We’ve never made a sandwich but we’ve made it to Sandwich. It’s American tastemaker Charles Plante’s favourite English town. Sandwich is filled with a relishable collection of chocolate box cottages and delicious candy coloured shops. All in very good taste of course. We’ll toast to that! Sandwich is sandwiched between Deal and Ramsgate – give or take the odd golf course (Royal St George’s) and even a country park (Pegwell Bay). But first the bay.
The Rockefeller scaled mansions of Sandwich Bay make regular appearances in Country Life, Tatler and The New York Times. They’re more East Hampton than East Kent. Great Gatsby over Great Britain. When one comes up for sale it’s like selling sunrise. Take Rest Harrow. We would. And its 14 bedrooms. It was built in 1910 for Viscount William Waldorf Astor and his wife, a certain Nancy. The Viscount’s father opened the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Nancy had form too: she was the first lady elected to the British Parliament to take her seat. Her Ladyship was a big believer in seawater: she had it piped straight into her two en suite bathrooms in the madame bedroom. Rest Harrow was recently sold for the first time in its history. Despite being surrounded by a 1.2 hectare garden, the house is gloriously exposed to the prevailing winds and onlooking flâneurs.
Strolling along the coast from Deal, Royal Cinque Ports Golf Clubhouse is the first gargantuan landmark on the landscape. Dating from 1892, an early photograph shows it as a heavily verandah’d Wild West chalet capped by a Tudor style giant gable. Architect unknown. Over the years it has been rendered almost unrecognisable – save for the gable shape – by rendering on a lavish scale and a series of elongating extensions.
Next on our jaunt Sandilands comes into sight, a vision in red brick under a hipped roof. This was bread and butter stuff for the tasteful architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, grandson of the Bishop of London (Right Reverend Charles Blomfield). His turn of last century practice had a specialism in country houses, new and revamped. Among the latter was Chequers in Buckinghamshire. Built in 1930, Sandilands’ spreadeagled plan embraces sea views from an array of angles. No doubt his client Samuel, Lord Vestey, sat on the first floor with binoculars looking at the birds going past. Sandilands is but a taste of things to come.
Rest Harrow is next and then The Dunes. This early 20th century brick house takes the plan of Sandilands and gives it wings. A butterfly blueprint. More obscure than his contemporary Sir Reginald, the well bred architect Charles Biddulph-Pinchard was still versed in country house design. His client was John Lonsdale, 1st Baron Armaghdale. Some of the original multi paned fenestration has been replaced with picture windows and with such views that’s not surprising.
The architectural feast changes with Whitehall. Surprisingly, it’s another Sir Reginald Blomfield special. Built in 1909, Whitehall has a rendered ground floor with stone detailing and a double height slate mansard filled to the rafters with a gluttony of dormers. The effect has more than a whiff of Marie-Antoinette about it, a seaside cottage orné on serious steroids.
Last of the big houses straddling the coast riding high on the waves of success comes Kentlands. We love spilling the beans. All 600 square metres of this house was built for the Heinz family. They might have been American but you don’t get more English that Kentlands. This time Charles Biddulph-Pinchard recycled two 17th century timber framed houses, threw in a barn for the fun of it, and the result is as if a piece of Chester fell from the sky and landed in, well, Kent. These five houses were to be part of a new seaside resort but World War I put paid to that. Instead, a glorious sparseness, an extravagance of hectarage very far from the madding crowd, triumphs.
Sandwich: The Story of a Famous Kentish Port published in 1907 is the 63rd book in the slightly sinister titled series The Homeland Handbooks. Editor Arthur Anderson raves, “Within easy reach of the popular and growing watering places of northeast Kent lies a town which should be visited by everyone with a regard for things ancient and beautiful, with a mind that would be affected by historic associations, and with emotions that can be touched by the story of a brave but chequered existence. Sandwich lies among the marshes left by the sea on its retirement from the bluffs of Richborough and Minster. Placed here among the flats, it is one of the sunniest towns in England. From horizon to horizon there is no single elevation to cast a shadow or to intercept the sunshine. Only when clouds are riding and sea winds sweeping over, are the brightest colours of the town and its gleaming belt of meadow and river obscured. Since the harbour sealed up – and not all the pathetic efforts of the townsmen served to avert the disaster – Sandwich has ceased to play the part to which it was accustomed in earlier days. But its bygone importance and wealth are attested by the remains that give it a picturesqueness such as few places can rival.”
The Pellicane House on High Street is one of the larger houses in Sandwich town centre. It’s a sweet confection of the ages: the 15th century original house was given a makeover 200 years later followed by a Georgian upgrade. The flint faced façade displays a charming symmetry gone somewhat awry and is crowned by a castellated parapet. Marie-Laure Frioux, originally from Nantes, brings French elegance to Market Street with her antiques shop Fleur de France. As for Charles Plante, he’s been an art and antiques dealer in London and America for three decades. He summarises his taste as, “Ruins, urns, neoclassical landscapes and interiors; evocations in paint, pencil and watercolour of the ancient world… neoclassical furniture, porcelain and bronzes – all have been my passion for the past 30 years.”
The Butchery, Cattle Market, Fellowship Walk, Love Lane, Pillory Gate and Moat Sole all beg intrigue and further exploration. Bringing the beach inland, putting the sand in Sandwich, our lunch is at Tan Bueno on New Street which advertises itself as “Costa del Sandwich”. It’s the Canary Islands come to the environs of the Isle of Thanet. There are no sandwiches on the menu. Just tapas, the best thing since sliced bread.