Horsmonden is a village eight miles east of Royal Tunbridge Wells in the High Weald of Kent, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The word “Weald”, is Old English for forest. Kent is known as the Garden of England, due to the abundance of fruit growing and hop fields. Horsmonden is a typical example of a village that has earned Kent this accolade. The village is surrounded by apple orchards, pastures and hop fields, which can easily be seen from footpaths south of the village green. The distinctive shapes of the oast houses, where hops were dried on slatted floors, have been described as being like the sails of graceful yachts on a gently rolling sea of hops. The centre of Horsmonden is the large village green, known as The Heath, surrounded by shops and a pub.
Horsmonden is the birthplace of the ancestors of Jane Austen, the famous novelist. The Austens were a wealthy family, who made their fortune from the cloth trade. Spinning and weaving was a cottage industry in the village. There are several memorials to the Austen family in St. Margaret’s Church at the west end of the Nave and a memorial window at the west end of the South Aisle. In the churchyard, is a railed tabletop tomb surrounded by railings, which incorporate the letter “A” for Austen. In the village, there are still two private houses, both old Clothworker’s Halls and dating from the 1600s, where Jane Austen’s ancestors lived.
Broadford was the home of Jane Austen’s great grandfather, John Austen IV, who was born there in 1657 and died in 1704. He had seven children, including Jane Austen’s grandfather, William Austen of Tonbridge. Another son, Francis Austen II, bought the house, Grovehurst, from descendants of Henry de Grofhurst, from which the house derived its name. The house is in Grovehurst Lane, Horsmonden.
St. Margaret’s Church can be found one and a half miles south of the village, in a stunning open location towards Goudhurst. The reason for the village being away from the church is debatable. One theory is that an outbreak of plague caused the surviving villagers to move their homes away from the church. However, there is not any documentary evidence of an epidemic in the village, nor are there any archaeological remains of an earlier village. A more likely reason for the village location is that the dwellings were sited close to the forge of John Browne, as it provided so much employment. There is an iron grave slab memorial to Martha Browne, his wife, next to the pulpit in the church. Credit for building the church must be given to Henry de Grofhurst, who was the second rector of Horsmonden in 1311. He was rector for fifty years and completed the church by the end of the 14th century.
In the 17th century, Horsmonden was the most important gunmaking site in Britain. There were plentiful supplies of timber and water power needed for the iron furnaces. Furnace Pond, close to the village, was the site of John Browne’s famous foundry which supplied guns for the English navy, Charles I’s army and Oliver Cromwell, during the English Civil War. In 1613, the foundry employed two hundred men. In 1638, Charles I visited the foundry to watch a canon being made. The canon is now in the White Tower at the Tower of London. A replica of this canon is displayed over the entrance to The Gun & Spitroast Inn. The foundry closed in 1685.
The Gun & Spitroast Inn, at the side of The Heath, has a long and interesting history. It was first licensed in the 1570s and takes its name as the Gun from the important iron industry established in the village. John Browne and his family lived there and conducted their business from the pub. Much later, it became a coaching inn and in modern times, the name was changed to The Gun & Spitroast Inn to advertise the addition of a restaurant facility. In the 1940s, the Inn was extremely popular with hundreds of hop pickers from East London, who came on their annual working holidays to earn money picking hops. It is not unusual for retired Londoners to return to the village to relive the happy times.
A noteworthy inhabitant of Horsmonden, was Simon Willard, who was born there in 1605. In May 1634, after becoming a major in the army, he followed the Puritans in the Mayflower, who had sailed to the New World in 1620. He was one of the founders of Concord, Massachusetts.