The Lost World of the Weald

PUBLISHED: 17:56 01 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:28 20 February 2013

Not much has really changed in Horsmonden. The Gun Hotel remains, albeit renamed as the Gun and Spit Roast. There is still a corner shop in the same location. The main difference is that the roads were wider and also covered in animal droppings.

Not much has really changed in Horsmonden. The Gun Hotel remains, albeit renamed as the Gun and Spit Roast. There is still a corner shop in the same location. The main difference is that the roads were wider and also covered in animal droppings.

An invaluable photographic history of the rural High Weald reveals how much of our landscape and the people who live and work in it has changed over the decades

Often called the Garden of England, Kents landscape is actually more challenging and diverse than visitors might expect. A huge swathe of the county is accounted for by the rugged Weald, a word that means wilderness or forest. The Weald is divided into the central High Weald, the low Weald and the Greensand Hills, which are framed by the chalky North and South Downs.


Most dramatic is the High Weald which, for Kent, is largely the area that borders Sussex, taking in towns such as Tunbridge Wells, Cranbrook and Tenterden. Natural England, the governments advisor on the natural environment, notes that the High Weald was once an untamed, wooded area, with patches of wild grassland and heathland. By Domesday (1086), the High Weald remained the most densely wooded area of England and now boasts the highest proportion of ancient woodland in the country.


Much has changed since the Domesday Book was meticulously collated, with the wooded areas diluted by the resource-draining iron industry. And the landscape has changed yet again over the last few decades.


The fertile soil was ideal for the cultivation of hops, and the familiar oast houses became the architectural symbol of the county. The hop gardens have almost now completely disappeared, but fortunately a dedicated amateur photographer has preserved visual reminders of the days of hop picking


Almost 30 years ago, Paul Harvey, decided to spend a week of his holiday allocation capturing the atmosphere of the High Wealden countryside. Since then he has assembled a wonderful collection of historic and contemporary portraits of life in the High Weald of Kent.


In the early 1980s, I took a week off work around hop-picking time, Paul recalls. It was lovely late summer weather, with wonderful misty mornings. I thought Id take some pictures of the hop picking on the High Weald and capture the atmosphere. I sensed that these scenes might not be around for much longer.


I knew that the Kent landscape was starting to change, so I immersed myself into the life of the hop gardens around the Goudhurst area, getting up early to capture the photogenic mist. As I was taking the photographs, people started coming up to me to find out what I was doing and have a chat. Many of them had been hop picking for years and had come from families that had been working here for generations.


People would often give me old photos, which fascinated me. Before long, I had quite a collection of old images and I started putting on exhibitions in oast houses or barns.


The photographs all tell a story that can be pieced together by the clues in the images. They are priceless snapshots of history, recording a way of life that doesnt exist anymore.


CLICK 'ENRLAGE IMAGE' TO READ THE CAPTIONS

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