BY CHARLES EVANS
Ightham, Kent is a medieval moated manor house. The architectural writer John Newman describes it as “the most complete small medieval manor house in the county.” Ightham Mote and its gardens are owned by the National Trust and are open to the public. The house is a Grade I listed building, and parts of it are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The origins of the house date from circa 1340-1360. The earliest recorded owner is Sir Thomas Cawne, who was resident towards the middle of the 14th century. The house passed by the marriage of his daughter Alice to Nicholas Haute and their descendants, their grandson Richard Haute being Sheriff of Kent in the late 15th century. It was then purchased by Sir Richard Clement in 1521. In 1591, Sir William Selby bought the estate.
Originally dating to around 1320, the building is important because it has most of its original features; successive owners effected relatively few changes to the main structure, after the completion of the quadrangle with a new chapel in the 16th century. Nikolaus Pevsner described it as “the most complete small medieval manor house in the country”, and it remains an example that shows how such houses would have looked in the Middle Ages. Unlike most courtyard houses of its type, which have had a range demolished, so that the house looks outward, Nicholas Cooper observes that Ightham wholly surrounds its courtyard and looks inward, into it, offering little information externally. The construction is of “Kentish ragstone and dull red brick,” the buildings of the courtyard having originally been built of timber and subsequently rebuilt in stone.
The house has more than 70 rooms, all arranged around a central courtyard, “the confines circumscribed by the moat.” The house is 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, to which were attached, at the high, or dais end, the Chapel, Crypt and two Solars. The courtyard was completely enclosed by increments on its restricted moated site, and the battlemented tower was constructed in the 15th century. Very little of the 14th century survives on the exterior behind rebuilding and refacing of the 15th and 16th centuries.