The original occupant of the bend in the River Medway one mile north of Maidstone was a so-called adulterine castle, built without royal approval during the C12 Anarchy. It was torn down and briefly replaced by a manor house before the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports commissioned today’s castle at the end of the 13th century. In 1492 it famously fell into the possession of the Wyatts, the rebellion against Bloody Mary being hatched there in 1554. After Sir Thomas Wyatt’s execution, it suffered centuries of decay, not to mention two serious fires. But for the intervention of locals, it would have been demolished. Eventually, in 1905, it was purchased by Lord Conway, who spent 30 years restoring it. The Castle was sold in 1950 to the Carmelite Friars of Aylesford Priory, and remained a religious establishment until 1999. It is now home to the American-born founder of MORI and TV pundit, Sir Robert Worcester.
Archbishop’s Palace, Charing
Though the heritage site in Charing has its origins in the 8th century, construction of the present palace started in the late 13th century, and it was substantially rebuilt 200 years later. The Church would eventually own many such palaces, serving as short-term residences for the Archbishop on his travels between Canterbury and London; Charing’s was the first. Its finest hour arrived in 1520, when King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon stayed on their way to meet King Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in an effort to make warfare history. The locals must have been overwhelmed when the King’s retinue of five thousand turned up on their doorstep. He later confiscated the palace during the Dissolution of the Monasteries; it was leased and then sold to gentleman farmers, under whom it deteriorated badly. Efforts to purchase and restore it as a public utility have stalled.
Archbishop’s Palace, Maidstone
The east bank of the Medway next to the confluence of the Len, near the centre of Maidstone, is one of the best pieces of real estate in Kent. No wonder that an episcopal manor stood there even in Anglo-Saxon times. The much grander Archbishop’s Palace that superseded it was ordered by Archbishop Ufford in 1348 as a convenient stopover. The palace was expanded in the following century, by which time the Tithe Barn, All Saints Church and the College had been added to the east and south-east. After the Reformation, its purpose became purely secular. Henry VIII gifted it to Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, but his daughter Mary I confiscated it following the rebellion led by Wyatt’s son. After passing to the Astor family in the 17th century and the Marshams in the 18th, it devolved to a Territorial Army medical school and ultimately, under the management of Kent County Council, a registry office.
The Beachborough estate north-west of Folkestone was once one of the largest in Kent, enjoying expansive pasture and ornate gardens. The Manor was occupied for generations by the Brockman family, whose most notable scion was the Sir William Brockman who marshalled Royalist troops in the defence of Maidstone against the Roundhead general Fairfax in 1648. The current Georgian house, surrounded by Beachborough Park, was built in 1813. David Lloyd George lived there in the early part of the 20th century, and it was made available to the Canadians during WW2 as a military hospital conveniently situated near the Channel coast. The estate is now the residence of the Wallis family, of whom the paterfamilias Gordon Wallis is a noted former football-club chairman and collector of sporting memorabilia. Being located five minutes’ drive from the Eurotunnel terminal that opened in 1994, it also offers handy bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
The original house was built on a greenfield site at Throwley in the 1770s. It was expanded two decades later by new owner Captain John Montresor, who had retired from the Army after serving in the American Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, Montresor was jailed for fraud and Belmont was confiscated by the state. His loss was the nation’s gain in more ways than one. The estate was bought at auction in 1801 by General George Harris, who 14 years later became the first Baron Harris of Belmont. He founded a distinguished dynasty: the third Lord Harris would create the united Kent County Cricket Club in 1870, the fourth would be Governor of Bombay and captain of England, and the fifth founded the Antiquarian Horological Society. It was the last who left the most striking reminder of his tenure, a magnificent collection of 340 clocks. The house and grounds, now in the hands of a trust, are open to the public.
Fort House in Broadstairs was built at the turn of the 19th century, and doubled in size a hundred years later during the Napoleonic Wars. This four-storey construction, which still dominates the promontory at the northern end of Viking Bay, was home to the captain of the defensive fort at that location. It became Charles Dickens’ preferred choice for holidays in his thirties, and it was there that he wrote ‘David Copperfield’ in the late 1840s. It certainly was not the inspiration for ‘Bleak House’, which was set in St Albans; but the fact that the novel of that name was his next perhaps inspired locals to refer to Fort House as ‘Bleak House’ in jest. The name stuck. Though still a domestic residence in part, the property has long housed a museum on the lower ground floor, and the bed-and-breakfast offering is popular with Dickens fans who go to soak up the Victorian atmosphere.
Boughton Monchelsea Place
A manor house stood next to Boughton Monchelsea church as early as 1214. It passed through numerous hands before being bought by Sir Thomas Wyatt of Allington Castle. Wyatt’s son, the famous rebel, sold it to a fellow conspirator, Robert Rudston, from whom it was sequestrated by Queen Mary after the revolt. Queen Elizabeth I restored it to him, however, and around 1570 he constructed what would become the basis of the present building. After the death of Rudston’s sons, the house was acquired by Maidstone MP Sir Francis Barnham in 1613. For nearly three centuries it passed by inheritance through generations of the Burnhams and then, by marriage, to the Riders, who together supplied a number of other local MPs. From 1903 it was occupied by the Winch family, who sold it in 1998 to the current owners, the Kendricks. It is occasionally open for special events, when visitors can enjoy its stupendous views across the deer park.
The former Bocton Hall is strategically placed next to St Nicholas’s Church at the top of the hill in Boughton Malherbe, commanding fine views all around. There was a fortified manor on the site as from the 1340s, which passed by marriage into the possession of Nicholas Wotton, twice Lord Mayor of London. In 1568 it was the birthplace of diplomat and politician Sir Henry Wotton. Much of the manor was demolished and replaced by the current structure in the 16th century, with further alterations in the C19. Between 1683 and 1750 it was owned by a succession of Earls of Chesterfield, but was then bought by Galfridus Mann, whose son Sir Horatio Mann would also inherit a rather grander home, Linton Hall. Catherine Mann’s marriage to James Cornwallis left both houses in the possession of the Earls Cornwallis until Boughton Place was sold in 1922. It is still privately owned.
Now known as Bourne Park House, Bourne Place was built in 1701 halfway between Bridge and Bishopsbourne. The widow of Royalist Sir Anthony Aucher had a new red-brick mansion constructed for her young son, Sir Hewitt, to replace their dilapidated current home. Her descendants sold it in 1844 to Matthew Bell, who leased it to, among others, Sir Horatio Mann of Boughton Place. In 1765, Mann invited Leopold Mozart and his family to stay for a week. An avid cricketer, he also constructed Bourne Paddock in the grounds, where he staged top-rank cricket matches over a period of a quarter-century. The house and its 57-acre estate passed through several pairs of hands thereafter, suffering long periods of neglect. The current owner, the aristocratic mother-in-law of Jacob Rees-Mogg, owns the priceless Fitzwilliam Art Collection, little of which is ever released for exhibition. The residual nine acres of gardens, incidentally, contain an old-fangled ‘icehouse’, the C18 predecessor of a freezer.
The waterside site just north of East Malling was occupied as early as Roman times. The Tudor house built there was substantial, and may have been moated. It was sold around 1656 to a prominent judge, Thomas Twisden, who was later knighted. He expanded the estate to create Bradbourne Park, and his son had the road diverted away from the house. From 1712 to 1715, another Sir Thomas Twisden built the current house, incorporating some features of the original. Although further improvements were made over the next hundred years, the Twisdens neglected it thereafter. When the last of the line, Sir John Twisden, died in 1937, the property was sold to the body from which the East Malling Trust for Horticultural Research was derived, serving as an administrative centre for the adjacent East Malling Research Station. Considerable money and effort have since been spent on restoring the house, which can now be hired for special events.
The MP for Hythe, Sir Basil Dixwell, had the house built in 1635 off the Canterbury road in Barham. The estate remained in his family for nearly 300 years. It was sold in 1911 to Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, who undertook major works including re-laying the gardens. Thereafter, Broome Park lost its status as a private home. In the 1930s, it was converted to a hotel, in WW2 it was requisitioned for military purposes, and in the 1970s it was purchased by Gulf Shipping Lines with the aim of converting it to timeshare apartments and a leisure complex. It became the subject of a significant High Court judgement in 2018 to the effect that timeshare owners had rights to use the facilities (including tennis courts and a golf course) as easements, not just privileges. Though Kitchener would have turned in his grave to see his home put to such use, the mansion undeniably looks the classic golf clubhouse.
Chartwell House near Westerham would probably be unknown further afield but for the tenure of the man who won the BBC’s 2002 poll to decide the greatest Briton ever: Sir Winston Churchill. It has been described as representing “Victorian architecture at its least attractive” at the time he first saw it in 1921; but he immediately fell in love with the surroundings. After taking possession, he undertook expansive and expensive works that transformed it to its present look. He was to retain ownership for the rest of his long life. He spent little time there during WW2 because of the danger of an air-raid or commando attack, but returned either side of his second term as prime minister from 1951 to 1955. After his death in 1965, his widow gifted the house to the National Trust, which now makes it available for the public to view as it was between the World Wars.
The site of Chevening near Sevenoaks originally belonged to the estate of the Archbishop’s Palace at Otford. An earlier C12 construction was superseded in the 1620s by the current splendid three-storey house, which is thought to have been designed by Inigo Jones. In 1717, it was considerably extended by the addition of two wings. From that time, it serve as the seat of the Earls of Stanhope, a branch of the Earls of Chesterfield who then owned Boughton Place. The 7th and final Earl Stanhope wanted to leave a lasting memorial to his family, which for 250 years had distinguished itself in politics and science. When he died in 1967, a Board of Trustees took over the estate, charged with restoring and maintaining it as a residence for a person, nominated by the Prime Minister, who would pay their own living expenses. The normal incumbent in practice is the Foreign Secretary, currently Dominic Raab.
The castle at Chilham guarding the road from Charing to Canterbury is actually two in one. The older, a distinctly Norman affair dating from 1174, is on the site of a possibly C7 Anglo-Saxon fortification. The scene of a spectacular reception for King Edward II in 1320 – the anniversary of which is in June 2020 – it is one of the oldest inhabited buildings in the country. A few yards away stands a crenellated manor house, a spectacular construction built as five sides of a hexagon. Built by 1616 for diplomat Sir Dudley Digges, it was long thought to have been designed by Inigo Jones, but this is now disputed. The Castle passed through a series of wealthy hands before being purchased by the current owner, Brexit-supporting financier Stuart Wheeler. Enjoying beautiful views across the Stour valley, it is a popular choice for occasional tours and garden open days, not to mention film and TV productions.
The first manor house at Cobham, west of Rochester, was built in the 12th century. In the Tudor era, the 10th Baron Cobham had the basis of the current building constructed, although a new centre block linking the two wings was added in the 1660s. The lords of Cobham Manor often held high office in Kent, including Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Set in its 150-acre estate, the house was occupied by the Dukes of Richmond and Lennox from 1624 to 1672, and then by numerous generations of the Earls of Darnley, who made further enhancements to the house in the 18th century. The 10th Earl was obliged to sell the estate in 1959 on account of a heavy bill for inheritance tax. Since 1962 the house has been home to the Cobham Hall private boarding-school for girls, nearly half of whose pupils come from overseas. The house’s delightful two-storey Gilt Hall is also rented out for weddings.
Were it not for a devastating French raid on the Thames during the Hundred Years’ War, Cooling Castle would not exist. John de Cobham of Cobham Manor applied for royal permission to fortify a manor then by the riverbank on the Hoo Peninsula. It was granted in 1380, whereupon today’s irregular layout and trademark gatehouse emerged. The Castle saw no action before or after the revolt of 1554, when Sir Thomas Wyatt strangely took time out on his way to London to seize the castle. Even with an army of 4,000 that had just won a battle at Strood, it took eight hours to take it against just eight defenders, which suggests de Cobham did a good job. Unfortunately, Wyatt used cannon to breach its defences, leaving it uninhabitable. A century later, a farmhouse was built on the site, which today appropriately enough is home to super-cool pianist Jools Holland. Its barn is available for wedding hire.
With its proximity to Sharsted Court and Belmont, Doddington Place is part of a historical Millionaire’s Row on the North Downs towards Faversham. There is not a great deal to be said about the house’s history, it being too recent to have had much happen there. It was built on the Doddington estate around 1870 by Sir John Croft, a member of the famous port-producing family, who until then had lived in a house called Whitemans a short walk away to the south west. The new house, standing in the middle of a classic 850-acre country estate, was designed to be an imposing red-brick and tile affair with gothic overtones. The property was sold in 1906 to General Douglas Jeffreys, and so passed by inheritance to the Oldfields, who retain ownership today. It was Mrs Jeffreys who gave the house its crowning glory, its impressive formal gardens, which are accessible to the public in the summer.
Like Chartwell, Down House owes its fame to one previous occupant: England’s most famous scientist bar Newton, namely Charles Darwin. After his marriage to Emma Wedgwood, the great evolutionist needed somewhere to live that would offer a balance of rural tranquillity and nearness to London, then the scientific capital of the world. He alighted on Downe, a country parish north-west of Sevenoaks. A farmhouse existed at the site of Down House in the C17, but it was rebuilt and expanded around 1780. The Darwins weren’t sure when they first viewed it in 1842, but Emma finally fell in love with the views, while Charles liked the number of rooms, the local walks, and the price. After making many alterations, they settled there for the rest of their lives. Visitors relish seeing the ‘sandwalk’ where Darwin did his thinking, the greenhouse where he did his experiments, and the study where he wrote the earth-shattering ‘Origin of Species’.
In West Peckham, midway between Maidstone and Sevenoaks, there stands a scheduled monument that is as picturesque as it is historical. In 1405, Sir John Culpeper of Oxon Hoath, a knight at the court of King Henry V, had a large L-shaped house built there. A gift to the Knights Hospitaller, it was known as a ‘preceptory’, where returning pilgrims were treated to hospitality and funds were raised to pay for crusades. The Hospitallers held as many as 76 such preceptories in England, but Dukes Place is today a particularly well preserved example. The north range, which burnt down in the C15, was rebuilt around 1500. After reverting to the Crown upon the dissolution of the Monasteries, it was converted into labourers’ cottages in the C18, and fell into disrepair; but it has been painstakingly restored since WW2. Set in five acres and sporting a magnificent Great Hall, it is now a luxurious though very expensive family home.
It’s no surprise that Eastgate House took the fancy of Charles Dickens, being in his home town of Rochester and possessing a suitably exotic aspect. It was built by mayor Sir Peter Buck late in the 16th century, and passed through five generations of descendants. In the late C18 it became a school. It reverted to being a grand private residence in the 1870s, when a coal merchant bought it; but since 1890 it has been put only to public use. It has successively been a hostel for young men, a temperance restaurant, a library and museum celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee , and a Dickens museum from 1923 to 2004. Thanks to a lottery grant, it was re-opened in 2017 as an exhibition centre. Dickens used Eastgate as a model for his Westgate in The Pickwick Papers’ (1836), and the chalet in which he wrote several novels at Gads Hill now stands in Eastgate’s garden.
Located in Sandwich, Eastry Court must be the oldest house you will ever see appearing in estate agents’ listings – although claims that it is over 1,400 years old need to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is indeed the site of an early-C7 royal palace belonging to King Aethelberht I and his wife Bertha. Legend has it that their great-grandson, Ecgberht, had his two young cousins murdered in order to secure his line’s succession, and gifted the palace to the priory of Christchurch as a penance. When Becket fled from Henry II in 1164 on his way to Flanders, he hid at Eastry Court; and Edward III entertained his generals there on his way to invade France in 1341. Only traces of that edifice remain, however, the house having benefitted from major C14, C16 and C18 improvements. It declined again thereafter, but has been restored since the 1980s and now provides nine-bedroom luxury to its private owners.
Eastwell Park is a large scenic area west of the Faversham Road out of Ashford, comprising parkland, agriculture, pasture, and a lily-covered lake. Sir Thomas Moyle had a manor house built there in the 1540s, which was replaced in the late C18 by the current building in mock Elizabethan style; a Tudor-style wing was added later. The grand gatehouse on Sandyhurst Lane, added in 1848 and known locally as Eastwell Towers, is worth seeing in its own right. After passing through the hands of two owners who went broke, Eastwell was occupied until 1893 by Prince Alfred, whose mother Queen Victoria visited regularly. His brother the Prince of Wales also came, and the future Queen of Romania was born there. All changed after WW1. As often happens with unwanted old buildings, a serious fire broke out. The house was fortunately restored to its current state, and now operates as a hotel, complete with Champneys spa, smart restaurant, and golf-course.
Driving north up Main Road out of Edenbridge takes one past the inconspicuous entrance of what could be just another smart suburban home. The clue however lies in the discreet nameplate: Edenbridge House. What lies behind the façade is a vast rambling manor in the best English country tradition, complete with picture-book gardens and even an oast. The land was originally part of the vast Hever estate, the site long being known as Lyndhurst. Until the C20, it was a tenanted farm that changed hands many times. It was not until 1934 that the house was sold separately from the farmland, retaining around 15 acres of garden. Harold Mosenthal, a South African city trader, created the current zoned garden layout; while a new owner in 1953, Rio Tinto chairman Sir Val Duncan, renamed the property Edenbridge House, adding a water garden and swimming pool. Both kept a visitors book that contains famous names. The house is still a private residence.
The house at the top of Star and Garter Hill, west of Egerton, was originally a medieval timber-framed building, but now has a distinctly Georgian look. Once called Goodale, it was owned by John Dering of Surrenden, Pluckley. Generations later, it passed by marriage to the Husseys of Scotney Castle and then, in the C18, to Galfridus Mann of Boughton Place in Boughton Malherbe. In 1765, his son Horatio Mann is said to have entertained the Mozart family at the house during their week-long stay at his main residence, Bourne Park near Canterbury. A decade afterwards, Mann added a series of large reception rooms to the front of the house, with a scenic view down into the Weald. These came in handy two centuries later, the house having passed into the hands of the musical Gipps family in 1952. During the biennial Egerton Music Festival, the house and gardens regularly played host to well attended classical concerts.
The former royal residence opposite Royal Blackheath Golf Club is as rich in history as any in the county. Built around 1300, it was given to Edward II and used by English monarchs for two centuries. It was here that Henry IV entertained Emperor Manuel Palaeologos with jousting in the Palace’s own tiltyard. The Great Hall, built by Henry IV, was the scene of a historic encounter when fate threw together Erasmus, Sir Thomas More and the future Henry VIII. Despite its three deer-parks for hunting, the Palace fell out of royal favour when Greenwich Palace was rebuilt around 1500. Van Dyck was permitted to live there, but the estate fell into ruination after the Civil War. In 1933, a lease was purchased by a member of the Courtauld textiles family. He built a new house around the Great Hall, ostentatiously decorated in Art Deco style. English Heritage now makes his handiwork accessible for the public to judge.
Fairlawne is a thousand-acre estate just north of Shipbourne and due east of Ightham Mote. The large house of that name was built for Sir Henry Vane the Elder, who like his son of the same name was a significant figure in the Civil War. The estate was acquired in 1880 by Edward Cazalet, a Brighton-born industrialist, who on arrival generously built a pub for the village, as well as a church where several Cazalets are now interred. One of his grandsons born at Fairlawne was Peter Cazalet, who famously trained racehorses there for the Queen Mother. In 1979, after Cazalet’s death, Fairlawne was sold to Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah, a top racehorse owner. Fairlawne became the focus of a legal dispute in 2011, when Kent County Council permitted the Prince to close off an ancient footpath crossing the estate; the decision was reversed on the instructions of the Planning Inspectorate, following protests by villagers.
A family called the Finchcocks is said to have lived on the site in Goudhurst as early as the C13. The current distinctly Georgian house was built in 1725. The main structure could be a classic town-house, but for the 13-acre gardens surrounding it. The façade is ingeniously designed, the four storeys of decreasing height lending the house an impression of stretching up into the sky. The house is only 40 feet deep; its rooms are interconnecting, with no corridors, after the manner of a Wealden hall-house. The oak-panelling and high ceilings on the ground floor lend themselves to musical performance, for which reason the new owners in 1970, the Burnetts, built a superlative collection of musical instruments there. It was made accessible to the public as the Finchcocks Musical Museum until 2015, when the Burnetts retired and much of the collection was sold off. The current owners, the Nichols, run residential piano courses at the house.
The old Archbishop’s palace at Hoath, nearly seven miles north-east of Canterbury and close to Herne Bay, was one of fifteen outside of Canterbury. The ‘Ford’ in the name referred to the point where the Roman road from Canterbury to Reculver crossed a stream. It has been speculated that there was an archiepiscopal residence here in Anglo-Saxon times, but no certain record exists before the C14. It was impressively rebuilt in the late C15, with a tall tower added. Archbishop Cranmer was a fan of the place: he hosted Henry VIII there in 1544, and was in residence nine years later when he was fatefully summonsed to appear before the Privy Council. Most of the Palace was destroyed by order of Parliament in 1658, after which its chapel was used as a barn until that too was demolished in 1964. The old gatehouse now forms part of the listed Ford Manor Farmhouse, which also includes a C15 wing behind a C18 red-brick façade.
In 1220, a manor house was built at Horton Kirby, on the east bank of the Darent north-east of Farningham, by the Frankish family. Three centuries later, it was inherited by Lancelot Bathurst, who built a new house on the opposite bank in 1591. It was impressive: a three-storey red-brick cube of pure Elizabethan grandeur. The house passed on through generations of Bathursts until the mid-C18. After being inherited by a Yorkshirewoman who took no interest, the estate was sold in the 1850s to a farmer, who used the house as a barn. After his death, it was sold, rebuilt, sold, re-sold, and finally in 1910 sold back to Lord Bathurst, 153 years after his family lost possession. Sadly, it didn’t stay long: he gifted it to his son, who left it empty. Apparently unloved, it has since passed through various other hands. Four-fifths of its 446 acres have now been sold off, though a Tudor garden remains.
In 1253, King Henry III granted the right to kill game in an area a mile east of Chislehurst. Within 300 years, the Dynley family had built a manor there. It was sold early in the C17 to William Watkins, who demolished all but a staircase and an arch and replaced the stone building with a two-storey Jacobean brick edifice. Concerned that it would be confiscated by Parliament, he sold it to the respectable Warwicks. They bequeathed it to the nouveaux riches Tryons, who around 1700 connected the mansion up with outbuildings and formal gardens. It was bought in 1752 by Thomas Townshend, father of the 1st Viscount Sydney, and remained in the family until 1915, when it was sold to the Government to form the Queen’s Hospital. A new Queen Mary’s Hospital was built in its place in 1974, which 25 years later became the first Sunrise care home. Whatever Frognal House may offer, continuity isn’t it.
Gads Hill Place
Architecturally speaking, there is nothing special about Gads Hill Place, a smart but simple house built in 1790 for an ex-mayor of Rochester. There is however a special story attached to it. In 1821, aged nine, Charles Dickens used to think it the epitome of a rich man’s abode. After his father told him that, if he applied himself, it might one day be his, Dickens used to walk there from Chatham to remind himself. Three years later, Dickens Senior was thrown into Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison for living beyond his means, while Dickens Junior went on to make a fortune writing books about poverty. He earned enough to realise his childhood dream by buying Gads Hill Place in 1856. He was visited there by numerous creative personages, one of whom, the actor Charles Fechter, gave him the large two-floor Swiss chalet in which he wrote his last four novels. The house is now home to an independent school.
In the hands of a not-for-profit trust since 1995, Godinton House provides an unusually digestible stately-home experience. North-west of Ashford, it consists of a medieval hall that had a gabled Jacobean brick mansion built around it. The beauty of Godinton is that it remained in the hands of the Toke family for nearly five centuries. Its character therefore never changed much, even after it was sold to George Dodd in 1895 and Mrs Bruce Ward in 1919. A guided tour has the virtue of giving a real flavour of what it was like to live there, but without trying the visitor’s stamina. The one feature that differs greatly from the Tokes’ days is the various gardens, including an impressive lily pool, that were designed in the late C19 by architect Sir Reginald Blomfield. Spectacular in their own right in summer, they are bounded by the massive sculpted yew-hedge that is Godinton’s hallmark.
Godmersham is famous as the likely inspiration for Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’. In Elizabethan times, the Brodnax family had owned Ford House on the Ashford-Canterbury road. Thomas Brodnax MP, who by then had changed his name to May, replaced it in 1732 with the current main building. Ten years later, now renamed Knight, he enclosed it in the 600-acre Ford Park, and added the house’s wings in 1780. It was inherited in 1794 by a family cousin, Edward Austen, who later also changed his name to Knight. Between 1798 and 1813, he was frequently visited by his famous sister, Jane. Now called Godmersham Park, it was reworked after 1852 by Knight’s son Edward. A more major overhaul took place in 1935 when, after decaying during three changes of ownership, both house and gardens were substantively restored by the Trittons. Godmersham was eventually acquired by Sunley Farms, who since 2001 have rented it out as a training college for opticians.
Like Godmersham Park, Goodnestone was originally a Tudor property, owned by Sir Thomas Engeham, that was demolished in the C18 to be replaced by the current building. The estate had been purchased by barrister Brook Bridges in 1705 after being abandoned, and his new palladian house soon had extensive formal gardens added. However, Bridges’ great-grandson, the 3rd Baronet, replaced these with a fashionable landscape park in the late C18. His daughter Elizabeth married Edward Austen in 1791, the couple living on the estate at Rowling House. Again like Godmersham – 11 miles away as the fit crow flies – the estate was consequently visited regularly by Austen’s sister, Jane, who began writing ‘Pride and Prejudice’ after one stay. The 5th Baronet added a portico in the 1840s, as well as terraced lawns. These evolved over time into today’s magnificent gardens, restored in the 1960s, which are open to the public in summer months and rated among the best in the country.
Otham’s Gore Court used to have 39 acres of magnificent gardens and parkland, but they have now mostly been obliterated and returned to arable use. Some relics remain, however, including a 300-year-old cedar and Southern England‘s biggest tulip tree. As recently as 1949, the house and gardens were still sufficiently impressive to provide the backdrop for a memorable scene in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, when Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini flirts with Edith D’Ascoyne over tea in the garden while her photographer husband Henry is heard blowing himself up in the distance. The estate originally belonged to Bishop Odo, but then passed through countless hands across the centuries, notably including the Hendleys from the C16 to around the 1790s. The house was built around 1500, but was substantially altered and added to in the late C16 and late C18. More recently, it has spent time as an aircraft factory, a nursing home and a school, before reverting to a house.
Augustus Pugin, the high priest of neo-gothic architecture, decided in 1843 to remove himself from London to Ramsgate. Having converted some years earlier to Catholicism, he designed himself a large home with a spiritually sympathetic ambiance at one end of Royal Esplanade. At his own expense, he added the adjacent St Augustine’s church. The Grange is not the easiest to spot, being tucked away in what resembles a Norman enclave. It is most easily viewed from Westcliff Promenade, where the separation between gable and tower at either end makes the house unmistakable. The tower was not just for ornament: it gave Pugin somewhere to site a telescope with which to observe vessels at sea. Though the exterior of The Grange is more pleasing than exciting, the interior is strikingly opulent and ornate. The house was saved from redevelopment in 1997 by the Landmark Trust, which now makes it possible to arrange visits, or even book a room.
Great Maytham Hall
Though its name may be unfamiliar, Great Maytham Hall has a claim to literary fame. It was here that, during her nine-year stay, Frances Hodgson Burnett discovered a hidden garden that gave her an idea. The estate, near Rolvenden, had travelled a familiar path, from medieval manor to fashionable C18 construction, complete with broad gravel drive. The new building, completed in 1760 by the Monypennys, lasted only 133 years before suffering a serious fire. The two wings survived, however, and from 1909 Lutyens rebuilt the main house, two floors higher than its predecessor. The £24,000 bill was footed by MP Jack Tennant, who’d chosen the site after hearing it had the least rainfall in Kent. Hodgson Burnett published ‘A Secret Garden’ even before the work was completed, having herself restored the garden as a haven to write in. After Tennant’s death, the house became a home for the blind, and fell into disrepair before being converted to flats.
What’s surprising about Groombridge Place is how little history it has. The earliest record of a manor house there is from 1239, when a small castle was built with a moat. Ownership then rattled through numerous aristocratic hands, including the de Cobhams, the de Clintons, and the Sackvilles. The current house was built in 1652 by barrister Philip Packer, with advice from his friend Christopher Wren. After his death, the deserted house may have become a haunt of the notorious smugglers the Groombridge Gang. Arthur Conan-Doyle used to think the house haunted. And that’s it. The real beauty of Groombridge is its beauty. The house, entirely surrounded by its water moat, looks the quintessential old English manor; and the numerous gardens, including its own ‘Secret Garden’, are a delight. The diarist John Evelyn, also a noted horticulturalist, assisted Packer with their design. Though the house is private, these gardens are open to the public, and perennially popular with film-makers.
Of all Kent’s lost treasures, Hadlow Castle is perhaps the most regrettable. It was an architectural masterpiece, built in the late C18 after the fashion of Horace Walpole’s neo-gothic castle, Strawberry Hill. Its visual impact was not unlike Happy Potter’s Hogwarts. Yet, after suffering the ill effects of military occupation during WW2, most of it was demolished in 1951. Some elements survived, including the Entrance Arch in the High Street and, most visibly, the 210-foot tower that still looms large over Hadlow. Known as May’s Folly after the Walter May who had it built, the Tower is the tallest folly in Britain. Having served as a watchtower in WW2, it was seriously damaged in the 1987 storm, and the 40-foot lantern at its summit was later removed. It is now in private hands. Although intriguing in its own right, its presence is almost painful as, Ozymandias-like, it reminds us of what’s been lost.
The Hales baronets were movers and shakers in C17 politics. The first, known as Kent’s richest commoner, was a committed Royalist in an era of republican insurgency, and his grandson a commander in the Kentish revolt against Parliament in 1648. Although they had three large properties in Tunstall – one never completed – it was not enough. In 1675, the third baronet bought Place House, a property to the north of Canterbury. A century later, his descendants used its site to build a new home, a vast edifice truly worthy of the family name. Constructed in the late 1760s, Hales Place enjoyed a magnificent view down over the city. Eventually, however, the family ran out of money. The house was sold in 1880 to French Jesuits who turned it into a college. A half-century later, it was demolished. Hales Place is now a housing estate that, with supreme irony, is home to large numbers of Canterbury’s legendarily left-wing student population.
It’s worth travelling to Bexley just to see the architectural equivalent of a griffin. The original Hall Place was splendid enough, built in 1537 for a rich merchant called Sir John Champneys with stone from a dissolved monastery. Constructed around an impressive Great Hall, the house’s outside walls featured an attractive checkerboard design. All was well until 1649, when another rich merchant, called Sir Robert Austen, wanted something twice as big, and tacked a red-brick building onto the end of the old stone one. He at least had the sense to make them the same height, though one wonders why his wife didn’t talk him out of it. It didn’t deter plenty of socialites from buying or renting the house thereafter, until the US Army interrupted the gaiety in WW2. After serving as a girls’ school and a municipal building, the chimera was turned into a tourist facility in 2005. Admission to its incongruously coherent gardens is free.
Nobody heading west out of Tenterden can miss the grand gateway at the junction with Smallhythe Road. What lies beyond is the large estate that belonged to the Heronden family from the early C13 onwards. As it was broken up in the C17, there are now four large houses named ‘Heronden’. The foremost, built in 1585, became known as Heronden Hall. It was acquired in the 1630s by John Austen, Mayor of Tenterden and brother of the Sir Robert Austen who owned Hall Place in Bexley. Sir Robert’s son, also Robert, inherited Heronden Hall from his uncle; but, owing to a family rift, Robert’s grandson left the house to a cousin. It was pulled down in 1782, and in 1853 the current Heronden Hall, a curious Tudor Gothic affair, was built for one William Whelan. Among its more recent owners was the 10cc drummer and video director Kevin Godley, to whom that imposing gatehouse also belonged.
Higham Park takes its name from the de Heghams, whom Edward II granted lands at Bridge in 1322. Two centuries later, it was bought by young Thomas Culpeper, Henry VIII’s ‘friend’ who would be executed for his alleged dalliance with Queen Catherine Howard. So began the Park’s long association with the rich and famous. Among its many visitors are said to be Mozart, Jane Austen, and even French president de Gaulle. It got a new lease of life in 1901, when banker William Gay installed his exotic plant collection and built a huge water-garden incorporating England’s largest domestic canal. In 1910, the super-rich Countess Zborowski bought the estate for £17,500, leaving it to her 16-year-old son Louis when she died a year later. A motor-racing fan, he turned the stables into an engineering works; the cars that inspired Ian Fleming’s ‘Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang’ were built there. The house was ruined during World War II, but is now being restored.
Rolvenden’s Hole Park is now best known for its splendid gardens; but the house at its centre has a track record. There was originally a Wealden farmhouse on the site, which had a new Queen Anne house added to the front in 1720. It was owned for generations by the Gibbon family, from whom Edward Gibbon – author of ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ – claimed his descent. The farmhouse was demolished in 1832 by the MP for Rye, Thomas Gibbon Moneypenny, who built a new house in Elizabethan style around the later edifice. Like so many large Kentish houses, it was taken over in WW2 for use as a barracks, and left in too bad condition for the owners, the Barhams, to move back into. Instead, the current owner’s father decided to strip it back to the 1720 construction and erect a new house suitable for modern living. Nowadays the 16-acre gardens draw 15,000 visitors a year.
In a glorious position overlooking Kingsgate Bay, Holland House was built around 1750 by Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland (1705-74), Britain’s thoroughly dissolute and corrupt Secretary of War, who named it after his London abode. Although now unremarkable of itself since its grand portico was removed, this Georgian house was just the pivot of Fox’s equivalent of a personal theme park. The building behind it, now the Port Regis care home, was intended as a convent, but instead became accommodation for visitors and staff. He later built Kingsgate Castle on the cliff-top as his stable block, and the Captain Digby inn in tribute to his seafaring son-in-law. Most curiously, however, he dotted extravagant follies all around the estate, including an arch to commemorate King Charles II’s chance landing during a storm in 1683. A later owner was John Lubbock, 1st Lord Avebury, who enlarged the Castle as his residence. Both House and Castle are now divided into apartments.
The imposing C16 house on the way up Hollingbourne Hill will be magnificent when it’s finished. It was intended to be an E shape, but the north wing was never completed, so it’s now a presumably permanent Ł. There was already a manor in Hollingbourne at the time of Domesday. Like the local church, it was seriously damaged by the Dover Straits earthquake of 1382. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539, the estate fell to the Dean & Chapter of Canterbury. The current building was erected in 1570: a classic two-storey Elizabethan construction of red brick and tile roof, with stone-surrounded windows and chimneys set at 45° to the stacks. It was bought in 1590 by the ubiquitous Culpepers, who retained it for four generations. The estate thrived by dint of local agriculture, supported by three corn mills and one for papermaking, that were finally overtaken by the Industrial Revolution. The house is still privately owned.
The Holwood estate at Keston was the site of an Iron Age fort that owner William Pitt the Younger vandalistically levelled to make way for a landscape garden. The grounds also contained the tree-stump where, in 1788, he and Wilberforce plotted the abolition of slavery. Though called “the original Chequers”, Pitt’s Holwood House was thought disappointingly modest for a prime minister, and he did get Sir John Sloane to expand and improve it. The house eventually was burned down, however, and replaced by the current structure in the 1820s. This elegant neo-classical affair was commissioned by the Sheriff of Kent, John Ward, and designed by Decimus Burton, the maestro of the Greek Revival. In the C20 it became a corporate headquarters before reverting to residential. An outbuilding was demolished in 2007 to gain consent for 78 new-build flats virtually in its backyard; but they were named after Wilberforce, the anti-slavery campaigner, so that was fine.
All that is left of Hothfield Place today is a balustrade tucked away at the edge of a privately owned copse abutting Hothfield church. The house was built in 1784 by Lord Hothfield to replace an earlier E-shaped structure nearby. Originally a plain rectangle, it was expanded a century later with further rooms at both ends and a monumental porch to the south. At that time, its extensive estate ranked as one of the five most affluent in England. It was requisitioned as a PoW camp in WW2, and subsequently wrecked by squatters. A new owner, motor manufacturer Sir Reginald Rootes, chose in 1954 not to restore but to demolish it, putting in its place a smaller house that is now part of a brain-injury rehabilitation centre. Some excellent countryside amenities remain: the Greensand Way crossing the site allows an impressive experience of the magnificent landscape garden, while the adjacent Hothfield Common is a splendid nature reserve.
For a scheduled ancient monument, Ightham Mote is remarkably short on history. It was built in the mid-C14, became the possession of the Selby family for nearly 300 years from 1591, and thereafter passed to Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson. In 1953, it was bought by an American, Charles Robinson, who gifted it to the National Trust. The public is therefore able to see for itself the true significance of Ightham Moat: it is an architectural gem. In addition to its obvious visual appeal, enclosed picturesquely by its moat, it has survived all the changes of hands pretty much intact, and gives a strong impression of what a medieval manor house must really have looked and felt like. True, there have been fashionable decorations and ornaments added through the ages; but the fundament of the house, turned inwards upon its courtyard, has never been ‘improved’. Together with its antiquities, it is one of Kent‘s most unspoiled attractions.
Ingress Abbey in Greenhithe today looks more like a chateau than an abbey. In the mid-C14, a Thameside manor played host to the Dominican Priory established by Edward II. When it was disbanded for profit by Henry VIII, the Abbess of Dartford put a curse on him, intended to apply to any male subsequently inheriting the estate; Henry shrewdly handed it to Anne of Cleves. The estate subsequently passed through many hands, including Viscount Duncannon in the mid-C18, who improved it and reportedly had Capability Brown develop the gardens. The house was demolished in 1820 to accommodate a dockyard that never came to pass. A rich lawyer called James Harmer built the current house in 1833, equipping it with numerous caves, follies and grottoes that survive today. Most of the estate is now a housing development, and the house has been occupied during the C21 by an electrical equipment company, a pop singer, and the Lithuanian consulate.
Kelsey Manor was one of the most characterful houses in Kent until it was demolished a century ago. A mansion on the site in Beckenham survived for around 400 years until it was replaced ca 1800. Peter Hoare, from the banking family, bought it in 1835 and made an excellent job of turning it into an elaborate Gothic Revival manor: one that could have been tailor-made as a horror-movie set. Some of the estate was later sold for houses of the Arts & Crafts movement. The manor itself was converted to a convent in 1895, and six years later a girls’ school. In 1911, Beckenham Urban District Council acquired the estate and opened it up to the public. The house did not survive occupation by the Army during WW1, and was condemned in 1921. Most of the estate is a public park today, but part was occupied from 1968 by the Kelsey Park Sports College, and then the Beckenham Harris Academy.
Knole Park contains a delightful deer park, but also a house that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. It is reputed to be the largest private home in the country, with 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 7 courtyards. There was a reason for this overkill: it was completed in 1608, on the site of a historic medieval manor, for the express purpose of showing off. The builder was Sir Thomas Sackville, who’d been gifted the 1,000-acre estate as his reward for racking up egregious debts on James I’s behalf. He spent an arm and a leg building and staffing it, the one consolation being that, with its lavish furnishings, the interior is still a sight to behold. The place was however passed down through centuries of Sackvilles, few of whom distinguished themselves except by their dissolution and profligacy. Today the property is part-owned by the National Trust, so visitors are additionally guaranteed some free instruction in politics.
Two miles south-east of Goodnestone Park lies Knowlton Court. The house was built by Sir Thomas Peyton in 1585 on another site originally belonging to Bishop Odo. Although not steeped in history, it did have two most unfortunate owners in succession. One was his grandson, the 2nd Baronet, who supported the King in the Civil War. He came a cropper when the Parliamentarians triumphed, and the house was pillaged while he was under arrest; he did at least recover it upon Charles II’s restoration. Lacking money, his daughters sold the house to Admiral Sir John Narborough, whose wife was the next unfortunate. After her husband died at sea, she remarried; but her new husband, another naval commander, took her two sons with him, and all three were drowned in the Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707. The house then spent two centuries in the hands of the D’Aeth family. It is now owned by the equestrian Fox-Pitt family, and available for weddings.
Though others may dispute the claim that Leeds Castle is the loveliest in the world, it is certainly magnificent on a sunny day, and has history that few can match. Its site, originally occupied by Led, a Saxon chief, consists of two islands in a lake formed by the River Len. A Norman stone fortress was erected there by Robert de Crèvecoeur in 1119. As well as undergoing two sieges, the Castle repeatedly changed hands between royals and their clients over the centuries. Ironically, it was spared destruction in the Civil War because owner Sir Cheney Culpepper supported the Parliamentarians. In 1926, it was purchased by Lady Baillie, who renovated it before making it available as a military hospital in WW2. After being introduced to a world audience in 1949 by ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, it hosted more than one international summit. Now in the hands of a trust, it is home to spectacular summer concerts in the grounds.
The Lees Court estate at Sheldwich used to be vast: in 1900, it was still 85,000 acres. It had been purchased around 1600 by the Sondes family, and the current house was built in 1654 by Sir George Sondes whilst in prison. It is known for one notorious event: the occasion when, in 1655, one of his sons murdered the other there, and quickly paid the ultimate price. The house was gutted by fire in 1910, but was completely rebuilt. It remained in the family’s possession until a quarter century ago, when it was sold off and turned into apartments. Though the surviving Countess Sondes resides in New York, she still grows crops at a nearby farm using environmentally friendly methods to make oils for beauty products. The local estate is a mere shadow of its former self, with a pitiful 2,663 acres, but still boasts impressive gardens, albeit for the benefit of residents only.
In the C14, Linton Park contained a house known as Capell’s Court, named after the de Capell family. It had a number of further owners until it was bought early in the C18 by Robert Mann, who in 1730 built the current house in its place. The location’s appeal was obvious, being blessed with a superlative view south over the Beult valley; Horace Walpole described it in 1757 as the citadel of Kent with the whole county as its garden. After having been owned by four different Manns, it was inherited in 1814 by James Cornwallis, the Bishop of Lichfield, whose family retained it for over a century. Later occupants included the Freemasons and a school, before the global agricultural concern Camellia obtained outright ownership in 2005. Though the house and its gardens are not open to the public, the 330-acre estate is crossed by both the Greensand Way and a public footpath.
You won’t find a more ancient, more characterful and more luxurious property in Kent than Luddesdown Court. Nor will you find one much more expensive. Its site south of Gravesend, now embracing 23 acres, was yet another belonging to the avaricious bishop Odo of Bayeux. The current house was built there 800 years ago, or more. The main building is simple in structure, yet grand in a typically medieval way, with a great hall on the first floor, plus a minstrel gallery. The Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr may have owned it in the C14. It was bought in 1979 by Petter Sundt, a Norwegian shipping magnate, who thoroughly restored and refurbished it without destroying its distinctive character. He also demolished some of the outbuildings and replaced them with an indoor swimming pool and sauna, a garage block complete with bell-tower, a sunken lake, and a croquet lawn. The property was last on the market at £3.5 million.
There are two salient facts to know about ‘Lullingstone Castle’. It was never a castle, but a lodge serving a huge deer park; and it has been sold only twice in 750 years. The original manor house on the site, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book, was bought in 1279 by the eight-times Lord Mayor of London, Gregory de Rokesley. After several generations, it was sold to the Peche family, who in 1497 built the current house. It passed by marriage in 1543 to Sir Percyval Hart, a senior official to four monarchs. Since that time it has been retained by 20 generations of Harts, albeit that an Anne Hart once married a Sir Thomas Dyke, so that the current owner is Guy Hart Dyke. The estate itself was sold off in 1934, and acquired by Kent County Council four years later. Both Lullingstone Country Park and the ‘Castle’ can now be visited in the summer months.
The castle at Lympne is the most prominent of a cluster at the end of the old Stone Street from Canterbury. Its tower and walls may be of modest dimensions, but it is not without charm, its outbuildings sprawling low and wide after the manner of a priory. An original Norman castle was built there for the archdeacons of Canterbury, on the edge of a cliff overlooking Romney Marsh to the south-west. Its name derived from the Roman settlement Portus Lemanis; the ruins of the ancient shore-fort Stutfall Castle stand nearby. Lympne Castle was rebuilt in the C14 with a pair of towers, but gradually decayed until it was used as a farm. It was restored in 1908. The most significant thing to have happened in the recent past was a visit by Paul McCartney’s Wings in 1978 to record an album. The property nowadays doubles, like so many other Kent castles, as a picturesque wedding venue.
Matfield’s village green is the largest in the county. Facing it, as though admiring the view, is the compact and elegant Matfield House, built in Queen Anne style in 1728. Although Thomas Marchant, a yeoman farmer, is usually credited with building it, his wife Mary’s inheritance actually paid for it. Apart from the main house, the property enjoys a couple of subsidiary buildings: a coach-house, and a stable block topped by a grand clock-tower. The Marchant clan continued to own the house until well into the C20. Its most famous son was Frank Marchant, who captained Kent County Cricket Club in the 1890s. This is one Kent home that was not ruined by Army occupation in wartime, but it nearly had the RAF dropping in: a Hurricane crashed beside an adjacent cottage in 1940. The house has subsequently had a couple of changes of ownership, and is currently being renovated by the Garthwaites, who conduct arranged tours.
For three centuries now, anyone looking for Mereworth Castle has been prone to confusion: it looks far more like a temple than a fortification. The reason for the confusion goes back to the fact that the name derives from the original building on the site, a crenellated house dating from 1332 that was bought in the C16 by Francis Fane, MP for Maidstone. His descendant John Fane demolished and replaced it in the 1720s with a copy of the Villa La Rotunda at Vicenza designed by Andrea Palladio, whose highly influential neoclassical style suggested the name and design of the London Palladium. Even with its Grade 1 listed lodges, Mereworth Castle looks quite compact within its well-manicured parkland. Rather incongruously, it became a prisoner of war camp in WW2. Adding to its exoticism, it is now owned by Mohammed Mahdi al-Tajir, a former Bahraini Ambassador, who on rare occasions permits guided tours.
The former Hatch House in Mersham nowadays wins the prize for the ritziest house-name in Kent, but no prizes for looks. When in 1762 Sir Wyndham Knatchbull secured the services of Robert Adam to design it in Palladian style, much might have been expected. Yet, even with the softening effect of Portland stone dressings, the rectangular red-brick exterior is reminiscent of 1950s council offices. This is a shame, given that the location east of Ashford afforded every opportunity for something spectacular, and owes something to Sir Wyndham’s shallow pockets. The site had long belonged to the Archbishops of Canterbury when it was sold to the Knatchbulls in 1486. It has remained with the family ever since. Mersham is an archetypically agricultural community, and the 2,700-acre estate contains extensive farmland, both arable and dairy, as well as a huge deer park, lake, and extensive woodland. The house now caters for weddings, and has a ‘Secret Garden’ eatery.
Monks Horton Priory
The Priory at Monks Horton between Ashford and Folkestone was built on an Iron Age site in the C12. The initial building belonged to King Henry I, after whose death Robert de Vere inaugurated a Cluniac priory there in 1142. A substantial affair, it boasted its own waterworks and at least two large ponds to supply the monks with fresh fish. The enterprise fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, after which much was demolished; the rest was occupied by Sir James Hales. He however committed suicide, so that it reverted to the Crown until Elizabeth I restored it to his grandson, Matthew Mantell. Still in private ownership today, the building has had a total makeover, and now possesses 11 bedrooms plus all mod cons such as a private cinema, wine cellar, billiard room, swimming pool, and driving range. Anyone wanting to buy it would need to find the best part of £6 million.
North Cray Place
North Cray Place’s history was commonplace, until its very end. Recorded in the Domesday Book, it was owned by Bishop Odo, and passed through numerous hands over the centuries, including Henry VIII’s. In the C18, efforts were made to enhance the gardens, culminating in an expensive overhaul by Capability Brown in 1780-2. A new Portland-stone house built in 1823 was bought 11 years later by Lord Bexley, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who also owned Foots Cray Place. During the C20, however, the estate started to break up as London expanded to the south-east. Sports facilities and then housing started appearing on it. Come WW2, the house was occupied by Vickers-Armstrong. Then in 1944, it was hit by a doodlebug. Much of it was damaged, and the remains were demolished in 1961. A letter was written to the local newspaper enquiring what was to be done about its Grey Lady ghost, who was now presumably homeless.
The Wigans were a wealthy Victorian family from East Malling who made their money from banking. In 1869, Lewis Davis Wigan had a new house built closer to town in Oakwood Park, Maidstone. It was a grand edifice, eventually containing 17 bedrooms. His wife Mary continued to live there after his death, until she herself died in 1900. During that time, their son John Wigan, secretary of Maidstone FC, used to organise football games in the grounds, including both FA Cup matches and a prestigious friendly against Tottenham Hotspur, a creditable 1-1 draw. In 1913, a splendid 18-hole golf course was built in the park to house Maidstone Golf Club. It survived for half a century until the estate was sold to Kent County Council, which turned much of it over to development. The house subsequently opened up as a hotel. Despite its closure being announced in 2019, it still appears to be operating.
Olantigh? It’s not half the house it used to be. The first record of a manor house beside the Stour north of Wye comes from the C13, when Sir Norman Kemp owned it. The Kemp(e)s were an important Kentish family who included an Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London. After they sold the house to the Thornhills early in the C17, the great philosopher John Locke came to stay as a doctor. In 1720, the Sawbridges bought and expanded it in Georgian style. They remained in possession until 1903, when the house was extensively ruined by fire. Seven years later, the stone portico was salvaged and a smaller redbrick house built a short distance from the original site. John Loudon hired it in 1912 and redeveloped the gardens before his son bought it in 1935. Still too large, half of it was demolished in the 1950s, leaving a compact house only a fifth of its former size.
The Old Canonry
Contrary to expectation, the Old Canonry at Wingham has nothing to do with artillery. It is an unmistakable building, standing at the corner of School Lane on the Canterbury Road from Sandwich: a tall, square, attractive timber-framed building that stands out a mile from its surroundings. Its origins lie in the creation of St Mary, Wingham, a theological college sponsored around 1282 by John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury. The left part of the building was created as a row of dormitories for canons, a rare surviving example of small C13 cottages. The rest of the house, including the impressive gable, was added in the late-C15. A fire destroyed some of the cottages in 1660, and by the late C19 the house was so dilapidated that it required major renovation by owner James Robinson’s widow. In 2004, having again fallen into a poor state, it was bought by celebrity chef Paul Hollywood, who restored it to its current condition.
Old Soar Manor
Because Old Soar Manor in Plaxtol looks rather modest from the outside – like a cross between a small church and farm outbuildings – a visit to the interior makes all the greater an impression. This was the home of the influential Culpeppers, who had it built around 1290. It was made of ragstone, and built to be defensible. What cannot be seen any longer is the great hall, which was demolished after nearly 500 years to make room for the adjacent redbrick house. What remains nevertheless is the family’s living-quarters. These are accessed through the undercroft (store-room) and up a narrow but mercifully short spiral staircase to the solar, or main chamber. Off this are the garderobe (privy) and the chapel. With a little imagination, it is possible to picture how the comfortably-off might have lived in the late Middle Ages. A National Trust property, the Manor can be visited in the summer months.
Otford was always a strategically crucial place, standing at a ford across the river Darent. It was an obvious choice for one of the Archbishop’s Palaces that punctuated the route from Canterbury to London. The Palace was a singularly large and grand one after Archbishop Warham expanded it in 1515 to rival Cardinal Wolsey‘s palace at Hampton Court. Archbishop Cranmer started writing the Book of Common Prayer there, but was obliged to hand the Palace over to Henry VIII in 1537. The King took his court there on the way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, but then abandoned it. What remains of it since its destruction in the Dissolution of the Monasteries can only hint at how grand the whole 4-acre site once was. Still visible today are part of the Great Gatehouse, the North-West Tower, and a row of cottages converted from the lower gallery. Sadly, the area is now surrounded by suburban housing.
Formerly known as Wardes, Otham Manor started life in the 1370s as a Wealden hall house, one of a clutch of fine old buildings in the locality. It was a fine example of a more modest timber-frame house from the reign of Edward III, such as would have been inhabited not by a noble but a yeoman or merchant. A wing was sympathetically added at right angles to that original house in the C16. Two centuries later, however, it was divided into cottages, and fell into disrepair; but, in 1912, the British ambassador to Turkey, Sir Louis Mallet, saw its potential, undertook its restoration, and expanded it by attaching an additional wing. By the late C20, however, it was again practically derelict, despite being Grade 1 listed in 1952. It was bought in 1992 by Dominic and Christine Fisher, who took pains to restore both the house and gardens as an immaculate private home, complete with swimming-pool.
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