History of Bedgebury Park
John de Bedgebury is listed as the earliest resident of Bedgebury, in the time of Edward the 2nd in the early 1300s. Members of John’s family are buried in Goudhurst Church and are linked by marriage to the Colepepers, also known as the Culpeppers.
In 1682, James Hayes bought the property. He had just suddenly become wealthy by salvaging the contents of a sunken Spanish treasure ship. He demolished the old house as being unserviceable and built a new brick house on a different location, seven windows wide and two storeys tall, the central three bays contained within a pedimented breakfront. The architect is likely to have been Elizabeth Lady Wilbraham (1632-1705), the world’s first woman architect and the architectural teacher of Christopher Wren.
In 1836, the house was encased in stone and made three storeys tall, and a 2-storey wing was added on each side. In 1855, the wings were made three storeys tall and a high French-style roof was added over the whole complex.
He also improved the estate between 1840 and 1848 by creating the village of Kilndown and three lodges. One of these, Keepers Lodge, now known as Park House, is in the centre of the Pinetum. The ornamental Park developed from the late 17th century. We know that from 1850 the estate staff increased – to 40 gardeners at the peak – housed at Kilndown and Bedgebury hamlet.
Bedgebury lies in the heart of the Kent iron producing area. The Bakers of Sissinghurst and the Culpeppers were landowners who set up iron works, where raw iron stone was smelted with charcoal to produce the pig iron, and then turned into iron products, mostly munitions. These processes required a plentiful supply of water, wood and charcoal.
The iron industry had a significant effect on the woodland as much was coppiced and processed into charcoal. Direct evidence of this remains throughout Bedgebury in the form of charcoal heaths. In the early 1600s the people of Cranbrook made a formal complaint about the consumption of wood, destined for the casting of guns. Pond bays and penstocks (or reservoirs) are also visible remainders of the iron industry as are the names Furnace Farm and Forge Farm. Lake Lousia, now part of Bedgebury Park was probably one of the penstocks for Frith Furnace. Bedgebury is surrounded by a number of old farmsteads. Some were former manors and others were part of the Bedgebury Estate and at one time the estate included 30 farms.