The House Where Time Doesn’t Stand Still
Kent is pleasant in spring. Well, yes it is, but it’s jolly pleasant in summer too. Especially past the commuter belt, heading for the Weald. Even more especially when it’s one of the prettiest places in the county. Pevsner states, “Matfield grew as a main road hamlet in Brenckley parish. Matfield Green is its heart. Elongated triangle of grass surrounded by pleasant cottages. On the north side, beyond the duck pool, stands a perfect early Georgian group.” Matfield House takes prime position.
Local historian Andrew Wells identifies Matfield House as one in a series of brick baroque houses in early 18th century west Kent. The others are Milgate Park, Bearsted, 1707 | Bradbourne House, East Malling, 1715 | Smiths Hall, West Farleigh, 1719 | Finchcocks, Goudhurst, 1725. The latter is like Matfield House – it’s also seven bays wide – but with an additional floor and three bay wings. Andrew thinks the architect of Finchcocks might be Thomas Archer. If so, it would make sense that Matfield House is also by him.
Pevsner’s description of Finchcocks says the house “represents the moment when the country house style of Vanbrugh and Archer was slipping down the scale into the hands of local master builders”. So the houses could equally be judicious applications of pattern books.
Back to Pevsner: “Matfield House, the centrepiece of the group, was built for Thomas Marchant in 1728 (initials and date on the rainwater heads). Seven bays by two. Two storeyed, over a basement. The basement sandstone, the red brick, reddish brown on the front, blue headers at the sides. The façade must have been designed by the same man as Finchcocks. The giant Tuscan pilasters, set in from the angles and carrying pieces of white entablature with triglyphs, and the round headed centre windows played off against segmental ones at the sides, are enough to establish that. It is a compact, well calculated design, especially in the quick rhythm of close set windows in the three centre, slightly projecting, bays. Plain parapet, breaking forward between the windows. Three pedimented dormers peep over it, stressing the centre once more. Plain square chimneystacks at the ends. Elaborate lead downpipes. Doorcase, up five steps, on fluted Doric pilasters.”
Indoors, Pevsner notes, “The hall reaches through the depth of the house, and out of it rises an ample staircase, richly endowed with fluted Corinthian colonnettes fluted and one loosely twisted, and all with Ionic capitals tilted to the angle of the handrail. Carved tread ends. Large but self effacing wing of 1884 at the back. Contemporary garden walls and clairvoie. Stables towards the rear. They are plainly of the same date as the house, in spite of 1779 on the weathervane. Charming clock turret, very much too large. ‘Mind the Time’, it says under the clock. The clock face in a surround curving up to a point in the middle, a typical shape of the 1720s. Further east a lower barn to match.”
The current owners John and Sarah are the third generation of the Garthwaite family to live in the house. They’ve worked hard to make a building coming up to its tricentenary fit for modern day use. Most radically a copper clad extension designed by Nicholas Kidwell was added to the Victorian wing, replacing 1930s service quarters. “This cube extension has been added to the western side,” explains Sarah, “and greatly extends the daily living accommodation. It gives a more open and inclusive aspect to the garden, demonstrating what may be accomplished when refurbishing historic structures for modern living.”
While discreetly designed, the copper cladding blending in well with the brick, the extension allows for dramatically semi-alfresco living when the glazed doors are pulled back. “For the first time in its history,” she adds, “the kitchen wing of the house now relates to the garden. Vestiges of the former separation of family and staff can still be seen in the retained internal architectural features and frosted glass of the windows approaching the kitchen, along with the restored call bells.”
“Most of the rooms of the 1728 house have been combined in pairs to make them more usable,” Sarah notes. “We firmly believe in contemporary comfort when it comes to bathrooms!” she suggests. The master bedroom en suite preserves the panelling by having freestanding bathroom pieces. Water for the bath surprisingly spurts out from the ceiling.
Of the original 30 odd acres, there are still 13 attached to the house. It’s like an estate in miniature, gardens in the garden of Kent. Surrounding the “perfect early Georgian group” is a walled garden, decorative pool, swimming pool, croquet lawn and neoclassical seating. Around the corner from Matfield House is The Poet, the best gastropub in Kent. Yep, Kent is pleasant all year round.