The village of Headcorn in the Weald of Kent is home to many beautiful old buildings dating back many centuries. The oldest amongst these is the church of St. Peter and St Paul. Situated at the easternmost end of the village, where a building has stood for at least one thousand years, it sits at the centre of its cemetery.
The earliest written record of Headcorn is in the grant of Southolmenden (Southernden) to Christ Church Canterbury in the year 791 CE. It was a ‘den’ or clearing in the Great Wealden Forest, of which the great oak was believed to be a survivor. The earliest written record of a church at this site is in the Domesday Monachorum. The church of a place called ‘Hedekaruna’ (listed under the churches of Maidstone) is documented, meaning that there has been a church on this site since before 1100 CE. In the following centuries it has served well as a parish church, and has a very close relationship with many renowned families in the area, including the Culpepers of Preston Hall, who’s coat of arms features on many of the church’s ornaments.
This church, like many, has undergone significant change over its long lifetime, and many of these phases are still observable in the standing structure today. It is built from Bethersden marble, and is of a plain perpendicular style common in the fourteenth century. The current chancel of the church is believed to stand where the nave of the original church was. Its north and east walls are all that remain of this ancient building, and are the oldest part of the surviving structure. The church shows the ghostly traces of its long history, with the remains of lost windows and doors dotted around its fabric. The roof of the nave is celebrated as one of the finest examples of medieval timber working in Kent, and is still doing its job, impeccably preserved to this day.
Many local legends exist about this church. The Old Oak, whose remains lie just outside the church porch, was believed to be a survivor of the great Wealden Forest, and to be over a thousand years old when it was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1989. It is said that both King John I and Queen Elizabeth I sat beneath its shade on their visits to Headcorn. The great tree is survived by its descendant, which stands in the same cemetery just 50 yards away. It is also believed that the Old Oak was used as a means of escape by a prisoner being held in the parvise, which was used as a prison cell for those awaiting transportation to the court at Maidstone or Canterbury. Another popular myth is that the roughly rectangular mound in the east of the cemetery is the remains of a plague pit. Every year countless daffodils bloom on top of the feature the fertility of the ground perhaps giving some credibility to this idea.
Aldridge, N et al. Headcorn a pictorial history. Rainham: Meresborough Books, 1987. Print.
Atkins, P. The Church of SS. Peter and Paul Headcorn. Ramsgate: The Church Publishers, 1947. Print