The 28-acre site that constitutes Kent Life has evolved through the years from the historic Sandling Farm, an area that formed part of the wider Allington Castle estate in the mid 16th century – stretching some 461 acres – and was owned by Thomas Wyatt.
The Allington Castle estate, later known as the Cobtree estate, was the property of the Tyrwhitt-Drake family. It passed to the only son Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake who inherited it after his father passed away in the early 1900s. An eccentric man, Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake established a small zoo on the grounds and it is believed that he had a fascination for the Zebra, painting black and white stripes on a donkey so he could admire it from his manor! A charitable trust was set up for the Cobtree Estate in 1951.
After Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake died childless in 1964, his estate was bequeathed to the people of Maidstone. By 1983 a joint project between Kent County Council and Maidstone Borough Council had created ‘The Museum of Kent Life’ (as it was formerly known) on the site of the old Sandling Farm, and it was officially opened to the public on 6 July 1985. Thus, the Museum of Kent Life was set up as a working heritage farm on which to tell the story of everything once Kentish.
Throughout the next 10 years, the Oast House was renovated, as was the farmyard, the gardens and the Estate Manager’s house (Sandling Farm House). The Vale Farm Barn was the first of the attraction’s buildings from around the county to be saved from demolition and perfectly rebuilt piece-by- piece on site, and was completed in 1990. The preservation of the region’s heritage continued with the reconstruction of Petts Farmhouse, Ulcombe Village Hall, Lenham Cottages, Cuxton Chapel and the Agricultural Store, all of which were saved from destruction elsewhere in the county. These historic buildings depict a wealth of history and changes through the centuries which not only has resonance throughout Kent, but also has significance for the wider community.
Kent Life, as it is now known, is one of the few remaining places in Britain where hops are grown, harvested, dried and packed in its magnificent Oast house, by hand, using only time honored, traditional techniques.
To complete the picture, Kent Life, was formally handed over to its new operators, Planning Solutions Ltd, in December 2015, in order to prepare it for a brighter, more sustainable future.