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Hartley Manor

Back of Hartley Manor (picture taken from footpath, 2016)

Hartley Manor, Hartley, Kent


Largely hidden from view, Hartley Manor can be glimpsed at a distance from a couple of footpaths. The name is really a misnomer, as Hartley Court is the ancient manor house.  It  was so named by the then Lord of the Manor, Col Evelyn in about 1872. Before that it  was called Hartley Wood Farm. Its ownership has been very stable - for most of its  recorded history just three families have owned the freehold.


Originally the house was called "Daltons", no doubt after the family of that name, who  lived in the village in the 14th and 15th centuries.  A Warin Dalton received 'first tonsure'  at Hartley Church in 1345 - this was the lowest of the Medieval holy orders and the only  one which still allowed you to marry.  Another Warin must have made himself unpopular  as Hartley's collector of the Poll Tax in 1377.  In 1389 the King pardoned a William de Bolton of Hartley for the death of Thomas del Bank, it is probable that Dalton would have been meant (Patent Rolls, 14.2.1389)

Thereafter the picture is unclear until the  16th century, when it was owned by William White.  In 1554 he leased Daltons to John  Gardner; it was in that year that the "battle" of Hartley occurred in the woods by Hartley  Manor, where rebels of Wyatt's rebellion were pursued to after the battle of Wrotham.  John died in 1559 and his widow Joan married William Middleton of Nursted, beginning  that family's connection with the farm.  A year later they were evicted by Mr White, a  "man given to make trouble and unquietness", so it was alleged in the Chancery Court.   William Middleton sued for the value of the crops he had already planted.  This case is  an important one for the history of farming in the parish, for Mr Middleton said he had  60 of the farm's 100 acres devoted to arable (wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas and  tares).  We don't know whether the allegations against Mr White are true, but a year  later his wife Elizabeth was summoned to appear at the Kent Assizes.

In 1571 Mr White sold Daltons to Thomas Walter of Pennis Place, Fawkham.  Thomas  partitioned the estate in 1590 between his sons, with this farm going to his second son,  Thomas junior.  He died before his father in 1601, so when Thomas senior followed him  into Fawkham Churchyard in 1608, he was once again the owner of Daltons, which was  estimated by a local jury to have a net annual worth of £8.  Thomas senior's other son John Walter then became the owner.  He is remembered for his coats and gowns charity, and is commemorated by the fine  wall monument in Fawkham Church.  The long list of bequests in the will of his wife  Dorcas (1630) shows a very well to do family.  As well as substantial amounts of  furniture an bedding, she also mentions silver and a necklace of pearl and jet.  Dorcas  also owned a watch and "a fair map in a frame" - both luxury items owned by a very few  in her day.

John Walter (d 1626) and his wife Dorcas Walter (d 1630) in Fawkham Church

John Walter and Dorcas Walter

In 1608 the farm was still called Daltons and said to be 102 acres with an annual net worth of £8. This was almost certainly the block of land around the house. At some point before 1726 the farm acquired Gossey Croft and Dawsland in South Hartley, and Church Lands in the Hartley Bottom valley. These fields were owned together in the c16th.

For most of the time the Walters owned Daltons, they had just one family as tenants - father and son Thomas Whitehead (d 1583) and Thomas Whitehead (d 1626).

As John and Dorcas had no children, Daltons was sold in 1633 for £500 by Thomas and Robert Walter, their closest blood relatives as sons of John's brother Robert Walter. The buyer was John Hickmott of London (d 1665). He was a substantial landowner with properties in several of the home counties. However, in spite of the precautions taken to enrol a copy of the conveyance in Chancery, the Hickmotts faced the worst nightmare of buyers of freehold land in the days before land registration, that of claimed interests which come to light only after purchase but which might take priority. In 1639 they sued the Walters to say they had misrepresented the interest they were selling as they now learned about the interest of John Walter in John's will of 1626. In reply Thomas Walter said the Hickmotts were the rightful owners and that any entail had been destroyed by a process called common recovery. The result of the case is not known but the Hickmotts and their descendants continued to enjoy possession until the 18th century so it must have ended happily for them.

John's wife Joan Hickmott, who died in 1673, survived both him and their five children, so Daltons descended to their nephew Edward Potter of Oxford. In his will of 1702 he stated "the reason why I am not more liberal unto my daughter Elizabeth, is for that I have lately married her unto Mr Eggerton and did then give with her a considerable fortune". This considerable fortune included Hartley Manor Farm.

For most, if not all of this time, the Middletons were the tenants. The probate inventory of Henry Middleton (d 1666) reveals a substantial yeoman farmer. He had planted 51 acres of wheat and 69 acres of other arable crops, as well as 76 sheep, 10 pigs, 4 cows and 10 horses, as well as wagons, ploughs etc. The last Middleton tenant was Henry Middleton, who died in 1717 but gave up the tenancy about a year before. The farm house was then made of wood and thatch and the new tenant had to spend £3 to put it into repair. By then the farm was also growing hops - the earliest known date for their cultivation in Hartley. Mr Eggerton then agreed to lease the farm for 6 years to Robert Batt of Longfield at a rent of £40 per annum. It was said that as he was short of money he asked for a loan from Mr Batt to be paid from the rent. However the arrangement went sour, Mr Batt later sued Mr Eggerton for not granting the lease as he promised and for trying to lease it to someone else. It is probable Robert Batt won the case because he was still the tenant in 1726 when he was given a 21 year lease at the higher rent of £50 p.a.

Hartley Wood Farm

Ralph Egerton sold the farm to William Lethieullier of Beckenham in 1726. The sale price of £831 was considerably higher than the last sale in 1633, but would only represent an average increase in value of 0.55% per year. It may be that the financial difficulties referred to by Robert Batt in the 1718 court case had compelled Mr Eggerton to put the estate on the market.

It was now called Hartley Wood Farm. According to Hasted, the Lethieulliers were Huguenots - Protestants fleeing religious persecution in France. A people legendary for their talent, the Lethieulliers were just one Huguenot family of many that prospered in their new country. William left  the farm to his youngest son Samuel in 1736.  His widow Sarah (d 1779), who had  remarried Stephen Holland, left it to Dr John Clark, who in turn left it in 1796 to his  niece Mrs Matilda Sanxay of Epsom, Surrey.

Different tenants came and went, the newlyweds Thomas and Rachel Fielder moved here from Horton Kirby took up the tenancy in 1748. They were followed by William Loft (1757-1782), Thomas Edmeads (1782-1792) and William Bensted senior (1792-1836), William Bensted junior (1836-1872).

The 1726 lease to Robert Batt gives a description of the farm, over the next 100 years there was some consolidation of the fields.  Homefield appears to have swallowed up five former fields:

  • Little Gunners (1844 - Little Gunner Field, 15 acres)
  • Three Acres Wood (1844 - unnamed, 3 acres)
  • Great Gunners (1844 - Great Gunner Field, 19 acres)
  • Church Lands (1844 - Churchlands, 11 acres)
  • Church Lands Neck (1844 - probably part of Homefield, 59 acres)
  • Steely Field (1844 - Steely Field, 11 acres)
  • Bear Field, Crab Bank, Homefield, Bear Haws (1844 - probably all Homefield, 59 acres)
  • The Six Acres (1844 - Six Acres, 6 acres)
  • The Croft (1844 - unknown)
  • Upper Horsenails (1844 - unknown)
  • Lower Horsenails (1844 - unknown)
  • Goss (1844 - Gossy Croft, 4 acres)
  • Dawsland (1844 - Dawsland, 9 acres)
Map showing Hartley Manor estate

Map of Hartley Manor Farm, Hartley, Kent

Matilda Sanxay left the farm to her nephew William Clerke in 1816. As he was mentally ill, she appointed trustees to manage the estate for him. Eventually the freehold of Hartley Wood Farm was bought by the owner of Hartley Court William  Bensted junior.  Then the farm consisted of two cottages and a farmyard, William  converted them into one and both he and his son William lived there.  The building was  further improved by Col G P Evelyn when he came here in 1872. He fought in the Crimean War (1854), while his father fought at Waterloo.  In 1883 a visitor to Hartley Manor was shown a charger horse owned by the colonel, which had taken part in the Crimean War and was later bought by Col Evelyn.  The horse was given a "splendid pasture" and stabled in inclement weather.  He was told that when it heard the horns of the hunt, it would leap over the fence and gallop along with the riders, finding its way home when it was over.  No-one in Hartley or the surrounding villages objected when it crossed their fields on its way home, as it was so well known (Yorkshire Evening Post 14.11.1941).

At the turn of the  century Hartley Manor had become a very substantial 10 bedroomed mansion with all  mod-cons such as hot and cold running water, radiators and electric light.  All this and  the 8 acres of kitchen garden etc. were leased for an annual rent of £115 in 1906!  They  were one of the first residential properties to get a telephone, being the 12th subscriber  to the Longfield exchange in about 1920.  To emphasise the new status as a  gentleman's residence the field at the back of the house had become parkland.  This is  the field crossed by the footpaths from Manor Drive to Hartley Wood, and still retains  much of its former appearance.  It is interesting to note in the light of the current  controversy over "rights to roam" that when the Valuation Office valued the land in  1910, they knocked £100 off the £800 site value of the 34 acre farm holding, because  the footpaths crossed the land.

George Palmer Evelyn in 1873 (photo (c) by kind permission of the Evelyn Family)

George Palmer Evelyn, Hartley, Kent

Like most properties in the village, Hartley Manor was bought by Smallowners Ltd.  Their company secretary Miss Jane Foote Maxton was the owner in 1931, having acquired all the remaining properties of Smallowners.  By conveyance dated 30 July 1931 she sold Hartley Manor to Ivy Evelina Groom, wife of Harry Groom, owner of Grooms Bakery in Erith.  The bakery is still there but since 1957 part of Associated British Foods.  By conveyance dated 29 March 1939 she sold the house and about 20 acres to Barry Stuart Richards.  He came from a flour milling family, so may have known the Grooms already,  The Manor Farm of about 100 acres was run by Derek Dallen, Mr Dallen kept a large dairy herd and  employed several land girls in the war, some of whom were pictured in a feature in the  Dartford Reporter.  The Ministry of Agriculture inspector, however, thought that Kent  War Agricultural Executive Committee should take some action over the management  of the farm.  

Barry Richards (1910-1991) was not successful in his plans to turn the manor into a Golf Club, but his greatest achievement was to found Turning Point, a major charity helping people to turn their lives around, for example due to mental health problems, learning disability, substance abuse or employment.  He served in air-sea rescue during the war.  Afterwards he helped set up a number of Cheshire Homes for disabled ex-servicemen.  He is said to have "a talent for visualising and creating, on a shoe-string, homes for the disabled..." (Times 12.7.1991).  The 1974 Hartley Village Fete was in aid of this charity when it was called Helping Hands.  Barry Richards is buried in Fawkham Churchyard..

Now the house is in private ownership, while most of the farm land has become part of Hartley Bottom Farm.