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A Grade I Listed Building in Capel, Kent

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Latitude: 51.1827 / 51°10'57"N

Longitude: 0.3003 / 0°18'1"E

OS Eastings: 560867

OS Northings: 145121

OS Grid: TQ608451

Mapcode National: GBR MP7.YHJ

Mapcode Global: VHHQ7.5J3Q

Entry Name: Somerhill

Listing Date: 20 October 1954

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1253489

English Heritage Legacy ID: 436723

Location: Capel, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN11

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Capel

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Tudeley cum Capel with Five Oak Green

Church of England Diocese: Rochester

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Listing Text

1/299 Somerhill


Mansion with associated service buildings and stables. The main house is
dated 1611-13 by several lead rainwater heads and a datestone and was built
for Richard, the Fourth Earl of Clanricade , apparently to plans provided by
John Thorpe. Internally the house has been modernised several times since the
early C17 and now shows most later features; notably those of circa 1780,
probably for William Woodgate, circa 1830 for James Alexander, circa 1879 for
Julian Goldsmidt and circa 1930 for Osmund d'Avigdor-Goldsmid by Messrs E. B.
Hoare and M. Wheeler (according to Country Life) or Sir Herbert Baker
(according to Department of Environment Register of Parks and Gardens). Parts
of the service courtyard buildings are early C17 but it underwent a major
refurbishment circa 1879. The stables courtyard was completely rebuilt in
1879 according to the dated rainwater heads. The whole complex is now (1988)
undergoing a major refurbishment and conversion to a school by the
architectural practice, Feilden and Mawson.

All the building ranges are built of coursed blocks of Calverly stone ashlar.
The stacks are of similar masonry topped with brick and with clusters of
octagonal chimneyshafts. Roof of red clay peg-tiles.

The House

Plan and Development; Important H-plan house, an advanced example
transitional between the medieval and modern plan-types. According to Sir
JohnSummerson it is one of several Thorpe designs based on the Palladio plan
of the Villa Valmarana at Lisiera. The house is built on top of a high hill
and faces west. The main block has a central entrance directly into the hall
which is set across the building from front to back. Either side the house is
2-rooms deep. To right (south) at the front is the main stair with a parlour
behind and the right crosswing contains a long library heated by 3 fireplaces.
To left (north) a corridor leads along the front to the crosswing. Behind the
corridor is a large dining room. There is a service stair in the centre of
the northern crosswing, service rooms to the front and a 2-room parlour suite
to rear. Small one-room plan turrets project from the north side each end.
This layout is essentially the result of C19 alterations although the basic
structure appears to be largely original. Thorpe's original plan (illustrated
in Country Life) shows the intended layout. The main stair was to right of
the hall but to rear and the right hand (southern) crosswing contained 3 main
rooms. To left of the hall are 2 rooms one each side of a central axial
passage from the hall to the service crosswing. (This arrangement is
preserved on the first floor.) It may be that the kitchen was actually put in
the service courtyard rather than in the northern crosswing as shown on
Thorpe's plan. The first floor contains suites of bedchambers either side of
the saloon, the great chamber over the hall. The turrets projecting from the
north side are not shown on Thorpe's plan but do seem to show on Turner's
painting of the place of 1811 (reproduced in Country Life). It is not clear
whether or not they are original.

The house is 2 storeys with a half basement and attics in the roofspace.

Exterior: All 4 elevations present symmetrical gabled facades which are
surprisingly unornamented for a house of this status from the early C17. The
western (entrance) elevation has a 1:1:3:1:3:1-window front. The odd left
hand one-window section belong to the southern turret. The majority of the
ground and first floor windows are simple stone mullion-and-transom windows
except on the ends of the crosswings and the centre of the main range where
there are larger canted bay windows with crenellated parapets. On the wings
these bays are confined to the ground floor but disturbed masonry above
suggests that they were originally 2-storeys high like they are on the rear of
the house. Most, if not all of the windows have replacement mullions and
transoms and contain rectangular panes of leaded glass. The bay window in the
main block serves the saloon over a shallow entrance porch with crenellated
parapet, round-headed arch with a keystone carved with balls and nailheads,
spandrels containing panelled circles, flanking fluted pilasters, triglyphs
and moulded entablature. The whole front has a chamfered plinth, a flat band
at first floor level, a moulded eaves cornice and parapet. The gables and
corners have ball finials. The gables and clusters of tall chimneyshafts
contribute strongly to the appearance of the house. The other sides continue
in the same style. The right (southern) end has a symmetrical 3:1:3 window
front with a central canted bay and includes 2 C19 or C20 doorways with
bolection-moulded frames. The rear (eastern) side has a 1:2:3:2:1-window
front with a C20 doorway punched through the central bay window. The left
(northern) end has a 2:1:2-window front to the service courtyard and has a
central doorway into the basement; a Tudor arch doorway under a stone
pedimented hood resting on corbels.

One of the most remarkable survivals at Somerhill is the complete set of
original ornamental lead rainwater heads and drain pipes. The rainwater heads
are at their most elaborate on the main entrance front but all deserve close
attention. Some are dated 1611 or 1613 and many include the initials of
Robert and Frances Clarincade.

Interior: Shows mostly the result of the various C19 and C20 modernisations
which, for the most part imitate Jacobean style. A great deal was done in the
circa 1920 including the wainscotting and chimneypieces of the hall and saloon
and their enriched rib plaster ceilings. Other important rooms were also
repanelled. The panelling cleverly incorporates some earlier work. The main
stair may have been rebuilt at the same time although it could be C19. The
massive chimneypiece of polychrome marble in the dining room probably dates
circa 1878. Whilst these modernisations aimed to keep the public rooms in
Jacobean style the private bedchambers were modernised to more personal taste.
Some rooms have Adams style chimneypieces with contemporary iron grates (one
inscribed G III R). In the southern wing the modernisations date from circa
1930; the front first floor room was lined with C18 style panelling and the
bathrooms furnished in Art Deco style.

Here and there, around the house, there are indications that much of the early
structure survives intact behind later work. For instance the south wing
includes several stone Tudor arch doorways and there are two more in the
cellars. Also there is a large round-headed stone arch which originally
connected the central passage from the hall to the southern crosswing. The
alcoves alongside the ground and first floor fireplaces at the rear of the
south wing were probably garderobe alcoves. A nearby stair from first floor
to attics rises around a closed well which includes a curious cupboard. The
stair has square newel posts with acorn-shaped finials, a moulded handrail and
turned oak balusters. There is a grille of similar balusters over the foot of
the staircase. Directly below at ground floor level a framed partition
includes the remains of an oak doorframe; ovolo-moulded with scroll stops and
above (in the attic) a chamfered and scroll-stopped doorframe. In the saloon
fragments of high quality original ornamental plasterwork remain over the
canted embrasures of both windows.

The Roof: Appears to be original throughout and is carried on A-frame tie-
beam trusses with pegged mortise-and-tenoned collars. The 3-bay cross roof
over the hall/saloon is taller and of larger scantling than the other roof

The house at Somerhill is impressively situated in a mature, natural park on a
hill with extensive views. More than that it is very important in terms of
the evolution of English domestic architecture.

The Service Courtyard

Plan and Development: 3 ranges enclosing a courtyard adjoining the northern
side of the main house. Circa 1879 they were refurbished to be used as
servant accommodation and offices. This involved much internal reorganisation
and most of the evidence for their former layout is hidden. The ranges are
not contemporary. The north range appears to be the oldest and was probably
built circa 1611-13 with the main house. It now comprises 2 2-room plan
cottages, one either side of a central through passage. Since there are 2
original staircases here it seems likely that the arrangement was always
similar. The stacks in this range are probably secondary. A one-room plan
extension projects northwards towards the west end and this is heated by a
stack backing onto the range. The outer (northern) side was formerly an open
arcade of timber posts. The posts are boxed in and their date uncertain.

The east range has a wide passageway through. It has an axial stack towards
the north end which might have served a kitchen-size fireplace. There was a
gap between this stack and the south range which is now filled in. There is
precious little dating evidence for any phase of this range. Circa 1879 the
ground floor rooms were converted to offices and stores whilst the first floor
became a gallery (with small rooms off it) connecting the main house to the
new guest apartments. The west range was also altered in circa 1879 and now
contains 2 2-room plan cottages, one either side of a through passage. All
the ranges have one storey with attic rooms in the roofspace and the north
range (which is terraced into the hillslope) has a half basement which opens
onto the lower ground level behind.

Exterior: Although the ranges date from at least 2 building phases they now
share a consistent style. The doorways have Tudor arch heads and the windows
are stone and one or two lights (mostly C19 replacements). The attics have
tall gable dormer windows. The outer (west) face of the west range has an
irregular 4-window front with 2 doorways, the right one to the passage. Into
the courtyard this range has a 3-window front. The north range courtyard side
has a symmetrical 4-window front including windows to the half basement.
There are 3 doorways; the centre one to the passage. The outer doorways
formerly led to each of the stairs which were lit above by small slit windows.
The east range has a 3-window front and 2 doorways, the right one to the
passage. Throughout these buildings the gables have ball finials and the
brick chimneyshafts are very important visually. The older masonry of the
north range is distinguished by having a chamfered plinth which runs through
behind the others ranges.

Interior: Is largely the result of C19 alterations but where floor beams show
they appear to be C17. Apart from a large Tudor arch headed niche in the east
wing (possibly a blocked kitchen-size fireplace) no other early features are
exposed in the east and west wings and their roofspaces are inaccessible. In
the north wing there are 2 large winder stairs to the attics. One of the
newel posts still has a shaped finial. Both stairs have been demolished at
basement level. What little that could be seen of the north range roof
suggested it is carried on C17 A-frame tie-beam trusses with butt purlins.

The Stable Block

Plan: North of the service courtyard is another courtyard enclosed by
stables, garage/coach houses, cottages, servant accommodation and at the east
end, suites of high status, guest apartments. These are single phase
buildings dated 1879. There is a gateway through the west end. To right
(south) is a pair of small 2-room plan cottages with a tall clock tower at the
end. The rest of this (the south) side of the courtyard is enclosed by the
north range of the service courtyard. The north side of this stable yard has
stables with segregated servant accommodation above. The rest of this range
contains garages (former coach houses) which continue in the return across the
back (east) range. There are suites of good rooms over the garages and boiler
rooms below the stables.

Exterior: These C19 buildings are built in the same style as the main house.
The courtyard is dominated by a tall clock tower; 5 stages with embattled
parapet and above is a louvred bellcote with a spire and wrought iron
weathervane. Alongside are the cottages with a 2-window front and 2 doorways
into the courtyard. The attic windows are gabled dormers. The main roof is
gable-ended with shaped kneelers and coping. The shoulders and apexes have
ball finials. There is a tall wall across the wet end of the courtyard. The
centre breaks forward and contains a tall and wide Tudor arch. The wall is
gabled above with ball finials.

The courtyard side of the stables has a symmetrical 4-window front with 3
gables. The 2 stable doorways have tall overlights with pointed arch heads
above. In the centre there is a drinking trough set in a Tudor arch-headed
niche and enclosed by a low wall. Directly above the centre gable contains a
hayloft loading hatch with a shoulder-arched doorway. At the right (east) end
a stair block in the same style breaks forward. The doorway has a shoulder
headed arch. The rest of the north range and the east range have various
garage doors onto the courtyard and 3-window fronts above. The outer sides
continue in the same style and include some large canted bay windows with
crenellated parapets in the same style as the main house.

Interior: The stables have good quality cast iron stalls. All these ranges
include a great deal of original joinery and other detail. There is in the
south east corner a grand Jacobean style staircase. Its square section newel
posts include panels of carved foliage and have ornate poppyhead finials; it
has a closed string; fluted vase balusters and moulded ramped handrail. 2
large rooms (one under the garage section of the north range and the other off
the first half landing) have Jacobean style panelling, timber chimneypieces
and moulded plaster ceilings. The rooms over the garages are well-finished
suites of bedchambers but are not Jacobean style. These rooms are now flats
but were probably built for accommodating parties of guests with the lower
rooms used for entertainment.

Sources. Department of the Environment Register of Parks and Gardens.
John Newman. West Kent and the Weald. Penguin Books Buildings of England
series (1969) pp.536-7.
H. Avray Tipping. 'Somerhill, Kent'. Country Life, Sept 9, 1922, pp.310-317.

Listing NGR: TQ6212245444

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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