LULLINGSTONE CASTLE

This was my first outing with MNTA and I was looking forward to visiting Lullingstone, 48 members were on this trip so almost a full coach. We arrived promptly and after some clever reversing by Darren our coach driver we were taken to the marquee for coffee and biscuits. We were then introduced to Jonathan our excellent Blue Badge Guide, who was to be with us for the morning tour. We were the only visitors, as the house is only open at weekend for general admission so we felt like special guests. He first gave us a detailed history of the house, although called Lullingstone Castle it looks like manor house. It is set in 120 acres and dates back to 1497. Unusually it has been in the same family ever since. The original Tudor building has been extended with a Queen Anne façade and the family live at the back of the house behind the grand rooms on view to the public. Henry V111 and Queen Anne are known to have been regular visitors, and one of the many stories, which Jonathan told us as we went round was that a special staircase was built for Queen Anne’s comfort, being a portly lady. We were then taken to the church close to the house, which is still in use today. It has beautiful stained glass windows, some of the oldest in the country, and beautiful oak carvings. There we were shown the tomb of the originator of the family, Sir John Peche, his son and wife. Due to a lack of heirs the estate passed to Thomas Dyke, who married Anne, daughter and heiress of Percival Hart in 1836, so the family became Hart Dyke and still is to the present day owners Guy and Sarah Hart Dyke. 20 generations down the line. (Guy and Sarah are distant cousins – another of Jonathan’s interesting stories.) Around the church were the family coats of arms explained in detail to us by Jonathan. After the talk we were introduced to Sarah and then went around the public rooms in the house and heard more of the family history and saw many portraits and artefacts relevant to the family. We heard how the house was the original site of lawn tennis and the rules were drawn up in the mid-19th century, later it was requisitioned by the British Army during world war two. It was the original site of the Lullingstone silk factory established in the 1930s, however when the current Lady Hart Dyke at the time, who had set up the silk worms, was divorced she took the whole enterprise to Ayot St Laurence in Hertfordshire. This brought the morning to a close; we headed back to the marquee for lunch and said Goodbye to our excellent and very informative guide Jonathan. After lunch we were introduced to our guide for the afternoon, Jim Buttress, who many people recognised as the TV gardening personality. We had been expecting Tom Hart Dyke but he was currently abroad pursuing his plant searches. We were not disappointed by Jim’s guide around the World Garden, which he had created with Tom. He told us briefly of his gardening career, working in Royal parks and winning gold medals at Chelsea. He had met Tom 11 years ago, who inspired by Granny had become a keen gardener and plantsperson. He told us how Tom had been captured by guerrillas in Columbia, and passed the time, until by good fortune he was released, planning his world garden. We then did a whistle stop tour around the garden, visiting the countries of the world, seeing the plants that grow in each of the continents, learning where familiar plants originally came from, seeing their flags and also a few unusual and whimsical sculptures chosen by Tom. Jim told us that Tom would say “I have an idea”, and he then dreaded what would follow. We said Goodbye to Jim who went off to do some watering and we went back to the marquee for a cream tea and the end of a very Interesting day. Many thanks to John Pritchard for a well-organised and enjoyable day.

Sheila Stephens