Long ago Woodchurch was in the middle of a forest which stretched from Pevensey on the coast to as far north as Tunbridge Wells. The earliest records go back about a thousand years. In 1100 Woodchurch was Wudecirce. Probably its church was made of wood but the current ragstone building dates from the 13thcentury and took 200 years to complete.
As the forest was cleared, agriculture developed and hops were planted here in the 15th century. Later on sheep were introduced and a thriving wool trade developed. In the 16th century, orchards were planted. Our oldest houses date from the 15th century. Diamond Farm, Henden Place and Woodchurch Place (now Place Farm) are just three; the latter two are of a type known as Wealden Hall Houses. Woodchurch must have been a prosperous place since we have about 20 houses from the 16th century or earlier, and now nearly 80 ‘listed’ houses dating from before 1700.
The richest family here in the 16th century were the Harlackendens who were linked by marriage to the Hales family from Tenterden. There are family relics in the church including fascinating brasses of Thomas Harlackenden’s family and the tomb of Dame Deborah Harlackenden who first married Thomas’s son Martin. But the Harlackenden wealth was all gone by the end of the 17th century.
The Forge in 1910 with the Bromham family of blacksmiths
The houses near the church and around the north side of the Green were built then; in those days the Green stretched south nearly as far as the Stonebridge. A Bourne family member was shingling the church spire around 1780. The Bournes building firm grew mightily to be the largest employer in the village by the 19th century and traded independently for nearly 200 years.
John Charles Schreiber, a London merchant, bought Hengherst in 1823 and eventually made many of the larger Woodchurch properties part of the estate. By then it must have been another prosperous period for the village as its population grew from about 700 in 1800 to nearly 1300 by 1840. Nephew Arthur Schreiber inherited Hengherst on the death of John Charles in 1863, with his only child Evelyn succeeding him in 1902.
The population has nearly doubled since the early 19th century, when Woodchurch was isolated without our modern communication links and transport. It was then a self-supporting community with its own windmills, bakers (2), grocers (5), butchers (3), dairy farmers (5), cobbler, saddler, brickworks (3), post office, smithy, wheelwright, carrier and public houses (3). The village enjoyed itself and there have been about 70 clubs and societies catering for every sporting, leisure and social taste. Less than half of these have survived as motor transport allowed us all to escape the confines of the village.
Modern housing development in Woodchurch has provided affordable housing for young people and allowed our population growth.