Guest Writer: Michael Bennet
Goudhurst, in Kent, probably began as a clearing in the great forest of Anderida that covered the Weald of Kent and Sussex long ago. The name is obscure; 'hurst' certainly means 'wood' but there is some uncertainty over Œgoud. It may just be a simple corruption of Œgood. The earliest record of a name (Guithhyrste) dates from 1095.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Goudhurst grew as a farming village. Around 1330 Flemish weavers set up shop in the village and surrounding area. The Weavers Cottages in Goodhurst date from c. 1350. The weaving of Kentish Broadcloth continued for many years, bringing prosperity to the village. The weavers brought with them an interest in hop growing, and it became a major rural activity from the late 1700’s.
In Tudor times (1485-1603) the Weald was the 'black country' of England; all around Goudhurst were iron foundries. Nearby at Bedgebury, Sir Alexander Culpeper's forge produced cannon used against the Spanish Armada (1588).
As industry flourished in the north it declined in the south, and Kent became involved in the smuggling of contraband. In 1747 Goudhurst formed a local militia to restore law and order and put down the dreaded Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers.
The village church, St Mary’s, began as a chapel in 1119 in the reign of Henry 1. The church is a mixture of styles and time periods. Inside the church is a striking memorial to Sir Alexander Culpeper. Ancient brasses dedicated to John Bedgebury, who fought with Culpeper and Henry V, at Agincourt are part of the church decor.
From the present church tower it is said that 51 other churches are visible (on a clear day, and presumably with a telescope) from Lympne near Romney Marsh to Ide Hill on the North Downs. Possibly this was true in the early 14th century when the tower was one storey higher and crowned with a spire. The spire stood until 1637 when, during a summer storm, it was struck by lightning and burned down. To the northwest, a distance of some forty miles, Canary Wharf Tower in London is visible.
The village’s historic high street has changed little over the centuries and remains much as it was when the building of Finchcocks, the imposing house on the outskirts of Goudhurst (now a museum of musical instruments) was completed in 1725.
Just over a hundred years ago a visitor to Goudhurst described the place in words that are as true now as they were at that time: "The whole neighbourhood is singularly beautiful with the sylvan pastoral beauty that is England's great characteristic. The village is straggling. Genius could scarcely have made it more irregular. It is built on the slope of an eccentric hill. Approaching it from the south you see a collection of red roofs one above another, picturesque and promising. At the summit of the hill you come to the church, ancient, large and interesting. The landscape is richly timbered. There are woods on all sides. The whole scene sparkles with a light and laughter that makes you joyous in spite of care, the fret of life the grasping at shadows, the missing of substance, all that is so crooked in the world, so hard to bear.”
Goudhurst is 10 miles east of Tunbridge Wells and 14 miles south of Maidstone. From London take the A2, M25, A21 and A262.
Goudhurst church tower is open to the public during the summer months.
A special thanks to Michael Bennet for the article and photographs.
More information from Goudhurst UK
Edited by Barbara Ballard
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