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Chapter 2


By 1570 there were at least three separate groups of Stanleys in Kent. The earliest Stanleys known in Kent are the Stanleys of the Canterbury region from around 1450 onwards, including the stonemason Thomas Stanley of Canterbury. His origin is unknown, though he could have migrated as an apprentice from Mayfield in Sussex, where the Archbishop of Canterbury had a stone palace. Secondly, after 1500 there were Stanleys in Tenterden and the Weald of East Kent, who became very numerous after 1550. The present author is descended from these Stanleys of Tenterden, and the material below is a brief summary of an extensive volume of material gathered from 30 years of research in Kent archives and elsewhere. Thirdly, after 1570 the Stanleys of north-west Kent (Dartford, Wilmington, and West Peckham) were a small family of landed gentry descended from the Stanleys of Staffordshire (Earls of Derby), from a very different social stratum, and definitely unrelated to the Stanley farmers who had originated locally. This small family of gentry were late arrivals in Kent, and had died out by 1700.

Picture right: the tower of All Saints' church, Lydd, built from 1442-6 by Thomas Stanley, a stonemason of Canterbury.

The Stanleys of Tenterden and the Weald of Kent, 1500-1640

Around or shortly after 1500, the surname Stanley appears to have moved to the Tenterden area. The Stanleys of Tenterden were yeomen farmers. The likely origin of the Tenterden Stanleys was in the hamlet of Stanley, in Mayfield in Sussex, in the High Weald 20 miles to the west of Tenterden, where there were Stanleys recorded from 1285-1396 and where Alice Standley left money to her son Nicholas Standley in 1585 (see previous chapter on East Sussex). It should also be remembered that John de Stenlie was recorded in taxation records as early as 1327 at Chitcombe near Staple Cross, just 10 miles south-west of Tenterden (see previous chapter on East Sussex). There is also possible evidence of an arranged marriage (see below) to link the Stanleys of Tenterden with the Mayfield area in 1588. Any migration to the Tenterden area may have taken place to take advantage of the booming Kent economy around 1500 in the Tenterden region (see section below on Farms, mills, metals and weaving).

Picture left: the Tudor hall-house known as the Tudor Rose, Tenterden. This type of house was typically lived in by families of yeoman status; the Stanleys of Tenterden would have lived in farmhouses similar to this one.

With higher sea levels than today's, Tenterden was a coastal town whose prosperity was helped by its small port of Smallhythe, where ships were built for the navy of Henry VIII (1509-1547). Henry VIII is known to have visited Tenterden and Smallhythe. The idea that the surname Stanley probably migrated to Tenterden around or soon after 1500 is made likely by the fact that there were at least three male Stanleys who died in the Tenterden area around 1550.

After 1500 the English population recovered rapidly, and the growth of the number of Stanleys in Kent (evident in parish registers) was part of this trend. The keeping of parish registers from 1538 onwards, and a larger number of wills and administrations after 1600, allow a more detailed picture to emerge of the dispersal of Stanleys around Kent.

Picture left: Tenterden Old Grammar School. This 15th century hall-house (photographed here in 1902, and today a shop on the High Street) was Tenterden's grammar school for three centuries, from its foundation in 1510 until 1812. Grammar schools of this type of house were typically attended by the sons of families of yeoman status. The school room was normally on the first floor, where pupils were taught Latin, and sometimes mathematics and Greek. Tenterden grammar school was the only school in this part of Kent, until the founding of others at Biddenden in 1566 and Cranbrook in 1573.

The first generation of Stanleys in the Tenterden area:

Walter Stanley (c.1500-1555) was described in the parish registers as a husbandman (farmer) when he was buried at Tenterden in 1555. His wife may have been Thomasine Stanley, a widow buried at Tenterden in 1570. Also of this 'first generation' in the Tenterden area was John Stanley of Rolvenden (the parish next to Tenterden), c.1500-1566, who was described in the registers as an "aged man" when he died in 1566. Walter and John were probably brothers or close cousins. There may have been a third brother or cousin (name unknown), whose widow Alice Stanley re-married in Cranbrook in 1553 (7 miles west of Tenterden). Her son Thomas Stanley (c.1540-1600) was nominated to inherit the manor of Hartridge by Thomas Wilsford, probably his step-father (Canterbury Archdeaconry Court Probate Registers, vol.29 fol.307). This was probably the same Thomas Stanley, yeoman of Cranbrook, who died around 1600 (without any known children) and left money to Cranbrook grammar school.

The second generation of Stanleys in Tenterden:

Timothy Stanley (c.1535-1614) was a yeoman farmer and miller in Tenterden and Rolvenden, and our earliest 'definite' named ancestor (since whom there is a continuous, documented line of descent). He was possibly the son of Walter and Thomasine Stanley. He lived to a ripe old age (at least 75) and had at least eight children and many later descendants. Unfortunately we do not know the name of his wife (who lived until at least 1580, if not later), but we know that Timothy had servants such as Anthony Hunt and Margery Penfold in Rolvenden in the 1580s. In 1560, Timothy Stanley had his son William Stanley baptised at Tenterden, an event recorded in the parish register with the entry: "On this day was William son of Timothy of the windmill christen[ed]". Timothy's later children were John (1562), Mary (1564), Timothy Stanley II (1567-1639, a miller in nearby Warehorne in later life); followed by later children in Rolvenden: Thomas (1571), Ursula (1574), Peter (1577) and Ann (1580). Timothy and his family would probably have lived in farmhouses of the Wealden hall-house type. The windmill in Tenterden at this time was possibly (according to a later map by Edward Hasted) on high ground near Ingleden, to the north-east of the town (894 345). According to parish registers, Timothy at one point lived in Tenterden's port of Smallhythe in the south of the parish.

Of the same generation as Timothy (either his brothers or, more likely, his cousins) were John Stanley (c.1535-1573) and Peter Stanley (c.1540-1583). Timothy, John and Peter had at least 20 children between them, who were the 'third generation' of Stanleys in the Tenterden area, born around and shortly after 1560.

The third generation of Stanleys in Tenterden:

William Stanley (1560-1624) was the eldest son of the miller Timothy Stanley. William is also recorded as a miller at the water-mill on the River Len in Otham (near Maidstone) in 1583. He married around 1588, but his wife and daughter died (after childbirth) in Rolvenden in 1589. Around 1590 William moved to Folkestone with his brothers Timothy and Peter, and in 1601 the widower William married Joan Younge (1568-1628), herself a widow. William is recorded as a millwright (builder and repairer of mills) in Folkestone at the time of his marriage in 1601. Their first daughter Martha was born at Folkestone in 1602. Around 1603 William and Joan Stanley moved back to Tenterden (William's birthplace) where their son William Stanley (1604-1673) was born, followed by Mary (1607). Around 1610 William and Joan moved to Bethersden (west of Ashford), where their later children included Margaret (1611), Elizabeth (1613) and Stephen (c.1615). William died in 1624, followed by Joan in 1628. William's property presumably passed to his eldest son William (1604-1673, see next chapter). The poverty of women can be seen in Joan's will (written in 1628) where she gives “to Martha Whitaker my daughter one little kettle and to Elizabeth Standley my daughter one brase [brass] pot with a baile [hooped handle]”.

Robert Stanley (perhaps born around 1558, and who died in Tenterden in 1605) may perhaps have been an elder son of John Stanley II (c.1535-1573). This John first appears having children in the High Halden registers (next to Tenterden) in 1562, and in the Tenterden registers in 1566 with the birth of his son Richard. John Stanley II died in Rolvenden in 1573. His son Richard signed Robert's probate inventory in 1605, and was perhaps Robert's younger brother or else a close cousin. Robert Stanley married Ruth Garland at Heathfield, East Sussex, next to Mayfield (20 miles west of Tenterden) in 1588. This may show Stanleys in the Tenterden area returning to their ancestral roots to find wives at marriage-fairs, or for an arranged marriage - still common in 16th century rural England. After 1595 Robert and his family moved to Tenterden where he had a small farm. Here he also worked as a whitesmith: whitesmiths normally made, from tin or pewter, goods such as cutlery, plates or armour, working at lower temperatures than blacksmiths, but Robert's workshop also contained iron and steel. Robert died in 1605, and fortunately his probate inventory, listing his possessions and giving details of the farmshouse and workshop in Tenterden, still survives (this was kindly provided by Roy Morgan Stanley II of the USA).

Robert's son John Stanley (b.1598) and his wife Elizabeth had children John in 1624 Ruth in 1627, but his wife Elizabeth died in 1632. This may be one reason why John decided, along with several of his Stanley relatives from Tenterden and Ashford, to emigrate to Boston, Massachusetts in 1634 - combined with the oppressive and illegal taxes being imposed by King Charles I, and the King's religious reforms which offended many staunch Protestants in Kent and elsewhere. Unfortunately John died on the voyage, and Ruth and her brother John had to be adopted by their uncles Thomas and Timothy. John Stanley (b.1598) had had two younger brothers: Thomas Stanley (b.1601) and Timothy (b.1604), both of whom had children. There may therefore have been up to six young Stanley cousins from Tenterden sailing to America in 1634. This helps to explain why, by the time of the first American census in 1790, Massachusetts was one of the states containing the most Stanleys.

There were many other Stanleys in villages close to Tenterden after 1600, who have not been mentioned in detail in this chapter, partly to avoid undue complexity for the reader - such as the Nicholas Stanley who married at High Halden in 1630, John Stanley who was a miller at Brookland in 1632, Thomas Stanley who was a miller at Warehorne in 1632, Richard Stanley who was a miller at Lydd in 1636, and Thomas Stanley who was a miller at Great Chart in 1639. All of these were probably grandsons of Timothy Stanley of Tenterden, and probably the sons of John Stanley (b.1562) or Timothy Stanley (b.1567).

Picture left: a picturesque scene in modern-day Tenterden. Notice the distinctive white weather-boarding on the houses - a characteristic feature of many Wealden houses built from the 17th to 19th centuries.

By 1630, there were many Stanleys in the Weald of Kent, in towns and villages such as Tenterden, Rolvenden, Cranbrook, Ashford, Chart Sutton, Sutton Valence, Maidstone, Lamberhurst, Tonbridge, as well as further afield in places such as Dover, Newington, Ripple, Shorne, Sittingbourne and Chatham. However, the emigration of so many of the Tenterden and Ashford Stanleys in the 1630s reduced considerably the number of Stanleys in the Weald of East Kent (see details of the 1664 Hearth Tax later in this chapter). By 1660, most Stanleys had left Tenterden itself and migrated to other villages in the Weald, though a few Stanleys are recorded in Tenterden in the later 17th century parish registers.

The 1596 map of Kent by Philip Symonson

The magnificent map of Kent by the surveyor Philip Symonson, published in 1596 (see map on following page), was the most detailed county map of its time anywhere in England, and it gives us a good idea of the geography of the Wealden area of Kent with which the following section of this chapter is concerned.

The towns of Cranbrook and Tenterden dominated the centre of this region of Kent, with the county town of Maidstone in the north, Tonbridge in the north-west and Ashford in the north-east of this section of the map. By now, much of the Weald had been de-forested and converted to farmland. Symonson's map shows not only the position of villages and towns and their churches, but features of the landscape such as rivers, roads, bridges, remaining wooded areas, and windmills. Various windmills were occupied and operated at different times by Stanleys, such as at Rolvenden, Bethersden and Lydd in Walland Marsh. The boundary between Sussex and Kent ran partly along the River Teise and close to the road between Tonbridge and the port of Rye. Mayfield appears as Mayfidde near the south-west corner of the map. The original farmstead of Stanley in Mayfield was about 1 mile to the south of Argos Hill, in the south-western corner of the map. Heathfield, where Robert Stanley of Tenterden married in 1588, is nearby, at the bottom of the map. The scale of the map is approximately 20 miles from Stanley in Mayfield in Sussex to Tenterden in Kent. Farms, mills, metals and weaving: the economy of the Tenterden region of the Weald

After 1500 the Weald of Kent, especially the area sometimes known as ‘The Garden of England’ to the south of Maidstone, was now developing rapidly into an area of prosperous commercial farming supplying the London market via the port town of Maidstone (the county town of Kent) on the River Medway. The prosperity of Kentish farming after 1500 would have been both a reason for migration into the Kentish Weald and a reason for family growth. Aided by the break-up of monastic estates in the 1530s, Kent’s agricultural progress was noted by writers such as Camden and Lambarde, as also by Markham in his The Inrichment of the Weald of Kent in 1631. Apple-orchards and hop-gardens were becoming features of the Kentish countryside. The Cranbrook area of the Weald was especially prosperous owing to the advent of two additional industries: woollen cloth-making, and iron-production. The cloth-making industry of the Kentish Weald had grown rapidly since 1330, aided by the influx of large numbers of Flemish weavers, in Cranbrook and neighbouring villages. Processes included weaving, fulling, spinning and carding. The Cranbrook area was also a centre for iron production, which had spread from the Sussex Weald to the Kentish Weald after 1400. By 1580, Cranbrook therefore had a population of around 3,000, compared with only 2,000 in the county town, Maidstone (see F.W. Jessup, A History of Kent, p.93-98).

Just as Stanleys in 14th and 15th century Sussex had been yeomen farmers, likewise many of the Stanleys in 16th century Kent were yeomen farmers (though the rising population and the shortage of land may have forced some children into alternative occupations). It should be noted that many Stanleys in 16th and 17th century Kent were also millers, an occupation which was often carried out by yeoman farmers as well as farming their own fields. Before the 16th century, the majority of mills in England had been water-mills, and many mills in Sussex and Kent were still water-powered (some of them can still be visited today). However, during the medieval period windmills had been introduced into south-east England from continental Europe, and by 1600 these were numerous in the Kentish Weald.

Picture left: Cranbrook and its windmill

Most mills produced flour, but there were also fulling-mills involved in cloth-production.  In fulling-mills, a series of hammers driven by a water-wheel pounded the woollen cloth in water mixed with ‘fuller’s earth’, to remove grease.  At one time there were over 15 fulling-mills near Cranbrook alone.


Millers were sometimes renowned for sharp business practices and low morals, hence Chaucer’s depiction of the bawdy miller in The Miller’s Tale (c.1390), one of the stories told by his pilgrims on their way to Canterbury in Kent, written in the Kentish dialect which Stanleys in that region of England would have spoken at the time. It is to be hoped that not all millers were of the same character as Chaucer's miller ! 

The first known Stanley miller was Timothy Stanley of Tenterden around 1560; thereafter, his son William Stanley (I) was a miller at the water-mill on the River Len in Otham (near Maidstone) in 1583 and a millwright at Folkestone in 1601.  His son William Stanley (II), born at Tenterden in 1604, was a miller at Bethersden in 1630.  Other later Stanley millers include John Stanley of Brookland in 1632, Richard Stanley of Lydd in 1636, Timothy Stanley of Warehorne in 1632, and Thomas Stanley of Great Chart in 1639 and Rolvenden in 1654. (Timothy Stanley of Warehorne is probably the forebear of the Stanleys of Warehorne in Peter Stanley's book 'House of Stanley' p.527-530). Several of these windmills are depicted as post mills on Symonson's 1596 map of Kent.  It seems likely that Stanley children would have been sent to work as apprentices and servants at the mills and farms of their relatives, keeping the farming and milling trades in the family.

Many farmers and millers would have put their hands to other trades as well.  For example, the inventory of the goods of Robert Stanley, a yeoman farmer of Tenterden who died in 1605, shows that in addition to his wheat farm and animal stock he was also a ‘whitesmith’, with a workshop in which he produced finished metal goods in iron and steel.  However, not all members of society were prosperous, and the will of the widow Joane Standley of Bethersden in 1628 gives “to Martha Whitaker my daughter one little kettle and to Elizabeth Standley my daughter one brase [brass] pot with a baile [hooped handle]”.

Troubled times: Religious and political troubles, and emigration

Picture: Hever Castle, in the North Weald of Kent, 7 miles west of Tonbridge. Hever was the home of the Boleyn family, where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn in the 1520s. Henry's decision to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn, triggered the momentous political and religious events of the English Reformation.

The period 1530 to 1640 was one of religious and political change and rising tension, and the towns and villages of Sussex and Kent were very much involved in the changes.  Towns such as Cranbrook and Tenterden, in which there were independent-minded cloth-weavers who traded with the Continent, had already been in the forefront of the earlier Lollard reform movement (a forerunner of Protestantism), for instance in the demand for an English Bible.

The Reformation from 1530 to 1560, in which England was changed from a Catholic to an officially Protestant country, left its mark on Sussex and Kent in many ways.  The reign of Mary I saw, in 1554, Wyatt’s Rebellion, by Protestant gentry of Kent appalled at the prospect of a return to Catholic practices.  The reaction under Mary included in 1555  the burning of John Franks, the vicar of Rolvenden (adjacent to Tenterden) in Kent (who had been installed in 1552 during the Protestant reforms of Edward VI), for refusing to accept the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’ during the mass.

The same fate befell four Protestants at Mayfield in 1556, and three more from the Mayfield area at Lewes in 1557. After the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, England was officially Protestant again, and towns such as Cranbrook and Tenterden became hotbeds of Protestantism,but some Catholic beliefs and communities appear to have remained intact in villages in the Sussex and Kentish Weald. 

Picture: the burning of John Franks, vicar of Rolvenden, Kent, in 1555 (source: Mary Evans Picture Library)

The suspicion that Charles I and his Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633, William Laud, were trying to re-introduce Catholic beliefs into English churches, combined with the king's attempt to impose illegal new taxes (Ship Money) without the consent of Parliament, lay behind the decision of many Puritans (staunch Protestants) to leave England for a new life in New England, perhaps in hope of new economic opportunities.  The Pilgrim Fathers in 1621 were amongst the first of many; but some of the first Stanleys to follow them were in 1634, when (as previously noted) the three brothers John, Thomas and Timothy Stanley left the Ashford area and sailed from London to America.  Although John died on the voyage, Thomas and Timothy Stanley survived, along with John’s children John and Ruth; they were among the founders of Hartford, Connecticut, and the ancestors of a large number of American Stanleys (the 'Hartford' Stanleys, who have their own organisation and website).

Kent in the English Civil War of the 1640s, and after

Kent was, on the whole, strongly Parliamentarian during the English Civil War of the 1640s.  However, there was a Royalist rising in the Tonbridge and Sevenoaks area in July 1643. The moderate Thomas Stanley, a landowning gentleman from Hamptons in West Peckham (4 miles north of Tonbridge), who was also mayor of Maidstone, tried (without success) to persuade the Royalists to lay down their weapons. Within a week they were defeated by a Parliamentary force sent from London.  Despite Parliament’s victory in the Civil War, there was a much larger Royalist rising in Kent in 1648, which was also defeated, before the execution of King Charles I in 1649. 

The English Civil War of the 1640s seems to have reduced the number of Stanleys in Kent, perhaps through recruitment to Parliamentary armies. After the Civil War the distribution of Stanleys in Kent can be seen from the Hearth Tax assessment of 1664 (Kent Archaeological Society, vol.XXIX).  Around 20 Stanleys around Kent paid Hearth Tax (a tax on the number of fireplaces in each dwelling, and therefore on the size of the house) at this date. These records show clearly people's social status as measured by their size of their house. It should be noted how many of these Stanleys were poor farm labourers, living in cottages with a single fire-place.

1. Stanleys of the Weald and central Kent

Chart Sutton: William Standly: 2 hearths [ancestor; lived 1604-1673]
Chart Sutton: Thomas Standly [eldest son of William]: 2 hearths
Stone in Oxney: William Standley: 5 hearths [maybe descendant of Timothy, of Tenterden]
Great Kenardington (near Warehorne): Richard Stanley: 1 hearth
Shepway (south of Maidstone): Nicholas Standley: 3 hearths
West Farleigh (south-west of Maidstone): John Stanley: 1 hearth

2. Stanleys of the northern and eastern Kent coastal region:

Canterbury: William Stanley (mayor) 7 hearths
Canterbury: George Stanley gent: 9 hearths.
Scray near Sittingbourne (Tunstall Court): Joseph Stanley: 5 hearths
Scray (Ridgeway): John Standley: 1 hearth
Scray (Bredgar): Thomas Standley: 2 hearths
Scray (Bredgar): Widdow Standley: 1 hearth
Stockbury & Bicknor (near Sittingbourne): John Standly: 2 hearths
Swanscombe (near Dartford): John Stanley: 1 hearth
Erith (by Dartford): Robert Standly: 1 hearth
Erith: Thomas Standly: 1 hearth
Ripple (near Deal): Mr William Standley: 3 hearths
Ripple: John Standly: 3 hearths.

3. 'Hooton' Stanleys of north-west Kent:
Hale (nr West Peckham): Thomas Standley gent.: 7 hearths (see Peter E. Stanley p.112)

The longer term

After 1700 many Stanleys remained in the Weald of Kent, some of them still as yeoman farmers, such as Joseph Stanley of Sutton Valence, 1653-1729, whose probate inventory gives a detailed picture of life on an 18th century Kent farm, including hop production.  The surname Stanley appears frequently in Kent parish registers throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries; in the 19th century, for instance, there were large numbers of Stanleys in villages such as Marden. The milling tradition was continued by generations of Stanley millers near Dover, at River, Kearsney and Temple Ewell.  However, by this time many Stanleys had moved from Kent to other parts of England, and indeed to other parts of the world, far from some of their early English roots.