We bought Henden estate in June 1997. It has a long history, according to records going back over a thousand years. The current Manor House was likely to have been built in the 15th century. At various times the estate was owned by the Earl of Warwick, the Crown when Henry VIII was King, Sir Thomas and then Mary Boleyn, Sir John Gresham and then other luminaries of their time. More recently, in the 1920s Alfred Hitchcock made frequent visits to see his friend the Ealing Film Producer Sir Michael Balcon, who was leasing the Estate. So, today we are simply custodians of Henden. It is our responsibility to help maintain it in a way that is sustainable for the coming centuries.
Henden Manor Estate is located close to Sevenoaks in West Kent. We have some 500 acres of land. When we bought the estate there was a dairy herd, which ultimately we grew to the size of some 470 Holstein Friesian livestock. We milked on average 240 cows to produce over 3 million litres per year. This milk was supplied to Marks & Spencer. We employed six full time and two part time staff.
Our ambitions for Henden were simply to produce the best quality milk under the highest possible sustainable standards of staff and animal welfare, regulatory compliance and environmental protection. Economics for the sector were challenging, but we had a good go at making it work, investing considerable sums of money over 20 years in new infrastructure, in looking after our staff and livestock as well as ensuring the environment was protected. In the event, we found it was not possible to create a sustainable business and in February 2019 took the decision to close the dairy farm down: after close to 22 years of trying.
The conclusion of this story is that milk prices do not support truly high quality, sustainable dairy farming. The public and the consumer have to speak with one voice and decide what they want: cheap food of unknown origin or slightly more expensive food, which is traceable, sustainable, of good quality where staff and livestock are looked after. The supermarkets, too, need to look at their priorities when it comes to pricing. In the last year of operation our depreciation charge, reflecting the gradual write off of our infrastructure and equipment, was around 4.8 pence per litre (ppl). This had fallen from a high of over 6ppl, reflecting the ageing of the buildings and equipment and the fact that our yields per cow had increased. The average national depreciation charge that year was estimated at less than 1 ppl. This story alone vivdly demonstrates the lack of capital investment that is going into the dairy industry. This is worrying for the nation, particularly if it wishes to consume more nationwide produced food rather than food imported from overseas where regulations and welfare standards may be considerably worse.
Today, we look forward to the future with enthusiasm. We are letting our grazing land to a farmer for his sheep in the wet months and, in the dry months for his cattle to use. We are continuing our arable operation, although now are selling our crops to other farmers or to the market. We are also letting out of two of our houses through Airbnb: Puncheur Place and the Oast House. If you are thinking of coming into the country for a stay please consider them. We only started in July 2019, but already we have received a large number of excellent reviews. Roni is a "super-host", a well deserved title. People who wish to walk or cycle are particularly welcome. Our estate is peaceful and lies in an Area of Outstanding Beauty. The area offers many roads to cycle and footpaths to explore, up and down the many hills of West Kent, the Tudor countryside. We can offer secure cycle storage and parking for cars for those who need it, although we are within easy tax reach of railway stations such as Sevenoaks, Edenbridge and Oxted.
Puncheur Place link: https://abnb.me/D2fv4MGMt0
Oast House link: https://abnb.me/bvYZ4yJDu0
This year and next we will be redeveloping some of our farm buildings. We are aiming to build a couple of houses for Airbnb, but specifically with disabled access, something which we find amazing is rare in this sector. We will also redevelop for largely commercial use our now ageing quadrangle and the reasonably new, large cow barns. Our firm aim here is to find ideally one, but maybe up to three long term tenants, who will use these facilities as a local base for perhaps an office and/or storage or possibly manufacturing. Our location is low profile, is secure and has truly exceptional road and rail links to London, the M25, the M20 and related motorways and the airports Gatwick, Heathrow, City Airport and Biggin Hill. The centre of London can be less than one hour away door to door if one goes by train from Sevenoaks, which itself is ten minutes from Henden.
Because we are private people living on what we regard as a special estate one firm condition of any new business that is to be developed on our farm will be that it brings with it as much privacy as possible and only low volume trafiic. To us this means that total traffic movements over a year should be less than half of the volume of traffic (which was mostly large vehicles) that we experienced over 20+ years when we had the dairy operation. We do not want any new business to be intrusive to us or our neighbours.
We hope you enjoy this website and find it interesting and useful. We have enjoyed putting it together.