A hamlet probably began to grow here in the 11th Century. By the end of the 13th century, the village was of sufficient importance to be granted the right by King Edward I to hold a market.
What transformed Cranbrook’s fortunes in the 14th century and for the next two hundred years was the introduction of the wool weaving trade from Flanders. The wealth resulting from the broadcloth industry is reflected in the magnificence of the mediaeval church and the surviving large houses and Cloth Halls.
In 1573 Queen Elizabeth I visited the town and received a loyal address of welcome at the George Inn.
In the 17th century agriculture took over as the principal industry and Cranbrook developed as a market town for the area. Hops and fruit became important to the economy of the area in the 18th century.
The poor quality of the roads in the Weald at this time meant that people’s needs could be most economically met by local tradesmen. So the town continued to prosper. But the new railway in the 19th century brought cheaper products of the Industrial Revolution and outward access to bigger and better markets. The town’s wealth declined, with the result that owners tended not to demolish buildings to make way for more practical ones. Thus we can enjoy an exceptional concentration of ancient wealden buildings today.
If you would like to find out more about the Great Fire of Cranbrook, the Frittenden Forgers, the famous Cranbrook Colony of artists and many other intriguing topics visit the museum in Carriers Road.
The parish of Cranbrook contains a population approaching 6000 souls. The town retains its dense mediaeval layout of streets and alleys, with a number of buildings of great interest dating from the 15th to the 19th century. These display all the elements of wealden building: timber frame, weatherboard, stucco and the rarer and more local mathematical weathertiling which mimics brickwork
The two main streets contain numerous enchanting and individual shops, far removed from the uniform stores found in most towns.
There are specialists in art materials, antiques and cheeses. Galleries vie with unusual gift shops; old-style ironmongers rub shoulders with furniture experts and a maker of bespoke lampshades.
Travel agents, banks, accountants, solicitors and estate agents all contribute to the commercial life of Cranbrook. In fact there is almost nothing that you cannot obtain in the peaceful atmosphere of this attractive town.
Cranbrook is an ideal centre for exploring Kent and Sussex, and a fascinating place to bring guests. Visitors are served by 3 free car parks, tucked beside one of which there is a supermarket.
The church stands on a site believed to have been occupied by two earlier churches, Saxon and Norman. The present building of local sandstone was begun in the middle of the 14th century and completed in the 16th century and because of its size has been referred to as the `Cathedral of the Weald’. This beautiful church owes its splendour to the material prosperity of Cranbrook during the 15th and 16th centuries as a centre of the cloth industry. A stone staircase leads to a room over the porch which was originally a repository for church valuables. The room is reputed to have been used later, in Queen Mary’s reign, for the confinement of protestant martyrs. The clock mechanism was the prototype for that of Big Ben. The organ is part of an instrument demonstrated at the Great Exhibition of 1851. A detailed guide is available in the church.
The church was used by the band to make their first two recordings and is also regularly used to hold concerts throughout the year.
The Town Band is comprised of about 30 regular brass players who live in Cranbrook and the surrounding areas.
The history of the Town band goes back to the 1920’s. It has enjoyed mixed fortunes over the years and the present band was re-formed forty years ago. Since that time it has gradually grown in membership and the standard of playing has progressed steadily.
Current membership includes people of many different ages and professions.
Cranbrook Town Band is self supporting; it’s main income is obtained from concert performances throughout Kent & Sussex during the summer months. It does however take the time to support other organisations and has links with many charities, the British Legion and various churches. In addition the band does what it can to support music in schools and promote brass band music throughout the country.