Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Tale of Two Houses

For two historic houses located half an hour apart in Kent, they could not have been more different. 

On a beautiful spring day (May Day, in fact) we took a bus south from London to visit two famous country estates.  The first, Ightham Mote ("item moat"), is noteworthy because -- despite having a lengthy succession of unrelated owners -- it has remained nearly unchanged since it was originally built in the 14th century.
Ightham Mote and the moat
Although the house is surrounded by a moat, the name is derived from the nearby village of Ightham and the word "moot," meaning a meeting place.
Our guide, David, tells us about the history of the house
Inside, the house was an interesting mix of 14th-century architecture and furnishings from a span of 700 years.
The doorways were low to prevent hordes of
enemies from rushing in
Large window with crests associated with one of the former owners
Detail of ceiling beam
Small sitting room/office
Chapel, with royal crests on the ceiling

Obligatory "Chinese" room
Wallpaper detail
Although no one of particular note ever lived in this house, we were surprised to learn that the last owner was Charles Henry Robinson, an American businessman from Portland, Maine.  He had fallen in love with a small print of the house he bought while traveling around England in his youth. Several decades later in 1953, he learned the house was up for sale, and took a risk and bought it.
Commemorative plaque in the crypt
Although he could only spend about 3 months a year in England for tax reasons, Robinson devoted much of the rest of his life to restoring the house, which had fallen into serious disrepair over the years.   When he died in 1985, he left the house to the National Trust.
More modern furnishings from when Robinson lived in the house
Bird condo
The man cave, with massive billiards table
The walls are lined with a collection of drain plates
 Like every good English manor house, the grounds were quite impressive as well.
Beautiful grounds
Another view of the house
Spring has sprung.  Finally!

After lunch at the lovely on-site cafe -- it was warm enough to sit outdoors! -- we piled back into the bus and made our way to the second house: Chartwell.  In contrast to Ightham Mote, there's nothing architecturally significant about this Victorian pile of bricks.
But someone of note did live here once.  For 40 years, this was the home of former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.  When he died in 1965, his wife donated the house to the National Trust, so it is preserved as it was when the Churchills lived in it, apart from a few guest rooms that have been converted into a museum.  On display are some of the many honors and awards bestowed on Sir Winston, including a certificate signed by President John F. Kennedy granting him honorary U.S. citizenship.   Churchill was the first person to ever receive this extremely rare honor.

We were not allowed to take photos inside the house or the painting studio, where many of his landscape paintings are on display.   It is a fairly modest home for someone of Churchill's stature, but he chose it less for the house itself than for the beautiful view of the Kent countryside.
Nice view!
The grounds are also quite lovely.  He did much of the landscaping himself, and liked to sit out in the garden near the fish pond.
Churchill's chair 
Churchill is said to have built this large brick wall with his own hands
At least that's what the plaque inlaid in the wall says...
The croquet lawn, of course
Children's playhouse, complete with fireplace and chandelier
Churchill used to swim in the pool in the background, which was heated
Sculpture of Churchill and his wife, Clementine, by Oscar Nemon

What a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day!