The Manor House, West Malling
By Phyllis E. Stevens
Aerial Photograph of the Manor House and grounds taken c1929/30
St Leonards House, Douces Manor, The Manor House, West Malling, how did it begin?
From my research, I am inclined to believe that it was built by a Benjamin Hubble. In a list of Freeholders of West Malling, he appears in 1714 & 1715 where he is joined by a son who is with him until 1723 and from then there is only one Hubble again to 1730. Benjamin, who died on the 24 April 1745, had a son Benjamin baptised at West Malling on 13 August 1714 who married Ann Savage, daughter of John Savage of Boughton Monchelsea. They had ten children and lost quite a lot of them while young but when Benjamin died he left St Leonards House to his two daughters Margaret and Catherine. I have seen engraved on two of the bricks of the stables “ BH1738“ which could mean that the stables were built about 1738 and probably the house about the same time. His daughter Margaret Hubble married Thomas Augustus Douce by Licence at St Catherines Coleman in London on the 30th September 1777 and later Thomas Douce bought his sister-in-law Catherine Hubbles’s half of the Estate. After they were settled Thomas made a lot of alterations, pushing the lake further into the Park away from the house and making a new road beside the lake and the old St Leonards Street became his front and back drive. This meant moving a lot of soil.
Thomas died on the 30th August 1802 at the age of 55 and his wife Margaret died on the 14 October 1809. As far as I know the Douces continued to live in St Leonards House for a while, then some of the family moved to Detling.
John Banks of Halling, Kent, arranged to buy St Leonards House but unfortunately died before it was settled so it was left in the hands of his executors Mr J.E. Morton and Mr Silas Norton. During this time the house was let to Caroline Cornwallis who had 6 servants, a coachman and 2 Agricultural labourers. The Executors of John Bank’s Will continued to buy land etc., and eventually sold the estate to Captain John Savage.
Captain John Savage, Deputy Lieutenant & Magistrate of Kent now moved into St Leonards House in 1851 with his family which comprised of his second wife Sarah Charlotte (nee Duppa formerly Hancorn) from Hollingbourne and his two daughters Elizabeth and Theodosia who were born in India. He lived there until he died on the 2nd May 1867. His wife died on the 19th May 1873 aged 55. Elizabeth and Theodosia continued to live at St Leonards until Elizabeth the eldest daughter died in 1902. Theodosia stayed on until she died on the 10th of October 1906 aged 75.
The estate was then acquired by Mr Henry Joseph Wood of Bidborough Court and from then on St Leonards House was called The Manor House. He built some extensions on the back of the house and he also built a conservatory or Winter Garden with what was called the Birds Cage which led down to the Music Room.
Conservatory and Italian Garden
Mr Henry Wood carried out extensive repairs and alterations, building the two wings facing the yard with flat roofs, the entrance Lodge bungalow and converted part of the stables into garages and a chauffeur’s cottage. He also had a Tennis Court made on the lawn that was outside the West wall of the kitchen garden.
The Kitchen Garden
The Kitchen Garden was a square enclosure surrounded by high brick walls with paths that crossed in the middle which had rose arches at intervals going across them from north to south, east to west and round the four large beds. Box hedges edged the gravel paths. On the walls were peaches, apples, nectarines, Morella cherries, plums and pears. Blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries were grown plus a very large bed of asparagus as well as the usual vegetables. There were five or six gardeners who kept the gardens in order. Altogether with the five large greenhouses on the north wall it looked pretty good as Rudyard Kipling said in his poem “The Glory of the Garden”, “Such gardens are not made by singing ‘oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” In the greenhouses grapes and tomatoes were grown and various bedding out plants and vegetables. The soil used for potting was made with soil from a turf stack that was made with turves from the apple and pear orchard behind the Potting shed and mixed with other ingredients. It was probably like John Innes that we use today. On the inside of the south wall is an engine room where the electricity was made for the lights in the house. There were large batteries which filled up with current when the engine was driving the generators. Mr Wood continued to improve the estate until he died in 1916.
Horse and carriage taken c 1922
It was then that the Trustees of Frederick Andrew bought the Manor House to make a Convalescent Home for Ladies. This opened for use in April 1921.
Dr. F.S.Genney of Lincoln was Chairman of the trustees and Nurse Esme Russell was the Matron. There were 17 bedrooms available for patients or visitors who were given three weeks holiday and were treated very well. The house was beautifully furnished and comprised of a vestibule with polished oak flooring, which led into a spacious main hall.
The Main Hall and Staircase
The main rooms were the Library, Drawing Room, Dining Room and the Morning Room which was used as an office for meetings and by the General Secretary. There was also a Music Room which was fully panelled with Cedar of Lebanon wood which had a marvellous scent. Going upstairs by the main staircase, which had newel posts headed with carved lions, was a main landing with bedrooms named “Carholme”, “Cross O Cliffe”, “ The Forth Northern”, “Cleethorpes”, ”Fosdyke”, “The Albion”, “Broadgate” and so on, all given Lincolnshire names. The food storeroom was called Nesdale, a cloakroom called Boutham and a cloakroom called Monk’s Abbey. There were about seven maids and a cook.
There was a change of Matron in 1922 and things were rather different especially during the winter as most Saturday evenings she organised a musical evening when visitors, staff and a few of the local people assembled in the Music Room for entertainment by all those present, including the children of the estate. In the summer there was the same thing on the main lawn where the Seasons Statues looked on from their small stone pillars. It was quite good fun for the younger generation.
The Four Seasons Border
From the main lawn a path led to a gate that went into the Churchyard. The path also went through a small wood which in the spring was covered in snowdrops. In the wood there was another path that went past the Potting Shed and on to the Lavender Walk, again covered with rose arches which looked beautiful in the summer.
The Gardeners taken c 1922
The head gardener moved to Shropshire in 1924 so there was a general move up with the outside staff. Ned Morgan, Ted Bates, and Edwin Broad remained and Les Barton was taken on. During this year the grounds and all the estate were opened to the public. A small charge was made which went to the Nurses home. At the top of the path which passed the tennis courts and herbaceous border and turning to the right you would see a house which was called Ewell Cottage, later renamed Lindum (Lincoln) House, not very far from the Ewell hop garden. Entering the framing ground there was the propagating pit which got very hot and was used for growing melons, cucumbers etc. There were also a lot of other frames and not far from this was the wood shed and a shelter where the wheelbarrows were kept.
The estate went on very much the same, staff left and were replaced, also the Matrons. Miss Norah Townsend was there in 1927 and then Mrs Lyne who had been assistant and stayed until the Second World War began.
Quite a lot changed in the gardens. The tennis courts were replaced with an eighteen hole putting green which was better for convalescent people. Leslie Bennett and Cecil Large joined the outside staff when the two older men retired. When the Second World War began everything changed, and soon the Manor was turned into an RAF Officer’s mess. The panelled walls were all covered with chip board for protection, the furniture most of which was antique was put into storage, the Matron retired and notices were put up in the grounds to tell the Officers that most of the grounds were out of bounds to them. These notices incidently disappeared in about two days. With the airfield so near life was not exactly happy. One thing the Officers did which has remained to this day was to make a Bar in the cellars of the house which they called Twitch Inn, on the walls and ceilings are the names of Pilots, Navigators etc., The young gardeners were called up and the grounds were tended by the older men and two land army girls who were very good. Most of the fruit and vegetables, also honey from the hives, was sold in the local shops and I am sure that most people were pleased to get such fresh vegetables. When the War ended the men came back. The five greenhouses in the kitchen garden were taken down and one large one put up in the framing grounds. The financial state had changed so in 1968 the house was put on the market. It did not sell straight away but was eventually sold to become a restaurant. Then it was purchased by an insurance company and it will now probably be converted into flats in the house and houses in the grounds.
I wonder how many people have walked up the front drive on an autumn evening, tired after a days work and seen a very large Harvest moon reflected in the lake, owls hooting over by the church and every where bathed in moonlight; it was magic and one I cannot forget. In the years to come I hope others will get the same feeling as I did.