Biddenden
Biddenden Maids
Chulkhurst Charity
Kent TN27
 

 

On Easter Monday, Biddenden in south-east England celebrates an event that has been occurring for over 500 years.  It is associated with the legendary Biddenden Maids, conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst.  These famous ladies are depicted on the village’s welcome sign on the village green.
 
What we do know from church records is that in  the 16th century two sisters bequeathed to the church 20 acres (8.1 ha) of farmland, the rent from which was to be used ‘to provide a dole of bread and cheese (and later beer and tea) to the poor of the village on each Easter Monday’.
 
The tradition continues with the presentation to Biddenden’s old age pensioners of a ‘dole’ consisting of a 3.5lb loaf of bread, 1lb of cheese and 1/2lb of butter, plus 1lb of tea.
 
Biddenden Cake Souvenir
Also given out to the recipients is the so-called Biddenden Cake, a rock hard biscuit-like confection made from flour and water baked until it is hard enough to last 20 years according to local custom.
 
The cake is imprinted with the image of what looks like two women in Tudor costume, joined together at the arm and hip.  The names Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst appear above the figures, and on the left hand apron is 34 ,on the right hand one 1100. Thirty-four represents the age at which the Biddenden Maids died, and eleven hundred purports to be the year they were born.  It is believed that the year is a misreading of an ancient document which states that twins, Mary and Eliza, were born in 1135 to the wealthy Chulkhurst family.
 
Easter Monday
Nowadays these cakes are available for purchase by visitors to Biddenden on Easter Monday.  The cakes are not meant to be eaten but kept as a souvenir.
 
Visitors wishing to witness the gift being handed out should make their way to the 15th century Old Workhouse, now called The Almshouses.  The charity is funded by the money invested from the sale of 20 acres of farmland called Bread and Cheese Land for housing.  A workhouse building on the land still belongs to the charitable organisation.
 
Apart from the traditional Easter Monday ceremony, there is enough wealth behind the Charity to help out those in need locally at other times of the year, notably with a contribution to heating costs for parishioners where needed.
 
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