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Chilston Park Hotel + Lenham Kent

Palace in Wonderland

Lenham Village Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The black and white half timbering of the medieval house jettying over the graveyard is matched by the monochromatic wooden porch gable attached to the Early and Very Early English St Mary’s Church. Coordinating domestic and ecclesiastical architecture separated by the dead. Lenham Village betwixt Ashford and Maidstone in a stretch of Kent that never feels entirely rural lives up to its Medieval Village brown sign. A discreet distance away on the far side of the M20 lies Chilston Park Hotel, full of the living and the alive.

St Mary's Church Lenham © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Alice in Wonderland scale chess board and pieces on the lawn are enough to make Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson burst into song. And the weather would force Belinda Carlisle to belt out her hit Summer Rain. Safely and elegantly ensconced in the great indoors, what’s not to love though? Lunch in The Marble Lounge is a sheer delight. Presumably named after its gargantuan pedimented fire surround, a piece of architecture in its own right, the entrance hall as it really is could also be called The Flagstone Hall or The Hall of Mirrors.

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Topiary © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Chessboard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Seats © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Mews © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Marble Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Oriential Case © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Bust © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Portrait © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Staircase Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s like lunching in a National Trust property. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Chilston Park was converted into a hotel by Martin and Judith Miller, authors of Miller’s Antiques. Judith is also a presenter on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. “I just feel a connection with historical buildings,” she shares. “My interest in antiques comes from discovering them through the pursuit of history.” Almost four decades later, and despite changing hands several times, a current inventory of the furnishings and art in the rooms would read like a supplement to Miller’s Antiques. The last private owner was the extravagantly monikered Aretas Akers-Douglas, 1st Baron Douglas of Baads and Viscount Chilston of Boughton Malherbe. The peer was a Conservative Home Secretary. It is currently owned by Hand Picked Hotels whose portfolio includes historic properties across Great Britain and the Channel Islands.

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The architectural history of the house is almost as complicated as the Really Early English St Mary’s Church Lenham. The first building was a turn of the 16th century courtyard house. In the opening decades of the 18th century, an earlier central tower was replaced with a three bay pedimented projection and the house was generally revamped. The resultant balanced elevations – two storey red brick sash windowed hipped roof – present a convincingly coherent Georgian pile. Subtle asymmetries and eccentric quirks of the floor plan reveal otherwise. A neo Jacobean staircase hall, ancillary stairs and corridors all lit by roof lanterns gobble up the courtyard. There are 53 bedrooms in total spaced across the main house, mews houses and converted stables. On the first floor of the main house, the northeast facing Queen Anne Room, Hogarth Room, Guilt Room and Oriental Room overlook the lake. The east and southwest facing Regency, Victoria, Byron and Evelyn Rooms have views of nine hectares of parkland. Tulip and Rowlandson Rooms overlook the mews houses to the west. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “There were doors all round the hall.”

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Corridor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Categories
Country Houses Luxury

Sprivers House Kent + The Irish Georgian Society London

Rhymes with Rivers | Colon Irrigation

Sprivers House Kent Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

At the Irish Georgian Society London: we do like our very private houses: the longer the laneway the better. Sprivers House in the Weald of Kent ticked both boxes and then some. We were the second visitors ever as guests of the owners who run a wedding business from the house. First box well ticked then. Ancient trees reach over the laneway so lavishly that our coach couldn’t fit down the drive. The Society discovered on foot how long the laneway is: very. Second box very well ticked then.

Sprivers House Kent Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Local historian Andrew Wells has studied Sprivers House and its past owners: “Alexander Courthope encased the two storey hall house in pink Flemish bonded brick, adding hung tiles to the first floor of the gabled west front. He built the new east extension as the principle five bay elevation, one bay deep, with a pedimented doorcase with Doric pilasters, the three central bays more closely spaced with pedimented dormers in the hipped roof above, the middle one segmental.” This work is recorded by “AC 1756” on the keystone and imposts of the round headed stair window to the north. “AC 1746” on bricks above the stable house door prove it to be a decade earlier.

Sprivers House Kent Side View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sprivers House Kent Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Andrew is on a roll: “Internally the impact of the outer hall is the heraldry of the Courthope and related families contained in excellent rococo plaster cartouches, beneath an enriched modillion cornice continued throughout the Georgian house. The panelled inner hall contains a restored Chinese Chippendale staircase with a ramped handrail, beneath a gadrooned cornice and deeply coved guilloche bordered ceiling. The panelled drawing room and dining room have wooden chimneypieces with scrolled friezes.”

Sprivers House Kent Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Robert Courthope flogged the house at Christies in 1946. It is now owned by the National Trust who rent it to the current occupiers. Sprivers House has barely changed in a couple of hundred years, passing unscathed through Victorian times. A 15th century moat reveals it to be a truly historic site. The 21st century luxury of our coach: after a very long walk down the laneway: transported us back to London and back to life.

Sprivers House Kent Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architecture Country Houses

Mount Stewart Greyabbey Down + Lady Rose Lauritzen

Long Shadows Cross the Lawn

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Not many country houses are closely associated with their female lineage. Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, County Down, is an exception. The last two centuries have been dominated by the ladies of the manor. First there was the triple barrelled Lady Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart; then her high flying daughter Lady Mairi Bury; and now her glamorous granddaughter Lady Rose Lauritzen. National Trust owned for the last two generations, the house and garden have been relaunched with an all guns blazing £8.5 million restoration under the watchful eye of Lady Rose. Now spending six months a year at Mount Stewart, her ladyship reveals,

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“I came here when I was a week old ‘cause I was born in London in the middle of The Blitz and then came over with a nanny on the boat a week later ‘cause everyone was then working in London. My mother had been driving ambulances and then I came back here – this is where I lived. I went to a lovely day school in Holywood called The Warren which I absolutely loved. That was really nice and then I was sent off to boarding school which I hated every second of. I wanted to be here!”

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“My grandmother really brought us up. My mother was very young and my father was in the army so they were always travelling round and I saw an enormous amount of my grandmother who read to us, told us stories, kept us at work. I mean, one of our main jobs was watering the terrace. You know, we were tiny with heavy watering cans – such hard work! She kept everyone working in the gardens: housemaids, guests, everyone, even if they didn’t want to!”

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“It really has needed a huge restoration for 30 years. Now it’s been done we’re all delighted. It’s very exciting! It was last redecorated in the Fifties by my grandmother and then my mother used to keep up the structure of the house. She mended the roof – she mended everything because in those days we had our own carpenter, our own electrician, plumber, wrought iron man, our own blacksmith. It was totally utterly self sufficient. She kept it up till she gave the house to the National Trust in the late Seventies, whenever it was, and then obviously you don’t have a team of maintenance people and there’s no money.”

“So it really needed a huge restoration. Now it’s been done. We’re all delighted about this – very exciting. Teams of experts had been coming over and looking at the paint and looking at the fabrics and textiles and they mended and restored it. I’d redone some of my rooms, and bedroom, and I’d redone the sitting room with this lovely material Venetian silk and things like that. But they’ve restored it beautifully, and we’re all very excited about it.”

“The central hall now is exactly the way it was till I was in my twenties. I suppose it was my mother who repainted this hall the wonderful Chinese pink but this is how I remember it and it looks I think absolutely sensational. The gallery above which we always called ‘the dome’: no guest, no one ever went into the dome itself. Only the housemaids and the children used to take shortcuts through there and then peer through the balustrades to look at what was going on. And now that’s all beautifully done I think oh yes I remember all of us up there looking down and spying.”

“The drawing room is my favourite room in the house. It might be large but it’s the cosiest. You know, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s full of sunlight and in the past it used to be full of flowers and then obviously all the dogs were running round, jumping on the sofas too. So it was like the family room. It was where everyone, all the guests, everyone congregated here.”

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Tír na nÓg is the family burial ground made by my grandmother for the family and it means Land of the Ever Young and it’s got a wonderful view over the garden and she had all these statues made. It was all her sort of idea. The first to be buried here was my grandfather and then my grandmother. They have very ornate carved stones with all their favourite things on them like my grandfather, everything to do with flying, playing cards, all sorts of things, and my grandmother with her parrots and her dogs and her garden.”

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“When my grandmother died, the little cockatoo was distraught so it plucked all its feathers out so we had this oven ready bird with a crest and when I first brought my husband to Mount Stewart we were all so used to it we’d forgotten what it looked like and he practically fainted! You know, you suddenly walk into the house for the first time and it was in the central hall and it was in its aviary. There was this blue skin with a beak and this huge crest!”

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“My mother is the most recent to be buried at Tír na nÓg and we designed the stone so that it’s got the Stewart dragon looking duly fierce because he has to protect the family and then it says beloved daughter of Charles and Edith Londonderry because she was the favourite daughter. And then the other side says devoted to Mount Stewart which she was. I wanted her to be bigger than her sisters but smaller than her grandparents and a different coloured stone so it’s a pinkish stone. I think it’s actually very pretty. You know often we come up here and just sit and you know you relax your mind and it’s so soothing to the soul up here and I know that those who’ve gone before us are resting in peace and they’re in a happy place.”

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