As you walk down the path towards Ightham Mote, all will be revealed as you are about to see what David Starkey described as ‘one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses’. This romantic moated medieval manor house was donated to the National Trust in 1985, and is now one of the Trust’s most visited properties.
Ightham Mote is nothing short of an architectural and historical gem! Crossing one of the three moat bridges, you are walking into history. Originating from 1320, the building has been remarkably little changed over the years due to its limited ownership. Each owner has left his contemporary footprint on the Mote, but intriguingly over 700 hundred years have seamlessly blended into a fascinating whole. So today you can pause and marvel at the Mote’s Kentish ragstone and half-timbered exterior nestled around a cobbled internal courtyard. But what treasures lie inside?
The medieval core of the Great Hall with its dais, the chapel, service rooms and two solars or private living rooms with their massive open timbered roofs, were already evident in the mid 14th century. As the centuries rolled by the courtyard was enclosed; and a 15th century owner added the twin emblems of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon to display Royal allegiance. The Selby family’s 300 year ownership created a more comfortably habitable house with the finishing touches being the then fashionable hanging of 19th century Chinese wall paper in the drawing room. Sixty years of Colyer-Ferguson ownership created a library and billiard room, the ‘must have’ features of an early 20th century country residence. And finally in 2004 the NT started one of their most ambitious restoration projects, repairing years of damp and rot from the waters of the Mote which were endangering the building’s very structure.
The Mote’s ownership is equally fascinating. Walk forward Sir Thomas Cawne (1360 – 74), a Kent MP and county sheriff, and the first owner. Sir Thomas has a magnificent memorial in the village church of St Peter’s alongside Dame Dorothy Selby, whose family owned the Mote from 1591 – 1889. The St Peter’s connection continues with Sir Thomas Colyer-Ferguson, who installed a memorial window in memory of his 1st World War sons. Sir Thomas died in 1951, and the house and contents were all sold by his grandson. Rescue came in the form of Mr C H Robinson, the benevolent American, who had fallen in love with the house as a child. Mr Robinson rescued the house from decline donating it to the National Trust in 1985, and the rest, as they say, is history.
So walk and listen, and hear the whispers from century’s old walls. Murmurs of owners, of builders, of visitors, of family triumphs and tragedies, of the passing of time and the passage of history.