The Town Hall
Although it is believed that there was an earlier building on the site, the present Guildhall, or Town Hall as it is known today, was built in 1544, during the reign of King Henry VIII.
Originally the building was covered in thick lime plaster, and the roof was thatched. At the rear stands the Crane House with the crane folded back against the building ready to be swung out over the river to unload a boat.
On the ground floor, in the south west corner, is the Town Jail, and next to it the jailer’s quarters and a large store house. Wrong-doers could be sentenced to jail for up to a year and a day. The last prisoners to be held there were three men from Canterbury who were caught poaching the Fordwich Trout, in 1855. They were given fourteen days - and their nets were burnt publicly in front of the Town Hall. On the table, which was made in 1580 at a cost of 8s 0d, are the handcuffs and the baton belonging to the Town Constable, together with the branding iron for branding felons with “R” for Rex or Regina.
On the first floor is the Court Room where all criminal cases in Fordwich were tried until 1886. The accused would stand flanked by the Town Constables, at the “pleading bar” situated at the head of the stairs. (Hence the expression “prisoner at the bar”). The Judge or chief magistrate was the Mayor for the time being and he sat in the chair at the north end of the room, flanked by six Jurats on each side, seated on the “bench”. The mayors seat and bench together with the panelling are early Tudor in origin.
In the corner is a small room used as a retiring room for the jury to consider its verdict. The room above was used to put women to dry out following ducking in the river for being a scold or a gossip. The ducking chair itself hangs on the main beam, and was suspended on the Town Crane over the river when in use. Also on the main cross beam stand the town drums, decorated with the Mayor’s and the Cinque Port’s coats of arms. These were sounded to call the townsfolk to hear a proclamation or to warn of impending danger.
The ancient chest is the old town or muniment chest. In this were kept all the town documents, records, accounts, correspondence and Charters. It is believed to be more than 800 years old, and has three locks each with a different key, thus ensuring that three people were present each time the chest was opened and so guarding against fraud.
A list hangs in the north east corner of the room giving the names of Fordwich Mayors from John Maynard in 1292 to Charles James Cox in 1885 when the Town lost its Corporate Status. The Local Government Act of 1972, however restored the Town Status and Fordwich has had a Town Mayor since 1976, and indeed is the smallest town in the country.
The Town Hall is still used by the present Town Council for meetings, and it is believed to be the oldest and smallest still in use.