“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Lamberhurst is set within the idyllic Teise Valley on the Kent/ Sussex border, straddling the river from whence the valley gains its name. The parish is contained within the Kentish High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Which is well known and loved for its landscape of undulating ridges and gentle valleys filled with ancient woodland and hedgerows lying between the North and South Downs and seemingly uninhabited! Appearances can be deceptive as the High Weald supports numerous isolated farmsteads, hamlets and villages dotted across the countryside but they are well hidden by the abundant woodland.
The tranquil village of Lamberhurst, full of half timbered and mellow red brick buildings, at first glance appears remote, surrounded by rolling downland, orchards, and hop gardens. Seemingly little disturbed through the centuries, is conveniently situated with easy access to the M25 and nearby railway stations offering a fast service to the city. It is in this very setting a paradox, it is remote but in the same instance easily accessible. The Georgian party capital and spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells is a few minute’s drive away, and has much more than just mineral water to offer its visitors; there is plenty of entertainment and restaurants of a quality that one would expect to find in central London!
Lamberhurst originally started life as a place for fattening pigs during the pannage season; which was a time of year when pigs were fed on acorns ready to be slaughtered for the winter. However it wasn’t the ready source of acorns that led to the development of the village, it was the river crossing which played an important role in the growth of Lamberhurst, from what was little more than a clearing in the wood.
It was the only easily accessible site to cross the River Teise and by the 9th century the locals soon realised that the crossing was a potential source of wealth and the settlement started to expand. The first record of Lamberhurst was in 998 when a church was consecrated, possibly on the site of the present day church which was built in the 14th century. Sheep and the production of wool was the earliest form of industry and by the 13th century this had expanded into the production of cloth.
The name Lamberhurst comes from the Anglo Saxon word” lambra hurst” which means “a wooded hill for lambs” or “where the lambs are found”. Along with the Romney Marsh this was one of the few areas suitable for raising sheep. Less than two decades after boom came bust, the cloth industry began to fail and raising cattle became more profitable. Later on Lamberhurst was to become the centre of the Wealden Iron Industry and an important coaching stop for people travelling between London and Hastings.
Kent is known as the “Garden of England” because of the very orchards and agricultural land that surround Lamberhurst in abundance. From Whitstable oysters to Romney Marsh lamb, the hop gardens that supply Shepherd Neame; food lovers from time in memorial have enjoyed this counties produce but the most unusual and probably most controversial is something that is grown in Lamberhurst but now made in Tenterden.
A quote from Shakespeare is particularly apt in this instance
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Mention the very existence of British vineyards to our Gallic cousins across the channel and the reaction is very likely to be one of outright disbelief. After all a Rosbif cannot make wine let alone champagne and this is why the Shakespearean quote is so apt; the grapes that are produced in Lamberhurst and Tenterden as if by alchemy are mutated into a bubbly wine that if produced in a certain region of France would be called champagne! Although our vineyards are small and modern English viticulture is tiny in comparison to other wine producing countries in terms of quality, English white wine compares very favourably with mid-range wines of around £5 to £15. The sparkling wines that come from this region in a good year are better than many of the Champagnes.
Brewing beer and wine production are nothing new; there is evidence of such pursuits dating back much further back than even Medieval times. Julius Caesar is credited by many for bringing vines to England and not just the wine that Roman citizens drank in vast quantities. By the time William the Conqueror had jumped from his ship onto the pebbles at Hastings a fledgling industry was already fermenting. English monks ensconced within their monasteries were growing their own grapes to produce wine. The Domesday Book which contained a list of every taxable item in the country including people has at least 46 vineyards recorded within it!
Wine was not widely drunk by the populace beer most certainly was because every housewife worth her salt would make enough for her family because water quality in those times was pretty poor to say the least! Binge drinking isn’t necessarily a symptom of modern day excess it did exist hundreds of years ago but they had to drink a lot because the alcohol content was quite low!
Sadly the old oast houses that used to dot the countryside have now become homes; there are still a few hop gardens that still survive despite competition from Europe. The vineyards are few and far between but these are more than capable of competing with other wine producing nations, the awards that they have won speak for themselves!
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
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