Went House, the Queen Anne styled gem in Swan Street, was created around a substantial Tudor farmhouse and has been dated by architectural historian John Newman to circa 1720. Although the builder of the fine early 18th century facade is unrecorded, a list of owners originally compiled by past owners Robin and Anne Baring has provided a basis for further research and a glimpse of 18th-century life in West Malling through the wills left by some of the inhabitants.
An early owner of Went House may have been a Mr. Selby, who in 1664 paid tax for his house with 10 hearths – then the best-heated property in West Malling. The first positive record, however, is of Sir Henry Selby of Ightham Mote, a non-resident who sold the property to the hop farmer Edward Sandell in 1698. Following a season of severe storms and poor harvests in 1704, the farmhouse with about 60 acres of adjoining land was purchased from the commissioners of bankruptcy by George Charlton of Boxley (another non-resident), who died in 1707. In his will he instructed that his properties in West Malling and Canterbury were to be sold by his widow to provide a dowry of £1,000 for each of his seven daughters.
Also in 1705 Gabriel Player, a London goldsmith*, married Jane Weekley, the youngest daughter of John and Anne Weekley of West Malling. Gabriel and Jane’s first two daughters, Anne and Jane, were baptised at St. Mary the Virgin in 1706 and 1707 respectively. Although the purchaser remains undocumented at this time, the later ownership of Went House suggests that it was home to the Player family from the early 1700s.
John Weekley, who had paid hearth tax for a single property in 1664, owned many properties in West Malling and the surrounding parishes at the time of his death in 1719, when his family home included a ‘great fish pond, boathouse and boat’ and adjoining meadow land. This property, called ‘Pond Head’, was located in St. Leonards Street opposite Douce’s Manor, taking its name from an earlier time when the Ewell stream had been dammed to create a mill pond. Unfortunately the house was demolished around 1801 when the present Manor Park lake was created and St. Leonards Street was re-routed away from the front of the Manor House. The name Pond Head, however, survived in the Tithe Survey of 1840 when it continued to be applied to the lake.
It is not clear if Went House ever belonged to John Weekley, who left his real estate to his wife and male heirs and very little to his daughters in his will. Based on the earlier marriages of Jane’s sisters, however, he would probably have made a generous settlement on Jane’s marriage to Gabriel Player in 1705, either in property or money to fund the purchase of Went House.
It is perhaps significant that Gabriel and Jane Player removed to Greenwich in 1715, where their third daughter Catherine was baptised at the newly rebuilt church of St. Alfege, and where Jane’s sister Mary and her husband George Smith resided. Also living at Greenwich was Gabriel’s daughter Mary (born 1698 to Mary Martin of Gosport), who married John Clarke in 1719. Gabriel Player was again recorded as resident in Town Malling from the 1720s onwards, suggesting that family connections in Greenwich provided a temporary refuge during the rebuilding of Went House.
Gabriel died in 1744 and his widow Jane inherited Went House to be passed on to their daughter Anne, who in 1748 married Charles Downman, uncle of artist John Downman ARA and Col. Francis Downman (later of Brome House). Went House and its land were then leased to the attorney Francis Brooke and his successors until the early 1800s, whilst Anne, her mother and Charles Downman moved to a new home in Boley Hill, Rochester.
Ownership of Went House duly passed to Anne on Jane Player’s death in 1768, continuing with Charles and Anne until their deaths in 1783 and 1785. John Downman then inherited the residue of his uncle’s estate, including Went House where he lived and worked between 1804 and 1807. Having sold the furniture in 1817, John then moved to Chester and finally to Wrexham, where he died in 1824. Went House was sold to Thomas Luck of the neighbouring Hermitage Farm in 1823, the property remaining with the Luck family until 1950.
*Gabriel Player’s apprenticeship and early career are documented at Goldsmiths’ Hall, where his mark (below) was entered in 1700 as a ‘largeworker’, and in 1702 he was commissioned to make ‘wrought silver plate’ for Martin of Gosport. However, only two examples of his work have been recorded, namely a silver tankard and a Britannia silver bowl and cover. A silver sugar bowl, left by Anne Weekley to her grandson George, was perhaps another example of Gabriel’s work, and he may have made more pieces for the Weekley family and other West Malling residents.
So, dear readers, please dig out the family silver and look for Gabriel’s mark. If you are fortunate enough to own any examples of his work (or have any other information to contribute to my biographical notes) please contact Mike North: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright: Malling Society, September 2015