Earlier this week I gave a collective vote of thanks to the Americans who rescued so many great houses in the area, plus of course, Downton Abbey, and now it’s time to give recognition to the Brits who kept going through the good and not so good times.
Lullingstone Castle at Eynsford, Kent. The original house mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, is one of England’s oldest family estates having been in just five families in 900 years. The current owner Guy Hart Dyke is the 19th
generation to live at the Castle. The next generation is embodied in Tom Hart Dyke more famously known for his intrepid plant hunting activities and being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tom was kidnapped by Columbian rebels and held hostage for nine months before one day his captors told him to go and never to return. During captivity Tom had staved off boredom by designing in his mind a World Garden which he then planted in the grounds of Lullingstone on his return.
Knole House, Sevenoaks is set in a huge deer park with the house remaining much as it was back in the early 17th century. Knole is one of the largest country houses in England and is reputed to be a calendar house, having 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. Knole is the family seat of thirteen generations of Sackville-Wests. The current occupier is Robert Sackville-West , the 7th Baron Sackville. Robert’s ancestor, the author Vita Sackville-West lived at Knole, but as a mere woman, could not inherit it; she once described her family as “a race too prodigal, too amorous, too indolent and too melancholy; a rotten lot, and nearly all stark staring mad.”
Titsey Place, again with pre-Norman conquest origins, the house came to prominence with its owners during Tudor times when it is said that William Gresham could mount his horse in Limpsfield Surrey and ride 23 miles to his London house without stepping off his own land. The house and estate has been in the same family for over 450 years and at times it has been one of the largest estates in the south east of England.
Penshurst Place has been owned by the Sidney family since 1552; gifted by King Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI; to his loyal steward and tutor, Sir William Sidney. Sir William’s grandson was the Elizabethan poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney
. More recently, after Penshurst suffered damage during World War II, another William Sidney, 1st Viscount De L’Isle and the last English Governor-General of Australia, inherited and moved into Penshurst Place with his family in 1946 and brought the house and gardens back to their former glory.
If when perambulating the grounds of any of these houses you happen upon a gardener of indeterminate age, greenish jacket out at the elbows, accompanied by a smallish hairy terrier of questionable parentage, remember to tug your forelock at the end of the conversation, for you will have been talking with the unpaid staff aka The Owner of The House.
It’s not all Hugh Bonneville and luscious lemon Labradors in the real world, don’t y’know!
Blue Badge tourist guide