One of my favourite activities is to visit palaces, castles, mansions and historical houses here in England. In each visit, I learn a little more about this country that I now call home. And I always get a new amazing surprise in each place – full of historical differences and peculiarities.
Whenever we have some time, Leo and I embark in short “trips” to uncover new places – sometimes by train, others by car, and bus. It doesn’t matter how we get there – all the trips are always interesting.
On an autumn Sunday, just as the new season began, we set out to visit Scotney Castle, a “house” in Kent and now owned by the National Trust (an independent organisation responsible for administrating and preserving the historical patrimony in some locations across the United Kingdom).
The land in which the “New” house is located, there is a lot for visitors to do. Gardens surround the property, and a moat envolves the Old Castle (of which today there are mostly ruins) – which gave the name to the property and the house that was built by Anthony Salvin, in a Tudor revival during the nineteenth century, and served as home to the Hussey family until the last living member, Elizabeth Hussey, passed away.
In 2007, Scotney Castle opened its doors to the public.
Let’s learn a little more about the history of the Scotney Castle.
The first records of Scotney Castle date back to 1137, when it was recorded as being owned by Lambert de Scoteni.
However it was Roger de Ashburnham who built the Old Castle as a fortified manor Between 1378 and 1380. And this happened after a brief period when it was owned by the Crown.
After his and his son’s death, in 1392 and 1418 respectively, Robert Chichele bought the manor – probably for his brother Henry, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Their family descendants would come to own the manor until the 1750s, when the estate was sold to settle debts. A Mr Roberts bought the property only to sell it to Edward Hussey In 1778, who, in the following years, bought the entire estate.
All this journey in history to get to his grandson – Edward Hussey III – who inherited the estate in 1835 and built the now called “New” Castle. When he passed away, he left the property to his son, who made little modifications before leaving it to his nephew, Christopher, in 1952.
The New Castle, built by architect Anthony Salvin and with advice by landscape designer, William Sawrey Gilpin, using sandstone quarried from the grounds of the Old Castle. In fact, it was Salvin the architect responsible for the wood panelling inside the house, and most of the significant furniture of the house.
When we visited the house, we noticed the amazing flow it has, and Salvin was also to thank for that. Not to mention that the Hussey family were avid collectors and hoarders, so we saw a variety of influences along the castle.
As you can see, this property is filled with an incredible history, and a treasure trove of curiosities.
During renovation stages, volunteers found a black metal trunk that contained diaries and collection items from a Commanding Officer from World War I – Commander Arthur Hussey. All this material was later displayed on an exhibit called Arthur’s War.
Another curiosity is that the Hussey family was very good at scrap booking, and left a lot of material that allows us, history lovers, to get a glimpse into their everyday lives.
And – to keep up with one of the greatest traditions in mystery – there is even a secret door made to look like a book case inside the library.
But these curiosities are just a small part of what the house truly stores.
Right at the entrance, you can see the family motto – “Vix ea nostra voco” – which is Latin for “We scarcely call these things our own”, in other words, showing a level of detachment from the family when it came to material possessions.
Inside the house, although the foyer and entrance room are gorgeous, the fully wooden staircase catches your eye. Not because of its magnitude, but its sheer beauty. The library and the study are so enchanting, and highlights the family’s commitment to beauty, as when Christopher Hurrey, the last owner of the house, looked from his library window and saw his fathers view of the Old Castle and wrote ‘The very scene before me, so far from being a happy coincidence, must have been planned on picturesque principles’.
To me, it feels as if this family’s material possessions only existed to be appreciated for its beauty, and scarcely for the purpose of ownership. And this vision was passed through generations, and has allowed us to be able to visit and witness this beauty ourselves.
Most of the rooms of the house, including the bedroom were preserved as close as possible as to how the last living members of the household just briefly left for the day. Everyday items are still around – as well as a very special part of the house – Betty Hussey’s cat, Puss, as she requested if the National Trust would take care of her cat before she passed away in 2006. All through the house there are paintings and cat trinkets. Not to mention the beautiful fountain outside with a small statue of a cat playing, which was commissioned by Betty.
When it comes to the Old Castle, a beautiful ruin from the Middle Ages, still surrounded by a moat – and had people leaving in it until 1905. One of its biggest curiosities was how Edward Hussey carefully dismantled parts of it to create the picturesque view we have today.
But, as much as the house is incredibly charming, one of the key features of the property is the garden. When walking through the garden, and catch a glimpse of the beautiful plants, flowers as it reflects on the Old Castle moat, it highlights the beauty and romance of the property in its entirety.
When you approach the Old Castle, as you cross one of the bridges over the moat, there is a view of the Old Castle that is a picture favourite. A full view of it’s single tower, as the plants surrounds and grows around it, make for a picture-perfect-instragramable moment. And we were fortunate to visit in autumn and catch the wonderful and colourful leaves.
It was truly a special visit. It was amazing to see the Old Castle and the New Castle living side-by-side. It was important to see how we can make history picturesque and still modernise our live without losing beauty.
Scotney Castle is located in Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, just 1h30 away from central London – an amazing option for a day trip, a quick escape from the city.
To get there you can get a train from London Bridge Station towards or goes through Tunbridge Wells Station and from there grab a cab to Scotney Castle (it takes about 15 to 20mins). Or you can go directly by car and park in the property.
Tunbridge Wells also is a beautiful little town that offers a varied option of stores, cafes and restaurants. It is worth the visit! But this is subject for another post.
(The pictures in this post were taken by me and Leo Melo).