Before we start, the name of this marvellous medieval moated manor house is pronounced ‘item’. It is derived from a Saxon name, Ehta, so it means ‘Ehta’s homestead’ – or, as we would say, ‘Ehta’s place’. The ‘mote’ is possibly because it is surrounded by, yes, a moat; or it could be built on a moot – an ancient meeting place.
Anyroadup, go there on a hot spring or summer’s day, when the ground gives off that comforting warmed earth and vegetation smell. Wander round the gardens, the orchard, the woods – then checkout this charming house, allegedly historian David Starkey’s favourite Tudor property. It originates from the early 14th century and was developed over the next hundred years or two to form the unusual complete square enclosing the cobbled courtyard that can be seen today. Heavily restored in the late 19th century, and extensively repaired in the 1950s, by the 1990s the ravages of time, acid rain and deathwatch beetle had taken their toll; the house was saved from oblivion by a £10m+ restoration project undertaken by the National Trust from 1989 - 2002.
Igtham Mote is not one of those witnesses, so far as we know, to the great events of history; it was home to a succession of well-heeled gentry, who evidently kept their heads below the parapet. During the reign of Henry VIII it was owned by one of his courtiers, Sir Richard Clement – and the place is rich in Tudor features and images. From 1591 – 1889, it was owned by the Selby family; Dorothy Selby was one of Elizabeth I’s ladies in waiting. A young man, Thomas Colyer-Fergusson, bought Igtham Mote for £38,000 from the Selbys and, his wife tragically dying in 1902, he brought his 6 children up there and lived in the place for 60 years until his death in 1951. Colyer-Fergusson lost a son in each world war and his only surviving heir, his grandson, could not take on responsibility for such an expensive property. Igtham Mote was sold to a consortium of local businessmen who hoped to rescue it, and then in 1953 to a Charles Henry Robinson of Portland, Maine, who had fallen in love with it during a cycle tour. Robinson gave the property to the National Trust when he died in 1985.
Apart from this being one of the most picturesque houses you will ever see, there are some fine features – not least the hall, chapel, crypt and library. It also boasts Britain’s only Grade I listed dog kennel, built for a Victorian St Bernard called Dido – no connection with the singer.
There are various tales of ghosts, bricked up skeletons and what-not associated with Igtham Mote, none of which sound terribly convincing to me. But one story I did like was that Cromwell’s soldiers, always getting history’s bad press, were on their way to rob the rich Royalist Selby family, but got lost in the dense forests that covered this part of England in those days. Unable to do over Igtham, they apparently pillaged somewhere else instead. I don’t know which innocent residence was on the receiving end of their obnoxious visit, but suspect the tale isn’t true anyway.
You’ll find Igtham Mote about 6 miles to the east of Sevenoaks, near Ivy Hatch, in Kent. Website HERE.