Earliest records show that Pluckley was probably known as Pluccan lëah from the old English ‘Plucca’s clearing.’ In 1086 the village was called Pluchelei [Domesday] and during the 1100’s it was spelt Plucelea and Plukele. A Roman road led through the village (under what is now the Thorne Estate, towards the Pinnock and on through Frith Wood) and the site of a Roman villa has been found nearby at Little Chart.
The Domesday Book tells us that the Archbishop of Canterbury owned Pluckley. In turn, Archbishop Lanfranc gave the village to the management of a Saxon knight, John Folet. No church is recorded in the Domesday Book, but there was certainly a priest in the village. It is interesting to note that, at this time, Pluckley was a larger community than Ashford whose recorded value was £5, while Pluckley’s was £15. With 16 villagers, 7 smallholders and 8 slaves managing 12.5 acres of meadow and caring for 140 pigs it was a thriving community.
Later the main livelihood of the area, especially from the 13th century onwards, was weaving. This was carried out in the home from local wool and may explain the unusually high ceilings in some of the older properties in the area. It survived until the collapse of the wool trade nationally.
Over the years, the village gradually expanded down the hill slowly encroaching on the forest until, in the 14th century, the Black Death decimated the population. At this time it is likely that Pluckley’s survivors moved back up the hill believing it to be a healthier position. (A document of 1572 states that Pluckley Rectory was ‘in a low, unhealthy place, a great distance from the church.’)
In 1450, groups from Pluckley joined the abortive revolt by Jack Cade. Records show that nearly 50 pardons were afterwards issued to inhabitants: a surprisingly high figure for a village. A century later blood was spilt, this time in the church, during the Wyatt rebellions. It was at this time that the parish church of St Mary at Pevington was destroyed. Pevington parish was later divided between Egerton, Little Chart, and Pluckley – with Pluckley being granted the greater area.
The Dering family from their early beginnings in the reign of Henry II, grew in importance, inheriting the manor of Surrenden to the east of the village. The first baronet is famous for creating a huge library of books, charters, maps and manuscripts; part of this collection can be found in the Centre for Kentish Studies at County Hall. It is this first baronet who is generally believed to have escaped from the Roundheads through a narrow, curved-topped window at the manor – a popular myth that led to the addition of ‘Dering windows’ to most, if not all, of the houses owned by the Dering family during the romantic Victorian era.
The third baronet, Sir Edward Dering, was commissioned by William and Mary to raise a new regiment and in 1689 the 24th Foot was born. Holding the record of the most VCs gained in a single 12-hour battle (Rorke’s Drift of 1879: the subject of the film ‘Zulu’), its name was changed in 1881 to the South Wales Borderers. Now part of the Royal Regiment of Wales, its roots were acknowledged at a 300th anniversary ceremony in the village in 1989. This event is recorded in the church on a plaque of Welsh slate.
In 1843 the railway transformed the lower part of the village with larger residences for gentlemen who came down by train for the shooting in the Forest and Dering Wood, a stationmaster’s house and a row of terraced properties. Within 30 years the brickworks was opened and more housing built for the workers. Because it was more or less a separate community, a church (St Mary’s) was also built. Read more about Pluckley Station and its history here.
When the Dering estate was sold in 1928, many tenants purchased their homes. The auction catalogue shows that tradesmen in the village included a wheelwright and coffin maker, saddler, shoemaker, provisions store, post office and general store, butcher, baker, sweet shop, newsagent, furniture warehouse, and windmill (destroyed by fire in 1939). The manor house of Surrenden Dering became a boys’ school.
Great excitement was seen in the village in 1926 when an Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy airliner made an emergency landing in a field between Pluckley and Egerton, once used as an airfield in the First World War.
During the last war, flying bombs caused much damage and earned the village the nickname of ‘bomb alley’. The Royal Observer Corps had an active section and a lookout post with a bombproof shelter (still in existence) was constructed at Prebbles Hill. The army built three anti-tank ‘pill boxes’: two at the Forge Hill/Egerton Road junction, and the other in the wall just below the Black Horse garden.