VIL­LAGEVOICE

Goud­hurst backs on to theWeald and is full of woody char­ac­ter

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - RENTORBUY - Clive Aslet

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.

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