Biddenden in Kent is a typical Wealden village with one of the prettiest main streets in the county.
The first recorded mention of the name is in a 10th century charter concerning a den, or swine pasture, in Bydyngden. Pottery of the Romano/British period has been found near the old railway line, north of the village.
Biddenden is rich in timber framed and brick buildings from the 1400s, and from Tudor and later periods, many of which were the result of wealth created when the broadcloth industry flourished in the Weald. The much-photographed houses along the south side of the High Street were built in the 1600s, when the cloth industry was in decline, possibly where cottages occupied by weavers once stood. Many of the houses on the north side of the street are of timber construction but were later given brick fronts. The West House restaurant is one of the oldest, though legend tells of a soldier returning from Agincourt in 1415 to set up the Red Lion public house.
The village is famous for the story of the Biddenden Maids, a story which rests on legend as well as on fact. Two sisters, whose true names and dates remain uncertain, are believed to have left about 20 acres of land to the church wardens so that the rent from farming it could pay for a dole of bread and cheese to be given at Easter to the most needy villagers. This charity was given High Court approval in 1656 and has continued its work ever since. The dole is now managed by the trustees of the Consolidated Charities and is given out on Easter Monday morning from the old workhouse on the Sissinghurst road.
All Saints Church was mainly built in the 1200s, though there was probably an earlier Saxon church here. After the decline in the cloth industry, the village continued its life as a busy agricultural community with a population which never fell below one thousand inhabitants, and was often nearer 1500. Today it is over 2,500. Several modern industries thrive: PK Produce and Biddenden Vineyards, and the Chart Hills Golf Club hosts international events on its 18-hole course.
The Biddenden Local History Society has published Biddenden in Pictures (on sale from the Post Office) and the Story of Biddenden (on sale from the church). Biddenden in Pictures is also available from YouByYou Books
*Text courtesy of Pru Stokes