Castles and Gardens in Kent
The Magical world of the Garden of England – Chartwell, Hever and/or Leeds Castle, Penshurst Place, Knole and Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
Days out to the Garden of England, always leave one with a special feeling of satisfaction because not only is there a goodly density of stately homes, houses and castles as well as historic, charming pubs but the countryside is so spellbindingly attractive and has a somewhat private feel due to special hedges and woods set amongst the rolling hills of the South & North Downs. One cannot help asking each and every time, why don’t we come here more often and when we are returning ? This is the area that personifies the old traditional, charming and quintessentially English atmosphere. Rich in character, tranquil and one cannot emphasise it enough somehow, personal. Its hard to say exactly why ? Is it the narrow lanes, the frequency of ancient and lovely timber framed pubs that one finds as one wends ones way from one fascinating historical point of interest to another.
So where is the area of beauty, tranquillity and interest in the British Isles ? Its set in around the County of Kent between 30 and 50 miles South and South East of London. Its not far away then ? True, but unfortunately the London suburban sprawl occupies most of that first thirty miles. Never mind, the tedium of breaking out of London’s 609 square mile Metropolitan Area is well worth the effort. The built up area of London extends beyond the London boundary.
So what do we have here in this huge Garden area?
Churchill’s home, the place to find out about his amazing life. One of the most popular and captivating, delightful and appealing destinations is Chartwell, Churchill’s personal home that he acquired in his wilderness years in the 1920s. Wonderfully and imaginatively restored, expanded and developed by him it is now carefully preserved and sensitively presented to the Nation, indeed the appreciative world, by the National Trust. Did you know just how multi talented Churchill was ? Well you certainly will when you have been there with Private Tours UK. The atmosphere is so alive with the Great mans presence it would come as no surprise if he made an appearance. Here is where he entertained and where his artistic creativity was allowed free flow.
In 1947 , long before The National Trust saw fit to save this shrine the Nation, a group of friends bought Chartwell and leased it back to Churchill at a nominal rent. Why ? , because Churchill had one great failing. As a result of his extravagant life style he could not afford to run his own miniature stately palace ! Those of you that want to come to Kent to see wonderful Gardens will not be disappointed either. So come here to experience not just a property and Churchill’s many chattels but also to see unusual landscaped gardens, illustrating yet again Churchill’ s vivid imagination, there is even a lake and a Rose Garden as well as Churchill’s paintings.
Nearby to Chartwell is this truly lovely moated Manor House set in beautiful rose gardens and also having a maze Ancestral home of Anne Boleyn. A short and satisfying little drive, there is Hever Castle offering another visit that you won’t regret. Once again it is possible to counter both ancient and relatively recent historical interest as Lord Astor, Churchill’s friend, mentor and painting partner owned this house long after the Boleyns had gone. The Castle, really a fortified Manor House with its own miniature moat is cleverly presented in two parts with a Tudor section and the Astor rooms, which like Chartwell is preserved, just as this man and his family would have occupied this fine residence.
However history is not for everyone and there is also a large garden which has a wide range of features including an Italianate garden, rose gardens and a lake. Hever began as a country house built in the 13th century . The estate is now run as a conference centre, but the castle is open to the public and is particularly well known for its mazes. The only original part of Hever Castle is the gatehouse. In the castle there are exhibits from differing historical eras, including instruments of torture and a museum of the Kent Yeomanry. There is a yew maze, planted in 1904, as well as a more recent addition, a water maze, which opened in 1987. It was used for the filming of the The Other Boleyn Girl.
Its reputation as romantic Ladies Castle is well founded and much aided by the fact that it is still to this day fully moated. Thought of as one of England’s most Romantic scenes and a Castle usually associated with Queens and finally a very fine lady.
One has to visit to appreciate why this is so. It’s yet another beautiful site to visit ; a Castle with a substantial Moat set in wonderfully landscaped grounds.
Leeds is one of many castles once owned by and developed by our monarchs that were finally acquired by, developed by and then used by aristocrats. Leeds Castle was firstly owned by William the Bastard’s half Brother Bishop Odo who was not only a clergyman but also the Earl of Kent.
The origins of today’s Castle extend back to Henry I but the Castle also became a Royal Palace in 1278 in Edward 1st reign, very much with his dearly loved wife Eleanor of Castile in mind. It was at this time that there major improvements including the Barbican ( an outer smaller fortification guarding the entrance). Lady Baillie was last owner of Leeds Castle in Kent.
Richard 11 also loved this Castle and installed his wife Anne of Bohemia there. Henry VIII also adored this castle and installed one of his wives Catherine of Arogan, there in the good years. Luckily the Castle escaped destruction by Oliver Cromwell’s army in our Civil War as the owners at that time; the Culpeper family were Parliamentary supporters.
Finally The Hon. Olive Lady a daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron of Queensborough and his wife Pauline Payne Whitney, an American heiress, bought the Castle in 1926 who then set about restoring and beautifying to the way that you see it today.
The castle was opened to the public in 1976 and has now passed into Medical Foundation Trust. The Castle and grounds remain favourable for use with security in mind even today and is therefore used by the Government when this is an issue. In 1978 the Castle was the site for a meeting between the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Israeli Foreign minister Moshe Dyan. In 1999 Sir Elton John played two sold out conferences here.
Famous for its Hammer Beamed Baronial Hall. Ancestral home of the Sidney family stretching back to the Elizabethan era. Penshurst is another delightful possibility within the Garden of England area combining a stately Palace and home with quite exquisite gardens. Penshurst place is the ancestral home of the Sidney Family who descendants still own it today. Whilst being an impressive stately home starting life in 1341 it is best known for and famed for its Baronial Hammer beamed Hall.
The house was enlarged in 1552 when Henry VIII’s son , Edward VI granted the house to Sir William Sidney who had been a courtier to the Kings Fathers. Sir William’s son, Henry married Lady Mary Dudley whose family became implicated in the Lady Jane Grey affair which was an attempt to usurp Mary I, better known as Bloody Mary. Robert Sidney inherited Penshurst after his brother, Philip died prematurely from war wounds at the battle Zutphen in 1586. The Sidney family inherited the Earldom of Leicester and the Earl of Leicester is famed as being Queen Elizabeth’s favourite suitor.
Another gem in the Garden of England is the amazing Calendar House of Knole with its 365 rooms, 52 Stair cases, 14 entrances and 7 courtyards and its 1,000 acre deer park. The house starts life in 1456 and was used by various Archbishops of Canterbury until in 1538 it was taken from Thomas Cranmer by Henry VIII presumably as another expression of his displeasure in regard to the failure of his marriage with Anne Boleyn and the Archbishops help in arranging the divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
In 1566 the house was granted to Thomas Sackville whose descendants the Dukes of Dorset and Barons Sackville have lived here since 1603. Most notably these include the writer Vita Sackville West.
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
Lastly, but not least, on the possibilities and list of beauties in the part of England known as the Weald of Kent, is the creation of Vita Sackville West in the 1930’s. Now this really is a garden lovers paradise rather than an historical visit although there are interesting associations. At one stage this “hurst” or Anglo Saxon Wood was a 700 acre deer park owned by one of Henry VIII’s privy councillors who no doubt allowed his Lord and Master to indulge his passion, hunting deer.
Over the centuries the buildings had many uses including as a prisoner of war camp for French prisoners during the European Seven Years war in the 18th century. As far as we are concerned though the estate was a labour of love by Vita Sackville West whose gardens were a poignant and romantic substitute for Knole – which as the only child of Lionel the 3rd Lord Sackville, she would have inherited had she been male – but which had passed to her Uncle as the male heir.