Sir Robert Taylor
- Original design
- Sir Robert Taylor, 1767
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
Kevington Hall was the private home of the Berens family until the Second World War. The house was then requisitioned by the Government for the housing and training of Canadian troops; it was sold at the end of the war.
Kent County Council bought the house and used the property as a primary school until the early 1980s. Many institutional features were added – most noticeably the hideous iron fire escape which has now been removed. The cornicing in the dining room was badly damaged to insert heating pipes and the banisters in the hall were cut through to allow easier boarding in. Perhaps the worst act of official vandalism was seen in the drawing room, where a Livorno marble fireplace (matching the existing library fireplace) was removed for ‘safekeeping’; its current whereabouts are unknown.
Ironically, in spite of insensitive alterations carried out at this period, Kevington may well have survived because of local council ownership. The property was sold in 1987 as surplus to educational needs, and was purchased by the Jackson family, together with ten acres of parkland.
It is anticipated that the house will be fully restored as a fine example of the work of Sir Robert Taylor whose other surviving ‘local’ work may be seen in Danson Park, Bexleyheath.
Oak View School (formerly Shawcroft School) occupies the site of the Hall’s kitchen garden. Expansion is planned and it is disappointing to record that some attractive trees, including a very fine oak, have apparently been felled without authority. One would have imagined that these trees would have had some protection as they were within the curtilage of a Listed building!
Since medieval times the Manning family had held Kevington. Richard Manning, the last in possession, died without issue in 1753 and had left the estate to his nephew, Denzil Onslow. It was his son, Middleton Onslow, who sold it to the prosperous London merchant, Herman Berens of Amsterdam.
Located some 12 miles from London, the house is essentially a Palladian villa, square in plan with Victorian additions. Designed by Sir Robert Taylor in 1767-69, its original costs had been £6,192.10s.Od, referred to in the estate accounts. These are in good condition and in the ownership of the present Berens family.
The staircase at Kevington is off centre and serves the four main rooms – the Hall, Library, Dining Room and Drawing Room. On the first floor are the main bedrooms. There is a sub-basement and very impressive brick wine cellar.
There is fine cornicing in all the principal ground floor rooms; that in the Dining Room is the most elaborate. By the 1760s Taylor’s interior decoration was evolving in a style similar to that of Robert Adam.
Impressive as it is externally, the full height bay window was a later addition which was introduced by Joseph Berens. Prior to this alteration, the house would have had simple ‘square’ form. There is a simple entablature and cornice which gives the house a flat and neo-classical character. The very shallow pitched roof is hidden from the ground by a low parapet which refers to an earlier eighteenth century style. There are generous white window surrounds which contrast strongly against the red brick walls.
Kevington is set in a commanding position. To the north-east the view is to a large slightly banked field with a central copse (The Warren), and to the south-west undeveloped land which enjoys Green Belt status.
Foundations are all that remain of the stable block and granary, the quality of which went unrecognised when the property was in education authority ownership.
Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788) trained initially as a sculptor (he worked on the Coronation Coach). He visited Rome and later carved the pediment on the Bank of England. Turning to architecture, he worked on a wide range of projects across the country totalling over fifty. Although he was inspired to a degree by Andrew Palladio (1508-1580) and his compact square villas, he was by no means a mere copyist. From humble beginnings and sheer hard work, Taylor became a major architect rivalling Robert Adam. He left his huge fortune to found the Taylorian Institute at Oxford.
Taylor seems to have been unnecessarily discounted as a first-rate architect since his death, and it is to be hoped that this work will generate more interest in the future. It would be an achievement if, once again, people may say, as Walpole did, that one of his buildings ‘was so attractive that foreigners should see it’.
Since 1987, much work has been carried out on the property to improve its condition. The roofs have been made watertight and the piano-nobile restored to a good level. A new central heating system has been fitted, the water system pressurised and placed in the cellar. Before this time, the house had tons of water lying dangerously in the attic! The former orangery is currently being cleared of debris, and made ready for refurbishment and adaptation.
The house is structurally sound, with no subsidence, and requires major work only to the south face. Repairs on the canted bay (south elevation) have been undertaken to a very high standard in 2004 and the clumsy 20th century extensions removed.
Kevington Hall (Grade II*) was until a few years ago listed in the ‘Buildings at Risk’ register, published by English Heritage. According to the register, there was only one other in the London Borough of Bromley, namely Holwood Mansion at Keston.
Kevington Hall continues in private ownership and is available as a wedding venue.