Palace in Wonderland
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.
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.
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.
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.”