For rich, middle-class Victorians, the family home was a haven of security in a fast-changing world. So the houses they built tended to reflect not only their owners’ place in society, but also the subtle melange of hard work, thrift, Christian principle and hypocrisy needed to maintain it.
If ever a house encapsulated traditional Victorian virtues it is Spitzbrook House at Collier Street, Kent (Fig 1), currently for sale through the Sevenoaks office of Lane Fox (01732 459900), at a guide price of £1.55 million. It was reputedly designed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament.
Having bought the house as a virtual wreck at auction some 18 years ago, the present owner, Angela Webb, was intrigued to discover that it was built in 1850 by the able, but amorous, Victorian statesman Lord Palmerston,
as a wedding present for his illegitimate daughter. ‘Apparently, he didn’t have any legitimate children,’ Mrs Webb adds.
Such disclosures did not diminish the Webb family’s enjoyment of this ‘quirky but delightful’ house, now fully restored to its original splendour. The light and airy main rooms, which include four reception rooms, seven bedrooms and three bathrooms, have all been renovated to high-Victorian standards of comfort and elegance, as has the original 1850s conservatory.
Unusually for this part of the Home Counties, Spitzbrook House is surrounded by 19 acres of immaculate formal gardens, grounds and paddocks, in the middle of quiet countryside some 10 miles west of Tonbridge.