Although it's now common to see houses moving down a motorway, that wasn't always the case, and Court Lodge's journey across counties was far from ordinary. Penny Churchill reports.
The notion of moving house sits easily with 21st-century concepts of social mobility; less common is the notion of moving an entire house from one site to another miles away. An article in Country Life (October 30, 1986) describes the removal of the dilapidated surviving portion of a historic 15th-century manor house from East Sussex to Kent and its reconstruction as a home for the artist Lawson Wood by his friend, the architect John D. Clarke.
That house is Court Lodge at Groombridge, four miles south of Tunbridge Wells – once part of a medieval manor house at Udimore, near Rye, that was owned by the Etchingham family after the Norman Conquest.
Court Lodge is now on the market through Savills and Knight Frank at a guide price of £3.95m, but long before then, the manor was a popular stopping-off point for kings Edward I and III during visits to their Cinque Ports navy. Chronicles reveal that, following the victory of the English fleet over the Spaniards off Winchelsea in 1360, ‘the King, Prince of Wales and Barons took horses and rode to the Manor where the Queen was, scarcely two leagues distant, and passed the night in revelry with the ladies’.
All that remained of Court Lodge in 1912 was one side of the original building, used for years to house farmworkers. Wood and Clarke would have preferred to restore the building where it stood, but the farmer was only interested in the land and wished to be rid of the crumbling building.
Wood bought Court Lodge in February 1912, having found an almost perfect setting for the old house on the western edge of Groombridge, comprising five acres of land on a gentle southerly slope with magnificent views over the Sussex countryside. The timber-framed building was carefully dismantled and re-erected on its new site and, by September 1913, the artist and his family were able to move in.
Wood served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and, in 1916, sold Court Lodge to Mrs Dix Lewis, who added the north-east wing of the house in 1919 and laid out the Arts-and-Crafts gardens. Miss Dorothy Kerin, who, in 1948, moved her ‘home of healing’ from Ealing to nearby Burrswood, then bought Court Lodge and lived there from 1955 to 1959. Her legacy is the small chapel in its grounds.
Court Lodge offers a pleasing combination of historic and modern elements, including four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a study, a spacious master suite, five further bedrooms and four further bathrooms.
Impeccably maintained, it stands in almost 17 acres of enchanting gardens and grounds that include a parterre garden, a Japanese knot garden, a pond, a swimming pool and a tennis court, together with a wild meadow garden and a paddock.
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