Acol can be found just to the south of Quex Park, close to the western end of the runway for Manston Airport. The surrounding landscape is particularly flat except for the drainage ditch that is pretty much all that is left of the Wantsum Channel which at one time was two miles wide and separated Thanet from the mainland, hence the name Isle of Thanet! Over the years large amounts of the original parish were given to neighbouring communities and because of this Acol is one of the smallest communities in Kent.
The name Acol is derived from the Anglo Saxon words “ac” meaning oak and “holt”, wood or thicket. From this information we can deduce that the area was at one time wooded unlike today! The name has changed many times from Acholt in 1270, 1469 Akholte to the Acol.
When the Bubonic Plague or Black Death as it is better known reached these shores 1348 the first place believed to have felt its impact was Bristol and then it quickly spread across the south of the country. The contagious disease was helped by filth that littered the streets of towns and villages in medieval England. Everything was thrown out onto the street, from the contents of chamber pots to household waste like food making them the ideal environment for rats, the primary host of the fleas which carried the disease. Another factor was the disposal of bodies which was quite crude because people who handled the corpses didn’t initially wear any protective clothing and this enabled the disease to become widespread.
Physicians had little idea of how to treat the victims who usually died within two to four days after contracting it. At this time in history the church had a stranglehold on society and people believed that this was a pestilence sent by God, they believed that physicians were of little use, what was needed was prayer and in some instances flagellation. A nursery rhyme that is still in use today evolved from this period and echoes the sentiments of the people living through this horrendous time:
“Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, atishoo, atishoo we all drop dead”
When the plague eventually reached Acol it wiped out the majority of the residents, the young, the elderly and the poor were particularly vulnerable, as the majority of the inhabitants were members of these groups you can understand why! It was an unusually sensible decision taken by the few survivors to burn down the village and re establish it a mile away to its present location. It is believed that the new village was given the name of Millbrough, then Ville in the Oaks and ultimately back to Acol.
Just as the starvation created by the plague was the result of the Peasants Rebellion, the Napoleonic Wars resulted in the Swing Riots 1833-4. How on earth did a war that was fought on the continent or at sea affect the residents of Thanet? Despite being victors the government introduced crippling taxes to help pay for the war, the result was low prices for farmers and starvation wages for the labourers this helped to fuel the social unrest. The impact on the inhabitants of this area was particularly bad because most people in one way or another lived off the land; they were either small tenant farmers or farm labourers many of whom left Kent in search of a new life in the colonies of America, Australia and New Zealand. When a Member of Parliament and radical publicist William Cobbett visited the area in 1823 he noted how poor and beggarly the people appeared and not only were they starving but they were also dirty in the extreme!
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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