Evidence suggests that, in one form or another, communities have existed in this area since Palaeolithic times. The general consensus is that the name Kemsing is of Saxon origin, having once been spelt Cimescing. The real meaning of this spelling is unclear, but recent findings suggest that some place names ending in “ing” are an ancient word for a small stream, so possibly, Kemsing was the name given to the small stream that rises in the centre of the village.
Unlike many villages in this part of Kent, there is not a great deal of evidence of roman occupation, although a few artefacts have been unearthed, nothing significant to suggest a thriving community. Most roman settlements that have been excavated in this part of Kent are situated near and around the river Darent, which in these times was a far more substantial river than today, enabling trade to come and go on barges.
Basically, the rivers Darent and Medway were lifelines.
Kemsing is first mentioned in AD822, when the Saxons and Jutes would have settled: it is here that the Kemsing Story begins. In AD 961, a child called Edith was born to King Edgar “the peaceful” and his lady Wulfrith. Although she lived most of her life at the Abbey of Wilton in Wiltshire, she was born in Kemsing. Edith died at a tender age of only 24. She was venerated as a miracle worker to whom a shrine was built at Kemsing, which prospered from the resultant visits of pilgrims.
Oddly enough, there is no mention of Kemsing in the Domesday Book although, at the time of its completion in 1086, Kemsing’s community would have been well established. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin had been built in AD 1060 and it seems strange that Kemsing was excluded.
The growing of corn was the principal form of employment in and around Kemsing, taking advantage of the fertile soil. After the Black Death, intensive farming gave way to sheep, creating a corn and sheep economy. By the time of the 14 hundreds, farming was a prosperous industry and the village was growing. With changes in religious practices and instability in the governing of the country, life in Kemsing in the 16th century would not have been easy. Given England’s penchant for having a war at the drop of a hat, inevitably some of the men folk would have taken to arms and left the village to participate in these excursions.
The 17th century brought changes, not least civil war and more plague although, unlike the neighbouring village of Seal, the latter did not seem to affect Kemsing. In Seal 16 people succumbed to it. In this century, Kemsing started to expand with more houses being built and many old ones extended.
By the end of the 18th century, the first national census was commissioned. In 1801 Kemsing had 61 houses inhabited by 320 people. New trades were also growing to support the flourishing farms. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights and tanners appeared along with bricklayers, joiners, thatchers and glaziers to supply their expertise to the ever growing village.
By the 19th century, Kemsing was gaining a reputation. The men folk of the village were referred to as being rough and ill mannered. Indeed, life was hard. Poor roads and communication links and, by the sound of it, an insubstantial diet. With the rail link to Sevenoaks completed in 1862 and Kemsing’s own station on the new line to Maidstone in 1874, the village, at last, was more in touch with London and other cosmopolitan Kentish towns. This, in turn, encouraged new residents to move to the area.
The 20th century has indeed brought more sweeping changes to Kemsing. Of course, with the advent of two major conflicts, Kemsing, as other villages in Kent, suffered the loss of some of its youth. A memorial to the fallen bears testimony to these brave young men by the St. Edith’s Well. Not only the men of the village were busy. In 1915 a branch of the Women’s Institute was formed, the first in Kent. A second was formed later and still going strong. Today, a robust community exists, although many of the economically active residents now to commute to work in London and elsewhere. Several shops and pubs survive despite intense competition from two supermarkets opened within three miles in recent years. The locals are genuinely proud of what they have.
For a detailed history of Kemsing, “The story of Kemsing in Kent”, by V.E. Bowden, is available from local outlets, with acknowledgements to V.E. Bowden, Alan Bignell and Rosemary Banister.