Hawkhurst is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England. The village is located close to the border with East Sussex, around 12 miles (19 km) southeast of the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, and within the High Weald of Kent.
Hawkhurst itself is virtually two villages: The Moor, to the south, consists mainly of cottages clustered around a large triangular green, while Highgate, to the north, is a more commercial area. Hawkhurst parish had a population of 4,911 in the UK census of 2011.
Hawkhurst was originally an ancient parish in the Cranbrook Hundred and also the East Barnfield Hundred and the Selbrittenden Hundred. Between 1894 and 1974 it was part of the Cranbrook Rural District. Since 1974 the area is covered by the non-metropolitan Tunbridge Wells District (or Borough).
The village was located at the centre of the Wealden iron industry from Roman times. The Weald produced over a third of all iron in Britain, and over 180 sites have been found in the area. Ironstone was taken from clay beds, then heated with charcoal from the abundant woods in the area. The iron was used to make everything from Roman ships to medieval cannon, and many of the Roman roads in the area were built to transport the iron. William Penn, founder of the state of Pennsylvania, owned ironworks at Hawkhurst. The industry eventually declined during the industrial revolution of the 18th Century, when coal replaced charcoal as the preferred method of heating, and coal could not be found nearby.
In the 14th century, Edward III, wanting to break the Flemish (Dutch) monopoly on weaving, encouraged Flemish weavers to come to England. Many chose to settle in the Weald, because it had all the elements needed for weaving – oak to make mills, streams to drive them and Fullers Earth to treat the cloth.
The Kentish domination of the hop industry was stimulated by that same influx of Flemish weavers, who brought a preference for beer, and beer-making skills with them. Several wealthy Kentish farmers invested in this new opportunity and approach. Although not the centre of the industry, Hawkhurst Brewery and Malthouse was built in 1850, on the edge of The Moor.
Hop growing also gave the area its distinctive skyline of hop gardens and oast houses, which were used to dry the hops. Nowadays, most hops are imported. However, at its peak 35,000 acres (140 km2) of hop gardens existed in England, almost all of them in Kent, including much around Hawkhurst. Eventually mechanisation and cheap imports ended the industry, but the oast houses remain.