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Birchington Hall, Birchington, Thanet, Kent

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Scale across approx. 5 miles
Ordnance Survey Crown copyright

In the on-line Catalogue of Papers of William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland at Nottingham University, under Part 14: Robert Mylne - Thomas Pelham - Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle under Lyne, we find under reference:  Pw F 7420  30.9.1795

A letter from T. Pelham [later 2nd Earl of Chichester, whose seat was at Stanmer Park, Sussex], Birchington [Hall, Kent] to [W. H. C. Cavendish-Bentinck] 3rd Duke of Portland; 30 Sep 1795.

Mentions military arrangements in Ireland; expresses his intentions of paying his respects to the King and the Duke of York; expresses concern about Lord William Bentnick]. 2ff

The additions in square brackets have been made by Nottingham University.

As mentioned before, there is a footnote in the book by Edward Walford, The County Families of the United Kingdom, London 1864, at p. 587

"This family has been located in the Parishes of St John's [Margate] and Birchington, in the Isle of Thanet, living at Birchington Hall, Isle of Thanet, near Margate, and Maida Hill West, [London] NW".

before the Lamings settled in Birchington, the FRIEND family held land there, and elsewhere in Kent, for several generations, their name first appearing in the registers of the Parish Church (All Saints) at Birchington in 1620.

The oldest picture of the house which is in the possession of the Birchington Heritage Trust is dated 1800 and is titled simply “The Old House”, with additional wording stating, “now Birchington Place, before the alterations”. This painting shows an imposing house with a similar appearance to many of the old Court Houses of the 15th and 16th century. The Coat of Arms of the Friend Family is pasted on the back of the picture.

Reproduced by kind consent of
the Birchington Heritage Trust

To quote the history from the Trust's site :

"As early as 1203 there was a place called “Scottestone” in the area now associated with Birchington Hall.

In 1674, William Friend held the land known as ‘Scot’s Down’ or ‘Scot’s Land’, which at that date consisted of 40 acres. In that year, he refused to pay his cess (assessment or rates) to the church and so was ordered to appear at Canterbury assizes, but he failed to turn up. He probably paid it in the end, because the following year he is shown as being rated for 132 acres. This continued until 1680, when the land was inherited by George Friend, who remained in occupation until about 1703. In 1690 George Friend was rated for ‘Scotsdown’ at 20.

All this while, the house appears to have remained in its imposing but fairly compact state which we see by the end of the 1700s. Various members of the Friend family inherited it during this century, including another George Friend, John Friend and George Taddy Friend. At one stage, the Friend family paid nearly half the rates levied in the parish – 616 out of 1,299.

Between 1740 and 1792 the estate was enlarged to about 148 acres and by this time is clearly called “Birchington Place”. On the 1840 Tithe Map, the house was in the occupation and ownership of John Friend Esq, sometimes known as John ‘Birchington’ Friend, to differentiate him from his relatives, John ‘Brooksend’ Friend and John ‘Taddy’ Friend.

The house was still called ‘Place’ until it was sold in 1852, when it was renamed 'Birchington Hall'."

It would appear therefore that the Laming family purchased all or part of the Birchington Place Estate in 1852, when it was sold by the Friend family to James Laming, who moved in aged 62, accompanied by his wife Anne, and a number of their younger children.

The previous year was the 1851 census year, and at that time James was living at 26, Maida Hill West, Paddington, together with his wife Ann (nee Noakes) and their children Alfred (24 - Occupation, Merchant), Bertha M[atilda] (22), Susan[nah]  J[ane] (19), Benjamin (17 - Schol.  Student Med.), Richard (15 -  [Scholar]) and Clara (10 - Schollar).  As well as also having a Cook, Lady's Maid, Housemaid and Footman, they also had with them as a guest, James Laming, one of their elder sons, aged 32, unmarried and described as a Merchant in Provisions.

Later on  it is recorded that Susannah (b. 9th May 1831), although she married Worthington Evans in Worcester on 28th May 1865, was described as  "of Birchington Hall", and Benjamin (b.  20th June 1833) similarly when he married Rosalie Sarah Bateman Harcourt on  15th August 1861.  Unfortunately she died on 10th April 1866 in Rotterdam, and Benjamin married again, also in Rotterdam, three years later.

Kelly's Directory for the Isle of Thanet for 1903 states as its owner:

Gray, Mrs, Birchington hall, Birchington

and the 1901 Census records:

From 1923, Birchington Hall became one of Spurgeon's Children's Homes, a movement which had started in  the Clapham Road, Stockwell in 1869 when the new building as complete.

A large number of the children who were taken in to the orphanage at Stockwell were suffering from bad health and so it was decided to open a home by the sea where the children could enjoy a holiday and regain their health. Eventually a large house was purchased in Northdown Road, Cliftonville. Mrs James Surgeon ran the house. It was also used as a primary school.

In 1917 the Stockwell Orphanage celebrated its Golden Jubilee at the Queen's Hall in London. To celebrate this event it was decided to establish another seaside home, this time in Birchington. Birchington Hall, which fronted onto the Canterbury Road where Charlesworth Drive is today, was purchased, altered and extended. The house stood in about 40 acres.

During the [second world] war the building in Stockwell was bombed and fell into some disrepair. After the war the trustees came to realise that the Home at Stockwell would not be suitable for the children's return.

Spurgeons, Birchington in the 1950s  Group of Boys at Spurgeon's 1950's
Spurgeons, Birchington in the 1950s

Group of boys at Spurgeon's in the 1950s

It was therefore decided to develop at Birchington and plans were drawn up for the rebuilding of the entire Home on the forty acres site.

By Easter 1953 the new buildings were occupied and once again the Spurgeon's family were all back in one location. The HRH Duchess of Gloucester visited the Home in June the following year.

Birchington's biggest happy family
In 1963 the Home was being described as Birchington's biggest happy family, with over two hundred boys and girls enjoying the forty acres well maintained lawns adjoining Park road. Children from birth to the age of sixteen were taken in, some staying only on a temporary basis. The Home had a nursery, a chapel, four large kitchens serving the eleven separate houses. Each house was in the care of married couples or housemothers. To begin with schooling was provided on site, but in later years children attended local schools. The yearly cost of running the Home in 1963 was approximately 52,000.

The site of Birchingon Hall now
The Birch Hill estate now occupies the site and no trace of the happy and loving community remains. However, perhaps a more tangible epitaph to Charles Spurgeon's Home are the thousands of children who were given the chance to live happy and fulfilling lives, after difficult beginnings.

With thanks to Graham W Hughes, the Baptist Quarterly Magazine and Bill Evans, and reproduced from The Online Birchington Roundabout.