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Michael Powell Centenary Walk 2005
By: Steve Crook

I'm tired, but it's a "good tired"

As this was Michael Powell's Centenary year we decided to do something a bit different. Rather than walk around the usual locations in Chilham, Fordwich & Canterbury itself, we decided to look at the area where Micky Powell grew up.

We met up at Bekesbourne railway station. I drove down and as I pulled into the car park Paul Tritton was already there. Although no delays had been announced, we soon found that there were delays to the trains because of engineering works and that people coming by train would be delayed. A lot more people arrived by car (or some by motorbike). We had planned to set off at about 12 but the train that was expected at 11:20 arrived only just before 12. Some people who had expected to get there early were on that but we knew that others were on the train that was due in at 11:45 so we waited for that as well.

A very good turn out, about 85 people. Quite a few regulars but a lot of new faces as well which was very pleasing. One of the people on the later train was David Thompson from the BBC who'd brought a small video camea. We don't know if he'll be able to use any of the footage he shot but he hopes that that will at least convince some people at the BBC that it's worth doing a short programme about us.

So, following Paul's itinerary (a bit later than scheduled), we visited:

Bekesbourne Station
There's a sign about the "Valley of Mills and Manors" that is the valley of the Stour - Michael Powell was influenced by where he was born. He was always very proud of his heritage.

At the Station: "Along the road, in the direction of the railway viaduct of the London and South Eastern Railway, we tried to time our walks to see the splendid boat-train - chocolate and cream - dashing towards Dover and Folkestone, and on one occasion the Royal Train, and our Bekesbourne Stationmaster in a top hat borrowed for the occasion from my father, which got blown out of his hand by the wind of King Edward's impatience to get to Carlsbad and Lily Langtry." (all quotes from Michael's autobiographies, usually A Life in Movies where he described his early years in the area.)

Foot of Station Road: Note the sign on village hall and Maritime England sign.
Bekesbourne was one of only a few inland villages that joined the medieval Cinque Ports Confederation, whose members were obliged to place a number of ships at the king's disposal for a certain number of days every year whenever Danish raids were threatened, or men and royal property had to be ferried across to France.
Bekesbourne was a 'limb' of Hastings, one of the five main ports, and visitors to the village who are unaware of its history are always puzzled by the signs they pass, announcing that Bekesbourne - which is ten miles from the sea as the crow flies - is a 'maritime England heritage town.'
Viaduct. Strengthened pre-D Day WW2. Pill box in arch.
Across field. James Bond lived at Old Palace.

Bekesbourne parish church
Michael Latham Powell baptised here December 1905.
Beke of Bekesbourne's grave near War Memorial.
WWI names on Memorial inc. Buffs soldiers - MP's father served in Buffs and Buffs featured in A Canterbury Tale.

Howletts Farmhouse
We crossed "bottom land" - former hop-garden, now an apple orchard.
MP born September 30, 1905. Second son of Thomas William Powell and Mabel Powell (née Corbett). Thomas was a hop farmer - a 'gentleman farmer' according to the entry in Bekesbourne parish register.
The Powells had recently moved to Kent from Worcestershire because Thomas wanted to escape from his father, whom Michael described as "a severe parent and critical neighbour."
Howletts Mansion

Well Chapel
MP's "Nettle Abbey". He thought it was a ruined cottage but it was in fact a medieval Well Chapel. There was at one time a hamlet here, called Well, which at various times in its history was a 'chapelry district' of Littlebourne, then Ickham and, since 1935, Bekesbourne.
Pool and a complex of streams and springs here where the waters of the Nailbourne merge with the source of the Little Stour.
"Waters of Woe"

Littlebourne Green
"Below Howletts, and in particular at Nettle Abbey, there were strong springs, and by the time my painted wagon had trundled the mile to Littlebourne there was always water under the brick bridge which carried the road to Wingham Well, where our Auntie Chrissie [Christine Decima Powell] and our Uncle Will [Robert William Maxted] farmed from a long, black-and-white timber and plaster house. Chrissie was my father's sister."
Christine Powell met Robert William Maxted (whom Thomas called "that fool Maxted") while visiting the Powells at Howletts. Their "black and white house" is now called Wingham Well House. While living there they had three daughters (Jessica Christine, Mavis Francis and Suzanne). Will Maxted was a tenant farmer. "We boys liked Will very much. He had a red Indian motorbike and sidecar ? and he was kind and good humoured and tolerant, which our father was not."

Pub stop
Quite well appreciated as it was quite a warm day.

On via site of Ickham Mill, thus named even though it was in the heart of Littlebourne. This mill was burned down in about 1908 when Michael was 3. When he returned to Kent in 1943 to make A Canterbury Tale the mills he knew - Littlebourne Mill and Wickhambreaux Mills - were still standing, as they are to this day. See them soon.
MP wrote "Thirty-six years later, in the middle of the second great European war, I dragged my film unit down to the Nailbourne valley, or the valley of the Little Stour as it is called by foreigners like the Ordnance Survey, to get shots of my nursery memories. One of the great wooden mills was gone - burnt down, I fancy - but the other was still there, as fine a piece of timber building as ever and it is in the film A Canterbury Tale as long as it lasts - the film I mean."

Littlebourne Church
Graves of Ernest Holdstock and his son and daughter, John and Bintie, extras in ACT hop picking scene.
On via paths and Littlebourne Mill to Wickhambreaux.

Through churchyard to Donald Lejeune grave and Dam Buster airman's grave.
To mill for Playlet 1.
To Old Post Office and bridge for Playlet 2:
To Green for Playlet 3 and Playlet 4.

Pub stop
Even more appreciated. People were beginning to tire.
David Thompson interviewed Paul & I on camera as we enjoyed a pint.

Depart Wickhambreaux
Garrington Farms. "Our neighbours at Woolton were Percy Mount and his gay, bustling wife, and on the other side '[at Lower and Upper Garrington farms]' the large family of Maxteds."

Arrive Bekesbourne Station
That makes it look so easy doesn't it. In fact it was quite a forced march back to the station. As we were running late due to the problems with the trains and people wanted to get their trains back home we pressed on quite hard. There weren't any more stops on the way back after Garrington Farms so it was a long haul. And getting a bit lost in a field of stubble didn't help (there had been signs there when there was a crop in the field when Paul walked it a few weeks ago).

But we all got back to the station, or most of us. We left a few at Wickhambreaux and some others wanted to explore the area more on their own. All that set off for the station made it. Although I was a bit cream crackered by the time we got back there.

But all the people I'd talked to through the course of the day seemed to have had a good time (or were they just being polite?). That's what I love about these trips, we meet a nice bunch of people, all of whom seem to have different reasons for being there and different interests. We all find out something more about the film or the people that made it, and we have a nice walk in some lovely countryside.


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