A little island of beauty

Ightham, Kent: Today started, as many good days in London do, with our friends June and Alan picking us up at a train station, heading for an historic site of note, and stopping first for tea or lunch. Ightham Mote was our destination today. It is a medieval moated manor house, once described as “the most complete small medieval manor house in the county.”

Built around 1320, this is a house that grew and changed with the centuries, but that has the feel of a home that had always been loved by any family that occupied it.

The building is important because it has most of its original features; successive owners made relatively few changes to the main structure, after the completion of the quadrangle with a new chapel in the 16th century. It shows how such houses would have looked in the Middle Ages. 

The house has more than 70 rooms, all arranged around a central courtyard, and surrounded on all sides by a square moat crossed by three bridges. The earliest surviving evidence is for a house of the early 14th century, with the Great Hall with the chapel, crypt and two rooms for the family to gather.

The structures include unusual and distinctive elements, such as the porter’s squint, a narrow slit in the wall designed to enable a gatekeeper to examine a visitor’s credentials before opening the gate. An open room with a fifteenth-century gallery above, connects the main accommodations. The house contains two chapels; the New Chapel from about  1620, has a barrel roof decorated with Tudor Roses.

More modern touches of the last century came from Charles Henry Robinson, an American of Portland Maine, who, it should be noted, descended from a Mayflower Pilgrim. He had known the property when stationed nearby during WWII and fell in love with it. He bought it in 1953 and lived there for only fourteen weeks a year for tax reasons, but saved the house by making many urgent repairs, and partly refurnished the house with 17th-century English pieces. In 1965, he announced that he would give Ightham Mote and its contents to the National Trust. He died in 1985 and his ashes were put just outside the crypt, with a touching epitaph.

Oh, and about that moat. It was not there for defensive reasons, as it wouldn’t have been too effective. It is fed by several springs on the property and serves as a sewer system for the manor. Evidently it works quite well and the water remains very fresh.

Don’s Food Corner

This being a National Trust property you would expect that the restaurant would offer traditional British food of the highest quality. And so they did. While not as elaborate or sophisticated as the meals prepared at Chatsworth yesterday, the selection was fine and the preparation just right.

Jo had one of her favorites that she’s been missing for months — a jacket potato with Cheddar cheese. And to start, another classic, potato and leek soup, which we shared.

I couldn’t pass up a platter of sausage and mash, covered with onion gravy, and neither could our friend Alan. The plate was so full that I was certain I couldn’t eat it all. But I did. I’m not sure what meat was used in the sausage, but because it’s veal season I think it was veal. Keeping with the goal of the National Trust properties, the food stuffs, like the sausage, all came from local farms.

June went with a salmon flan (kind of a quiche) with a high mound of delicate greens surrounding it.

Later, after exhausting ourselves by touring through the spectacular house and working off the lunch, we returned to the restaurant to test the kitchen’s version of a cream tea, namely fruit scones, clotted cream, jam and, oh yes, some tea. Our Anglophilia was satisfied.

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