History of the House
South Park was originally part of the Great Park of Penshurst Place. This together with outlying lands (including Forde Place Farm, Moody’s Farm, Crouchlands and Courtlands) that was bought by a wealthy London wine Merchant, Richard Allnutt, in 1770. A year later, having married a Miss Spencer of Redleaf, he built a house (above top), which was considerably enlarged by his grandson, Richard, in the 1790s.
Richard Allnutt died in 1827 leaving behind a reputation for such splendid hospitality and accordingly a very diminished fortune. His widow decided to sell South Park and in 1830 built a smaller house on the estate designed by Decimus Burton (responsible for Calverley Park in Tunbridge Wells and many of the larger houses in West Kent), which she called South Park Villa and is now known as The Grove. She lived to the grand old age of 96 and only succumbed to a fishbone stuck in her throat, otherwise being in excellent health.
In 1830 South Park was bought by Sir Henry Hardinge. A pupil of Sevenoaks School he entered the army at 13, saw service in India, fought with Wellington throughout the Peninsular campaign, and was British Commissioner at Blucher’s headquarters at Waterloo, having had his left hand cut off at the previous battle of Ligny. He was appointed Governor General of India 1844-48, and finally Commander -in-Chief of Her Majesty’s Forces in 1854, by then being Field Marshall Viscount Hardinge of Lahore.
In 1842 he employed the architectural pioneer of Victorian Gothic revival, Anthony Salvin to once more enlarge the house (above, below). At the same time Hardinge enlarged the estate to some 800 acres and planted all the woodlands and landscaped the Park with cedars, pines and oaks, many of which can still be seen today.
South Park was inherited by his son, Charles Stewart, in 1856 and then by Charles’ son, Henry in 1894. Henry continued consolidation of the estate and built North Lodge in 1898, together with a secondary drive up to the house therefrom. A keen horseman-as were all the Hardinges- he built a small racecourse in the field adjoining Horns Lodge.
Henry died in 1924 and, his eldest son having been killed in the First World War, was succeeded by his younger son , Caryl. Between 1926 and 1928 he was ADC to the Governor General of Ottawa and, in his last year there, married a Canadian, Margot Fleming.
In 1953, with taxes rising and estate costs escalating, he decided to emigrate to Canada. The estate was sold off in various parcels (apart from the house and 8 acres). No private buyer could be found for the house so in 1956 it was sold to a demolition contractor, a Mr Funnell.
The Times newspaper reported the very splendid fixtures and fittings were sold in October for a paltry total of £1,300 “No high prices were realised at the sale. The whole of the carved oak panelling in the library, reputed to date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was sold for £38 and an Indian cupboard, with carved and copper covered doors, fetched £50. A small organ by Walker of London, sold for £50, and a double faced tower clock, were bought for installation in the Roman Catholic Church at Rottingdean, Sussex”
Very fortunately Caryl’s cousin, Alec Hardinge 2nd Baron of Penshurst, managed to buy back the House in 1957 but not before the greater part had been demolished and the remainder left a skeleton. Alec set about the enormous task, re-roofing the remaining shell (part of the 1773 house), and engaging Roger Cunliffe (now Baron Cunliffe) to design a modern addition built by the Penshurst firm of Gilbert Butcher. Tragically, before he had a chance to live in the family home he rescued, Alec Hardinge died in 1960
Alec’s, widow, Helen, The Dowager Lady Hardinge of Penshurst (1901-1979) continued her husband’s work of restoration and preservation. She recalled that when she and her husband first met the demolition contractor, Mr Funnell, they were horrified to be told by him that he would dearly like to get his hands on Hampton Court to demolish it!
In the early 1960’s , Helen Hardinge, together with Mr Burdass of Smarts Hill House, managed to save much of the woodland on top of Smart’s Hill from housing development.
In 1969, thanks to the generosity of Lord Inchcape (P&O), the monumental statue of Sir Henry Hardinge on horseback by John Henry Foley (see illustration)(best known for his Albert memorial work) was brought back from its 1857 installation in Calcutta to South Park. There it stayed until 1987 when once again it went on its travels, this time to Cambridgeshire.
South Park People
The Allnutt family who developed South Park in the late 18th/early 19th Century included one daughter of Richard (1772-1827) and Frances Woodgate of Somerhill Tonbridge, who married the Rev. George Boissier , Curate of Penshurst, and another daughter, Suzanna who attracted the attention of a man with no fortune to speak of. Accordingly this young man went to India, made his fortune and then returned to claim Suzanna. He rode over in a heavy snowstorm and as he approached the gates he saw a funeral procession coming down the drive. On hearing that it was Suzanna’s he turned his horse’s head without a word and returned to India in the first ship.
In 1830 South Park’s long association with the Hardinge family started. The future Viscount Hardinge of Lahore returned to Penshurst in triumph from the 1st Sikh War in India in 1848, and an Illustrated London News of the day shows him being met at a newly constructed Penshurst Station by a great company of people and being escorted back in procession to South Park.
The family lineage continued at South Park all the way through until 1953 but along the way one of the Viscount’s grandchildren, Charlie (1858-1944), became Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, KG and Viceroy of India from 1910 to 1916 and took up residence at Oakfield. While Viceroy he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb was thrown at the ceremonial elephant he was seated on. Although injured in the attempt, the Viceroy escaped with flesh wounds, but his Mahout was killed in the attack. Lady Hardinge was unscathed. Lord Hardinge himself was injured all over the back, legs, and head by fragments of the bomb, the flesh on his shoulders being torn in strips.
In I924 the younger son, Caryl (1905-1979), inherited South Park his elder brother having been killed in the Great War, but he was still a Minor. It was arranged that his Uncle Charlie should manage the estate and this was a happy and successful arrangement that lasted for many years. Sadly in 1953, Caryl decided that the burden of taxes and the cost of running the estate meant that the time had come to sell. As described above the house was saved from total demolition by his cousin Alec over in Oakfield and when he died (1960) his widow,Helen the Dowager Lady Hardinge of Penshurst moved in from Oakfield and continued the much needed restoration and preservation until her death in 1979.
The Dowager came from a lineage that was at the heart of English politics and power for generations. A direct descendant of Robert Cecil (who had arrangedd the Accession of James 1st) and of his father, Lord Burghley (Elizabeth’s 1st principal Minister), a grand-daughter of Lord Salisbury (Prime Minister 1885-1902), she was the daughter of Edward Cecil, who, with Baden-Powell was one of the heroes of Mafeking, and later adviser to the Khediv of Egypt. A friend of the Kipllings, she accompanied them on a convalescent voyage to the West Indies:, bridesmaid to our present Queen’s mother and married to the man who was Private Secretary to three Kings in succession. The survival of South Park is a testament to her indomitable spirit.
In 1987, Keith Price, a local chartered surveyor, and his wife Ann, purchased South Park and returned the building to its original Georgian format. In 2004 , Mr and Mrs Anthony Shamash, became the present owners