If only Jane Austen had found a husband, of many acres and generous guineas, from the landed gentry. She might have lived a refined life as the lady of an elegant estate such as Chilston Park in Kent, instead of writing for a living.
Comfy in her four-poster bed with her husband, no need for the brass bed-warmer in the corner, nor for the vast marble fire-place, she would have approved of the pleasant view of 22 acres of gentle country parkland.
In her elegant, well-proportioned home – now Grade 1 listed and with some foundations impressively dating back to the twelfth century – she could have been pleased with the ornate ceilings, deep mahogany panelling and countless stern portraits of her husband’s ancestors: entertaining her husband with songs at the grand piano and Bach sonatas on the mini-organ.
Today, the lengthy drive is still reassuring furlongs from the nearest road and a comfortable distance from the brazen 21st century. Fortunate visitors staying in the 53 rooms, including three suites and seven feature rooms – with nostalgic names such as Queen Ann, Gild and Hogarth – slip back into a gentler Age of Elegance.
In Culpepper’s restaurant, it is high quality quintessential English fare commended by two AA Rosettes, there’s a discrete distance between the white-clothed tables. The warm candle-light encourages guests to dress with the sophistication of bygone times. Or there are a number of private dining rooms, perfect for celebrating a special occasion.
In a worrying era of characterless corporate cloning of country hotels, Chilston Park Hotel has retained an impressive sense of individuality and history. Family photograph albums of previous owners sit on the cluttered bookshelves. There are framed pictures too, from the early days of photography, ladies in long white tight-waisted white dresses, enjoy a country picnic.
Chilston has been refurbished in the spirit of the robust masculine colours of 18th and 19th-century country living: deep navy carpets and rich vermillion walls, whilst the hefty architectural curtains are sufficiently resilient to have repelled a Roundheads’ volley of musketry during the English Civil War.
Chilston Park House, located in Kent’s gentle Garden of England landscape of oast houses and hop farms, sat sadly derelict and neglected for two decades in the late Twentieth Century after its last private owner retreated to just two rooms. Rescue began with John Miller of “Miller’s Antique Guides” fame looking to store excess antiques before beginning restoration when tempted by the prospect of a hotel. Then Miller, sold-up, partly to focus on his commendable quest to create a Perfect Gin. Raise a glass of Millers in the bar to celebrate his endeavour which helped kick-start the current thirst for high-end designer gins. Hand Picked Hotels have continued to lovingly restore, building on Miller’s early work, with a restrained and thoughtful touch.
It’s the sort of venue with its crammed treasure trove of antiquarian maps, ceramic plates, grandfather clocks, historic manuscripts and oriental prints and vases which could not just host The Antiques Road Show for a weekend but for an entire series. Although there’s a potted history of the House’s rich history in every room, and the bonus of an extract from a Maid’s diary from 1938 to 1942, many visitors will want to know more. Taking a break from trips to nearby beautiful castles at Hever and Leeds, Canterbury Cathedral and the Pantiles of Royal Tonbridge Wells, visitors almost long for a rainy day when they can browse through Chilston’s treasures.
Fortunately, the 21st century has seen a revival in that great ritual of empire – dating back to a time when tea clippers raced leaves of Assam, Darjeeling and Earl Grey back to Blighty – and Chilston Park, serving triangular sandwiches followed by mini-scones with cream and strawberry jam, macaroons and delicate eclairs has played its part in the welcome Renaissance of Afternoon Tea.
Looking down from one of his later portraits Arteas Akers-Douglas, Home Secretary from 1902 – 1906, looks rather thicker around the waist than in his younger life. Although Culpeppers restaurant has more nutritious offerings than was the fashion in those Edwardian years of excess, and the Viscount of Chilston may not have seen the need for the vegetarian options, he would certainly have raised a glass to an extensive and impressive wine menu put together in collaboration with Bibendum Wine.
Tell me more about Chilston Park Hotel
Sandway, Lenham, Maidstone,
Tel: 0845 458 0901 or 01642 706 606
Double rooms from around £100.
Deals on Dinner, Bed and Breakfast may be available.
A dozen miles East of Maidstone, Chilston has easy access to the M20.