Image credit: Bexley Archives
Archaeologists have come across evidence from the Mesolithic period of the controlled burning of woodland in the area now known as Foots Cray Meadows. This could have been to promote the growth of hazel, used for constructing buildings and fences or making tools.
Flint blades, knives, harpoons and spears have been found, revealing that people were occupying the east bank of the River Cray, in what became the village of North Cray, up to 10,000 years ago.
Four thousand years ago, people began to clear woodland, to farm the land. There are also signs of increased agricultural activity in this region during the Romans’ near 500-year occupation of Britain until 410AD.
There is additional evidence, with traces of Anglo-Saxon occupation dating from the fifth century, that a small farmhouse once stood on what is now the Stable Meadow allotments.
From Domesday to Modern Day
Some 20 years after the arrival of the Normans, there began the creation of the Domesday Book in 1086, basically a survey to assess the wealth and assets throughout the land.
The manors then known as Crai (Cray) and Rochelei (Ruxley) were handed over to Odo, the half-brother of the invading leader William the Conqueror.
The village we now know as North Cray was listed as having seven villagers and six smallholders, who together with their dependents made a total population of 52. These people farmed 60 acres of land plus an acre of meadow and three acres of pasture.
With the settlement situated where the road from London to Maidstone crossed the River Cray, the Domesday Book records the landowner as Godwin Fot, a Saxon chieftain who possessed a farm, four cottages plus a mill and who gave his name to the manor. The village of Foots Cray – which was, and is, also sometimes written as Footscray – grew steadily over the years to what it is today.
Though the manor of Craie was assessed in Domesday Book, North Cray was first identified as ‘Northcræi’ in Textus Roffensis, a manuscript compiled in the early 1120s.
Edward Hasted states, in his History and Topographic Survey of the County of Kent, that during the reign of Richard I, from 1189 to 1199, “North Cray has become part of the possessions of a family, who were seated in the adjoining parish of Rokesle, now called Ruxley, and assumed their surname from it”.
Sir John de Rokesle, whose family owned the area around the North Cray estate is said to have accompanied King Richard on the Third Crusade. This mission, between 1189 and 1192 intended to reconquer the Holy Land following the capture of Jerusalem by the Ayyubid sultan Saladin in 1187.
Some 250 years ago, the slopes down from the east to the River Cray were part of the Vale Mascal Estate, one of several such manors in the Cray Valley, which included North Cray Place and Mount Mascal. Neither of these buildings survive. Down from the west towards the chalk stream was the then Foots Cray Place.