A 600-Year-Old Kent Mansion That Was The Happy Refuge Of A King In Exile

Penny Churchill September 5, 2023

Vane Court is the oldest house in the beautiful and historic village of Biddenden. Penny Churchill takes a look.

Back in 1100, the myth suggests, twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst were born. As well as being joined at the hip, Mary and Eliza were joined at the shoulder and went on to be known as the Biddenden Maids after the village in which they were born. In what was surely an impressive feat for those living in the 12th century, they were said to have survived for 34 years and, upon their deaths in 1134, bequeathed five plots of land to the village, which became known as the ‘Bread and Cheese Lands’. The income from these parcels of land went on to provide food and drink to those in need every Easter, a tradition that continues in some form to the less fortunate residents of Biddenden to this very day.

The rich tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need seems to have made Biddenden an attractive place to live, especially to those in exile. Sir John Kotelawala was once Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) and, upon his electoral defeat in 1956, retired from politics and moved to the village in self-imposed exile.

An exile that was slightly less ‘self-imposed’ was that of Prajadhipok, otherwise known as Rama VII, King of Thailand (then known as Siam). After his abdication in 1935, Rama VII moved to the UK — first to Surrey and then, in 1937, to Vane Court in Biddenden, believed to be the oldest house in the village.

Now on the market with the Cranbrook and East Kent office of Savills for £5.5 million, the property could rightly be considered as being fit for a king. Rama VII and his wife, Queen Rambai Barni, were said to be extremely happy in the village, and were often seen ‘out and about’ on their bicycles and attending village fêtes.

But Rama VII could have been forgiven for staying at home, such is the beauty of Vane Court, itself described by Pevsner as ‘the only house in Biddenden of the Wealden type’ and now listed Grade II*.

With seven bedrooms in total, Vane Court is today a stylishly presented family home with a raft of restored period features and elegant formal gardens surrounding the property. It is believed to date from about 1419, with more recent additions, and is set over three floors with a central open courtyard space.

Upon entering the ground floor, visitors are greeted by the original entrance hall, as well as an oak staircase leading up to the bedrooms. A sitting room is immediately to your right and the rest of the reception rooms flow to the left: first the dining room, then the kitchen/breakfast room and, finally, the family room, boot room and study completing the ‘C’ shape.

Upstairs, the seven bedrooms are laid out over two floors, with the master (The King’s) bedroom on the top floor — supposedly because of the royal custom that no head in the house could be higher than his.

Recommended videos for you As well as beautifully presented gardens and further paddocks that extend to some 67 acres, the gardens and grounds also feature a heated swimming pool and a tennis court, as well as a range of ancillary outbuildings and barns that could be converted, with the necessary consents.

A particular highlight is the water garden, known as The King’s Pond.

Vane Court is for sale via Savills for £5.5 million — see more pictures and details.