Headcorn shown within Kent
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||South East Coast|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
The village is eight miles (13 km) from the county town of Maidstone, on the A274 road to Tenterden. In addition to the parish church, dedicated to saints Peter and Paul, there are also churches and chapels for the Methodist, Baptist and Roman Catholic congregations.
There is a small airfield located nearby, where there is an aviation museum and a parachuting centre. Headcorn Parachute Club is the only skydiving club in Kent and is home to national champions and world-record holders.
Headcorn railway station is on the South Eastern Main Line between London and Dover. It was opened on 31 August 1842. On 1 December the same year, the South Eastern Railway opened the second section of its main line onward to Ashford. By 1844, trains were running from London to Dover. The line here is the longest straight stretch of line in the United Kingdom.
A Neolithic polished flint axe was found in the stream near the present school in Headcorn, and a bronze palstave axehead dating from the Bronze Age reveal the presence of people in the area from early times.
There is evidence from one site in the south of the parish for a probable farmstead that dates from the prehistoric Iron Age into the early Roman period. This was discovered by fieldwork undertaken by Neil Aldridge of the Kent Archaeological Society between 1993-95. Evidence for iron smelting and a small cemetery with Roman cremations were found.
The earliest written records, are references in charters of King Wihtred and King Offa to Wick Farm, 724 AD and Little Southernden, 785 AD. Headcorn must have started in the days of the Kingdom of Kent, as a den or clearing, to which pigs were driven to feed on acorns in the Wealden Forest.
Although Headcorn does not appear in the Domesday Book of 1086, the Domesday Monachorum (the ecclesiastical survey made at about the same time), records the existence of a church at Hedekaruna. According to the Oxford Names Companion, the name could possibly mean ‘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 Brethren of Ospringe, were granted a weekly market on Thursdays and an annual fair at Headcorn on 29 June, St Peter and St Paul’s Day. 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 12 June, having apparently been merged with the Trinity-tide fair of Moatenden Priory.
The Trinitarian Order, or Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives, was founded in France in 1198. Among the first of the dozen houses it established in England, was Moatenden Priory dating from 1224. The site is off Maidstone Road Headcorn. In 1536, the priory was suppressed, among England's smaller houses, and its revenues went to the King.
The site was partially excavated by Neil Aldridge of the Kent Archaeological Society and the site of the priory church and other structures were recorded within the garden of the present house which incorporates part of the western range of the priory. This was published in Archaeologia Cantiana for 1995. The site is surrounded by a large moat and a number of monastic fishponds also survive.
The prosperity brought to Headcorn by the weaving industry, established in the reign of King Edward III, is reflected in the houses built at that time 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, eighty men of Headcorn took part in Jack Cade’s rebellion and subsequently received pardons.
The remains of the Headcorn Oak are near the south door of the parish church. It was extensively damaged by fire on 25 April 1989, but continued to produce new growth until July 1993. It has been claimed that the Headcorn Oak is up to 1200 years old. However, Ian Mitchell of the Forestry Commission, an expert on old oaks, compared his own measurements taken in 1967, with those made by Robert Furley FSA, in 1878 and estimated it to be only 500 years old.
The chancel of the present parish 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.
Kent’s Chantry was founded in the Lady Chapel in 1466, under licence from King Edward IV. In the south isle, just outside the Lady Chapel and in the south wall, is an altar-tomb bearing the Culpeper arms, which also figure over the west door. The font dates from about 1450.
The Baptist community in Headcorn dates from around 1675, the first chapel having been at Bounty Farm in Love Lane. The present building in Station Road, was opened in 1819 and renovated and extended in 1978, following the addition of a hall in 1971.
19th century to present
The exact date of the first Methodist Society in Headcorn is not certain, but it built its first chapel for worship separate from the parish church in 1805. It was replaced by a second in 1854. The present building cost £800 when it was put up in 1867. Headcorn’s Roman Catholics have had their own building since 1968, when the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury was erected in Station Road. The cedar building of 1968 has been replaced by a brick one, dedicated by Bishop John Jukes on 25 June 1990.
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 of Canterbury 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 on 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. An advertisement of 1750, illustrates R Hammond’s Tenterden, Staplehurst, Biddenden, Headcorn and Town Sutton stage wagon, with a team of eight horses. It went to London and back once a week, taking two days each way. The current train service from Headcorn to London, takes about 1 hour.
On the 31 October 1904, the Headcorn, Sutton Valence and Maidstone Motor Omnibus Co Ltd opened a service using steam vehicles. This was replaced about 1912 by Reliance Motor Services. Maidstone and District Motor Services was also operating on the route by 1914 and took over Reliance two years later. Nowadays the main operator is Arriva.
The South Eastern 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 II. Today, as a private civil airfield and parachute centre, it also houses the Lashenden Air Warfare Museum, the Air Cadets of 500 Squadron and Thurston Helicopters Ltd a helicopter flying school company.
The 1986 list of buildings of architectural or historic interest has 88 entries for Headcorn, including the parish church (Grade I), the former old vicarage (II*) a traditional 15th-century Wealden hall house 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 Headcorn Primary School) was opened in King’s Road in 1873. Longmeadow Hall is currently being restored as part of the Community Centre project.
- "Headcorn CP". Neighbourhood Statistics. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
- "British Parachute Association dropzones".
- The standard monograph is Neil Aldridge, "The Trinitarian Priory of Motynden at Headcorn", Archaeologia Cantiana (Kent Archaeological Society), 1996.
- R. Apps, "The Headcorn oak", Arboricultural Association Journal, 1965.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Headcorn.|
- Headcorn Parish Council Official Website
- Select H for Headcorn village notes
- Headcorn Weather Webcam
- Headcorn Airfield Webcam