Ok, I have a confession to make. As well as being a history nut, I’m a bit of a house anorak. I can’t give you directions to a friend’s house or local tourist attraction but I can tell you about the cat slide roof, twisted set of chimneys or the gorgeous Georgian house I saw on the way. Whenever I visit an old building, it’s the little things that capture my attention. Although beautiful, ornate gilding is quickly passed over in favour of a stone staircase that’s been worn away by a thousand feet or a bleached and scrubbed servants table. For me, a house is far more than the shell we live in. Each room is a backdrop to parties, squabbles, kisses and dreams, and through their structure and furnishings, every house can tell a story.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be commissioned by the new Kent Homes & Interiors magazine to go into some of Kent’s privately owned houses in order to write ‘through the keyhole’ style features. Not only do I get to poke around and ask lots of nosy questions but I get to learn a little bit about the history of the building and the area it sits in. Perfect!
For instance, the first house I visited in Hildenborough was a 19th century farmworkers cottage. Its changed considerably since its humble beginnings and as the owner started telling me about how it had been extended over time, I realised it had grown sideways. The whole row of cottages were added to, one room at a time, in order to accommodate the arrival of new farm labourers and their families. This resulted in a series of flying freeholds – where one room sits above another belonging to an adjoining building – that continue throughout the series of cottages. It’s bizarre! You obviously can’t see this from the outside but now, every time I drive past it, I imagine lots of little families huddled together inside the overlapping rooms.
And then I visited this gorgeous house in Goudhurst, there is no other word for it, as even after viewing it in the rain, I was left with a serious case of house envy.
The fact that its core dates back to Tudor times, when King Henry VIII was roaming the Kentish countryside, was exciting enough and I loved seeing its history revealed through the extraordinary amount of fireplaces, undulating floors, concealed passageways and irregular windows. It’s believed to have begun life as a medieval hall-house and, when the owner kindly lent me her house historian’s report, it allowed me to identify exactly which parts of the building had been built when and what the markings on the beams actually reveal. Fascinating. I also learnt that in November 1830 over 500 men were involved in a riot with local landowners due to the combined effects of the Corn Laws, Tithe laws and bad harvests. Which gives me the perfect excuse to go back to the village to learn more. Well, if someone has to do it…
PS. I took lots of photos too, so if you would like to see inside these lovely homes please pick up the Spring Issue of Kent Homes and Interiors magazine – I’d love to know what you think.
The summer issue is due out in July and you can keep up with all the news on Twitter – @KentHomesmag