Britain's oldest inhabited houses — such as this medieval palace near Sevenoaks — are lasting monuments, says Penny Churchill, both to the craftsmen who built them and to the owners who kept them going.
For sale through Savills at a guide price of £4.25 million, The Old Palace at Wrotham, near Sevenoaks, Kent, was one of several ancient manors owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury that lined the ‘Archbishops’ Trail’ from Canterbury to Lambeth.
Although the exact date of its construction is unknown, reliable sources, which include the Domesday Book, indicate that the palace was granted to Christ Church, Canterbury, by the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelstan in the year 964.
According to Hasted’s History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent (1798), ‘the archbishops had very antiently a palace here, in which they frequently resided till the time of Archbishop Simon Islip, who came to the see in 1349 and, having a desire to finish the palace at Maidstone which John Offord his predecessor had begun… pulled down the greatest part of this house and transported the materials thither’.
The ruins and surviving buildings remained in the hands of the archbishops until 1538, when Thomas Cranmer returned them to the Crown. During the brief reign of Henry’s son and successor, Edward VI, the site of the former palace and the park of Wrotham were granted to Sir John Mason, who sold the estate to Robert Byng in 1556.
The Byng family restored the remaining buildings, which included a large, substantial stone building—thought to be the former kitchen wing of the old palace—as a manor house with gardens.
According to Hasted, following the execution of Charles I in 1639, John Byng sold the manor of Wrotham to William James, the owner of the adjoining Ightham Court estate, who was ‘a man much trusted in the usurpation under Oliver Cromwell, as one of the committee members for the sequestration of loyalist estates during which time he was in five years thrice chosen knight of the shire for Kent’.
The James family owned the manor at Wrotham until the early 20th century.
The Old Palace, listed Grade II*, is located in Bull Lane in the heart of Wrotham village, where the Bull Hotel was originally part of the manor’s stable complex.
Set in more than two acres of established gardens and grounds that include a splendid magnolia and some majestic trees, the beautifully proportioned manor house comes with a two-bedroom annexe, six-bay garaging, and a four-acre paddock and field with separate road access.
The main house offers 5,985sq ft of versatile family accommodation on three floors, with a spa on the lower-ground floor comprising a steam room, shower and a large heated swimming pool.
Comprehensively refurbished in recent years, it combines an interesting mix of period and contemporary elements, including high ceilings, exposed timbers and stone mullion windows, aligned with ground-source heating, a home automation system, programmable lighting, a bright and cheerful Smallbone fitted kitchen and bathroom suites by Villeroy & Boch.
The drawing room, sitting room and family room all have feature fireplaces with wood- or coal-burning stoves; the dual-aspect games room has a fitted media cupboard on one wall. The first floor houses a stylish principal bedroom suite overlooking the gardens plus three further bedrooms, two with bathrooms en suite.
The second floor is accessed by two separate staircases, one leading to two further bedrooms and an adjoining bathroom, and the other to a large seventh bedroom, a storage room and further room currently used as a cinema.
Wrotham: What you need to know
Location: Roughly five miles east of Sevenoaks, just off the M20, on part of the Pilgrims’ Way — an ancient trackway believed to have been travelled by Pilgrims from Hampshire to Kent. The village is less than a mile from Borough Green railway station that runs a direct service to London Victoria and trains also run from Sevenoaks to London Canon Street/Charing Cross.
Atmosphere: The popular commuter village is home to several pubs, a church, village shop, primary school and hairdressers. More comprehensive amenities and shopping can be found in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.
Things to do: Sporting wise, there are two golf clubs within the area — The Wrotham Heath Golf Club and West Malling Golf Club, plus cricket and rugby facilities in Sevenoaks. The Hemsley Conservation Centre is also nearby and is home to a large number of animals and is a great place for children. For those looking to soak up a bit of history and culture, there are several houses and gardens open to the public that are under the care of the National Trust, plus many walking routes to explore.
Schools: Wrotham Primary School and Borough Green Primary School are two local options and amongst the healthy list of private schools in the area are Somerhill Prep School, Solefields Prep School and and New Beacon Prep School. Secondary options include Sevenoaks School, Tonbridge School and Sutto Valence School.
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