by Tim Thomas
Posted on 10th January 2015 at 1pm
Neolithic to Roman TimesPolished flint axes found near Headcorn attest to the presence of people in the area during the New Stone Age (BC 2500 – 2000). There is evidence for the occupation of farmsteads from that period until Roman times, with over 30 Roman coins being discovered at one site.
Dark and Middle AgesThe earliest written records are references in charters of King Wihtred and King Offa, respectively, to Wick Farm, 724; and Little Southernden, 785. Headcorn must have started in the days of the Kingdom of Kent as a den or clearing, to which pigs were driven from the northern parts of the County to feed on acorns and beechmast, in the Wealden Forest. Although Headcorn does not figure in the Domesday Book of 1086, the Domesday Monachorum, the ecclesiastical survey made at about the same time, records the existence of a Church at Hedekaruna. According to the Oxford Names Companion, the name possibly means "tree-trunk (used as a footbridge) of a man called Hydeca." Henry of Ospringe was appointed the first Rector in 1222 by King Henry III. However, in 1239 the King gave the den of Headcorn, with the rectorial endowments, to the Maison Dieu at Ospringe, near Faversham. In 1251 the Master and Bretheren of Ospringe were granted a weekly market on Thursdays and an annual fair at Headcorn on St Peter and St Paul’s Day, the 29th June. In 1482 the Ospringe house was dissolved and in 1516 St John’s College, Cambridge was given the Maison Dieu properties. The fair was later held on the 12th June, having apparently been merged with the trinity-tide fair of Moatenden Priory. The Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives was founded in France in 1198. Among the first of the dozen houses established in England was Moatenden Priory, off Maidstone Road, Headcorn, dating from 1224. In 1536 it was suppressed with the smaller houses and its revenues went to the King. The prosperity brought to Headcorn by the weaving industry, established in the reign of King Edward III, is evidenced by houses built at that time and the enlargement of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul. Wat Tyler’s rebellion in 1381 was partly due to jealousy and dislike of the prosperous clothiers. In 1450 fully 80 men of Headcorn took part in Jack Cade’s rebellion and received pardons.
The Headcorn OakThe remains of the Headcorn Oak are near the south door of the Parish Church. It was extensively damaged by fire on the 25th April 1989 but continued to produce new growth until July 1993. Its age has been estimated at up to 1200 years. However, Mr Ian Mitchell of the Forestry Commission, an expert on old oaks, compared his own measurements, taken in 1967, with those made by Mr Robert Furley, FSA in 1878 and estimated its age as 500 years.
The ChurchesThe chancel of the present Church is believed to mark the site of the nave of its 11th century counterpart, and the Lady Chapel that of the 12th century south isle. The 13th century saw the construction of a new nave, about half the length of the present one, and possibly also a cell on the site of the Vicar’s Vestry, which dates from the early 15th century. The nave was completed in the 14th century and the present south isle in the early 15th. Late in the same century the tower and south porch were built. Kent’s Chantry was founded in the Lady Chapel in 1466 under licence from King Edward IV. In the south isle, just outside the Lady Chapel and in the south wall, is an altar-tomb bearing the Culpeper arms, which also figure over the west door. The font dates from about 1450. The Baptist community in Headcorn dates from around 1675, the first Chapel having been at Bounty Farm in Love Lane. The present building in Station Road was opened in 1819 and renovated and extended in 1978, following the addition of a hall in 1971. The exact date of the first Methodist Society in Headcorn is not certain but it built its first Chapel for worship separate from the Parish Church in 1805. It was replaced by a second in 1854. The present building cost £800 when it was put up 1867. Headcorn’s Roman Catholics have had their own building since 1968, when the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury was erected in Station Road. The cedar building of 1968 has been replaced by a brick one, dedicated by Bishop John Jukes on 25th June 1990.
CommunicationsEight roads converge on Headcorn and there are several old bridges. Stephen’s Bridge in Frittenden Road is said to have been built by Stephen Langton, Archbishop 1207-1228. There are records from the reigns of Edward I, Edward III and Henry IV relating to the need to repair this bridge and Hawkenbury Bridge. Before railways the George Inn in Borough High Street was the hub of coach services to Kent, Surrey and Sussex. At 7am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the Tenterden Coach set out on a 10-hour journey of 55 ¼ miles, passing through Headcorn. By 1838 the Tally Ho Coach had shortened the journey time, leaving London at 1pm and reaching Headcorn at 8.15pm and Tenterden at 9.30pm. For 130 years until 1915 Messrs R. and J. Bennett ran a horse-bus service between Tenterden, Headcorn and Maidstone. An advertisement of 1750 illustrates R. Hammond’s Tenterden, Staplehurst, Biddenden, Headcorn and Town Sutton stage wagon with a team of eight horses. It went to London and back once a week, taking two days each way. On the 31st October 1904 the Headcorn, Sutton Valence and Maidstone Motor Omnibus Co Ltd opened a service using steam vehicles. This was replaced about 1912 by Reliance Motor Services. Maidstone and District Motor Services was also operating on the route by 1914 and took over Reliance two years later. Nowadays the main operator is Arriva. The South Eatstern Railway was opened in stages, reaching Tonbridge in May 1842, Headcorn in August and Ashford in December. From 1905 to 1954 the Kent and East Sussex Railway operated between Robertsbridge and Headcorn via Tenterden. A proposed extension to Maidstone was never built. In 1940, following the evacuation from Dunkirk, many thousands of British and Allied troops received their first meal in England at Headcorn Station. Local volunteers assisted the Royal Army Service Corps in providing refreshments. 100 trains per day were halted, allowing only eight minutes for each. The Aerodrome at Shenley Farm, first used by one aircraft in the 1920s, served as an advanced landing ground for Canadians and then Americans in World War 2. Today, as a private civil airfield and parachute centre, it also houses the Air Warfare Museum, the Air Cadets of 500 Squadron and a helicopter company.
Historic BuildingsThe 1986 list of buildings of architectural or historic interest has 88 Headcorn entries, including the Parish Church (Grade I), the former Old Vicarage (II*) renamed Headcorn Manor about 1960, the Cloth Hall (II*) and Shakespeare House (II).
Community Development and Trade Foreman’s original store with its overhang, preserved as part of the Foreman’s Centre, marks the site of the old National School, which was in existence by 1846 and replaced in 1870 by the building in Parsonage Meadow since known as the Church School and now Longmeadow Hall. This was used only briefly as a National School because a Board School (now part of the Primary School) was opened in King’s Road in 1873. Longmeadow Hall has been restored as part of the Community Centre, which was opened in 2006 and forms the hub for many village events, clubs and societies. It includes the Headcorn Local History Society Archive.
© Headcorn Local History Society