The couple had had their eye on Loddenden Manor for quite a while, and started making enquiries as soon as it came on to the market. They liked the fact that it was close to the local shops and services, but were also drawn by its fascinating history and beautiful grounds.
The building itself is Grade II* listed and parts of it date back to the 16th century. Back then, the entire ground floor would have served as an open-plan kitchen area and banqueting hall, in which animals such as wild boar, oxen and sheep would have been spit-roasted whole over open fires. The giant fireplace remains in good working order and is still the main source of heat during the cold winter months. In fact, the house features an eclectic selection of fireplaces that have been installed at various times and which, along with the central heating, ensure that the place is always snug, in spite of the high ceilings.
Another original feature is the monumental studded oak front door. The Elizabethan frame timbering was a slightly later addition, while the sweeping central staircase and gallery areas date from the 17th century.
The house is full of surprises and quirky details, such as the elegant bell tower sitting alongside chunky twin chimneystacks. This is accessed via an attic room, and the original mechanisms are still fully functional.
The manoreven has its own secret passageway, guaranteed to enchant children, that winds its way down from the back of the study into a cellar with a sealed-off well. Local legend has it that one of the house's former residents drowned here, and that his ghost now haunts the house. The Frenches have never seen him, though. "We've had no close encounters of the spooky kind," says Robert.
Nowadays the house has the air of a luxury baronial manor. The warmth of the exposed beams and wood panelling is perfectly set off by the generous proportions of the rooms and the cool flagstone flooring in the kitchen. Understated furniture and fittings blend in well with the building's rich historical heritage, while all mod cons - state-of-the-art kitchen, bathrooms and utilities - are discreetly tucked away. There is also a cavernous wine-cellar, elegant mullioned windows and a full suit of armour lurking on a landing.
The grounds, too, are full of wonderful surprises. The estate originally extended to 1,000 acres, but chunks of it were later used to develop the adjacent village of Staplehurst - a picturesque place with lots of timber-framed housing, a population of about 8,000 and a good selection of shops and pubs.
It also has a church and a railway station, from which it takes about an hour for Robert to commute to his commodity-dealing job in London's West End. A total of 52 acres now remain, but only 18 are being sold with the house. The other 34 are devoted to Jane's 75-strong menagerie of sheep, cattle, geese, turkeys, horses and donkeys. The couple intend to retain this parcel of land, with the animals on it.
The 18 acres of grounds being sold off with the house are home to a selection of ancient trees, including Canadian redwood, English oak and Scottish pine. The enclosed cottage garden has a pair of mulberry trees that are said to be more than 1,000 years old and still bear fruit. There are also a series of apple orchards, as well as a rose garden and a formal Italian garden installed by Jane. There's also a canal that links two of the property's ponds. This was created by former residents who had honeymooned in Venice. A heated outdoor swimming pool with an attached bar lies behind the Italian garden, where Robert has sunk a hot tub into the decking. Other outbuildings include the self-contained two-bedroom coach house for guests.
Robert and Jane have lived in Kent for many years. They love the countryside with its pretty villages, meandering lanes, hop fields and apple orchards. They appreciate the location, too - they can get to Hastings in 30 minutes, to London within an hour and Jane can be at her hairdressing business in the nearby town of Tenterden in minutes. Sounds perfect. So why do they want to move? "We don't, really," says Robert. "We are going to miss it here terribly. But we can't really justify having all this space. There's only the two of us here, but we've got five enormous bedrooms in the main house alone."
They plan to downsize, and while they haven't found a new house yet, they are looking. "However," admits Robert, "after this place, anything is likely to be a bit of an anticlimax."
Get the spec
What's for sale: five-bedroom manor house with another four rooms that could also serve as bedrooms, along with a two-bedroom coach house in 18 acres of grounds.
How big? About 750 square metres internal floor area including reception hall, study, drawing room, dining room, sitting room, breakfast room, utility rooms, dressing room, three en suite bathrooms and main bathroom.
Serious kit: 16th-century front door and fireplace, beamed ceilings, wine cellar.
Extras: formal gardens, bell tower, swimming pool, paddocks and orchards, timber-framed garage.
Buy it: Savills, 01580 720 161, £3m.Reuse content