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History of Bean


Inside the egg-timer

The place we call Bean - the civil parish - was until recent times the southern end of the ancient ecclesiastical parish of Stone. The boundary of Stone parish was an unusual shape, like an old-fashioned glass egg-timer. The top half contained St Mary’s church and Stone manor house overlooking the Thames, Stone Castle up a little valley; and nowadays  Bluewater in its chalk pit! On the Ordnance Survey drawing of 1797 the top half of the egg-timer was mainly farmland. The bottom half contained Bean and the 1797 drawing shows much of it as woodland.

The old Roman road, Watling Street (sometimes called Key Street) went across the narrow “waist” of the egg-timer, which was only 300 metres wide. If you drive east from Dartford along the A296, you pass Darent Valley Hospital and then Darenth Wood to your right. When you can see the bridge of the Bluewater road junction ahead, then you are on this narrow waist.

The four Stone manors

A manor was like a small, very early, local authority; it raised its own taxes, held its own courts and enforced its own rules. The Bishop of Rochester held the whole manor of Stone from Saxon times. The manor of Littlebrook was carved out of Stone manor by AD 9951 and Cotton and Stone Castle manors some time before 1306 2. Bean was never a manor itself and was probably a part of the Bishop’s original manor of Stone.

According to the Domesday survey of 1086, Stone had three times as much woodland as Darenth, its neighbour to the west. By the 18th century the position was reversed, so Darenth may have managed to take some territory from Bean over the centuries. Perhaps this accounts for the odd shape of Stone parish.

The people in the woods

Bean was mostly unsettled woodland pasture in the early days.  Eventually, farming settlements made clearings in the woods, but few records of them survive and most of the names used in the early days are unrecognizable now. Here is what we know:

In the 1240s, Bishop Richard Wendene of Rochester granted to Richard son of Amabel de Waledene, property in Stone once owned by John de Pole 3. This included “four acres of land in Woderede on the west side by the gate of the house of Aquila”. Nothing remains of Aquila or his house, but wodrede meant a clearing in the woods and this clearing must have been close to the lands of Pole manor on the east side of the present Southfleet Road. Many years later Pole (which is mostly in Southfleet) was sold to the de Cobham family.4

Land in Green Street” was sold by the trustees of John Maykyn to John Reve and Thomas Crepehegge in the early 1400s. This may have been the beginnings of the later Green Street Green Farm.5

In 1419 William Wrenue and Thomas Bodem sold to John Sherewode of Southflete, land in Bean at “a place called Kyngaleyneshaugh, adjoining a lane at Moltdene leading to Southland”.6 None of these names survive, but this place may have been near to High Cross, which was then known as “Godlescrouche”.

When John Urban of Southfleet (lawyer, ambassador and tin-mine owner) died in 1421 he owned, amongst many other lands, “two acres of woodland called Bene Grene valued at 2s per annum”.7

In 1486 the will of Thomas Wade, yeoman of Stone, left all his “landes and tenementes, medous, pastures and wodes lying in Bene within the perishe of Stoune” to his son, William Wade.8 Thomas died in 1498.

Around 1490 John Pounder and John Herper purchased land from the trustees of one John Colman at “Stonewod, Stone”, which must be where Stonewood Farm is now. 9

In the 1520s the Wades were taken to court about another property, “Bene Ende” - a farmhouse with 60 acres of arable land, 20 acres of pasture and 6 acres of woodland. It had belonged to Nicholas Ifeld, but after he died his wife Maude was married again, to a later Thomas Wade. Eventually, when both had died, the Wade family would not give the land back to the Ifeld family. The result of the case is not known.10

Despite all this, when Edward Hasted was writing his history of the county of Kent in the late eighteenth century, he still described the area as “The great tract of woodland which reaches almost to Greenstreet-green, adjoining to Darent [village]; along the northern boundary of these woods runs the antient Roman road to Rochester, and not far from it the two small hamlets of Bean and Stonewood.” In Hasted’s time the Roman road had in fact fallen into disuse at Stone Wood. The road to Rochester turned south along Sandy Lane to Betsham. The direct route was only restored when the A2 was built in 1922.

The ‘Armada’ beacon on the hill

The wooded hill above the village at Bean was an ideal site for a warning beacon and this use may have been as important to the community as farming in medieval times. It was probably one of the chain of beacons used every time that Kent was in danger of invasion. Dr Paul Cullen of the Institute for Place-Name Studies even suggests that the name “Bean” may be derived from the beacon.11 The beacon system was certainly much older than the Spanish Armada and in its early days, the danger was from the French.

King Edward II’s commission of 1325, required that the fighting men of Kent (and many other counties) be summoned and “beacons be erected and watchmen and sentinels placed in all proper stations”.12

Edward III’s commission of 1377 ordered “beacons to be set up in the usual places to give notice of the arrival of the enemy”13. Richard II in 1385 and 1388 ordered that “the signs called Bekyns are to be placed in the accustomed spots to warn the people of the coming of the enemy”.14

Henry VI’s commission of 1450 required Kentish men-at-arms and archers to assemble “and to set up bekyns in the usual places for the safety of the country against the king’s enemies”.15

Lastly in 1548, Henry VIII’s Privy Council instructed justices in Kent and other counties to “have beacons watched and able men kept in readiness to defend the coasts”.16

After that, the danger came from Spain for a few years. In 1596 Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council, learning of the Spanish Armada, instructed the Lord Admiral to hold a full muster of his men and ordered “the beacons to be watched and the horsemen of the county to be put in a state of readiness”.17

The 16th century historian William Lambarde explained how the system worked: “Suppose our first beacon, standing on Shooters-hill to be lit: he that will go thither may know by the watchmen from whence they received their light; which must either be from the west neare London, or Hamstede: or else from the east, by warrant of the fiered beacon at Stone neare Dartford” 18. Lambarde’s map shows the next beacon eastwards from ours, at Ruggen Hill (now Windmill Hill) above Gravesend.

Lambarde also knew how the beacons were built: “before the time of King Edward the Third, they were made of great stacks of wood… , but about the eleventh yeere of his raigne [1338], it was ordained, that in our shyre they should be high standards with their pitchpots”18.

There was one last crisis in 1614, in the time of James I, probably to do with the Dutch. A warrant called for “an emergency raising of the militia and for watching beacons.”19 That seems to have been the last use of the old system of fire beacons, though as late as 1763, Southfleet Road was still known as “Beacon Lane”20.

The nine farms of Bean

As the years went by, woodland slowly gave way to farmland in Bean. The Tithe map and schedule of 1843 show five farms in Bean itself 21 :

The largest was Green Street Green Farm, with some 208 acres on the Thanet sands at the far south end of the parish. Thomas Muggeridge was the owner in 1843. Interlocked with his land were 125 acres of Clock House Farm. This was in Darenth parish and was owned by a Miss Waldo, though Thomas Muggeridge was the occupier of both farms. Their big 18th century farm houses still stand on each side of the road to Dartford. Possibly the land was, in earlier times, a single large farm. In recent years, a wide belt of land along Green Street Green Road has been transferred to Darenth civil parish.

Lower Bean Farm had 146 acres and was in a valley at the northern end of Bean. About half of its land extended north beyond Watling Street and past Stone Castle. Within Bean the land was on Thanet sands, but to the north it was poorer chalk land. A map of 1707 shows that the farm was then divided between John Hayes and Mary Peter21. By 1843 John Walter was sole owner and occupier. Frith Wood, to the north of the Beacon Drive housing development, was part of the farm in 1707, but had been sold off by 1843. The farm house lies in a hollow out of sight of the village. It is the oldest remaining building in Bean and dates from at least the 16th century and possibly earlier.

(Upper) Bean Farm had 110 acres straddling Bean Lane, mostly on the Thanet sands, but to the south on the poorer Woolwich and Blackheath Beds. John Walter was the farmer and the landowners were the trustees of the City of London parish of St Lawrence Jewry (as they had also been in 1707). The farm house has gone now, but it was a little way south of the present Bean House, which bears a plaque dated 1909.

Red Barn Farm (99 acres) and Stone Wood Farm (36 acres) were both farmed by Mary Durling, but John Muggeridge owned Red Barn and Robert Burrows owned Stone Wood, (he was probably the same man who owned Longfield Hill Farm). The Stone Wood Farm house has gone now, but it used to be in Sandy Lane, a few yards south of the junction with School Lane. Its lands ran north to Watling Street and were partly on Thanet sands and partly on Woolwich Beds. Red Barn Farm was a collection of poorish lands, some close to Stone Wood Farm and the rest comprising the clay woodland of Beacon Hill and land to its north west. There seems to have been no farm house, but the Red Barn (now gone) was at the top of Shellbank Lane in the angle of the junction with High Street.

Lands of three Southfleet farms extended into the marginal gravel and clay lands on the eastern edge of Bean:

North End Farm had some 54 acres in Bean, from Watling Street southward to the entrance to the modern Country Park. This is likely to have included the Bene Grene owned by the wealthy John Urban in 1421. By 1843, William Armstrong was the owner and occupier of North End, which still survives as a much altered 18th century house in Southfleet.

Mates Farm, once known as Pole Manor, had 22 acres in Bean extending along the east side of Southfleet Road to High Cross. The history of this little manor, which was separate from the manor of Southfleet, goes back at least to the 1240s. In the 1520s it became part of the property of  Sir Henry Wyatt, the father of the poet. Eventually it passed to the Colyer family of Southfleet. In 1843, Edward Colyer of Joyce Hall, Southfleet was owner and farmer. Mates Farm house is about 100 years old.

Westwood Farm had 60 acres running south from Beacon Wood, along the west side of Southfleet Road and nearly as far as Longfield. Some of this may have belonged to the long vanished Kettles Farm in Southfleet. By 1843, William Colyer owned Westwood Farm but his cousin Edward Colyer was the farmer. Westwood Farm house was rebuilt in 1806 after a fire. Kettles Farm may now be the 18th century Ivy Cottage in High Cross Road – or it may not.

By 1843 all the farms still had some woodland, particularly Red Barn and Stone Wood farms. But 132 acres of woodland which were not part of any farm, still survived as a block on the west side of Bean adjoining the woods of Darenth. At the core of this was the 27 acre Old Bean Wood, owned by one Campbell Mumford. Interestingly, the 1707 map shows “The Old Road” winding around its west side. The Bishop of Rochester’s last holding in the whole parish was the 50 acres of Lord’s Wood, while William Colyer and the trustees of Dr Thomas Plume’s charity owned the remainder.

The new shutter telegraph replaces the beacon

The old network of fired beacons could warn of danger but it could not send messages about what the danger was. Use of flag signals was proposed in the seventeenth century and the Royal Navy introduced flag signals for ships in 1780. Following the revolution in France, a design for a land-based telegraph system using shutters was submitted to the Admiralty in 1795 and adopted for use by the Navy 22 & 23. A telegraph line from London to Sheerness and Deal was rapidly set up and finished by June 1796.

Each telegraph station consisted of a hut, or an existing building, bearing a wooden frame on the roof. Two columns of three shutters rather like tea trays, were mounted on pivots in the frame and each could be set vertical or horizontal. The system could display 63 different symbols. Two lookouts with telescopes kept watch on the next stations in the line.

The new telegraph was not sited on the old beacon hill, but slightly higher  at Claywood Lane in the NE corner of Bean. This leads north from Sandy Lane and a reservoir now adjoins the site of the telegraph. Most accounts say that the telegraph was in Swanscombe, but this is clearly incorrect (as it would have been  north of the line of Watling Street). In fact, the Tithe map still marks a small parcel of land beside Claywood Lane “Grove Field or Old Telegraph Station” owned and occupied by HM Board of Admiralty, as late as 1843.

The next station to the west was at Shooter’s Hill above Woolwich and the next to the east was at Gad’s Hill near Strood. The complement of each station was a Lieutenant, a Midshipman and two sailors23.

The semaphore telegraph replaces the shutter

Of course the Napoleonic wars finally ended in 1815. However late that year the Admiralty ordered an experimental semaphore telegraph to be set up from London to Sheerness. Each new station had a single hollow wooden mast about 13 metres tall, with two signalling arms which could be set at various angles and thereby convey 48 different symbols23.

The semaphore system proved easier to operate and it was ready by July 1816. The crews (possibly because it was peacetime) were now only a Lieutenant and a sailor. The line of the telegraphs was adjusted slightly south to avoid Thames fogs; thus the Bean station was moved to the round hilltop due east of what is now the entrance to Beacon Wood Country Park. The station has been said to have been over the parish boundary in Betsham, but the Tithe map shows it as the “New Telegraph” on the Bean side. It was built on the Colyers’ land and must have been rented. To the west it signalled to Rowe Hill at Hextable and to the east to Gads Hill23.

Another change apparently came in 1820 when the Admiralty made the line permanent and recommended that the Bean telegraph station return to its original position. Finally, in 1846 the Government decided to install electric telegraphs along many of the railways, including the Chatham and Sheerness line24. The electric system had reached London by July 184725. This finally removed the need for the semaphore system, which was now closed down.

Bean in Victorian days

To follow

The gunpowder factory

1883 to 1932, further details to follow.

The clay quarry

To follow

Bean in the twentieth century

To follow

Beacon Wood Country Park

To follow

The civil parish of Bean

To follow


  1. Charters of Rochester, A Campbell, 1973 p39
  2. Assessments in Kent etc, Archaeologia Cantiana vol X 1876 p156
  3. Registrum Roffense, J Thorpe,  1769 p 627 citing Regist. Temporal. Eccles. & Episcopat. Roffen. F 34 a.b.
  4. Kent Feet of Fines, in Kent Records Vol 15 pp245 & 248
  5. The National Archives, Chancery Records ref C 1/16/690 1407-1456
  6. TNA Catalogue of Ancient Deeds D.901-D.1000 1419
  7. TNA Inquisitiones Post Mortem ref C 138/49  1421
  8. TNA PCC wills Thomas Wade probate 14th July 1498
  9. TNA Chancery Records ref C 1/105/65 1486-1493
  10. TNA Chancery Records ref C 1/530/8 1518-1529
  11. Dr Paul Cullen, personal communication 2010
  12. TNA Calendar of Patent Rolls 25 Dec, 19 Edw II mem 4
  13. TNA Cal. Patent Rolls 1 Jul, 1 Ric II mem 29d
  14. TNA Cal. Patent Rolls 24 Jan, 8 Ric II mem 31d & 14 Aug, 11 Ric II mem 24d
  15. TNA Calendar of Patent Rolls 14 Apr, 28 Hen VI mem 21d
  16. Surrey History Centre, letter ref LM/COR/1/16
  17. Surrey History Centre, copy letter ref 6729/4/102
  18. A Perambulation of Kent, W Lambarde, Edition of 1826, p64
  19. Centre for Kentish Studies, draft warrant ref U951/C261/8
  20. Centre for Kentish Studies, map of Southfleet Farm ref U1823 P23
  21. Centre for Kentish Studies, Tithe survey: 1843 plan of the parish of Stone Part 2 and accompanying schedule
  22. The Old Telegraph from London to the Coast of Kent, Miss A G Hardy, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol XLIV (1932) pp211-217
  23. The Old Telegraphs, Geoffrey Wilson, 1976 Chapters II and III
  24. The Times 27th November 1846
  25. The Times 20th July 1847