Historic Heritage: At the heart of the village is the 15th century Square. Flanked on the south-west side by the Castle gates and on the north-east by the 13th century Church, the Square is considered by many to be one of the most perfectly preserved medieval settings in South-east England.
Most of the buildings in the Square and in the four streets leading into it date from the late 15th century and are black and white, half-timbered structures, some faced with brick. Almost all are listed buildings and the greater part of the village is a conservation area, under the 1972 Act.
The Norman Keep of the Castle, which is the oldest building in the village and still inhabited, dates from 1174 and was built for King Henry II. but archaeological excavations carried out in the 1920s suggest that it stands on the foundations of a much older Anglo-Saxon fortification, possibly dating from the 5th century, and there is evidence of earlier Roman habitation in the vicinity.
The Jacobean building, now known as the Castle, was constructed in 1616 for Sir Dudley Digges, reputedly to a design by lndigo Jones. It is one of the finer mansions in the South-east and commands exceptional views across the Stour Valley. The gardens, originally laid out by John Tradescant, were redesigned in the 18th century under the guidance of Capabilty’ Brown and include a fine terrace leading down to a fishing lake. The walls to the grounds also date from this time (1720), although the two gatehouses were only added in the present century.
Building records of the Church of St Mary on the opposite side of the Square date from 1280. but here again the structure stands on earlier foundations and it is believed that there has been a church on the site since the 7th century. The present building is in the English Perpendicular style and is of unusual size for a relatively small village, reflecting the influence and standing of the then royal squires.
After the Castle Keep. the two oldest houses in the village thought to be that in the Square now occupied by the Tudor Lodge Gift Shop and Peacock Antiques and Burgoyne’s in the High Street; both are wealden hall houses, the former dating from 1370-1410 and the latter from 1450-1480. Cumberland House (1470-1510), also in the High Street, is a particular distinguished building and there is some evidence to suggest that it was at one time a royal hunting lodge.
The distinction being the oldest house in the Parish belongs however, to Hurst Farmhouse at the southern end of Mountain Street; dating from 1300-1335, it alone shares a Grade I listing with the Castle and Church.
Development: Chilham has traditionally been reluctant to yield its historic heritage to new development, and private house building in the earlier part of the present century was concentrated largely in Canterbury Road and Pilgrims Lane well outside the present-day conservation area. But in the year following the Second World War. many of the older artisan an workers cottages in the historic heart of the village were sold b the Castle Estate and converted into superior residences leading to a demand for new affordable village housing.
The first sizeable extension of the core of the village came 1952 with the construction by the Local Authority of 8 semi detached houses at Herons Close, at the foot of the High Street Designed to complement the architectural traditions of the village, this development won a Civic Trust award.
Over the next two decades, a further 74 local authority houses were built at the neighbouring Felborough Close. This is a pleasantly laid-out development and includes an attractive group of 12 retirement cottages adjacent to The Avenue but it was the first within the conservation area to adopt contemporary architectural styles.
Private housing development over the same period has been limited to a small number of family homes in garden settings along Hambrook Lane and the adjacent Hambrook Close, but planning permission has been granted for a further small development adjoining the village recreation ground and for the conversion of the Castle farmyard into 21 new homes of varying size.
Commercial and light industrial development over the past 15 years has been concentrated in the area of the village railway station, outside the conservation area, and at Hurst Farm where a number of small workshops have been established in redundant farm buildings.
The one residential development of note undertaken in the surrounding areas in this period has been the conversion of the former farm buildings at East Stour Farm on the Ashford Road into 5 homes. Also. planning approval has lately been granted for the improvement and containment of The Beeches caravan site on the same road. which has long been the least satisfactory feature of the residential scene in Chilham, and some work is now in hand.
Agriculture: The conversion of erstwhile farm buildings to other, principally residential, use is a measure of both the process of agricultural consolidation and the growing appeal of Chilham as a residential environment. Although the village is at the heart of a relatively prosperous agricultural area. most of the smaller farms, including the Castle estate, have ceased to operate as independent units and three larger farms now account for the greater part of the acreage in the immediate vicinity. These are mainly arable, with some grazing but two small fruit farms remain and there is also a new vineyard.
Visitors & Tourism: Being on the ancient Pilgrims Way from Winchester to Canterbury, Chilham has played host to many visitors down the centuries and if today’s visitors are as likely to be drawn from the near Continent as from Winchester, its historic and scenic setting remains of great appeal and it is today one of the most visited villages in Kent. It is also known to a considerably wider audience, having been the setting for several film and TV productions .
A popular Pilgrims Fayre, which is held in the Village Square on the Spring Bank Holiday each year It should, however, be noted that the Castle Estate formerly a popular visitor attraction is now closed to visitors. There are however, periodic entertainments such as Summer concerts in the Castle grounds.
Shops & Facilities: As with so many villages, competition from supermarkets in the neighbouring towns has steadily eroded the viability of local household shopping outlets. Chilham no longer has a baker or butcher and shopping facilities in the village are increasingly directed to the custom of visitors rather than residents, with antique, gift and art shops replacing some of the more basic services. However, the Sub-Post Office, which doubles as the village newsagent and provides a range of other essential goods and services, remains a focal point for village life, while the Fruit Stall on the outskirts of the village offers a generous range of fresh produce, groceries, confections and garden plants and Badgers Hill offers cider and other farm shop products.
The two village inns, one of which has accommodation, are historic and popular attractions in themselves and offer full catering and bar facilities. There is also a small restaurant and a number of homes at which bed and breakfast is available.
Vehicle maintenance is well catered for and the principal domestic trades continue to be well represented, either in Chilham or in the neighbouring villages of the Parish.
Public Services: Except for the Police, who no longer have a resident village constable, public services also remain well represented. The village school, which serves the Parish as a whole, has facilities for approximately 100 pupils at primary level. The village has its own Doctor’s surgery with pharmacy and has access to a comprehensive range of hospital services in Canterbury and Ashford. Chilham also has its own retained Fire Station and most of the village and its environs are connected to all main services; the partial exceptions are Mountain Street and Dane Street which do not have main drainage or gas and East Stour which in common with most of the farming communities in the Parish, has no main drainage.
Social & Community Services: The village has an active and concerned community life. Village societies encompass a range of social, religious, conservation and recreational interests. while several voluntary groups provide care facilities for the elderly and housebound and support for the Canterbury hospitals and hospices on which the community depends.
The village also has excellent recreation grounds and there are active cricket, football, tennis and angling clubs. A new sports pavilion and indoor badminton court is planned. The fine old village hall, now extensively modernised and with both a small and a large hail, continues to serve as a venue for village gatherings, for a short-mat bowling club and for both public and private functions.
Text from Chilham Parish Appraisal1996