Allan Fea.

Picturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track online

. (page 3 of 11)
Online LibraryAllan FeaPicturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track → online text (page 3 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

there it stood intact, but with additions expanding
it into quite double its original size, as far as I
could make out from my side of the new boundary
wall. As is now the case with so many of our
smaller houses with any pretensions to ancient archi-
tecture, it had been converted into a mansion raised,
like many a beautiful village maiden, to a high social

Before going eastwards along the main road
from Lenham and Charing, we may give a passing
glance at Bromfield, rambling up the side of a
hill and having one of those primitive pathways
of slabs of stone such as are seen in the old
Somersetshire villages.

At Charing there is plenty to see in the shape

40 Picturesque Old Houses

of antiquities, from the ruins of the Episcopal Palace
to the enormous trumpet through which the parish
clerk used to announce the hymns. There is a
good Elizabethan roof in the church (which is
cruciform), some carved bench-ends, and interesting
monuments. The vicar happened to be in the
church when I was strolling round, and courteously
pointed out some of its distinguishing features, and
I can well understand the evident pride he takes
in it. The ivy-grown remains of the palace are
close to the church. Part of it is occupied as a
farmhouse and is strikingly picturesque. In the
irregular line of the old gables and chimneys of the
village street, many subjects may be found for a
" snapshot " the " Swan Inn," for example, or an old
timber butcher's shop, or another gabled house with
wide Tudor entrance gate and carved oak spandrils.
The remainder of the high road between Charing
and Ashford is not particularly attractive, but there are
one or two good old farmhouses Acton, of brick,
and Wickens, of half-timber, being especially worth
notice. In a park off to the right is Godington, a
fine old mansion with quaint oak carvings a stag
hunt represented round the frieze of a panelled room,
and some extraordinary monsters guarding the several

Sharing raises.



Picturesque Old Houses 41

landings of a wide oak staircase. Turning now to the
west and keeping to the lanes, we may visit Plucklcy
and the ancient seat of the Derings, a very important
Kentish family. The stately red-brick gabled house,
with its velvety lawns and terraces, conjures up

Channg ,

visionary forms ot gaily-clad cavaliers and damsels in
full-sleeved silken gowns, and gives one a general im-
pression of ancestral grandeur. Even the gorgeously
plumed peacocks strut about as if self-conscious of Jong
lineage. To be further impressed with the importance
of the owners of the house one has but to look

42 Picturesque Old Houses

at the ancestral pew in the church. Never have I
seen in a holy edifice such luxurious accommodation.

Pluckley stands high and commands a lovely view
over the surrounding country. I have recollections
left of a comfortable inn, with an attractive old-
fashioned garden ; moreover, of a very excellent tea.

Not far away is the church of Little Chart, where
one is struck by the peculiarity that, though the rest
of the interior is in a good state of repair, an old
chapel of the Darells in the side aisle is in a most
grievous state of damp and mildew, and this is the
more to be deplored because the monuments here are
particularly interesting.

To the north-west we pass through Egerton,
a sleepy place with a good church perched up on a
little knoll, but there are few old buildings, save
one with a pretty gable end and a rather good late
seventeenth-century house. Continuing in the same
direction through a stretch of genuinely beautiful rural
country, a couple of miles or so will bring us to
Boughton Malherbe, a secluded manor house, church,
and vicarage, and a few scattered cottages, which can
scarcely be classified as a village.

Coming by the road from Harrietsham with the
object of finding Boughton, a tourist would imagine


Picturesque Old Houses 43

that the signpost pointing to Boughton Church was a
kind of mild practical joke, for he most certainly
would miss his mark and find himself at a place
called Grafton Green (where the parish stocks may
be seen), a mile beyond. He would have passed a
turning, to be sure, but the signpost at that spot
is silent as far as Boughton is concerned. I suppose
it is left to one's imagination, intuitive perception,
or bump of locality, but I can only say, when once
found, like Captain Cuttle's maxim, it is best to
make a note of it.

The roof, the bench-ends, the fifteenth-century
pulpit in the church, are all good the brasses, too,
depicting ladies in their pointed head-dresses and
brave knights in their elaborate Gothic armour. A
mural tablet to Dr. Lionel Sharpe explains that he
was chaplain to the Earl of Essex and afterwards
to good Queen Bess, and after her to Prince Henry,
and, lastly, to King James. The font cover and
the poor-box are also worth notice. There is one
thing, however, about Boughton Church which I do
not admire viz., its highly coloured porch, decorated
by the late vicar with blue, white, red, and yellow
in u the Italian style." Whether this ecclesiastical
artist belonged to the " impressionist school," I

44 Picturesque Old Houses

cannot say. Those painters one used to hear of so
much, formerly, are surely now almost extinct or
are the disciples of Aubrey Beardsley impressionists ?
They are certainly not realists. To those who
would know the distinction between these schools, I
may quote a very good rule to bear in mind, which
I read somewhere. An artist who paints the sky
blue and the grass green is a " realist," whereas an
artist who paints the sky green and the grass blue is
an " impressionist " ; moreover, an artist who paints
the sky black and the grass red is a " decorative artist."
But I doubt whether the porch of Boughton Church
can be classified under any of these. It certainly is
neither a "harmony" nor a "symphony" in blue,
white, red, and yellow.

The Manor House, near the church, is a curious
old building, with great Elizabethan bay windows.
Formerly there was a grand old panelled drawing-
room, with a coved ornamental ceiling alas ! now
divided up into several apartments, though it may still
be seen in sections. Queen Elizabeth's bedroom, with
carvings and tapestry, is also here ; not one of those
mythical so-called halting-places of her Majesty one
so often comes across, for I believe the Queen really
did come here on one of her progresses. The park


Picturesque Old Houses 45

which once belonged to the house is now incorporated
in the vicarage demesne. Here are some gigantic
trees, ash, chestnut, and Turkish oak, trees of
great age and immense girth. The vicarage is a
quaint old house, cased in early weather-tiling, with
a circular and a square tower, and gables and corners

The vicar, who kindly showed me the various
points of interest in the house and park, evidently
has a thorough knowledge and keen appreciation of
all matters relating to the study of natural history
and botany, and for one with such tastes to live
in such a beautiful spot as this must give a par-
ticular charm to existence.


FROM Boughton Malherbe it is an easy walk to
Ulcomb, whose church, prominently situated
on very high ground, should be visited for its
splendid early brasses, a good screen, and some curious
fourteenth-century frescoes. Sir Ralph Sentleger and
his wife Anne are represented in two very fine
brasses, giving one a good idea of the costume and
armour of the middle of the fifteenth century. An
earlier brass, with elaborate canopy, is that of Sir
William Maydeston, and is one of the finest examples

Headcorn, a few miles away to the south, is
situated in the wide expanse of level country to the
south of the second range of hills that one crosses
coming from Sittingbourne way. It is a pretty little
place, surrounded by orchards and hop-gardens, and
is rich in examples of early domestic architecture.
To the north of the village, on the road to

Maidstone, is an old farmstead called " Moat-in-


Picturesque Old Houses


den" (corrupted to " Mutton-den "), once upon a
time a monastery. I stopped here when I was a
youngster, and have a vivid recollection of the
mystery which the weed-grown moat inspired, and

of the ghostly effect of owls screeching in the dead
of night.

Everything ends with " den " in this part of
Kent. There are Devil's-dens and Chickendens,
Hungerden, Bletchenden, Frittenden, and many other
" dens " which I shall visit ere I say good-bye to the

4 8

Picturesque Old Houses

Continuing on the road to Maidstone, about
three and a half miles from Headcorn is the most
beautiful village of Sutton Valence. Fortunately the
railway has not yet reached this most attractive
and healthy district, otherwise I doubt not Sutton

Valence would be one of those popular resorts which
grow with rapid strides. Ulcomb, which we have
just visited, now lies to the east of us, about two miles,
and between is East Sutton, which has a picturesque
grey old church of the fourteenth century, enclosed
by a ruinous ivy-grown stone wall forming a charm-

Picturesque Old Houses 49

ing foreground. There are some good tombs here
to the Filmer and Argall families. Upon one of
these are represented the brass effigies of the eighteen
children of Sir Edmund Filmer a noble array of sons
and daughters in the costume of Charles the First's
time. A family likeness, or rather want of expression,
is well sustained through the whole group.

East Sutton is one of those churches where you
have to go a considerable journey for the key if
you wish to get inside. It is not be procured at the
vicarage, or, as is sometimes the case, at the school-
rooms, but at a windmill situated about a mile away.
Any one, however, will be well repaid for the trouble
of going there, for it is a model mill placed in a
charming garden or, rather, grounds I should say,
of the miller's residence the prettiest of cottages.
Who would not be a miller under such circum-
stances ? The prevailing cheerfulness of the house and
garden found a harmonious accompaniment in its
occupant, for a more jolly, light-hearted young
miller it would be difficult to conceive. A mill,
whether water or wind be the locomotive power (I
won't include steam), has always had a great attraction
for me. There is such a clean smell about its bins
of grain and its atmosphere of flour.


5o Picturesque Old Houses

" Won't you come up and have a look round,"
said the custodian of the church key from a lofty
eminence in his wooden castle. I clambered up a
precipitous staircase and had the ingenious and
intricate machinery explained to me. The sieves for
the finest flour were bags of silk, through which one
would think it impossible for any substance to pass.
This may be nothing new to my readers, but as it
was a bit of a mystery to me, I record the fact.

Ascending to an external platform, we stood to
admire the lovely view, and at the same time to
speculate upon the prospect of wind, it having some
time before dropped to a dead calm. Returning
to the inside of the cone, my host picked up a
novel, and observed that occasionally he had time for
recreation, " Though," said he, " when a good north-
easter is blowing, we're pretty busy." Presently came
a complication of rumbling, straining, creaking noises,
and everything was in motion, but only for a
moment. The puff of wind died away, and I left
my companion wrapped in the plot of his story.

East Sutton Place is a well-restored Elizabethan
mansion in a large park ; its red pointed gables
peep over the wall of the churchyard and light up
the prevailing grey. Charlton Court, about a mile

Picturesque Old Houses 51

to the east, is another old house Jacobean with
very uncommon projecting angular windows, standing
in the trimmest of trim gardens. The good lady
of the house, who showed me an elaborately carved
oak staircase, was not a little indignant that some
archaeological society had recently visited the locality
without honouring her with a visit. The members
of the society were the losers, surely, to miss so inter-
esting an item from their programme. But I have
known places where those of antiquarian tastes would
have met with a different reception. A nervous but
enthusiastic friend of mine once knocked at a cottage
door in South Devon, and, hat in hand, meekly
observed to the strong-minded-looking lady who
answered the summons, " Madam, I understand you
have some ancient carving in your bedroom ? "
" No, I ain't," she indignantly responded, and banged
the door in his face in a manner as much as to
imply that even the thought of such a possession cast
reflections upon her moral character. My friend, never
so successful as myself in missions of this nature,
satirically suggests that I should issue a handbook
called u Trespassing made Easy."

Bordering the road near Charlton is the loftiest
thorn hedge I have ever seen. It is quite twenty feet

52 Picturesque Old Houses

high and looks so narrow and slender that one would
think that a good stiff breeze would blow it down.
But it must have mastered a good many storms in
its day.

We have been to Langley, to the north of
Sutton Valence, so we will now strike westwards,
cross-country, to another Boughton Boughton Mon-
chelsea. Though the name is a good mouthful, like
the other Boughton there is scarcely any village to
speak of save a great ancient barn with tall dormer
windows near the church. A fine old lych-gate
leads into the churchyard. The entrance even in
summer is almost perpetually in the shade, and in
the twilight there is something ghoulish about the
crumbling array of moss-grown tombstones. But
there is a wonderful contrast when we get to the
back of the churchyard. All is sunshine here, and
such a profusion of flowers one blaze of colour ;
and beyond, over the tree-tops of some park adjacent,
such a glorious view.

I am not at all given to ruminating in church-
yards. To me, the majority have a depressing
effect ; but this one was an exception, and I can
hardly imagine a more cheerful spot than the back
of this garden-like burial ground. On the low

Picturesque Old Houses 53

boundary wall (which twines here and there like the
body of a huge snake) I sat for half an hour enjoy-
ing the scene and the delicious scent of the old-
fashioned red roses with which the air was filled.

How strange it is that a scent like this, coming
upon one unawares, can bring back to one's memory
an impression of some incident with which it is
connected in some mysterious way ! a long-forgotten
recollection vivid as lightning, but gone as instan-
taneously gone before the brain has had time to
model the impression into shape ; some strange
association which, during its hundredth part of a
second's existence, was replete with the minutest
detail, yet which as instantaneously has vanished
beyond all recall. One tries as hopelessly to get some
clue to it as a freshly awakened sleeper endeavours
to recount the vivid incidents of a dream. In passing
along the country lanes in summer time, I have
often noticed that a sudden scent of honeysuckle, or
perhaps of a lime-tree, has had this strange effect ;
but I have also observed that the snapshot, revival,
or impression, whatever we may call it, invariably
comes unawares, and that, like an over-exposed
negative, the more we try to develop it by coaxing,
the denser it becomes.

54 Picturesque Old Houses

I do not propose to journey much farther in a
westerly direction, much as I should like to revisit
such places as Ightham and Knole ; but these are
far-famed, and the country round has been well
trodden by the tourist.

The villages of Aylesford, Allington, Mailing, and
Offham have also each their several attractions in
point of picturesqueness and antiquarian interest.

The quintain on Offham Green is unique, though
it is only a copy of the original which some years
ago was to be seen embedded much deeper into the
ground than in the present instance. Perhaps it is
needless to state that the game was introduced into
these islands by the Romans, and became a recog-
nised sport about the reign of Henry III. I need
scarcely add that the horseman's object, running full
tilt at it, was to break the broad cross-piece of the
swinging top without receiving a stunning blow on
the back by the sand-bag hung at its other end.
The most skilful at this obsolete pastime received a
peacock as his prize. Formerly there was another
quintain at Deddington, in Oxfordshire, but this has
been done away with many years.

To the south of Mailing and Offham are the
remains of St. Leonard's Castle, beyond which stretch



Picturesque Old Houses


the beautiful Mereworth woods, and, still farther
south, East and West Peckham. I recently visited
these two last villages, with the object of localising
a spot mentioned in the well-known Memoirs of the
Count de Gramont. The neighbourhood is there
described as the most
solitary and dreary, and
the lapse of nearly two
centuries and a half has
not made any per-
ceptible difference to it
in this respect ; indeed,
one can hardly wonder
that the beautiful Mrs.
Wetenhall found life
almost unbearable in
such a lonely place.

The churches of
East and West Peckham
look close enough to-
gether on the map, but to get from one to the other
is no easy matter, for the roads turn and twist here,
there, and everywhere but where one wants them to
turn ; and if one would travel cross-country, the way
is equally difficult. A sort of wild, primaeval bridle-

Quintain at Offham.

56 Picturesque Old Houses

path certainly leads from the main road in the direction
of West Peckham, but it appears to be the exclusive
property of gipsies, who resent intrusion.

The little church of the latter village contains a
good example of a memorial Jacobean pew, from
which the squire and his family could look down
upon the rest of the congregation with superior
complacency. The East Peckham folk have to climb
to a considerable elevation to reach their place of
worship, so there is some excuse if the attendance is
not very great.


TO return for a short space to the " dens " of
which I have spoken, we shall have to strike
in a south-easterly direction from the Peckhams,
through Yalding. I had heard much of the beauty
of this place, and expected great things, but must
confess I was sadly disappointed doubtless mainly
owing to the fact that, after a long drought, the
river, its most attractive feature, was nearly dry, and
the fine old bridge, for which Yalding is famous,
did not look at its best by any means. Another
thing which did not improve the peacefulness of the
scene was, the village was full of noisy hoppers, so
I got out of it as speedily as possible, after having
a look at the old Court Lodge a red Jacobean
house, with windows shaded by the gigantic limbs
of a cedar-tree. There were evidences of a recent
sale, and, an open gate inviting inspection, I took
the opportunity of doing a little harmless trespassing
in the old garden and orchard.


58 Picturesque Old Houses

Marden is about five miles from Yalding, and
Horsmonden, another four. There are many ancient
buildings in and about these villages, the adjacent
farmsteads of Patten*/<?, Spelmon^<?, and Twissen<
being particularly worth notice.

Goudhurst, to the south-east, is one of the
most attractively situated villages I have ever seen.
Like Sutton Valence, it should have a great future,
but I should be very sorry to hear of the speculative
builder finding his way there.

The impression left on my memory of Goudhurst
is a mountainous climb up to the church and adjacent
houses on a very brilliant Sunday morning in summer.
It was long before service, and the place appeared
to be entirely deserted. Fortunately the church was
open; I could inspect the monuments with comfort
alone, and not under the usual supervision of the
pew-opener or parish clerk. Upon an ancient altar-
tomb was spread a snow-white tablecloth, upon which
stood a goodly array of loaves ready for some impend-
ing dole. I could not help thinking what an
opportunity this would have been for some hungry
tramp not the ordinary thirsty tramp one so often
meets upon the roads, but a man, say, upon his "last
legs" for want of food. Supposing now, in such a



Picturesque Old Houses 59

case, if a starving man did thus help himself, I
wonder if the law would call it stealing. I draw
my own conclusions from a case I saw some time
ago in the papers of a hungry man rushing into
a baker's shop and seizing a halfpenny roll, for
which crime he received a sentence of (I forget the
actual number of days or weeks) hard labour. Now,
if the magistrate had refunded the baker with his
halfpenny and let the wretched thief go free, I
suppose that would not be justice.

Goudhurst is more like a Sussex village, most of
the houses being built, in part, of the characteristic
red and black tiling one sees so much in that county.

To get to Benen^w, Rolvendkw, or Newen^?w, the
tourist would go (from Goudhurst) through Cranbrook,
one of the cleanest and most prosperous-looking
little towns imaginable, with a long hill running
down into it and a long hill leading out of it, a
cathedral-like Perpendicular church (in which are
helmets and banners) and several pretty old houses,
many of them once upon a time factories of the
clothing trade, which flourished here for centuries.

Suppose now we draw a triangle on the map of
Kent from Staplehurst to Newen^?w (as the most
southerly point), and to Ashford as the farthest


Picturesque Old Houses

point eastwards. This area would include a rich
hunting-ground for the artist and the antiquary, and
the old farms about here are particularly picturesque.
Near Benen^?, for instance, is a curious fifteenth-
century thatched cottage, containing a screen and
open timber roof. It is called " The Old House at


Home." Pump Farm also is a good Elizabethan
timber house. More picturesque are Rolleston Farm,
near Rolven^w, and Finch<&#, near the old town of
Tenten/<?#. I am told that our greatest actor seeks
occasional rest in the quiet of this secluded place ;
still, there are few people hereabouts who do not
recognise him. Sir Henry, I believe, himself tells



Picturesque Old Houses 61

the story how he went into the wilds of Cornwall,
to a tiny place some twelve or fourteen miles from
the railroad, and after a weary journey, upon
arriving at the little bar-parlour of the inn, some
rude individual thrust his head over a partition,
and, looking hard at the tragedian, muttered,
"The Bells "I

Of all the village " dens," Bidden<&# and Smar^w
are the most attractive from an antiquarian point of
view. The former is a typical old-world village,
containing many curious examples of cottage archi-
tecture. In the church are some good brasses and
a fine Perpendicular screen. Some centuries ago there
lived here a certain Eliza and Mary Chalkhurst,
twins who had the misfortune to be joined together
by the hips and shoulders ; and, doubtless, had they
lived in these times, they would have found their
way to Barnum's show. The poor of Biddenden
have cause to remember these ladies, for they receive
from their charity every Easter a plentiful supply
of bread and cheese and some flat cakes made of
flour and water (certainly not rich pastry), stamped
with the grotesque figures of their unfortunate bene-
factresses. But everybody has heard of these famous
Biddenden maids and cakes.

62 Picturesque Old Houses

The " Old Red Lion Inn " has a bar-parlour with
oak rafters and some nice old gables at the back.
I remember spending a very wet Whitsuntide here
many years ago with a boon companion, and how,
mackintoshed and legginged, we set forth to find
" The Monkey House," Vane House, Ash House,
Park House, the Manor House of Smarden, and
many others. The various entrances to Smarden by
the church at the extreme end of the street, I
remember, gave us an impression of the stage of
a theatre. The inhabitants made their several "exits
and their entrances " in a way that the supers
appear and disappear in the scenes of a melodrama.
The rest of my recollections of Smarden are hazy,

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryAllan FeaPicturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track → online text (page 3 of 11)