A Mansion in the Appledore Road with medieval origins and a colourful history
Author: Philip Shaw
Reprinted from Parish News (July & August 2020)
Tenterden with St Michaels & Smallhythe
Finchen Manor in the Appledore Road, Tenterden, largely hidden from public view, has a colourful history second to none in our town. Dating from the fifteenth century, with later additions, it was owned by the Finch family for 400 years before being sold to a Mr Henry Godden in the early nineteenth century. At its core, Finchden is a medieval hall house, with a crown post roof with additions made in the sixteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
In 1860 Finchden was sold to Lady Henrietta Chatterton, widow of an Irish aristocrat who was living at Rolls Park in Essex. Following his death, she married Edward Heneage Dering, from a long-established Kentish family and the couple moved to Finchden. During the Derings' time at Finchden, major changes were made to the house. These included building a neo-gothic Great Hall, with a Ballroom richly decorated with family arms and crests, connecting the old brew house, a separate building, into the main structure and embellishing it with a grand oak fireplace and oak panelling. In the room of the house known as the boudoir, she placed a richly painted coat of arms with the quarterings of the Derings of Surrenden.
In 1869 the couple moved to a Dering family home, Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire and Finchden was occupied by the Order of St Benedict as a training school for monks, who re-named it St Benedict's Priory. During this time the ballroom was turned into a chapel - which must have led to a merrie dance or two! In 1878 the Order moved to The Priory at Ramsgate, a newly constructed building designed by the renowned Gothic Architect Augustus Welby Pugin.
From then onwards the house appears to have been occupied by a series of tenants, including a Mrs Nimmo, who was certainly there between 1885 and 1889, while continuing to be known as The Priory. In 1893, the notorious Joseph Diggle, who became Mayor of Tenterden, moved there for several years whilst he was contemplating buying a house. He subsequently acquired Bird's Isle House in St. Michaels, and re-built it largely with his wife's money into a huge pastiche of Finchden, calling it St Michaels Grange and bankrupting himself in the process!
From 1868 to 1896 ownership of Finchden has not been established by the author. However, in 1897, ownership of the house was the subject of a marriage settlement on Gordon Francis Tracy Beale and Ella Margaret Dingwall and became known as Finchden Manor. Gordon Beale was the eldest son of the The Reverend Seaman Curteis Tress Beale, the first vicar of St Michaels Church. Gordon Beale's parents and grandparents were deceased by the time of his marriage and it is likely that the purchase of the house was funded by the Dingwall family who were wealthy wine merchants and lived in Streatham.
The Beales lived at Finchden Manor from 1897 amidst increasing marital acrimony. Gordon Beale, who claimed, on separate occasions, to be an architect, a builder, a china clay dealer, and a wine merchant had inherited significant funds from his father's estate in 1886. This enabled him to acquire various businesses, all of which apparently failed. He was adjudicated bankrupt in 1904 and for a second time in 1929. Beale was still paying off his creditors in the 1950's.
In 1927 the couple were granted a judicial separation following allegations of physical violence by Beale against his wife. Mrs Beale sold her antique furniture from the house at auction in 1928, having moved to the Isle of Wight. After this the house remained empty and became increasingly derelict.
In 1934 the house was put up for auction, despite Beale objecting, following a court order to meet the Trustees' outstanding legal costs. The catalogue, from Alfred Burrows of Ashford, gives an insight into its condition at the time. The chapel had been turned back into the ballroom and a billiard room occupied the former Brewery. On the first floor, there were seven bedrooms and a suite of rooms known as the Peacock Suite. On the second floor there were five attic servants bedrooms. In the grounds of five acres, a guest house, a gate lodge and the usual offices. The auctioneers noted that, after a long period of no occupation, a substantial outlay would be required to fit the house for occupation and put the grounds in order.
There was no electricity connected and the house had been lit from an acetylene gas plant situated and operated on the premises!
The purchaser at auction was George Aubrey Lyward, who almost certainly saved the house from demolition. Lyward was an educationalist and a psychotherapist who founded a community, initially at Edenbridge and then at Finchden for delinquent or disturbed boys. Lyward and his wife Sadie achieved considerable success with their informal but unconventional teaching methods and many former pupils have fond memories of their time
After Lyward's death in 1973, the house was acquired by Martin Miller, the author of the well-known Antiques Price Guide who restored it and divided it back into three manageable properties. These are Finchden Manor itself and two other residences originating from Lady Chatterton's additions: Pugin's Hall (sometimes attributed to but almost certainly incorrectly to the architect Pugin) and the Old Brewhouse. Subsequently a number of outbuildings have been converted to desirable residences so that Finchden Lodge, The Coach House, The Mews Cottage, Finchden Barn and Little Finchden occupy positions on the original site.
It was inevitable that over the years many of the internal features of Finchden changed or disappeared, but externally the house looks very much as it has always done. It is a listed building grade two with a star and its future looks assured.
Gordon Beale died at 50 Albert Road, Ashford on 19th December 1962 at the age of 95, where he was living with his son Richard
The author would like to thank Jack Gillett for supplying photographs and valuable material from his press archive and also John Weller for locating the 1934 sale brochure.
Parish News (July & August 2020)
Tenterden with St Michaels and Smallhythe