Crittenden House 993

Tonbridge, England, Kent, Tunbridge Wells

Brief Description

Crittenden House was a Kent Farmhouse. It was converted in 1955 to house a labour-saving collector's garden on the 2.4 hectare (5.9 acre) site.

History

This was an old Kent farmhouse with no garden (only an orchard and bullock yard) until 1955 when the new owner created it as a labour-saving collector's garden. Large quantities of soil were brought in as much of the topsoil had been lost.

Detailed Description

The sunken pond is formed from old iron workings and gives a shady spot to the north of the house. It has very imaginative planting with many lilies, bog primulas and other unusual shrubs. A waterfall/rockery was created with huge rocks from Ashdown Forest.

There is a framework of mature apple trees on higher ground to the north of the house, and oaks and four large service trees to the east and south of the house. There has been some damage from the October 1987 storm. Planting of exotic species is generally in ‘island beds' with many semi-hardy specimens collected by the owner in China, Japan, Russia, Australasia and South America.

As a background to rare plants, interesting and effective ground cover abounds, as well as many spring bulbs. A scented rose garden extends to the east of the house. Another large pond at the bottom of the garden next to the road has junipers, weeping birches and Jerusalem sage among its many plants.

A recent article by Man Mitchell in the Royal Horticultural Society Journal ‘The Garden', praises this garden highly, and tells of ‘every prospect a sumptuous array of foliage and flowers, in great variety'. He says the garden has ‘come of age' and the design and the shrubs and trees are displayed to their best effect. The walls of the house and barn are deep in climbers.

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

SITE DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Crittenden House lies within a landscape of undulating fields, orchards, scattered copses and woodland that characterizes the Kentish Weald. The site lies about 50m above sea level on a ridge that is part well-drained Tunbridge Wells sands and part iron-rich Wadhurst clay. It is situated 1.7km north of Matfield, 1.7km south-west of Paddock Wood and approximately 7km north-east of Royal Tunbridge Wells.

The c.1.6ha site is bounded to the south-west by Crittenden Road, to the west, east and south-east by access roads to adjacent C20 Walnut Tree Farm and to the north by the Farm's garden.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

Crittenden House is entered off the north side of Crittenden Road through a five-bar wooden gate set in a 1m high yew hedge which encloses the property from the road. Immediately beyond the gate a rolled gravel drive runs in a northerly direction for 50m between lawns offering views over the gardens to its east to reach a forecourt on the west, principal entrance front of the house. The drive then continues northwards some 80m to join an access road to Walnut Tree Farm.

The present drive to Crittenden House survives from at least 1862 (1st edn OS map) although at that time it continued northwards from the forecourt to the oasthouse 90m north-west of the house.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING

Crittenden House (listed grade II) is an early C17 farmhouse with C19 and early C20 alterations. It is a two-storey, timber-framed house with an attic under a peg tile roof (listed building description). The ground floor walls are of brick and there is tile hanging to the first floor. The east front is weather-boarded and has a C20 single-storey, lean-to built against it.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The ornamental gardens are on the north-east, east and south-east fronts of the house and are laid out as informal lawns enclosed by a landscape of glades with mature trees, shrubs and water gardens. On the east front, running the length of the house and on the site of a former mid-C20 rose garden, is a formal garden (c.20m x 20m) divided into quarters. Some 10m south-east of the house, and on the east side of an adjacent former farm building, a second, smaller, formal garden (c.15m x 15m), similarly divided, occupies the site of a former C20 kitchen garden.

A York stone terrace runs the length of the south front of the house from which there are views down over sloping ground to the largest of the three ponds shown on the 2nd edn OS map. It is a roughly circular pond (c.0.8ha) which lies c.20m south-east of the house. A second oval-shaped pond (c.0.4ha) lies 50m north-east of the house and a third small pond is 40m east within a group of trees. A C20 swimming pool constructed by Tompsett lies in a former orchard 90m north-east of the house (Huxley 1964).

The layout and planting of the gardens at Crittenden House survive from Tompsett's time, although neither retain the rich variety of plant species described in late C20 descriptions and photographs (Huxley, Mitchell). When he bought the property in 1955 Tompsett found that ‘the three large ponds ... were choked and their banks covered with a thicket of trees and undergrowth. It [the house] had a small lawn in front, confined by a privet hedge, an impoverished kitchen garden at the side, and a neglected apple orchard at the back, bounded on the east by a belt of woodland'. According to one contemporary description Tompsett's improvements created a ‘constant change ... between open grass, dense planting, water, steep banks and little wooded pathways [that] all combine to make a garden of much horticultural interest, visitor pleasure and peacefulness' (Huxley 1975).

REFERENCES

Books and articles

Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Brenchley, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7 (1798), pp. 280-94.

Kelly's Directory 1934.

Ben P. Tompsett, ‘The Making of a new garden: Crittenden House, Matfield, Kent', RHS Journal Vol. LXXXV (February 1960), pp. 77-91.

Anthony J. Huxley, ‘A Mature Garden in Eight Years. Crittenden House, Kent', Country Life (12 March 1964), pp. 556-58.

Leslie Elgar Pike, Brenchley and Matfield, Kent. The Official Guide (1966).

Fisons Guide to Gardens (1970), pp. 40-41.

Fred Whitsey, ‘Visit to Crittenden House', Popular Gardening (2 May 1970), pp.332-34.

Anthony Huxley, ‘A Garden among the Orchards. Crittenden House, Kent', Country Life (10 April 1975), pp. 890-92.

Tom Wright, The Gardens of Britain. Kent, East and West Sussex and Surrey (1978), pp. 33-36.

Alan Mitchell, ‘Thirty Years On', The Garden (April 1990), pp. 190-96.

‘Ben Tompsett Obituary', Telegraph (15 June 2000).

Ross Clark, ‘Blasted back to glory', Sunday Telegraph House and Home Supplement (1 July 2007).

Denise Barr, ‘The Shaping of our Parish', Brenchley and Matfield Revisited (Brenchley and Matfield Local History Society, 2008).

Maps

OS maps 1st edn 6" 1862

2nd edn 6" 1897

3rd edn 6" 1907

4th edn 6" 1929

OS maps 1st edn 25" 1869 Sheet 61/2 and 61/3

2nd edn 25" 1897 Sheet 61/2 and 61/3

3rd edn 25" 1908 Sheet 61/2 and 61/3

Revd edn 25" 1938 Sheet 61/2 and 61/3

Kent Compendium map 1996

Modern Mastermap 1:2,500 (2007)

Map showing listed buildings within Crittenden House boundaries 2007

Illustrations

3 black-and-white photographs of house 1956. NMR (Red Box Collection) Ref AA57/674-6.

B/w photograph of Crittenden House and hammer pond in Pike, p. 5.

3 colour photographs 1981/82 (a) rose garden (b) house from pond (c) aerial view

The former hammer pond at Crittenden House in Elisabeth Hall, Historic Gardens of Kent (1995), p. 52.

Aerial photograph of Crittenden House 2003

Archival items

English Heritage Listed Buildings entries (1988).

Kent Compendium entry 1996.

Research by Simon Maclachlan

Description written by Barbara Simms

Edited by Virginia Hinze

July 2009

Features
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: This was an old Kent farmhouse with no garden until 1955.
  • Pond
  • Description: The sunken pond is formed from old iron workings and gives a shady spot to the north of the house.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Waterfall
  • Description: A waterfall/rockery was created with huge rocks from Ashdown Forest.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Island Bed
  • Description: . Planting of exotic species is generally in `island beds? with many semi-hardy specimens collected by the owner in China, Japan, Russia, Australasia and South America.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Pond
  • Description: Another large pond at the bottom of the garden next to the road has junipers, weeping birches and Jerusalem sage among its many plants.
Access & Directions

Directions

The site is about 1 mile north of Matfield and 2 miles south-west of Paddock Wood.
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Paddock Wood
History

Detailed History

This was an old Kent farmhouse with no garden (only an orchard and bullock yard) until 1955 when the new owner created it as a labour-saving collector's garden. Large quantities of soil were brought in as much of the topsoil had been lost.

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

CHRONOLOGY OF THE HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

From the C14 the Brenchley area flourished with trades associated with cloth making but from the C16 to the C18 it was also an important centre for iron working and much of the area's ancient woodland was felled to provide fuel for furnaces and clearings for hammer ponds (Hasted). The wealth generated from these industries was used to construct many ‘mostly old-fashioned timbered buildings'. At Crittenden House, although the origins and names of the early owners are unrecorded, the core of the house is timber framed and is characteristic of a Wealden farmstead of the early C17 (listed building description).

The earliest evidence of the layout of Crittenden House and grounds is the 1862 OS map which shows a house and farm buildings with two large ponds. To the north of the house an orchard and an oast house are shown extending into farmland and woodland, although the extent of the Crittenden land holding is not known (Tompsett). By 1897 the house had been enlarged, a third pond had been dug in former woodland to its east and the orchard had been further extended (2nd edn OS map). The house was again enlarged in the early C20 but no changes appear to have been made to the grounds (4th edn OS map). In the 1920s farmland to the west of the house was sold off (Clark) and by 1934 Crittenden House and its remaining land had become the premises of Kent Hop, Fruit & Stock Farms Ltd (Kelly).

In 1946 the farmland to the west of the house was bought by Mr Ben Tompsett, a fruit farmer from Yalding, to extend his apple and pear orchards. In 1955 he also bought Crittenden House from the then owner, a Mrs Spikernell, who offered it for sale as ‘a genuine period residence of outstanding charm and character' (Clark). At the time, however, Tompsett described the house as ‘barely visible behind a hedge and through a mass of bushes' and with c.1.6ha of ‘wilderness'. During the subsequent four years he restored the farmhouse and outbuildings and, with the help of the landscape gardener, F. G. T. Manners, laid out a garden. He also stocked the ponds with Golden Carp, Golden Orfe and Silver Rudd to ‘give colour and bright movement' (Tompsett). Tompsett also sought advice from the notable plant collector Captain Collingwood Ingram of The Grange (Benenden) and the Royal Horticultural Society adviser, Mr Tuffin, on the planting of ‘a beautiful wild garden' and obtained ‘many fine specimens ... from old gardens and nurseries [and] kind friends'.

The garden was opened to the public under the National Gardens Scheme from 1959 until Tompsett's death in 2000 during which time he transplanted many mature trees, established a rhododendron collection, experimented with the effects of night lighting on foliage and textural plants and brought back new specimens from plant hunting expeditions in South Africa, Chile, China and the Soviet Union (Telegraph). His achievements and the Crittenden garden were celebrated in a number of articles and photographs (Huxley, Whitsey, Mitchell). Wright described it as an ‘informal plantsman's garden dominated by shrubs, exotic trees and some perennials, yet with strong design qualities'.

During the late C20 Oast House and Crittenden Farm Bungalow (west of the house) were sold and a separate access track was built to serve the two properties and also late C20 Walnut Tree Farm constructed on adjoining land north of the house. They remainin separate, private ownership.

A Mr Richard Harding and his wife, Fiona, bought Crittenden House in 2001 and sold to the present owners in 2004. The property remains in single, private ownership but the garden has not been open to the public since 2000.

References

References

Contributors

  • Kent Gardens Trust