12 October 2022: Kent
My wfie and I sent today on a National Trust Supporter Group coach trip to Kent.
Our first stop was at Emmetts Garden. This is a National Trust property but one without a mansion or stately home as part of it. There is just a stable block that has been converted into a tearoom and toilets.
Contrary to what you might expect it is not named after someone called Emmett. The name is a corruption of amet, an Old English word for an ant, of which there are plenty in the area. The garden was developed by two successive owners, Frederick Lubbock, who bought the land in 1890, and Charles Boise, who bought it after Mr Lubbock’s in 1927. It passed to the National Trust on Mr Boise’s death in 1964.
The garden occupies a high slope providing magnificent views and has many different areas. It has been designed to be of interest all the year round. My wife and I looked at the information in the log cabin and then went into the Rose Garden. The roses were past their best but we could tell what an excellent display they would provide in the summer.
From there we walked along the path to the tearoom. Alongside the path was a succession of photographs of fungi taken with a macro lens. These showed an amazing amount of close-up details and attractive colours.
We didn’t go into the tearoom but did admire the view from there. Next to it is a children’s play area with wooden equipment. Some of our group members were much taken with a series of bamboo half-pipes which had been put together so that objects could be rolled from one end to the other. There were plenty of acorns lying around but it was not as easy as it looked to get them past the growth joins in the bamboo.
My wife and I then walked down another path through trees which were displaying magnificent autumn colours, the main attraction at this time of year. At one point we smelled a strong sweet scent. From an information board in the gazebo by the path we decided this must be from a “Burnt Toffee Tree”, which we hadn’t heard of before. We eschewed the path to the bluebell wood as the bluebells would still be dormant.
At 12:15 we all got back on the coach for the short drive to Chiddingstone Castle. This is not a castle at all but a large Tudor house that was owned by the same family from Tudor times until the 1930s and castellated in the early 1800s. It was originally called “High Street House, Chiddingstone”. Technically it is still on the High Street but the nearest village house is a few minutes’ walk away across a bridge.
In 1955 Chiddingstone Castle was bought by a former bank clerk and antiques dealer, Denys Bower. He was a great collector of items from ancient Egypt, Buddhist items, Japanese lacquer and items associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Unfortunately although he was himself an antiques dealer he was not that good at spotting fakes. The impressive bust of an Egyptian pharaoh actually dates from the early 20th century.
The National Trust owns Chiddingstone Village, said to be the oldest surviving Tudor village in the country. On Mr Bower’s death he left Chiddingstone Castle to the National Trust but they refused to take it because it did not come with an endowment that would enable them to meet the cost of maintenance. It is now owned by a trust called the Denys Ere Bower Bequest, who keep the castle and the collection together and open to the public as he wanted.
On arrival we were split into two groups, one of which toured the house first and the other of which had lunch first. My wife and I were in the group which had lunch first.
Both groups were given a tour round the ground floor of the house and the collections by a descendant of the original owners, starting in the Tudor kitchen. He told us something about the many items on display and Mr Bower’s somewhat colourful life. He was married twice and later engaged to a foreign countess. When she left him he followed her to her London home. He had threatened to kill himself if she left him and, presumably for that purpose, took with him a revolver from his collection. This was his undoing. He (accidentally?) shot her and then turned the revolver on himself. Neither shot was fatal but, believing he had killed the countess, he phoned the police to confess what he had done. Not only did the countess survive but she also turned out to be not a countess at all but a dental nurse. He was sentenced to prison for attempted murder but released five years later after a campaign to clear his name.
After the tour we were able to go round the house again to look at the collections and read the information displays in more detail before it was time to board the coach for home.