Mr Robinson, the last private owner

Portrait of Charles Henry Robinson, the American businessman who gave Ightham Mote to the National Trust

The fortunes of Ightham Mote were revived when the house was bought by Charles Henry Robinson in 1953.

Romanic memories

Robinson remembered seeing a print of Ightham in an art-dealer’s shop in London, and when he visited as a tourist a few years later he recognised the house and ‘immediately fell under its spell’.  This first sight of Ightham was in the 1920s when he was a young man.  By 1953, Robinson was running a profitable stationary company in Portland, Maine, and when he saw an advertisement in Country Life offering the house for sale, he immediately came to England and put in an offer.

The sale was nearly called off, as Robinson had second thoughts on his way home.  He wrote a letter while crossing the Atlantic on board the Queen Mary to withdraw from the sale, but the liner’s post office was closed, and the letter was never sent.

 

Furnishing a medieval house

Robinson bought the house and stayed at Ightham during the summer months over the next three decades.  He filled the rooms with furnishings he believed were appropriate to the spirit of the house, while making it a comfortable home.  Much of his collection survives at Ightham, and today visitors can see his bedroom and library decorated as they were in Robinson’s time.

 

A generous donor

Robinson died in 1985, aged 93, and his ashes are interred at Ightham outside the crypt.  He had decided in 1965 to bequeath the house and contents to the National Trust, stating that ‘a house like the Mote belongs to the ages.  One does not possess it, rather the opposite: one acts as a temporary protector or guardian’.  Robinson’s generosity has enabled the Trust to share his appreciation of the house with many others, and to continue to care for it for generations to come.