Porcupine House has had several different names at different times in its history: The Porcupine, or Porcupine, or The Porcupine Inn, The Gate House, The Goat’s Head. Until 1959 it formed part of the Hall Place Estate and therefore was let out to tenants by the Estate owners.
How did it get its name? The Porcupine was the crest of the Sidney family, who were granted estates in Penshurst and Leigh by Edward VI.
It seems unlikely, however, that the Sidney family ever owned it. It possibly took the name from the fact that the Sidneys were Lay Rectors of the Church and owners of at least half the parish.
Porcupine House is one of the few houses in Leigh which can be traced from the 16th century. In 1579 it was owned by Edward Farrant; his descendant Richard Farrant died in 1646 and the Manorial Records show that the house and land passed to his four sons Thomas, William, Richard and Godfrey in equal shares.
In 1663 Hall Place had been bought by John Harrison. Abraham Harrison (presumably John’s son) then left Hall Place along with 5 acres of land to his son James in 1717. (“A house called Porcupine and 5 acres of land” is left to James in his Will.)
William Heath held Hall Place from ca 1717-1745. He, therefore, must have bought the freehold from James Harrison at some point. In 1750 the Porcupine itself was occupied by Heath’s tenant Mr Edward Carpenter.
In 1745 William Heath gave Hall Place to his sister. She was married to Isaac Burgess. Hall Place then passed to their son Robert in 1753 and he built a Georgian House in 1780. Robert Burgess died in 1794, when Hall Place Estate still only consisted of the park and 5 acres at Porcupine. He, however, died without heirs, and left the Estate to his widow Sarah. She went on to marry James Harbroe. She extended the Estate by purchasing additional land and property; but when her husband died in 1820, Sarah Harbroe (formerly Burgess) sold Hall Place, the Park and Porcupine to Farmer Baily, although she retained her other properties.
Therefore, from 1820 Thomas Farmer Baily owned Hall Place, and thus the Porcupine. However, it was probably not the only Inn in the village, as there was also the Bull (now Orchard House). However the Porcupine was certainly the principal inn in the village, when on 6 September 1823 William Cobbett breakfasted in Leigh on his way through Tonbridge to Westerham, it seems more than likely he must have breakfasted at the Porcupine.
In 1839 the tenant of The Porcupine was William Medhurst and it continued as an inn until 1871, although in about 1860 Thomas Baily changed its name to “The Goats Head” to reflect his own family crest. However, it is still referred to as the Porcupine even in 1868 when advert for a pigeon shoot.
When Hall Place was sold in 1870 to Samuel Morley, details are given of the Pub and its outbuildings in the Sales Particulars – nos. 14 and 16 on the plan. It is described as The Goat’s Head Public House – near the Church – an ornamental building, built of brick, half-timbered and tile, containing 8 bed rooms, sitting room, tap room, washhouse, spirit room, pantry, bar and bar parlour, club room, &c, with an underground cellar. The outbuildings comprised stabling for 4 horses, coachhouse, brick, tiber and tile; another stable for 4 horses, brick and tile; piggery, board and file; skittle alley, board and tile; knife house, board and tile; and garden: containing 0a 2r 0p. At the time it was let to Messrs. Bartrum & Co, on lease for 21 years from 26 April 1864, determinable by Lessor and Lessee, at 7 or 14 years, at a rent of £50 er annum.
There are a few remnants of its days as a pub: there is the one foot high stone jug with a cork stopper with “Geo.Martin. The Goats Head. Leigh” on the top side. This was found by Hilary Magnus, who bought The Gate House in 1959, in the cellar. The second is a notice about the forthcoming sale of the lease of the pub dating from 1864. From the notice, the then Goat’s Head was clearly a flourishing business. It had a Bar and Bar Parlour, a Taproom and a Spirit Room, a Club Room, and a Skittle Alley for its patrons. The landlord had a sizeable house with eight bedrooms and there was an underground cellar as well as stabling for eight horses and a coach house. The rent was to be £50 per annum.
(Both the above two items are held by The Historical Society).
Family memories of Leigh villager, Harry Lucas, go back to the time when George Martin was the landlord of the pub in 1870. He was to be the last landlord and from the 1871 we see that he lived there with his wife and seven children.
Harry’s grandfather used to tell Harry about the new railway line which was to run from London to Sevenoaks and then through a long tunnel to Tonbridge. The story went that when they started building the tunnel at Sevenoaks, beer was supplied to those digging with spades and buckets from a Sevenoaks public house. However, when they started digging from the Tonbridge end, the Sevenoaks beer provider did not want to go all the way over the hill and the builders looked for someone who was prepared to do so from the southern end. George Martin of The Goats Head won the licence and stone jugs including the one mentioned above – were used to take the beer.
When Samuel Morley bought Hall Place in 1870, the Goats Head was let to Messrs Bartrum and Co., Brewers of Tonbridge at a rent of £50 a year and was described as an ornamental building, built of brick, half timbered and tiled. However, Samuel Morley “was horrified” (in the words of his great grandson, the Third Lord Hollenden) that every time he drove into his new estate, he had to pass drunken villagers. Therefore he terminated the lease on 14 December 1871 and the licence transferred to the Fleur de Lys, which was then taken over by George Martin.
Thereafter, The Goat’s Head (or the Porcupine) reverted to a house.
At some point around the time of the First World War a Scotsman, John or Johnny Burr, became Samuel Hope Morley’s (the 1st Lord Hollenden) Agent (and confidant). He lived in Porcupine House but at this stage it was called “The Gate House”. He and his family continued to rent the house until his retirement in 1940. The 1938 Register of Electors shows only one Burr (John) at the gate House, although women could vote by then.
The house was then lived in by Mrs Joan Babington-Smith, the daughter of the 2nd and then current Lord Hollenden.
The 1945 Electoral Register shows the Schofield family at the Gate House. The 1945 Leigh Civilian Residence Register shows
574 Schofield, Diana M. E.
575 Schofield, Dorothy E. V.
The Scofield’s also had two sons, Christopher C. I. born 1921 and Arthur H. M. born 1923 – killed in action in Malta in 1943 age 20.
In 1951, the house was rented out to Hilary Magnus, a barrister, then later QC and Judge, and his wife Rosemary. They had heard of the house through a friend from Chislehurst, Lawrence Biddle, the Hollenden family solicitor. The Magnus’s were able to buy the house off the Hall Place Estate in 1959, one of the first of the large number of houses in Leigh sold by the Estate over the next decade.
The Magnus’s left in 1979, selling the house to Jill and Richard Barrows (a wine merchant), who had three daughters who were born there. They renamed it Porcupine House. (The hill up to it had continued to be called Porcupine Hill).
In an article in the parish magazine dated March 1983, Lawrence Biddle writes that Mr and Mrs Barrows have renamed the Gate House as Porcupine House, thus reverted to the name Porcupine by which the house was known 266 years ago and probaby much earlier.