William Vaughan (died c. May 1580) was an English landowner, farmer and philanthropist who lived in the mid-16th century in the Dartford and Erith area of north-west Kent. He was one of the yeoman to King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, but is remembered today mainly for his role in the foundating of Dartford Grammar School.
Nothing seems to be known about his parentage or early years, although he had a cousin, James Vaughan who lived in Swanscombe. In his will William Vaughan left bequests to the poor of the parishes of Dartford (40/-); Stone (13/4d) and Erith (20/-); this may indicate his principal area of interest although he also held land at Tonbridge.
There seems to be no evidence of Vaughan’s connection to Dartford before 1536. At that time he was said to be one of King Henry VIII’s gentlemen of the wardrobe when he obtained a grant of the manor of Bignors. This manor, also known as Portbridge, had long been an asset of the Sisters of the Order of St. Augustine in the Dominican nunnery at Dartford having been given to the king by John de Bikenore of Clavering in about 1366. As the dissolution of the nunnery loomed, the sisters in 1534 leased to George Tusser of Dartford the manor with their two water-mills called the Wheat Mill and the Malt Mill. Vaughan obtained the lease of the manor (and the mills) in 1536 and had his last renewal of it between 17 November 1569 and 16 November 1570. After Vaughan’s death, the lease of these mills passed to John Spilman, an early manufacturer of paper. From the details of Spilman’s mill, one of the mills operated by Vaughan can be placed upstream from Dartford on the River Darenth where it meets Powdermill Lane.
In 1545 a muster of potential fighting men in Dartford included Vaughan as an able man and an archer in the company led by John Byer (or Beere), a distant relative by marriage and also a prominent local philanthropist. In 1572 he paid rent of 2/4d (Two shillings and fourpence) to the Manor of Erith.