The Origins of the name Durtnall and the Location of Durkinghole



                Much has been written in the past concerning the Durtnall family of Kent, which has deep roots indeed in the Garden of England. The first references to the ancient family name are to be found in taxation records from the thirteenth century, at which time the name was spelt, amongst many other variants, DURKINGHOLE. At this time surnames as we know them today were only just beginning to come into use, thus the early references refer to the men of Durkinghole collectively, or to an individual such as Hamon de Durkinghole (Hamon of Durkinghole). It is suggested, therefore, that the name itself is derived from a place, although the question of whether the place was named after the people or vice versa is still open to debate. It has sometimes been suggested that the family has its origins in Normandy, and that a nobleman called de Darkenhale was granted lands in Kent by William the Conqueror, but to my knowledge no evidence exists to support this.


So what and where was the place that gave it's name to the Durtnalls? In "The Place-Names of Kent", J.K. Wallenberg states that the second element of the ancient name, "hol", is Old English and means "hole". This is fairly straightforward. The first element is thought to be "an -ing-derivative of a base Old English Durc-" or Deorc-, and "may be a topographical word or a designation for human beings". Wallenberg concludes that the name is indeed based on the name of the people who lived there, who were the Deorcingas (Durcingas), which translates as "the dark men".


                And the location of Durkinghole? There are no places of this name to be found on any map of Kent today, but we are fortunate in that two documents have survived from the earliest period that make reference to what was clearly a hamlet known as Durkynghale, which lay somewhere in the parishes of Leigh or Penshurst. The two documents in question were the perambulations of the Lowy of Tonbridge, carried out in 1259 and 1279.


                It is worth spending a little time considering the Lowy and why it was necessary to carry out the perambulations. The Lowy was an administrative unit based at Tonbridge Castle, which was then in the occupation of the de Clare family, more particularly Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. In earlier times, Durkinghole had been clearly part of the Borough of Cransted in the Hundred of Somerden.[1] The problem arose as the boundary of the Lowy ran through the Borough. Dr Gordon Ward states that:


"The stewards of the Lowy frequently, and by force, obliged those who should have brought their troubles (with the accompanying emoluments to the Lord) to the Hundred court of Somerden, to attend instead the Courts of the Lowy. These illicit actions were questioned and the proceedings of the Hundred Courts in connection therewith are recorded in the Plea Rolls, etc.".


In a Plea Roll of 25 Henry III (1241) we find:


                "They say also that the bailiffs of the aforesaid Earl have withdrawn the suit of the borough of the men of Derkingehole to the Lowy of Tonbridge……."


Extracts from the Hundred Roll of 1273/4 show that the representations of 1241 had little, or at least no prolonged, effect:


                "The tenants of Durkinghol formerly attended the King with the Borough of Gransted (sic), and they have now withdrawn through the bailiffs of Earl of Gloucester".


                It is clear that there were many complaints about the encroachment of the Earl and that, as a result, it was necessary to define the boundary of the Lowy by way of perambulation. Presumably the first one in 1259 did not resolve the issue and a second perambulation was necessary in 1279.

                This is extremely fortuitous for us, as the boundary passed straight through Durkinghole on both occasions. Although, as stated above, the place itself is no longer on the map, the boundary also passed through many of the surrounding farms and their names have not changed. It is therefore possible to say that Durkinghole lay somewhere between Redleaf and Wickhurst in Leigh.


                Wallenberg connects the name Durkinghole with Dubel, and thus with Doubletons Farm. However, this seems an unlikely location for Durkinghole, as it is south of Redleaf and too far west.


                Others have suggested Leigh Park Farm, an ancient moated site, as the location.


To put us on the right track, however, Dr Ward draws attention to several points of interest:


"In a Streatfield deed of 1262, which is a grant of lands to Reginald atte Synderhelle from Sir Stephen de Penesherst (a man of great note in his time) we find mention of


"a certain assart (or clearing) which lies between lands of William de Derkynghole and the said heath towards the east and west". This heath is further described as "the heath of la Synderhelle" (Cinder Hill).


"In a further deed which is not dated but probably soon after the last, to which it refers, we have more detail. This is a grant by Sir Stephen to Hamon de Durkynghole of a licence to pasture his beasts in a certain common pasture

"which commen pasture lieth betweene ye king's high waie which cometh from la Lynderhell and leadeth to Sevenock and the lands which I gave to my gift unto Reginald of la Lynderhell and the lands of Robert de Legha" " (Leigh).


These deeds tell us that the Derkynghole land must have been close to Cinder Hill and to Chiddingstone Causeway. Dr Ward rightly points out that the distance between the common pasture and Durkighole itself cannot have been great.


The final part of the jigsaw comes from another bundle of 26 deeds held by the Centre for Kentish Studies, and refers to land that formed part of the Redleaf Estate.[2] From the catalogue entry we have:


“Little Moorden in Leigh next Tonbridge. A messuage & 12 pieces of land (34a.) [1660-1722, 30a; 1723-1784, 32a] and a piece of woodland (9a) [1660-1722, 8a] all known as Durkinholes otherwise Little Moorden [from 1723], purchased by William Wells from Francis William Hards of Sevenoaks and others. 1809.”


                Little Moorden is still to be found on the map today and fits perfectly with the facts about the Durkinghole land taken from the ancient deeds, being close to both Cinder Hill and Chiddingstone Causeway. It is also in the right location to fit with the perambulation of the Lowy, being between, indeed almost on a line between, Redleaf and Wickhurst.


It is therefore my contention that Little Moorden is the correct location for Durkinghole and therefore the place from which all the Durtnalls and other variants sprung. Presumably the hamlet was absorbed, possibly firstly into Moorden Farm, and then into the Redleaf Estate. By this time no Durkingholes lived there and over the years the name fell into disuse and was lost. The above deeds still refer to "Durkinhole alias Little Moorden" as late as 1809, but I believe this was simply as a result of copying the desciption word for word through successive deeds starting with the one in 1660. It is highly likely that, in everyday conversation, the farm was already being called Little Moorden from the late 17th or early 18th century.


The current occupiers of Little Moorden have confirmed that, whilst the academics have not been able to locate Durkinghole, the local residents have always known Little Moorden has an alternative name!

[1] The Borough of Cransted, Dr Gordon Ward, Unofficial Document Collection at the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone.

[2] U1986