Woodnesborough (Wodens beorg, meaning “Woden’s Hill) stands on an old Roman road from Richborough to Dover. The village takes its name from the Saxon god of wisdom. Woden has given his name to the third day of the week, originally called “Woden’s Day” but now known as ‘Wednesday’. The village is also associated with another Saxon deity: the main street was once called Cold Friday Street after the goddess Friga.
Certain wells, trees and stones were considered sacred by the Saxons and one of these was at Woodnesborough, dedicated to the worship of Woden.
According to legend, pagan meetings were held on Fir Tree Hill – a large mound on which the present church is built. Until the middle Ages, Kent was separated from the Isle of Thanet by the sea and this would have been a splendid site overlooking the water. Legend also says that a solid gold statue of Woden is buried in the hill.
There are many other stories about the mound which is supposedly artificial. It is said to be the burial place of King Vortmer, who died in AD 457 and, according to chroniclers, “desired to be buried near the place where the Saxons used to land, being persuaded that his bones would deter them from any attempt in the future”. Another theory is that the hill was the burial mound for the dead of the great battle between the kings of Mercia and Wessex which was fought at “Woodnesbeorh’ in 715. No one knows the truth of these myths but a number of Anglo-Saxon artefacts have been found on the site.
In the 16th and 17th centuries Flemish refugees settled in the area to escape religious persecution. Their influence can be seen in the old brick houses such as Melville House and Street Farm House of which have typical Dutch gables. The refugees also reclaimed the marshes north of Woodnesborough for market gardening. These are called ‘polders’ after the reclaimed land in Holland.
The Church was built in 1180 by Ascelinda de Wodenberg. The tower once had a steeple but this was taken down in 1740 when the present wooden copula and balustrade was added, an unusual and possibly unique feature. Fortunately it survived restoration in 1884.
In 1910 work began on a colliery at Woodnesborough to exploit the newly discovered Kent coalfield, but it soon closed. In the 1920s, further plans were drawn up for a new pit and mining town to house 12,000 people. Again the scheme was abandoned as the great Depression set the economy back.