The Conjoined Twins of Biddenden

THE BIDDENDEN MAIDS. Chulkhurt, Eliza and Mary (1100-1134)

A short and concise account of Eliza & Mary Chulkhurst, who were borned joined together by the hips and shoulders, in the year of our Lord, 1100, at Biddenden, in the County of Kent, commonly called The Biddenden Maids.

Tenterden: [J.S.] Thomson, Printer, circa 1808


Broadside: 34 x 20 cm.

With engraved illustration of conjoined twins at top; mounted to card-stock (40 x 25 cm.). Small defects, minor losses at folds.

Apparently the product of folklore, the Biddenden maids, Elisa and Mary Chulkhurst (1100-1134), were conjoined twins, named after their hometown of Biddenden, in Kent, England. They are said to have lived for 34 years joined at their hips and shoulders until they died, six hours apart. The twins are said to have left land to the Church, the rental income from which was to be used to purchase bread and cheese for the poor to be distributed on Easter Sunday. Souvenir cakes of flour and water "of a highly indigestible character" (a number of which survive) bearing their image were also distributed. Today, cakes still are distributed to the elderly on Easter Monday.

The text below the image tells how, once the first of the twins had died "the surviving one was advised to be separated from the Body of her deceased Sister by dissection, but she absolutely refused the separation by saying these words, 'As we came together we will also go together.'"

The story of the Biddenden Maids seems to have developed only in the 18thc., long after the institution of the annual distribution of bread and cheese, which dates from at least 1605. In the 19thc., J.W. Ballantyne suggested that the Chulkhurst sisters were in fact pygopagus twins, that is, joined at the hip only, and that they only appeared (in the crude images on the cakes) to be joined at the shoulders because they would walk with their arms around each others' shoulders for balance. Subsequently, Ballantyne proposed, this was misinterpreted by the engravers, who distinctly depicted the women joined at both the shoulder and hip. 

The printing of the broadsides dates from 1808. Four other printings are held at Wellcome: