Ghastly good taste in the Weald

Again rural Kent and again a residential property – very different in scale and style to the cottages in Leeds featured a few weeks ago, but, like them inasmuch as it is the sort of architecture that slips below the radar of historians because it is neither ‘properly’ vernacular nor (at any rate, as far as I know) the work of a nationally important architect. Crownfield is a large residential property on the A28 between Bethersden and High Halden, located in the former parish. The earliest part of it stands front-on to the main road and looks like it is probably C18, although conceivably of more ancient origins behind a later brick front – this area is very rich in timber-framed houses. At some point between the first edition of the Ordnance Survey in 1871 and the second edition in 1898, an enormous new south-facing chamber block with a formal entrance was butted onto one end of it at a right-angle, exploiting its location on a sharp bend. Probably at that point the older part of the building was relegated to the function of a service wing. The disparity between the two phases, which are of very different proportions, is awkward to the point of being comic, but the chamber block is a very splendid thing, embodying the full panoply of picturesque devices that an architect-builder of the day could throw at it – constructional polychromy, textured terracotta facing, foliate capitals, cast-iron balustrades to the first-floor sills, decorative bargeboards, cast- and wrought-iron finials, decorative ridge crests and ornamental glazing bars. This sort of detailing often gets eroded (and the older portion of the house has already fallen to the double-glazing salesmen), but here it has survived very well. With the half-hipping and deep eaves, it has a slightly Gallic air and a conservation architect friend described its look aptly as ‘very Nord Pas de Calais minor railway station’. Its lively, vigorous ornament is a good antidote to the frightfully good taste of the Wealden villages and it deserves protection – being neither statutorily listed not in a conservation area, it currently has none.

Published by Edmund Harris

Heritage professional and architectural historian residing in Canterbury. All views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer.

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