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Garthwaite Family + Matfield House Kent

The House Where Time Doesn’t Stand Still

Matfield House Kent Meadow © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Matfield House Kent View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Matfield House Kent Pool © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Matfield House Kent Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Matfield House Kent Temple © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Matfield House Kent Urn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Matfield House Kent Border © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Matfield House Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Matfield House Kent Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“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.

Matfield House Kent Side © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

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

Architects Architecture Country Houses Developers

Roehampton House London + St James

Making the Grade

1 Roehampton House

Question. What are the only two Grade I listed buildings in London to be converted into apartments? Answer. St Pancras Hotel (the upper floors) and Roehampton House (all of it). They couldn’t be more different. Harry Potter v Brideshead. Northanger v Mansfield. Gothic v baroque. St Martin’s v Queen Mary’s. Gritty regeneration hotspot v leafy southwest suburbia. The one thing they do share, along with all fellow listed buildings, is the challenge of adapting to suit contemporary lifestyles. Dreaming up a bedroom out of a circular space for Apartment 15 was just one minor Roehampton House brainstorming success. An island of wardrobes backing onto a freestanding wall solved the what-about-storage and where-do-we-put-the-bed dilemma in one fell swoop.

1 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

City boy Thomas Cary seemingly built the original block in 1713. Thomas Archer was the architect. City boy Arthur Grenfell seamlessly added new wings in 1913. Edwin Lutyens was the architect. City developer St James seamlessly reimagined the enlarged house as 21 apartments in 2013. Nick Davies was the architect. This heritage asset has never looked hotter, set off by pristine landscaping. Not a leaf out of place. The twin gatehouses have been revived and six contemporary garden villas continue the fine building tradition. Now for more questions and answers with the latest architect to display his talent at Roehampton House.

2 Roehampton House copyrioght Stuart Blakley

Why did you choose to buy and develop this site considering the inevitable costs and constraints of retaining a Grade I listed building?

3 Roehampton House coproght Stuart Blakley

When Roehampton House and the former Queen Mary’s Hospital site came to the market, St James was the only organisation from the parties bidding who recognised that once restored the house could create real value. Plus it is a magnificent setting and centrepiece for the adjoining new development. All the other parties saw the house as too great a challenge. St James was the only party who was serious about taking on the restoration and conversion of the Grade I historic building.

4 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

What were the specific challenges relating to retention and conversion of the listed building?

5 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

Grade I listed buildings are comparatively rare. They comprise less than 3% of all listed properties and in law everything extant at the point of listing is protected. As with all older buildings, many changes and additions had been made over the years. The challenge of unravelling what should be retained and what can be changed is a long process of evaluation and discussion with English Heritage and the local borough conservation team. There was a desire to restore many of the original rooms that had been subdivided to their original proportions, particularly the panelled rooms that had survived in the Georgian part of the building. St James removed an intrusive steel frame which had been put into the building to strengthen it in the 1980s and had destroyed much of the historic structure. We also needed to put approximately 50 new bathrooms and nearly half as many kitchens into a building which had had very few services whilst preserving and conserving as much of the surviving historic fabric as we could. That was quite challenging.

6 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

Did you have to make any specific compromises to ensure compliance with the recognised heritage asset status of the listed building?

7 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

The surviving pleasure grounds and walled gardens have been restored to their former glory and provide both the setting for the house and the framework around which the masterplan for the new surrounding development was shaped. The houses and apartments are traditional in design but not direct copies either in style or materials of the house itself. They also provide the transition between the character of the historic house and the adjoining suburban roads of Roehampton village which were developed in the early 20th century.

Did the listed building context add value to the development as a whole?

Although the costs of restoring a building such as Roehampton House are very significant, the sales values per square foot generated for the apartments have exceeded new build values so there is a genuine cachet for living in this type of historic property. It is also hard to quantify how much uplift the setting of the house has given to the sales prices in all the adjoining new properties but clearly they have also benefited from the overall setting and sense of place… their values reflect this. As with all historic buildings many of the problems you will encounter remain hidden from view. Control of costs is very hard with these unknowns. Many however can be anticipated with proper research and investigation into the history of the building. Using the right professional consultants and sourcing craftsmen skilled in historic building construction techniques is vitally important in managing this process and winning the support of English Heritage and the conservation officers.

8 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

Why was such a contemporary style chosen specifically for the garden villas and how did the setting influence their final design?

9 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

The design of the garden villas evolved from the discussions with English Heritage. Firstly, the rebuilding of the boundary wall on the north side of the pleasure grounds to reinstate this feature at the rear of Roehampton House had left a small piece of land. This land is sandwiched between the site boundary and the new hospital to the north. The original hospital buildings had in fact encroached into the area of the historic pleasure grounds. A key part of our planning strategy was to reinstate the grounds to safeguard the future setting of the house. English Heritage was very keen for this too so that the original frontage of the house could be kept clear of vehicles. To finance the cost of underground car parking it was agreed that a suitable form of development could be designed for the area now occupied by the villas. English Heritage was keen not to confuse the history of the house. It felt that a very simple contemporary design solution which sits quite low behind the wall and is quite self effacing is therefore an appropriate architectural response to the setting of the building. This raises all sorts of views about whether buildings in close proximity to listed buildings should be in the manner of them or totally contrasting and of their time. These are the philosophical discussions you always get into in matters of conservation.

10 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

Are there any lessons that were learned from this project which St James will be applying to future projects?

11 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

In restoring the building we had to respect the original hierarchy of the rooms in the house and the level of decorative detail that would have been present in these which we could put back, even where this had entirely disappeared during subsequent alterations in its later history. This even extended to us undertaking a full historic paint analysis of the most historic panelled rooms to understand the original decorative schemes that had existed when the house was built. There were three centuries to inform our choice of colours for decoration. Many of our big cost items were still hidden from us behind historic construction that we could not disturb prior to acquisition. If it can be arranged, pre acquisition survey work is essential in minimising risk and cost overruns. Even with the best knowledge it is not possible to anticipate all the problems you may encounter as you peel back the layers of history.

12 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley

What type of purchaser has been attracted to this development and do they differ from other St James developments?

13 Roehmapton House copyright Stuart Blakley

So far we have experienced a particular interest from local residents looking to stay in the area but downgrade on size. This is noticeably different to other St James developments which attract a more international audience. Perhaps because of Roehampton House’s heritage and Grade I listed status it draws more British buyers. This could also explain the interest from retired couples who like the idea of living in a grand country home but don’t want the upkeep.

15 Roehampton House copyright Stuart Blakley