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History of Hucking Estate

For thousands of years people have made their homes along the foot of the escarpment of the North Downs, at the southern edge of what is now the Hucking Estate. The Romans and then the Jutes created farmsteads, villages and towns that stretched from Hollingbourne to Leeds, Langley and Broomfield. These villages survived and evolved all the way through the Norman and Medieval periods to become the villages and towns of today.

These people had a great influence on the landscape and it was the introduction of livestock, such as sheep, that really altered the countryside in this area. By grazing the chalk hills and slopes they have kept them free of scrub which led to the mix of chalk grassland and woodland that exists today, though arable intensification during the latter part of the 20th century resulted in the loss of many hedgerows and woodlands from the estate.

Hucking also contains a wealth of interesting features which tell the story of its past, including an ancient drove road, potential iron-ore workings, wood banks, and chalk and marl pits.

Northern Europe

The ancient drove road was probably created by the Jutes who crossed over from Northern Europe in the 5th century and settled in the area after the Romans had left Britain. They were farmers and brought pigs or boar with them which they drove along routes to and from the wood pastures in the central Weald of Kent to fatten on acorns.  These tracks or droveways became permanent routes such as the Byway along the eastern edge of Hucking Estate, often becoming worn down and sunk into the landscape. Farmed boar were used for their meat and hide, and the hairs from their neck in the manufacture of toothbrushes. Wild boar disappeared from Britain during Medieval times and it was not until the 1980’s that boar farming came back. Occasional escapes mean that we now have populations of wild boar in Kent, East Sussex, Dorset, Devon and the Forest of Dean. The wood pastures that pigs and other animals were driven to were called ‘dens’ and may be the origin of nearby place names such as Tenterden, Biddenden and Smarden. Today, this droveway is a byway open to people, vehicles and horses.

Iron working site

The Pond is a former iron working site, and at the peak of the iron smelting industry which took place at the Weald nearby, people scoured everywhere for iron ore, and occasional fragments of ironstone can still be found on the crest of the North Downs. Opposite The Pond is the pippy oak – its trunk covered in growths – and it is timber from these rare, deformed specimens that was once much prized by cabinet makers. 

(Photo: WTML)

Woodbanks are earthen banks, usually accompanied by a ditch, which denoted ownership boundaries in medieval times. The banks  were often further reinforced with  pollarded hornbeam trees which were cut off at 10–12 feet above ground level to produce a wood crop and increase longevity. This produced straight limbs high above the reach of grazing deer and cattle. Today, the presence of wood banks can indicate that a wood is ancient.
 
Chalk wells/pits are reminders that chalk was mined in the region for thousands of centuries when it was common in Kent to crush excavated chalk and spread it onto the fields to improve their fertility and productivity. There are two confirmed chalk wells at Hucking (though there could have been many more which were subsequently filled-in), which were probably dug between 1600 and 1800 AD. Chalk wells are vertical shafts of up to 4.5 metres (15ft) diameter and over 12 metres (40ft) deep. In 1996 the Kent Underground Research Group cleared out the first of these chalk wells in Spratts Dane Wood which had been filled with rubbish, soil and stone. The top of this shaft has been grilled over for safety reasons, but it is now home to Daubenton's, Natterer's and brown long-eared bats during the winter months for hibernation. The second chalk well, in Ten Acres, was cleared out by the Research Group in 2006 and bats are already using this chalk well for winter hibernation too.

The Hucking Estate was acquired by the Woodland Trust in 1997, and in 1998 and 1999, 180,000 trees over 185 acres were planted to create new woodland areas. Another phase of tree planting started in 2010 to create a further 74 acres for completion by 2015.