Owletts is a lovely red-brick Kentish Yeoman's house dating from the late 17th century. The house was built for Bonham and Elizabeth Hayes, successful farmers. It is two storeys high, with dormer windows. The house interiors were completed in 1684, including the ornate plasterwork, which was probably executed by Italian craftsmen.

Owletts was the family home of architect Sir Herbert Baker, who became extremely successful in designing overseas buildings, particularly in South Africa. Baker was born at Owletts in 1862, and over his lifetime furnished the house with specially commissioned or collected furniture.

The interiors of Owletts are as they were during Sir Herbert's residence here, including family furniture and art collections. When Sir Herbert died in 1946 he left Owletts to the National Trust.

The best features of the house interior are the staircase hall, with superb Carolean plasterwork. Owletts is set in attractive gardens designed with help from Gertrude Jekyll, which are at their best in Spring and Summer. Within the gardens is a birdbath formed from Corinthian capitals salvaged from the old Bank of England building in London.

The astronomical clock
The astronomical clock

Owletts is in the care of the National Trust but is let to a tenant. The current tenants are David and Bella Baker and family. David is the great-grandson and heir of Sir Herbert Baker, so the house has returned to Baker hands.


Owletts is an absolute delight to visit. The room stewards were excellent, and gave us an introductory lecture on the history of the house and the life of Sir Herbert, as well as a glimpse into Baker family life at Owletts. After the lecture, we were free to wander, but there were guides in all the major rooms, and they did an excellent job of answering our questions.

The features that stuck in my mind are the wonderful astronomical clock in the parlour, and best of all, the quite stunning plasterwork ceiling at the top of the stairs. Luckily for us, there were very handy chairs on the stair landing so we could sit and gawk at the ceiling, which is an absolutely stunning example of 17th-century plasterwork.

Owletts is not a stately home, or a mansion, but a comfortable family home, with a fascinating history and fantastic architectural details.

The village of Cobham itself is well worth exploring. The medieval church is a gem, and behind the church is a complex of medieval almshouses. A short distance north of Cobham is the stately home of Cobham Hall (now a school) and the fantastic Cobham Mausoleum (National Trust).

The dining room
The dining room
The plasterwork ceiling of the staircase hall
Staircase hall plasterwork
Detail of the ornate plasterwork ceiling
The ornate plasterwork ceiling