Writing Research - Ightham Mote

Now, don’t get too excited, but this didn’t look like this in the 14th century. Depending on your historical snobbery constitution, this may or may not be a disappointment. I *was* a little disappointed to discover this (as I am whenever I find a proper medieval castle that’s still lived in…), however, the house is so stunning it’s hard not to brush it off.

Plus, it made me feel sick when told that this building could well have been demolished in the mid-20th century when they almost didn’t find a buyer for it. I get the wiggins every time I hear a story like that, due to the continuing anger I have for Sarah Churchill having the remains of Woodstock Palace dug up and removed, for her to build some shitty (then) modern building on it. Woodstock Palace is where Edward the Black Prince, my first historical love, was born. Grrr.

In terms of my personal inspiration, this building is the one where my imagination has to burgeon the most, especially after being spoilt by the previous Ludlow, Stokesay and Portchester castles’ largely intact 14th century layout. But it also means I can use a little creative licence in the rooms and design.

Tutney, in my historical WIP, and based on the Mote is the home of our heroine, Philippa Thomas. She lives with her father, a powerful and celebrated knight, and her fragile, bitter mother. Her brother is born when she is seven years old, and by then, she’s already enamoured with the ways of the knight.

Ightham is set in an isolated part of the countryside, a little way from the village of Ightham, in whose church one of the earliest owners, Thomas Cawne, is buried, in a spectacular tomb.

An introductory tour guide revealed during the English Civil War, Cromwell tried to find the place to attack its Royalist owners, but couldn’t find it. I’d say it was probably as hard to find back then, as Old Soar Manor nearby is today. Three times I’ve been there and three times I’ve been lost.

The current building is a storey higher than it was originally. The structures, bar the lower tier of the building that runs between the gatehouse and the nearest corner, are later than C14th. Many of the are C15th or Tudor. The wall came up to just above the first set of windows. There were no battlements or no portcullis – the building was in no way defensive. However, the gatehouse does contain an oubliette beneath it…though this does seem to date far later than the medieval building, and around the time the tower was built.

Despite its fairly compact size, there are loads of rooms, including the original great hall, which has been mildly altered with Victorian panelling. Having been to Stokesay Castle and seen its great hall, you can compare the modesty of both, but also admire the pretty amazing medieval workmanship, considering the wood has been dated to the very earliest building.

This picture is from a previous visit, as I haven’t uploaded my newest ones yet. But the great hall beams, though not as spectacular as Stokesay, or the stunning Westminster Hall, are still incredible medieval carpentry, holding up the roof for nearly 700 years.

What is actually quite deceptive is that the National Trust had this entire building taken apart, cleaned, decontaminated, and returned in place at the start of the century. Riddled with Deathwatch Beetle, the house would probably not be standing now if they hadn’t done it. You can still see the Time Team episode about the £10m house.

Ightham Mote has been owned and visited by a shedload of people, and was a regular haunt of Ellen Terry, the famous Shakespearian actress, and had a painting of it completed by John Singer Sargent. The painting is currently on site (and massive) at the Mote.

Ightham also has beautiful grounds, and is not far from the Iron Age hillfort of Oldbury. Ightham church itself is also worth a visit in the area, as the tomb of Thomas Cawne is particularly spectacular, having been produced with a life-size carving of the knight (as above). Yes, I really did pilfer this aspect for the HWIP, too. Apparently, Thomas Cawne’s son, Robert, who inherited the Mote, killed his wife by chucking her down a well. Nice chap.

The medieval garden of the Mote is thought not to have changed too much when examined today, however the huge grassy area was thought to have been a bit more watery. There are orchards and a small herb/veg garden on site, and it smells of peashoots when in full swing, which I can vouch for.

Unfortunately, there don’t see to be any garderobes at Ightham…BUT, there are some ruined steps. Possibly part of a medieval stable block (there is a mounting post) which was burnt down! Oopsy!