Smarden Tourist Guide
Smarden is west of Ashford and can be approached via the A274 which goes through Headcorn or the A28 which links Ashford and Tenterden the nearest railway stations are at Headcorn and Ashford.
Smarden borders the villages of Pluckley and Egerton to the north, Bethersden to the west, Headcorn to the east and Biddenden to the South. If you want to see a beautiful, tranquil Kent village, this is the place to go. The village still maintains a Post Office, butcher and primary school.
To get to Smarden by train, take the M20 through south-east London, turning off at the Leeds Castle junction. Smarden is 11 miles from this turn-off - follow signs to Sutton Valence, then Headcorn. Smarden is signposted from Headcorn. By train, go from Charing Cross (or Waterloo East or London Bridge, as the train stops at both these stations) to Headcorn. This takes about an hour and trains usually leave hourly, and twice-hourly during rush hours. Headcorn is about 4 miles from Smarden.
Smarden’s name has an interesting meaning - the Old English ‘smeoru’ means butter, and the ‘-den’ is the Old English denn or woodland pasture. It was first recorded in about 1100 as Smeredaenne meaning butter valley and pasture. It is now a picturesque Kent village. Smarden lies in the ‘Weald of Kent’, a kind of central basin with clay soils, formerly densely wooded. This area was very thinly populated in mediaeval times with less than one person per square mile, compared to about 10 per square mile in the well-drained uplands. The roads in the Weald were very poor and impenetrable in winter by any wheeled traffic. The roads were meant to be the responsibility of the parishes and in an effort to achieve better standards a system of toll roads (turnpikes) was introduced throughout England. However, the scheme did not reach the Weald until relatively late.
Smarden is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but King John sent Adam of Essex to become the rector of the parish in 1205 and there is another early reference to the church, when a certain Allan de Radingate, having been guilty of theft, fled hither for sanctuary, in 1250. The area was covered by the forest of Anderida and when clearings were made, the River Beult (a tributary of the River Medway) formed the drainage channel. The local woollen industry was encouraged by King Edward III who brought weaver craftsmen over from Flanders to create what was to become one of England's biggest industries. Edward in recognition granted the village a Royal Charter in 1333 permitting them to hold a weekly market and an annual fair thus elevating the status from village to ‘Town’. Elizabeth I, travelling from Sissinghurst Castle to Boughton Malherbe in 1576, was impressed by what she saw and ratified the previously granted Charter. A copy of the Charter hangs in the village church, St. Michael the Archangel, in the west end of The Street.
Thought by many to be the most beautiful village in Kent, Smarden is comprised of lovely old period timber houses and there are more than 100 listed buildings in the parish. The centre of the village is a cluster of half-timbered houses with Kent peg-tiled roofs. Smarden became very prosperous and some fine houses were built in the 15th and 16th centuries, many of which remain today. The Cloth Hall (1430) is an example of a fifteenth century yeoman's timber hall house. Although built as a farm it became the central clearing warehouse for the local cloth industry; the broad-cloth would have been taken from there to the port of Faversham. The main road through the village, called 'The Street', is lined with half-timbered buildings. Most of these date back to the 14th to 16th centuries. Of particular interest is the Dragon House, a detached half-timbered manor-style house in the middle of the street, decorated with cheerful looking dragons and is an ochre colour, unlike the rest of the half-timbered houses in the village which are white.
Just outside the house is the old village water pump. Around the corner, past Water Lane, is the Cloth Hall, where the products of the weavers were stored and sold. This house was built in the traditional Tudor style, with one double-height story in the centre, and two-story wings at either end. The large hook for hauling the cloth bails can still be seen on the outside of the house.
The church at the end of The Street, St Michael the Archangel, is well worth a look. Most of it is 14th and 15th century. The church is known as the ‘Barn of Kent’, owing to the huge span of the roof, which is unsupported by pillars. The nave is thirty-six feet wide, without any side-aisles, and with no tie-beams to support it.
Many families grew wealthy on wool and weaving from the 13th century onwards, and built Kent’s magnificent Hall Houses. Several thousand large hall houses survive until this day, and can be seen all over the county. They were constructed with one great hall in the middle, open from the ground floor up to the rafters, with a central fire which was ventilated through a hole in the roof. Many had smaller rooms at each end of the hall, for food and the sleeping quarters for the head of the household. Everyone else slept in the hall.
During the 15th and 16th centuries many of these houses had the hall filled in, with a floor or two put in and additional rooms added. Chimneys, a new feature, were added at the same time. From the outside it is nearly always possible to identify the hall house, as the central part of the house, the hall, has windows and floors at a different level from the earlier floors at either end.
Smarden has many such hall houses, showing the different styles built from the 13th to 16th centuries. The Cloth Hall, Chessenden, and the Thatched House are three of the best known in the village itself, with many others scattered throughout the parish. Chessenden, at the other end of the village from the church, opposite the Minnis (the village green) is a 15th
century hall house. The service rooms at either end of the old hall extend further out than the central hall part of the house, and so the roof overhangs the old hall. Like all the hall houses in Smarden, it is built from a timber frame and with no foundations, the frame resting on the clay soil. This creates the celebrated black-beamed and white plaster look so typical of rural Kent houses, and of ‘mock-Tudor’ buildings all over the world.
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