…and from Yorkshire Handed on heads across the Pennines and into historical enemy territory. Decades of warring between between the Houses of York and Lancaster through the second half of the C15 would culminate, famously, in Bosworth Field with a victory for the latter ushering in the Tudor rose emblematic of Henry Vll’s unifying reign (1485–1509). And it was reputedly during these years that lands at Standen, just south of the town of Clitheroe, came into the possession of the Aspinalls. The 3,000-acre estate remains in their hands to this day, another example of an enduring squirearchy which has risen almost without trace.
No, Aspinall interests across the centuries would appear to have remained solidly parochial and their current local difficulty rather typifies the battleground of C21 country estate. In the turbulent times of civil war the landed interest would be looked to to declare their colours, to raise men and arms for the cause. In fighting their corner these days landowners are typically calling in aid agents brandishing theodolytes and Environmental Impact Assessments.
A recent headline from the Clitheroe Advertiser which reported: ‘Last month, the largest planning application in the history of the Ribble Valley was given the go-ahead despite severe local opposition’. Citing the same decision as an example, a few weeks ago the local MP was moved to claim in Parliament that “the whole area is under siege”.The cause of this tumult? The Borough Council’s granting of permission in principle for the building of 1,040 houses over a 15-year period on a 123-acre greenfield site, a proposal submitted by the Trustees of the Standen Estate, of which the land in question forms part. The development would extend the town of Clitheroe southwards to the rising bank of trees immediately north of – and theoretically screening – the Hall (r).
The planning process naturally invites comment and consultation from interested parties and the ‘Standen super estate’ proposal has attracted plenty. In the heritage corner, the Georgian Group weighed in with ‘considerable reservations … such a large-scale development in close proximity may potentially have an impact on the long-term viability of the Hall as a single dwelling and the house and its gardens as a coherent entity’.
While English Heritage did ‘not object to the proposal in principle’ it echoed a concern that the original application lacked adequate assessment of the ‘heritage assets’ involved. Subsequently, the Trustees commissioned a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), a document which provides a most useful illustrated history of the Standen estate. This report concluded that ‘the development as proposed would have neutral impact on the significance of Standen Hall…providing suitable mitigation measures are taken’.
The original planning application had sought to reassure: ‘The Trustees of the Standen Estate have from the outset played a very involved role in seeking a high quality and sensitive development on land which the Standen Estate has owned for hundreds of years. Furthermore, the Estate’s local involvement will continue into the future as it owns substantial land holdings in the Clitheroe area, including land to the south and beyond. This ensures that it has a real interest in facilitating development which is truly sustainable for the local area.‘
Meanwhile, the hitherto low-key and little-known grade II* listed house at the centre of this storm, Standen Hall, is ‘a fine Palladian mansion approached by a well-grown avenue’¹ and ‘closely embossomed in trees’².An existing H-plan house was given a significant overhaul in 1757 possibly to the designs of Timothy Lightoler. The noble three-storey 7-bay east front is the major statement, setting a standard of grandeur the Hall’s other two-storey facades don’t attempt to match.
Round to the side, the recessed central portion of the appealing south front sits between the main block and a mid-C19 wing thought to be the work of George Webster (see ‘Dallam Tower‘). Internally, details are sketchier: ‘The interior is not affected by the [housing] proposal and has not been inspected’, says that HIA.
But the C18 construction is believed to have incorporated ‘some portions of the ancient building’ while Robinson notes that ‘there are some good mid-C18 interiors with nice joinery, chimneypieces and a pretty staircase’.² And the man behind the Hall’s remodelling is definitely known to have been a customer of prestigious regional furniture makers Gillows of Lancaster.
Standen Hall was the C18 seat of John Aspinall, ‘a gentleman barrister on the northern circuit, later Serjeant-at-Law’³ and recalled in the next century as something of a paragon: ‘Serjeant Aspinall was a great luminary at the Bar, his reputation as spotless as his talents were brilliant’.† In his lifetime, however, not everyone was a fan:
‘That scrubby, Mean, underbred, lowlived, Ungrateful, Covetous, designing, undermining, Stupid, Proud Aspinall…and his large wife’³
Being the typically frank opinion of diarist Elizabeth Shackleton (1726–1781), a member of the Parker family of nearby Browsholme Hall (‘the oldest surviving family home in Lancashire‘). Now if dubious electoral goings-on were to cost one C19 Aspinall his parliamentary seat things were even worse a century before. By 1780, Clitheroe was well and truly a pocket borough – ‘the most venal and corruptible of constituencies‘ – when the representatives of the two families who had long ‘owned’ the seat fell out. In a frenzied bidding war for those parcels of land with associated voting rights, Thomas Lister of Gisburne Park, some seven miles up the Ribble Valley, found a new local ally in John Parker against ‘outsider’ Penn Assheton Curzon (of the Kedleston, Derbyshire Curzons). John Aspinall, however, appears to have been unconstrained by local loyalties, selling out his interest to the latter, much to Mrs Shackleton’s disgust:
‘What a wretch to behave so viley to his most obliging, generous, worthy neighbours, Browsholme and Gisburn park. [He] most probably thinks Mr Curzon’s purse will enable him to make a Portico or add a Venetian window to the Beauties of Standen. What a nonsense is he‘.³The present-day John Aspinall (left) and his heirs and agents might perhaps be thankful Elizabeth Shackleton is not around to scold their latest lucrative land deal. Not that the project is short on disapprobation, some of it from rather unexpected quarters. It has been observed that while this corner of Lancashire has its share of long-seated landed families, it’s rather light on aristocracy. But there are few titles in the book older than that of the senior heraldic authority itself, the Garter Prinicpal King of Arms. Since 2010 this office, which will mark its 600th anniversary next year, has been held by Mr Thomas Woodcock who happens to live…
… a few miles north of the Standen estate.
‘When a confirmation of arms was made to John Aspinall in 1748 the College of Arms record states “he and his ancestors have been possessed of a considerable freehold estate in Standen for above five hundred years,‘ Woodcock revealed in a letter to the local press. He went on to suggest that ‘it is often the professional advisers of a family, who may also be their trustees, who gain the most by the sale of an estate in the fees they receive‘.
Which is a welcome boost locally, of course, but at the same time the celebration of an establishent ‘described by its regulars as “in a time warp”‘ sends yet another reminder – if any more were needed up at the big house – of the powerful attraction of reaction.
¹ Hartwell C. & Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Lancashire: North, 2009.
² Robinson, J.M. A guide to the country houses of the North West, 1991.
³ Vickery, A. The gentleman’s daughter, 1998.
† Preston Guardian 12 Aug 1876.