From right to left- Dr Anna Keay, Director and Alastair Dick-Cleland, Conservation Manager at the Landmark Trust with Mark Hews, Group CEO of Ecclesiastical Insurance outside 18th-century Cobham Dairy near Gravesend.
Thanks to the enormous generosity of our supporters, this year’s raffle and several gifts in Wills, we now have a shortfall of just £150,000 to find in order to rescue Grade II* listed Cobham Dairy. With your support we could start work this October. £954,000 was our starting target to restore the beautiful but fragile little building, and we have unlocked a £200,000 donation from specialist insurer Ecclesiastical.
Our Director Anna Keay writes why, amongst a masculine world of banking halls and billiard rooms, this window into the hidden world of 18th-century women needs to be saved.
Historic buildings have often been essentially the preserves of men. Banking halls and debating chambers, clubs and courthouses, billiard rooms and libraries were all part of the masculine sphere, filled with smoke and ink and whiskers, where public life was played out.
But lying beyond them, more private and secluded, were the areas where women alone held sway. Perhaps the most interesting of all was the dairy, which, from the tenant farm to the royal palace, was the exclusive territory of the women of the house. Whether the room was simple or splendid, overseen by the farmer’s daughter or a duchess, this was a female world. Only fragments of these female domains now survive.
James Wyatt's original designs for Cobham Dairy (credit: Yale Center for British Art)
Among the most glorious and the most imperilled is the Dairy at Cobham Hall, which now stands derelict. Cobham Dairy was built in the 1790s by James Wyatt, one of England’s most accomplished and prolific architects, for Elizabeth, Countess of Darnley. The miniature gothic structure he created provided a sanctuary, a space where the traditionally female tasks of making cream and butter could be undertaken by the resident dairy maid and a cool and elegant garden room where ladies could relax away from the summer heat. This highly special little structure is uniquely captivating: both as a miniature masterpiece by a brilliant British architect, but also as a window onto the hidden world of 18th-century women.
The Dairy today
Its condition today is desperately sad: though it is listed grade II*, the windows are boarded, the ornate plaster vaulting hangs in collapsed canopies and the exterior stands stripped bare of its original sophisticated slate dressing. The task of saving this gem will be a complex one, a wide range of specialist skills will be needed, and the difficulties of adapting it for modern use will be considerable. This is a challenge that, with your support, Landmark alone can meet: turning our skills and experience to the conservation task, undertaking a careful adaptation to create a magical Landmark for two.
Inside Cobham Dairy
Only with your help can we halt the decline of this important decaying local building.