This little village can be found perched upon a ridge of hard sandstone that stretches across southern England, touching the major southern counties of Hampshire, Surrey, East and West Sussex and Kent. Although the village is in East Sussex part of the parish crosses into the bordering county of Kent and because of this it bears similarities to both and reflects the very best of each county. It lies on the A267 between the spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells and Mayfield and is not too far for people to commute into the city of London.
When you first gaze upon Frant you could be forgiven for thinking that the place is really a figment of your imagination. Such an idyllic little village surrounded by a stunning landscape that few of us are privileged to look upon on a daily basis must surely be the work of either a very wealthy individual or the Disney Corporation. Enough of this nonsense, Frant has been created by man but not one in particular and the haphazard mix of architectural styles have combined over the centuries to create a this delightful vision. In a similar vein a chocolatier who experiments with unusual concoctions eventually manages to create a masterpiece; a creation so divine that our palates fail to believe that it hasn’t been divinely sourced.
As part of the High Weald it comes as little surprise that the village enjoys panoramic views of the countryside beneath and it is also safe to assume that the very landscape over which we gaze is just as lovely as the village. The parish contains a number of sites of Special Scientific Interest one of which is Eridge Park. It comprises of ancient woodland and parkland that is home to many species of flora and fauna, the park also encloses Nap Wood which is owned by the National Trust. The parish is incised by tributaries of the Teise which in itself is a tributary of the River Medway. As with most rivers the river Teise is in part responsible for the settlement that was established here, the village forefathers required water not only for irrigation but also for industry. This peaceful part of the county was in the heartland of the iron industry. At its height most of the village was owned by ironmasters and it is strange to think that an area that is famed for not only its peacefulness but also two abbeys who’s very philosophy was based on peaceful enterprises should be renowned for the production of cannons the very antitheses of peace!
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Frant today is the incredible peacefulness of the place, situated as it is in one of the busiest areas of south-east England. This peacefulness is little changed over the centuries and was the very reason that Premonstratension Canons built Bayham Abbey in the thirteenth century in what was once undeveloped country deep in the West Weald. The Premonstratensian order was named after the abbey at Premontre in North-Eastern France. They followed the rule of St Augustine of Hippo and shunned contact with the outside world preferring sites of solitude to establish their monasteries.
Situated in the picturesque wooded valley of the River Teise, this impressive abbey was constructed of local golden-coloured local sandstone. The outstanding quality of the stone carving, with its richness of decoration is something of a mystery in what was a modest foundation and is very unusual in other Premonstratension churches. Standing on both the Kent and Sussex border it provided access from both counties with two gatehouses; only one survives, the Sussex gatehouse has disappeared without trace, but the façade of the early 14th century Kentish gatehouse was retained to present a 'romantic' feature in the grounds of the later Old Abbey House.
The monks’ who lived within the walls existed within a spartan regime of prayers, and hard work which was considered good for the soul and supplied most of the food that was required by the abbey. The monks were expected to take part every day in eight services in the abbey chapel. The prayers began each morning at 2 am and continued throughout the day so that it comes as some surprise that in the 1400’s they were accused of robbery, rape and other offences. How on earth did they find the time to commit these offences?
The first mention of the area around Frant was in 742, when the Saxon chief Æðelberht granted the manor of Ridrefelde now known as Rotherfield and Ramslye to the Abbey of St Denis in France. The name is a derivation of the Anglo Saxon word Fernethe, a fern covered heath or open area within the Forest of Andredsweald . During the centuries the village has had several different spellings from Fernthe, Ferthe, Fernet Farnt finally becoming Frant
The buildings that combine to form the village of Frant have merged so intimately and harmoniously that the components have lost their original definition. The mellowness that only time can bestow has created a vista that to a casual eye is part of the very landscape on which it sits; almost as though the earth has given birth to these buildings that have been created by the hand of man and formed from materials found nearby.
When something is created from the land on which it sits it must contain the very essence of the area - serene and beautiful!
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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