23rd August 2000
Dear Mr Stanley,
My branch of the Stanley Families did not emigrate to the USA, so we are still in England! Over the years I have done a great deal of research in Kent and elsewhere, including at the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone, and have visited Tenterden and many other villages where there were Stanleys around 1600. I have extensive information on Stanleys in Kent, but here is a summary.
There were several villages and hamlets or farms called Stanley or Stoneley in medieval England, especially in northern England. The place-name Stanley (which can be spelt in different ways, as can the surname) comes from the Anglo-Saxon for 'stony field'. Anyone living in, or moving away from, a village called Stanley in medieval times might acquire the surname 'of Stanley' or 'de Stanley' in legal documents, so there would have been many Stanley families - not necessarily closely related to one another - in different parts of England. As you will know, some Stanleys did 'rise' socially to become members of the gentry and nobility, but most did not, and my own view is that the Stanleys of Tenterden are probably unrelated to, for instance, the Stanleys who become Earls of Derby. However, geographical and social mobility makes distant links possible.
I have not found any place called Stanley in medieval Kent, but there was a farm or hamlet (small village) called Stanley just across the county boundary, in East Sussex, in the parish (village) of Mayfield, 8 miles south of Tunbridge Wells.
This place is first recorded as Stanleggh around 1300. This was in the Weald, a hilly and heavily wooded area of Sussex and Kent. The earliest occupant I have found is called Hamo de Stonlegh in 1327, when he paid 2 shillings in tax, and Hamo de Stanlegh in 1332, when he paid 1 shilling and 1 penny. (In the village of Easebourne (West Sussex) there was also a Thomas de Stanlygh in 1296, and a Clement de Stanligh in 1327). Since Mayfield is close to Kent (8 miles) my view is that several of the later Stanleys of Kent may be descended from Hamo de Stanley of Mayfield, or from other members of his family, or from others from the same place. I have not found any other village called Stanley in or near to Kent.
The fact that Hamo was taxed means he was probably a yeoman farmer, i.e. a free man and an independent farmer of a type common in Kent and Sussex but less common elsewhere in England. Later documents also imply that these Stanleys in Sussex were yeomen farmers: in 1370, Thomas Stonlegh and Amice his wife sold a house and 16 acres of land in Rotherfield (next to Mayfield), and in 1372 Simon Stonley of Mayfield and Emma his wife sold land (a house and 20 acres) and sold 50 acres in 1396. This was around the time at which Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his famous "Canterbury Tales".
There were a few Stanleys in medieval Kent, such as Thomas and Elizabeth Stanley of Canterbury, who made wills around 1460, but there is as yet no link between these and our 'yeomen' Stanley farmers of the Weald (Mayfield, Lamberhurst, Cranbrook, Tenterden etc.). It seems likely to me that at some stage during the 15th century, the Stanleys probably migrated east from Sussex across the Kent border, where they appear in various records after 1540. By 1600, there were many branches of the Stanley family in Kent, in towns and villages such as Tenterden, Rolvenden, Cranbrook, Sutton Valence, Chart Sutton, Lamberhurst, Ashford, Dover, Rye, Maidstone, Newington, Ripple, Shorne etc., but the branch with which we are mainly concerned was centred in Tenterden and the neighbouring village of Rolvenden. It should be noted that, as well as being yeomen farmers, many of these Stanleys were millers, i.e. they built and operated windmills and water-mills. If only one son could inherit a mill from his father, any other sons probably had to look elsewhere for work or a new trade.
I do not yet know where or when our Robert Stanley (who died in 1605) was born. It may have been in Tonbridge, as there were Stanleys there: Hester Stanley, daughter of John, was christened at Tonbridge in 1586, as was William Stanley, son of Sarah, in 1587, and Robert Stanley (son of Robert) in 1596. However, it is also possible that our Robert (who died 1605) was born in Tenterden or Rolvenden, worked in Tonbridge as an apprentice, then returned to Tenterden later in life. This type of 'return' often seems to have happened when sons inherited land, farms or other property after the death of a father or other relative. There were certainly other Stanleys in Tenterden and Rolvenden. John Stanley was probably born around 1500, as he is descibed as an 'aged man' when buried in Rolvenden in 1566. Another John Stanley, possibly his son, died at Rolvenden in 1573. The three children of this second John were baptised in Tenterden from 1566-1573: Richard, Susan and Eden. There were also other Stanleys who may be relatives, e.g. Peter Stanley whose daughter Samantha was christened at Tenterden in 1563. Timothy Stanley, a miller, is also a key figure who lived from around 1530-1590. His eldest son William (from whom I am probably descended) was christened at Tenterden in 1560. Timothy also had various other children christened at Tenterden and Rolvenden: John, Mary, Timothy, Thomas, Ursula, Peter and Ann. William's son, William Standley (probably my ancestor), was christened in 1604 and was a miller at Bethersden in 1630. All the following, probably close relatives, were millers: John Stanley at Brookland in 1632, Timothy Stanley at Warehorne in 1632, Richard Stanley at Lydd in 1636, and Thomas Stanley at Great Chart in 1639 and Rolvenden in 1654.
Your Robert Stanley (died 1605) could possibly be the son of any of the three Stanleys having children in the Tenterden area around 1560: Timothy, Peter or John. However, there is no firm evidence of this as yet.
I have visited the sites of many of the windmills and water- mills in Kent where ancestors probably lived and worked, and I have transcripts and photocopies of various documents, including the probate account of Ruth Stanley, widow of Robert Stanley, dated October 1605.
I have been researching for 25 years, but did not acquire a computer until this year, and have only just started using the Internet, so I have only just discovered the "Hartford" Stanleys.
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