Oxney Wood is now in Aylesham and Womenswold parishes, but for centuries Oxenden, as Oxney was originally known, formed part of old Nonington’s southern boundary with Womenswold parish. Oxenden, Oxney’s original name, probably comes from the Old English, Oxena denn,”oxena” meaning oxen or cattle, and “denn”, meaning a woodland pasture or clearing. The original Oxenden had evolved into the present Oxney by the mid-17th century, possibly via the suffix “ley”, from O.E, leah, pasture or grazing, replacing the earlier “denn”.
The Oxendens, a prominent East Kent family, took their name from the manor which they held from the Archbishops of Canterbury’s Manor of Wingham. Thomas de Oxenden was recorded as holding Oxenden in Archbishop Pecham’s survey his Kent holdings of 1283 and in the visitations of 1290-1300.
Woodland was a very valuable resource in medieval England, and one of the feudal duties owed to the lord of the manor, in this case the Archbishop of Canterbury, was Pethamlode. This was the duty to deliver cart loads of wood to the over-lord at a specified place and could obviously only be carried out in heavily wooded areas. Woodland then consisted largely of ash and oak which was coppiced at regular intervals on a rotating system to provide a regular supply of timber for building, fencing and a multitude of other purposes. Oak was often cut when a foot or so in diameter to be squared off to make the beams used in the frames of buildings with larger trees used for boards. Medieval Kent had few permanent hedges and fields were divided and crops protected by temporary fences made from stakes with lathes woven in between or “sharn wattles”, large cattle wattles (movable woven wooden panels, also called hurdles) some 9’ x 5 ½ feet in size which were removed after the harvest to allow animals to graze the stubble. Lime and elm were also used in large quantities for domestic and other everyday items.
Soloman Oxenden, ” de Oxenden in Nunnington” was the lord of the manor in 1367, he had married Joyce, the daughter of Alexander de Dene, near Wingham, and they had two sons Allan and Richard and on his death Soloman was buried at Nonington church.
In 1320 Richard de Oxenden, Soloman’s son, took Holy Orders as a Benedictine monk at Christ Church in Canterbury and four years later was ordained deacon by Hamo de Hythe, Bishop of Rochester. The incumbent Prior of Christchurch died, aged 92, on April 6th, 1331, and on April 25th the monks elected Brother Richard de Oxenden, then aged about 30, prior of Christchurch. He continued as such until his death on August 4th, 1338, and was buried in the chapel of St. Michael at Canterbury.
In addition to their Nonington properties the Oxenden’s acquired land near Wingham and married into local families holding land at Ratling and Goodnestone.
Edward Oxenden de Dene near Wingham 1501 was appointed Warden of Cruddeswood, a deer park belonging to the Archbishop’s of Canterbury a mile or so to the north-west of Oxenden
In 1510, John Oxenden of Nonington left bequests to Nonington church and requested to be buried in the church-yard there.
Oxenden’s eastern boundary with Soles and Fredville manors was formed by Rubberie Downs, called Rowbergh in 1415, then open downland which stretched from the Roman Road (the North Downs Way) to the present Nightingale Lane, part of which are now occupied by Rubberie and Little Rubberie Wood. Oxenden’s northern border with Fredville appears to have been Nightingale Lane. (See maps on page 2)
Various documents from the 16th and 17th centuries refer to a house and buildings on Ruberries and the 1626 Boy’s marriage document refers to a house, buildings and three acres of pasture land occupied by John Mundaie near Rowberries.
People appear to have lived at the ancient manorial settlement until at least the 1660’s, the church register for nearby Sibertswold (Shepherdswell) parish records the wedding on October 4th, 1667, of Richard ffryer of Sibertswold and Elizabeth Sayers of Oxney, but this is the last known written evidence of habitation.
There are now no visible traces of any of the ancient buildings but the names Oxney Forstal and Oxney Barn Field, (later called Palm Tree Down and then Oxney Bank), on the 1839 Nonington parish tithe map provide some evidence to the probable site of the buildings. The 1839 map was drawn up using existing, and often factually obsolete, land-owners property maps and documents, whereas the later 1859 map was drawn up from a full survey.
A ‘forstal’ was the land at the front of a manor or farm house and the mention of “barn” in the field name indicates a substantial building being there until historically recent times with one or more of the buildings from the 1626 Boys document possibly surviving as a barn into the 19th century.
Oxney Wood became part of the Woolege Farm estate in Womenswold parish and came into the possession of the trustees of Sir Brooke Bridges of Goodnestone in the 1750’s and was later sold to the Plumptres of Fredville, possibly at the same time as the Holt Street estate. Oxney Wood is still part of the Fredville estate owned by the Plumptres.
In addition to Oxenden, Wingham Manor had another 244 acres of woodland a mile or so to the west of Oxenden at Curleswood, then in Nonington parish and a mile and a half or so to the south at Woolege in Womenswold parish where the Woolege Woods stood until well into the 20th century when they were gradually cut down from nearly 300 acres to the small area which remains to-day.