Now for a quick test to make sure you’ve all been paying attention. Name the Cinque Ports. Yes, you — the chap lurking behind his office computer screen pretending to be working.
Quite correct: Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hastings. Yes, and Rye and Winchelsea were added later. For bonus marks, how many limbs of the Cinque Ports — towns that were also invited to get in this “legalised mafia” — can you name? I’ll accept Deal, Ramsgate, Lydd, Tenterden, Folkestone, Faversham and Margate.
But what about Gillingham? Yes, that’s right — a limb of Hastings can be found on the Lower Rainham Road, near — appropriately — the Hastings Arms.
Current Ordnance Survey maps show Cinque Port Marshes on the Medway estuary just to the north of Gillingham. Reference to the same area on the earliest Ordnance Survey map, however, reveals the “Cinque Port of Hastings (Detached)”.
The Manor of Grange was a narrow strip extending from Watling Street (now the present A2) to the Medway. Grange Lane, now known as Featherby Road, forms its eastern boundary as far as the Lower Rainham Road. It also includes a quay and area of marshes.
Geographically, it was firmly part of Gillingham. Administratively, it wasn’t: Until 1949 the pubs in this area could stay open half an hour later — because licensing times were set by Hastings magistrates.
How did all this happen? Let’s go back to Domesday Book, when the Manor of Gillingham was one of many held by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror. The manor was divided, and the sub-manor of Grange went into the possession of the de Hastings family. In 1180 the owner was Manasser de Hastings; by 1276 it was Matthew, who was succeeded by his son William.
The introduction of “limbs”, which could provide shipping support to the king, took the pressure off the main Cinque Ports and this is what happened with the de Hastings family’s holding in Gillingham.
A document of 1284 shows that William de Hastings had to support a boat and oar from Grange.
Membership fees for the king’s mafia
The Cinque Ports have been described as the king’s mafia. They were specially favoured towns — granted certain privileges in exchange for backing the king.
The towns were obliged to provide seamen and oars for the King’s service for a fixed number of days each year. In Dover’s case it was 20 ships, each with a crew of 21, for 15 days. In return, the ports were allowed fishing privileges, exemption from some taxes and the right to be represented at coronations.
Even now, in my beloved Faversham, the mayor at the time of a coronation will be known afterwards as a baron of the Cinque Ports.