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Exploring Old Soar Manor

Exterior of the chapel at Old Soar Manor showing the east window with garderobe beyond.
The chapel at Old Soar Manor in Kent | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Of national importance in the development of the medieval dwellings, Old Soar Manor is a hidden gem.


This rare survival of 13th century domestic architecture gives a wonderful insight into the life of a rich medieval family. The manor belonged to the Culpepper family, leading Kentish landowners in the Middle Ages.

Manor houses of this period were based around a great hall, with a central fire from which the smoke rose to the open rafters. Family and servants would have eaten in the hall and servants slept on the floor. The manorial court was also held here.

For privacy, the lord and his close family would retire to these surviving withdrawing rooms, often a parlour with a solar, or upper chamber, above.

Today the private quarters of the Culpeppers survive, although the great hall, which was timber, and attached to these rooms, was demolished in 1780 and the surviving red-brick farmhouse you now see, was built in its place.

Exploring the Old Soar Manor today

As you explore Old Soar Manor, approaching on the ground floor, you will see the undercrofts & cellars. Each has its own external doorway, but they aren't linked internally. When built, the rooms would have acted as store rooms, but today there is an exhibition display in the first store room, you can find out the story of Old Soar Manor and some of the people that lived here, along with local history links.

It may seem like a nuisance to us today, having to walk round the outside to get to another room, but it was something that the residents were used to. It was also a security feature, as if someone was to break in, there was only one way out and they couldn't access anywhere else, meaning the living quarters upstairs were more secure.

Stairway to heaven

By climbing up the narrow, spiral staircase with its uneven tread, and you emerge into the Solar - the private quarters of the family.  This staircase is an additional security feature, preventing a clear run up to the upper door.

This was their refuge from the hubbub of the world around them. The place where they could leave everyone behind them and not worry. The Lord and Lady of the Manor would have had a bed in here, with curtains around it for privacy. 

Off to the side, the chapel is probably newer than the solar, as it aligns east-south-east, rather than to the east. The decoration on the piscine suggests 14th-century rather than 13th-century. It also appears that the house was less in danger of attack, as there are no defensive features in the chapel, and the large window was glazed. 

The age of chivalry

Many consider the era of knights of the realm with a romanticised awe – reliving Hollywood’s idea of knights rescuing damsels in distress. However, life in the medieval period was a far cry from this fairy-tale, as Old Soar Manor reveals. 

At a time of the Feudal system, with robbers and thieves roaming the land, society was uneasy. There are many arrow slits arrow slits for defence, allowing residents to loose arrows from bows at potential attackers! Even the narrow doorways and staircase were designed to keep attackers out, or at least provide a good form of defence for the family inside. It wasn’t just fear of thieves and robbers though, as the Culpepper family who built the manor reputedly acquired their wealth from kidnap and forced marriages.

Old Soar Manor - the solar of the thirteenth century manor house, Kent
the solar of the thirteenth century manor house at Old Soar Manor in Kent | © David Sellman

The battle of the Water Loo

Adjacent to the Solar is the Garderobe, the medieval toilet, you will notice that the passage is narrow and not easy to get through. The Manor has an unusually large shaft beneath the garderobe, and some unfortunate individual would have to climb into the pit and empty out the toilet, they were known as a Gong-Farmer

This large shaft provided a defensive weakness whereby someone could climb up (if they were desperate enough). To defend against attackers, the passage into the Solar is relatively narrow, and at an angle, and there are arrowloops. 

A little sanctuary

On the outside, there is a sense of tranquillity, you can get a feel for why this place has survived so well throughout the centuries. There is virtually no passing traffic, it is relatively hidden from the lane and there are only a few houses nearby. Without the trappings of modern life on display in the house, it is an ideal way to think about what life was like and what has remained since the 13th Century.

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