Between the 11th and 13th Centuries, the use of hereditary surnames in England was confined largely to the leading families and it was not until the 14th Century that surnames became general in the southern part of Britain. It was common to use the occupational designation of a person's name to identify individuals. The earliest Canterbury Freemanís Rolls list many examples e.g., Martheus le Draper, Robertus le Fisshere, Henricus Potter, Weltemus Carpenter, etc. Topographical designations were also common, e.g. Johannas de Kingestone and Richard de Oxonia.

No one can say with certainty whether the name Kemsley was first applied to a family or to a place from which the family originated. The name could have come from the Old English "Cyme" which means "comely" or lovely to look upon, as applied to a person or from the protuberant character of a place,

A second alternative is suggested by the combination of the Angle Saxon "Caempa" meaning a knight or champion and "ley", an area of enclosed ground. ("Caempaley" to "Kemsley"). In this case, the name would have been given to the Headman of a forest clearing. In those unsophisticated early days, food-bearing land was of prime importance, so it was that a man who had the energy and skill to enlarge an area of cultivated land, by clearing the forest, was accepted as a leader in the community in which he lived.

Whether the early Kemsleys had this ability is a matter of conjecture, but the earliest Kemsleys, whose way of life is recorded, were men of substance who cleared and farmed their own lands. When they could clear no more, they purchased more kindly land further afield.

The alternatives are:

Our ancestors took their name from the place where they lived, i.e. "Kemsley Down", where the Danes built their fort on the high ground above Milton.


The Kemsley name was already in existence in 903 and "Kemsley Down" took its name from the people who live there.

Being biased, the writer favours the first derivation of the name and the second alternative as being the most likely, knowing that Kemsleys have always been fair to look upon (sic) and that they were already established as a family when the Vikings landed in AD 903..

In the 15th and 16th Centuries, the main branch of the family was settled on the densely wooded heights of the North Downs, which lie between the River Medway and the county town of Maidstone. Deep in this forest was the ancient church of St Peter, Bredhurst and a hamlet called "Kemsley Street" which, according to the county historians, derived its name from the family who once lived there.

The spelling of the name has been many and range from de Kemesle (1198) through Kemeslegh (1254), de Kemesele (1313), Kymysley (1495), Kemysley (1527) and Kemslie (1662). Since today's version of the name "Kemsley" first appeared as early as 1502, it has the sanction of time to support it.

The oldest volume of the parish register at Bredhurst, written in Latin and now difficult to decipher, records many Kemsley marriages, baptisms and burials. The opening entry is the marriage, in 1546, of Robert Kemsley and Margret Henman and the early sheets, rewritten in 1597, are initialed by the then Church Warden, William Kemsley. Older records are available in wills proved before the Probate Registries at Canterbury and Rochester and these together with the relevant parish registers has made it possible to construct the Kemsley Family Tree.

Much can be learnt from wills about the contemporary way of life of our forebearers. In those pre-Reformation days the Churches received much testamentary support and successive Kemsleys bequeathed money for the burning of candles before the High Rood and statues in the church. Examples by name are:

William Kemsley (d.1515) left "to an honest preest 5 marks to syng for my soule and all my good frendys soules".

John Kemsley (d.1530) bequeathed "to the church a cowe to maintayne a taper of a pound, before the images of Jesus and another taper before Saint Peter for ever". John also detailed the disposal of his stock and crops includes "6 hors and carte and all things belonging thereto, coltes, steres, bullocks, weyning calfes, ewys, baken hoggis and sowes".

Andrew Kemsley, Johnís son, left money to a dozen churches and a sum of money "to the parish church at Boxley to bye therewith a boke to the said Church called a grayle''



In 903, two years after Alfred the Greatís death, a Viking fleet entered the Thames estuary and sailed up the river Swale, making landfall at Milton near Sittingborne in the Kingdom of Kent. Here, the Danes built a fortress on Kemsley Down, to the west of Milton Creek. The still visible remains of this fortress, later known as Castle Rough, is on the outskirts of the modern village of "Kemsley".

Lest it be though that all Kemsleys were paragons of domestic virtue it is fair to record that ;

An entry in the burial register of the parish of Boxley in the year 1595 records -

"the sudden death of the curate, Ellis Gwinne and states, in Latin, that the curate "staggering about in a state of intoxication was struck with a mallet by Thomas Kemsley and so done to death"!!!!.

William Kemsley, a Churchwarden (ca.1640) signed a petition to the House of Commons complaining of the behaviour of the curate Mr Richard Tray. William later admitted that he had signed the petition "when he was incapably drunk" and the petition was dismissed.

The Kemsleys have always taken an interest in local and Affairs of State

In 1450 Jack Cade led an insurrection of men of Kent, including among them Yeomen and other men of substance, listing grievances which they attributed to the weakness of the Government. They forced their way into London and only agreed to withdraw on a promise of amnesty. Among those pardoned for their part in the uprising was a John Kemsley.

As mentioned in para. 9, Richard Kemsley was killed during Sir William Wyatt's rebel advance on London to protest the marriage of Queen Mary to Phillip of Spain in 1554.

Joseph Kemsley (1816-1897), a land owner, was careful in money matters. On hearing rumours that the local bank's financial stability was suspect he drove to the market town armed with his pair of flintlock pistols and demanded the whole of his deposited capital in gold sovereigns. He loaded the money onto his trap and returned home thereby beating the bank's failure by a matter of hours.

Joseph's son, Arthur Kemsley (1842-1908), having been left reasonably well off by his father purchased 100 acres of market garden land in White Hart Lane, Tottenham. Part of this farm was sold at the then unheard of price of £100 an acre to a local football club, which now rejoices in the name of Tottenham Hotspurs.



Recorded History First Family Tree Present Family Tree Families by Marriage Individual Kemsley Info