The author, until recently a senior lecturer at the University of Bath, is no stranger to historical research and this shows in this excellent book. As one might expect, it contains pages of further reading references, a good index, and is copiously illustrated with drawings, maps and photographs carefully chosen to illustrate the text.
In the introduction, we discover the author’s long family association with Ditton, stemming from 1879 when his great-grandparents moved from Hunton to the parish. After setting the scene, the book moves through the various periods of history – prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Norman and medieval – followed by chapters on church and monastic influence, reformation to restoration, a late Stuart and Georgian village, war and peace, and finally, the modern world.
In the chapter on the church and monastic influence 1054 to 1530, we learn that in the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), many new monastic houses were built and new orders such as the Cluniacs and Cistercians were established. We see from a location drawing how Ditton was surrounded by monastic houses, with the West Malling Benedictine nunnery (founded 1090), Boxley Cistercian Abbey (1143) and Aylesford Carmelite Friary (1242).
The author comments: ‘After the disgrace of Odo, Bishop Bayeux, the Lord of the Manor of Ditton and Sifleton in 1095, the lordship passed to Richard de Clare, also know as Richard Fitzgilbert or Richard de Tunbridge. He, like almost all landowners after the Norman conquest, was Norman in origin and had been given extensive other states throughout England including the Manor of Clare in Suffolk from which he took his name. Locally the de Clare family were responsible for building of Tonbridge Castle and the founding of Tunbridge Priory for the Augustinian Canons in 1192. They also built the gigantic Caerphilly Castle in Wales sometimes described as one of the truly great strong-holds of mediaeval Europe’.
The book, which I highly recommend, will be of interest not only to present and past residents of Ditton, but also to those interested in the evolution of English villages. The author quotes Sir Arthur Bryant who wrote, in 1949: ‘The history of an English parish is, in microcosm, the history of England’. The later chapters in the book admirably demonstrate how a small agricultural community can so easily change.