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Hadlow Tower

Hadlow, Kent

A magnificent Grade I listed Gothic Revival folly, providing holiday accommodation for six in Kent.

  • Property
  • Facilities
  • History
  • Local Attractions

The tower accommodation ranges over five levels and is served by a lift and two spiral staircases. Entrance is via the ground floor historical exhibition space. On the first floor there is a spacious fitted kitchen, with stained glass window, which sits alongside the octagonal dining room with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. Continuing to the second floor guests will find the richly decorated sitting room complete with a wood-burning stove. There is also an adjoining bathroom and drinks preparation area. The third floor boasts a twin bedroom as well as a wheelchair accessible double bedroom with a spacious en-suite wet room. At the top of the tower the double height space has been designed to provide a dramatic master bedroom with a sumptuous mezzanine bathroom. The staircase to this bathroom also leads into the stair to the prospect eyrie from where guests can view the surrounding countryside.

Since the restoration has been completed, the tower has become the proud recipient of several prestigious awards, namely:

Winner of the English Heritage Angel Awards 2013 for:
Best Craftsmanship Employed on a Heritage Rescue and the Favourite as Voted for by English Heritage Members and Telegraph Subscribers.

Commendation in the Georgian Group Architectural Awards 2013

Hudsons Heritage Awards 2014
Highly commended in Best Accommodation category

RICS South East Building Conservation Awards 2014
Joint Winner with National Trust

Winner of RIBA South East Regional Awards 2014 &
Winner of RIBA Regional Conservation Award 2014

NB: Between the 9th April - 10th September 2015 Hadlow Tower opens as a museum on Thursdays. During this time the maximum length of stay is 6 nights. To book a Thursday tour visit the Save Hadlow Tower Action Group website.

There is level access to the entrance of Hadlow Tower. The building is then serviced by two spiral staircases, one of which continues up to the prospect eyrie for far reaching views. A lift also serves the accommodation levels.

Dog Allowed - Yes

Gas central heating plus a wood-burning stove in the sitting room

All Vivat Trust properties have a TV/DVD player and CD player plus fully equipped kitchens with oven & hob, fridge/freezer, dishwasher, microwave and washing machine. In addition Hadlow Tower provides the following facilities.

Tumble dryer
Bathroom 1 has a bath with shower over the bath
Bathroom 2 is a wet room with disabled access
Bathroom 3 has a bath with shower over the bath
Cot (linen not included) & highchair available for infant
Access to communal lawned area

In 1786 Walter (Barton) May inherited Hadlow Court Lodge, the manor and land, from his father and it is from them on that the buildings we see today began to take shape. In 1790 he demolished Court Lodge and replaced it with a completely new house of stuccoed brick in the gothick style. The building work is recorded as having been completed by 1803.

The 1790 house comprised the main square block at the west end, with the entrance on the north a long transverse corridor running east-west and the main suite of reception rooms facing south with an octagonal library between the dining room and drawing room, all linked by double doors opening up into an enfilade eighty-eight feet long. There were smaller family rooms on the north side and a service wing to the north east.

The house was built of red brick, and cement rendered to resemble stone. The external detailing was elaborately gothick with tall pinnacles, castellated chimneys, the windows with a variety of thin gothick tracery. Inside, though the hall, corridor and staircase were gothic, the dining room and drawing room were classical with screens of Corinthian columns. The subsidiary living rooms, and the bedrooms, were plain classical. This division between gothick circulation spaces and classical living rooms is typical of Regency houses and can be found for instance on a large scale at Windsor Castle, Belvoir and Ashridge.

The new house was not universally admired. The grumpy radical William Cobbett recorded in May 1823: 'At a village called Hadlow, there is a house belonging to Mr May, the most singular looking thing I ever saw. An immense house stuck all over with a parcel of chimneys, or things like chimneys: little brick columns, with sort of caps on them, looking like carnation sticks, with caps at the top to catch the earwigs. The building is all of brick and has the oddest appearance of anything I ever saw.' (William Cobbett, Rural Rides, 1912, p.254). Another contemporary commentator, T.D.W. Hearn in his Account of the Weald of Kent (1814) was equally sniffy: '...the lately erected castellated mansion near the church of which it is unnecessary to make any further mention.'

Walter May's son, Walter Barton May transformed his father's relatively reasonable gothick country house into one of the great follies of England, by elaborating the outworks and adding two or three towers. Walter Barton May's major project began in 1832. This took the form of a tall octagonal tower at the south east extremity of the house, in front of the 1790 service wing and terminating the south front extension. The tower was modelled very closely on the central tower of Fonthill Abbey which had collapsed in 1825. The engravings of J.P. Neale (1824), John Britton or in John Rutters guide A Description of Fonthill (1822) must have been used as the source for the overall design at Barton May's own suggestion, but George Ledwall Taylor, architect to the Admiralty, was employed presumably to make sure that the building stayed up.

The astonishing folie de grandeur character of the architecture of Hadlow - beyond the means of a small landed estate (circa 700 acres in the mid-nineteenth century) to support - suggests that Walter Barton May was an extremely eccentric, antiquarian-minded show-off.   His architectural aggrandisement of Hadlow was encouraged and paid for, it is said, by a legacy of £22,000 from an aunt, but there is no evidence for this. Within three years of Walter Barton May's death, Hadlow Castle and the estate had been sold in 5 lots to pay off his debts and that was the end of the Barton May's of Hadlow Castle.

Since the 1840s only minimal maintenance had been carried out to the Tower, with the inevitable decline in the fabric of the building. During WWII it served as a vegetable store and a lofty observation post for the Observer Corps and Home Guard. It was doubtless used as a landmark by Luftwaffe pilots on their way to London, who dropped bombs in nearby fields. In 1951 the main building of the castle with its 'arches, groins, ramifications and various flowers of Gothic grandeur' was tragically demolished for building materials. It was only the timely intervention of Bernard Hailstone RP, a local portrait painter, who purchased the Tower and the remaining courtyard buildings, who prevented its demise.

1976 saw the Tower converted to a dwelling. However, it was the damage caused by the exceptional storms of 1987 which started the major problems that beset the building. During the mid 1990s Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council carried out urgent safety work, removing the 40ft lantern, pinnacles and gables, totalling 90 tons of masonry. In 1998 the World Monument Fund considered the building to be important enough for it to be included in the top 100 most endangered historic buildings in the world.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council applied a compulsory purchase order on the tower and transfer of ownership to The Vivat Trust took place in Feb 2011. Contractors Mansell Construction Services, as well as a number of specialist sub-contractors moved on site to carry out the restoration work, which included the reinstatement of missing pre-cast and moulded decoration, and the reinstatement of the lantern. The whole tower was decorated in a gothic style using a material common at the time; Roman Cement. The Vivat Trust have reintroduced this porous lime based material back into the country in order to authentically restore the building's intricate pre-cast mouldings, splash details and decorative features.

Hadlow Tower forms part of Hadlow Castle, most of which is now lost bar the tower itself and the courtyard buildings. With the ornate lantern reinstated the tower rises to 170 feet making it the UK's tallest standing folly and a truly magnificent Kent landmark.

Location: On the A26, 4 miles from Tonbridge and 10 miles from Maidstone, Kent 

Interesting Towns: ­ Royal Tunbridge Wells, West Malling, Canterbury, Cobham, Ightham, Maidstone 

Historic Attractions: Hever Castle, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Chartwell (NT), Penshurst Place, Finchcocks Musical Museum, Maidstone Carriage Museum, Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, Charles Dickens Trail around Chatham and Rochester, All Saints' Tudeley Church Tonbridge, famous for its windows decorated by the great Russian artist, Marc Chagall.

fishing, sailing & cycling at Bewl Water, walking in Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest and along The Weald Way, winetasting, River Medway cruises, horse riding, golf and Mote Park Maidstone

Local Events:
May            Sweeps Festival Rochester
July            Kent County Show and Whitstable Oyster Festival
August        Faversham Hop Festival,
October       Canterbury Festival
December    Dickensian Christmas Rochester


Hadlow Tower

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