Tenterden History and Heritage

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History and Heritage

Before the great storms of the 15th century silted up the River Rother, Tenterden was linked to the sea and became an important ship building centre and trading port.

Much of the town's heritage remains today, including many historic timber framed buildings, a medieval church, cobbled alleys and the Georgian Town Hall.

William Caxton, who in 1477 printed the first English book, was said to have been born here. Keeping guard over the town is the pinnacled tower of St Mildred's Church from where once the signal beacon warned of the approach of the Spanish Armada, and where later Lord Nelson's daughter, Horatia was the wife of the vicar.

Download our Heritage leaflet which includes more about the history of our wonderful Town and the Heritage Trail.

A short history of Tenterden and Area

In Roman times, the Weald of Kent and much of East Sussex were covered by a huge expanse of forest. A Roman road from Thanet passed through the district, but it was not until Saxon times that a settlement was recorded. In Old English "Tenet Waraden" described a den or clearing in the forest belonging to the men of Thanet, and the town's name is derived from this ancient identification.

Tenterden first rose to affluence as a centre for the wool trade in the 13th Century. In 1331 Edward III prohibited the export of raw wool and brought weavers and dyers from Flanders to teach the English to manufacture finished cloth, and in the subsequent decades Tenterden's prosperity grew. Despite this relative affluence, a number of townsfolk supported the Peasant's Revolt and joined Wat Tyler's march on Canterbury and London in 1381.

The town, unlike other wool centres in the Weald, has the advantage of access to the sea. Much of what is now Romney Marsh was under water, and ships docked at Smallhythe. Wood from the Wealden Forest was used to construct ships, and in 1449 Tenterden was incorporated into the Confederation of Cinque Ports as a limb of Rye. Ships built in the town were then used to help Rye fulfil its quota for the Crown. As a Cinque Port, Tenterden enjoyed virtual self-government, was exempt from national taxation and represented at the coronation of the monarch. The latter privilege is still jealously guarded and the town still retains a mayor, but sadly exemption from taxes no longer applies! In the 15th and 16th Centuries changes in the coastline meant that the Cinque Ports lost much of their influence - indeed Tenterden lost all access to the sea, and today is some ten miles from the coast.

The town has escaped much of the major development now commonplace elsewhere, and remains one of the most picturesque in Kent. Its broad tree-lined High Street offers a selection of shopping facilities, and is dominated by the pinnacled tower of St Mildred's Church. The church dates from the 12th Century, and was progressively enlarged until 1461, when the distinctive tower was constructed. St Mildred was the granddaughter of Egbert - founder of Thanet's Minster Abbey - and it is believed that a Saxon church dedicated to her stood in the parish from the 8th Century. The suburb now called St. Michael's was known as Boresisle until Victorian times, when a church dedicated to St. Michael was built to serve this community. The church was consecrated in 1863, but construction of the steeple took a further twelve years.

Throughout the 20th Century the area was the focus of much of the expansion in housing for the town. The pioneering printer William Caxton is reputed to have been born in or near the town, and the town archive includes a copy of a book published by Caxton in 1482. Actress Dame Ellen Terry is another of Tenterden's famous former residents. Tenterden and District Museum situated in Station Road, has exhibits covering more that a thousand years of local history.

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