A Brief History
The earliest recorded written date for Smarden is 1205, when Adam de Essex became the Rector of the parish. 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.
There is now evidence for early iron smelting at a number of sites in the parish. The most noteworthy is at Romden where a field known as 'Black Pitts' was commented on in 1912.This area was investigated briefly in 1994 and later in 2008 with the assistance of members of the Smarden History Society under the leadership of Neil Aldridge of the Kent Archaeological Society'. The features were recorded in more detail and included an area of waste slag from iron smelting together with Roman pottery sherds, ref: KCC Historic Environment Record and Wealden Iron Research Group database. There are other sites which have produced iron working waste, some prehistoric, including one west of Cousins Farm which has been radio carbon dated to the 1st century BC. There have also been a number of finds of pre-historic flint implements including hand axes associated with the river gravels which are now on display in the Smarden Heritage Centre. Roman coinage has been found at various sites in the Parish.
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, en route from Sissinghurst Castle to Boughton Malherbe in 1576, was so impressed by what she saw and ratified the previously granted Charter. A copy of the Charter hangs in the village church and in the Heritage Centre.
Smarden has 131 listed buildings including these prominent buildings dating from Smarden’s weaving era and later years:
The Cloth Hall
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.
This stands next to the Cloth Hall, and is named after Dr. Matthew Hartnup who practised in Smarden in 1671 when a mystery illness suddenly struck down some 50 villagers. His name can be seen carved on a beam at the front of the building.
This is the dominant feature at one end of The Street. A hall-house of two phases (1450-1480 and 1480-1510) where the “joins” are very visible from the outside. The prominent gable-end was added in the 17th century, at or around the same time that the chimney was inserted. In its early life it was probably the house of a rich weaver or merchant, but has since been subject to many vicissitudes, including an interval as the village workhouse. Following a period of multi-occupation, it was finally rescued as a single dwelling in the 20th century.
This property which stands on Pluckley Road is a Grade II listed house built in 1772 by a local timber merchant to promote this traditional style which was being superseded by all-brick construction. George III’s golden jubilee of 1810 was celebrated here, when poor adults received 3 quartern loaves and 3lbs of meat each, and children 1 pint loaf and 1 lb of meat.
The area is drained by the headwaters of the two major rivers ultimately flowing north, via Maidstone to the west or Ashford to the east. These rivers are the River Medway and the River Stour however many of these headwaters are only seasonal.
Smarden has a Butcher's, Antique shop and the West End House Art Gallery. A new community Post Office and Store located near to the village hall opened in 2020, including a coffee shop and operates on a zero-waste basis.
Smarden has three pubs: The Flying Horse, The Bell and The Chequers.
Other amenities in the village include:
Parish Council, PCC (Parocial Church Council)
FOSC (Friends of Smarden Church)
Good Neighbour Scheme
Local History Society
Royal British Legion
Baby and Toddler Group
The Smarden Players
The population rose by 79 between 2001 and 2011 to just over 1300, as reported in the latest census. Since then a number of significant housing developments have been completed in the Parish.
Noted Past residents
Author and artist Mervyn Peake lived in Smarden in 1950.
Dorothy Crisp (1906–1987), an English author, political writer, publisher, chairman of the British Housewives' League, lived here..
Captain John Noel, famous 1924 Everest expedition climber and restorer of the Cloth Hall and Hartnup House.
There is more information about Smarden’s history on YouTube in a series of films on the SMARDEN HISTORY channel.
The following is the account of Smarden written by Edward Hasted, 'Parishes: Smarden', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7 (Canterbury, 1798), pp. 478-484.
Smarden is the last parish to be described in this hundred. It lies the next south-westward from that of Pluckley, below the quarry-hill, within the bounds of the Weald. Such part of it as is in the borough of Povenden, is in the hundred of Blackborne; and that part which is in the boroughs of Omenden and Stepherst, is in the hundred of Barkley; and both these are in the west division of the county. But the residue of this parish, having the town and church of Smarden within it, is in this hundred of Calehill, and eastern division of the county.
The manor of Shurland claims over the denne of Holmherst, in this parish; the manors of Otterden and Throwley claim over part of this parish, the latter of them over the denne of Toppenden, alias Tappenden here, from whence the family of Tappenden, since of later times of Sittingborne, in this county, who bear for their arms, Or, two lions passant, in chief, and one in base, rampant, azure, claim their origin and name, a direct descendant of which is Mr. James Tappenden, gent. now of Faversham, in this county.
THE PARISH of Smarden is about four miles across, it lies at a small distance southward of the quarry hills, within the Weald, in a flat low situation, very unpleasant and watery, the soil being a deep miry clay. The eastern parts of it are mostly covered with large coppice woods, and the whole of it, from the flatness of it, the wide hedge-rows, and quantity of oak trees spread over it, has a very gloomy appearance. The town or village, having the church in it, is situated at the southern bounds of this hundred, on the turnpike road leading from Faversham through Charing hither, and so on to Biddenden, Cranbrooke, and Tenterden; a road, which, from the depth of the soil, and the want of having had any improvement ever made on it since the trust has been created, is in winter, or indeed after any wet weather, hardly passable, throughout this parish, even for waggons. That branch of the river Medway, which rises near Goldwell, in Great Chart, flows through this parish close below the town, under a stone bridge of two arches, westward towards Hedcorne, and thence to Stylebridge, and joins the main river at a small distance below Yalding bridge. There is a market house remaining in the town; but the market, which is said to have been held on a Friday weekly, has been disused for upwards of thirty years. The fair is held yearly on Old Michaelmas day, Oct. 10, by the change of the stile, for toys and pedlary. There is a modern well built meeting-house, with a burialground, in which are several handsome tomb-stones, and the minister's house adjoining to it, on Omendengreen, at the end of this parish, next Biddenden: this is for Calvinistical Baptists; but the minister and congregation being at variance, they are decreasing very fast. One Tilden left several pieces of land, of about thirty pounds per annum value, and his house, to the minister, for a writing school at this meeting. And there is another meeting-house, about half a mile northwest from the town, near Spiers Ash, for Methodistical Baptists. About a third part of the housekeepers in this parish are diffenters.
THE MANOR OF THE DENNE OF SMARDEN, is said to have belonged to the archbishops of Canterbury. When they first became possessed of it, I have not found; but it must have been since the taking of the survey of Domesday, as it is not mentioned in it among the manors belonging to the archbishop; and yet it was before the reign of king Edward III. in the 6th year of which archbishop Simon Meopham, had a grant of a market here weekly on a Monday, and a fair yearly for five days at the feast of St. Michael. And this manor seems to have continued in the possession of the succeeding archbishops down to cardinal archbishop Kempe, who in the 10th year of king Henry VI. settled it, among other premises, on his new-founded college of Wye, with which it staid till the dissolution of it in the 36th year of Henry VIII. when this manor came into the hands of the crown; whence it was immediately afterwards granted to Walter Bucler, to hold in capite by knight's service. After which it passed into the family of Newenden, in which it remained till James and Richard Newenden, gent. of Smarden, conveyed it by their deed in the year 1689 to George Sayer, esq. afterwards of Pett's, whose descendant the Rev. George Sayer, LL. B. is the present possessor of it. A court baron is held for this manor.
ROMENDEN-PLACE is an antient seat in the eastern part of this parish, which was formerly the patrimony of the antient family of Engeherst, afterwards written and called Henherst, who were possessed of good estates at Staplehurst, Woodchurch, Yalding, and other places in this county; but they did not continue long owners of this seat, for William, son of Osbert de Henherst, being so described in his deed without date, demised it by sale to John de Calch, in whose descendants it remained until the latter end of king Richard II.'s reign. (fn. 1) Who succeeded them afterwards, I have not found; but in the reign of king Henry VI. the family of Guldeford appear to have been possessed of it; one of whom, in the 23d year of it, founded a chapel in this church of Smarden, (fn. 2) nor can I find how long they continued here; but in king Henry VIII.'s reign it was become the property of Rogers, and John, son of Stephen Rogers, in the 24th year of it, alienated it to Stephen Drayner, alias Dragoner, in which name it continued till William Drayner, in the 17th year of queen Elizabeth, passed it away to Sir Roger Manwood, who the next year conveyed it to Martin James, esq. remembrancer of the court of exchequer, whose great-grandson Walter James, esq. possessed it at the restoration of king Charles II. His son of the same name left an only daughter Auria, who, at the age of fourteen, carried it in marriage to John Otway, gent. of Mitcham, in Surry, who bore for his arms, Argent, a chevron, sable, over it a pile, counterchanged; by whom she had twenty children, of whom seven sons only survived, who on his death became entitled to it in undivided shares. At length the eldest of them, colonel James Otway, having at different times purchased of his brothers their shares in it, became possessed of the whole of Romeden. He was a general officer, and lieutenant-governor of Minorca, and at the latter part of his life resided at Romeden, of which he died possessed in 1721, and was succeeded in it by his eldest son Charles-James Otway, a general officer in the army likewise. He died in 1767, and was buried here, leaving by Bridget, daughter of Basil, earl of Denbigh, one son 2nd two daughters. Charles Otway, esq. the son, resided at Romeden, but he sold it in 1786 to Thomas Witherden, of Wisenden, in Bethersden, the present owner of it.
THIS PARISH is within the ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION of the diocese of Canterbury, and deanry of Charing
The church, which is dedicated to St. Michael, consists of one isle or body, and a chancel; the former is of a most curious structure, being forty feet wide, with a span roof over it, singularly constructed. At the west end is a tower steeple, with a beacon turret, in which there are five bells. In the chancel is a monument for Capt. Jacob Turner, of Hamden, in this parish, mentioned before. He died in 1709, his arms, Per pale and fess, counterchanged, sable, and ermine, three fer-de-molines, or. In the north-east corner of the isle is the burial-place of the Otways, of Romeden. In the chancel is a memorial for Anne, daughter of John Marshall, of Halden, wife of George Carter, gent. and for the said George Carter, who died in 1728; for Solomon Pawley, vicar of Aylsham, in Norfolk, obt. 1777; and for Henry Parsley, rector of this church.
This church is a rectory, the patronage of which was granted by queen Mary, in her last year, anno 1558, among others, to cardinal archbishop Pole, (fn. 3) and it has continued part of the possessions of the see of Canterbury ever since, his grace the archbishop being the present patron of it.
This church is valued in the king's books at 24l. 2s. 6d. per annum, and the yearly tenths at 2l. 8s. 3d. There are about three acres of glebe-land belonging to it.
In 1588 it was valued at eighty pounds. Communicants three hundred and fifty. In 1640 it was valued at one hundred and nine pounds. Communicants seven hundred; and in 1741 it was valued at two hundred and thirty pounds per annum. In 1782 it was valued at only one hundred and seventy pounds, but there has lately been a new composition made for tithes, both great and small, which has much increased the value of this rectory.