Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told,
Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And, these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
The first few lines of the poem ‘To Penshurst’ by Ben Jonson published in 1616 illustrate how highly the poet regarded the beautiful country house Penshurst. By virtue of disregarding what makes other houses, it is, in Jonson’s opinion, far superior.
I went to Kent for a long weekend away in the countryside and my first stop was the fascinating Penshurst Place.
Penshurst has an enchanting history.
Sir John de Pulteney had Penshurst Place built in 1341 and since then it has passed through royalty and notable historic figures.
In 1519, King Henry VIII arrived at Penshurst as the guest of Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham. The Duke spent around £2500 – over £1 million in today’s money – entertaining the King. However, this may have contributed to his downfall two years later.
Henry had no male heir and he saw the Duke of Buckingham as a threat as he had a strong claim to the throne himself. Henry therefore found an excuse to have him tried for treason and beheaded.
As the estate of a traitor Penshurst became the property of the Crown and from 1521 Henry VIII used it as a hunting lodge.
Years later, Penshurst Place was part of Henry’s divorce settlement with his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and it was then briefly in the hands of Sir Ralph Fane before he too was executed for treason. Penshurst was then left to Henry’s son, King Edward VI.
Edward was eager to reward his tutor and steward of his household, Sir William Sidney, so he gave him Penshurst as a gift. The colourful and exciting ownership stories continue: from Sir William Sidney Penshurst passed to his son, Sir Henry Sidney.
I’ll show you round the beautiful gardens at Penshurst.
It’s divided up into separate gardens… so you can (very happily) lose your way in the grounds!
This is the Union Flag garden.
Beds thick with lavender (and busy fuzzy bumblebees) offset with red and white roses to form the shape of the Union Flag!
The garden then leads to a pond area.
It used to be an Elizabethan stew pond!
The water in the middle marks the centre of the only view right through the garden.
And you arrive at the orchard.
I’m so pleased I came in the middle of August as I was just in time to see the beginning of the fruit season.
Branches bursting full of forthcoming fruits!
And an impressive vine arbour.
I couldn’t resist crawling inside!
With some corners of the garden still clinging onto Summer…
It’s up to the colourful Jubilee Garden.
Designed by an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medalist and added to Penshurst in 2012.
This is the blue and yellow border, designed to reflect the Sidney family coat of arms:
The formal gardens are a must-see:
I then went inside and explored the house further – it’s truly a wonderful place to spend the day.
I had a fantastic time!
For visiting times see Penshurst Place website.