July 11th, 2021
Jonathan Wilmot and Robert Tucker have lived in Rochester at Restoration House since 1994.
Growing up in Australia, Robert Tucker had set his sights on seeing the world and becoming a writer. ‘In those days I was teaching myself how to describe visual phenomena in words – it made me look more closely at things. I found that everything I looked at in England accumulated into this love for it and desire to participate in some sort of constructive way.’
‘When I met Jonathan, the first house we bought was in Italy. It was falling down. It had a huge amount of surviving fabric, no one had redecorated it since the nineteenth century. By this stage I’d read about English architecture and traditional buildings. So I learnt how to use and fix limewash distemper and oil linseed paint, which turned out to be so much easier and you get the right result every time. That became my bible of restoration.’
The entrance porch, separate and conjoined heraldic devices of Stephen Aveling, nineteenth century occupant of the house, and his wife Mary Clifford .’We were living in Myatts Fields between Brixton and Camberwell – the strawberry fields of London – and this was the next move. We were looking for a Georgian house in Spitalfields, Greenwich or Camberwell. We found this house through Spitalfields Trust and bought it in 1990.’ Their predecessor here was the comedian Rod Hull, his fitted kitchen cabinets are still in situ and in daily use..
During the nineteenth century this house was owned by one Scottish family, the Mackeys, who were quite tight and didn’t spend any money. From 1932 – 1978 their son took over – and then Rod Hull owned it. It was Grade 1 listed, but ‘tho the council gave him lots of grants and he was well meaning, he went bankrupt in the process of trying to restore it. So Restoration House was repossessed by Citibank and sold with a £250,000 guide price.’
Our eyes popped out! We thought we’d better have a look at it. At first I thought it was too big, too unwieldy, but that night, the idea of it grew in my mind when I was writing my diary, and I couldn’t see the faults in the plan any more.’The
‘This is the Oak Saloon, it’s a French term, we think this room was run up to look in the fashionable French taste for the visit of Charles II.’
Under the boarding and under the emulsion paint, were these French doors and this faux marbling
‘The late sixteenth century paneling has been dry-scraped to reveal this French Grey paint colour
‘The house was built on a sloping site and had been falling down the hill for three centuries, held up with buttresses that doubled up as garde robes. One mullion above a window had cracked and water penetration meant the brick work below was hanging like unraveling knitting. There are 0ne hundred and twenty windows, original and eighteenth or nineteenth century replacements, set into the holes where mullions had been.
A survey said it needed 2 million quid spent on it, but we didn’t want to do most of the things it recommended.’
‘These oil sketches over the door are early works by Gainsborough. They were advertised with a not very strong attribution to Gainsborough, and they were very dirty. We thought they were charming, we decided to buy them and got them at our limit. In the eighteenth century they were nailed to the door of Gainsborough’s house. When we bought them, they were framed as two landscapes. Then my restorer said, ‘Do you realise, they are one painting?”
Fireplace and chimney curtain, Oak Saloon.
Salvator Mundi, Flornetine panel painting, attributed to Perugino or Raphael
The Tapestry Room, an Aubusson tapestry c.1700, showing a scene from the story of the Athenian hero Theseus, after Plutarch.
faux marbling inside a corner cupboard
Yhe Great Hall, dais end.”When I came out of university I bought and sold antiques to help pay my way. We opened the first Art Deco shop in Sydney and I made enough money to leave Australia. A huge collection of Clarice Cliff pottery financed me for the first month in England.’
The secondary entrance hall dates from when the house was divided, c.1710. ‘I’ve been dealing for years, but I buy much more than I sell. Taste does evolve. I recently bought six Hepplewhite chairs from Mike Ottery antiques in Wallingford. Some idiot had covered them in a really offensive thick woolen fabric, which had split the frames out slightly. Underneath was this beautiful watered silk!’
The Great Hall, with paneling from c.1630, the stone fireplace is probably a nineteenth century insertion. ‘See how reflective these floors are? Of course they’ve been waxed but they were never meant to be darkened. They’re made of deal, oak, pine or elm boards, they’re just scrubbed now, with Marine soap or eco-soap.’
‘This is the Eccentric Room – it’s like a morning room’ – it has an 1730s chimneypiece with a garniture of Wedgwood creamware, pine paneling and sash windows
Mica wallpaper found under a modern paper with a Regency revival blocked design of c.1900
Lampshade made of old maps, Robert’s find in the Rochester flea market
Regency china cupboard, the door to this room was made up of salvage and scrap by Stephen Aveling
Specimen table, early nineteenth century, Wedgwood c. 1911, duplicating a design of the 1790s
Japanned worktable c.1800, carved shell from the Andoman Islands in the Indian Ocean.
passage and a weather-house
The Kings Stair, created retrospectively in 1674
‘This is my room,’ says Robert. ‘I do these drawings. Everything that we build, I draw first, architects never do exactly what I want so I’ve learned to do it myself.’
The paneling and tiling around the fireplace were instated in the late nineteenth century by Stephen Aveling, a painter and illustrator who lived here for nearly twenty years.
‘I bought the needlework from Angela Page, a dealer who always used to win the best-dressed stand in Olympia, she had the smallest stand, too.’ The cut paperwork picture is from Claude Bornoff who used to operate in Westbourne Grove
Delft tiles around the fireplace and drawing board on the right
Developers were clearing and excavating a site around an old brewery to the south of the gardens of restoration House and next door Vine House, in order to build 38 new houses , involving the demolition of surviving Tudor walls. English Heritage listed the walls, the proposal was thrown out and Robert and Jonathan were able to buy the whole plot in 2009. ‘We‘ve got planning permission, so this is what were going to build instead – 3 new houses! We want to build eco-Georgian, we’ve got our own joiners and we try to make everything ourselves.’
Robert’s 1770s lacquered kneehole desk in use. “I love the thinness of the drawers.’
Robert’s bathroom, archaeology-architecture
bathroom door, seventeenth century paint and wallpaper fragment above
‘When Charles II stayed here, this was the ante room to his chamber. The turning on the balusters dates them as seventeenth century but then the banisters were plastered over and this was made into a servants stair.’
top floor, bedroom corridor
‘In the seventeenth century the owners of this house had a lease on that park opposite, so it was laid out to make a vista running down from the house.’ Crow Lane, the old Maidenhead Road, runs between
This is the King’s Bedchamber, reserved for spacial guests, the walnut daybed is c.1680, and a William and Mary lacquered cabinet on a stand, remade from an older Chinese screen, provenance the Duke of Westminster.
The trophy frame made for this high status portrait of Charles II’s mistress, carved with a dolphin, symbol of Venus, goddess of love, a ribbon rosette (top left) and a pair of English roses for fecundity. ‘Taste? We spend a lot of time over dinner discussing whether we really want to buy something or not,’ says Robert.
‘Robert is the mastermind, but when we make a serious purchase he brings out a catalogue photo and it sits on the table while we drink a bottle of wine,’ says Jonathan.
The seventeenth century dado paneling was altered in the nineteenth century; the wall paintings with an Arthurian spin – by the Victorian painter-illustrator Stephen Aveling – tell the story of Geraint and Enid, from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. ‘Enid has been unjustly accused of infidelity… Geraint is taking her back to his Welsh Castle in deep disgrace. She is told to ride ahead of him and not to try to speak to him, she tries, in vain, to warn him of three bandit knights who are approaching to attack him….’
Robert found these embroidered slippers in a Faversham antiques shop, he thinks that they are French and date from the 1820s
And moving out they found the stately horse,
Who now no more a vassal to the thief,
But free to stretch his limbs in lawful fight,
Neighed with all gladness as they came, and stooped
With a low whinny toward the pair: and she
Kissed the white star upon his noble front,
Glad also; then Geraint upon the horse
Mounted, and reached a hand, and on his foot
She set her own and climbed; he turned his face
And kissed her climbing, and she cast her arms
About him, and at once they rode away.
This bed is a historical reproduction and we’ve covered everything in upholstery to disguise it, Clare Southern expertly did the work for us. Walls hung with silk damask by Claremont Furnishing
backstair to attics
‘That’s a favourite’ – landscape by Gainsborough, acquired from the estate of Sir Alec Guinness, below is Mr Mangles by Joshua Reynolds
The Great Chamber or Miss Havisham’s Room, redecorated in stone white and off-black.Narrow pine floorboards probably indicate that this once served as a ballroom, now the room is used for music recitals and furnished with a c.1658 Italian harpsichord . ‘The Miss Havisham story? It’s an important part of the story about the house and I think we care, both ways – this house has 120 windows, it was designed to have a lot of light, its not dark and gloomy…’
Great Chamber chimneypiece, detail of the portrait of Miss Bacon by Enoch Seeman, c. 1745
Another unfinished Gainsborough, of an unidentified sitter, possibly Edward Stratford, later 2nd Earl of Aldborough
‘I think the house has become Robert’s work of art,’ says Jonathan. There’s a consistency and a kind of quality of insight that arises over many years now, that’s what you see.’
A master bedroom with a Verdure tapestry backdrop and original wide Elm floorboards
Herculaneum vase, a nineteenth century copy
The carving on this chest is designed to catch the light; above hang the portraits of George Tuke and his wife Eleanor Toke, painted c.1640.
‘The painting of cows and sheep was very dirty when we bought it, and then attributed to Barker of Bath and I bought it with the canvas falling off the stretcher from the back of a van!- it’s actually by Gainsborough’
The chimneypiece’s original painted decoration was revealed by painstaking dry-scraping
The stoneware Lion is a north country piece from about 1800
The long enfilade that gives a view down the entire length of the house
Great Hall stairs
This Victorian stained glass window on the half-landing shows Charles II knighting Sir Francis Clerke, his host when he stayed at Restoration House on his return from exile in France into England
“Restoring this house has been such an education. It makes you look and it makes you learn.’ – Jonathan. ‘I can’t say its been a hardship.’
stairs descending to the basement
‘We have a tea shop for visitors that benefits the Wisdom Hospice, a local charity.’
Corner of the tea shop-cafe awaiting summer visitors
tea shop-cafe in the old kitchen with built-in dressers
dresser and Wedgwood creamware plates
Housekeeper going home, Friday
Greenhouse – ‘I found the iron roof trusses when Rochester still had a Saturday market about 25 years ago. It took about 10 years to work out how they were deployed and recreate it.’
gardener Sarah Pollard, potting
more topiary, the lush garden, acid-trip green
much more topiary – parterre
views into Rochester
House puss, ‘Indy,’ born at Restoration House, named by a former gardener to whom he used to belong.
Kitchen, Rod Hull’s fitted cupboards and…
Robert’s postcard collection art gallery
Very many thanks to Robert Tucker and Jonathan Wilmot.
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