Charlton Place is a fine example of how to age gracefully — with decadent yet refined interiors and wonderful, private surroundings. Penny Churchill takes a look.
In east Kent, the Canterbury office of Strutt & Parker is handling the sale of Grade II*-listed Charlton Place, set in 129 acres of gardens, pasture, parkland and woodland near Bishopsbourne, in the picturesque Elham Valley and within the Kent Downs AONB, six miles south of the cathedral city.
Selling agent Ed Church quotes a guide price of £3.5m for the historic country house, the first mention of which is in 1240, although the Tudor core of the present house was built in about 1570 by James Herringe, a wealthy local yeoman.
In 1636, the estate was bought by the Aucher family, who had acquired the rest of the manor of Bishopsbourne at the Reformation. The Aucher family and their descendants owned the manor of Bishopsbourne, acquiring (or re-acquiring) the Charlton estate from the Gibbon family, collateral ancestors of Edward Gibbon, the historian, in 1636.
During the Civil War in the 1640s, the then owner Sir Anthony Aucher spent time in the Tower of London for having been on the wrong (Royalist) side, which probably explains why, when building the Dower House at Charlton Place in about 1680, he constructed a secret tunnel — yes, a secret tunnel! — connecting it to the main house.
By 1800, Charlton Place was owned by the Foote family, who added the Regency façade and the west wing containing the magnificent first-floor ballroom, where Robert Foote entertained the Prince Regent (later George IV) and his last and favourite mistress, Elizabeth, Countess Conyngham.
During his ownership, Robert Foote also hosted several female cousins who were good friends of Jane Austen, who was also close to Robert’s uncle, Admiral Sir Edward Foote, captain of the Royal Yacht, who used the house as his country home. The east wing was added in the 1840s by Gen Sir Michael Mulcaster. He also moved the road to the other side of the Nailbourne, building two bridges to do so, and had the lake dug.
During the Second World War, Charlton Place was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence, before being sold to Dr Barnardo’s as a children’s home in 1946.
In 1972, the estate, by then much reduced in size, was bought by George de Chabris, a Canadian fraudster, who lived at the National Liberal Club as well as in Bishopsbourne. He sold off most of the Liberal Club for personal gain, but was never prosecuted. He eventually fled to Miami, where he died in 2001.
Charlton Place was acquired by the current owner, Mrs Wales and her late husband in 1988. Now remarried, she and her husband, Jack, who has compiled an impressively detailed history of the house and its many owners, have lovingly maintained the 13,343sq ft house with its 12 bedrooms and six reception rooms, including the elegant ballroom, which doubles as a function room for weddings and other events.
Amenities include a swimming pool, squash court, hard tennis court, croquet lawn and cricket pitch, home to The Exiles Cricket Club.
Bishopsbourne: What you need to know
Location: The rural Kent village is located just over five miles from Canterbury. There are two rail stations in Canterbury — Canterbury East and Canterbury West, both of which run on Southeastern mainline services to London St Pancras International.
Atmosphere: The small and friendly village is home to several pubs and restaurants, including The Mermaid Inn, Tadpole Tearoom and renowned hotel chain The Pig. Nearby Canterbury is a charming city which dates back to the Middle Ages and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site Cathedral which attracts visitors from all over thanks to its rich and fascinating history.
Things to do: The property itself is situated in the Elham Valley, perfect for walking, cycling and riding. Visit the Canterbury Cathedral, ideally located in the centre of the town, or take in the sights from the River Stour via a river tour. St Augustine’s Abbey is another ancient monument to visit which has a museum within its grounds. Once you’ve explored, visit one of the numerous excellent restaurants.
Schools: Adisham Church of England Primary School is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, as is St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School. Secondary options include King’s Canterbury, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys/Girls and Barton Court Grammar School.
Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.