Elham (pronounced Eel-um) is a village in East Kent situated approximately 9 miles (14 km) south of Canterbury and 5 miles (8 km) north east of Folkestone in the Elham Valley.
The origin of the village’s name has always been a matter of argument. The village is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Alham. This may have derived from Ulaham, which it is referred to in an Anglo Saxon charter of 855A.D. The suffix “ham,” is derived from the German word “heim”, meaning “home.” Thus, it is assumed that Ulaham means homestead of a person named Ula. Another theory is that the name originates from the presence of eels once found in the Nailbourne centuries ago.
The discovery of hundreds of Neolithic hand axes, scrapers and worked flints at Dreal’s Farm on the chalk plateau to the east of the village is the earliest evidence of human activity in the Parish. Bronze Age remains have also been discovered indicating continuity of settlement. There is also a cluster of Bronze Age tumuli in Elham Park Wood and there is a further tumulus on the hillcrest between Ottinge and Rhodes Minnis. Evidence of Roman occupation is limited to discoveries of coins and pottery and there is little Anglo Saxon archaeological evidence although the Anglo Saxon cemetery at Lyminge may extend over the parish boundary.
St Mary’s Church dates from about 1200 whilst the Abbot’s Fireside Restaurant on the high street is of Tudor origin (built in 1641). This is reputed to have been the headquarters of the Duke of Wellington during the times when there was a threat from Napoleonic invasion. In the centre of the village is The Square. This dates from 1251 when the village was granted a market by Edward I and was in use until the early 19th century. The village once had two windmills but both now no longer exist.
The population of Elham was 1,192 in 1881. The Elham Valley Railway opened in 1889 and closed in 1947. There are still traces of its existence throughout the parish such as the remains of the station platforms at the bottom of Duck Lane. Until the early 1900s, a brickworks existed within the village (the Elham Valley Brick and Tile Company) with kilns situated on the east side of the valley.
Elham is situated deep in the heart of the North Downs and within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Whilst much of the countryside surrounding the village is arable farmland there are still patches of unimproved or semi-improved grassland where wildlife is allowed to flourish such as Baldock Downs and Hall Downs. These sites often support many typical chalk downland species such as Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis)and Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) as well as orchids such as Fragrant (Gymnadenia conopsea), Common Spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and Pyramidal (Anacamptis pyramidalis).
Park Gate Down nature reserve is situated within the parish and is well-known for its extensive downland flora. The site and the roadside nature reserve near the chalk pit are managed by Kent Wildlife Trust. Several other areas of land within the parish are maintained under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme whilst there are also designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest at Park Gate Down and Shuttlesfield Down. Elham Park Wood is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. Local volunteers and farmers also carry out work to conserve and manage the environment. There is also an active environmental group who aim to reduce carbon emissions within the local community and receive support from Kent Energy Centre and Kent County Council.
Kent and England wicket-keeper Les Ames was born and brought up in Elham. Another Kent and England cricketer Mark Ealham used to live in the Square. Academy Award winning actress Audrey Hepburn spent some of her childhood in Elham. Prime Minister Anthony Eden lived at Park Gate just north west of Elham during World War II.