Hawkhurst Tourist Guide


Hawkhurst is a village in the borough of Tunbridge Wells. The parish lies to the south-east of Tunbridge Wells itself.

Hawkhurst lies at the junction of the A229 and A268. The village is on the route of a Roman road which crossed the Weald.

Hawkhurst itself is in effect two villages - one consisting mainly of cottages clustered around a large triangular green known as the Moor, and the other, the newer, further north on the main road, called Highgate. Each part has a different character. Highgate stands on a crossroads and is where the shops and hotels are positioned.

The village was the centre of the Wealden iron industry until the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. William Penn, founder of the state of Pennsylvania, owned ironworks at Hawkhurst in the 17th century.

The place name Hawkhurst comes from Old English ‘heafoc hyrst’, meaning a wooded hill frequented by hawks - 'Hawk Wood'. Hurst (Hyrst) in a place name refers to a wood or wooded area. In 1254, the name is recorded as Hauekehurst; in 1278, it is often shown as Haukhurst; by 1610, it had changed to Hawkherst, which then evolved into the current spelling.

There was originally a parish church serving each part of the village: the northernmost church dedicated to All Saints is, as of 2004, closed.

St Laurence’s parish church remains at Hawkhurst Moor. The parish church of St Laurence stands at the south end of the village which is the older part of Hawkhurst . It is likely that a church has stood on this site since 1100, or even earlier when Hawkhurst belonged to the Abbot of Wye. After the Battle of Hastings William the Conqueror gave the village to the Abbot of Battle. The first mention of the church is in the charter of 1285, and its first rector was Richard de Clyne in 1291. The Chancel and North Chapel are the oldest parts of the church. The Great East Window was built about 1350 and has been described as one of the finest pieces of architecture in the country. Most of the rest of the church dates from around 1450, when the nave was lengthened and raised, the aisles, porches and tower added, and it took on its present appearance. The room over the North porch was used by Battle Abbey officials for rent collecting, and used to be called ‘The Treasury’. In 1944 a German flying bomb fell in the churchyard, and caused considerable damage, and the church was put out of action until 1957. Part of the flying bomb can be seen on the south side at the back of the church. St Laurence Church is a beautiful, well maintained Grade 1 listed medieval church. Although the church building, with its 8 bells, is situated outside the main part of the village, the Church endeavours to be at the heart of the community through the participation of the congregation in much of village life. The church is open from 8.00am to 5.00pm daily.

The Hawkhurst Gang
Hawkhurst's history is dominated by the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers who terrorised the surrounding area between 1735 and 1749. The Hawkhurst Gang was first mentioned in 1735 as the ‘Holkhourst Genge’, and were one of the most famous gang of smugglers to inhabit the area. It is thought that their influence spread from Dorset to the Kent coast. The gang were able to control the area until their leaders were executed in 1748 and 1749.

The Hawkhurst Gang ranged the full length of the South Coast and were perfectly situated for working the Marshes which began a few miles away at Newenden . It was reputed that when needed for a smuggling run, 500 mounted and armed men could be assembled within the hour. They were also only 13 miles from Rye, a favourite haunt of theirs. Their chief location was at the Oak and Ivy Inn on the Sandhurst road in Hawkhurst. They also enjoyed frequenting the town of Rye, where at the Mermaid Inn they apparently "would sit and drink with loaded pistols on the table".

There are many legends about the tunnels the Hawkhurst Gang built from the Oak and Ivy. It is believed that tunnels went to Tubs Lake on the Cranbrook road (named after the tubs of brandy found floating on the water), to the Royal Oak in the village centre, Four Throws on the Sandhurst road, and to the building where the Tudor Court Hotel now stands.

In 1822 a cave used as a smugglers’ store with empty liquor bottles in one corner was revealed in Sopers Lane, Hawkhurst. It is recorded that on the island in the pond across the road, "having caught one of their comrades giving information to Revenue Officers, the gang pegged the smuggler to the ground by means of straps, with his head barely out of the water". When he was discovered by the locals the following morning, he was only just alive, but on recovering determined to flee.

In 1740, at Silver Hill between Hurst Green and Robertsbridge a revenue officer, Thomas Carswell, was shot and killed while trying to arrest some of the smugglers. One of the guilty smugglers, George Chapman, was gibbeted in his home village Hurst Green on the village green.

In 1744, three large cutters unloaded smuggled goods at Pevensey, and 500 pack horses carried the goods inland. This shows the freedom that the smugglers enjoyed, as 500 pack horses would have been difficult to hide.

In 1748 one of the gang brought a large cargo of brandy, tea and rum over from France in his cutter. A Customs cutter captured and seized two tons of tea, thirty nine casks of brandy and rum and some coffee. The goods were stored in the Customs House in Poole, Dorset. Some of the smugglers escaped and contacted the gang, who attacked the Customs House, and rescued their contraband. The Customs Service were very disgruntled with this attack and offered a large reward.

Several months later one member of the gang Diamond was arrested and gaoled at Chichester. Another member of the gang Chater offered an alibi for Diamond. Unfortunately, while Chater was with a customs office named Galley, he was seen in a pub by a local informer, who told the gang. The gang thought that Chater was informing on them, and so provided drink to the couple, who became drunk and sleepy. They were woken by being whipped, tied to a horse, and whipped until both were nearly dead. The gang thought they had killed the customs officer Galley, and buried him (alive as it turned out). To intimidate other informers, Chater was attacked with a knife, then thrown head first down a thirty foot well and large stones thrown down on him until he was dead.

Until these two murders the Hawkhurst Gang was looked on as benefactors by the local population but the murders turned the tide against the smugglers, and the leader Arthur Gray from Hawkhurst was executed for the murder of Thomas Carswell in 1748.

A new leader Thomas Kingsmill from Goudhurst took over after Arthur Gray was captured in 1747, but the gang was not the same after a local militia at Goudhurst defeated them in a pitched battle in the village.

Attractions near Hawkhurst
Bedgebury National Pinetum has an adventure playtrail as well as places for cycling and walking. There is a Visitor Centre and lots more to see and do for all the family. Bedgebury also houses the stunning National Pinetum - why not come along and see the tallest tree in Kent?!

Why don’t you go ape at Go Ape! High Wire Forest Adventure at the Bedgebury Forest Visitor Centre, Bedgebury Road, Cranbrook. Go Ape! is an award-winning high wire forest course of rope bridges, Tarzan Swings and zip slides up to 40 feet up in the trees. Appealing to a wide age range, customers are fitted with a climbing harness, given instruction, and then trek from tree to tree high above the forest floor. Providing approximately 3 hours of adrenalin-fuelled fun Go Ape! provides a great day out experience set amongst a dramatic forest location. Please note it is suitable only for children over 10 years.

The garden at Hole Park, Rolvenden, is a garden for all seasons, from the first flowers in January to the last autumn colours in October. There are formal gardens surrounding the house with walls and the yew hedges sheltering lawns, pools, statues, the rose garden and herbaceous borders. At the north of the house lies the Policy with daffodils, flowering trees and shrubs, rhododendrons and azaleas. Camellias, magnolias and primulas are all here. In early May visitors may walk through a carpet of bluebells into the wood beyond the garden. For details visit

A 'must' for every visitor to the Weald is Cranbrook Museum. It is set in a peaceful garden and housed in a charming timber-framed building dating from 1480. The museum contains approximately 5,000 exhibits covering the Cranbrook of times past.

Sandhurst Vineyards at Hoads Farm, Sandhurst, has self-guided tours of the working farm with vineyards, a hop garden and orchards. Visitors can also experience the oast during the hop-picking season and see work in progress. Visit

Created over the last 15 years, Merriments Gardens in Hawkhurst Road, Hurst Green, Etchingham is a 4-acre garden featuring herbaceous borders, unusual plants, water gardens and new formal garden. There are colour-themed borders for sun and shade, dry and moist areas, and a hidden stream which links two large ponds, a bog garden and a rock garden. Check out

The Gardens of King John's Lodge at King John's Lodge, Sheepstreet Lane, Etchingham are romantic 5-acre gardens with many mature trees and rhododendrons. There are water features and a stunning wild garden with gazebo and pond. The main borders include old roses and herbaceous plantings. The secret garden leads to the beautiful garden house and to a medieval barn covered in roses and white solanum. Beyond the lily pond, visitors can walk in the parkland and enjoy the superb views. The formal garden with fountain surrounds a fine historic listed house. Telephone +44 01580 819232 for information.

A winner of the Historic Houses Association/Christie's Garden of the Year Award and 'one of the finest gardens in England', Pashley Manor Gardens at Pashley Manor, Ticehurst, Wadhurst reflects many eras of English history. It typifies the tradition of the English country house and its garden. This is an archetypal English garden of a very individual character with outstanding views over the immediate countryside.
If you fancy something active then visit hawkhurst Golf Club at

Kino Digital Cinemas Hawkhurst Cinema, Rye Road Tel:01580 754321

Elbar Private Hire, 40 Winchester Road Tel: 01580 752984
Cross County Cars, Rye Road Tel: 01580 754600
Hawkhurst Mini Cabs, 2 Aurania Villas, Cranbrook Road Tel: 01580 752264

Hawkhurst Cottage Hospital High Street Tel: 01580-753345
Dr Dewing Cr & Partners, The Surgery, Talbot Road Tel: 01580 753211
Dr Player Pv & Partners, North Ridge, Rye Road Tel: 01580 753935

The Moor Dental Surgery, Hensill Lane Tel: 01580 753248
StoneRock Dental Care, Stonerock House, High Street Tel: 01580 752202

Hawkhurst Pharmacy, 1 The Colonnade Tel: 01580 753222

Lloyds TSB Bank plc, North Road House, Highgate Hill, High Street Tel: 0845 3030109
Barclays Bank plc, High Street Tel: 0845 755 5555

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