Key events in history

55BC – 400AD Roman period
Julius Caesar passes through Blean and Roman occupation begins.
54BC The Battle of Bigbury

400AD –  700 AD early Anglo- Saxon period
A complex history of mainly Jutish settlement (from Jutland in Denmark) occurs.
c.560AD The pagan Ethelbert (cited as the great grandson of legendary warleader Hengist) is crowned King of Kent and marries the christian and literate Frankish princess Bertha, daughter of Charibert, king of Paris. The Frankish connection is firmly established and Kent is a prosperous, powerful and cosmopolitan kingdom able to monopolise trade with the continent.
597AD St Augustine arrives in Kent
c. 600 Ethelbert converts to Christianity
605 AD An early written charters records Ethelbert granting land in Sturry alias Chislet to the church of SS Peter and Paul (later to become St Augustine’s Abbey).
Church control of The Blean begins.

700 – 1066 late Anglo-Saxon period
Kent falls under the control of the Kings of Mercia and Wessex
724 Written record tells us the nuns of Minster Abbey in Thanet are given the rights of pannage (swine pasture) in Mincing Wood now part of Blean Woods National Nature Reserve.
785 An early reference to working woods and the name Blean is found in a charter, referring to woodfuel for salt boiling on the coast at Seasalter.
More charters from this period indicate further grants of land and rights across The Blean to church institutions.

1066 – 1720 Normans to the Sweet Chestnut
The machinery of church and state combine and the management of The Blean becomes progressively more organised to service the growing needs of Canterbury and its pilgrims.
1089 The Domesday Book records part of The Blean as “unfruitful woodland” probably referring to its infertile soils. Hamo de Crevequer, the sheriff was the lord of the manor of Blean itself. Most other manors were owned by either the Archbishop or Christ Church Cathedral Priory and they were valued according to the number of swine that could be pastured there.
1170 Thomas Becket was murdered by four knights acting on the instruction of Henry II. Canterbury now had a saint and the town became a centre of pilgrimage.
1189 Richard I gives Church Woods (now part of Blean Woods NNR) to the Cathedral Priory. The ownership of the woods by the religious houses of Canterbury is almost complete and remains so until after the second world war.
c.1250 The accounts of the Cathedral Priory show that, as the population grows, income from underwood now outstrips income from wood pasture. Consequently, there is considerable investment in woodbanks and ditches to prevent animals eating valuable saplings and shoots.
1544 Henry VIII introduces an act whereby when a wood is cut 12 tillers must be left to grow on for timber and not cut again for 14 years. This followed the expansion of the iron industry (particularly in The Weald) and the great demand for charcoal. Henry effectively advocated by law the system of “coppice with standards”.
c 1573 Faversham Gunpowder works opens shortly followed by the copperas industry in Tankerton and Whitstable, both industries using wood from The Blean

1720 – 20th  century. From Beer to Biodiversity
1720 – 1800. Historically the predominant tree species in The Blean was Oak, followed by Hornbeam, Hazel and Beech.  “Hoppy” beer becomes the height of fashion The Blean is planted extensively with sweet chestnut coppice. More hornbeam is also planted because it produces some of the best charcoal.
1750-post war. Despite the decline of the coppice industry in the UK the economic importance of sweet chestnut remained paramount in Kent for the next two centuries.
1845 The Ecclesiastical Commissioners now had powers to acquire properties belonging to the church and, despite resistance from the Dean and Chapter, instructed their agents, Cluttons, to make recommendations for woodland management. These included improvements to drainage through the creation of open ditches, many of which still remain.
c.1960 Some 3000 acres pass into private ownership and conifers are more widely planted. Many of the plantations are situated within easy access to the two forestry “New Roads” laid down in the 18th century and to Cheyney’s Sawmill in Herne Common which closed in 1964.
c1981 The RSPB buys part of Church Wood and Bossenden Wood as a reserve and states in a release to the public that “about a third [of the woodland] has vanished beneath a dark blanket of alien conifers in recent years.”
c1987 The Kemsing Paper Mill in Sittingbourne replaces coppice pulp with recycled paper.
1991 A consortium is formed between the RSPB, the Woodland Trust, English Nature and three local authorities (Swale, Canterbury & Kent) to purchase what is now Blean Woods NNR.

21st century
The new guardians of the woods, their heritage and their future are the partners of The Blean Initiative.

Kent Wildlife Trust with financial support from The Heritage Lottery Fund and others purchase extensive tracts of West Blean & Thornden Woods and South Blean.

The Woodland Trust obtain previously wooded arable land near Dargate and begin planting Victory Wood the flagship of their Trafalgar Woods project.

The Blean Heritage & Community Group is established and is open to all. They win a Local Heritage Initiative Lottery grant for a series of important projects led by local people, including this leaflet.

With thanks to the Blean Heritage and Community Group