Condition in 1970
Since the 1820s the House had received little significant attention. Accordingly when Mrs. Starkie Bence came to sell in 1970 the House suffered two major handicaps. The first was Kentwell's then poor condition and unmodernised state. The second was that there was almost no market then for grand country houses - irrespective of condition. In the postwar period hundreds of such houses had been demolished or allowed to fall into ruin.
Many would-be buyers, lured by its beauty, were deterred but not Patrick Phillips. He wanted a House worthy of spending a lifetime on.
He later met and married Judith and the two of them (and a family later enlarged by children) have since combined to bring Kentwell back to life.
Restoration (Condition in 1971)
In 1971 there was not a structure at Kentwell which did not require attention: House, 15th C. Moat House, Dovecote, Walled Garden, Vinery, Moat Walls & Bridges, Stables, etc. These were all in equally poor state of repair. Initial tasks were simply to stop the ingress of water through faults in the roof of the House, which were bringing ceilings down. Next was to introduce services. It had almost no electricity (previously it was still lit by gas) or heating (apart from a rare but dangerous 1910 high pressure system) and water came from a well via a pump which had to be started each morning. The drains were excellent, however.
Works started in 1972 and have continued without interruption ever since and continue still today. Initially works were concentrated upon the House but soon expanded to include gardens and outbuildings. Later still this extended to create many new structures (including Gatehouses and old style buildings to create a farm). Some work was done a little at a time: re-plastering the Halls windows was spread over 7 years (and some remain still to be done); repairing, rebuilding (or just building) the Moat Walls, half a mile in total, was spread over 10 years and again is still not yet finished. Most of the works have been directed by Patrick & Judith Phillips with their own small team of craftsmen, aided only occasionally by contractors.
In order to survive Kentwell (and Houses like Kentwell) had to be made to contribute significantly to their own upkeep. So, he and Judith decided that the only option was to open Kentwell to the public. This they did in 1976.
There was very little for visitors to see in those early days beyond the poor condition, all that had to be done and the efforts being made to do it; but that was part of the attraction for visitors, who returned year after year (and still return today) to see the latest Progress at Kentwell.
At the outset not only was the House's condition poor but its ancient contents, some of which dated from its earliest days, had been sold away before Patrick Phillips concluded his purchase.
Since 1971 the Phillips have collected the contents which visitors now see. Much from country house sales, more from auction houses, dealers and the like; in addition some items have been commissioned from contemporary craftsmen and artists.
Kentwell therefore is a rarity among Historic Houses. An essentially 16th Century House substantially re-created in the late 20th C. by the efforts of one family. Over 30 years non-stop works make Kentwell unlike any other Historic House in the country.
Hall & Gardens
The House and Gardens are now closed for this year. Please check again in the New Year for opening dates.
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