Nestled in a Kent valley is one of the most romantic houses to be found near London.
Situated just outside the M25 near the charmingly named hamlet of Ivy Hatch, this substantial property is virtually unseen from the road.
Ightham Mote (pronounced “Item Moot”) is a rare example of a medieval moated manor house that the National Trust has spent 10 years and £10 million restoring.
[Y]ou approach Ightham by walking down a steep slope which gives the opportunity to see the building from above, an experience unique in my experience.
Walking over the moat via a small bridge takes you into the enclosed courtyard. The first thing you notice is the only Grade I listed dog kennel in England standing over 6ft high it was constructed for a female St. Bernard called Dido in 1880.
First built in 1320 with few changes to the main structure after completion of the quadrangle and chapel in the 16th century Ightham Mote has been owned by medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and high society Victorians.
This remarkable survivor of medieval architecture was by 1951 in a poor condition when James Colyer-Fergusson inherited the house and because of lack of finances he was left no option but to sell the house and auction most of the contents.
A sale took place in October and lasted three days. It was suggested that the house be demolished to harvest the lead on the roofs, or be divided into flats. Three local men banded together to save the house purely for love of it and paid £5,500 for the freehold, confident that some other, richer, benefactor would emerge.
The house would find its benefactor in what is probably the most endearing story of this remarkable building.
American businessman, Charles Henry Robinson of Portland Maine had seen the house as a younger man on a cycling holiday and returned in 1953 older, and richer, with the intention of buying it, but changed his mind on the journey home.
Amongst family papers in Portland was found the ’Letter of Withdrawal’, a letter drafted on the Queen Mary liner by Robinson as he was returning home stating that he had changed his mind about buying Ightham Mote. However, because the ship’s Post Office was closed, the letter was never sent, and Robinson reconsidered and sent an offer for the house. The letter is now in the Ightham Mote library.
Robinson, a bachelor, lived at Ightham until his death and using what funds he could spare managed to keep the building barely habitable, but at least it was safe from developers.
In the Mote’s crypt there is a memorial plaque, with the inscription ‘A Pilgrim Returned’. Robinson’s grandmother, Emily Cobb, was descended, via two different lines, from those who had sailed on the Mayflower.
A collection with interesting detail of how Ightham Mote looked before restoration can be found here. The restoration, which has for me been fascinating to monitor the progress; not that any of the work is immediately visible can be seen in a Time Team documentary [below] and the house has a small exhibition demonstrating the methods used in the restoration.
Dog kennel at Ightham Mote by Oast House Archive CC BY-SA 2.0
Main Picture: ©The South side of Ightham Mote from my own collection.