Monday, 20 February 2012

Ancient Woodlands & The Hawkhurst Gang

A beautiful Robin in the snowy woodlands
The ancient woodlands of the Weald of Kent are beautiful.  I grew up in Kent and have spent most of my life living there or on the border with Sussex so have an enormous affection for the county and the Weald has wonderful walks in woods and views across the rolling countryside that capture the imagination at any time of year from the soft greens and yellows of spring and summer to the deep reds and browns of autumn and the crisp white frost and snow in winter.  There are also quintessentially English villages with thatched roofs, Tudor beams, castles and old churches that are steeped in history – not all of it pretty! 

The ancient woodlands in Kent
With the snow coming and going in recent weeks, the walks in the Weald have shown a variety of textures and moods that I think makes England a very special place to live.  Now I love climbing mountains as you know but in Kent, I love the changing scenery as you walk for miles on carpets of leaves and pine needles in woods and on grassy paths across undulating fields, through pretty villages with oast houses and windmills and through tiny hamlets next to streams.  I have spent a lot of time walking near a village called Goudhurst in recent weeks, not least because the history is fascinating!  

Goudhurst Church
The Culpeper Tomb
Goudhurst in Old English means “Battle Hill” and it commemorates a battle fought on this high ground in Saxon times (when I use the term “high” it is relative to the surrounding land not to the mountains of the Lake District!)  One of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen overlooks the village.  It has been there for a millennium and although its first recorded date is in the 1100’s, there is little doubt it existed before that.  It has been altered and restored throughout the centuries and in 1637 the tall spire was destroyed by lightning.  Inside the church there is a beautiful stained glass window and a tomb of a man and a woman.  This tomb is a memorial to two members of a famous local family, Sir Alexander and Dame Constance Culpeper of Bedgebury.  The tomb is carved in wood and brightly coloured with two dogs at their feet.  Sir Alexander Culpeper was interred in 1541.  The Culpeper family had some interesting moments in history including involvement in the battle against the Spanish Armada and Thomas Culpeper (Sir Alexander’s son) was famously the lover of Katherine Howard, the 5th wife of Henry VIII.  Thomas was executed in 1541 and Katherine in 1542 for Treason.

Stained glass window in the church
There is a more sinister part of the history of Goudhurst however that remains in evidence today with bullet holes in the gravestones.  The year 1747 saw the “Battle of Goudhurst” – a battle between the infamous “Hawkhurst Gang” and the Goudhurst Militia, which the most popular history books do not give enough credit to in my view!  The Hawkhurst Gang was a criminal organisation involved in smuggling throughout south east England.  Legend has it the gang used a network of tunnels, old cellars and remote barns for their operations.  They dominated the area by terror and the use of guns for intimidation and operated freely in the area smuggling tea, coffee, brandy and rum.  They were reported to have captured soldiers and killed individuals and several people who took too great an interest in their activities mysteriously disappeared.  

Ancient Woodlands near Goudhurst
Now this may come as a surprise but in general, gangs of smugglers were supported in local areas at this time as they provided work that was well paid (an interesting economic twist!) but the Hawkhurst Gang’s murderous brutality had turned the local population against them.  It was the village of Goudhurst that decided to take a stand and under the leadership of George Sturt (a former soldier), the Goudhurst Band of Militia was formed.  One of the lead characters in the Hawkhurst Gang, Thomas Kingsmill was enraged at this act of defiance and the battle lines were drawn and a date of attack set.  On 21 April 1747, the Hawkhurst Gang attacked Goudhurst but the militia proved a force to be reckoned with and after several smugglers had been killed, the gang withdrew.  Over time, key gang members were arrested, indicted and executed and that was the end of the Hawkhurst Gang.  

The Star & Eagle Pub, Goudhurst High Street
The Kent motto is “Invicta” which means “unconquered” or “untamed”.  I think that word sums up the spirit of the people of Goudhurst in their 1747 battle remarkably well!

I love English history and combining long walks through ancient woodlands and countryside with fascinating insights into the past is a fabulous way to spend a few hours if you are in the area.  Of course, the local hostelries are also tempting and often serve beer from the local Shepherd Neame brewery at Faversham.  My two favourite pubs in Goudhurst are the Star and Eagle and more recently, the refurbished and revamped Goudhurst Inn.  Exercise, culture and a good pub – perfect!
A snowy Wealden woodland

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  1. I live a few miles from that church and you have told me things I did not know! Always seems to be true that you do not make the most of what is on your own doorstep.
    Another great post - it has been a while since the last one so welcome back!
    You have captured the area perfectly and the historical links are fascinating.
    Well done again.

    1. Thanks Peter! Sorry for the absence of posts recently...normal service has now resumed!
      I am sure you have tried the pubs locally... Fortunately the church is between the Star and Eagle and Goudhurst Inn so a short but interesting walk!

  2. We have walked a lot in Kent too over the years asn I'm never happier than when I'm in one of the many ancient woodlands but I'm not sure we have ever gone through Goudhurst well not on a walk anyway! You know what Kent's like for roads though and we don't come over that way nearly enough! I always try to find out the history of a place too always interesting. I have to say having walked yesterday I missed all the snow of the previous weekend :o)

    1. Goudhurst is very close to me so easy to get to and the combination of walks and pubs makes it a frequented place! I do not get over to the east of Kent nearly as often for the same reason - the roads can be busy. It is amazing to think Kent is over 100 miles wide! Full of contrasts...
      I love the snow but a little goes a long way when you are walking!

    2. In 2009 we walked the length of the Military Canal in ten circular walks and I remember the smuggling stories around that area too :o) I loved the snow and walked as much as I could in it twice going to Kings wood up on the north downs to make sure there was plenty I think you had much more your way than us but thats nothing unusual as being by the coast protects us from the worst of it :o)

    3. I have never walked the Military Canal - I will add it to my list!
      I attempted to build a snow rabbit but it did not quite work! Ashdown Forest looked beautiful in the snow and I went there several times...could do with another batch before spring comes! It will help the reservoir levels as well! :)

    4. The Canals are ok and not all walks are flat either which surprised us It took us to places we had never been before which we always enjoy We really must make the effort to get to the Ashdown forest one day somewhere else we have never been. Did you see Inside out tonight they were talking about the the smugglers etc Worth catching it on i player if you missed it

    5. I didn't see it - I will go onto iplayer.
      Ashdown is my most popular blog...although I think Winnie-the-Pooh helped that one! :)

  3. What a fascinating tale. Well done the Goudhurst Band of Militia. Like the Wild West. High Noon in Kent!
    Enjoyed this post, as ever. Thanks Heelwalker1. Keep them coming.

    1. Thanks Chloe! I had to share it as it is a fascinating history...especially the link to Henry VIII (athough with so many wives there are probably links in most English villags somehow or other!)

  4. Very interesting Tanya, I love how you bring places to life.

    1. Thank you Sherran - that's a great comment :-)

  5. Loved this tale. I'm not in the least religious but churches fascinate me. There's something about the atmosphere that makes me want to believe. They're great to photograph as well.

    I spend a lot of time on the Romney Marsh and the tales of Thorndike's Dr Syn and dare doing are rife there. I remember the Kipling poem from school.

    IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
    Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
    Them that ask no questions don't get told no lies,
    Turn your face to the wall my dear while the Gentlemen go by.

    Five and twenty ponies,
    Trotting through the dark -
    Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
    Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
    Turn your face to the wall my dear while the Gentlemen go by!

    Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
    Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
    Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
    Put the brishwood back again - and they'll be gone next day !

    If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
    If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
    If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
    If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more !

    If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
    You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
    If they call you " pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,
    Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been !

    Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
    You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
    Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie
    They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by !

    'If You do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
    You'll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
    With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
    A present from the Gentlemen, along 'o being good !

    Five and twenty ponies,
    Trotting through the dark -
    Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
    Them that asks no questions don't get told no lie's -
    Turn your face to the wall my dear while the Gentlemen go by!


    1. Fantastic poem! I have not heard that one before - I visited Kipling's house recently (a National Trust property now) and it said so much about him.
      I love the architecture and history of churches...always fascinating stories.
      Thanks for the comment and the poem...

  6. These pics are so beautiful. Once more, you have enchanted me with your knowledge and the special voice you've developed in sharing your posts.

    You've even given me a twinge of missing snow! lol I never expected that.

    Sorry to be so late at reading and commenting. I've been taking off from my online presence on Mondays & Tuesdays. (usually let my tribe posts go through twitter, but don't post myself)

    You know that even though I may be late, I'll usually turn up on Wednesday. ;) You could say it's my first day back online each week.

    Bless you. Stay safe & warm. I always love reading about your explorations.

    ~ Aithne

    1. Thanks gave me the challenge when you wanted to know the story about the bullet holes in the gravestones so glad I did not disappoint!
      I always appreciate you taking the time to comment so no problem about when you manage to.
      The pubs in Goudhurst have open fires so that's a good place to stay warm...
      Have a good evening :-)

  7. Excellent blog and great photos. Looks like Kent is somewhere I should visit!

    1. Thanks Anne :)
      It is definitely worth a visit. So much to see and so pretty. It deserves the title of the 'Garden of England'...