Nonington and The East Kent Volunteers

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.

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. Various wealthy East Kent gentlemen offered to raise troops and on 26th May, 1794, Sir Edward Knatchbull, Sir John Honywood, William Hammond and Henry Oxenden, of Wingham, were all given captains commissions in the East Kent Yeomanry, whose chosen motto was “Liberty, Loyalty and Property”.
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.

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. 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,  and by the Duke of Gloucester on Barham Downs on 3rd September, 1799, 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.

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 Nonington Vestry minutes record 10 local men going  on militia service to Feversham (Faversham) in 1811, and again in 1813 when the minutes also note a cost of 2/6 (12 ½ pence) per man.

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 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.

The Yeomanry assembled for regular drills and also took part in ceremonial and escort duties. In 1832 they were inspected by the greatest soldier of the time, the Duke of Wellington, and in 1842 formed the escort for the Duke of Cambridge on part of his journey through Kent whilst he was en route to the Continent.

Yeomanry officers were commissioned from the local gentry, and on 20th December 1830, Sir Brook William Bridges, Bt., of Goodnestone, received a captain’s commission and William Osmund Hammond of St. Alban’s Court, Nonington, a lieutenancy. Captain Bridges was still serving in 1850 along with the more recently appointed Lieutenant Narborough D’Aeth of Knowlton Court, who received his commissioned on 12th January, 1846.

The local gentry’s interest in the mounted volunteer Yeomanry seems to have waned at this time, possible because of the cost of maintaining a mount and the uniform and the regiment’s numbers gradually declined over the years.

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In 1853 it was decided to restore it to its original strength of six troops to number 300 men armed with rifles and in 1856 its name was changed from “The East Kent Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry” to “The Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles” (Duke of Connaught’s Own).

The Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles went on to serve in the Second Boer War and the First World War as a mounted regiment, becoming part of the Royal Artillery in the early 1920′s.
For a comprehensive history of the East Kent Yeomanry go to:http://www.kentfallen.com/PDF%20reports/EAST%20KENT%20YEOMANRY.pdf

On 12 May 1859 Jonathan Peel the Secretary of State for War, wrote  to the lieutenants of the counties of England, Scotland and Wales authorising the formation of volunteer rifle corps and of artillery . The volunteer corps were to be raised under the provisions of the Volunteer Act of 1804 previously used during the Napoleonic Wars to form local defence forces.

Many East Kent men wanted to serve their country as volunteers but did not wish to incur the expense associated with joining a mounted regiment. and in 1860 they were able to do so when I (Wingham) Company, 1st Battalion, East Kent Volunteers was formed with an inaugural roll which included Capt. D’Aeth of Knowlton Court; J. B. Plumptre of Goodnestone, gent.; Charles John Plumptre of Nonington, gent.; Henry Maxted of Nonington, builder; George Holtum of Nonington, baker; George Holloway of Nonington, brick-layer; Turner Maxted of Nonington, brick-layer; Henry Stokes of Nonington, carpenter; Charles West of Nonington, game-keeper. Volunteers from other parishes were of a similar status: land-owners and gentry, professional people, shop-keepers, artisans, and farmers. The regiment was renamed the 5th East Kent Rifle Volunteers in 1860.

Commanders and officers of the company included:

Captain Narborough Hugh D’Aeth of Knowlton who retired in 1864.

Captain J. Bridges Plumptre of Goodnestone., Staff Major, later honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

Captain C. J. Plumptre of Nonington, Staff Major, later honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

Captain H. W. Plumptre of Nonington, the son of C. J. Plumptre, who entered service as 2nd lieutenant in 1887, rising to Lieutenant in 1889 and Captain in 1893, finally resigning his commission in 1896.

The Rev. F. F. C. Chalmers of Nonington, became Chaplain in 1874.

The East Kent Volunteers were renamed the 5th East Kent Rifle Volunteers in 1860 as part of a gradual process of streamlining the administration of the volunteer units. The large number of small independent corps had made administration difficult and by 1861 the majority had become battalion-sized units either through consolidation; enlarging existing corps into battalion sized units, which usually took place in urban areas; or, in rural areas, by grouping smaller corps into administrative battalions or brigades.

In 1872 the 5th East Kent Rifle Volunteers took part in a Brigade muster held in Fredville Park in conjunction with the 4th Battalion and the Ramsgate, Margate and Dover companies of the 2nd Cinque Ports Battalion. The owner, Mr. Charles Plumptre served as a Captain and Staff Major, and then later became honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Volunteers. His son, Henry Weston Plumptre entered service as 2nd Lieutenant in 1887, rising to Lieutenant in 1889 and Captain in 1893,  before resigning his commission in 1896.

From the Nonington Parish Magazine of May, 1895
From the Nonington Parish Magazine of May, 1895
Cont-From the Nonington Parish Magazine of May, 1895
Cont-From the Nonington Parish Magazine of May, 1895

The unit was re-organized and renamed again in 1880, this time becoming the 2nd East Kent Rifle Volunteers, but only until the Cardwell Reforms of 1881 when it became the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Buffs (The East Kent Regiment).

The Nonington Parish Vestry minutes of 1899 record that at least five volunteers from Nonington were serving in 3rd Buffs, (East Kent Militia) in what was then known as the South African Campaign but is now known as the Second Boer War.

During the Great War of 1914 to 1918 other Nonington volunteers bravely fought, and sadly died, for King and Country with the battalion.

With Thanks to:- “The East Kent Mounted Rifles” by R.J. Smith, ‘A History of the East Kent Volunteers’ by Charles Igglesden, and other sources.

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