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Villagers restore the Lenham Cross war memorial ahead of its centenary

A distinctive landmark on the North Downs, clearly visible from the A20, has been given a facelift ahead of its centenary.

The Lenham Cross, originally a war memorial to those from the village it overlooks who died in the First World War, will soon be 100 years old.

The Lenham Cross today after its refresh
The Lenham Cross today after its refresh

It was designed by school teacher, Cecil Groom, and measures 61m by 21m. It was paid for by public subscription and was carved by hand directly into the chalk face of The Downs by a team of villagers under the direction of Freddie Baldock.

Work began on the cross in 1921 but its official dedication ceremony was not held until September 1922.

A commemorative granite stone surrounded by iron railings nearby recorded the names of the 42 Lenham villagers who died.

During the Second World War, it had to be covered over with earth because the cross would have been a way-marker for enemy aircraft.

Sadly after the end of hostilities, a second stone had to be added with the names of a further 14 villagers lost in conflict.

A work party restoring the cross
A work party restoring the cross

The village held its annual remembrance services at the base of the cross until 1960, when the decision was taken to move the commemorative stones to the north entrance of St Mary's church and to hold the services there in future, as elderly mourners were finding accessing the services difficult.

In December, 2017, the cross was recognised by Historic England as a National Monument and War Memorial and it is now Grade II listed.

Throughout its 100-year history, the village has had a constant battle with nature, which is always trying to reclaim the land.

In 1983, it underwent an extensive "re-chalking" with 40 tonnes of compacted chalk added and then again in 1994.

Lenham will celebrate the centenary of the cross's dedication on Tuesday, September 6.

Ahead of the occasion, villagers formed the Lenham Memorial Cross Group and held a series of work parties on the site in June and July.

A Remembrance Day service held at Lenham Cross in 1930
A Remembrance Day service held at Lenham Cross in 1930

They edged the cross to restore its crisp and straight appearance and removed 15 large bags of rubbish, weeds and stones. They then clipped the border around the monument.

Finally, a top dressing of two tonnes of fresh chalk, donated by JKS Quarries of Charing, was added.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Sir George Jessel, and the Mayor of Maidstone Cllr Derek Mortimer, will be among those attending the centenary ceremony, which starts at 5.30pm, when a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion and interpretation board will be unveiled.

Relatives of the fallen are also expected to attend.

Members of the public are welcome but there is no parking at the cross or in Pilgrims Way. Visitors should park at Lenham Community Centre and walk.

This photo with the cross in the background was taken in 1946
This photo with the cross in the background was taken in 1946

The full story of the cross and the villagers who fought is available in a book called Lenham and The Great War, by local historian Amy Myers. It's available from the parish office or in good bookshops, ISBN 987-0-9928947-1-9.

It is priced at £15.

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