“Borstal” is claimed by historians to mean “a safe place”.
My parents came here in the year 1866 and on the 22nd July 1872 I too arrived, so I will be 79 in July next.
My earliest recollections of its inhabitants are their good neighbourly character. Their joys and their sorrows alike were shared, and contributed in to small degree to the happiness of their lives.
Transport in those far off days was conspicuous by its absence, compelling everyone to walk. The roads were rough and frequently dusty or muddy and of paths, there were none. The journey from Rochester to Borstal along the Borstal Road was tiring and dreary, especially at night with no lamps and few houses.
The small cottage in the garden, the first after passing through the Fort Clarence archway, was then, as now, No. 1 Borstal Road. A family named Stevens lived there. Next was the “Red House”, the home of Major Irwin and later of Mrs Wharton of “Medway View”. “Grounville Cottage” with its large greenhouses filled with Marcheneille roses belonged to Johnny Ford of the Medway Steamboat Company fame. Close by was “Clare Cottage” where resided Mr. J. J. Sharp, then Postmaster at Rochester. Adjoining was a bungalow and large garden belonging to the family of Dale, parents of the late Alderman Dale. A pair of cottages stood near. These belonged to the Tuffills, Wine and Spirit Merchants, one being tenanted my Mr. Boving their cellarman. In the other lived P. C. Beckwith, successor to P. C. Inwood who had lived in the village until his death. We boys played tricks upon PC Beckwith and released his rabbits.
Beyond these cottages was “Borstal Cottage”, then the residence of Mr. Lewis Biggs of the Brewery firm of Budden and Biggs. The pair of houses still standing were the last until one came to “Albion House” at the top of Manor Lane.
The village Day School was also the village Church – the Parish Church – on Sundays, thanks to the Church of England which provided for the education of the village children and Sunday services.
The Non-Conformist community met for religious services in the homes of their members, alternatively at the Methodist Chapel at Wouldham or at George Street, Chatham, where much was achieved in reforming some of these unfortunate people. The first Curate of Borstal was the Reverend Phillips, described by my parents as a man of very broad views. He was succeeded by the Reverend Borrodale, whom I remember, and he lived at the farm house at the top of School Hill. He received a stipend of sixty five pounds per annum plus a free residence. My earliest recollections of the school was when I was about five years of age when I started there. The staff comprised Miss Ingram, Mistress, and Miss Dixon, Teacher. They lived together at a house adjoining the then “Walnut Tree” public house.
The development of the village and the needs of the increasing population were met by the generous gift of a parcel of land my Mr. Thomas Tuff upon which your Parish Church of St. Matthew now stands. The ancestors of the Tuff family lived in this district when it was only a small hamlet. They were farmers, hop growers and also sand and gravel merchants. They dug their sand and gravel from lands near Brambletree and Rings Farm. They were also the first landlords of the “White Horse” Inn where they also paid their wages to the workmen. A descendant of the family, Mr. Charles Tuff was one time an MP for Rochester.
The laying of the foundation stone of the Church by the Earl of Darnley marked a most important even in the life of the villages, including we schoolchildren. We had a holiday and joined in the ceremony to assist in the singing. The opening of the Church facilitated the development of the School, allowing for a new Primary Department with a Miss Groombridge of Gillingham as an addition to the staff. We remained here until we were eight years of age when we were transferred to St. Margaret’s School, Rochester, opposite the Cathedral, or as an alternative to the Troy Town Board School, at the option of our parents.
Whilst the cement works of Booth and Company provided the chief source of employment, their factory farm and those of Levy at Nashenden and Tuff of Manor Farm gave employment for others, including whole families during the hopping season.
The names of Craske and Hill at the cement works, Broomfield at the farm, Alexander, Howland and Hawkes at Nashenden and Cork at Manor Farm will recall many name familiar in the past.
Three outstanding events in the life of the village annually were the Sunday School Treats of both the Church and Miss Tong’s School, the Harvest Festival with its crowded congregation including many who rarely attended at any other time and the Dinner of the members of the “Good Intent” public house club, costing only coppers.
Mr. Lewis Levy was Vicar’s Warden and Mr. Stephen Tong was Peoples’ Warden. Stephen Tong, like most of the villagers, was employed at the cement works and regularly attended Sunday Services at the Church. As a choir boy, I soon noticed that he had a regular habit: attired in a silk hat and frock coat, he proceeded directly from morning services to the bar of the “White Horse” and after consuming his glass of ale went straight to the “Good Intent” and after another glass went home for dinner.
The year 1900 sounded a death knell to the villages whose livelihood was based upon the cement works. The formation of the Associated Cement Manufacturers resulted in the immediate closing of Booth’s works. With no alternative employment in view, wages were changed to want. My father had spent thirty four years with cement works.
A most popular Curate at St. Matthew’s was the Reverend W. M. Bottome, a man of swarthy complexion who originated from South America. He was a man of the people and he did much to enlighten the drab lives of the villagers, He was an able preacher and, as a result, increased the size of the congregation.
Borstal Cricket Club was Captained by my Uncle, Alfred Walker, who found a fine addition to the team in the Reverend Bottome. A job was found for Willie Day as Scorer at three-pence per match unless we lost, when I seldom got my money!
My years of chorister and boy soloist in the Church Choir created in me a love of music, not least in the organ and services. George Minton was organist.
Events in the development of the village beyond its one shop, Crowhursts, were the building of the Institute by S. E. Booth; the grocery and provision stores by James Pollock; Longleys, the first butcher shop – Longley was later a Mayor of Rochester; and a chemists hop opened by George Marriner who was also an alto Lay Clerk at Rochester Cathedral. Another resident was John Voicey on decani.
When Association Football came to Borstal, it was my brother Albert who with other enthusiasts, inaugurated the Borstal Football Club. He was its Honorary Secretary and an active player for many years.
The Convict Prison on the hill provided for hardened criminals service long sentences and were sad specimens of nature. They were often to be seen with chains on both ankles hobbling at their work. A passing reference to that kind hearted Governor of the Prison – Colonel Plummer – whose Christian approach to his duties achieved much to help these unfortunate men. He too frequently rendered useful service at both the Church and Institute services.