9 lost country houses in Kent
- Credit: Archant
Kent is blessed with fine and indeed famous country houses, but over the decades has lost as many of its grander houses as it retains. A new book by Martin Easdown reveals 120 examples that have simply disappeared
Country houses were the showpieces of the nation’s elite and Kent can still boast some of the finest examples in Leeds Castle, Chevening, Broome Park, Cobham Hall, Knole, Penshurst Place, Mereworth and Broome Park, to name but a few.
Sadly, the county has also witnessed the demolition of several of its grander houses due to changes in social habits and the decline and amalgamation of great estates, not to mention fire, dry rot and death duties.
Estates of modern houses now cover the site of the many lost houses, while the remains of foundations, surviving entrance lodges and other outbuildings and a few garden features can be found if looked for.
It is evocative to think that what was once such an imposing building, the centre and social hub of the area, is now just a few scanty remains in a field.
This is the first book to feature the lost country houses of the Garden of England and Martin Easdown provides us with 120 examples of the grandest mansions that have disappeared, listed in gazetteer form with illustrations.
He also provides us with a few examples, such as Oxney Court, where the house has come back to life after years of dereliction.
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Tovil Court, Tovil
Tovil Court stood on a 16-acre estate close to the River Medway and in the mid-1850s, a widow named Charlotte McKinnon moved in with her three young children using money left for her by her late husband, who had served in the Crimean War.
Following Charlotte's death in 1902 the house passed to her surviving children, Lionel and Ada, but following Ada’s death in 1905, Lionel decided he had little use for it.
The estate was rented out and for six months in 1914 was home to the Maidstone Zoological and Pleasure Grounds. After Lionel was killed in action in 1915, Tovil Court passed to Albert Reed, who had founded the nearby Tovil Mills in 1894.
He demolished the house to build a working men’s club for his workers and the grounds came to house the Tovil Bowls Club and the Maidstone Masonic Centre.
Kelsey Park, Beckenham
The original house at Kelsey dated back to 1408 when it was erected by William Kelsiulle. It had been demolished by 1820 and a new house was erected on a different site in a Scottish baronial style by Richard Bennett, which was enlarged and improved by the Hoare family who held the estate from 1835-1909.
In 1895 the house became a convent and in 1901 Kepplestone School. The school moved away when 21 acres of the estate was purchased by Beckenham Council in 1909 for £8,800 to create Kelsey Park, which opened in 1913. Other sections of the estate were sold off for housing.
The house was used as a military hospital during the First World War but was left in a poor state at the war’s end and was demolished in 1921.
Hales Place, Canterbury
Hales Place was built by Sir Edward Hales in the late 1760s to replace the Tudor Place House which he had pulled down, save for the Roper Gate. A Catholic chapel was built on the estate and in 1864 work began to build a Carmelite nunnery to a design by Edward Welby Pugin. However, the money ran out and the building was left unfinished.
In the 1880s, Mary Hales was declared bankrupt and the estate passed to a group of exiled French Jesuits, who opened a Catholic Boys’ School in 1900 called St Mary’s College.
The estate was put up for sale in 1925 but attracted no buyers and in 1928 the house was demolished. The grounds were covered with housing, although an early Victorian mortuary chapel and one of the gate pillars can still be seen.
Hadlow Castle was a huge Gothic mansion that took more than 60 years to build – its lofty tower still dominates the area. Its creator was Walter May, who inherited Hadlow Court Lodge in 1786 and set about transforming it in the most extraordinary way. The chosen architect was the relatively unknown J. Dugdale. The tower was added in 1838-40 by May’s son, Walter Barton May and architect George Ledwell Taylor to a height of 170 feet. It was soon nicknamed by locals ‘May’s Folly.’
The interior of the house featured a 120-foot-long corridor running east to west, with a large stained-glass window at each end. Following military occupation during the Second World War, the house was in a bad condition and demolished. Fortunately, the tower was saved (along with the entrance arches, lodges and stable curt) and has been restored.
Dunorlan Park, Tunbridge Wells
Dunorlan Park was a controversial building, once described by a servant who worked there as ‘an architectural monstrosity which represented everything one might expect from a man with too much money and too little taste.’
That man was Henry Reed, who was not that happy himself with the when it was built in 1862 and demolished part of it to build a new wing. During the Second World War Dunorlan came into the hands of the War Damage Commission, who sold it to Tunbridge Wells Council in 1957 for £42,000. They demolished the house and opened the surrounding parkland to the public.
Nearby Great Bounds Manor was rebuilt around 1600 and changed hands frequently before it was acquired by the Reliance Mutual Company in 1939. They moved ot in 1958 and the house and grounds were sold for redevelopment, although the Grade II-listed lodge house survives, west of the Tonbridge to Southborough road.
For more than a century – from the 1830s to the 1940s - Shoreham Place
Was home to the Mildmay family, whose name is immortalised in horse-facing circles in the Mildmay course at Aintree and the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. This was down to Anthony, 2nd Lord Mildmay, a renowned amateur steeplechaser who kindled Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s interest in steeplechasing.
The house was built in 1838 close to the site of an Italian-style mansion called the New House, which was demolished a few years earlier because it was too damp to live in. Shoreham Place was built in yellow-stock brick and was described by Helen Mildmay-White as ‘ugly but very comfortable’ but in 1959 it was destroyed by fire.
A new housing estate was built on its site in 1964, although the stable block survives as residential buildings.
North Cray Place, North Cray
North Cray Place stood on the other side of the River Cray from the rather more handsome Foots Cray Place and in 1781-82 Thomas Coventry engaged Capability Brown to lay out a park, which included an elegant five-arch bridge over the Cray.
A new house was built in 1823 to a design by Henry Walker. By 1833 both North and Foots Cray were owned by Nicholas Vansittart, Lord Bexley. However, during the Vansittart’s ownership, up until 1918, North Cray was often leased out, including in 1908 to the North Kent Golf Club.
The end for the house came after it was hit by a bomb in 1944, although it was not finally cleared away until houses were built on the site. The local authority purchased the parklands of both North Cray and Foots Cray to create the Foots Cray Meadows Parkland.
Oxney Court, Ringwould
This is a house that literally came back from the dead, having been ruinous and deserted for nearly 80 years before it was restored to its Edwardian splendour. The parish of Oxney is one of the smallest in Kent and during the Tudor period, Oxney Court was enlarged by John Smedley, a senior officer at the treasury.
The late 17th century saw the timber-framed house rebuilt in red brick; over the next 50 years, it was restyled with a Gothic look and extended with a drawing-room wing, tower and entrance porch. In around 1838 Edward Banks acquired Oxney, with his family holding it just a year short of 100.
However, during the army occupation in the First World War, the house was left a charred ruin. Stories grew over the years of mysterious goings-on at the house, along with ghostly sightings on the Dover-Deal road, but after Oxney’s restoration, the spirits can now rest in peace.
Eastwell Park, Boughton Aluph
Eastwell is one of the largest enclosed parks in Kent (1,200 acres in 1838) and at its heart is what looks like an Elizabethan mansion, serving as a country house hotel and restaurant called Eastwell Manor. However, the house only dates from the 1920s, when it replaced a genuine 16th-century mansion. It was subsequently rebuilt in 1793-99 and again in 1849.
From 1874-93 Eastwell was rented by Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, who was a frequent visitor. The Prince’s daughter, Princess Marie, was born at Eastwell in 1875 and write of ‘beautiful Eastwell, with its great grey house, its magnificent park, with its herd of deer and picturesque Highland cattle, its lake, its woods, it's garden with the old cedar tree, which was our fairy mansion.
A gatehouse built in 1848, of a striking design, stands around a mile to the south of the house.