Chilham in Kent is a small village, set in the beauty of the North Downs and is seven miles south-west of Canterbury. It lies high above the River Stour Valley and is one of the most attractive villages in Kent. The village centre is Chilham Square. Narrow lanes lead down from the plateau on which it is built.
Chilham has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Juliberrie Barrow, south of the village, is an ancient burial ground, which would have been in use in the same period as Stonehenge. Chilham stands on the ancient track of the Pilgrims Way from Winchester to Canterbury. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1085 and was granted a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market in 1260.
Chilham Square, which used to be a village green, is a picturesque square of half-timbered Tudor houses dating from the 15th century. Some of the houses were partly faced with brick in the 18th century. The Square has antique shops, a tea room and a pub, The White Horse, which has a Tudor interior with beams and an inglenook fireplace, dated 1460. From each corner of the Square, narrow lanes lead down, one of which is the High Street. At the bottom is the Woolpack Inn. Accommodation is provided in the converted stables and a small building, which was the village workhouse. Facing the Woolpack Inn is Hatfield, a large Tudor house, which is now two private residences. It was a wool merchant’s house and warehouse, giving the Woolpack Inn its name.
On the High Street is Cumberland House, a timber-framed building constructed in the typical Wealden Hall style. It is believed to have been built in 1450 and extended one hundred years later to incorporate an internal first floor and decorated plaster ceiling. The house is named after Robert Cumberland, who was vicar of Chilham for forty nine years, from 1663. His son, the village doctor for sixty years, lived there until his death in 1762.
St. Mary’s Church, just off The Square, has a 15th century tower, exhibiting a chequerwork of flint and stone. The spire became unsafe and was removed in 1784. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. It is reported to be the burial place of St. Augustine, who died in 605. It is thought that his remains were brought to St. Mary’s Church from Canterbury Cathedral soon after 1535 to protect them from being plundered when Henry VIII became head of the English Church. The church clock and its eight bells date from the 1720s.
The gates of Chilham Castle dominate one side of The Square. The Castle consists of a Norman keep and a red-brick mansion, constructed in 1616 for Sir Dudley Digges, a senior official of King James I. The mansion dates from 1603 and took thirteen years to complete. The Norman keep is unusual, as it is octagonal. It was built by Henry II in 1171 and has walls twelve feet thick. Both buildings are now private residences, but the gardens are open to the public at certain times in the summer. The Castle is also used for specific events, including weddings and horse trials.
The Square is a favourite location for television and film productions. The 1965 feature film, The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, starring Kim Novak in the title role, was filmed in Chilham and the long running Agatha Christie television series, Miss Marple, featured the village. The 2006 feature-length film, The Moving Finger, another Miss Marple mystery, was also set in Chilham. The village was a perfect setting, when BBC Television recorded a series of episodes of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, in 2009.