The secret's in the soil
Country Life UK|November 04, 2020
The houses of the Garden of England are as impressive and storied as the landscape
Penny Churchill

LOCATED within a day’s ride from London, the Garden of England has been the rural retreat and playground of the rich and powerful since medieval times and Kent claims to have more historic houses and castles than any other county in England.

Its rich soil also spawned generations of prosperous yeomen farmers, who built picturesque farmhouses and even grand country houses that are today more sought-after than ever by London escapees.

With a nod to both the aristocratic and the farming traditions, Grade II-listed Shirley Hall at Langton Green, three miles west of Tunbridge Wells, stands on the site of Sherlocks Farm, the original walls of which are still visible in the cellar, which also houses the original well belonging to the farm. According to local historians, details of the foundations and its 30ft well were recorded in the Domesday survey. In August 1872, the Hall, then known as Sherlocks House, and comprising the house with ‘the outbuilding, lodges, cottage, garden, pleasure gardens, drive lands, ponds and hereditaments thereto belonging’, was sold by Sir Walter Rockcliff Farquhar, son-in-law of the 6th Duke of Beaufort, to a wealthy widow, Sarah Williams of Penshurst, for the princely sum of £11,774. It is now on the market with Knight Frank (020–7861 1065) at a guide price of £8.75 million.

From 1872 until 1932, three generations of the Williams family lived at Shirley Hall, during which time they extended the main house, adding another storey and additional wings, including a classic Victorian orangery/ winter garden. One family member was the master of the local hunt and built kennels for the hounds near the small walled garden.

The glory days ended with the departure of the Williamses and the house remained empty until the outbreak of the Second World War, when the 265th Field Park Company Royal Engineers were stationed there.

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