ORIGIN OF NAME
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
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
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.
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
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
baken hoggis and
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''
FIRST MENTION OF
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
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
Lest it be
though that all Kemsleys were paragons of domestic virtue it is fair to record
An entry in the burial
register of the
parish of Boxley in the year 1595 records -
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.
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