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HAWKHURST – “wooded hawk hill”.
Hawkhurst is located on the West Kent/East Sussex border, Hawkhurst is an ancient Wealden village, and is one of the largest villages in Kent.
It is in the centre of the High Weald, is known as the “crossroads of the weald” and has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
It has a population of around 5,000 and a vibrant central colonnade of independent shops, supported by two supermarkets and the Kino cinema. It has numerous community groups and activities.
Part of the parish boundary to the West and South coincides with the Kent & Sussex County Border; on the east side are the Kent parishes of Sandhurst and Benenden; to the north that of Cranbrook and, to the north-west, the parish of Goudhurst – where the boundary runs through the Bedgebury Pinetum.
To the west and south-west lie the Sussex parishes of Flimwell, Ticehurst and Hurst Green, the whole forming a unique cross-county hinterland to Hawkhurst.
The area is hilly, being built on three ridges running parallel from east to west, and centres of habitation, namely The Moor, Highgate, Gills Green, Four Throws and Iddenden Green were built on the well-drained high ground, growing together to become the modern village of Hawkhurst.
There is no evidence of a Roman settlement in Hawkhurst, but along the ridge known today as Highgate ran an ancient hackway used by the Romans and Jutish drovers, which in time became the main highway from London to the important Cinque Port of Rye. The oldest known site of habitation is a mound on the South side of the village where stood the Saxon manor of Congehurst, traditionally burnt by the Danes in 893.
Anciently, as part of the Jutish Kingdom of Kent, it was in the administrative Lathe of Scray and the Hundred of East Barnefield, appearing in the XIth Century Domesday Monarchorum as Haudkashyrste, and in the taxation of 1291 as Hauekherst i.e. the wooded hawk hill.
A village evolves
The Parish Church of St. Laurence was built in the 14th and 15th centuries on earlier
foundations, and in the middle ages held a regular weekly market and an annual fair – the annual fair is still held today.
St. Laurence Church stands to the south of a green known as The Moor – the oldest part of Hawkhurst. The green is partly surrounded by weather boarded houses and shops and brick built houses, including the 18th century Wetheringhope, a former Victorian school, a former malthouse and brewery and an inn whose first recorded landlord was in 1772. The whole creates a very picturesque typical Kentish village scene.
Northwards from The Moor is Hawkhurst’s main commercial and shopping area known as Highgate. This name derives from the fact that several centuries ago the “high gate” to the enclosed commons belonging to the church, stood here.
An indication of Highgate’s early development as a shopping centre is the row of
weatherboarded canopied shops dated 1790 and known as the Colonnade, which give an unusual character to the area. At Highgate are concentrated high quality independent shops plus the public library, two supermarket, Victoria Hall (now the Kino Cinema) and two hotels, both formerly coaching-inns.
Land and built heritage
There are four conservation areas in the parish, one centred on Iddenden Green, two at
Highgate, and one at The Moor. There are many houses and buildings in the parish listed as being of historical and architectural interest. These include St. Laurence and All Saints Churches. All Saints Church was designed by Sir George Gilbert-Scott, whose other achievements included St. Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial in London. The Colonnade, Dunks Almshouses, Queens Hotel, The Royal Oak, the Old Bakehouse,
Wetheringhope, Collingwood House and Hawkhurst Place are also of significant interest.
One of the most notable houses in Hawkhurst is Tongswood. The estate of Tongswood was bought by Mr and Mrs C E Gunther in 1902. Formerly known as ‘Tonge’ and owned by Sir Thomas Dunk, benefactor to the village, it was restored by the Gunthers and became known as ’the jewel of Hawkhurst’. The Gunther family were also benefactors to many improving the estate and their employees’ lives. Home Farm was built to model principles and produced excellent beef. The bull yard, inspired by Professor Leibig was much admired and respected, and produced the basis for the beef extract OXO that is still very popular today. The fortune from OXO was ploughed back into the estate and village.
In 1899 William Rootes Senior traded in cycles and repairs at 7 Station (Cranbrook) Road. He was inspired in 1901 by Mr Ross Thompson to become involved in the latest sensation – the motor car. Subsequently his family joined the business and it grew to international status, in association with the Humber Hillman Sunbeam Group.
Probably the most famous historical activity associated with Hawkhurst is that of smuggling, notably the nefarious deeds of The Hawkhurst Gang. The nature of the countryside from the Weald to Romney Marsh, and the availability of secret landing places along the shifting coastline made this a most lucrative prospect. It attracted many villains who were notorious for their audacity and cruelty and who were eventually routed at a battle with militia raised in Goudhurst. In their heyday the Hawkhurst Gang commissioned the Hawkhurst Pistol, which had a greater range to outshoot Customs Officers.
The village has consistently grown over the centuries in 2011 census had a population of 4,400 living in 1,800 dwellings. The wide range of shops and other service providers has constantly changed over the years to match changes in lifestyle and fashion trends. For example, the 14 grocers that were present in the village in the 19th Century are now just one independent and two supermarkets.
There were no takeaways or eateries in the 19th Century, there are now several. The village today still provides a valuable hub for goods and services for a hinterland which comprises some 15,000 residents.
For a village of its size, it has a good number of active societies, churches and related
activities plus a friendship agreement with Audruicq in northern France, and is twinned with Oriolo Romano near Rome.
We hope residents, local groups and visitors will find the information useful.