Monthly Archives: October 2014

A visit to Penton Park in Hampshire

When we first moved back here to take over the management of Court Lodge from my parents, Dad gave us some good advice: Join the Historic Houses Association. He has long been a member, and I remember him describing it as a “trade union for country house owners”! His description is apt, as the HHA advocates for country house owners at every level. It also offers help and advice on lots of issues, which has been particularly useful to us as we started out on this journey of trying to make Court Lodge a viable business that can afford to pay for its own upkeep.

Another benefit of belonging to the HHA is that they run seminars and workshops on various topics. Ian and I attended an excellent one last year on getting funding for restoration. It gave us so many ideas, and we are now working towards applying for various grants. I also attended another one recently about applying for Heritage Lottery Funding, and I am now working on putting an application together.

But one of the nicest things about going along to HHA meetings and events is that it gives us the rare chance to meet people in a similar situation to ourselves. It’s always nice to meet someone who understands exactly what you’re going through, but there aren’t many people out there in our situation. However, if such people do exist, you can bet that they are also members of the HHA. At the seminar I attended recently I met Danielle Rolfe who, along with her husband, Guy, and parents-in-law, is in a remarkably similar situation to us here at Court Lodge. Danielle and her family are working on the restoration of Penton Park in Hampshire, and have set up an already thriving business offering it as a venue for weddings, conferences, team-building days, and other functions. It also plays host to a day care centre for disabled adults during the week.

Danielle and Guy are about two years ahead of us in their quest to establish a business at Penton Park, and save it from the ravages of time and the weather. The similarities between our situations is uncanny, although there are some differences too. Talking to Danielle gave me enormous hope and renewed enthusiasm that we will be able to make a success of our enterprise here at Court Lodge. They have faced many of the problems that we face, and have found solutions to many of them.

Last week they held a Conference Showcase, so Ian and I drove down to Hampshire to meet up with Danielle and have a look around Penton Park. It is beautiful, and the restoration work they have done on the ground floor is stunning. Their living accommodation is very much a work-in-progress, but Ian and I were able to see its enormous potential. Given how hard they are working, it is clear that they are going to have fabulous living quarters by the time they are done.

If you are looking for a venue in Hampshire then you could do no better than to visit Penton Park. The rooms are grand and well-appointed, and the layout is extremely versatile.

Penton Park in Hampshire

Penton Park in Hampshire

An added bonus for me in visiting Penton Park is that it is about 3 miles away from the house I grew up in before we moved to Court Lodge. So, after we left Danielle and her family we took a quick look at the house I lived in from when I was 3 until we moved here when I was 12. I haven’t seen it since we left. It is a far cry from Court Lodge, but it brought back some very happy memories.

My childhood home!

My childhood home!

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Uncovering the Pulham rock garden

Some of our amazing garden volunteers, in particular Mandy and Hilary, have been itching to get their hands on the sunken garden (our rock garden designed by James Pulham and Son in, we think, the early 1880s). Now that autumn has properly set in they have had more time in the garden to get stuck in to it, and the results are stunning! Let me tease you with some ‘before’ photos:

The steps leading down into the sunken garden before any work was done

The steps leading down into the sunken garden before any work was done

This photo was taken early last year, and you can see that the rocks to the right of the steps are completely covered in ivy, while those to the left are overgrown with ferns and weeds.

All overgrown, with lots of build-up of earth

All overgrown, with lots of build-up of earth

This is a photo of the same steps taken from a little further back. You can see how overgrown the rocks are, and also the incredible build-up of earth over all of the rocks. It is this that Mandy and Hilary have been painstakingly clearing away to reveal the structure of the rock work. They have been like archaeologists brushing away the earth and leaf mould to see what lies beneath!

They have been working away at the rock work to the left of the steps, and here is a photo of how it looks now:

The rock work to the left of the steps revealed!

The rock work to the left of the steps revealed!

It is these rocks that Claude Hitching, Pulham expert, thinks may have carried a cascade of water down into a pool at their feet. It looks stunning, and gives us a real taste of what the whole sunken garden must have looked like when it was first designed and built.

The rocks are arranged in a particular way to allow for ferns and carefully chosen plants to be planted among them. Mandy and Hilary have now revealed some of these ‘planters’ so they are really uncovering the origins of this garden:

The rocks are arranged so as to allow planting between them

The rocks are arranged so as to allow planting between them

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This work is so exciting! Our Pulham garden is one of the hidden treasures at Court Lodge. We’ve known it was there, and we have photographs of how it once looked, but we are now getting an idea of how it might be able to look again! Thank you Mandy and Hilary, and all our Court Lodge Volunteers!

The Pulham rock garden in 1884. We think that this is shortly after it was first designed and installed.

The Pulham rock garden in 1884. We think that this is shortly after it was first designed and installed.

 

A visit from years 3 and 4

Today we were delighted to be visited by the children from years 3 and 4 of Lamberhurst St Mary’s primary school. They have been learning about the history of Lamberhurst and they all wrote me letters asking if they could come and visit Court Lodge. Here is my favourite of those letters:

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How could I refuse?

So this morning the children arrived to look around Court Lodge and listen to me telling them about its history and about some of the people who lived here in the past.IMG_4097

Quite of few of these children have been here before because they are the children of friends of ours, but those that haven’t been here before seemed quite awestruck as they came through the door. One of them asked me “Is this a museum?” as he came in. How natural to think that a big old building filled with very old and unfamiliar objects is a museum.

I told the children some of the stories of Court Lodge, showed them some of the peculiar objects, and then answered their questions. And how astute their questions were! How many books are in the library? How many portraits in the house? Is it haunted? When was it built?

Some of the children played the organ

Some of the children played the organ

We then listened to the BBC radio Kent piece about Court Lodge being used as a hospital in World War One.

Children listening intently

Children listening intently

Then they all got our their art books and sketched something that they could see in the house: portraits, books, ornaments. I was really impressed with their sketches and their attention to detail.

 

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Then they went outside and sketched the front of the house, before setting off back to school.

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I really enjoyed this visit. The children were so appreciative of what they saw, and really enjoyed their visit. It was very rewarding. The connection between Court Lodge and Lamberhurst school goes back a long way, as the Morlands were instrumental in setting it up and running it in its early days. It felt really good to be able to continue this connection and to play a small part in the children’s learning about the history of Lamberhurst.

 

First of nine chimneys restored

The nine chimneys on the roof of Court Lodge are all badly in need of restoration. This summer we started the process and had our first chimney restored. It was a crumbly old wreck of a chimney, and has been letting in vast quantities of rain. Last winter was particularly wet, so the chimney breast below it was sodden until late spring.

Before

Before

Close up of the chimney in dire need of restoration

Close up of the chimney in dire need of restoration

A very crumbly old chimney

A very crumbly old chimney

Not much more than a pile of bricks!

Not much more than a pile of bricks!

The mortar holding the bricks together in the chimney had all eroded away, so it needed to be practically rebuilt. And it needed not just any old mortar, but lime mortar, which is a very specialist material requiring a high level of skill and expertise. We are lucky enough to have met Mark Truman of Stornoway Lime and Restoration, who specialises in just this kind of work. He has done various other jobs for us around Court Lodge and we really value the quality of his work. He was longing to get his hands on one of our chimneys, so at the beginning of the summer we let him loose on this one. Here are the results:

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After

After

Here is a close up of Mark’s lime mortar work:

What a difference from the crumbly mortar!

What a difference from the crumbly mortar!

And here is the chimney taking pride of place on top of the house:

Looking smart from a distance.

Looking smart from a distance.

Hopefully that one is now good for at least another 100 years. Now we only have eight more to go!

Our Pulham garden is “Site of the Month”

There is a growing interest in gardens designed and built by the Victorian firm James Pulham and Son, and those of you following this blog will know that our garden is a Pulham garden, although in need of much restoration and repair.

We recently made contact with Claude Hitching, author of Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy, who came to visit our garden, along with Val Christman who is descended from the Pulhams and has her own garden design business specialising in rockeries. Claude and Val were very excited by what they saw here at Court Lodge, and have been a great source of support and enthusiasm for the restoration of our garden. So much so, in fact, that Claude has featured us as his “Site of the Month” on his website dedicated to all things Pulham. Have a read of it here:

Site of the Month: Court Lodge, Lamberhurst, Kent

It’s a great write up and contains lots of really fascinating insights into our garden by someone with in-depth knowledge of, and familiarity with, Pulham gardens. It’s really interesting that he thinks that the walled garden was probably built by the Pulhams in 1868, at the same time as the fernery. We are about to apply for Heritage Lottery funding to restore the walled garden, so this will really help our case. He also thinks that the rock garden and pond were probably built by the Pulhams later, on a return visit to Court Lodge, possibly in the early 1880s. This gives us a good reason to return to the archives to read more of my ancestors’ diaries. We had initially thought that the rock garden was built in 1868. When I went to the Maidstone archives I was devastated to find that this was the only diary written by my great great grandfather, WCM, that they did not have. I can’t wait to get back there and immerse myself in his diaries once again!

Very helpful Kiwi visitors

Recently we have been lucky enough to have been visited by our very close friends from New Zealand: Mark, Shona, Anna and Rose; the Roberts family from Dunedin. It was so great to see them again, as we still miss New Zealand and all our friends there very much. One of the great things about Kiwis is their world famous “can-do attitude” and their “No. 8 wire” mentality – Absolutely anything can be fixed with some No. 8 wire, and if there’s a problem, or something needs doing, a Kiwi will just get on and sort it.

Luckily for us, a lot of this rubbed off on Ian during our 15 years in NZ, so since we arrived at Court Lodge almost two years ago (hard to believe!) he has done everything from fixing the roof, to unblocking drains, to building raised beds, to… well, you name it really.

True to form, our lovely Kiwi visitors knuckled down and just got on with stuff that needs doing around Court Lodge. They were amazing. They helped us run the Lazy Sunday @ Court Lodge, and worked so hard that we seriously doubt we could have done it without them. They put up marquees, drove the tractor, manned the stalls, marshalled the traffic, and packed it all away at the end.

Shona and the girls setting up tables

Shona and the girls about to set up tables

Anna drove the tractor

Anna drove the tractor

Those Kiwi girls even got our two working hard

Those Kiwi girls even got our two working hard

Mark has a special talent which we were able to put to good use at Court Lodge. He is an arborist. Not just any arborist, but the President of the International Society of Arboriculture. So we put him to work taking down a few trees that needed to go. He showed Ian some of the finer points of wielding a chainsaw, and between them they made some real progress in the garden. It’s a shame he couldn’t stay for longer, as there is a LOT of tree work that needs doing around the garden.

Mark and Ian cutting down a tree

Mark and Ian cutting down a tree

Of course, we found some time to relax, and introduce them to all our new friends in Lamberhurst. But it was no surprise that Mark was to be found behind the BBQ!

There was some time for relaxing, but even that involved doing the BBQ!

There was some time for relaxing, but even that involved doing the BBQ!

A huge thank you to the Robertses for coming to visit, and for all you did at Court Lodge while you were here!