The locals will tell you that King Henry VIII once hunted deer (‘harts’) on Hartswood Hill, which was then declared a Royal Park. This gave some protection to the ancient oak and beech trees on the Hill, although less than a third of the original wood remains. The summit of the hill provides a view of the four nearby villages – Baronsmere, Baronswood, Hadleigh, and Marsham – which are laid out around the hill like the points of a compass. Lovers from days gone by have carved their initials into trees, but not so many people make the considerable climb up the hill these days. Parents usually take their grumbling children to the top at least once, though, and hikers and artists can be found there in summer.
An article in the Travel section of a well-known newspaper once declared that Baronsmere has more lords and ladies than you could shake a stick at, and there does seem to be a stately home around every corner. In this village of 800 people, if someone can’t trace their heritage back to at least the Elizabethan era, they’re considered a newcomer. A few of the local gentry can boast of ancestors mentioned in the Domesday book almost a thousand years ago when a French baron built up the raggedy settlement next to a ‘mere’ (lake). Old money talks in Baronsmere, and a person can be snubbed for using a butter knife to cut their chicken. The horse rules in this village, which can make driving through the narrow streets a hazard. The horsey set was outraged by the ban on fox hunting, and the Baronsmere Hunt still campaigns to have the law repealed. The social highlight of the year is the annual May Day festival, when Morris dancers wave handkerchiefs on the village green, prizes are awarded for the best flowers and vegetables, and invariably someone spikes the punch. The local Forester’s Arms specializes in real ale and ploughman’s lunches, but the bartenders can shake up a mean cocktail if required. Bertorelli’s pizzeria is the village’s only provider of fast food – authentic pizza margheritas made to a secret recipe brought by the owners from their birthplace of Naples in Italy. A saddler’s and tack shop, a grocer’s with prohibitive prices, and some genteel tearooms have lined the high street for hundreds of years. Talk of building a supermarket on the edge of the village nearly caused a revolution. Baronsmere is a village frozen in time, and content to be that way.