The Sir John Falstaff was built in the second half of the 17th Century. It takes its name from Shakespeare’s Henry 1V’s friend and partner in crime at Gads Hill. There is some evidence to suggest that the Doctors’ Surgery next door was the original hostelry.
The Falstaff’s location on the old Dover Road, about half way between Gravesend and Rochester, brought it much trade from travellers and passing traffic. During the 19th Century regiments often passed on their way to Gravesend where they embarked for India. Ships’ companies (paid off, rowdy and tipsy) often made the inn and the area really dangerous.
During that period, as with many village pubs, it became the mainstay of social life. The Parish Council held their vestry meetings at the inn and the guardians of the North Aylesford Union met there to discuss the poor of the area.
Dickens described the Falstaff in the ‘Uncommercial Traveller’ as “a little hostelry which no man possessed of a penny was ever known to pass in warm weather. Before its entrance, are certain pleasant trimmed limes; likewise a cool well, with so musical a bucket handle that its fall upon the bucket rim will make a horse prick up its ears and neigh, upon the droughty road half a mile off. This is a house of great resort for haymaking tramps and harvest tramps, insomuch that they sit within, drinking their mugs of beer, their relinquished scythes and reaping hooks glare out of the open windows, as if the whole establishment were a family war coach of Ancient Britons.”
Extracts from ‘A Mosaic History of Higham’ by Andrew Rootes and Ian Craig available from Gravesend Library.