English Medieval Moated Manor House : American Saves 645-Year-Old Mansion
As the last act in a remarkable 60-year saga, an American has made a gift to the English nation of a magical mansion he preserved.
Ightham Mote is a 645-year-old stately home described as “the most perfect example of a medieval moated manor house left in England.” It remains that way because of Charles Henry Robinson of Cape Elizabeth, Me.
Robinson, now 93, first saw Ightham Mote (pronounced “item moat”) from a bicycle in the early 1920s. An odd coincidence brought him back 30 years later, in 1953--and he bought it.
Now, in a simple ceremony the other day, Ightham Mote formally was handed over on Robinson’s behalf to the National Trust, a charity which owns more than 200 other stately homes.
Belongs to the Ages
“This house was 152 years old when Columbus started for America,” Robinson said at Ightham Mote in 1958. “It seems to me to belong to the ages.”
Now he has ensured that it belongs to everyone. A decade of work lies ahead to complete the preservation Robinson began, said Lord de L’Isle, chairman of a new restoration fund. But Ightham Mote will remain open to the public throughout, with expanded opening hours beginning next year.
Today’s visitors share the breathtaking surprise that struck young Robinson on his 1920s bike tour. You descend the same steep lane, thickly wooded, seeming buried in remote country although London is only 29 miles northwest. Suddenly the house appears as if by magic.
A square two-story mansion of stone and half-timbering, rising sheer from a watery moat. A flag fluttering from a crenelated tower. A bridge over the moat to an open central courtyard. Carpets of green lawn to lakes above, below and beside the house. A perfect ensemble cupped in a miniature valley.
“Ightham Mote has a dreamlike quality that carries its visitors more swiftly back in imagination to medieval times than anywhere in England,” said Angus Stirling, the National Trust’s director-general, at the ceremony marking the donation of the property. Robinson put it more simply in 1958.
“I said then,” he recalled of first seeing Ightham, “that this was the only house in England that I would ever care to own.”
Little wonder. Ightham Mote dates from 1340, with additions in 1521. Six centuries as a family home--one lord mayor of London owned it--left the house amazingly unchanged and indescribably beautiful.
Original Timbers Remain
Its Great Hall is still roofed by the original 14th-Century timbers, soaring 37 1/2-feet high--Robinson hung an American flag in one corner. One plain white stone room is a chapel as old as the house. A second chapel dates from the Tudor era, and everything in it--paneled pulpit, painted barrel-vault roof, box pews--was put there in 1521. A five-foot-high, half-timbered dog house adorns the cobbled courtyard.
Young Robinson returned to Maine to build up his paper business. Revisiting London 30 years later, he chanced upon an old print of Ightham and went to see it again.
“I found it still unspoiled but crumbling,” he recalled. The last family had moved out, and Ightham was about to be demolished for its ancient bricks and timbers. To prevent that, local residents had hastily banded together and bought it.
But they had no money for repairs and upkeep, and Ightham was for sale.