Kent coun­try houses get a new lease of life

Adding mod­ern ameni­ties needn’t spoil a house’s pe­riod char­ac­ter

Country Life Every Week - - Property Market -

Not so long ago, buy­ers of English coun­try houses loved the idea of tak­ing on a spe­cial house ‘in need of to­tal ren­o­va­tion’, but that heroic no­tion largely went out the win­dow when the crash came. Down in the gar­den of Eng­land, how­ever, a few in­trepid souls saw things in a rosier light, em­bark­ing on restora­tions that have in­jected new life into some of Kent’s most ap­peal­ing coun­try houses.

one of many an­cient farm­houses that have ‘grown like Topsy’ over the years, the core of his­toric, Grade Ii*-listed Sus­sex House Farm, a mile south of the pretty Wealden vil­lage of Cow­den on the county bor­der with Sur­rey and Sus­sex, eight miles east of Tun­bridge Wells, is a small, 2½storey, tim­ber-framed house dat­ing from 1580. For sale through Knight Frank (01892 515035) and RHW Clut­ton (01342 410122) at a guide price of £5.5 mil­lion, the house (pre­vi­ously listed as Sus­sex Place Farm­house) stands in 203 acres of pic­turesque grass­land and wood­land, which has been care­fully farmed and man­aged with con­ser­va­tion in mind.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, the farm­house was owned by the ac­tor Sir John Mills and his wife, the play­wright Mary Hay­ley Bell, and was the trea­sured child­hood home of their chil­dren, Jonathan, Juliet and Hay­ley, be­fore the fam­ily moved to Den­ham, Buck­ing­hamshire, in 1975. The farm was then bought by the chil­dren’s writer Roger Har­g­reaves, who churned out many of his 46 ‘Mr Men’ and 33 ‘Lit­tle Miss’ books there, be­tween 1975 and 1982.

Ap­proached down a long, tree-lined drive­way lead­ing to a pretty stone rear court­yard,

Sus­sex House Farm has been the sub­ject of an in­spi­ra­tional re­fur­bish­ment and ex­ten­sion by the cur­rent own­ers dur­ing their 15-year ten­ure. In­ter­est­ingly, plan­ners in these parts tend to favour a clear def­i­ni­tion be­tween old and new when deal­ing with con­sent for the ren­o­va­tion of listed houses. This al­lowed the own­ers to in­stall a strik­ing con­tem­po­rary kitchen in an oak-framed glazed ex­ten­sion over­look­ing the ter­race, the swim­ming pool and the land be­yond, while re­tain­ing the au­then­tic Tu­dor ar­chi­tec­ture of the in­te­rior.

In all, the main house pro­vides 6,665sq ft of liv­ing space on three floors, in­clud­ing a large, pan­elled en­trance hall, four prin­ci­pal re­cep­tion rooms, a fam­ily room and four first-floor bed­rooms and bath­rooms, with the master bed­room suite on the sec­ond floor.

Sec­ondary build­ings in­clude a con­verted barn, three cot­tages, nu­mer­ous farm build­ings and su­perb eques­trian fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing 10 sta­bles, an out­door sand school and a large in­door manège. Beau­ti­fully land­scaped gar­dens, laid mainly to lawn, are bor­dered by herba­ceous beds and privet hedg­ing, with stone steps lead­ing to a heated swim­ming pool. To the east of the house is a flood­lit tennis court.

At the op­po­site side of the county, Grade Ii-listed Bilt­ing Court at Bilt­ing, in the dreamy Stour val­ley, six miles north-east of Ash­ford, was de­scribed by sell­ing agents Strutt & Parker as ‘im­bued with char­ac­ter and charm, but now in need of up­dat­ing’ when it came to the mar­ket in 2009, fol­low­ing the death, at the age of 89, of its pre- vi­ous owner, the pro­lific So­ci­ety painter John Ward. Fa­mous for his por­traits of the great, the good and the roy­als (he gave sketch­ing lessons to The Prince of Wales), which earnt him a CBE in 1984, he and his wife moved from London to Bil­ton Court in 1954.

Ward’s wife pre­de­ceased him by sev­eral years and so the house, cov­ered in hand­painted pas­toral mu­rals across its walls and ceil­ings, was in need of a se­ri­ous over­haul when its present own­ers bought it. Orig­i­nally a 15th-cen­tury hall house, Bilt­ing Court has seen many al­ter­ations over the years, in­clud­ing a ma­jor re­mod­elling in the fash­ion­able Lu­tyens-es­que style in the early 20th cen­tury and, most re­cently, the ad­di­tion of a gar­den room and a newly con­structed range of out­build­ings. Now, beau­ti­fully ren­o­vated, it’s back on the mar­ket, still im­bued with char­ac­ter and charm, at a guide price of £2m, again through Strutt & Parker (01227 451123).

Cen­tred around its mag­nif­i­cent me­dieval hall, the house has 4,952sq ft of com­fort­able liv­ing space, in­clud­ing splen­did en­trance and re­cep­tion halls, two main re­cep­tion rooms and a fab­u­lous kitchen/din­ing room over­look­ing the gar­dens, the ad­join­ing farm­land and the Wye Downs—views shared by the newly built oak-framed gar­den room next door.

A fine oak stair­case leads to four first­floor bed­rooms, the most im­pres­sive of which is the master, with its orig­i­nal tim­ber

fram­ing and crown post and stylish con­tem­po­rary bath­room—a nice touch of lux­ury that blends hap­pily with the rus­tic charm of the an­cient tim­bers.

The same love and at­ten­tion to de­tail have been lav­ished on the gar­den, which has been land­scaped to fit the sur­round­ings of the house, with a me­an­der­ing brick path run­ning past lav­ishly stocked herba­ceous bor­ders to a cir­cu­lar bed with a rest­ful seat­ing area. From here, lush lawns lead to a lightly wooded area at the end of the gar­den. In all, Bil­ton Court has al­most 6½ acres of gar­dens and grounds, in­clud­ing a kitchen gar­den, a pond and a pad­dock.

Trail­ing clouds of im­pe­rial glory, the 80acre Lang­ton House es­tate at Lang­ton Green, two miles west of Tun­bridge Wells, was the child­hood stamp­ing ground of Robert Baden­pow­ell, the founder and first Chief Scout of The Boy Scouts As­so­ci­a­tion, whose fam­ily re­put­edly built the house in the early 1800s.

Re­cently launched on the mar­ket at a guide price of £6m through the Sevenoaks of­fice of Strutt & Parker (01732 459900), the es­tate boasts some en­vi­able trap­pings of a grander age, in­clud­ing a large cricket ground main­tained by a pro­fes­sional grounds­man and own­er­ship of much of the vil­lage green, not to men­tion an un­der­ground nu­clear-bomb shel­ter built in the gar­den by the Su­fist thinker Idries Shah, who owned it from 1964 to 1989. Since then, it’s been the cher­ished fam­ily home of its cur­rent own­ers, who are look­ing to down­size.

Widely re­garded as the finest house in the im­me­di­ate con­ser­va­tion area, Grade Iilisted Lang­ton House is built in clas­sic Re­gency style of brick, washed white with blue shut­ters un­der a slate roof with a colo­nial­style ve­ran­dah. Ideally po­si­tioned on the edge of the vil­lage, it stands in lovely ma­ture gar­dens and farm­land that guard its pri­vacy in an AONB that is the gate­way to the Kent and Sus­sex coun­try­side be­yond.

It re­tains many orig­i­nal pe­riod fea­tures through­out its more than 8,000sq ft of liv­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion on three floors, which in­cludes three main re­cep­tion rooms, a kitchen/ break­fast room, a fam­ily room, of­fices, nine bed­rooms and a self-con­tained one-bed­room an­nexe. A de­tached coach house, cur­rently used as garag­ing, could pro­vide ad­di­tional liv­ing space, sub­ject to the usual con­sents. Other ameni­ties in­clude sta­bling, a tennis court and a blue­bell wood plus some 58 acres of arable pas­ture cur­rently pro­duc­ing an in­come of about £5,000 a year.

A strik­ing con­tem­po­rary glazed ex­ten­sion has added to the con­sid­er­able charm of his­toric Sus­sex House Farm at Cow­den. £5.5m

The stylish ren­o­va­tion of Bilt­ing Court at Bilt­ing has com­bined Tu­dor charm with all the com­forts of 21st-cen­tury liv­ing. £2m

Heart of the com­mu­nity: the 80-acre Lang­ton House es­tate at Lang­ton Green in­cludes much of the local vil­lage green. £6m

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