A history of Standen

Letter to Miss Amy Beale from Philip Webb, dated 3 August 1893

Standen was designed to look as though it has always been here – almost as if it has ‘grown’ out of the rock face and is a part of the landscape, however the land that Standen now stands upon was originally made up of three farms: Stone, Hollybush and Standen.

Art historian Abigail Harrison-Moore recently called Standen one of the most charming examples of Arts and Crafts workmanship in the UK. It has a surprisingly pioneering spirit – from the use of electric lighting to its role in the Suffragette movement.

The location commands fine views of the Medway Valley and Ashdown Forest, so it is no surprise that James and Margaret Beale chose this as the site of their planned country house. In spring 1891, they enlisted the architect Philip Webb to lead the project.

Modern home, ancient influences

Work began on Standen at the end of 1891. The plans for the house had been revised many times until all parties agreed on the design. Webb often drew inspiration from landscapes and historic buildings, and decided to preserve and incorporate some of the medieval farm buildings on the site into his design. Despite these historic influences, Standen was built as a thoroughly modern home, complete with central heating and electricity.   

Standen was constructed using local materials and traditional construction methods: only ‘the best materials and workmanship’ would do – a practice in line with the ideals of Arts and Crafts.

‘A house should be clothed by its garden’ William Morris

The house and garden were intended to be seen as a whole, and were designed to complement each other. This followed William Morris’ theory that gardens were a continuation of a house, and should be used as such. Margaret Beale was fascinated by plants, and had a strong influence over how the gardens were laid out.

Finished at last

Work finished at Standen in 1894, at a cost of £18,065, and the Beales moved in shortly afterwards. The family and Webb had developed a close working relationship, frequently communicating by letter. When work on the house finished the Beales gifted Webb with a silver snuff box, engraved with ‘When clients talk irritating nonsense, I take a pinch of snuff’, which hints at the kind of working relationship the two parties had enjoyed.

The family loved Standen, and found it met their needs so well that they scarcely made any changes to it over the following years. Webb had created a unique building about which there is still a real sense of discovery.

The contents of the house are rich and varied: from the abundance of Arts and Crafts interiors, to objects that give a glimpse into the lives of the Beale family. In 1972, the National Trust took over Standen. The house was in need of serious repair and the first custodian of the property, Arthur Grogan, set about revitalising the house and bringing it back to its former glory.

For more information about the collection please go to http://nationaltrustcollections.org.uk and search for Standen.