Ross-on-Wye Civic Society

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Ross-on-Wye & District Civic Society newsletter Winter 2002 (number 79)

Kentchurch Court is in a splendid position, sheltered by Garway Hill set in spacious wooded parkland where the deer run among the trees. This is one of the very few deer parks remaining in Herefordshire. The house is approached through the mighty 14th century gatehouse which affords an impressive view of the house and parkland. Originally a medieval fortified manor house, apart from the gatehouse it retains the medieval tower and part of the north end; these are incorporated into John Nash's rebuilding in the early 19th century. Members of the Scudamore family have lived in these surroundings continuously from the 14th century until the present day.

We entered the house from the terrace into a large, light, airy room known as the Terrace Room. One felt this was a family room that had been used as such over a long period of time. In two corners of the room are photographs of sporty, smiling children of the 20th century. In other parts of the room are pieces of furniture from different periods and hanging between the long Georgian type windows are wonderful garlands of fruit and flowers carved in wood and considered to be the work of Grinling Gibbons, the Dutch woodcarver who settled in England in 1667. There are more pieces of exquisite carvings of game, shellfish, nuts and ears of corn in other rooms of the house. These were transferred when Holme Lacy House (built by Viscount Scudamore in 1672) was sold by the family in more recent years. Some of the carvings were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and some were moved to Kentchurch Court.

The drawing room with an impressive 18th century fireplace also has some fine floral swags carved in pine, not the usual oak or limewood. These too are from Holme Lacy House. We took tea in the dining room looking out through very large sash windows with their shutters opened to the view of the terrace and the grounds. The walls of the dining room are decorated in a warm red and are hung with portraits of Scudamore gentlemen. There is also a delightful full length portrait of one of the Scudamore ladies wearing an Elizabethan gown. Porcelain of various periods is also on display.

The best approach to the chapel room is from the porch area from where a long gallery reaches a broad flight of steps which lead up under an arch to the chapel room which has a huge ecclesiastical style window filling the whole wall. Nash's chapel window has fitments of interesting stained glass thought to be of Swiss origin and dated 1521. Normally under the chapel window a wood panel, painted in oils, is displayed prominently on a large refectory table. On the day of our visit the painting was on loan to an exhibition in Wales. The subject of the missing painting depicts an elderly man who must have been a person of some importance because the artist is thought to have been Flemish and the painting dates to the 15th century. Coincidentally one of our fellow members happened to be carrying a book about the life of Owen Glendower and the front cover bore a photograph of the absent painting.

Owen Glendower 1359-1415/16, the great national hero of Wales, was the father of Alice who married John Scudamore. Owen is thought to have taken refuge at Kentchurch Court on various occasions during his later life. From the chapel room a staircase runs up to the tower and into a panelled bedroom in which he slept thanks to the surveillance observed by the Scudamore family. Owen Glendower had many victories but failed to free Wales, he was never captured and the exact date or place of death is not recorded. Alice lost her husband and three sons at a battle in which they were fighting for the Lancastrian cause in 1461.

Legend has it that another elderly man frequented the area around Kentchurch. He was known as Jack 'o Kent - a wild-eyed man dressed as a priest - was he John Kent, a vicar? John 'o Gwent? a welsh Franciscan? a shepherd? Herefordshire folklore abounds with stories, "Jack 'o Kent - as great as the devil" say some. He is said to have enlisted the help of the devil in building a bridge over the river Monnow to Kentchurch in a single night and in return the devil could have the soul of the first one to cross the bridge. On completion Jack threw a bone the length of the bridge and a hungry dog was the first to cross. Tales persisted - Jack 'o Kent supposedly kept 'magic horses' in the cellars of Kentchurch Court should the need arise for a quick getaway. The same could have applied to Owen Glendower.

Written by Elizabeth Bailey

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