An introduction to the village and it's history
The first recorded evidence of the delightfully simple and descriptive name of Upchurch occurs in the Domesday Book, in 1086 as Cerce and in 1100 as Uppe Cirice. Variations of the spelling occurred until 1610, after which the village has always been known as Upchurch.
The church itself was built in 13th century, using stone from Normandy within and napped flints from local sources for the walls. Its size is impressive for a small village, and its unusual wooden –shingled “candle-snuffer “ tower was visible from all directions for miles, especially from the river Medway. It was described in the 18th century as a “sea mark”.
Long before it was named, there have been settlements in the area, owing much to the close proximity of the river. Artefacts and implements dating back to the Bronze, Iron and Stone ages have been discovered all over the village. However, possibly the greatest impact on the area happened with the arrival of the Romans and their settlements by the river and at Gore, where coins, jewellery and pots have been discovered. The mud of the Medway provided the material for a thriving pottery industry on the Burntwick marshes, now under water because the coastline has changed considerably since the Roman occupation nearly 2000 years ago. However, the tradition of making pottery continued in the village and in nearby Rainham until the 1960s.
The river has always influenced the village. It was the main artery of transport until less than 200 years ago when railways were built, and many people of Upchurch were employed on the boats down at Otterham and Shoregate until the 1930s. It is recorded in Hasted’s History of Kent, published in 1796, that the during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I it was “of much more consequence as well for its craft in shipping, as in the number of its inhabitants, than it is at present, both of which are much diminished… and the latter are in general now in a state of poverty.” Hasted also describes the parish of Upchurch as lying “ in a most unhealthy situation, close to the marshes, and a large extent of some hundreds of acres of salts beyond them, as far as Standgate creek, the river Medway its northern boundary, the noxious vapours arising from which subject the inhabitants to continued intermittents (indisposition) and shorten their lives at a very early period.”
Hasted records that there were “40 inhabited houses, twelve ships and boats and 14 people occupied in carrying from port to port and fishing.”
The Revd. John Woodruff Otterham Creek 1910 Village Marathon 1952
During the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, the mud of the river also provided employment to many in the brick and cement-making industries.
The population in 1801 was 243; by 1841 there were 87 houses and a population of 420. In 1901 the population was 1129. During that year, water was laid on to most parts of the village, improving health and cutting infant mortality rate dramatically, so that by 1908, the population had risen to 1257, of whom 257 were children between the ages of 5 and 14.
In 1834 Rev. John Woodruff became the first resident vicar of Upchurch for centuries, possibly since Sir Francis Drake’s father who was the incumbent from 1560 to 1567. Woodruff had the Rectory built in the Paddock when he married his wife Frances, all his children were born here and three little daughters lie beneath a stone tablet in the church. He took great interest in the people of the village, caring for their moral, spiritual and physical welfare. At his own expense, he regularly dispensed meat, wine and medicine “for the ague” and we know this because he kept detailed records in a neat copperplate hand. He also kept a diary of local and national events between the years 1851 and 1856. His notebooks and diary are held in the Kent Archives, but his diary has been published and is a revealing social account of the period.
John Woodruff and his family paid for many much-needed improvements to the church, and even more importantly, initiated a spirit of community in the village that has flourished ever since.
The people of Upchurch have always worked hard and played hard and been proud to be members of a caring and friendly community. Early photographs reflect their industry and their ability to survive all the troubles that Man and Nature can throw at them. Those of us who live in Upchurch now owe them a great deal and the tribute we can pay to them is to continue to create a happy and pleasant environment for future generations.
Helen Osborne (intro taken from Mike Gunnill's book Upchurch in old picture postcards)