On February 1st.,1793, France declared war on Britain and Holland causing some alarm in southern England because of the closeness of the enemy. This caused the leading inhabitants of East Kent and Canterbury to call a meeting the following month where it was decided to form an association for the defence of East Kent and to raise ”volunteer Troops of Horse composed of gentlemen and yeoman and others willing to mount themselves on horses no less than 14.3 (hands) high and to clothe themselves at their own expense”. The East Kent division was to provide a troop or more with the troops to be named: Canterbury, Wingham, Elham, Ashford, Ospringe and Thanet. Over £.2,000.00 was raised immediately but in their patriotic fervour the association members, who included William Hammond of St. Alban’s Court, Nonington, overlooked the fact that the raising troops and appointing officers was in fact the sole responsibility of Parliament and the Crown. Accordingly Henry Dundas, the Secretary for War, declined the associations offer and subsequently the subscription contributions were returned to the donors.
When France declared war Britain had a standing army of only some 40,000 or so men and Prime Minister William Pitt introduced legislation in March of 1794 to raise local defence “Volunteer Companies” to defend England, especially along the vulnerable Channel coast. In Kent the Lord Lieutenant called a meeting at Maidstone and the East Kent Yeomanry were formed. Yeomanry troop members were all local volunteers with the officers chosen from the local landed gentry. Troops consisted of a captain, who was the commanding officer, a lieutenant, a cornet, and about fifty troopers. The Yeomanry officers received temporary commissions from the Lord Lieutenant on behalf of the King and on 26th May, 1794, Sir Edward Knatchbull, Sir John Honywood, William Hammond of Nonington, and Henry Oxenden of Wingham were all given captains commissions in The East Kent Yeomanry, whose chosen motto was “Liberty, Loyalty and Property”, and were appointed commanding officers of their respective troops. Nonington had raised two Yeomanry troops, the 1st. Nonington under Captain Hammond and the 2nd. Nonington under Captain Taylor. The two troops numbered some 105 men from Nonington and nearby parishes. In July of 1794 Captain Hammond was one of the East Kent Yeomanry officers presented to King George III.
Increasing fears of a French invasion caused plans to be made for the defence of England and in August of 1796 “Invasion No. 113”, the first detailed and systematic defence plan, was drawn up in the office of Sir David Dundas, the quarter-master general. One of the assumptions of the plan was that if the invader chose to land on the coast near Sandwich British forces would initially not find a strong defensive position to oppose the invading forces. The plan put forward Nonington or Hougham as preferable places of opposition with a force on the Isle of Thanet threatening the invaders flank. The next line of defence would then be centred along the River Stour near Canterbury.
Nonington is on an ancient road that began in Sandwich and passed through Eastry, Chillenden, and Nonington before continuing on to cross the Dover to London road at Barham and then passed through Barham into the Elham Valley onto Lyminge and beyond. Control of this road would have allowed the French to by-pass the defences at Dover and strike towards Canterbury and then London. French troops landing on Romney Marsh would also have been able to use this road to head towards Canterbury.
So a French invasion via Sandwich in late 1796 would have meant Major Hammond and the two Nonington troops literally fighting to defend their homes and families if Nonington had been the place where British defending troops engaged the French.
On Sunday, 14th June, 1797, the Yeomanry had their first call to duty, not against an invading French army but to aid the Civil Power. Sir Edward Knatchbull’s troop were sent to the Isle of Sheppey to arrest mutinous sailors deserting their ships.
Volunteers from Nonington troops were part of reviews of regular and militia forces by King George III at Mote Park in Maidstone on 1st August, 1799 where the by now Major Hammond was in overall command of the second corps of the East Kent Yeomanry, which consisted of the 1st and 2nd Nonington, Deal, Wingham, Lydd, Denton, Elham, Rolvenden, Isle of Thanet and Provender troops.
A few weeks later, on 3rd September, three troops of East Kent Yeomanry commanded by Major Hammond [1st Nonington], Captain Taylor [2nd Nonington], and Captain Kensington were part of a muster of regular and yeomanry troops inspected on Barham Downs by H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester after which the regular troops then marched on to Deal and took ship for service in Holland. At the end of 1803 it was decided to form the eight various troops into a single regiment with Sir Edward Knatchbull as Colonel, William Honywood as Lieutenant Colonel, and William Hammond as Major.
Hostilities between Britain and France were bought to a close in March, 1803, with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens. This “Peace of Amiens” lasted until May of 1803 when hostilities resumed
In 1803 Napoleon commenced his planning for an invasion of England and began to gather and train a new army in camps on the north French coast which eventually amounted to some 200,000 men supported by over 2,000 ships of various types and sizes. Other invasion methods were considered, including a fleet of troop-carrying balloons and a tunnel under the English Channel, but invasion plans were eventually shelved in 1805 when Napoleon’s naval forces failed to gain control of the Channel and its approaches after defeats at Cape Finisterre and Trafalgar.
In October of 1803 Lord Romney, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, convened a meeting where it was agreed by all of the East Kent Yeomanry troop captains that the existing troops would combine to form a new mounted cavalry regiment to be known as The East Kent Yeomanry Cavalry with Sir Edward Knatchbull as Colonel supported by Lieutenant Colonel William Honywood and Major William Hammond.
The threat of invasion was for a time taken very seriously by the British government and the south-coast of England was heavily fortified as a precaution. Plans were also made for the evacuation of civilians in the event of a French invasion, a copy of the plans for the evacuation of Nonington’s inhabitants has recently come to light. The list shows mainly women and children, presumably the men were to stay behind and assist the Nonington Yeomanry and other troops to fight the French invaders.
In 1817 Yeomanry and Militia list records the East Kent Regiment as consisting of six troops under the command of Sir Edward Knatchbull who continued in command until his retirement in April, 1820 when Major Thomas Garret was gazetted in his place.
During the 1820’s the regiment’s duties became lighter with fewer assemblies held and in 1827 the Government decided that a reduction in the number of seldom used yeomanry cavalry regiments was necessary, one of these was the East Kent Yeomanry who were disbanded at the end of December, 1827. This disbandment proved to be somewhat premature. The social unrest caused by the increasing mechanisation of agriculture led to widespread rioting in Kent and other counties and in 1830 the Earl of Winchelsea was commissioned to reform the East Kent Yeomanry Cavalry regiment to help return law and order to East Kent and maintain the status quo. In total six troops were raised, with “B” Troop, East Wingham, recruiting on the Isle of Thanet and as far as Dover, and “C” Troop, West Wingham recruiting from the Canterbury area. Officers of the reformed regiments included Captain Sir Brook W. Bridges Bt., of Goodnestone, and Lieutenant William Hammond, the son of Major William Hammond of St. Alban’s Court, Nonington.