RUNNING FIELD MEAD
The ancient name of the willow wood at the corner of Mountain Street invites speculation.
Though now parcelled with neighbouring Upper Pike Shot, this rather wet tract used to be known as Running Field Mead. Was it once dry enough for racing ? Did it adjoin a Running Field ? Is there some connection with the races once held on the Running Field at Old Wives Lees ?
In a codicil to his will of 1638, as an afterthought, Sir Dudley Digges laid down that £20 should be set aside from the quit rents of 40 acres in the Manor of Selgrave – his recent acquisition between Faversham & Sheldwich. This bequest provided prize money for “a tye” or race to be run at Chilham each year on 19th May, anniversary of Sir Dudley's birth, when he directed also that the church bells should be rung in celebration - Sir Dudley was no shrinking violet !
Competitors would be “a young man and a young maiden of good conversation between the ages of 16 and 24” chosen by “the Lord of Chilham [Sir Dudley's successors] or in his absence the Vicar, with the advice of four of the best freeholders” and a couple chosen by “the Lord of Faversham or in his absence the Mayor, with the advice of four of the Jurats”
“the young man and the young maiden who should prevail, should each ...........have £10”
We know that, in later centuries, eliminating heats for the Chilham pair took place at Old Wives Lees on 1st May on the land still called the Running Field, and, for the Faversham pair, on the following Monday on Sheldwich Lees.
Latterly, until about 1850, the final was at Old Wives Lees, but where was it at first ?
At Chilham, as Sir Dudley directed ?
In 1728 James Colebrooke, having acquired Chilham from Sir Dudley's descendants, diverted the northern stretch of Mountain Street away from the castle gardens. A high brick wall was erected along the new boundary skirting the park – where it remains today.
In earlier times, might the Digges family have celebrated their ancestors' birthday with the local populace, watching the race on land which Colebrooke enclosed within the castle park, alongside Running Field Mead ?
Michael H Peters