On a whim, we visited the ancient castle of the Hart Dyke family, with a pedigree going right back to William the Conqueror. Our friend David Hart Dyke, Green Party Candidate for Stoney Creek, would sometimes mention (after I had served him a beer or two) that in England he was a Baronet. “Our castle is in Kent. You should visit my family. They’re lots of fun.” Sure, David. Another Artbeer?
Easter Monday, bank holiday, we take the new Thames Link train service to Eynsford, south east of London, to see Lullingstone, an excavated Roman Villa. It was as interesting as expected, with explanatory material that explained just enough of all the right things.
There are two castles in Eynsford, one in the town and the other a little further down the road. Arbitrarily, we chose the second, Lullingstone Castle. The Gatehouse looked magnificent in the distance. Small (compared, say, to Warwick Castle), but beautifully proportioned .
We headed for the refreshment tent (bank holiday, remember?), where they advised us to start with a look at the World Garden. A labour of love by an obsessive “plant hunter”, the World Garden has plants from all the continents of the world in beds shaped like those continents!
A didactic panel at the entrance declared that the idea for the garden was born when its creator was kidnapped and held for ransom while collecting plants in Colombia. The name of the collector was Thomas Hart Dyke. “Look, I said to Judith. Hart Dyke! I wonder…”
In the Manor House, we were greeted warmly by the chatelaine. She asked if we had met Thomas. “Is he here?”, I enquired. “Oh, yes. I believe he’s dressed as a chicken.”
I mentioned a little diffidently that we knew a Hart Dyke in Hamilton, David Hart Dyke. “Oh, yes! David is Thomas’s cousin. He has the title, you know.”
“Should I mention him to Thomas?”, I asked. I wondered if there was some sort of Downton Abbey feud. Was David the black sheep?
“Of course. He’ll be delighted. And you must meet my husband. Guy! This couple know David in Hamilton.” We met Guy Hart Dyke, David’s uncle, who owns the castle, and were formally introduced to Sarah, his wife. And then we did meet Thomas, the eminent and indefatigable plant hunter, dressed indeed as a chicken.
The house is fascinating. Beautifully designed and appointed, it has paintings, carvings and furnishings representative of a history that stretches back to the 1497.
The Church of St. Botolph, also on the grounds, is equally ancient. It serves as the parish church for the town. Inside, there are magnificent memorials to the early Dykes and Harts. (The Hart Dykes represent a merging, by a marriage in the time of Elizabeth I, of two families both going back to the Norman Conquest.) Another reason to vote Green! Right, David?
Church of St Botolph