The Hildenborough Hitchcocks
by Geoff Calderhead
by Geoff Calderhead
In the 19th century Hitchcock was a fairly common surname in the Tonbridge area, with several families employed as labourers on the local farms. However, from the 1841 census we find Stephen Hitchcock who was living with his young family at Compass Cottages in Leigh being described as a cricket ball maker. This was the first record of a member of the family working in what was to become a long tradition for them in this occupation.
From the census of 1861 we find that Stephen had moved his family to the newly created parish of Hildenborough where they were living at 16 London Road. By this time Stephen’s eldest son Horace is also recorded as a cricket ball maker. The arrival of the family in Hildenborough would go on to have a profound effect on the development and prosperity of the village.
Initially the Hitchcocks were employed By Robert Dark at his ball-making shop at Treberfydd, Watts cross, but in 1875 Horace took over the business and in the following year built a new cricket ball workshop/factory in Mount Pleasant opposite the village green. The business prospered and employed many local men alongside members of the ever expanding Hitchcock family, several brothers and then nephews took up the trade. “H.H. Hitchcock” cricket balls achieved a very high reputation and were in demand wherever first class cricket was being played. “Hitchcocks” were reputed to be the first company to export balls to Australia, and Horace’s brother Raymond named his first daughter Edith Adelaide in recognition of this.
As well as being a prominent local business man Horace took an active part in parish affairs becoming a member of the first parish council, on which he served for several years. Raymond and Phillip Hitchcock also served on the council, they were involved in setting up the village fire brigade, and they volunteered for various other village functions. In 1896 Horace and Raymond were on the committee that drew up the rules for the first Hildenborough cricket club, and Horace also became vice chairman of the Gardening Society on its formation the same year. Stephen Hitchcock became the village post master, operating from his home in London Road.
Raymond Hitchcock & family taken in the village school playground on the occasion of the marriage of eldest son Raymond Harold Hitchcock to the village school teacher Alice Adams. The year was 1913/14. Cicely, who is mentioned in the article, is the little girl standing in the front dressed in white.
By the early 1900s the Hitchcock family had expanded to become one of the largest families in the village, a trawl through the churchyard records reveals thirty two burials with that surname. The cricket ball factory passed out of the family’s ownership in 1937 and the Hitchcocks gradually declined in numbers throughout the village with the last member, Raymond’s daughter Cicely, (married name Calderhead) dying in 1999. She was born in Leyton House on the London Road in 1907 and lived almost all of her life in Mount Pleasant.