Hunton Court is an ancient house hiding behind a breathtaking Georgian facade, and all set in a truly beautiful corner of Kent.
Take a quick look at Hunton Court — near Maidstone, in Kent — and you’d immediately mark it down as an 18th century country house. Yet its true origins lie many centuries earlier: it’s a building that hides its timbered origins behind a Georgian look.
The Grade II-listed, 14,075sq ft house was initially launched on the market three years ago, and relaunched last week by Strutt & Parker at a guide price of £10m — some £2.5m less than the price in 2019. It’s hard to call a house with an eight-figure price tag a ‘bargain’, of course; but that is a hefty discount indeed, especially for such a beautiful place that’s so close to London.
The house, once known as Court Lodge, had a turbulent history: first built in the 13th century and part of an estate that had belonged to the Canterbury’s Christ Church Priory, it was handed to Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry VIII’s High Sheriff for Kent, after the Dissolution of Monasteries.
We’d guess it probably didn’t have this lovely pool back then.
Wyatt was a man of many talents: a diplomat, adventurer and a poet, the man credited with writing the first sonnet in English. He was also a canny political operator: he managed to navigate the choppy waters of the Tudor Court and keep his head intact, despite having been accused first of adultery with Anne Boleyn — which earned him a spell in the Tower of London — then of treason.
His son, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as gifted with political nous: he had the not-so-bright idea of rebelling against Mary Tudor and lost both the estate and his life.
Hunton Court’s traces of medieval timbers are rather subtle, where they make an appearance in the attic and in some of the eight bedrooms.
But most of the rooms have a Georgian flavour, the result of a remodelling by 19th-century owner Henry Bannerman. He added the grand Georgian-style façade and the hand-painted panels — a triumph of cherubs, birds and flowers — in the drawing room (one of five stately reception rooms).
They became the backdrop to British political history in the early 20th century, when the house passed to Bannerman’s nephew, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who served as Prime Minister between 1905 and 1908 and championed the introduction of free school meals. Matching the beauty of the interior are the 132-acre grounds, with their 18th-century parkland, lakes and magnificent stone bridges.
Having dominated British architecture until the 17th century, timber-frame buildings now look set to make a comeback, after the National Audit Office suggested that using UK-grown timber in construction can help reduce the industry’s impact. ‘New-build timber-frame homes have great environmental credentials,’ explains Jamie Freeman of Haringtons buying agents.
‘The carbon footprint is minimal, as 90% of wood consumed is sourced from British and European forests. As they are visually more traditional in form, they are a little easier to get planning permission for, too.’
Hunton, Kent: What you need to know
Location: A 15-minute drive south-west of Maidstone in the heart of Kent, with correspondingly easy access to the motorway and rail networks.
Atmosphere: A thriving village with school, church hall and social club in an almost impossibly green, leafy setting.
Things to do: Well-known sites such as Scotney Castle and Sissinghurst are fairly close, and there are country walks aplenty. But what we were most excited about was a spot in the nearby village of Yalding: Teapot Island. This might be the most English thing we’ve ever heard of: it’s a teapot museum with over 8,400 teapots on display, plus a tearoom (of course) and a pottery room where you can make your own. Wonderful!
Schools: There’s a primary school right in the village (Ofsted give it a ‘good’ rating)
Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.
From a Regency vicarage to an oast house conversion, there are plenty of great properties for sale in the Garden