The House

Mere House was built in 1780 for Lord Le Despencer as a new rectory for Mereworth.

Le Despencer was better known as Sir Francis Dashwood, Bt, the owner of West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire.  He was a cabinet minister, prayer book reviser, and founder of the libertine Monks of Medmenham, similar to a ‘Hell Fire Club’.  In 1763 he succeeded his uncle John Fane, 7th Earl of Westmorland, at Mereworth Castle and as Lord Le Despencer.

The building of the house was supervised by Luffman Atterbury to a design by Nicholas Revett. Atterbury was a carpenter and surveyor, who had been appointed Musician-in-Ordinary to King George III in 1775. Revett was an original member of the select Architects’ Club and protagonist of the Greek revival in architecture. Atterbury complained to his employer (in letters at the Bodleian Library, Oxford) about the shortcomings of Revett’s design and made his own alterations, much to Le Despencer’s annoyance. Thomas Scheemakers, the sculptor, designed a portico, and his bill, including a charge for a bust of Le Despencer, is in the RIBA Drawings Collection.

In the early 19th century the symmetry was unbalanced, when the house was extended to the south by one bay and in consequence the roof was raised. George Crickmay FRIBA altered its appearance considerably in 1876, particularly by removing glazing bars, inserting plate glass in taller windows and building the front porch. His assistant at the time was Thomas Hardy, later the celebrated novelist.

Until 1892 Mere House was the home of successive rectors and their tenants, who were all connected in some way to Le Despencer. These included William Foster-Pigott, DD, Chaplain to Kings George III and IV; the Hon Miles Stapleton and the Hon Sir Francis Stapleton, Bt (sons of Dashwood’s heir, 22nd Lord Le Despencer); Sir Francis’s son Eliot and his niece Mary, Countess of Enniskillen.

Reginald Balston, a well known early aviator, was tenant from 1907 to 1913.

Between 1913 and 1958 Mere House was again occupied as a rectory. 338 Company, 34th (Queen’s Own Royal West Kent) Anti-Aircraft Battalion Royal Engineers was based here initially during the Munich Crisis in 1938 and the local Home Guard made it their headquarters during the Second World War.

The Wells family

In 1958 Mere House ceased being the rectory and became the home of the Wells family a year before John Wells was elected MP for Maidstone. This restored the relationship with the house’s builder and many of its 18th and 19th century occupants, since Lady Wells was descended maternally from the Fanes and the Dashwoods. It is now the home of their son Andrew, his wife Tessa and their family.

The Wellses have lived in West Kent since the 16th century and were major private shipbuilders on the Thames from the time of Pepys (who mentions them in his diary) until 1810. They had well-known gardens at Bickley Hall, Bromley, and Redleaf Park near Penshurst (houses both demolished). Admiral Thomas Wells sold Bickley to his next brother, John (High Sheriff 1812 and MP for Maidstone 1820-30), who employed Robert Smirke to enlarge Bickley and design farm buildings at his Heath Farm, East Malling, just north-west of Mereworth. Their youngest brother, William of Redleaf, a Trustee of the National Gallery and celebrated collector of old masters and patron, especially of Edwin Landseer, anticipated by 80 years the naturalistic designs of Gertrude Jekyll and the arts and crafts movement in his gardening and building projects. He is credited with introducing rock gardens and crazy paving into this country (see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

Please contact Tessa Wells for more details about tours, meetings and other facilities at Mere House.

A member of the Historic Houses Association