The early history of the house and the building of the moat

THE FIRST DOCUMENTARY documentary use of the word ‘Badsell’ doesn’t occur until the early thirteenth century. In a document ascribed to the period 1226 – 1235 there is a passing reference to land that ‘stretches lengthways from Badsell to Matfield.’

badsell manor arial photograph

Arial photograph showing the moat in 1994

Some years later, in 1259, there is a fascinating reference to the manor in the ‘Perambulation of the Lowry of Tonbridge’. Richard de Clare was in dispute with Boniface, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over who owned what lands. Henry III ‘commanded and licensed’twenty four persons, twelve named by the Earl and twelve by the Archbishop, to carry out a survey. An entry in this survey says ‘...and so by the midst of the new pond of Gilbert of Badeshell.’ The term ‘pond’ was frequently used to describe a moat and we can therefore be reasonably certain that the moat was built shortly before 1259.

Most moats in England were dug between the middle of the twelfth century through to the end of the fourteenth century. The one at Badsell was constructed during the height of this period, when moat building was at its most popular. Whilst there is a traditional view of moats being built for defensive purposes, this was just one of the reasons for having a moat. They were a sign of the status of the owner and were usually built on land owned by manorial lords – men who would have expressed their aspirations by aping their wealthier, castle owning superiors. Moats did however have practical advantages; they were commonly used to farm fish and would have been a useful method of dealing with waste-water as well as deterring wild animals and the odd brigand.

The moat at Badsell Manor is about seventy metres by sixty metres. The narrowest part, at the front of the house is eight metres wide. This varies along its course, with the widest part, in the northern corner, extending to seventeen metres. The depth in 2005 ranged from one to two metres. No doubt this has varied considerably over the years as the silt has been periodically cleared. The eastern side of the moat was filled in sometime after 1867. It is perhaps surprising that the four sides survived as a running moat for as long as they did. It must have been a considerable inconvenience maintaining what was by then a working farm, with the only access being across a bridge. The in-filling of this part of the moat possibly coincided with a substantial re-modelling of the house.

badsell manor moat plan

Pland showing the moat at Badsell Manor, the hatched area represents the part of the moat filled in after 1867. Note the leats to the south-east (entrance) and the north-west (exit).

Until the fourth side of the moat was filled in, the water would have come from Tudeley Brook via the leat in the south-east corner, near the house and would have passed in both directions, exiting the moat through the leat in the north-west corner. The water would then have passed into the small mill stream, rejoining Tudeley Brook half a mile to the north. The level of the moat is controlled by a sluice, diverting the water from the brook.

badsell manor estate map

Extract from an estate map showing a 'pond' where part of the fourth side of the moat was located - circa 1917

The in-filling of the eastern side would have prevented the free-flow of the water through the northern side which must have made it rather stagnant. Around 1988 the then owner, Brian Wenham, replaced the leats with underground culverts. Rather than running the exit along the old route to the north-west and into the Mill Stream, he ran this culvert across to the north-east corner and back into Tudeley Brook. This had the advantage of allowing the flow of water to pass completely around the moat, avoiding the settlement of stagnant water.