The splendour of Barham Court
PUBLISHED: 14:22 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:44 27 April 2017
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Described by Edward Hasted as ‘the greatest ornament of this part of the county’, Barham Court has been ‘saved’ by being converted to serviced office accommodation. Words by: Pat Crawford. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque and courtesy of Barham Court
We value our heritage – historic houses and stately homes have never been more central to our culture. Yet only a relatively short time ago things were very different. Architectural historian John Martin Robinson reported that some 1,000 houses were lost between 1945 and 1955 and, by the mid-fifties, losses of historic houses were running at the staggering rate of one house every five days.
During the Second World War many substantial houses were requisitioned (ITV’s Foyle’s War demonstrated the point very well) and many were returned to their owners needing extensive restoration and refurbishment. And of course, most were built at a time when armies of servants looked after them (recorded authentically by Julian Fellowes in Downton Abbey).
Owners determined to retain their historic houses or preserve them for future generations looked to various alternatives. Cash strapped but intent on saving their property from demolition, they cut down maintenance by removing service wings.
Here in Kent, the roof of Chevening – a property subsequently gifted to the nation by the 7th and last Earl Stanhope – was lowered and the attics removed. Said to have been designed by Inigo Jones, Grade I-listed Chevening has been the official residence of successive Foreign Secretaries. Throughout the current Government it will be shared by the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for International Trade.
Some owners sold off land, cottages and other parts of their estate to keep things going but this only provided a respite before the next lot of death duties or substantial bill for repairs once again threatened stability.
Not ignoring the vital work undertaken by the National Trust, many of Kent’s substantial historic houses have been preserved as a result of the money derived from turning them into visitor attractions. Other properties have been converted for use as apartments, residential homes, country house hotels, schools, clinics and treatment centres.
Barham Court at Teston near Maidstone has been ‘saved’ by being converted to serviced office accommodation. Refurbished to a high standard by current owners Sonia Whitmore and David Vasan, it enjoys a stunning position overlooking Teston Valley.
Sonia and David’s business, Hever Business Management, had an office at Barham Court when the-then owners became bankrupt and went into liquidation. Recognising that a beautiful building was falling into disrepair, they put their heads together and made an offer.
Sonia admits: “I don’t think we realised just how much restoration and refurbishment work was needed. Being Grade II* listed, the regulations were very strict. It has been tough, but we are immensely proud of the results.”
In the 18th century Edward Hasted described Barham Court as ‘the greatest ornament of this part of the county’. Earlier accounts – possibly apocryphal – recorded that the house had been owned by a family named Berham (usually called Barham) whose real name was Fitz-Urse. Randall Fitz-Urse was one of the knights responsible for the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Not the happiest of connections!
Richard de Berhem, Sheriff of the county in 1390/1, maintained his offices at Barham Court. Other well-connected members of the Barham family included the author of Ingoldsby Legends.
Another Barham, Sir Nicholas, was MP for Maidstone in 1562; just a short time later he was involved in the prosecution of the 4th Duke of Norfolk. Obviously an influential family, the property was to pass out of the hands of the Barhams at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I.
Thereafter for a short time the sequence of events surrounding the property becomes a little confused, although it is known that in the 1600s a group of Parliamentarians commanded by Colonel Edwin Sandys shot open the door and were reported to have stolen money, arms and ammunition.
Accounts in 1642 stated that ‘Sir William Butler (Boteler), the Kentish Malignant that had been prisoner in the gatehouse for his delinquency to the Parliament, is got safe to Oxford and by his Majesty is created Baron of Teston which is his chief mansion house’.
Sir William, who had raised a regiment in support of the king at his own expense, was killed near Banbury in 1644. Sir Philip, the last Boteler at Barham Court, changed the name of the property to Teston House.
Sir Philip died childless and the estate was divided between various relatives with Teston House being allotted to a cousin, Elizabeth Bouverie. A forward-thinking lady, she employed Benjamin Latrobe to undertake improvements to the house. A fully trained architect, he subsequently undertook a wide range of commissions before going to America, where he built an impressive portfolio in Philadelphia.
It was Benjamin Latrobe who added the much-admired portico to the White House; he was responsible for Baltimore Cathedral and was also involved in rebuilding parts of Washington.
Teston was the centre of a considerable part of the work undertaken by William Wilberforce, Hannah Moore and James Ramsay, vicar of Teston and Nettlestead, to effect the abolition of slavery. Following one of his many visits to the house, William Wilberforce commented ‘...it has none of the grand features of your northern beauties but for the charms of softness and elegance I have never beheld superior…’.
When Elizabeth Bouverie died her estate was divided between family members. At that time still known as Teston House, the land was leased to Sir Charles Middleton.
Subsequently the house and grounds were left to him and he restored the name of Barham Court. As First Lord of the Admiralty, he was raised to the peerage as Lord Barham.
The saga of Barham Court continued with various owners and tenants. From 1891 Colonel Sir Chares Warde leased the house, then bought it in 1926 and lived in the property until his death in 1937. Related to the Wardes of Squerryes Court in Westerham, in 1892 he had been elected MP for the Medway Division.
Kent suffered severe storms and flooding in the early part of the 20th century and Barham Court, although on high ground, did not escape damage. During the First World War the house was used as a hospital by the military; no doubt a lot of damage had occurred before a fire broke out in 1932 which resulted in a major portion of the property being gutted.
It was subsequently restored and rebuilt by London firm Holloway Brothers, who were responsible for much of Barham Court as it appears today. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the external of the building remained faithful to much of Philip Latrobe’s architecture.
Sir Herbert was highly thought of, he worked in cooperation with Lutyens, undertook commissions in South Africa and his work is much in evidence in New Delhi.
Barham Court today
John Hesketh and his wife and children were the last family to live at Barham Court. Over the years it had been visited by many famous people and this continued in recent history with visits by Queen Mary and Sir Winston Churchill. Now converted to serviced office accommodation, the interior of the Grade II* listed property is tastefully and functionally divided into furnished offices and suites of varying sizes.
Kent people have entrepreneurial skills combined with vision and determination, so it is not surprising the county is home to so many SMEs and embryo businesses seeking offices. Most small businesses benefit from flexible arrangements that enable upsizing and downsizing to comply with changing needs.
The well-appointed reception area is always fully staffed, visitors are logged, signed in and their arrival announced. Services also include a telephone-answering system which operates when a tenant is out at a business meeting or ‘away from the desk.’ The impressive property is carefully looked after and the grounds are beautifully maintained.
It is this sort of vision and business acumen that is helping to preserve some of Kent’s historic properties. Without it, Barham Court and similar properties would fall into rack and ruin and important parts of our enviable heritage would be lost to posterity.
Modern-day usage of historic properties is playing a significant part in safeguarding our wonderful county history.
Find out more
Barham Court, Teston, Maidstone ME18 5BZ
01622 618600 www.barhamcourt.co.uk