Arthur Percival looks at the Dutch influence
on buildings in East Kent and suggests that there's
scope for much more research into their histories.
Sandwich, guidebook writers often say, is like a Dutch
town. Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that from across
the levels from the distance theres a distinct resemblance.
With its two prominent church towers, and its core still encompassed
by medieval defences, it could be mistaken for one of those
gorgeous ancient towns you see in Holland. Come closer along
the road from Ramsgate, half-close your eyes, and you could
almost dignify the tower of St Peters with the onion-shaped
Dutch-type cupola that some imaginative illustrators have
But, although it may seem sacrilegious to say so, walk about
the town and the Dutch vision crumbles. Where
are all those crow-step, tumbled and curly gables which are
two-a-penny in towns in the Netherlands? There are hardly
any. Admittedly, Manwood Courts crow-steps (Fig 1) make
a striking impression as you arrive by road from Canterbury,
but where are all the others? There are tumbled gables on
Fishergate, theres a curly gable on the south side of
St Peters (Fig 2), and theres the Old Dutch
House in King Street (Fig 3), although it doesnt
look terribly Dutch. Mind you, it does have a curly gable
at the back.
|FIG 1: Manwood Courts
crow-stepped gables. Photographs: Arthur Percival unless
||FIG 2: South vestry at St
||FIG 3: The Old Dutch House,
King Street. See The Sandwich Society Journal, Vol
2, No 6, for a full account of the 1457 attack.
Dutch bricks? Well, they figure in a handful of properties,
but no more. Yes, a house at the Bay sports curly gables but
this is a Cape Dutch job done in the Twentieth century when
Kent-born Sir Herbert Baker (1862-1946) brought the style
to Britain - and Cape Dutch, although related to East Kent
Dutch, is another story.
What a disappointment for visitors looking for the flavour
of Holland! There are many more curly gables in Deal than
in Sandwich, as there once were in Ramsgate. But wait. Perhaps
in Sandwich there used to be more? Yes, indeed there were,
although still not enough to give the impression of a Low
Countries town. There were three fine ones on the south side
of the Cattle Market (Fig 4), but they have gone. There was
also one by the Guildhall itself, which was used to house
smaller animals on market days. It was a late Victorian building
and reflected the then wave of interest among architects and
builders in reviving the East Kent Dutch style (Fig 5).
Still, there never were that many buildings in what we would
recognise as a Dutch style. All perhaps a bit
odd, given that after its harbour had started silting up the
town was given a new lease of life by Protestant refugees
(strangers) from the Low Countries, and that these
constituted a substantial ethnic minority. Is there an explanation?
Lets look at the historical, architectural and topographical
background first. To begin with, the term Dutch
can be misleading. The refugees came from the whole of the
Netherlands which, in the Sixteenth century, consisted of
most of present-day Holland and Belgium and a chunk of north-eastern
France. This had been a possession of the Dukes of Burgundy
from 1385 but became one of Spain when Charles, Duke of Burgundy,
became King of Spain in 1516.
Serious Catholic persecution of Netherlandish Protestants
began in 1550 when the Inquisition was imposed. Although refugees
may have begun to arrive in Sandwich earlier, they were officially
authorised to settle in the town in 1561. They formed their
own church in the following year, and by 1564 Norwich was
trying to lure some of them away. Their skills were much in
What about their building skills, though?
Many came from towns almost as tightpacked as Sandwich.
Their forebears, like Sandwich people, had built timber-framed
houses but timber was in shorter supply in much of the Netherlands
than it was in Kent, and brick (and to a lesser extent dressed
stone) took its place earlier than it did here (Fig 6).
|FIG 4: Shaped gables on
the south side of the Cattlemarket, later demolished.
Photograph reproduced with kind permission of Sandwich
||FIG 5: Cattle market showing
Dutch gabled animal shed to the right. Photograph reproduced
with kind permission of Ray Dean, from his Collection.
||FIG 6: Models showing the
evolution of the Netherlandish gable.
The practice was to build almost all town houses with their
gables facing the street. Netherlanders liked individuality
so, rather than build plain gables, they put up ornamental
ones. At first these were crow-steps, in a style common to
much of northwest Europe, including Scotland and parts of
the English east coast. Or, if crow-steps were too expensive,
you could settle for a tumbled gable with muizetanden (mouseteeth
formed by courses of bricks laid at right-angles to the gable-pitch).
But then the Spanish influence kicked in, and Renaissance
scrolls and other motifs were added to create a more exotic
outline. In Dutch these were known as halsgevels. These were
often busy with pilasters, string courses, swags and ornamental
You couldnt afford these? Then you settled for a simple
curvilinear, or shaped, gable with the distinctive
curly outline we associate with Dutch gables in
East Kent. Later on, and finally, the halsgevel was made bolder
by eliminating all but one or two of the steps and string-courses
and building the pilasters uninterruptedly from the base to
the top of the gable. This was the baroque gable.
Because so much of the Netherlands is low-lying, and soils
are often alluvial, the builders of these houses took no chances.
Instead of waiting for subsidence and then repairing the resulting
damage at great expense, they installed tie-bars (ankers)
to clamp walls to beams from the very start. In keeping with
the refined quality of facades, these were of elegant profile,
unlike their crude English counterparts. Soon it dawned on
builders that tie-bars need not be plain. They could also
be decorative (sierankers) or informative, or both. Decorative
ones could have scrolls at top and foot. Informative ones
could carry the date of the building (jaartalankers), or the
initials of the owner, or both, again beautifully executed.
Prime local examples of jaartalankers are those that date
Manwood Court (the former Sir Roger Manwood Grammar School)
to 1564. The building itself is like a hybrid Netherlandish-English
manor house, with crow-step gables from the Low Countries
and hood moulds from England over the first-floor windows.
Because the soils around Sandwich were similar to those in
the low-lying parts of the Netherlands, and ideal for market
gardening, some of the refugees who arrived in the town took
up this line of business. Others doubtless then branched out
into larger-scale farming. Perhaps now it begins to become
clear why the town lacks a more prominent architectural legacy
of the Netherlandish settlement that took place here. The
settlers had their work cut out to establish themselves in
their new surroundings. This took time. Once they had set
down firm roots, towards the end of the Sixteenth century,
they had little need and hardly any opportunity to build new
properties. Most of the towns houses were then of recent,
or fairly recent, vintage and did not need redeveloping. And
in a place so densely built up, there were few empty building
plots. Presumably it was only where there were really ancient,
tumble-down properties that new Netherlandish-style houses,
such as those in the Cattle Market, got built.
In scale and finish these did not match the models they
emulated. About one of the reasons for this we can be sure.
Although Dutch bricks were being imported, the builders -
probably Kentish - chose to work with the bricks with which
they were familiar. These were larger than their Netherlandish
counterparts so detailing could not be as refined. As a result
East Kents Dutch houses and gables have
a kind of hearty English flavour - they are bolder, and simpler.
And if the builders put up two storeys rather than three or
four, this was probably simply because this was all that need
Thus it is that Sandwichs real Netherlandish heritage
is not in the town itself but in villages close by - Ash-next-Sandwich,
Minster, Wingham, Woodnesborough and Worth, for example. Indeed
it also radiates from it - up the Stour valley as far as Chilham,
in the Little Stour valley, in the Wantsum valley at Sarre
and St Nicholas-at-Wade, at Reading Street in St Peters
(Broadstairs) and in villages behind Deal like Great Mongeham
and Ripple (Fig 7). Beyond, there was a fine example in Faversham
and another two in nearby Oare, of which one survives.
These Dutch houses are one of the main features
that distinguish the extreme east of Kent from the rest of
the county. They have an exotic flavour that reminds us that
it is the part of England closest to the Continent. There
must be around two hundred of them in all, yet though many
are prominent in their setting they have never attracted the
attention they deserve, and have never been seen as a family
by guidebook writers. Fortunately most have been well cared
for by successive owners, but if you are observant you will
notice a few curly gables which have been ignominiously shaved
down. You can usually recognise them because what remains
bears other traces of Netherlandish influence, like decorative
or informative tie-bars, string-courses which once linked
steps in the gable, or blind oval recesses which do humble
duty for the more elaborate Netherlandish prototypes.
If only to complete the Sandwich settlers story, it
is worth illustrating some of these houses. A word of warning,
first. Some vernacular architectural historians argue that
they have little to do with refugees from the Netherlands
but are simply examples of artisan mannerism,
typified by elaborate brickwork based on Netherlandish prototypes,
which they say became popular in the early Seventeenth century.
This is an argument that can be persuasive but the jury is
still out on it.
The fact is that many or most artisan mannerist
buildings are on, or close to, Englands east coast,
or easily reached from it by river. You will find them in
Suffolk, Norfolk, and as far up as Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There
were a few fine examples close to the Thames in the London
area. In the delightful North Yorkshire village of Cawood,
on the Ouse between Selby and York, you will see several,
looking almost as though they had strayed from the Sandwich
area. In some cases the houses may have been put up by Netherlandish
immigrants, or their children or grandchildren; in others,
by merchants and skippers trading with the Netherlands. The
well-known, and very striking, Dutch houses on
The Strand at Topsham in Devon certainly owe their origin
to trade links.
A clinching argument in the case of the Dutch
houses around Sandwich is that most have (or had) not only
curly gables but such other features as sierankers or jaartalankers.
Only the Netherlanders had the helpful habit of dating many
of their buildings. Would that the Brits had too, but perhaps
they felt that after fifty years or so a dated house would
seem exactly that - dated - to prospective buyers.
7: Map showing the influence of Netherlandish vernacular
architecture in East Kent and blind oval recesses which
were simply not features of contemporary native design.
Map reproduced with kind permission of Arthur Percival
Lets begin our short tour with the one house in Sandwich
that calls itself Dutch - the Old Dutch House
in King Street. As already noted, the street facade doesnt
look terribly Dutch, although its undoubtedly exotic,
with lots of busy brick detail. It becomes intelligible only
when it is analysed. Four brick pilasters feature prominently.
Just below the eaves they tail off anti-climactically in wedge-shaped
caps. No-one can be certain, but it looks very much as though
they once supported a curly gable, as similar
pilasters still do at Tudor Manor, Wingham Well.
The facade is symmetrical, and at either end on the ground
floor are keystoned arches whose inspiration is probably Netherlandish.
There are similar, but shallower, relieving arches over the
two ground-floor windows. In spaces that would otherwise be
blank at either end of the first floor front, and in its middle,
are curious decorations contrived out of small bricks, perhaps
from Holland. These look very much like a Kentish bricklayers
ingenious but rather clumsy attempt to reproduce details from
a Netherlandish facade. You can picture him having been shown
a rough sketch and trying to copy what he saw. Some similar
details appeared on a house (now a shop) near the station
in Preston Street, Faversham but though the building still
stands, its front has been progressively butchered over the
last hundred years.
A house in Delf Street (Fig 8), which was nearly opposite
the present cinema and seems to have been demolished in the
1930s to make way for a Co-op store (now car showrooms), looks
as though it had gabled Netherlandish detailing: certainly
it sported sierankers. The complex facade of The Pellicane
in the High Street still has some detailing which may be Netherlandish
Perhaps the most convincingly Netherlands inspired building
close to Sandwich is School Farm at Guilton (Figs 9-10), at
the western end of the original A256 through Ash-next- Sandwich.
From the distance its gables look really exotic. This is because
although the designer could not run to the frills of Low Countries
prototypes and was working in bigger Kentish bricks, he tried
to reproduce the characteristic gable outlines by giving them
bulbous contours. He added two tiers of pilasters, supported
by string courses, and incorporated jaartalankers to date
his little masterpiece to 1691.
|FIG 8: Dutch influence on
house in Delf Street. Photograph reproduced with kind
permission of Sandwich Guildhall Archive
||FIG 9: Guilton School Farm,
||FIG 10: Two tiers of pilasters
on gable end of Guilton School Farm.
Not to leave a job half-done, he gave the neat little porch
a curly gable, complete with blind oval recess and sieranker
(decorative tie-bar). At this late date the client could not
possibly have been a first-generation immigrant. Perhaps it
was a great-grandson or great-grand-daughter who cherished
their Netherlandish roots. After all, most folk of Continental
Protestant descent are still conscious of their antecedents;
there wouldnt be a thriving Huguenot Society otherwise.
Its worth noting that in this case the gables dont
face the street, as they would have done in the Netherlands
and did in the case of the Sandwich examples that have been
lost, but are at right-angles to it, on the flanks walls.
This way, in their particular setting they are more conspicuous
- no point in taking so much trouble if they were not far-seen.
Nearby, but secluded, is Poulton Manor, Woodnesborough (Figs
11-12). Here a timber-framed house was transformed by the
addition of two large brick wings, with bold curvilinear gables
at both ends of each, not to mention another pilastered gable
over the new entrance. Despite the clash of materials and
styles the design outcome is hugely appealing.
|FIG 11: Rear
view, Poulton Farm, Woodnesborough.
||FIG 12: Front
view, Poulton Farm, Woodnesborough.
|Tudor Manor at Wingham Well
(Figs 13 and 14) has already been mentioned. With its giant
pilasters supporting a curly gable, it comes closest in East
Kent to baroque gabled prototypes in the Netherlands. Winklandoaks
Farm at Ripple was probably of similar type but, if so, has
lost its gable. Still in Wingham, along the Staple road are
Letterbox Cottages (Fig 15). No curly gables now but just look
at the eastern one. It has a pediment, betraying that it once
had one which has since been shaved down to save on upkeep costs.
|FIG 13: Tudor Manor, Wingham
||FIG 14: Gable end at Tudor
Manor, Wingham Well.
||FIG 15: Gable end at Letterbox
Cottages, Staple Road, Wingham.
|Further along the Canterbury
road, at Littlebourne, are several curvilinear-gabled buildings.
Most prominent, at the junction with The Green, is the Anchor
Inn, with its gable perhaps designed to attract travellers
attention. On The Green itself is a picturesque row of cottages
(Figs 16 and 17) with a curly gable at either end, though the
one on the north is now obscured by a Victorian house. (Its
quite common for gables to suffer this fate: just wander around
Middle Street and its many tributaries in Deal, and you will
see several which are now barely visible.)
|FIG 16: Row of cottages
on The Green at Littlebourne.
||FIG 17: South gable meets
garage roof at the end of the row of cottages on The Green.
|The Old Vicarage in Nargate
Street (Fig 18) has a curly gable which is double-pedimented,
like those on The Green, but this time theres also room
for a blind oval recess in its apex. There is a similar recess
at the top of one of the chimneys, and a curly-gabled two-storey
porch. The list could go on and on but there is not space for
it here. Suffice it finally to mention Hode Farm at Patrixbourne
(Figs 19 and 20), which sports not just a curly gable (dated
1674) but also a splendid crowstep one, perhaps a little older.
|FIG 18: Gable
end of The Old Vicarage, Nargate Street, Littlebourne.
||FIG 20: Crow-stepped
gable at Hode Farm.
||FIG 19: Curly
gable, dated 1674, at Hode Farm, Patrixbourne.
One disappointment perhaps is that the East Kent Dutch
style is not still a feature of the local vernacular. Here
in England in the aftermath of the Modern Movement architects
are wary of designing what their colleagues might denounce
as nostalgic fakes. Not so in Holland, where traditional-style
buildings are still put up. In East Kent the Netherlandish
influence first began to be noticed in the late Nineteenth
century and the outcome was that in places like Ickham, Faversham,
Sandwich and Wingham, a few repro curly gables
appeared. In Margate the trustees of Drapers Almshouses
gamely insisted that they appear on new ranges to match those
on the original (1709) one. But after this - nothing, except
recently for a new shop in The Parade at Canterbury and the
addition of curly gables to a pair of Victorian cottages at
Graveney. It was the late Sir Patrick Abercrombie who inspired
this writers interest, stretching back over forty years,
in East Kents Dutch heritage. In his [Sir
Patricks] great 1920s pioneering structure plan for
the coalfield he pinpointed it as a topic worth further study.
Having secured his blessing, I dutifully collected
as many examples as I could, and looked at the Netherlandish
influence further afield.
However, what I have never had time to do is correlate the
physical evidence with the documentary. In at least some cases,
hopefully, the original title deeds of the properties concerned
will have survived. These could make rewarding reading. Since
they prove title to land, rather than the structures on it,
they seldom record when properties were built, rebuilt or
remodelled. They do, however, certainly contain information
about owners and often about tenants and, by implication,
may reveal when important changes took place, referring for
example to a new-built messuage. Is any reader
game for some intensive, but important and rewarding, research?
Arthur Percival MBE MA DLitt
Honorary Director of the Fleur
de Lis HeritageCentre, Faversham and former Sandwich resident.
This article was originally published in the Journal of The