The remains of Otford Palace, 160m SSE of St Bartholemew’s Church.
Reasons for Designation
Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great works of architecture and displays of decoration. Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated, containing a range of buildings, often of stone, including a hall or halls, chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or courtyards. The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post-medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Only some 150 bishops' palaces have been identified and documentary sources confirm that they were widely dispersed throughout England. All positively identified examples are considered to be nationally important.
Despite later development and disturbance, the remains of Otford Palace survive well. The upstanding remains include some significant architectural details such as Tudor-arched windows, moulded stone arches and fireplaces. Partial excavation has shown that the buried remains, such as the south and east ranges, are well preserved. Much of the original ground plan of the palace is likely to survive, which will provide valuable information regarding the layout and function of bishops’ palaces in the medieval period. The site has not been fully excavated and retains a high degree of potential for further investigation. It will contain archaeological and environmental information relating to the construction, use and history of the palace.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 15 December 2014. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
The monument includes the medieval palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury surviving as upstanding remains, earthworks and below ground archaeology. It is situated on a west facing slope to the east of the River Darent at the foot of the Darenth Valley.
The early 16th century palace is thought to have covered an area of approximately 134m by 67m. It was centred on two courtyards; an inner and outer court, divided by a central hall.
The upstanding remains include part of the northern range of the outer court, the north-west tower and one side of the gatehouse. The north-west tower and gatehouse are constructed of red brick with blue headers and stone quoins and dressings. They have a rubble plinth with moulded stone coping and windows of one or two Tudor-arched lights, many of which are under hoodmoulds. The polygonal tower survives to three storeys high but the roof is now missing. It originally included a crenellated parapet and leaded roof. Some brick diapering is preserved on the south face of the tower and in the interior are fireplaces on each floor and remains of a stair to the south-east. The gatehouse includes two doorways under three-centred and four-centred moulded stone arches. It has a restored tiled roof hipped over half-octagonal ends. At the south-east corner are traces of an entrance arch. Between the tower and gatehouse are Castle Cottages, which are completely excluded from the scheduling, although their gardens are included. Castle Cottages incorporate remains of the palace on the ground floor but the first floor and roof above are modern additions. South of these buildings are further upstanding remains of the palace. In the back gardens of houses on Bubblestone Road is some early 16th century stone walling of the inner court of the palace. It is up to about 1.2m high and largely orientated east-west with some cross walls. Tudor brickwork is also embedded in the north banks of the small brook or culvert at the ends of the gardens. In the front gardens of houses on Bubblestone road is what is thought to be remains of the south precinct wall of the palace. It is early 16th century in date and built of stone rubble with later repair work.
Partial excavation has revealed the buried footings of the south and east range of the palace. These overlie remains of an earlier fortified manor house. The east range includes the foundations of at least four rooms. A drain leads to a series of garderobe shafts in the south range. Between the ranges is a square tower, approximately 13m wide. To the east of Castle Cottages, earthworks survive relating to medieval water management associated with the palace.
Otford Palace was built in about 1518 by Archbishop William Warham. It replaced an earlier manor house on the same site. Henry VIII was apparently entertained at the palace on several occasions. In about 1538 the palace was exchanged by Archbishop Cranmer with the King. In the later 16th century Elizabeth I granted the palace to Sir Robert Sidney. In the 17th century the land was sold to Sir Thomas Smith and passed to his descendants until it was purchased by Robert Parker in the late 18th century. The site was partially excavated in 1968, 1974, 1983 and 1986, and a geo-physical survey was carried out in 2001. The finds included one lead bull of Pope Lucius III (1181-5) and five lead bulls of Pope Urban III (1185-7), found in a medieval sewer on the site.
The north-west tower, remains of the gatehouse and Castle Cottages are Grade II* listed. The upstanding walls in the front and back gardens of houses on Bubblestone Road are Grade II listed.
Further remains survive in the vicinity of this monument but are not scheduled because they have not been formally accessed.