There is a potted history of the area in the bar of The Bell which tells you that the pub dates way back to 1107. With its white weatherboarding and hanging tiles, it looks more 18th century than 12th but locals will tell you of the time a party of enthusiastic Americans came here to conduct some tests. They bored out a sample of wood from one of the beams, took it away and carbon-dated it. The result was 12th century, which is what any self-respecting Iden resident could have told them in the first place.
Legend has it that the pub was a retreat for monks, and they brewed beer here even then. One has been reluctant to leave for 800 years and his ghost has many times been spotted sitting comfortably in a corner of the bar.
Cottage industries can usually be relied upon to bring in a modest income, but few have the notable success of Miss Carter of Iden. She started making distinctive jams and preserves at nearby Peasmarsh but moved to her native village in 1929. Queen Mary visited her Still Room in 1935 and even took a turn at stirring one of the coppers of marmalade, which at that time were outside under a lean-to shelter.
The business flourishes to this day, selling to the VIP establishments of Fortnum & Mason and Jackson’s of Piccadilly, and exporting all over the world.
This is border country; the flat expanse of Romney Marsh can be seen from here and much of the area is Kentish in character, particularly the fruit orchards which climb the gentle slopes. A breathtaking sight in blossom time.
The county boundary did not deter two Sweethearts from staying in touch. The Rev Guy Lockington Bates, son of Iden’s rector, would climb to the top of the church tower and signal to his fiancee at Newenden in Kent. After their marriage the couple had twin daughters, to whom proud grandad presented a plot of land adjoining the Parsonage (now Iden Park). The house built on the site was called Twin Sisters.
The village once had its own ‘castle’, a castellated house surrounded by a moat which was built in 1284 by Edmund de Passeley, with permission from Edward I, and at one time rivalled Bodiam in its magnificence.
In medieval times families often took the name of the place where they lived and Idens lived here for more than two centuries. Alexander Iden caught and killed the Sussex rebel leader Jack Cade (see Old Heathfield). All that remains of the castle today is a fragment of gateway, standing above the still clearly defined moat. The rest of the building must be under the lanes or incorporated in the cottages.
In a field beside Readers Lane was the site of a herring drying kiln, an indication that the coastline has changed dramatically and that centuries ago herrings came much closer to the village than they do now.
The early years of the 20th century were lively ones for a youngster growing up in Iden, though at one time there were only 29 pupils at the old school, aged from five to 14. Mrs Robbins, born in 1906, recalled the days when you could safely hold a skipping rope over the crossroads beside The Bell in the middle of the village; cooking potatoes under the hop fires in the days when there were three working casts; collecting acorns for the pigs in autumn; and gathering wool from the hedgerows and fields for pocket money. The bakery supplied the inhabitants with all the bread they could eat, a blind man with a donkey would collect and distribute newspapers, and a deaf mute and his daughter came round periodically to entertain with a barrel organ.
Mrs Robbins’ grandad read books in The Reading Room for the illiterate, and he also distilled elderflower water (a cure for headaches and good for the skin), while his wife was famous for her butter, sold in fancy shapes.
Armistice Day in 1918 was particularly memorable, with all the children playing Land of Hope and Glory on paper-wrapped combs as they danced around a blazing tar barrel.
Iden’s 12th century church is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as having had only two incumbents in the 117 years from 1807 to 1924, and its belltower is of interest to botanists as it has maidenhair fern, usually only found on West Country cliffs, growing out of the base of the wall on the inside.
Scratchmarks on the windowsill were made by pupils of the old free school, held in a corner of the church, sharpening their slate pencils, but nobody knows the reason why there is a stone fireplace in a second floor chamber of the tower.
One Rogation Sunday a vicar new to the village decided to hold the service in the open air, and as the cricket pitch was the only flat area it was held there just before the Sunday match. Everyone participated, including the cricketers from the visiting team. The summer proved a wet one, and the farmers had such a hard task getting harvest in that one old local moaned to another in the pub: “That was no good that vicar holding that Rogation service. Look what a job we had with the crops.’ His mate looked wisely at him and replied: “It might not have done the crops no good, but Iden hasn’t lost a match this season.’
The smugglers around here – and there were plenty of them – had their own signalling system to evade the revenue men: the hoot of an owl and the cry of a rabbit. You had to be a good countryman to recognise the latter.