Nonington and The East Kent Volunteers

County militias were raised by the Lord Lieutenant of each county and could be called out for local police actions, to keep the peace, and in the event of a national emergency such as the threat of invasion and were funded by taxation on property owners. This was not popular and the militias had fallen into decline and become ineffective during the early part of the 18th century.

As a response to the threat of a French invasion during the Seven Years’ War of 1756 to 1763 various Militia Acts were passed by Parliament between 1757 and 1762 to enable the restructuring and financing of county militias. After the passing of the various acts the raising and organising of militia forces remained at county level, but their funding was provided by the government.
The East Kent Militia were initially raised at Canterbury in February of 1760. The militia officers were appointed from among the property-owning class, and the men by ballot from the able-bodied men of a parish aged between 18 and 50. Service was for three years, but this was soon extended to five. Any man who did not wish to serve either provide a substitute or pay a £10 fine, which obviously benefitted wealthier parishioners.

These reforms were opposed in Parliament and in the country at large, and riots occurred in various parts of England. These were caused by the fear that the reforms were to enable conscription and compulsory foreign service to be quietly introduced. However, the rioters fears were unfounded because the acts only applied in England and Wales and service was actually restricted to those countries. During the Irish Rebellion of 1798 some militia regiments did volunteer for service in Ireland to assist the regular army in suppressing the rebels.

William Hammond of St. Alban’s Court in Nonington received a lieutenancy in the Kent militias Eastern Division in May of 1773, and served alongside his near neighbour Sir Narborough D’Aeth, then a captain in the militia, but who later rose to the rank of colonel.

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, including the by then captain of militia William Hammond of St. Alban’s Court in 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 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. Captain Hammond had been in the militia for some years having received a lieutenancy in the Eastern Division of the Kent militia forces in May of 1773. 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 Denne Hill and then passed around Barham into the Elham Valley and then on to 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.
Therefore, a French invasion via Sandwich in late 1796 would have meant Major Hammond of St. Alban’s Court and the two Nonington Yeomanry troops literally fighting on their door steps to defend  their homes and families in Nonington from the invading French army. Obviously some had more to defend than others.
Those men from Nonington unable to afford the horses and uniforms required to serve in the mounted volunteers but who wished to join the Volunteer Corps would have served as infantry and artillery volunteers and would also have also been involved in fighting the French invaders.

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 at least a part of the plan from 1804 for the evacuation of Nonington’s inhabitants has recently come to light, and the names listed appear to be almost entirely those of women and children. Presumably the able bodied male inhabitants would have been expected to take up arms against the French invaders alongside those Nonington men already serving with the  Volunteers.

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 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.

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.

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:-

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, a volunteer battalion) in what was then known as the South African Campaign but is now known as the Second Boer War. A sale was held at Nonington School on December 19th, 1901, to raise money for The Soldiers and Sailors Families Association serving in South Africa. The sale was patronized, organized and attended by members of the nobility, gentry and other prominent citizens from within and around Nonington. 

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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