For the second time in as many months, we went to the Dering Arms in Pluckley, Ashford, last weekend. Yes, the food there is fantastic but, importantly, even my usually purely-cheese-pasta youngest will eat a slab of locally-shot venison or a rump of Kentish spring lamb if cooked by Jim Buss, Dering’s owner. In fact, the Dering Arms is mainly a fish restaurant, reflecting Jim’s own love of seafood. And, of course, living so near to the Kent coast, it’s incredibly fresh and reflects the fishing heritage of East Kent. I can personally recommend the seabass and the grilled lemon sole. Both with seasoned spinach and fat chips. There is no other way. Trust me.
But it’s not just the food that’s striking. The Dering Arms building towers impressively in a village of 15th century houses, small, charming railway workers cottages and a former stationmaster’s house. It is situated right next to Pluckley Station and both were built in the 1840s. It was designed as a smaller replica of the main manor house, and originally served as a Hunting Lodge for the large Dering Estate. Its grand facade features beautiful Dutch gables, commonly used in Kent architecture in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a particular idiosyncratic feature: Dering Windows. These windows are round-headed, with single, double or triple lights, and the brick window surrounds usually painted white. Their name is taken from the building’s owner: Sir Edward Dering, 1st Baronet.*
Sir Edward Dering was born on 28th January 1598 in the Tower of London, where his father was Deputy-Lieutenant. He was most famous for his library (including the Dering Manuscript of Henry IV part I, the earliest surviving manuscript of a play by Shakespeare) and his political life. The Dering’s came to power during the reign of King Henry II which caused them to inherit the grand Surrenden Manor (which they later renamed), located in Pluckley.
During the English Civil War in the 17th Century, Sir Edward, a Royalist, was charged with raising a cavalry regiment for King Charles. This brought him to the attention of the Roundhead Army. According to legend, the Surrenden Dering Manor was attacked by Roundheads and Sir Edward escaped by climbing through the top of a narrowly-arched window.
Later, in the 19th Century, this story grabbed the imagination of a Victorian descendant of Sir Edward, himself called Sir Edward Cholmeley Dering, who then used the arched windows as the symbol of the Dering Estate throughout the Manor, hunting lodge and surrounding buildings.
This story of brave Dering-derring-do, linked to the aesthetic design of the windows, is a lively illustration of how architecture can invoke human stories and have meaning for generations to come. That is heritage at its most engaging.
* Sir Edward is the 10x Great-Grandfather of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.