Claire and Henry Warde take us inside Squerryes, the splendid historic home of the award-winning Kent sparkling wine .
All houses have a vibe – but not many have one you can bottle. Squerryes, however, is not only the splendid 17th century country seat of the Warde family (eight generations and counting), but also the name on the bottles of award-winning sparkling wine that is now produced on the 2,500 acre estate.
The family motto is also on the bottle – appropriately, because Licet esse beatis translates as ‘Permitted to be joyful’. “We have been creating joy for 300 years,” says Henry Warde, sitting at the table in the family kitchen. “Now we are bottling it.”
And joy it is most certainly bringing to those who drink it, being awarded no less than a Platinum rating in wine bible Decanter magazine’s 2019 World Wine Awards, for the 2014 vintage.
The house deserves the same rating. Even before you turn into the drive (with classic estate railing fences) the glorious countryside just outside Westerham has Jerusalem playing loudly in your head.
“My father was in the army so I moved constantly as a child and I didn’t understand having an emotional connection with bricks and mortar,” says Claire. “But the day we moved in here, I was 100 per cent committed – I wanted to understand the estate, take it on, be part of it. We want to do it all together.”
As you pull up in front of the house the prospect opens up to reveal a perfect Mr Darcey lake, the first visual beat in a vista over parkland and countryside, with a domed white folly perched on a nearby hillside.
Turn your head left towards the house and you see a glorious symmetrical frontage from the Stuart era (1681), although it looks more like the style we identify as Queen Anne. Built from narrow red bricks, with a pillared and porticoed front door, it has two storeys with three sash windows on each side, then another layer with six mansard windows and a triangular gable with a roundel window and splendid chimney stacks. It makes you sigh.
This urge stays with you, once you step into the huge entrance hall with a black and white marble chequerboard floor – and large portraits of Henry’s rels, male and female, all around and classical busts over each porticoed doorway into adjoining rooms.
It’s just the kind of space where you want to be holding a flute of cold sparkling white, while chatting to interesting people – which is exactly what you get to do if you join up to a Squerryes membership package, which involves no joining fee, just a commitment to buy one case (12 bottles) a year. Hardly a hardship (especially as you get 15 per cent off, so really it would be rude not to).
Membership brings invitations to all kinds of jolly events at the house – which is not open to the public – including a summer garden party with 299 fellow bubbly-lovers, which sounds particularly appealing.
But with a house to study and photograph, we stuck to coffee, in the lovely light, high-ceilinged kitchen, looking over the formal garden at the back of the house. A kitchen which looks and feels like it has always been there, but was actually a fairly recent conversion by Claire and Henry.
They moved into the house six years ago, when Henry took on the commitment of running the estate and his parents moved out to a farmhouse on the land. At that point, while totally understanding the responsibility to preserve a house like this for future generations – one of the bedrooms has listed wallpaper – Claire and Henry decided to make some thoughtful changes to adapt its old bones to modern family life with their four children, aged from six to 11.
Claire explains: “In 1947, in order to be able to keep the house going, Henry’s grandparents pulled down two wings. The original kitchen had been in one of them, so they created a small kitchen and dining room in this space. We knocked it through and converted it into a family kitchen with a table in it, but we wanted it to look as though it had always been there.”
Which, with its classic kitchen cabinetry, painted in Farrow & Ball’s Oval Room Blue it certainly does – helped along by Claire’s clever harvesting of varied objects from other parts of the house and pressing them back into use. The row of lovely, mismatched white glass light shades hanging in a row were found all over the house. “We just washed them and rehung them.”
The splendid blue and white vases – which look like they might be rather precious – were languishing in obscurity in the cellar, but Claire has no anxiety about having fine objects in a part of the house with heavy family traffic.
“If someone throws a ball and breaks them all at least they’ve been seen. We are going to live here.”
Their other big change was to create a second entrance hall on the same side of the house (the north) as the kitchen, with a more domestic feeling than the formal main one, more conducive to everyday family comings and goings.
They put in a similar floor and a column to echo the ones in the grand hall, but Claire had fun with wallpaper in the rooms coming off: a map of the world in the loo and large pink flamingos in her office.
“And we took out the servants’ bells,” she says, another statement of the more modern way they wish to live in this historic house – while completely respecting its heritage.
Although Claire admits that before she lived in Squerryes, she hadn’t ever experienced a sense of passionate devotion to a house. In fact, on her first visit there she had felt quite differently about it.
“We have rehung all the pictures,” says Claire, “to show the story of the family to visitors.”
“I met Henry when I was invited through a friend of a friend as a spare girl for a house party here. In those days you had to shower in the attic and I remember thinking, ‘there is no way I am ever going to live somewhere like this…’
“My father was in the army so I moved constantly as a child and I didn’t understand having an emotional connection with bricks and mortar. But the day we moved in here I was 100 per cent committed – I wanted to understand the estate, take it on, be part of it. We want to do it all together.”
And while Claire may not have understood loving a house before, being shown round it by her, it is clear how much she does now – and it’s easy to see why.
Passing back through the main hall, brings you to the formal (south) side of the ground floor, which includes the drawing room, beautifully decorated in the cosy/grand classic English country house style, by Henry’s late mother Anthea – making her mark on the house, just as Claire is doing.
It has exactly the combination of glorious chintz, decorative wallpaper – which Anthea commissioned specially – and some very serious pieces of carved and gilded furniture, that you see in stately homes like Chatsworth.
Lovely French windows take you out into the formal back garden, which was also designed by Anthea, taking out a Victorian arrangement and putting it back to a more formal design she found on old plans, with clipped box parterres and avenues of pleached lime trees.
The next room along is the formal dining room with a splendid set of dining chairs, featuring the wolf head that is in the family crest – and which, once again, Claire emphasises they use, rather than just have for display. There are some splendid paintings in this room, including portraits by George Romney and John Opie, of Henry’s ancestors.
“We have rehung all the pictures,” says Claire, “to show the story of the family to visitors.” One in here is of the Warde who bought the house in 1731 and another of his wife who died before they could move into it – but not before she had commissioned two splendid tapestries, which hang in the bedroom over the dining room.
The bedroom opposite has the exquisite chinoiserie wallpaper, which they are not allowed to touch (and nor would you want to). These rooms have not been refurbished or refurnished in any way and to my eye, the worn carpets, alongside treasures like the tapestries and wallpaper, have a patinated charm that is unique to lovely old houses.
This is only heightened and improved by the shift on the other side (back to the north again) of the very large landing – which sits over the grand entrance hall and makes an excellent venue for the three girls to practice their dancing, Claire says.
Here, where the family bedrooms are, is a second staircase, leading down to the new entrance hall, where they have replaced a wall with a glass balustrade, so light now pours into the upper floor from both ends of the house. It really is a lovely effect. No wonder English Heritage gave all the plans the official stamp of approval.
It’s the same spirit of progress shown by Henry’s father 13 years ago, when he dug up the fields of wheat he’d cultivated for nearly 40 years and planted chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, the classic combination used to make Champagne.
What inspired him to do it was the great interest shown by a French Champagne house in buying their land. “It’s a chalk terroir perfect for growing champagne grapes,” says Henry. “Part of the same geological area as Champagne. We negotiated for five months, but in the end we didn’t make a deal and we decided to do it ourselves.
“We knew from the due diligence that the French had done that we had the capability to produce a world class product here. There is increasing recognition of how big English sparkling wine is going to be globally. In 40 to 50 years it will overtake Champagne. The Romans grew vines here and there is the tradition of orchards – this is certainly land that is great for growing fruit.
“We take quality really seriously, that is the beating heart of the brand, with the family name and history is on it.”
To have a taste of all that in a very appealing setting, you can now go to the Squerryes Winery, which is a kind of food and wine hub in the tradition of Californian wineries – where Henry and Claire have been to visit on a fact-finding mission.
Just outside Westerham, this is a cluster of appealing buildings that includes an (unrelated) craft brewery and the excellent Flint Oak Farm Shop, alongside the purpose-built Squerryes tasting room, seafood restaurant and private dining room, looking out over a field of vines.
Beautifully designed with a lot of timber, wallpaper made from the plans Anthea used for the garden and chic banquettes, this is sure to become a major venue in the locale and beyond, with its excellent links up to London and across Kent and Surrey.
For Claire and Henry it is part of the slow rise they want to take their wine on, building its history year on year, just as his ancestors have at the house.
“We are going slower out of the blocks,” he says, “because we want it to build and last. We planted on faith and only launched after 10 years, when the bottles were ready to release.
“Eight generations of the family have lived at Squerryes and I want the next eight to live here too.”
Henry and Claire knocked through a small kitchen and dining room to create a family kitchen. The lights above the dining table were found throughout the house by Clair
“We have rehung all the pictures,” says Claire, “to show the story of the family to visitors.”
Beautifully carved and gilded furniture sits alongside ornately framed artwork throughout Squerryes Court
Two splendid tapestries, which hang in the bedroom over the dining room, were commissioned by the wife of John Warde, who bought the house in 1731
The garden view from the roll-top bath
Beautiful views over the lake to the west of Squerryes. The family motto immortalised in stained glass
The formal back garden was designed by Henry’s mother Anthea to a design she found on old plans
Clipped box parterres in the formal back garden
An irresistible picnic overlooking the lake
A portrait of Charlotte Warde, mother of The Admiral – 4th generation at Squerryes Court – by John Opie
The formal dining room’s chairs feature the wolf head that is in the family crest
Contemporary built-in furniture hold a portion of Squerryes’ books in the library
The view from the library
A few bottles at the ready to welcome guests
The spacious second entrance hall
The drawing room was beautifully decorated by Henry’s mother Anthea with decorative wallpaper she commissioned specially
French windows take you out into the formal back garden
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