Friday, March 10, 2006

Kevington Hall St Mary Cray Kent

Villa returns to its former glory

Last month, under the Civic Trust's Heritage Weekend programme, the public had a rare chance to view an historic building in St Mary Cray which is being restored privately without outside financial help.
LUCYA SZACHNOWSKI reports on what visitors found at Kevington Hall ...

THE estate of Kevington can be traced back to medieval times, when it was held by the Manning family.

Richard Manning, the last in possession, died without issue in 1753 and left the estate to his nephew, Denzil Onslow. His son, Middleton Onslow, sold it to a prosperous London merchant Herman Behrens, of Amsterdam, who had Kevington Hall built.

Kevington Hall is a Palladian villa, square in plan with Victorian additions, originally designed by architect Sir Robert Taylor in 1767 to 1769 at a cost of £6,192.10s, according to estate accounts.
Taylor trained initially as a sculptor. He visited Rome and later carved the pediment on the Mansion House, London.

Turning to architecture, he worked on a wide range of projects across the country. Although he was inspired by Andrea Palladio's compact, square villas, he was not simply a copyist. From humble beginnings and through hard work, Taylor became a major architect, rivalling Robert Adam.

Kevington Hall is a good example of his work. Set in a commanding position, it has views to the north east over a field and copse and, to the south west, over green belt land.
The staircase at Kevington is off-centre and serves the four main rooms the hall, library, dining room and drawing room. The main bedrooms are on the first floor and there is also a sub-basement.

The house has fine cornicing in all the principal ground floor rooms, that in the dining room being the most elaborate.

By the 1760s, Taylor's interior decoration was evolving in similar ways to Robert Adam's.
Impressive as it is externally, the full-height bay window was a later addition, introduced by Joseph Berens (the name modifying from Behrens).

Prior to this, the house would have had simple "square" form. There is a simple entablature and cornice which gives the house a flat, neo-classical character. The shallow-pitched roof is hidden from the ground by a low parapet which refers to an earlier 18th-century style. The white window surrounds which contrast strongly against the red brick walls.

Kevington Hall was the private home of the Berens family until the Second World War, at which time it was requisitioned by the Government to house Canadian troops.

Sold to
Kent County Council at the end of the war, it was used as a primary school until the early 1980s.

Many institutional features were added including an unsightly iron fire escape. The cornicing in the dining room was badly damaged to insert heating pipes and the hall banisters were cut and boarded.

Also during this time, a Livorno marble fireplace (matching the existing library fireplace) was removed from the drawing room for "safekeeping" and its whereabouts are unknown.

Yet, in spite of insensitive alterations carried out at this period, Kevington may well have survived because of council ownership.

The property was sold in 1987 as being surplus to educational needs and was bought by a private family with the aim of restoring it as a fine example of Taylor's architecture.

Since then, much has been done to improve the property's condition. The roof has been made watertight, a new central heating system has been fitted, the water system has been pressurised and placed in the cellar. Before this, the house had tons of water lying in the attic.

Current owner Janet Jackson and her son Jonathan are working hard but the villa still requires huge expenditure to fully restore it and secure its future under private ownership.

Mrs Jackson said: "Jonathan has done extensive research in the last year. We have a lot of material from archives and managed to contact the Berens family, who built the property.
"We have restored the main reception rooms on the ground floor, which are really beautiful."

Work on the exterior, which urgently needs attention, is due to begin in spring, 2003. Mrs Jackson is also trying to raise funds.

She said: "English Heritage is unable to provide any funds, which is a major problem, so it is all being funded privately."

Mrs Jackson would like to hear from anyone who has any photographs, documents or information about the history of Kevington Hall, or who can help with fundraising. Write to her at Kevington Hall, Crockenhall Road, St Mary Cray BR5 4EP.

3:18pm Monday 7th October 2002


Anonymous said...

i remember that fireplace. it was up against the wall in the old stable block, i remember the house and land round there very well

Anonymous said...

my father was a schoolteacher there in 1951 and lived in a 2 bedroomed flat upstairs-my mother had very fond memories

Anonymous said...

my father was a schoolteacher there in 1951 and lived in a 2 bedroomed flat upstairs-my mother had very fond memories

Anonymous said...

I was a pupil at the school between 1967-1972 I remember the school as kevington manor my childhood memories I have of being there are very special to me what a lovely building and still remaning today every now and then I can have a peak of where I was schooled and iam very pleased to know someone out there is doing there best to keep this fantastic property with us today.

Anonymous said...

i was a pupil at the school many years ago and have only the fondest happiest memories of this beautiful building set amongst some beautiful countryside.
why is it that when i think of my times there it always seemed to be sunny .
i recently visited the manor and the delightful owner showed me and my family around even the swimming pool which they found hidden away .
what mrs jackson and her son are doing is a wnderful thing and i hope that somebody out there can step in and help them in anyway possible .
thank you mrs jackson for keeping this wonderful building alive st mary cray need it
you are doing the area a great service even if the area doesnt realise it yet

Anonymous said...

i was a pupil there from nursery i started there in 1969 went right through all my primary school years. my mum was also a dinner lady there for many years while i was there until she retired . i loved going to school there . there was also talk of an old lady walking the corridors at night dressed in white. the caretaker and his wife lived in the school and she would talk about the ghosts she would see at night . amazing stories and a amazing building so proud to say i had my primary school years here

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes, I started school there around 72. I was nearly 7 and had just moved to st mary cray from Bromley. The first thing I remember is the class being like a giant living room (compared to my school in Bromley) It felt like a more homely school because of it being a big manor.
My teacher was then Mrs Green (I think). Next was Mrs Mcdonald on the next floor up. Im sure that year is when I borrowed two favourite books from the library, (one- Sam and the firefly, and two- was a snowman kind of story similar to the later famous Raymond Briggs one.
Next teacher (I think Mrs Frice) then Miss Willkenning, who became Mrs Burchell after marrying Mr Burchell who was my history teacher at Kemnal Manor in 1979-80. He was a great teacher.
Next teacher was Mrs Wesley then (over to the then junior building which is now Manor Oak) and this new teacher with glasses broke her leg so we were given Mrs Wesley again for the rest of that year.
My next teacher I will never forget as long as I live. Her name was Mrs Hilton. I was ten in that year, and I remember being her favourite pupil. I loved the way she taught and was always Interested.
My last year there in 76 was great Mrs Wesley was my teacher again so that made three years of her. She was nice. Mr lynsey was head up until Mr Handly became head. All I remember about them is the cruel way they would wack bad kids with a slipper (plimsole. or heavy lump of rubber.)
When I left Kevington and started Kemnal Manor. At about the age of 15 I remember a kid gettihg 7 wacks of the slipper by a rather nasty Mr Shotton.
Without being rude, in P.E the boy showed all of us his badly bruised half bum cheek. to think that happened to much younger kids at kevington makes the memories more sad. but as kids it kept most of us in line and well behaved. I still have happy memmories. Names I can remember- Mark Smith. Andrew Grey. David Silby. Diane Lightle. Karren Piggot. Sarah Staples. David Moffatt. Peter Lowe. Tony Young. Sally Humphries. Susan Archer.

Anonymous said...

I went to Kevington from the age of 5, which was 1972 until 1976, loved it but was also really scared at times, because of people talking about the ghosts, *(Mr and Mrs Jewellery) the caretakers, they were lovely people and I loved hearing their stories but I was frightened. Mrs Avery was my first teacher, infact I had her for two years, she was in a room by the stairs of the main hall. The last two years I had Mr Segerty, he was a lovely teacher, but our room was in the attic and there was stairs at the back of the manor that used to go down to the staff room, I was always frightened to use the stairs. I loved Mrs Head and Mrs Fleming who were the dinner ladies, Mr Axe was also funny, loved his music, I played the recorder, but when I picked my sons up just the other day did not have a clue how to use it, Mr Lyndsey was our Head teacher with Mrs Beadle as his secretary, I would love to know where the swimming pool is, because even though there were alot of ground we were only allowed to play on certain parts of it, I remember a girl getting stuck in the toilets up in the attic and they had to call the fire brigade to get her out, Im almost sure her name was Susan Botlin, names I can still remember, Carol Figg, Sharon Hendrick, Lorn Small, Sally Hendrick, Martin Piggot, Jeoff Hydes, David Vincent, David Constadine, such happy memories of playing bull dog in the play ground, and red rover, also two balls, I would love to visit again and see what transformations have been done, I know that they have open days but living in Spain is quite difficult to just fly over, if anybody knows of a date I would love to know and perhaps can make the next one.

jef trayfoot said...

I went to this school in the early 80,s and what an experience it was. There were so many ghost stories. My most memorable time was playing by the pond and i remember playing on one of those large concrete pipes that are used for underground sewers. I also had my cycling training there. I would love to visit it again with my sister who also went there so if the owner reads this then please let me know if this is possible.
Jef trayfoot

Anonymous said...

The school had only been in operation under Headmistress Roope when I entered in 1951. Surrounded by smelly cabbage and beet fields and a field where travelers often camped, there was a huge difference in the scale of the building to the small prefabs of Barnfield Road where I lived. While the building was fine the contents were not so well ordered, and reading more recent accounts of the school it seems to have deteriorated badly until 2008 when it was sold to a private party. Many of the children were barely toilet trained and stenchy accidents were common. Like many schools after the war there were 'temporary' schoolroom huts attached to the main building. I was caught spitting profusely one day in a contest with George Jeffries (?) and being sent to Ms. Roope siting in her very lovely office we were invited to each fill a jam jar with spittle or vow not to ever again spit. Obviously we took the vow and spat privately from then on. There was a school lunch program. I suppose the ladies responsible did their best with post war rationing still in force, but I would not bring myself to eat much of it. Before I left to move with my family I seem to recall Miss Roope became engaged to marry Mr. Metcalfe (?) one of the staff. To us children it all seemed very weird.