The mystery of the vanished manor of Ostenhanger….
There once was an Anglo-Saxon manor in the south of Kent called Berwic, which became known as Le Hangre, and was then split into two manors, Westenhanger and Ostenhanger. Westenhanger is still very much in evidence (see illustration above) but Ostenhanger as such has disappeared entirely. It’s still there really, of course, but was incorporated into Westenhanger in the 16th century and now no one seems to know where the now invisible dividing line was placed. It can’t be to the south, or surely we’d have Northanger and Southanger. So, if present-day Westenhanger is the west, then Ostenhanger has to be…well, east. Right?
At the period of the novel I’m working on, the late 14th century, the medieval castle at Westenhanger was just emerging like a phoenix from the crumbling remains of an earlier incarnation. The then occupant, the knight banneret Sir John Kyriel (numerous spellings)*, had in 1343 obtained a licence to crenellate, and set about the long, costly business of turning a fortified manor house into a proper castle. After all, it was the Hundred Years War and Kent was very definitely in the French firing line. Sir John was involved in decades of ongoing work.
No one knows what the original manor house had been like, except that in Anglo-Saxon times it was on the large manor originally called Berwic. There’s a myth that a palace stood here, belonging to King Orric/Oeric, son of Hengist, although whether this is based in fact, I don’t know, but certainly the site itself, as a manor, was in existence in that period.
Apparently the word Hangre can stem from either hunger or a wooded slope. My money’s on the latter, because I wouldn’t have thought the rich well-watered meadows around the East Stour river would ever allow hunger. But that’s my guesswork. The now defunct Folkstone Racecourse, which closed in 2012, still stands among these meadows, most of which are well drained in this modern age.
In the twelfth century Le Hangre was held by another John Kyriel (the family was then known as de Crioll, various spellings), and it’s said that during the reign of Henry II one of the round towers housed Fair Rosamund Clifford, Henry’s beautiful mistress. From there he moved her to her bower at Woodstock where, as the legend goes, she was poisoned by his jealous queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Well, Rosamund may indeed have been at Westenhanger, but the round tower was built since then. As for Eleanor’s part in the lady’s demise…I have no idea.
But that’s beside the point for my purposes here, because this 12th-century John Kyriel’s grandsons inherited. Their names were Nicholas and another John, but the latter’s only surviving heir was a daughter, Joan. This meant that when the time came, Nicholas and his niece Joan were joint heirs. Le Hangre had to be divided. Nicholas’s portion was named Westenhanger, and Joan’s became Ostenhanger. She then married Sir Richard Rokesley, a very important Kent man, who gained her portion. So, at this point it’s abundantly clear there were two separate manors.
Joan and Rokesley had one daughter, no sons, and this daughter (another Joan) married Michael de Poynings, 2nd Baron Poynings. Thus Ostenhanger (which I’ve seen written rather delightfully as Ostywhanger) came to the Poynings family, who remained in possession for a long time – well, more or less for the rest of its existence as a separate entity, becaus the Fogge family did intrude for a while.
Sir Edward’s rather ancient mansion at Ostenhanger was abandoned, and both manors were united as Westenhanger, the castle of which Sir Edward rebuilt. But the present-day mansion, which nestles within the medieval castle ruins, is Georgian from the 18th century. And what remains now is but a shadow of the castle as it was rebuilt by Sir John Kyriel in the 14th century.
The last Kyriel of Westenhanger, Sir Thomas, was summarily executed after supporting the Yorkist cause at the second battle of St. Albans, which took place on 17th February 1461 and during which the great Earl of Warwick, known to posterity as the “Kingmaker” was slain. The Yorkists had earlier captured King Henry VI and during the battle they placed him in the care of Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriel. Once the battle was lost, Bonville and Kyriel escorted the king to the victorious queen, Margaret of Anjou, and the story goes that she asked her (apparently obnoxious) son—the boy Edward, Prince of Wales—how the two Yorkists should be treated and he replied that they should be executed. So they were beheaded, even though they’d behaved with honour throughout. And even though Henry VI himself wanted them spared. Kyriel left two daughters, the elder of whom married a Fogge, and thus the male line of the ancient de Crioll/Kyriel line of Westenhanger was no more.
The Fogge family became ensconced there (Westenhanger) until a Sir John Fogge apparently II don’t know the details) demised it to Sir Edward Poynings in the reign of Henry VIII. Oh, but whoa! One of the Fogges referred to Ostenhanger in his will as one of his manors…! Groan. So who held what, pray? Of course, I could take the easy way out and pretend that some scribe or other simply made an error….
What I can say for certain is that in the early 16th century Sir Edward Poynings held both Westenhanger and Ostenhanger, and that on his death the now-single manor went to the Crown, i.e. Henry VIII, who started doing it up to suit. I’m not sure of what happened next, because it’s too far “out of period” for my wip.
Sir Edward seems to have somehow made Ostenhanger disappear entirely. Well, clearly the land didn’t disappear, but which land it is remains unknown. There isn’t so much as an Ostenhanger Farm or Ostenhanger Brook lingering sneakily somewhere in the landscape. Zilch. There’s an engraving that’s said to show the remains of Ostenhanger (see below). However, this same print is also sometimes labelled Westenhanger, and occasionally the caption sits firmly on the fence and claims it’s either one or the other. I don’t know anything for certain, and the more I try to find out, the less I seem to know.
The Westenhanger Charter of 1035 takes us right back to the beginnning, and is very interesting, explanatory and detailed.
The following map has been drawn from the known Anglo-Saxon boundaries of the original Berwic/Le Hangre, and Westenhanger manorhouse/castle is shown close to the eastern boundary. It wasn’t known by that name in 1035, of course, but has been shown as an indication to the modern reader. Something stood there in Anglo-Saxon times, maybe even Orric’s palace. So, if Ostenhanger was east of Westenhanger, it must have been somewhere in the direction of Saltwood and Hythe.
As you can see quite clearly on the right, the Roman road Stanstraete (Stone Street leading north-south on its way from Lympne on the coast to Canterbury) divides Westenhanger from whatever was to the east. Ostenhanger? But if Westenhanger and Ostenhanger are what used to be Berwic/Le Hangre, as shown on this map, these ancient boundaries don’t leave much room to the east for Ostenhanger to be situated. Surely there must have been more Berwic/Le Hangre land to the east of Stone Street? Otherwise, Ostenhanger must have been a very skinny strip! I can’t see a man of Sir Richard Rokesley’s standing putting up with his wife having been short-changed when Le Hangre was divided between her and her uncle Nicholas Kyriel, so something, somewhere, is wrong.
Below is another map of the area, this time an old OS map, showing Stone Street slicing vertically through the middle. There’s Westenhanger, top left, clearly drawn…so was Ostenhanger somewhere around where Hilhurst or Little Sandling are shown?
It’s all a huge puzzle. The fiction writer in me needs to know if Ostenhanger was visible from the towers of Westenhanger. Maybe even from the curtain walls of the outer bailey? Were the two residences separated by Roman Stone Street? Indeed, was Stone Street the actual boundary between the two? All I know is that, because I’m writing about the 14th century, when the Kyriels occupied Westenhanger, and the Barons Poynings were in Ostenhanger, I need to learn these infuriatingly elusive details.
So, if anyone reading this desperate crie de coeur knows anything more about the two manors or can correct me on what I’ve already included in this article, please, please let me know!
*Oh, dear. Here’s a major stumbling block for me. I’ve found the will https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Libr/Wills/Lbth/Bk24/page%20449.htm of the Sir John Kyriel (in which he spells his name Kiriel) who had the licence to crenellate Westenhanger in 1343. Except that throughout he refers only to “Ostringhanger”! Where’d Westenhanger go? Now what am I to think?