Spilsill Court



During the years that Winifred operated her 'Cintra' dress making business in London she became friends with one of her customers whose name was Miss Christina Knowles. In 1920 Christina had bought Spilsill Court, a beautiful house near Staplehurst in Kent, which was originally built in 1286 for the de Speldselle family. The house had been much altered over the years and she continued the improvements. Christina was responsible for, amongst other things, re-organising the gardens in contemporary Elizabethan style. Pleached alleys of hornbeam, shrubberies, a rock garden and a knot garden in the shape of the fleur de lys were laid out. She also built a shrine in remembrance of her mother, which still stands, in the garden. In order to give employment to the men of Staplehurst during the depression Christina converted the flax mill/tythe barn into a theatre  which is still in use today and wonderfully preserved. This is much how Winifred Fortescue would have found Spilsill during her visits to stay with Christina Knowles.

In 1932 her husband John Fortescue's health been a major problem having suffered what was almost certainly a stroke. Although he recovered he was very fragile. After six months recovery he succumbed to a chill and pneumonia. Once again he recovered and his health improved. Escaping the intense heat in the south of France in the summer of 1933, a visit to friends and relatives in England provided a welcome boost. For the duration of the visit they stayed with Christina Knowles at Spilsill. The picture below was taken during this stay and they are pictured standing in the porch. The exact date it was taken is unknown but it is September 1933. It is possibly the last picture taken of Sir John. Perhaps they had stepped outside for Winifred to enjoy the cigarette which is in her right hand?

The couple left Spilsill to return to Provence towards the end of September and enjoyed five days in the warm sunshine of the south of France as the grapes ripened. On the sixth day John was taken ill and after a series of misdiagnoses by several doctors  taken to Sunny Bank Hospital in Cannes with severe abdominal pains. His usual doctor was away at the time. He died from peritonitis at the hospital on September 22nd 1933 after an operation for appendicitis performed too late.


Winifred & John at Spilsill Court in Kent in September 1933

Possibly the last photograph of Winifred & John together - taken in the porch at Spilsill Court in Kent - September 1933


Spilsill Court in Kent in 2009

Spilsill Court, Kent in 2009

Spilsill Court in Kent in 2009

Spilsill Court, Kent in 2009

The converted barn - now a theatre

The converted barn - now a theatre at Spilsill Court, Kent in 2009

Spilsill Court knot garden in the shape of the fleur de lys in 2009

To read a full history of Spilsill Court prepared by the present owners click the link below.

Spilsill History

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Pictures - P.Riley & Maureen Emerson