MEREWORTH is situated between Maidstone and Tonbridge in a valley through which a tributary of the River Medway flows. The village is in the Metropolitan Green Belt and contains several Conservation Areas. It has developed on a west-east linear pattern based on The Street, with the other main residential road, Butchers Lane, at right angles to the north. The open aspect of The Street, with houses largely along the north side and mainly fields to its south, is a prized feature of the village. There are many buildings of historic interest, in particular Mereworth Castle, St Lawrence’s Church and Yotes Court, all listed Grade I.
The village’s name derives from Mýra’s wort, or homestead, and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book 1086 as belonging to Hamo, a Norman nobleman. At that time there were 28 villagers, a church and two mills. Sir John de Mereworth fought at Edward III’s siege and capture of Calais in 1347, and the Nevill family owned Mereworth and much of the surrounding area throughout the middle ages. Both Mereworth and the Nevills are commemorated in the church.
The Nevills’ descendant, John Fane, 7th Earl of Westmorland, rebuilt their castle in the style of a domed Italian villa in 1722-25, and, on a new site, St Lawrence's Church in 1744-46, both regarded as among the pre-eminent buildings of their period. The handsome classical church, located on The Street and open every day, has a soaring, eye-catching steeple.
Still largely agricultural, though most residents commute to work elsewhere, Mereworth has long been associated with fruit and hop growing. An important hop grower in the 19th century was the Fremlin brewing family, of Herne House, in Butchers Lane. The annual influx of hundreds of hop pickers, mainly from London, ceased in the 1960s as mechanisation superseded them. During the 20th century hops gave way entirely to fruit growing, and top fruit has now been replaced largely by soft fruit. Hugh Lowe Farms, based at Barons Place, is the major strawberry and raspberry grower in the area, and a large local employer.
During the second World War several doodlebugs fell in the village and the church was slightly damaged. The village played its part in both World Wars, as the war memorial outside the church testifies.
Mereworth Primary School is located at the west end of The Street and is a popular school with consitently high ratings. It was founded as a church school in 1856 and the present older school buildings date from 1876.
Leisure activities centre on the Queen Elizabeth Recreation Ground, where sports are played regularly and the village fete is held each June. The day has always proved a happy and successful occasion, and for many people it provides one of the last links with true village life. See the diary dates section for Fete Day and for organisation meetings. Other recreational attractions are provided at The Queen’s Head public house, the Beech restaurant, the village hall and the allotments.
In A Boy in Kent, C Henry Warren, the son of the village shopkeeper and baker, gives a delightful account of his childhood in Mereworth just before the first World War.
Mereworth Village Stores, The Street, c 1900 with C. Henry Warren in the doorway aged 5. The other two people in the picture may well be George and Horace, the odd-job man, as featured in A Boy in Kent.
Mereworth is based principally around two roads, The Street and Butcher’s Lane, which both contain houses dating from the 15th century. Despite considerable infilling in the 20th century, the valley setting of the village has not changed in centuries and gives many houses generally unimpeded views of the rural landscape to the south.