Biddenden Tourist Guide
Biddenden is on the A274 Tenterden to Maidstone road and is a small eye-catching village with a small number of local shops and a small village green.
The village name probably comes from a Jutish man named Bidda whose pig herders had made clearings or dens in the forest of Andredsweald. In Saxon times the present Biddenden parish contained a number of separate dens or small clearings in the great forest of Andred. Between 700AD and 900AD freemen and swineherds would continually use the same clearing in the forest, and this led to the dens becoming named after the family or household who used them. Biddenden (Bydyndene in 993AD) was probably the den used by the family and followers of the Jutish man Bidda. Bidda's main holding may have been near Wye. The many houses with 'den' endings to their names show where other clearings were made in this forest. Many became linked up to manors in other parts of Kent.
The name of the village has been spelt differently in the past and it is known that before the Norman invasion of 1066 that the area was called Bydyngdene and then changed to Bidindaenne then Bidenden.
Biddenden is most known for the legend that in 1100 twins were born into the Chulkhurst family, who were joined at the hips and shoulders. Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst (1100–1134) (also known as the Biddenden Maids) are one of the earliest known set of conjoined twin. Elisa and Mary lived together for 34 years when one of them died. As it was impossible to separate the twins, the other died soon after. It is believed they were carried to Battle Abbey where they were buried. As part of their will, they bequeathed about 20 acres of land to be used to help the poor. This generous event has been recorded by the church since 1538 and it is likely that it started from the maids. They left land, later to be known as Bread and Cheese lands, income from which was to pay for a dole of bread, cheese and ale (later to be paid in tea) which is still given out to local pensioners on Easter Monday, together with a commemorative biscuit on which is stamped an image of the two maids. The maids also feature on the very individual village sign. The ceremony of distributing the dole was not always a very well behaved one. In 1682 the Rector, the Reverend Giles Hinton, reported to Archbishop Sancroft, 'even to this time (the custom) is with much disorder and indecency observed.' After that the bread and cheese (but not ale) was given out in the church porch until the end of the 17th century and then from the old workhouse.
In 1331 the export of unwashed wool was forbidden by King Edward III. He encouraged weavers from Flanders to settle here, so bringing their weaving and dying techniques to England. Biddenden and some of its neighbouring villages soon became an important centre of the Broadcloth manufacturing industry. The majority of the high street was built during this period and the stone paved footpath was built from Biddenden to Tenterden to take the traffic. Biddenden shared the Wealden woollen wealth and a 14th century building boom left such local features as Standen, a fine old timbered house about a mile outside the village, and Biddenden Place, home of Sir John de Mayney early in the 13th century, as well as the quaint weavers' cottages and other old houses between the small triangular village green and the church. The Red Lion Inn in the High Street is said to have been built by an Agincourt veteran in 1415, and a hundred yards north of the village green is the Old Cloth Hall. This is the core of the village, where the pavement is of ancient slabs of Bethersden marble. Like all Wealden villages, Biddenden was practically cut off every winter and sometimes throughout the year when any long-lasting rain would turn the roads into a quagmire of mud. As recently as 1807 the Reverend Edward Nares recorded that even with four horses harnessed to his carriage he could travel no more than three miles from his rectory.
In the 15th century the local weavers laid causeways of Bethersden Marble along which packhorse trains could carry their loads of wool, and some remnants of those causeways are still to be found across fields and beside roads.
Once the weaving industry began to decline, the village returned to its agricultural tradition, but as time went on the villagers became poorer, and many emigrated. In the early 1830s farms were attacked and the new machinery which they felt were taking their jobs. These were known as the Swing Riots. The area was involved with smuggling due to the closeness of the village to the Dungeness marshes.
In 1905 the railway came to Biddenden, as it was on the branch line from Headcorn to Biddenden , Tenterden , Northiam , Bodiam and finally Robertsbridge . This line was closed in 1954, but today the Kent & East Sussex Railway have opened up the stretch from Tenterden to Bodiam using steam trains .
The main shopping centre is at Tenterden about 6 miles to the south, or Maidstone with its main supermarkets about 8 miles north.
The nearest rail service is at Headcorn about 3 miles north, which has a station on the Ashford to London line giving a very frequent service to Charing Cross.
Biddenden's Millennium Field
The Biddenden Parish Council purchased the Millennium Field on the 27th January 1998 from Ruby Edith Gadstone and Charles Alan McDonald for the sum £45,000. A nature and conservation area of 20.5 acres adjoining Biddenden's recreation field was developed and opened with a Country Fayre on June the 19th 1999.
Biddenden Vineyards in Gribble Bridge Lane were established by the Barnes family in 1969. Starting with one acre the vineyards has grown to 22 acres with nine varieties of grapes grown. The vineyards are set on a gentle south facing slope in a shallow sheltered valley, ideal conditions for vines. Predominantly German varieties are grown including Ortega, Huxelrebe, Bacchus, Schönburger and Reichensteiner. Together with Pinot Noir, Gamay and Dornfelder the vineyards are able to produce White, Red, Rosé and Sparkling Wines. Harvest of the grapes takes place late September and visitors can see the presses in operation in the winery. Bottling of the wines commences early in the following year.
Biddenden Church, All Saints, is set at the end of the High Street and the asymmetry of the building is striking. The original thirteenth century church was greatly altered in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries - the latter being the date of the nave with its crown post roof. The font, sedilia and piscina are all designed to show off the local `Bethersden Marble`, the only local stone that can take a polish. A good selection of memorial brasses includes one to Margaret Godwell who died in 1499.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015