Headcorn lies in the scenic Low Weald of Kent. It is a unique landscape area with many small and pretty villages and a countryside consisting of small woodland, or copse areas and many farms with small fields and ancient hedgerows. The village is situated near to the river Beult, which runs to the south and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The village has a considerable historic background, but prides itself in keeping up with today’s developments. The earliest written records are references in charters of King Wihtred and King Offa, respectively, to Wick Farm, 724; and Little Southernden, 785. Headcorn must have started in the days of the Kingdom of Kent as a den or clearing, to which pigs were driven from the northern parts of the County to feed on acorns and beech mast, in the Wealden Forest.
Although Headcorn does not figure in the Domesday Book of 1086, the Domesday Monachorum, the ecclesiastical survey mad at about the same time, records the existence of a Church at Hedekaruna. According to the Oxford Names Companion, the name possibly means "tree-trunk (used as a footbridge) of a man called Hydeca."
Henry of Ospringe was appointed the first Rector in 1222 by King Henry III. However, in 1239 the King gave the den of Headcorn, with the rectorial endowments, to the Maison Dieu at Ospringe, near Faversham. In 1251 the Master and Bretheren of Ospringe were granted a weekly market on Thursdays and an annual fair at Headcorn on St Peter and St Paul’s Day, the 29th June. In 1482 the Ospringe house was dissolved and in 1516 St John’s College, Cambridge was given the Maison Dieu properties. The fair was later held on the 12th June, having apparently been merged with the trinity-tide fair of Moatenden Priory, located to the north of the village.
The prosperity brought to Headcorn by the weaving industry, established in the reign of King Edward III, is evidenced by houses built at that time e.g. Shakespeare House and the Cloth Hall and the enlargement of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul. Wat Tyler’s rebellion in 1381 was partly due to jealousy and dislike of the prosperous clothiers. In 1450 fully 80 men of Headcorn took part in Jack Cade’s rebellion and received pardons.
The remains of the Headcorn Oak are near the south door of the Parish Church. It was extensively damaged by fire on the 25th April 1989 but continued to produce new growth until July 1993. Its age has been estimated at up to 1200 years. However, Mr Ian Mitchell of the Forestry Commission, an expert on old oaks, compared his own measurements, taken in 1967, with those made by Mr Robert Furley, FSA in 1878 and estimated its age as 500 years.
The chancel of the present Church is believed to mark the site of the nave of its 11th century counterpart, and the Lady Chapel that of the 12th century south isle. The 13th century saw the construction of a new nave, about half the length of the present one, and possibly also a cell on the site of the Vicar’s Vestry, which dates from the early 15th century. The nave was completed in the 14th century and the present south isle in the early 15th. Late in the same century the tower and south porch were built.
Eight roads converge on Headcorn and there are several old bridges. Stephen’s Bridge in Frittenden Road is said to have been built by Stephen Langton, Archbishop 1207-1228. There are records from the reigns of Edward I, Edward III and Henry IV relating to the need to repair this bridge and Hawkenbury Bridge.
Before railways the George Inn in Borough High Street was the hub of coach services to Kent, Surrey and Sussex. At 7am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the Tenterden Coach set out on a 10-hour journey of 55 ¼ miles, passing through Headcorn. By 1838 the Tally Ho Coach had shortened the journey time, leaving London at 1pm and reaching Headcorn at 8.15pm and Tenterden at 9.30pm. For 130 years until 1915 Messrs R. and J. Bennett ran a horse-bus service between Tenterden, Headcorn and Maidstone.
The South Eatstern Railway was opened in stages, reaching Tonbridge in May 1842, Headcorn in August and Ashford in December. From 1905 to 1954 the Kent and East Sussex Railway operated between Robertsbridge and Headcorn via Tenterden. A proposed extension to Maidstone was never built.
In 1940, following the evacuation from Dunkirk, many thousands of British and Allied troops received their first meal in England at Headcorn Station. Local volunteers assisted the Royal Army Service Corps in providing refreshments. 100 trains per day were halted, allowing only eight minutes for each.
The Aerodrome at Shenley Farm, first used by one aircraft in the 1920s, served as an advanced landing ground for Canadians and then Americans in World War 2. Today, as a private civil airfield and parachute centre, it also houses the Air Warfare Museum, the Air Cadets of 500 Squadron and a helicopter company.
The 1986 list of buildings of architectural or historic interest has 88 Headcorn entries, including the Parish Church (Grade I), the former Old Vicarage (II*) renamed Headcorn Manor about 1960, the Cloth Hall (II*) and Shakespeare House (II).
Foreman’s original store with its overhang, preserved as part of the Foreman’s Centre, marks the site of the old National School, which was in existence by 1846 and replaced in 1870 by the building in Parsonage Meadow since known as the Church School and now Longmeadow Hall. This was used only briefly as a National School because a Board School (now part of the Primary School) was opened in King’s Road in 1873. Longmeadow Hall has been restored as part of the Community Centre project.
The centre of Headcorn keeps much of its old charm even though most of the shops and businesses have changed hands over the years.
The village prides itself in its friendliness to all comers.
© Jane Armstrong 2013