Hemsted Park (also known as Benenden School)1686

Tunbridge Wells, England, Kent, Tunbridge Wells

Brief Description

Hemsted Park has 100 hectares (247 acres) of mid-19th century country estate surrounding a house from the same period. The area is a mixture of woodland and arable grazing now used as the grounds for a School.

Detailed Description

Hemsted lies on the edge of the High Weald in a fertile, well wooded landscape of pasture, fruit, forestry and hop growing.

Today, despite the 1987 storm, the basic designs of the old formal gardens and the grounds remain unchanged from the last century, but the greatly reduced maintenance staff have swept away the refinements. Some specimen conifers and other trees still exist (see survey by L. Soper). The woodlands are managed by Gearing & Colyer.

The kitchen garden once maintained for domestic production had been let to a herb specialist and nursery grower but is now derelict. The grounds still provide a discreet, secluded, dignified setting to the solid, Victorian school building. Much re-planting and clearance is underway.

The Eastern Park includes ponds (the site of clay excavation for bricks), park and woodland. The Western Parkland is less landscaped and more a natural series of coverts.

Features
  • School (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: The kitchen garden once maintained for domestic production had been let to a herb specialist and nursery grower but is now derelict.
Access & Directions

Directions

Benenden School is 18 miles south of Maidstone, 2 miles south-east of Cranbrook and 1 mile north-west of Benenden.
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Benenden
History

Detailed History

As long ago as 1216 Robert of Hemsted occupied a house on the site. The first plantings in the park appear to have been made in the early-19th century by the then-owner Sir John Norris, Admiral of the Fleet and Vice Admiral of England.

Later in the century it became the property of the Earl of Cranbrook who extended the gardens and woodlands and planted many rare conifers. He also replaced the old Elizabethan house with a more elaborate edifice in the French style designed by David Brandon. There are later lodge gates and cottages by George Devey. Much of the village of Benenden was also created by Lord Cranbrook in the 1860s. Elaborate formal gardens were designed following the high Victorian love of bedding, pools and statuary.

During Lord Cranbrook's era the woods and plantations covered about 2,000 acres, being mainly of ash, oak, beech and sweet chestnut for timber and for game. Carefully-planned vistas led the visitor through a series of different gardens. There is also a shaded walk. What was one of the finest Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria) avenues in the country was planted in the late-19th century by Lord Cranbrook.

In 1912 Lord Rothermere commissioned a major reconstruction of the house. In 1923 the estate was sold and broken up into lots. Benenden School leased the house in 1924 and a year later purchased the house, gardens and some parkland and woods.

The October 1987 storm was disastrous for much of the grounds here. Most of the important trees in the shelter belts around the gardens came down and also sadly the great cryptomenia avenue west of the rose garden. Other fine trees were also lost.

Period

  • Victorian (1837-1901)
Associated People

People associated to Hemsted Park

References

References