A History of YALDING, Kent, England



Along Vicarage Road at Kenmare, (a cottage next to Linden House, a one time day school,) lived this rather eccentric lady known as Nurse Royal, referred to as our own Miss Haversham, and whose life has been shrouded in mystery. Children used to treat her with suspicion, with some hurrying past her house, or her, when she went out, and a few, mostly boys like George Kisbee who lived opposite the George public house, knocking on her door and running away. She lived the life of a hermit as her neighbours would verify, with much of the contents of her cottage covered with newspapers.

The title of nurse, which she apparently appreciated, arose from the fact that no case of need escaped her charity, and no case if illness occurred when she did not offer her services. She was known to visit many women of the village, in which some known are Mrs Fridd and Mrs Milton who both lived at the Tatt, Mrs Lucy Brenchley at Laddingford, and my sister inform’s me, our mother also, who in return visited her at Kenmare, just along the road from our home at Acton Place. In spite of her acts of kindness the villagers looked askance at this strange lady in her long black dresses, with burning eyes and snow white hair, which one could rarely see as she usually wore a veil. When out walking she would observe the living natural history of our rural environment, and remove any creature at risk to the side of the road.

From her behaviour it was thought that she suffered from some religious mania, or certainly a spiritual bias, for some whom she met in the street, she would touch them and then pause as if seeking some kind of inspiration. “Yes “, she would say suddenly, “its all right to speak to you”. A little disconcerting for some, but people came to know that this was the way of their strange neighbour, who was slightly different to the norm, but very caring. All the little gifts of money or food to the poor and sick people in the village, and there were many, would be accompanied by the phrase, “God told me to give this to you.” One of her strange routines would be to find her walking amongst the gravestones in the churchyard, or up on the hill-side at midnight.

Although she normally had no dealings with, or known communications with men, one act of kindness she performed was to offer her services to the wounded soldiers who were housed at Cheveney Institute during the First World War, and write letters home for them.

It was the custom for villagers to dispose of household refuse on the Glebe-land part of the Kintons, in the copse across the fence from the playground. Nurse Royal followed this routine and was in the habit of burning her bundle of rubbish. On one occasion she caught her long dress alight, and was badly burnt. This event was apparently witnessed by a Sonny (Tony) Honess, who ran up to the school where the Headmaster Mr Smart grabbed the first-aid kit and followed him. Sonny put his coat round her and took her home, where she locked herself in. When moans were later heard, neighbours broke-in and found her in such a state that she was taken to Maidstone hospital where she died.

In the house were found many new dresses and gowns, that we now know that she had made, for she was indeed not a nurse but a talented dress-maker. She had been living in Yalding since before 1900, and the 1891 census reveals her at 35 Duke Street Marylebone in business as a dress-maker, located between a newsagent and a licensed victualler. She had living with her, six assistants and two servants, obviously a lady of substance although she was only 27 then, but is understood she was a court dressmaker, and had made gowns for Queen Victoria.

It is not clear why she made the move to Yalding, but although one theory was that she was jilted, another story declares that as she walked up the aisle her husband to be, dropped dead at her feet. Whatever the truth, she could not face life as it was and retired to her selected country cottage as a lady of means.

The 1871 census tells us that she was born in Marylebone, and living there at that time with her mother Jane, elder brother Alfred, and younger sister Sophia. It was to Marylebone where she was returned where she was buried in 1935, after an eventful but tragic life.