Old Soar Manor

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Old Soar Manor in Kent is a miniscule portion of a small 13th century manor house. Save for a couple of glazed windows, the buildings are open to both weather and birds. Short of a ruin by dint of good roofing, the place is empty. There is no office, entry or ticketing system — or indeed staff. It’s owned and maintained by the National Trust. To my knowledge, the Trust do not publish a guide book on Old Soar. Their website’s description of the place runs to one sentence and a phrase (although a longer, less than 450-word description is buried within their website). English Heritage expand that to a short paragraph (with a less than 400-word description also buried within their website). The site is too small to photograph properly, even with a wide-angle lens.

Old Soar is a rare survival of a medieval household. Only the private quarters survive, running to not much more than a solar (the family’s private living and sleeping quarters), a latrine — or garderobe — with its clearing-out pit beneath, and a chapel (with a carved piscina in which communion vessels could be washed). The timber great hall was demolished in 1780 (and replaced by the brick farmhouse that’s there today). What remains provides enough clues as to how the occupants lived. As defensive stronger, it serves to remind us that the past could often be a dangerous time. Arrow loops and a squint giving a glimpse of who was in the hall below must have mandated the occupant to be nervous, with good reason. The spiral staircase favours right-handed defenders on the upper level. It’s the humble nature of the place that strikes one. From our vantage point, the manorial stones suggest relative comfort. Everyone else would have been with the animals, filthy and vulnerable. Its emptiness, no shelving, no cupboards, hints at a very basic standard of living. Food in the fields, maybe in the storeroom — in a good year — but everything else is worn, carried or tied up in the stable. Was the mind untrammelled without the distraction of materialism? Old Soar allows us for a few moments to sidle closer to history.

Built over 700 years ago, this humble place survived sufficiently for the National Trust to restore it in 1949. It serves notice on us: how much of our current built environment will still be standing in 2722?

1/11 Old Soar Manor from the east
Old Soar Manor from the east
2/11 Old Soar Manor from the north

Old Soar Manor from the north

3/11 Old Soar Manor from the west

Old Soar Manor from the west

4/11 Old Soar Manor from the east

Old Soar Manor from the east

5/11 Old Soar Manor's garderobe pit access

Old Soar Manor’s garderobe pit access

6/11 Old Soar Manor from the west

Old Soar Manor from the west

7/11 Old Soar Manor from the north-west

Old Soar Manor from the north-west

8/11 Old Soar Manor's Chapel

Old Soar Manor’s Chapel

9/11 Old Soar Manor's solar

Old Soar Manor’s solar

10/11 Old Soar Manor's chapel

Old Soar Manor’s chapel

11/11 Decorative piscina niche in Old Soar Manor's chapel

Decorative piscina niche in Old Soar Manor’s chapel

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