12 September: Scotney Castle

Author: Mrs A

Location: Scotney Castle, nr Lamberhurst, Kent, UK

The earliest records of a building at the location of Scotney Castle date back to 1137 with the current ‘old castle’ dating back to the late 1300s. These days there are two castles on site – Scotney Castle is the newer building, built in the early 1800s for the Hussey family from Worcestershire who made their money in the early industrial revolution. They had originally moved into the old castle, which became too cold, damp and drafty.

Scotney Castle – the ‘new’ house built in 1835

Mum and I came to visit this National Trust location about 10 years ago, so were due another visit. It was a mostly overcast morning, but not too cold for autumn. Last time we came it was July, and I remember the flowers being incredible. This time it is definitely the beginning of autumn, with plants seeding and drying out, leaves starting to fall and the colour palette decidedly more subdued.

The view down across the gardens to the old castle
Over the garden wall, lovely countryside as far as the eye can see. Plenty of walks around here

The new Scotney Castle was first opened to the public in 2007 after the death of the Betty Hussey. Her husband Christopher had died in 1970, bequeathing the house, castle and estate to the National Trust. Since mum and I visited in 2009 the whole house has been preserved and opened up to the public as well as the old castle.

Tenants of apartments on the estate include Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who rented the Belfry flat for a time during the 1970s and 1980s to escape Westminster.

The gardens are considered prime examples of the Picturesque style of landscape design – basically gardens which were designed specifically to be painted. As such, the old castle was partially dismantled to create a ‘ruin’ as a centrepiece to the garden, surrounded by a water lily filled moat and viewed from the ‘new’ Scotney Castle.

The old Scotney Castle
The moat makes for some lovely reflections

The National Trust has plenty of paid gardeners and volunteers working on the grounds, using old papers, paintings and photographs to restore the gardens to their former glory and adding planting which fit in with the original plan.

We toured the gardens, admiring the views in all directions.

Some fabulous splashes of colour still to be found
Mum and daughter number one
The sun even came out!
‘The hop pickers’ – for many years hop pickers have come from London to harvest the crops here. There are still hops grown at Scotney Castle – the only National Trust hop farm. They’re used by several local brewerys to create Scotney Ale
Exploring the grounds
Big gardens means you can have big plants with big leaves!

We were given a 15 minute slot during which to explore the house, but took 40, it was so interesting. It has the feeling of a living home rather than a museum, with lots of quirky details from the most recent residents sitting alongside the old furniture and 19th century interior design.

A pen and watercolour artwork in the house, looking across at the old castle

The volunteers in the house were passionate and excited to share their learnings too, pointing out a bookcase which is really a secret door, and a Dutch masterpiece above the dining room fireplace bought from a local pub for the princely sum of £30 in the early 1900s (even then it would have been far more valuable)…the Tate Gallery in London is apparently keen to get hold of it! How the local pub ended up with a Dutch masterpiece is a story we didn’t learn, but I bet there’s an interesting tale there too!

Beuckelaer, Joachim; A Maid in a Kitchen and Christ with Martha and Mary in the Background; National Trust, Scotney Castle; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-maid-in-a-kitchen-and-christ-with-martha-and-mary-in-the-background-220742
Fake bookcase hiding a door into the next room
Clearly a house of cat lovers

Scotney Castle is definitely worth a visit if you are in the East Sussex/west Kent area – just a 40 minute drive from Hastings.

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