Scotney Castle, Kent

The building of Scotney Castle is believed to have commenced c1378, and is attributed to Roger Ashburnham. Although its appearance is that of a regular fortress, roughly rectangular in shape (actually rhombus, its northern perimeter being slightly longer than the others) with circular towers at each corner, it was predominantly designed as a well fortified house. Its apparent strength was a sign of the tensions existing at that time between France and England - the French having sacked various Kent and Sussex coastal towns in 1377.

No licence to crenellate has been found for Scotney Castle, although it is possible that this formality may have been dispensed with in an emergency situation. The only substantial remains of the original Scotney Castle is the circular tower in the southern corner, and the four piers of the Gatehouse entrance.

It is debatable as to whether Scotney Castle was actually ever completed. Evidence found in the Will of a member of the Darell family, who died in 1558, gives precise information of the accommodation arrangements, and suggests that at that time only the south tower survived. There is no documented evidence to suggest that Scotney Castle had ever sustained any serious damage or demolition, but an arched entrance to the western tower still exists, which implies that this must have been completed to some degree.

The south wing adjoining the tower was rebuilt in 1580 in the Elizabethan style, part stone, part brick with projecting timber-framed, upper-storey leaded lights. This building also contains a fine wooden staircase and several well concealed priest holes, which were incorporated by the then owner, Thomas Darell, who was a Catholic. From 1591-1598 Scotney Castle was the secret centre of activities of a famous Jesuit, Father Richard Blount. His location was eventually betrayed to the authorities who raided Scotney Castle on two occasions in an attempt to capture him. The first attempt took a week and was only concluded when Blount's companion gave himself up. On the second occasion it took a further ten days, but again they failed to locate Blount, although it may have been successful had foul weather not interrupted the search. This gave Blount an opportunity to escape over a rear wall and into the moat.

In 1630 the east range was rebuilt in the style of Inigo Jones, and was a substantial three-storied structure dwarfing the remaining Elizabethan and medieval survivals. The ruins of this can still be seen in part today. In 1837, under the ownership of the Hussey family, the first stones of a new manor house were laid. This was completed in 1843, leaving the old estate to be incorporated as a romantic feature of the gardens. Although the Elizabethan wing and tower remained as a dwelling for the Bailiff until 1905, the eastern range was carefully dismantled leaving only the most interesting features.

Scotney Castle has always been a firm favourite of ours. Apart from the obvious architectural and historical interest, it represents a most romantic and picturesque image of a bygone era. Words really do not do justice to Scotney Castle, it is a site that you have to see, breathe and feel for yourself.


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