The earliest local artefact is a dinosaur bone now in the custody of the Canterbury Museum. There is evidence that people were living here in the bronze age, but still extant is a Roman altar, which was the centrepiece of a Mithraic Temple, probably on or near the site of the current church. Roman tiles have been identified at the base of a wall of the church tower, where the stone altar can be seen today.
At that time the temple and its military outpost would have been on the coastline, overlooking an extensive marshy delta. The higher ground of the Isle of Oxney formed the edge of the great Wealden forest of Anderida. It is now thought that the cutting down of the forest started in the bronze age, but this continued in Roman times.
Although the Domesday Survey did not record anything at this end of the island, this may be because the Vikings burnt the place down in 994 AD and it could well have been uninhabited at that time for this reason.
The name ‘Stone’ derives from ’stone ruins’: a number of villages in Kent adopted this name from the fortifications that were abandoned in the Roman exodus. The stone altar has also been identified as the source of the name of the village.
The Middle Ages
The arrival of the Normans ushered in a relatively peaceful period when woodland was cleared and farms established. By the end of the 13th century there was a church to serve the local population and, with a new prosperity of sorts, a road was built going down hill from the church and into what we recognise today as the main street. It’s interesting to note that the main road to the church (up until this point) was the one heading north, which has Roman origins, so if we take that statement to its natural conclusion, the village of Stone may well have migrated down hill in medieval times now that the threat of invaders had been quashed.
Another factor may well have been the weather. The 13th century had fifty years of the worst weather imaginable, so violent were these storms that they changed the course of the River Rother around the Isle of Oxney forever.
Homes were built with greater permanence. A surviving example is the 15th century Tilmenden (adjacent to the church and a former vicarage-house), built shortly after the great fire of 1464 that caused great damage to St.Marys Church and also burnt down the rectory, and two other houses nearby.
Until the Reformation the Abbey of St Augustine’s in Canterbury owned the church and most of the surrounding land, but in the years ahead its new owners built houses and they had one thing in common: they were all smuggler’s houses, whether spare rooms hidden from view, whether it was the tiniest of windows to hold a candle to, or a spare cove for booty to be stored between inglenook fire places…there was even mention of a tunnel going from the Church to one of the houses nearby but that could be just pub talk, the locals in the 1970s wouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story! But you can never be too sure.
The Military Canal
With the building of the Military Canal at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the road that accompanied it, and the general restructuring of the roads around here, primarily for the movement of munitions, meant that the fortunes of Stone were about to change and it’s the reason why Stone has remained relatively unchanged and intact from that day to this.
Thank goodness for Napoleon. The British Army moved in and although it was all a false alarm, it certainly didn’t feel like it. Plans had already been sanctioned to apprehend all the carts in the area in a bid to save the livestock prior to flooding the Marsh if the French reached that far. There was no such provision for the Marsh folk. In the longer term, however, they benefited from improved drainage and the elimination of marsh fever.
The main thoroughfare from Appledore to Rye changed its course, leaving Stone stranded in the middle of nowhere with no passing trade. The effects of this didn’t happen overnight, many people resented having to pay a toll charge for what was a shingle track and not a very good one at that, others refused to use it out of principle but the die had already been cast and it was now just a matter of time. The village amenities (like the forge) moved back into the village to drum up possible trade from Appledore and within a short time Stone was in rapid decline.
The Nineteenth Century
The Church had put a lot of money into the area in the 1870s due to the windfall of taxes, but by the 1890s – after the collapse of the hop trade – the situation was dire: the school was kept open only through the commitment of the families who lived here. The poorhouse (which later became the Forge, opposite The Crown) was desperately inadequate, and the rich tenants who housed as many of the poor as they could in the local farmhouses that were in their care – in an effort to avoid the expense of Poor Tax – began to use their influence to urge the hardest hit to start new lives in America and Australia. For all but a chosen few it was a very grim time.
The Twentieth Century
Fortunes changed after the First World War and suddenly everything was different. In the 1920s communications improved. Incomers started to live in the village, via Shank’s pony, bicycles, trains, cars, and by most popular – motorcycle and side car, or pillion: the poor person’s early modern mode of transport. Road tolls were abolished. Electricity arrived, and then television. However large scale development was averted and even today there are under 200 houses in Stone-in-Oxney. Old-established families of the village are still evident, some dating back to the early eighteenth century. It remains a vibrant community and it can be said that the one thing that has kept this village intact through all of its turbulent history is the creativeness of its people.
With thanks to Mark Winwood.