The King was once a regular, private visitor to the county to visit a family he adored…
Amid all of the official engagements King Charles III has fulfilled over his lifetime of duty, a great many of his most treasured moments have been those away from the public gaze.
And one of those places to which he was a frequent, unheralded, visitor was Newhouse in Mersham, south of Ashford.
It was a place, however, that after 1979 would be forever tainted by sadness for the future monarch.
Newhouse was owned by Lord and Lady Brabourne – or, less formally, Patricia and John Knatchbull. Lady Brabourne, who died in 2017 aged 94, was third cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and had been close to the King’s mother ever since they were children. In fact, before she became Queen, Princess Elizabeth had been a bridesmaid at Patricia’s wedding.
As a result, the late Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, would frequently head down to Kent to visit the family for quiet private visits.
For King Charles – then the Prince of Wales – it was a pilgrimage to a family to whom he had grown close – he had even entertained marrying into it at one stage.
Patricia Knatchbull’s father was Lord Mountbatten – uncle to the Duke of Edinburgh, the Admiral of the Fleet and the last Viceroy of India. He had developed a close bond with the young Prince of Wales and was described by some as his ‘honorary grandfather’.
It was his suggestion that Charles propose to his granddaughter – Amanda Knatchbull.
But tragedy would befall the family on 27 August 1979.
Lord Mountbatten – joined by his mother the Dowager Lady Brabourne, daughter Lady Brabourne, her husband and their 14-year-old twin sons Nicholas and Timothy – headed out on a fishing trip on a small boat off the coast of Ireland, in County Sligo.
Shortly after they set sail a bomb ripped the boat apart. Lord Mountbatten was killed, as was his grandson Nicholas. A young local boy helping the family was also killed.
The Dowager Lady Brabourne was found alive but died soon after. Both Lord and Lady Brabourne were injured, as was their other son. Lady Brabourne needed 120 stitches to her face. Her husband broke both his legs.
Speaking many years later, Timothy Knatchbull recalled: “My family and I were relaxed and happy going out on to a flat calm sea in my grandfather’s fishing boat.
“My memories are intensely clear in short bursts. I remember climbing on to the roof of the cabin and talking to my grandfather, who was steering. I have a distant memory of the sound of the explosion and of a very violent sensation and then nothing… Until a minute or two later, lying in a boat and hearing anxious Irish voices talking at me.
“I felt intensely cold and knew that something was awfully wrong with me yet I didn’t quite know what it was. Another snatched memory of being put into the ambulance and seeing my father, and then later waking up in hospital.”
The IRA claimed responsibility for the blast – the latest attack in what was then the height of The Troubles.
For the then Prince of Wales, godfather to the twins, it was a devastating blow – the loss of the man he relied upon for advice and guidance and the devastation of a family so close to the Windsors.
Prince Charles attended, along with his father, the funeral of both the Dowager Lady Brabourne and Nicholas Knatchbull at Mersham.
Shortly after the tragedy, he proposed to Amanda – but not wanting a life in the royal frontline, she turned him down.
But the families would remain close – with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh helping the family recover from their physical injuries and the inevitable mental trauma.
Added Timothy Knatchbull: “Our families have been historically entwined for nearly two centuries in lineage and friendship.
“The Duke of Edinburgh was my mother’s first cousin, the Queen is her third cousin and they have both been close to my mother since their childhood.
“The royal family were kept informed of our progress and on our return to England they were among a number of close family friends who cared for me while my parents remained in hospital.
“The Queen and her family were a supportive and loving set of people who were able to do a tremendous amount of good to me personally and also to my wider family, helping us to get back on our feet after the most difficult time any of us had been through.”
The result was that the then Prince of Wales remained in regular contact with the family.
In 1987, Prince Charles joined his mother and father at the wedding of Amanda Knatchbull in Ashford – before travelling back to Newhouse in Mersham for the reception.
Now King, he will look back on his special times with the Kent family with the greatest of fondness.