How did the village get it’s name? We have to go back to Saxon times when a den was a clearing in an oak forest. At that time, the whole of the Weald of Kent was covered by a large oak forest, which accounts for the many places, houses etc. with names that include oak, den, dene or hurst. So we have Hilden, a clearing at the bottom of a hill (River hill) .Borough was added later, probably when the Hilden Manor was built, as a borough is an area with privileges conferred upon it by Royal Charter.
The lowy of Tonbridge was an area given to Richard de Fitzgilbert, Count de Brionne by William I, following the Norman Conquest. The story is that it covered the same area as, and replaced, the lands in Normandy which he had lost. The lands and manors had to maintain the garrison of Tonbridge Castle. The lowy deeds have never been found, so very little is known. Hasted, in his “History of Kent” of 1798 wrote, “Hildenburgh is a large district, comprehending all the north-west part of the lowy of Tunbridge and contains within it the manors of Hilden, Dachurst, Martin-Abbey, Lamport, Nizell, Hadloe, and the district of Hollanden, the small manor of Leigh, alias Hildenborough in Leigh, and the manor of “Penshurst Halymote.”
The manors of Leigh and Penshurst are not in the present parish of Hildenborough. When the parish boundaries were first established, the manor of Hollanden and part of the Nizels manor came into Leigh parish. The manors of Lamport and Martin-Abbey are still unidentified. The manor house of Hadloe (not to be confused with the present village of Hadlow), stood on the site of The Plough Inn. The manor of Hadloe stretched from there to the manor of Barden.
The manor of Hilden or Hyldenn as it was spelt in those days, dates back to at least 1240. Hasted wrote in 1798: “Hilden is a manor situated at about a mile’s distance from Tunbridge town, and was anciently part of the possessions of the family of Vane, before the reign of Edward III. At a small distance from Hilden green, stood the manor house, the ruins of which were entirely erased some years ago by Sir Thomas Dyke.” The manor house was the only building of note in the lowy and was the meeting place of the time.The petty sessions court was held there. The area of the manor is not known but the green was almost certainly opposite where the present Hilden Manor stands. There was a small community around the green and the manorial land stretched from there northwards. The manor passed by marriage from the Vane family into the Dixon Dyke family, who sold it, by permission of Parliament, to Thomas Harvey Court, Baron of Tonbridge. The present Hilden Manor was built beside the ruins of the original fortified manor between the 14th and 1 5th centuries, on the road which has been an important route from London to Rye and Hastings since the 10th-12th centuries, when they were the two main ports. During the time the Dixons owned it, the manor became popular as a port of call for royalty and nobility en route to the Continent. A comfortable and convenient half-way house. The tale is told that, during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547), the 3rd Duke of Buckingham fought a duel here with the French Ambassador, a fellow guest, who had suggested that Henry was being unfair to Catherine of Aragon, by courting Anne Boleyn. At about this time, coaches began to use this road but regular mail coaches were not introduced until 1784. The road between River Hill and Pembury via Tonbridge was the first turnpike road in Kent, opened in 1709.
The earliest that we can find mention of Dachurst is 1295. Hasted refers to it in 1798:
“At a small distance southward from Hilden green, the foundations of a large house are yet visible, which are supposed by many to be those of Dachurst place”. This manor it is said, belonged to Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, given to him by the father of his bride, Margaret D’Audley, as part of her dowry. Henry VIII acquired it for the crown in 1520 with other lands including Tonbridge Castle. In 1523 the house passed to Sir Francis Skeffington. Dachurst, Martin-Abbey, Lamport and Nizels were sold to Col. Robert Gibbon and at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, reverted to the Crown. The full extent of the manorial land is not known but included Selby Farm and Stocks Green Farm. The manor house probably stood on land between Stocks Green Road and Leigh Road.
Nizels manor covered a large area. It stretched from Morleys Farm in the north to Philpots Lane in the south. Its eastern limit was the main road from Watts Cross to the present Morleys roundabout, and its western edge was the Halls Green road. The earliest date that we have for Nizels is 1327, when the name was changed from Newsoles. The manor house stood where the present house now stands.
The manor of Hollanden started at Watts Cross and covered the area between Mill Lane and Riding Lane. It was originally in the parish of Leigh. In the 1200s, the land was owned by the Fremingham family. In 1271, Ralph de Fremingham obtained a charter of free warrant for several of his manors including Hollanden. In the reign of Henry VII it belonged to the Stace family, who are buried in the sanctuary of Leigh Church, and in Henry VIII’s reign the land was owned by John Vane. As a result of the Parish Council Act of 1894, Hollanden was incorporated into the parish of Hildenborough.