing booth, and mahogany face that told as no words could have done of years spent in the open air, told in simple words of days and nights spent in ceaseless watching at his sister's bedside during the last weeks of her life.
Gypsy Lee, who was 81 years of age, was the daughter of the equally famous Gypsy Lee of Brighton, and like her parent she had a nation wide reputation as a palmist and fortune teller. Among her patrons were people from all classes of society, from the poorest to the greatest in the land. Lords and dukes were not ashamed to listen to her advice, and throughout the district she was a familiar figure … She owned property in many places, and spent six months of the year at Ramsgate, where she had a home, Margate, and other resorts. The other six months were spent as a rule in her cottage at Willow Walk, Farnborough.
Her husband, Mr. Levi Boswell, the king of his clan, died in 1924 and the magnificence of his funeral at Farnborough is still remembered. The traditional cortege with black horses and outriders, and the following of hundreds of his 'subjects' will be repeated today (Friday) at Mrs. Boswell's funeral. She leaves three sons, Herbert, Kenza, and Levi Boswell, and a daughter, who are also well known, though the daughter is at present lying ill in hospital. One of the sons is a well known figure at Blackheath with his donkeys.
Like all her family, Mrs. Boswell was an expert horsewoman, and she used to drive and break horses for her husband. She met with many accidents from time to time, and some 40 years ago when the wheel of a trap in which she was driving broke she fell and was dragged for a long distance by the runaway horse. Seven years later when driving a mule she was again thrown, and her face was badly cut, but she walked nearly half a mile to Farnborough hospital, bleeding profusely. Scarcely had she recovered from this accident when a branch of a tree under which she was sheltering fell on her.
Three weeks ago she had a fall just outside her door, and when a milkman arrived to deliver there he found her lying unconscious. He roused the family, and she was got into bed, and she never got up again. For the last fortnight her brother was with her, and during the last few days of her life he sat by her side night and day, never sleeping and hardly moving away to change his clothes.
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