be read with great pleasure and profit by
those who live in Farningham or know it well. They are fortunate
to have such a splendidly produced and sturdy village history.
However, it is less likely to appeal to those to whom the
village is unknown. Although the poor are recorded and there is
much (other) incidental material on village life a substantial
part of this history is about the lives of elite families. The
author does not deal well with religious faith, politics, and
rural discontent, while historical debate is barely considered.
For example, Mary Ann Hearn (Marianne Farningham) is partly
misrepresented, and there is a reliance on old ideas and texts.
The local publisher has produced a book that is attractive to
handle and look at but sadly it is marred by poor proof-reading
and inadequate footnotes (some have gone awry in chs 12 and 13).
The next parish, a short distance north down
the Darent, is Horton Kirby which was also the site of an old
corn mill. By the 1820s John Hall of Dartford had built a mill
for making paper by machine but relying on steam power. The
result was the creation of an industrial village dominated by a
mill which at its peak in the late nineteenth century employed
600 people. Paper production at Horton Kirby, as with
neighbouring mills at Eynsford, Shoreham, and Sundridge, was
based initially on rag brought from the metropolis, but this
changed to imported esparto grass. By keeping abreast of
technical change, and despite several bankruptcies and changes
of owner, paper production continued at Horton Kirby until 2003.
Houses are now being built on the old mill site.
The Horton Kirby and South Darenth Local History
Society, seemingly with help from the local council (it is not
clear), have produced a well-illustrated book on the history of
the paper mill. This contains a large font sized text generously
spaced with a large number of photographs recording the fortunes
of the mill and the development of South Darenth as terraced
housing for mill-workers in the 1860s-80s. The mill was rebuilt
in the 1870s and thereafter the valley was dominated by two
large chimneys, one Italianate. This brief book describes the
business of paper making (not forgetting the problems of
polluting the river), the development of South Darenth, mill
workers, the fire brigade, accidents, and sports and social
activities. The text concludes with a useful and informative
section ‘An apprentice’s memoirs’ which focuses on the
second half of the twentieth century. Altogether this book
offers a mix of the very local and personal (‘Bert Taylor
helping on the scoreboard and my wife ... with the teas’) with
brief views of life in an industrial village community in north
Kent. There are questions that might have been pursued. Where
and how did the fuel come from? What might an analysis of the
census enumerators’ returns tell us about the labour force?
How were trade unions (SOGAT is briefly mentioned) formed? And
was this a radically or religiously inclined mill labour force?