Goudhurst backs on to theWeald and is full of woody character
On Sunday, my family and I climbed the square tower of St Mary’s church in Goudhurst, high on the western border of Kent. From the top of it, you have an unrivalled view of the Weald. Beyond the pitched roofs of the village, the countryside rolls away like an immense green quilted eiderdown of fields and trees. Trees in belts, trees in clumps, trees rising from hedgerows, trees spreading themselves in the middle of fields — and most of them oaks.
The woods thread themselves between fields and around villages, making a picture of a thousand shades of green, flecked with specks of white — sheep, the caps of oast houses — and punctuated with church towers that, like Goudhurst’s, are made of stone.
Weald is the same word as Wold, meaning wooded place, as in Cotswolds and the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds. By the Roman period, most of the native forest had been felled and the land was farmed. After the collapse of Rome, some of the farmland seems to have reverted to scrub and then back to forest. The Weald was a frightening place to medieval travellers, little populated except by charcoal burners and ironworkers, the villages sparsely scattered.
“Nothing more than a waste desart and wilderness,’’ is how Edward Hasted put it in his History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent (1797). There were plenty of pigs snuffling up the acorns in the woods, but as late as 1837 “the greater part of the tillage’’ on the heavy soils was still “performed by ox teams’’, according to another writer.
The woody character of the place is enshrined in Goudhurst’s name — hurst being derived from the old English hyrst, which means a wooded height. In the church, even the painted effigies of the Tudor Sir Alexander Culpepper and his lady are, very unusually, made of wood. Although today the village, with its tile-hung and weatherboarded façades, seems eminently tranquil — except for the busy road running through it — it has not always been so. The Weald was still a rough old place in 1747, when a vigilante Goudhurst militia saw off the infamous band of smugglers known as the Hawkhurst Gang in a pitched battle. Today they would be lucky to dodge the traffic on the busy A262.
With so much timber around, it is hardly surprising that the medieval village used it for building. The Georgians were coy about exposing their timber frames to the public gaze, and often hid them behind vertically hung tiles or wooden boards — but the skeleton is there all the same. The Weald even gave its name to a building type, the Wealden House, although perhaps unfairly, since Wealdens occur throughout Kent and Sussex, as well as a few other places in the Home Counties. It was a form that emerged around the time of the Black Death, the key feature being that the upper part of the two end bays of the house are jettied out, although the roof line remains straight.
I am delighted to see that a brand new example is on the market through Country Property of Goudhurst (01580 211888), and it is magnificent. It must have been a labour of love for the builder, because the quality of the interior is exceptional. The sum of £1.35million will buy you a remarkable house, presumably draughtfree, with seven acres of gardens and pasture, a stream and “wonderful views from every window’’. The particulars say that it has become a local landmark. I am not surprised.
Pullens Farmhouse, priced at £1.5million, is the real thing, a listed building dating back, in part, to 1458. With two deep roofs, it is a selfcontained essay in the Kent vernacular, different parts being timber-framed, weatherboarded, tile-hung and built of brick. The Jackson-Stops and Staff (01580 720000) brochure makes the whole place, with its 6.8 acres and lake, look deliciously picturesque, and if you happen to need oakframed kennels in your kitchen garden, it has some.
Jackson-Stops and Staff could also show you Taywell, a strikingly individual four-bedroom house outside the village, guide price £825,000.
In Goudhurst itself, Country Property (as above) is offering a six-bedroom watch-your-head cottage for £499,950 —the £50 that makes it shy of half a million is presumably allimportant these days.
A three-bedroom weatherboarded cottage is on the market through Humberts’ Cranbrook office (01580 713250): from the back windows you can enjoy the same sort of wide views you get from the church tower. A few doors down, the two-bedroom cottage, which Humberts has on its books for £245,000 — timber-frame at the front, catslide roof at the back — looks sweet; and it has more of those views. But I might need to breathe in while going upstairs.
Clive Aslet is Editor at Large of Country Life.