Competing for the Title of the Oldest House in England - Luddesdown Court and Saltford Manor
England is known for the huge number of surviving buildings from hundreds of years ago. From Roman lighthouses to Tudor palaces, there are hundreds of buildings which offer a glimpse into the fascinating history of the country. But where is the oldest house in England?
Two buildings of particular interest are Saltford Manor House and Luddesdown Court. Both of these buildings claim to be the oldest surviving houses in England and to determine which one really does deserve the title a number of factors should be examined.
Saltford Manor House
Saltford Manor House is located in the sleepy English village of Saltford, near Bath in Somerset. Although there is no surviving record of when the house was built, architectural historians have noted specific features of the building which place it to around 1150, and specifically 1148 due to a number of features which are also present in Hereford Cathedral, which was completed in 1148.
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Saltford Manor. (Phil Harding/Saltford Environment Group)
The house has been continuously inhabited since its construction, which has resulted in a mishmash of different styles – a Norman window graces the main bedroom and there are 13th Century paintings in the guest room, while a grand Tudor fireplace is the centerpiece of the living room, and the kitchen has elements from a remodeling in the 17th Century.
The entrance hall in Saltford Manor. (Phil Harding/Saltford Environment Group)
Although the house was remodeled extensively by the family who occupied it in the 17th century, it has now been designated as a Grade II listed building, which means its brilliant array of historical features will be preserved for generations to come.
Saltford Manor House may be an astonishing building, but perhaps more astonishing is the fact that it is not the only house which has been lived in continuously for hundreds of years; Luddesdown Court in Gravesham, Kent is a fellow contender for the title of the ‘oldest house in England’.
1789 sketch of Saltford Manor. (Saltford Environment Group)
Luddesdown Court has an exciting history and it was once lived in by William the Conqueror’s brother before he was disgraced in 1082. This date alone would indicate the house is older than Saltford Manor and some people have argued that it is Luddesdown Court and not Saltford Manor House which is the oldest continuously occupied house in England.
Luddesdown Court. (Knight Frank)
It is a far grander home than Saltford Manor, sprawling across nearly 7000 sq. ft. (650.32 sq. meters) - it also boasts 23 acres of formal gardens, a Great Hall, and a minstrel’s gallery. But despite their differences, the buildings do have some similarities. Like Saltford Manor House, Luddesdown Court has been renovated and remodeled a number of times over the years and it showcases an array of features from different centuries. A Norman cobbled fireplace, a Tudor chimney, and both Saxon and Jacobean elements are all present in the building.
Inside Luddesdown Court. (Knight Frank)
The Debate on the Oldest House in England
Luddesdown Court is inarguably the older of the buildings, as William the Conqueror’s brother lived in the building long before Saltford Manor House was built. But there are still those who argue Saltford should be crowned the ‘oldest continuously inhabited house’, and in 2003 it was even awarded the title by Country Life magazine.
The reason for this is that Luddesdown Court has been lived in by a number of nobles over the years – Odo of Bayeux (William the Conqueror’s brother), Aymer de Valence, a number of the Earls of Pembroke and Owen Glendowe (the last native Prince of Wales). So although the building itself is older, some people feel that it has not always been a regular dwelling. This argument is further supported by the fact Luddesdown Court has a Great Hall and a minstrel’s gallery, as well as a number of outbuildings, which are certainly not features in most houses.
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A view across the meadows to Luddesdown Church , with Luddesdown Court on the left, and Court Lodge on the right. (Brian Fuller/CC BY ND 2.0)
The debate about which of the buildings is the oldest house in England is therefore more of an argument of semantics than anything else – but in the end it is not really important which of the two lays claim to the title. Both of the buildings are interesting in their own right and they both offer a fascinating and intimate look at the way people have lived in England over the past 800 years, with the mixing of styles and features coming together to showcase the past in a way that is uniquely British.
BBC News. 2003. Oldest occupied house named. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/somerset/3186765.stm
Churchill, P. 2018. ‘The Oldest House in England’, once owned by William the Conqueror’s brother, is up for sale. Available at: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/oldest-house-england-for-sale-178100
Discover Gravesham. Date unknown. Luddesdown. Available at: http://www.discovergravesham.co.uk/luddesdown/luddesdown.html
Historic England. Date unknown. Luddesdown Court, Luddesdown – 1096343: Available at : https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1096343
Knight Frank. 2018. Luddesdown Court. Available at: file:///C:/Users/welcome/Downloads/CHO170215-en-brochure-1.pdf
Pook, S. 2003. 12th Century Manor is Found to be Britain’s Oldest Inhabited Home. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1439928/12th-century-manor-is-found-to-be-Britains-oldest-inhabited-home.html
Smithfield, B. 2017. Saltford Manor: The oldest inhabited private house in England. Available at: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/04/06/saltford-manor-the-oldest-inhabited-private-house-in-england/
Wynn, James. 2007. The House That Jack Built: The Story of the Oldest Inhabited House in Britain. Aurum Press Ltd.