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A SIGNIFICANT RESTORATION
By Agnes Conway, daughter of Sir Martin Conway.
From House Beautiful, August 1929

(Exactly as written except I have added paragraphs; I find great chunks of content oppressive. Forgive any typos, it’s a lot of typing!)

[Learn about Sir Conway here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Conway,_1st_Baron_Conway_of_Allington ]

On May 15, 1905, Sir Martin Conway inserted the following advertisement in the Times – ‘Wanted: To purchase old manor house or abbey, built in the sixteenth century or earlier, with old garden, not much land, no sporting facilities, preferably five miles or more from a railway station.’

Two replies were received – one about a stuccoed castellated mansion, suitable for a hotel or hydro; the other from Allington Castle on the River Medway, not far from Maidstone, in which we were picnicking after the purchase, six weeks from that date. Fortunately it was summer, for the castle was open to the sky, with the exception of the rooms in the gabled Elizabethan building which was the home of innumerable rats, who ran about inside the walls all day and night.

The age of the building exceeded our demands; for that a real medieval castle should be for sale, thirty-five miles from London, had never even entered our minds. This one contained remains of three successive castles and two manor houses – the earliest a moated mound raised at the time of the Conquest, and once crowned by a wooden fort, of which the mound and the moat are still extant.

Figure 2, The Moat Wall

The second, a stone castle, built toward the end of the eleventh century and pulled down in 1170 at a cost of sixty shillings by orders of the King, after a general rising of the barons. Of this castle, a gigantic fireplace, large enough to roast an ox, and the foundations of several rooms, marked out by us in cement in the inner courtyard, remain. The twelfth-century wall, surrounding the moat, is intact, and forms the background to our herbaceous border. (Figure 2).

For the next one hundred and twelve years, during which period no one took out a license to crenelate the building, Allington was merely a manor house, in the possession of the Norman family of Longchamp, relatives of the regent whom Richard I left to govern England when he went on crusade. But in 1279, Stephen of Penchester, Warden of the Cinque Ports, who owned Penshurst Place in Kent, afterward the home of Sir Philip Sidney, bought Allington and obtained a license to turn it into a castle again.

He put the battlements (restored in 1909) on the Longchamp gatehouse (Figure 4) and on the west wing (Figure 1) – also of the Longchamp period in the lower story – and built Solomon’s Tower (Figure 3) at the end of the block. This was the main tower of the castle; and the room on the first floor, with two arrow shoots, a window, two doors and a fireplace of his date, is my bedroom to-day. (Figure 6) All it needed was a roof and a floor.

The West Wing

Figure 1, The West Wing

Figure 3, Solomon's Tower

The Tower Bedroom

He built with Kentish rag, like his predecessors, but imported Caen stone from Normandy for the windows and doors.

The top of Solomon’s Tower, as restored by us, and the courtyard aspect of the west wing are seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5, the Outer Courtyard

Stephen was the best of the many builders of Allington, and his mortar is still as hard as a rock. But in two hundred and fifty years fashions changed; and when Allington was bought in 1507 by Sir Henry Wyatt, the father of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the poet, certain alterations were made.

The buildings had hitherto enclosed one large courtyard; but Wyatt, in the manner of his time, built a Long Gallery across it from the Penchester porch (Figure 5), dividing it into two almost equal-sized courtyards. Wyatt’s arch leading to the inner courtyard is also seen in Figure 5. He introduced larger windows throughout the building, as in the room over the entrance arch (Figure 4), and his son decorated it so sumptuously that it was famed as a splendid house in his day.

Here Sir Henry Wyatt entertained Henry VIII, whose dinner was served through the door and kitchen hatch found by us bricked up in the wine cellar. But the Wyatt reign at Allington was only of forty-six years; for the younger Sir Thomas lost his head and property in a rebellion against the Spanish marriage of Queen Mary in 1553 and Allington was never again a residence of consequence.

An Elizabethan gabled story was added all the way round the courtyard when the castle was turned into a farmhouse about the year 1600, and many drawings and water colors by Turner and others exist of it in that condition.

In 1840 the gables along the length of the west wing were pulled down, the beams of the floors taken out and sold, the paneling destroyed, and the bulk left in the state in which it was found by us.

The opposite side of the inner courtyard continued in existence as a farmhouse and then as laborers’ cottages, becoming even more and more derelict, till it sheltered us when we were planning our restoration.

The first thing we had to do was to rebuild Wyatt’s Long Gallery, which had burned down in 1820, and thereby gain access from the Elizabethan house to the ruined west wing without going out of doors or through the domestic quarters on the ground floor. This room is frankly modern, and has served us ever since as the general living-room. That completed, we could turn out attention to the west wing, a gutted shell with thirteenth century doors and windows intact. Here we had to strip the ivy, which, six feet thick in places, concealed every stone of the walls.

With the roof gone, we were at liberty to reconstruct the battlements built by Stephen of Penchester. This entailed rebuilding the top eight feet of wall, which had been cut away in places for the low gables; yet sufficient data remained to reerect them exactly as they had been in 1282 (Figure 1).

We then dug away the soil of ages, which hid the bottom eight feet of the west wall on the moat side, and leveled a grass terrace to the water, which still surrounded the castle on three sides. The fourth side had of course to be reconstructed. This building gave us a long drawing-room on the ground floor and a suite of bedrooms above.

We continued our work with the battlements and machicolations of the gatehouse, and made the room over the entrance arch into a library. The other two sides of the outer courtyard, which had at one time been injured by fire, were temporarily left a ruin.

Solomon’s Tower was intact, save for a giant bite out of the top story, and this was next repaired (Figure 3). We then had a habitable house, drained, lit by electricity, and centrally heated., with a bathroom attached to each important bedroom – sufficient for our needs and finished before the Great War.

The experience gained on this straightforward piece of restoration is now being utilized to rebuild the twelfth-century banqueting hall, a work of considerable difficulty. But excavation of the two sides, of which nothing remained above ground, has revealed the bottom of a fireplace with its stone fender, the base and mouldings of the chief door, and the tiles of the pavement. The remaining two sides are intact, so that the restoration which is proceeding now will be correct in every detail.

The tower behind the Hall, which contained the principal bedroom, slept in by Henry VIII, whose chair descended with the castle, has been roofed since the war, though not yet made fit for habitation. The chapel adjacent to the gatehouse and the solar still remain in ruins.

Although there is still much to be done, it is now just conceivable that we may live long enough to finish the building. The interior decoration has not proceeded far. Unfortunately our collection of Italian old masters does not look well upon stone walls, and we are gradually paneling and painting some rooms and hanging others with Persian rugs and woven country clothes of the Stone Age, still being made in Sierra Leone. Those, in lieu of tapestry, look better than anything else on the walls (see bed in Figure 6). A copy of a fifteenth-century tapestry being made for me for the Great Hall will take at least ten years to complete.

Many of the rooms are paved with copies of thirteenth-century tiles (Figure 6) and have been designed to be roofed with replicas designed to be roofed with replicas of sixteenth-century plaster ceilings. One such has just been introduced into the hall of a neighboring castle with great effect. The furniture is largely of Jacobean oak. But before the war, or even now, decoration is subordinated to actual structural progress and to the rescue of the grounds from the tar-paving factory, the railway cutting, the cluster of ugly oast [sic] houses, and the public right of way that used to cut the property in half.

Thousands of tons of earth went into the railway cutting; by degrees a green meadow by the river took the place of the factory, and a new road was cut out through the wood to lead to the castle.

Not till after the war could any progress be made with the garden. But moss on the inside of the courtyard walls took the place of ivy; and the farmhouse vines, which used to yield eighty gallons of so-called champagne a year, were left to ramp over the ruined walls of the banqueting hall. The outside of the castle was purposely left severe and flowerless; the inner banks of the moat were turfed and mown, and only the outer ones were allowed to bloom with thousands of daffodils, and to grow hay, a mass of marguerites in between (Figure 1).

Between the eastern side of the castle and the twelfth-century wall, which bounds the moat, is about an acre of enclosed lawn, approached by a thirteenth-century door at the back of the banqueting hall.

Against the moat wall, stretching from a round twelfth-century pigeon house (Figure 2) to the back bridge behind Solomon’s Tower (Figure 3), a long herbaceous border has been made. By degrees the fields in which lie a Roman villa, the eleventh-century moated mound, the second twelfth-century pigeon house, and the fifteenth-century barns, are taking their place in a garden scheme, and a yew garden planted after the Armistice can now be trimmed into walls of a respectable height.

Much remains to be done; but on summer days when the roses are out and sympathetic friends spur us on, we sometimes think we may live long enough, after all, to complete our task. But nothing can deprive us of the fun we have had: digging out the history of the building from the ground and that of its owners from the Public Record Offices; planning the alterations and discussing the alternatives; utilizing every opportunity of travel to pick up adjuncts such as the statuette of Saint Martin over the Long Gallery door; breeding swans and peacocks, and draining the moat for treasures which we never find.

Tradition has it that when the golden pig is dug up at Allington, the finder will swiftly vanish away. May that be the end of us all!

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