The village of Hernhill, together with its many hamlets, lies about three miles northeast of Faversham at the edge of the North Kent Marshes.
Church of St Michael
Three Horseshoes pub
Hernhill: Epitome of Kent
Scenically, Hernhill is the epitome of Kent. From harsh east winds it is sheltered by the commanding ridge of The Blean; it stretches north to within a whisker of a shell-strewn beach; south and west it is hill and dale, orchard and hop-garden. Few Kent parishes can match its variety of landscape, and from the right vantage-points there are gorgeous views.
Unspoilt into the bargain, it’s an enviable place in which to live. Faversham is only three miles away, Canterbury only seven, and the M2 is on the doorstep. There’s a strong community sense, epitomised by the village school and hall and three delightful pubs.
Nine Hamlets and a Village
Hernhill village is on a knoll at the centre of the parish. North-Country style, there are also several hamlets, each with its distinctive flavour - Crockham, Dargate, The Fostall, Lamberhurst (really Lambert’s Land, but Lamberhurst’s easier to say), Oakwell (really Slutshole, but you can understand why there’s not too much enthusiasm for this), Staple Street, Thread, Waterham and Wey Street.
The dual-carriageway A299 (Thanet Way) divorces the north of the parish from the rest. Here, around Waterham, with dykes and lazy streams, you could almost be in Norfolk. The farm is where knowledgeable local people buy their poultry. The 14th-century farmhouse was enlarged in the 17th century and sports distinctive ‘Surrenden Dering’ windows which for some reason have strayed from Pluckley, near Ashford.
Horse Hill, a perfect cone when seen from the south, looks like Silbury Hill but is a natural feature. Nearby, in one of the sunniest spots in Britain, is one of its biggest glasshouse complexes. Strawberries are grown here on a huge scale, and with careful economy of natural resources.
South of the Thanet Way Dargate (‘deer gate’) overlooks the flat lands, is hard to find, but worth the effort for its pretty Victorian pub (The Dove). In one direction walkers can catch a glimpse of Dargate House, acme of Regency elegance: in the other, ascend the well-wooded Blean and soon reach 350’ above sea level.
Thread the lanes carefully from Dargate, and past the big village hall and new primary school you reach Hernhill village. This is a picture-postcard scene overlooked by most guide-book writers, creatures of habit who highlight the same hackneyed views as their predecessors.Around a small green, with artless art, are deployed parish church, pub, and old manor house.
All are treasures. The Red Lion is the archetypal Wealden hall house, already 500 years old and, on present form, good for another 500. The Church (St Michael’s) is unusual among medieval churches in being all of a piece - the whole structure was rebuilt in about 1450. Hence it is beautifully proportioned.
In 1838, disconcertingly, some members of the church choir joined the raggle-taggle rebel ‘army’ of ‘Sir William Courtenay’, which was defeated at the Battle of Bossenden Wood in Dunkirk (see DUNKIRK). Some lost their lives and were buried here, as was their leader - in a grave deliberately left unmarked.
The old manor house exemplifies how our forebears often preferred to add to buildings rather than destroy them when they needed to enlarge them. Part is timber-framed, perhaps older than either the Red Lion or the Church. Added to this in the 18th century was a brick wing with fake castellation. Look at it closely: the quality of the brickwork and pointing is superb.
From the churchyard, alongside the manor house, is a superb view to The Blean. Hernhill takes its name from this ‘grey-coloured hill’, though in truth from the distance through the haze it more often looks bluey-green.
Staple Street, half-a-mile south, clusters round its friendly pub, The Three Horseshoes . Opposite is a 19th-century terrace bearing no formal name but known locally as Hobnail Row or Ticklebelly Row. The mind boggles, though not perhaps if you have read Barry Reay’s masterly Microhistories. A demographic study of Hernhill, Boughton-under-Blean and Dunkirk from 1800 to 1930, this is a reflection of rural life as it actually was, not as seen through rose-tinted spectacles.
A few hundred yards east, past a converted oast with an improbable Dutch gable and Mountfield, where Belgian refugees found a safe haven during World War I, is Mount Ephraim, the village’s ‘big house’. The Dawes family have lived here since 1696. The present building dates from 1878, and the extensive gardens, often open to the public during the summer, were landscaped in the early 20th century.
Ephraim, a biblical word meaning ‘fruitful’, is certainly apt here. Particularly around the picturesque lake vegetation is lush, making a splendid backdrop for the popular open-air Shakespeare productions which are put on every year. The Dawes family have always been close to the village, never distanced themselves from it. After the upheaval of the Courtenay Riots, and the hardship which followed, they created employment for villagers. In 1904 they started a village Institute - one of the few in East Kent - and found accommodation for it.