Ightham Mote, Kent

There is something unique, and quite romantic, about approaching a manor house via a bridge across a moat, and this is essentially how Ightham Mote is seen: a lovely medieval and Tudor manor house with many different facades, and its' beautiful, serene quality enhanced still further by the watery surroundings.

Initially constructed in the 1340s with a Great Hall (the original roof of which still survives today), Chapel, Crypt and two Solars, the Ightham Mote was developed and extended over the next three hundred years until the buildings had formed a complete quadrangle around a courtyard, with a moat being the only form of defence. At the entrance to the property, there is a quaint, medieval feature: a right-angled slit, leading to a space within the gate, whereby a letter could be given to the porter, or an announcement of identification could be made before admittance was allowed.

In 1521, Sir Richard Clement bought the Mote for £400, and he was responsible for much of the ornamentation in the house. Having minor associations with Henry VIII, he customarily filled his new home with symbolic tributes to the King, including the stained glass windows in the Great Hall and the painted roof boards of the New Chapel ceiling, both depicting the union of Henry VIII with Catherine of Aragon. The New Chapel is the finest room in the house.

In many ways Ightham Mote is ideal, with all 72 rooms overlooking the courtyard, or lakes and garden. It is also remarkably damp-proof, considering there is only a stone wall separating the rooms from the moat. Perhaps more importantly, visitors to Ightham can fully appreciate the internal décor, and architectural styles of six centuries, all wonderfully preserved.

Ightham Mote has seen a succession of different owners throughout its history, with the Selby family holding the longest period from 1591 to 1889 during which time they continued to maintain and modernise the house. However, it is thanks mainly to Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson, who instigated many alterations and renovations in the first half of the 20th century, that this magnificent building has survived. When he died in 1951, the house and contents were sold by his grandson.

In 1953, Ightham Mote's future was secured by an American saviour, Charles Henry Robinson, who had been smitten by this 'dream house' since seeing a picture of it as a young man. Upon his death in 1985, he bequeathed the property to the National Trust. Within three years the National Trust had begun a huge project of conservation and repairs, a phased programme of work that was not completed until 2004.

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