Ashurst Park 166

Tunbridge Wells, England, Kent, Tunbridge Wells

Brief Description

A 19th landscaped parkland of unknown size containing two 'naturalised' lakes, a dell garden and a large rockery set around a Victorian 'mansion'. A large walled garden was converted to house flowers in the 1940s.

Detailed Description

The following text is taken from the Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Tunbridge Wells Borough:

An informal garden with lakes, woodland and winding walks laid out in the early C19 around a Victorian mansion, set in parkland with mature trees.

SITE DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Ashurst Park, its mansion set well back from the road, stands on a slight eminence above the undulating landscape of its parkland to its south-west. It lies 5.5km west of Royal Tunbridge Wells, approximately 1km south of Fordcombe and 2km north-east of Ashurst village. The c.40ha site is bordered to the east and north-east by the B2188 (Fordcombe Road) and to the south by the A264, which runs east from Tunbridge Wells to Ashurst. Stubbs Wood Farm and its fields form its north-west and west boundaries.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

Ashurst Park is approached from the west side of Fordcombe Road. A winding tarmacadum-surfaced drive continues in a south-westerly direction for some 300m through grazed pasture land, then passes through a white-painted, five-bar, wooden gate. From here onwards the drive is bordered by mature laurel, rhododendron and exotic conifers including Scots Pine and Wellingtonia (many in poor condition).The drive descends on its approach to the mansion, then ascends again to arrive at a gravelled forecourt. The entrance front of Ashurst Park mansion enjoys fine views south and south-west over a sloping lawn planted with C20 shrub beds to the adjoining pasture and woodland (now in separate ownership). Enclosing the lawn on its north side is a small woodland of mature trees including several Wellingtonia (2009, in poor condition). The lawn is enclosed on its south-west by a 1m high 250m long lonicera hedge separating the garden from the parkland.

The drive continues from the forecourt for some 150m in a south-easterly direction between 1.5m high clipped conifer hedges then passes between 2m high, square section, white, rendered piers with ball finials on which hang a pair of 1.5m high wrought iron gates with an adjoining pedestrian entrance to its east. Once through the gates the drive, from here onwards a track, winds gently in the same direction for a further 500m to reach Langton Lodge (listed building grade II) at the junction of Fordcombe and Ashurst Roads. The lodge, designed by the architect George Devey c.1864, has a façade of coursed sandstone ashlar, timber-framed gables and a peg roof (listed building description). In 1843, the only entrance to Ashurst Park was from the site of Langton Lodge onthe south-east property boundary (Tithe Map). The drive then passed through woodland before emerging into the well-treed parkland on its approach to the mansion. By the 1860s Langton Lodge had been constructed and the drive was extended northwards from the mansion for 550m to a second lodge, also designed by Devey (Newman). This second lodge (Fordcombe Lodge) is situated 150m further north-west along the Fordcombe Road than the current entrance (1st edn OS map). Both lodges are now in separate private ownership.

PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS

Ashurst Park mansion (listed grade II) is a three-storey, stuccoed building with slate roofs probably built in the early 1800s but substantially altered and added to in the 1850s or 60s (Tithe Map; 1st edn OS map). The additions included a two-storey wing on its north-west service end, a single-storey wing on its south-east end and a central portico ‘flanked by symmetrical pavilions projecting to the front' (listed building description) on its south-west, entrance front. A loggia supported on Tuscan columns links the wings across the centre (Newman). At the same time, an attached three-bay garden pavilion facing south-east was constructed on the north end of the garden front. The pavilion has a central rounded arch with a pediment over and the bays each side have stone balustrades and a parapet with urns (listed building description). A rectangular conservatory (c.10m x 15m) was also built on the garden front at the south end of the main three-storey building to form an enclosed terrace to its north (now demolished). It was described by Pevsner as ‘Quite a handsome composition'.

Eighty metres to the north of the mansion is a C19 brick stable and coach house courtyard block (listed building grade II) with red tile roofs, now partly converted to housing (Lake Cottage). The single-storey stable wings with chamfered stone plinths and sandstone ashlar dressings are built onto each end of a coach house which has an attic (listed building description). The coach house, which includes the original groom's accommodation, is surmounted by a clock tower and cupola with a bell bearing the date 1867. The courtyard is completed by a brick wall on the fourth (south) side.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The ornamental gardens lie on the north-west, north-east and south-east fronts of the mansion. A terrace paved in concrete slabs (now, 2009, under repair) runs along the north-east front, partly on the site of the demolished C19 conservatory. The garden pavilion on its north end remains in good condition; a few metres to its north-east the remains of a rockery survive, now overgrown with moss and weeds. The gardens immediately north-east of the terrace are laid to lawn (now, 2009, rough grass) with a few mature trees (oak, beech, conifers) remaining from a C19 planting. They are enclosed on their north-west and north-east sides by woodland. To the south-east a 1.5m high conifer hedge forms a boundary with gardens to its west, now in separate private ownership.

One hundred metres to the north-east of the mansion lays a lake of some 0.5ha with a second lake of similar size sited 140m to its east adjoining C17 farm buildings now partly converted to housing (Mudge). A third 0.8ha lake lies 150m north-east of the mansion on the south-east boundary of the kitchen garden (first shown on the Tithe Map). The lakes are shown on maps from 1862, but the banks are now inaccessible due to tree and shrub growth (1st edn OS map).The routes of earlier walks (now grassed) can be traced in the lawns. From the1860s a walk ran along the north-east front of the mansion leading from both ends to winding walks that crossed and encircled the lawn and woodlands.

One hundred and fifty metres south-east of the mansion is a wire-enclosed tennis court screened on its east by the hedge along the drive. A few metres to its south are wooden stables with a corrugated roof.

PARKLAND

The undulating parkland to the west of the mansion is managed as grazed pasture with some mature, oaks and beeches, together with two cedars (in poor condition) surviving from the 1800s (1st edn OS map). One hundred and fifty metres north-west of the mansion are the low brick and tile buildings of the private hospital with the care home 80m to its north. Both are set in landscaped grounds and screened from the mansion by a small copse.

KITCHEN GARDEN

One hundred and fifty metres north of the mansion is the C19 kitchen garden comprising three walled compartments. These compartments are shown on the Tithe Map but only became part of the Ashurst Park estate in the 1860s when acquired for an estate kitchen garden. The 1st edn OS map shows a building (now, Black Lion House, listed grade II) standing on Fordcombe Road with a number of adjoining and freestanding glasshouses within the largest compartment (c.90x40m) with the third lake forming its south-west boundary. A frameyard is attached to the exterior of this compartment's north-east wall. Attached to the south-east wall of this same largest one is a third compartment (c. 50mx50m), since demolished. The frameyard now forms the entrance yard to Black Lion House with the main kitchen compartment laid to grass.

REFERENCES

Books and articles

Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Ashurst', The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (1798), pp. 276-79

Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser (26 August 1823)

Maidstone Gazette and Kentish Courier (2 and 9 September 1923)

William Cobbett, ‘Aug. 30th to Sept. 1st, 1823: Sussex and Kent', Rural Rides in the Counties of Surrey, Kent, Sussex... (London, 1830).

Notice of death of Jane Jones, The Court Journal: Gazette of the Fashionable World (12 October 1833), p. 702

Kelly's Directory of Kent 1834, 1839, 1891, 1913

Pigot's Directory for Ashurst 1839

Bagshaw's Directory for Ashurst 1847

Melville & Co's Directory of Kent 1858

Brackett's Guide to Tunbridge Wells 1863

Kelly's Directory of Tunbridge Wells 1914

Canterbury and District Directory 1916

Kelly's Directory for Ashurst 1934

Newman, John, West Kent and the Weald (Pevsner's Buildings of England series, 1969), p. 137-38.

‘Mansion sells for a Million', Courier (30 April 1942).

Maps

William Mudge, A New and Accurate Survey of Kent 1801

Tithe map and apportionment 1843

OS maps 1st edn 6" map 1862

2nd edn 6" map 1897

3rd edn 6" map 1907

4th edn 6" map 1929

OS maps 1st edn 25" map 1870 Sheet 60/9

2nd edn 25" map 1898 Sheet 60/9

3rd edn 25" map 1909 Sheet 60/9

Revd edn 25" map 1936 Sheet 60/9

Modern Mastermap 1:10,000 2007

Map showing listed buildings within Ashurst Park boundaries 1:5,000

Illustrations

Aerial photograph 2003

Archival items

Papers relating to the diversion of the highway between Rustall Common and Gipps Cross. CKS ref. Q/RH/2/177

Unattributed or undated newspaper cuttings.

Sales Particulars, Joyes Leppard (1984).

English Heritage Listed Buildings entries: undated.

Research by Jane Davidson

Description written by Barbara Simms

Edited by Virginia Hinze March 2009

Features
Lake, Lake, Rockery
History

Detailed History

The following text is taken from the Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Tunbridge Wells Borough:

CHRONOLOGY OF THE HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

The historic parish of Ashurst lay in the southernmost part of Kent, on its border with Sussex and separated from it by a tributary of the River Medway. ‘Aischerst' is mentioned in the C12 records of the Church of Rochester and is thought to have taken its name from the Saxon word asces (ash trees) and the British byrst,meaning ‘the wood of ashes'. In 1798, it was described as ‘hill and dale, the western part is woody, the soil a stiff clay, wet and miry, and rather unfertile' (Hasted). The only house of note was Ashurst Place, situated in the eastern part of the parish on the east side of Ashurst Plain. In 1823 William Cobbett on his ‘rural rides' reported that the only buildings there were ‘a mill, an alehouse, a church, and about six or seven other houses' and in 1839 it remained ‘a parish without anything like a village attached to it' (Pigot).

The site of the current Ashurst Park estate is on the previous land of Ashurst Plain. At the turn of the C19, only farm buildings are shown on its north-east boundary with a few cottages along the road to the nearby village of Fordcombe (Mudge). By 1823, a Mr William Fowler Jones, a Sussex Justice of the Peace, had bought land on Ashurst Plain and had constructed a mansion there named Ashurst Park (CKS; newspaper cuttings). His daughter Catherine inherited in the early 1840s and in 1843 held the property with some 70ha, which included the mansion with an orchard, a garden, pleasure grounds and plantations (Tithe Map). By 1847 a George Green, a ‘principal landowner' of the parish is documented at Ashurst Park (Bagshaw). He may have been responsible for the substantial changes made to the mansion by the early 1860s comprising a new kitchen garden and stable block and the laying out of pleasure grounds with ornamental lakes (1st edn OS map). However, the magistrate George Field, documented as ‘gentry' of Groombridge in 1858 (Melville) and in residence at Ashurst Park by 1863 (Brackett), is known to have made improvements to the two lodges and the stable block (listed building description) in the mid-1860s and may have acquired the property earlier than 1863.

Ashurst Park was requisitioned by the army during World War Two, but remained in the Field (from 1920 Field-Marsham) family until 1954, when it was bought by a Mary and Ernest Beck. By 1970 Lord Wykeham Stanley Cornwallis was in residence and remained until his death in 1982, when the estate of 161ha was offered for sale (Courier). It was bought by ‘an English company', but was offered for sale again in lots in 1984. The mansion and its immediate grounds of c.8ha was offered with ‘an area of formal woodland planted with thousands of bulbs' and with ‘wide lawns, many varieties of rare flowering shrubs and specimen trees' (Sales Particulars). It was bought by a Mr and Mrs B. Dennis for conversion to a residential convalescent home for the elderly and renamed Fernchase Manor. The stable block and lodges were sold off and converted for private housing and part of the park to the north-west, together with the farmland, was sold (Sales Particulars). The parkland was eventually developed as an independent hospital site (now, 2009, BUPA Tunbridge Wells Private Hospital).The care home later moved to a purpose-built building (Ashurst Park Care Centre) on land adjoining the hospital. At that time the mansion reverted to a private home, but retaining the name of Fernchase Manor. The property remains in single private ownership; newowners (from 2008) have renamed the property Ashurst Manor and are renovating the mansion.