The name ‘Cranbrook’ is derived from the cranes that traditionally frequented the town’s little stream and the crane is visible today in the town’s emblem. Cranbrook is mentioned in the Domesday Monachorum in 1070 and it is thought that this is around the time it became more of a formal settlement. Surrounded by the pretty Kentish countryside, Cranbrook has an enchanting quality with its narrow ‘olde worlde’ street at one end of town and a mix of quaint weather-boarded buildings and grander, graceful architecture.
The north end of the town is dominated by an impressive Union Windmill, built in 1814, which is the second tallest surviving windmill in the British Isles. The windmill is open to the public on specific afternoons during the summer.
Cranbrook’s high street is home to an eclectic mix of establishments including those selling antiques and ‘bric a brac’, gift shops, delis, a toy shop, a fine jewelers and a number of high quality fashion boutiques. There are also several high street banks, a post office and a well-stocked supermarket.
For those requiring light refreshment or something more substantial, there are a number of pubs, restaurants, coffee bars and tea rooms along the main high street or within easy reach on foot.
There are several picturesque Walden villages within easy driving distance of Cranbrook, including Goudhurst, Hawkhurst, Benenden and Biddenden all with their own unique charm.
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.
St. Dunstans Church
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.