The Hawkhurst gang Season 1 Episode 3. The Battle of Goudhurst.

The Hawkhurst Gang Season 1 Episode 3.  

The Battle of Goudhurst 1747.

Goudhurst, a pretty village in the Kent weald countryside was to host a significant battle between the infamous Hawkhurst gang and the villagers of Goudhurst led by 29 year old 'General' George Sturt (a former soldier) who led the militia group.  

"that on the 21st of April 1747 He would attack Goudhurst, kill the residents (broil their hearts)......and burn the place to the ground." - Thomas Kingsmill about the village of Goudhurst.

Thomas Kingsmill a native of Goudhurst and now the Boss of the gang faced his first challenge since the incarceration of Arthur Gray and the capture of his brother William Gray by the lesser known Cranbrook Association. The gang must have been demoralised by the loss of such senior members and therefore it now fell to Kingsmill to raise morale and assert his authority not just with gang members, but with locals too. Kingsmill had to control of the roads to ensure the runs carried on being  successfully dispatched. Kingsmill was none to pleased when He received word that his native Goudhurst had organised into an armed militia. Kingsmill's next move was to capture a member of the militia and torture him. He made him agree to not bare arms against the gang and they would spare his life. The captured militia man arrived back at Goudhurst and infomored the villagers that Kingsmill will be coming to Goudhurst to burn everyone out of their homes on the 21st of April.

St Marys from the south side.A steep climb.

The Villagers of Goudhurst could no longer tolerate the Hawkhurst gang's lawlessness and intimidation.With no rule of law and the nearest troops thinly billetted around the south coast . They organised a militia led by 'General' Sturt. Now Sturt was by no means a 'General' or a 'Captain'. But, He was a soldier and a fully trained one. He drilled the villagers with muskets, loading, priming and firing. They manufactured musket balls and paper cartridge chargers in preparation for the coming battle. Sturt knew the topography of the village well. Everything into the village was up hill. At the top of the hill was St Mary's church. Goudhurst is strategically placed on one of the highest points on the Weald. The church spire was about 155 feet tall. Sturt placed lookouts on the Spire and fortified the church yard. Goudhurst was now militarily prepared for a defensive battle. Sturt and his small army of Goudhurst villagers were ready !

St Mary's Church spire gives you all round vision for about fifteen miles.

Its not clear from which direction Kingsmill approached Goudhurst from, but it is clear upon my site visit to the village that from any direction you will be seen from St Mary's church. The lookouts would be able to spot a posse of men from some distance away. And when the approach into the village happened it would be the Hawkhurst men who were exposed.

On the 21st, Kingsmill after losing his element of surprise (after telling the captured militia man that He (Kingsmill) would be arriving on the 21st of April) mounted with thirteen other gang members and entered Goudhurst. We know from  various contemporary sources (Waugh, Codd & Platt) that Thomas Kingsmill, George Kingsmill & Barnet Wollit were three of the posse. Kingsmill and his band of desperados made for the church and opened fire. The militia returned with a disciplined and ferocious reply Boom ! Boom ! The Villagers returned fire from behind their make-shift fortifications in the church yard. Snipers took shots from the bell tower at Kingsmill and the Hawkhurst gang, the air was full of sparks and powder smoke.The Hawkhurst gang's over confidence versus the discipline of the villagers to concentrate their fire power effectively led to the withdrawal of Kingsmill and his men.

However, Kingsmill made an error on his tactical withdrawal. They stopped and fired into a house which had fourteen armed villagers inside, who returned fire. Killed in the return fire was George Kingsmill (brother to Thomas), Barnet Wollit and one other. The Hawkhurst with fatalities hastily left the village, probably their first defeat from a defiant civilian population, something they were not used too !

 The Kingsmills were Goudhurst people. It may have been the case that these fatalities may have been buried at St Mary's church. I toured the church yard and studied the churchyard maps from The Goudhurst & Kilndown Local History Society   . I found some sunken unmarked graves in section six, they look very old and weathered, could this have been the final resting place of Kingsmill and Wollit ? They were not executed and therefore did not commit a sin, so maybe they warranted a christian burial so valued by their families who may have resided in Goudhurst at the time !  

It is possible that some of the Goudhurst villagers may have dissented to fighting the Hawkhurst gang as they possibly may have been family or just intimidated. Nonetheless, the Battle of Goudhurst was a victory for the village and big defeat for Kingsmill. However, this did not stop Kingsmill, his biggest expedition involving a raid on the Customs House in Poole, Dorset was next to challenge his leadership.As for Goudhurst there are no further recorded events involving the Hawkhurst gang.   As for George Sturt He went on to run the village workhouse knowing it was his leadership that stood up to driving the Hawkhurst gang from Goudhurst. The incident was reported in the newspaper the London Gazette and drew a lot of the country's attention to the brave Goudhurst Villagers and their triumphant stand against the infamous Hawkhurst gang. 

Hawkhurst gang flintlock pistol post Goudhurst. Note the botched on the handle.Credit Maidstone museum.

Here Spysways was used by the Hawkhurst gang as a contraband depot. It can still be seen in Goudhurst High Street.

Bibliography, Credit & Thanks.

The Goudhurst & Kilndown History local history society. for providing me with a churchyard map.

Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840, Mary Waugh

Tales from the Gibbet Post Part 1, Daniel Codd

Notes from Ani Bee, thank you.

Maidstone Museum.



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