BY WILLIAM HOWITT
England, among her titled families, can point to none more illustrious than that of Sidney. It is a name which carries with it the attestation of its genuine nobility. Others are of older standing in the realm. It is not one of those to be found on the roll of Battle Abbey. The first who bore it in England is said to have come hither in the reign of Henry III. There are others, too, which have mounted much higher in the scale of mere rank; but it may be safely said that there is none of a truer dignity, nor more endeared to the spirits of Englishmen.
Of this distinguished line, the most illustrious and popular was unquestionably Sir Philip. The universal admiration that he won from his contemporaries is one of the most curious circumstances of the history of those times. The generous and affectionate enthusiasm with which he inspired both his own countrymen and foreigners, has, perhaps, no parallel….
The first view which I got of the old house of Penshurst, called formerly both Penshurst Place and Penshurst Castle, was as I descended the hill opposite to it. Its gray walls and turrets, and high-peaked and red roofs rising in the midst of them; and the new buildings of fresh stone, mingled with the ancient fabric, presented a very striking and venerable aspect.
It stands in the midst of a wide valley, on a pleasant elevation; its woods and park stretching away beyond, northward; and the picturesque church, parsonage, and other houses of the village, grouping in front. From whichever side you view the house, it strikes you as a fitting abode of the noble Sidneys. Valleys run out on every side from the main one in which it stands; and the hills, which are everywhere at some distance, wind about in a very pleasant and picturesque manner, covered with mingled woods and fields, and hop-grounds.
The house now presents two principal fronts. The one facing westward, formerly looked into a court, called the President's Court, because the greater part of it was built by Sir Henry Sidney, the father of Sir Philip, and Lord President of the Council established in the Marches of Wales. The court is now thrown open, and converted into a lawn surrounded by a sunk fence, and overlooking a quiet valley of perhaps a mile in length, terminated by woody hills of great rural beauty.
This front, as well as the northern one, is of great length. It is of several dates and styles of architecture. The facade is of two stories, and battlemented. The center division, which is of recent erection, has large windows of triple arches, with armorial shields between the upper and lower stories. The south end of the facade is of an ancient date, with smaller mullioned windows; the northern portion with windows of a similar character to those in the center, but less and plainer. Over this facade shows itself the tall gable of the ancient banqueting-hall which stands in the inner court. At each end of this facade projects a wing, with its various towers of various bulk and height; some square, of stone, others octagon, of brick, with a great diversity of tall, worked chimneys, which, with steep roofs, and the mixture of brick-work and stone-work all through the front, give a mottled, but yet very venerable aspect to it.
The north and principal front, facing up the park, has been restored by its noble possessor, and presents a battlemented range of stone buildings of various projections, towers, turrets, and turreted chimneys, which, when the windows are put in, which is not yet fully done, will have few superiors among the castellated mansions of England….
In the center of the inner court stands the old banqueting-hall, a tall gabled building with high red roof, surmounted with the ruins of a cupola, erected upon it by Mr. Perry, who married the heiress of the family, but who does not seem to have brought much taste into it. On the point of each gable is an old stone figure--the one a tortoise, the other a lion couchant--and upon the back of each of these old figures, so completely accordant with the building itself, which exhibits under its eaves and at the corners of its windows numbers of those grotesque corbels which distinguish our buildings of an early date, both domestic and ecclesiastical, good Mr. Perry clapped a huge leaden vase which had probably crowned aforetime the pillars of a gateway, or the roof of a garden-house….
The south side of the house has all the irregularity of an old castle, consisting of various towers, projections, buttresses, and gables. Some of the windows show tracery of a superior order, and others have huge common sashes, introduced by the tasteful Mr. Perry aforesaid. The court on this side is surrounded by battlemented walls, and has a massy square gatehouse leading into the old garden, or pleasaunce, which sloped away down toward the Medway, but is now merely a grassy lawn, with the remains of one fine terrace running along its western side….
The old banqueting-hall is a noble specimen of the baronial hall of the reign of Edward III., when both house and table exhibited the rudeness of a martial age, and both gentle and simple revelled together, parted only by the salt. The floor is of brick. The raised platform, or dais, at the west-end, advances sixteen feet into the room. The width of the hall is about forty feet, and the length of it about fifty-four feet. On each side are tall Gothic windows, much of the tracery of which has been some time knocked out, and the openings plastered up. At the east end is a fine large window, with two smaller ones above it; but the large window is, for the most part, hidden by the front of the music gallery.
In the center of the floor an octagon space is marked out with a rim of stone, and within this space stands a massy old dog, or brand-iron, about a yard and a half wide, and the two upright ends three feet six inches high, having on their outer sides, near the top, the double broad arrow of the Sidney arms. The smoke from the fire, which was laid on this jolly dog, ascended and passed out through the center of the roof, which is high, and of framed oak, and was adorned at the spring of the huge groined spars with grotesque projecting carved figures, or corbels, which are now taken down, being considered in danger of falling, and are laid in the music gallery.
 From "Visits to Remarkable Places."