Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Spring collection

Being another small clutch of near-misses, three estates of equally impressive longevity whose various approaches to seeking a viable future and sustained ownership of their hereditary piles – accessibility, basically – meant they just failed to make the cut…

Hall, Devon

Talk about lack of imagination! A seat of the Chichester family for well over 500 years, through two significant incarnations, ‘Hall’ really is all this place has ever been known as.

see: Hall Estate

see: Hall Estate

‘Nothing prepares you for the discovery of Hall. The location is discretion itself – a lane, off a lane, off a minor road. The moment you enter the estate you feel you have come across somewhere quite outside of time. The drive hugs the side of the hill and rises under a continuous canopy of trees for nearly a mile.‘ If those words are piquing your interest…

… they were designed to, being the introduction to Sotheby’s catalogue of a sale of contents held there in 1996.

Not that the owners were selling up, happily, just having a bit of a clear-out. Over the centuries, the catalogue tells us, the Chichesters always liked to buy new yet tended to retain the superceded: ‘Nothing appears to have been discarded’. Some of the £1 million-plus raised by the 683 lots went to meet inheritance tax liabilities after the death of Charles Chichester in 1995. (Chichester had three daughters and Hall is presently the home of his granddaughter, Clare Campbell-Lamerton).

The remainder was doubtless soon accounted for in maintenance of the ‘sizeable neo-Jacobean house of 1844-7, splendidly sited on a high ridge looking south, by Philip C Hardwick’ (most notably associated with the remodelling of Madresfield Court). A looming chapel-like presence at the mansion’s west end, ‘the baronial hall is the most eccentric feature of the house’,¹ and one vistors are now able to appreciate for themselves as of last year when…

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

…’for the first time ever’ Hall was opened to the public. Opportunities are limited – three dates have been announced for 2014, now booking – but then Hall does still have the benefit of a substantial (2,500+ acres) estate behind it, in contrast to somewhere like…

Browsholme Hall, Lancashire

see: Hugh Chevallier @ geograph

see: Hugh Chevallier @ geograph

…an equally venerable survivor, ancestral home of the Parkers since 1507. But here, while much of the land may have gone, internally very little has been thrown away. Thus far the Parkers have resisted any urge to call in the valuers with the result that Browsholme is positively crammed with five centuries worth…

see: Browsholme Hall

see: Browsholme Hall


…of what current owner Robert Parker has cheerfully described as ‘tat’.

It is a house where people live and have brought things into over the centuries. It’s unique in that the collection is intact. It’s not a difficult history – it’s a very tangible history and people like that.“²

Externally, G.I-listed Browsholme (pro. Brusom) has not really changed much since an existing H-plan house was given a substantial Elizabethan makeover. ‘Browsholme is an exception, a survival of a C17 family home practically unaffected by the “civilising” influence of the C18 or the romanticising of the C19, yet still the home of its original possessors‘, noted Country Life in their first visit here in 1935.³ (They returned in July 2013.)

see: Browsholme Hall

see: Browsholme Hall

But the E and W wings were significantly enhanced in the C18 and early C19, particularly the latter by Thomas Lister Parker. His aesthetic enthusiasms are responsible for Browsholme’s most notable collections but, no less impressively, stopped short of obliterating the Hall’s Jacobean origins. When funds eventually ran low Thomas Lister Parker did in fact sell up – but the buyer was his cousin and male heir.

Lister Parker had inherited Browsholme aged 18; the present incumbent was just a year older when he took the place on in 1978. Robert Parker was the selective heir of his godfather and childless distant cousin Robert Goulborne Parker. Upon inheriting, his parents Edmund and the late Diana Parker threw in their lot behind him and together they set about bolstering Browsholme for its sixth century of service.

‘It has taken us 30 years to get where we are now where we can use every room in the house. We don’t have central heating, the panelling would just crack. The rule is it’s not cold unless you can see your breath.’²

[Visit Browsholme]

Craster Tower, Northumberland

see: airbnb

see: airbnb

In the game of family heritage Top Trumps few in the land will still be at the table when the Crasters of Craster Tower come to play their hand. They had already been on the premises hereabouts for the best part of two centuries when licence was gained to build a Pele tower in the late C14.

see: Google Steetview

see: Google Steetview

Shafto Craster gothicised the Tower in the late C18 and also created the arch across the lane at the end of the drive. Since 1769-70 Craster’s owners have been principally quartered in the substantial Georgian addition to the Tower’s south side, probably the work of north-east architect William Newton.

see: airbnb

see: airbnb

All of which is detailed in the G.II*-listing text which concludes, ‘Interior not seen’. These days, however, you may have better luck than those inspectors (and Country Life which has yet to manage a visit) as the Pele tower has now been converted for holiday letting (l).

In the mid-1960s the then incumbent Sir John Craster reluctantly concluded that he could no longer afford the upkeep of the ancestral home.† But luckily he was able to fall back on the same solution as Thomas Lister Parker at Browsholme, selling the house sideways to several cousins who would co-occupy Craster. ‘Now, after a further 40 years and a number of vicissitudes, the house is back in the ownership of a single branch of the family.’ Hurrah!

['It's a 900-year-old castle, of course it's bloody haunted']

¹ Cherry, B. & Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Devon, 2nd ed., 1989.
² Woolley, J. Browsholme Hall: A piece of history, Live Magazines 2013.
³ Hussey, C. Browsholme Hall, County Life, vol.78, 13 July 1935.
† Craster, Sir J. North country squire, 1971.

Standen Hall, Lancashire

…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.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

Although at Standen, it should be said, the rising more or less stopped in 1757 with the building of Standen Hall. Over five centuries, no titles have ever come this way. In May 1853 John T. W. Aspinall did manage to become the only one of his line to gain election to Parliament but his chance to influence national affairs was to be brief: a House of Commons committee of inquiry found there to have been rum goings-on during his campaign and he was summarily booted out of Parliament after just two months.

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”.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

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.

see: Steve Wignall @ Panoramio

see: Steve Wignall @ Panoramio

source: Tom Aspinall

source: Tom Aspinall

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.
see: Clitheroe Centre

see: Clitheroe Centre

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‘.³

see source

see:Pendleton Village History

The 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‘.

Lancs. Telegraph

see: Lancashire Telegraph

As the planning process grinds on – Clitheroe Town Council is now urging the involvement of the Secretary of State – the question of who stands to win or lose in this whole thorny matter will doubtless continue to be a regular topic of conversation in the pub on the estate. Rather remarkably, this hostelry has just made headlines of its own, and national ones to boot. A matter of yards behind Standen Hall flows Pendleton Brook. Follow its path upstream half-a-mile or so and it will lead you to the hamlet of Pendleton itself; more precisely, to the door of The Swan With Two Necks (r), this week crowned Camra National Pub of the Year.

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.

Houghton Hall, Yorkshire

Is there a collective noun for country houses? Perhaps, if they are in the same ownership, ‘an embarrassment of’? It’s a rarified circumstance, admittedly, but one in which Joyce, Countess Fitzwilliam – whom we met in Handed on‘s previous posting – would come to find herself. The countess was born Joyce Langdale in 1898 at the family seat, Houghton Hall in Yorkshire’s East Riding, and which, as the eldest of three sisters, she would inherit in 1950. Six years later, aged 58 and with two married daughters of her own, she married for a second time, to the 10th and last Earl Fitzwilliam, master of the great estates of Wentworth Woodhouse and Milton. Not long after this event she decided to gift a newly-restored Houghton Hall and its 5,000-acre estate to her nephew, Rupert Watson, 3rd Baron Manton, an impressive gesture which betokened confidence of benefiting significantly from the estate of a family she had only just joined.

Today Houghton is the seat of the 4th Ld Manton who succeeded – perhaps uniquely – in 2003 as the eldest (by 20 minutes) of triplets.

source: MockCyclist @ Panoramio

source: MockCyclist @ Panoramio


This title was created in 1922, the last piece in the aspirant jigsaw of his great-grandfather, Leeds soap magnate Joseph Watson. (The previous year he had completed the purchase of the Compton Verney estate, ancient Warwickshire seat of the Willoughby de Brokes.) Tragically, Joseph was not to enjoy his new status for long, falling fatally whilst out hunting just months later.

The Langdales had already seen one peerage come and go, a Barony in the family’s name having been conferred on Royalist Marmaduke Langdale of the junior line in the Restoration. Which was nice recognition, obviously, but scant consolation for having had most of his estates confiscated by Parliament. The senior branch of the family had also suffered penalties over time (though more for their recusancy) but sustained a presence in the area south of Market Weighton and by the mid-C18 their fortunes had recovered sufficiently to allow the building of a new house.

As readers will doubtless know there is another, rather more celebrated, English country house called Houghton Hall. Philip Langdale (1725-1814) was most likely also aware thus any confusions which may have arisen over the centuries are entirely self-inflicted. The magnificent Norfolk palazzo of the Walpoles predates its Yorkshire namesake by at least thirty years and the coincidences don’t stop at the signs at their entrance gates.

see: Pocklington School

see: Pocklington School

Both Houghtons are grade 1-listed and in the Palladian style, the Norfolk house riding the first waves of this C18 fashion, the Yorkshire one its coat-tails. And though the former is altogether more spectacular in scale and detail, the plan of both is the same, a principal centre block with quadrants linking to a pair of flanking wings.

Both of these estates can boast impressive longevity and, while it’s certain that the Langdales/Watsons can’t compete architecturally with the Walpole/Cholmondleys, they may actually out-point them in this particular respect. For, as Country Life noted in their 1965 visit: ‘It is extremely unlikely that [Houghton] has ever passed by sale since the time of the Domesday Book. The present owner, through his mother’s family, the Langdales, has a continuous descent back to the C12′.¹

And close scrutiny of the Langdale pedigree reveals that – most tenuously of all – Joyce, Lady Fitzwilliam’s aunt, Pauline Langdale, even married someone called Horace Walpole (no rel.)! But Handed on‘s favourite coincidental connection between the two Houghton Halls centres on the Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington.

In Norfolk, ‘to realise his dream for a truly magnificent house, Sir Robert Walpole employed architects James Gibbs and Colen Campbell for the house whilst William Kent took charge of the lavish interiors. Kent was born and raised in Bridlington but couldn’t get away from the place soon enough. Over two centuries later the same town would be the birthplace of another architect of quite the opposite instinct, working there his whole life and where his eponymous practice continues. And it was to Francis Johnson that Lady Fitzwilliam turned in 1957 when seeking a sympathetic partner to restore Houghton Hall to its original form.

Pevsner, for one, approved of what the pair, and, of course, Philip Langdale’s original architect, Thomas Atkinson of York, achieved:

Colin Westley @ geograph

Colin Westley @ geograph

‘The perfect Georgian country house in a beautiful parkland setting’.² Johnson himself recorded that ‘the house, like many others, had reached a 200-year crisis..the desperately needed overhaul took three years‘.³

Charles (Stourton) Langdale, who inherited the Hall from its childless builder, has been called ‘the most important Catholic educationalist of the C19′†; four of his daughters became nuns and he enlisted the services of Joseph Ireland to add a chapel (demolished 1959) to the east pavilion. The latter might have been handy for confession but it would have required more than a couple of Hail Marys to atone for the sins commissioned against Atkinson and Langdale’s composition. Prime amongst these was his decision to plaster the pink brickwork entirely with stucco.

Johnson pared back the latter and set about remedying a catalogue of egregious, ‘structurally appalling’, Victorian alterations particularly to Houghton’s south front (a). But things could have been worse. Happily, the Hall’s best interior spaces survived these waves of barbarism relatively unmolested.

see: TLC/YouTube

see: TLC/YouTube

Brilliantly lighted at two levels, the entrance hall is the outstanding feature of the house, the staircase climbing round three sides to a gallery‘.¹ Beyond the arches (above, r) is the library and, right on cue, here comes younger son Ludo Watson (r) through its cunningly disguised jib door to show you around.

Surrounding the house is a park of some 250 acres, fourteen of which comprise a lake on two levels, a cascade between.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

These grounds appear today much as Capability Brown acolyte Thomas White planned them in 1768, providing ‘a perfect example of a mature landscape in the natural style’.² More recently, ambitious landscaping of an altogether different character was proposed but got little further than the drawing board. In 1991, the late 3rd Ld Manton gained Borough council approval to create a 674-acre, £100m holiday village on the Houghton estate. It was a bold venture which his entrepreneurial grandfather Joseph Watson would likely have applauded. The locals, however, were less than thrilled at the prospect: ‘Sounds like Disneyland, not Yorkshire’. Houghton never did get its fun park but, to those of a certain persuasion, its attractions remain manifold…

[Listing][Langdale archives]

¹ Oswald, A. Country Life Dec 23/30, 1965.
² Pevsner, N and Neave, D. Buildings of England: Yorkshire East Riding, 2nd ed., 1995.
³ Johnson, F. Houghton Hall, Georgian Society for East Yorkshire, vol.5, 1963.
† Norman, E.R. The English Catholic Church in the C19, 1984.

While the titles of postings to this blog bear the names of houses their stories are naturally as much about the people these places have been handed on to as they are about, say, porticos and acreage. About how sometimes seemingly quite random fortune, or the transience of human bonds, can determine the destiny of even the greatest of estates. Take, for example, this entry from the Sunday Times Rich List of 2008:

see: Nico Morgan

Nico Morgan

=700th (£100m). Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland. Land. Old school aristocrat Naylor-Leyland, 54, has 25,000 acres, mainly in Yorkshire, through his Fitzwilliam Estates, and art. (New entry).

Not unreasonably, a classic image of ancient lineage and centuries of predestined inheritance could be assumed by the casual reader, but is all quite as it seems? Sir Philip (l) might well be ‘old school’ in profile (though he is on Facebook, look him up) but on paper his patronymic noble and landed antecedence are, at least by the standards of others hitherto considered, really quite fresh.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close a distinct whiff of abuse was emanating from the British honours system. Prime minister ‘Lord Roseberry’s resignation honours list of 1895 marked something of a watershed..a baronetcy for a turncoat backbencher [Herbert Naylor-Leyland, then aged 31] was the last straw. From then on it was a straight and downhill path to the era of Lloyd George‘.¹ But, however it was ‘earned’, the title sat very nicely with the family’s Welsh country seat which had been acquired just fifty years earlier. So far, so obscure. It was to be the second marriage of Sir Philip’s maternal grandmother which would in time see him catapulted into the landed premier league.

In 1922, Joyce Langdale wed WWI-wounded Capt. Henry Fitzalan-Howard (later 2nd V. FitzAlan). ‘He was 40, she 24. The marriage was more often hard than it was happy’, but a daughter, Alathea, arrived in its second year.² Ten years later Lady FitzAlan gave birth again, to Elizabeth-Anne. The latter was herself married (to Sir Vivyan Naylor-Leyland) with a young son (Philip) by the time the FitzAlans divorced in 1955. Within a year Lady FitzAlan had become Lady Fitzwilliam (moving along just six pages in the 2,987-page Debrett’s), having slightly controversially (R.C.) married the 10th earl of that ilk.’They had first met in 1932 and kept in touch over the years’.²

The earl died apparently heirless in 1979 (his brother’s claim to the title had been ruled illegitimate in 1951), leaving the vast Fitzwilliam estates to his wife and her younger daughter, Elizabeth-Anne.

As Joyce’s sister remarked at the time of the second marriage, ‘It’s complicated’.

see: Bing Maps

By the time Sir Philip inherited, the Fitzwilliam Estate had divested itself of the unfeasibly proportioned Yorkshire house, Wentworth Woodhouse, favouring instead their other Grade I house and the original Fitzwilliam seat, Milton, just outside Peterborough (r). Wholly private and passed only by inheritance since 1502…
see: James Fennell

James Fennell

…Milton – one side Elizabethan, the other Palladian with architects Sir William Chambers, Henry Flitcroft and John Carr all significantly represented – was naturally on Handed on‘s radar but its candidature was torpedoed last month by the publication of a new book. Sumptuously illustrated (‘country house porn’, Tatler magazine called it), ‘The English Country House‘ profiles ten houses ‘that have never been sold [and are] still in the hands of descendants of the original owners’ – great idea! Milton’s excellently preserved distinction is revealed across twenty-two of its pages…

…and, copper-bottomed qualifier though it is, Handed on heartily recommends you read about there instead. But since we’ve come all this way let’s stop by the Naylor-Leyland seat, Nantclwyd Hall, an association merely 170 years old and with its roots in a lottery win to boot!

If the Naylor-Leylands have generally been riding life’s up escalator, the opposite direction of travel might read something like this:

‘Richard Kyffin Kenrick, formerly of Nantclwyd Park, Denbighshire, then of the Royal Hotel, Chester..then of the Waterloo Hotel, Liverpool..then of the Lion Inn, Shrewsbury..then occasionally using an address No.23 Dover Street, Piccadilly..then of the Fleet Prison, in the City of London..’

From a list published in the London Gazette in April 1843 summoning ‘the following prisoners’ before the Court of Relief of Insolvent Debtors. In the C18 the Nantclwyd estate had been the property of the Thelwall family until the marriage of heiress Martha to a scion of the Kenricks of Woore Manor, Shropshire. In turn, their heir Richard married one Ermine Kyffin and it would be the unspecified misfortunes of this couple’s son which led to the sale of Nantclwyd in the mid-C19.

Among the ‘new money’ in the market for a place in the country just then was Richard Christopher Naylor, partner in the flourishing family bank, Leyland and Bullins of Liverpool. In 1756, a thrusting young merchant of that city Thomas Leyland and his business partner hit the jackpot in the State Lottery, £20,000 (£2-3m today). Leyland invested his winnings partly in a boom sector of the dynamic port economy, the trade in slaves, using his ship, “Lottery”. In the early C19 he established Leyland and Bullins bank from which his aforementioned grand-nephew would in due course retire to his newly-acquired seat, Nantclwyd.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

A house which sits so well in its landscape as Nantclwyd Hall does in the valley from which it takes its name might easily be mistaken for a creation of the C18. But that, strangely, is the missing period in its history.’³ So began Country Life‘s feature on this place in 1988. Strangely missing from this article, however, is mention of the fact that R. C. Naylor (or possibly his heir, Tom Naylor-Leyland) put the entire estate up for auction on 6 October, 1865.

Oddly, the proposed sale came exactly a year to the day after Nantclwyd had gained what was effectively its own railway station. Less oddly, quite a few people named Jones feature in the sale particulars, all tenants of the many farms on the estate with the exception of the one listed bold-as-brass on the cover:

3,700 acres known as the Nantclwyd Hall Estate – the village of Llanelidan, including the Leyland Arms inn, together with a capital ancient mansion built by Inigo Jones.’

But despite this outrageous appropriation of a famous architect with a Welsh name, Nantclwyd was bought in at £122,000 (c. £9m) having presumably failed to make its reserve. So there the Naylor-Leylands remained and a century later another architect of note with altogether more robust Welsh affiliations was recruited to radically remodel both house and grounds.

Mervyn Beach@geograph

Mervyn Beach@geograph

‘Begun in 1956 but proceeding well past 1970, Nantclwyd Hall is undoubtedly one of Clough Williams-Ellis’s greatest achievements.’† The visionary author of Portmeirion village had been enlisted for the project by a very engaged Sir Vivyan Naylor-Leyland, 3rd bt.
Joseph Jones@geograph

Joseph Jones@geograph

Like Milton, Nantclwyd Hall is distinctly two-faced, Williams-Ellis’ playful and cunning harmonisation of the south side (above) contrasting with its more sober opposite. The north facade features the oldest surviving element of the house. As Country Life noted, ‘although this wing (late C17, central above) comprises only three bays in a 14-bay facade, it lent its general system to all future work on the building’. Internally, ‘Clough was only impressed by [this] wing. The rest, he felt, was beyond redemption…and his patron wholeheartedly agreed!’†

So the whole plan was changed from north to south-facing, all the better to appreciate his intentions for a newly-landscaped and classically-ornamented park, ‘the glory of Nantclwyd since 1967′ [see]. Not that these grounds were in particular need of a claim to fame, however. Another chapter of ‘The English Country House‘ looks at Badminton House in Gloucestershire…

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

…where ‘the foundations of the modern game of badminton were laid out in the Great Hall’. Proud Scot Andy Murray can count himself lucky not be the Wimbledon Nantclwyd Champion for it was here in 1873 that the new game of Lawn Tennis was first demonstrated. The tennis court (r) is unlikely to have formed a key element of William Clough-Ellis’s vision for Nantclwyd but nowhere else is such a feature more historically apt…

[Fitzwilliam (Malton) Estates]

¹ Mordaunt-Crook, J. The rise of the nouveaux riches, 1999.
² The Times, Countess Fitzwilliam obituary, 17 June 1995.
³ Haslam, R. Nantclwyd Hall, Country Life, 29 Dec, 1998.
† Jones, J. Clough Williams-Ellis, 1996.

Exton Park, Rutland

Its status and administration may have fluctuated and been fought over through the course of the last hundred years but the actual area of Rutland, England’s smallest county, hasn’t really changed much – then as now c.96,000 acres. What has changed, however, is the proportion occupied by its largest landowner. A century ago the Exton Park estate made up 14.6% of Rutland, some 14,000 acres; today, it’s down to a mere six thousand. Big numbers, unquestionably, particularly when set against dire warnings issued by financial advisers to the owners of this place back in the 1840s: ‘Nothing but a general and decided entrenchment of expenditure on the part of every one concerned can save this family from immediate ruin’

see: Elizabeth E @ Picasa

see: Elizabeth E @ Picasa

Being the Noels, Earls of Gainsborough, seated at Exton since the C16. An estate for one reason or another beleagured by debt until the mid-C20, many thousands of acres here and elsewhere being sold off to keep the balloon aloft. Along the way this family has also seen the destruction of both principal C17 mansions (here and in the Cotswolds) and the extinction of a trio of titles. But, nothing if not persistent, the Noels remain biggest landowners in the county, still in place too in Gloucestershire and even contrived the reinstatement of their full suite of peerages.

Exton is presently the home of Anthony Baptist Noel who succeeded as 6th Earl of Gainsborough, 6th Viscount Campden and 6th Baron Noel (all of the 2nd creation) in 2009. Both middle name and middle title hark back to noted ancestor Sir Baptist Hicks, a wealthy mercer and moneylender to the Crown who took over his family’s business in 1592 ‘and thereafter accumulated one of the greatest fortunes of his time’. Splashing the cash through the first decade of the C17, Hicks acquired the manor of Chipping Campden and then that of Exton where his heiress daughter Juliana had married local landowner Edward Noel. In 1628, a grateful King James created Hicks Viscount Campden (with remainder to his son-in-law), his new rank being all of a piece with the fine a la mode mansion he had built for himself in Gloucestershire.

see: Landmark Trust

see: Landmark Trust

Sadly, Edward Noel’s committment to the Royalist cause in the Civil War would see the main portion of Campden House rased to the ground by his own side as a pre-emptive tactic. But its qualities can be inferred from the survival of the splendid gatehouse and two remarkable free-standing banqueting houses (see right) now in the care of the Landmark Trust and available for holiday lets.

(Alternatively, you might prefer bed & breakfast at The Court in Chipping Campden itself, converted former stables of Campden House and presently home to the Hon. Jane Glennie: ‘A direct descendant of Sir Baptist Hicks…The Court has an uninterrupted occupancy by Jane’s family since the 1700s and she is happy to share her unique knowledge with you’.)

Edward had already been created Baron Noel by the time he inherited his father-in-law’s viscountcy; his own heir, Baptist, ‘made four advantageous marriages’ which yielded great chunks of land in various parts of England and Wales. Baptist’s eldest son duly became 3rd Baron and 4th Viscount then promptly trumped those with the Earldom of Gainsborough (cr. 1682). Henry, Earl no.6, died unmarried in 1798 whereupon all the titles became extinct, the estates passing to his nephew, Gerard Noel Edwards, who adopted the family name by licence, becoming Gerard Noel Noel. It was during the latter’s tenure at Exton that the Noels’ fortunes began to hit choppy waters.

In 1810, thrice-married Sir Gerard (who would have 18 children by his first wife, Diana, plus one with the local vicar’s daughter) had no sooner stepped away from a ‘disastrous’ banking venture than his house at Exton burned down.¹

see: English Heritage

see: English Heritage

Fire was discovered in the early hours of 23 May ‘and before assistance could be had half the house together with valuable contents were destroyed’.² ‘In the few apartments which could be visited there was enough to show that the mansion, when complete, must have been a very interesting specimen of ancient manners’, noted a visitor not long after.

The remnants of the C17 house still stand (above), various details from it being referenced by the architects who would be tasked with its replacement. Initially, reticent practitioner John Linnell Bond was enlisted to develop an existing building close by.

see: Stones Events

see: Stones Events

‘Bond’s main (W) facade has three Tudorish gables, assorting strangely with three plain Venetian windows and a classical porch’.³ This relatively modest abode sufficed for 40 years before a major mid-C19 expansion began, religious conviction directly and indirectly contributing to produce Exton Hall as it stands today.

Baptist Wriothesley Noel, 11th son of Gerard, ‘was one of the most popular Evangelical preachers of his day’ and had become acquainted with architect Henry Roberts through their mutual concern for the welfare of the poor. While the Fishmongers’ Hall just off London Bridge northside is regarded as his masterpiece, ‘it is as the architect of a number of philanthropic buildings that Roberts is of world importance‘. His Evangelical connections were ‘of primary importance in obtaining commissions’, hence Roberts’ introduction to Baptist Noel’s oldest brother, Charles, who inherited Exton in 1838 (and was also to reacquire the family titles three years later).

see: Luis Holden Photography

see: Luis Holden Photography

Roberts’ work at Exton effectively quadrupled the size of the Hall, with tall turretted Jacobethan additions NW and south of the existing core (l and r) featuring ‘chimneys, gables and window details copied from the ruins of the Old Hall’.

In 1850, just as the new Hall was taking shape, son and heir Charles and his wife converted to Roman Catholicism (no small move, his grandfather having rarely missed a Parliamentary opportunity to oppose Catholic emancipation). Charles inherited 17 years later but Ida was to enjoy her new status as Countess for barely a week and was buried on the site of their planned Catholic chapel the foundations of which had only just been laid out.

source: Alex Parker

source: Alex Parker

This church actually abuts the house to the east and, in the eyes of some, does the place no favours: ‘In outward appearance the hall would have left nothing to be desired had it not been for the architecturally inappropriate addition of a private church to the East wing in 1868′.††

This building is now, in fact, semi-public providing Exton as it does with a useful Roman Catholic niche in the country house weddings market.

see: UK Wanderings

see: UK Wanderings

Also handy in commercial terms is the charming castellated gothick pavilion known as Fort Henry which stands waterside way over to the east of the 1,400-acre park.
see: Hambleton Hall

see: Hambleton Hall

Named for the commissioning 6th Earl, it’s one of a pair of follies – the other being a dovecote/cowshed (below) – created by William Legg in the late C18. ‘The actual construction [date] is difficult to pinpoint
see: Richard @ Picasa

see: Richard @ Picasa

since the family papers were destroyed in the 1810 fire’, notes this national guide which was being prepared just as Leicestershire & Rutland Record Office were receiving the sort of phone call every county archivist dreams of/dreads*.

In 1987, the Noel family contacted the Office after a substantial number of long-forgotten records were found in rusty deed boxes in the stables and muniments room at Exton Hall.‘ Long thought vanished, probably destroyed, the rediscovered stash turned out to be just about the entire estate/family archive dating back to the 12th century and now fills close on 700 Record Office boxes. In the great conflagration of 1810 paintings by, amongst others, Gainsborough and Teniers were lost; the Hall’s library also perished. But there’s nothing more valuable in telling the story of a place than the paper trail of the people who lived there. Whether the archive’s survival was chance or choice, this blog, for one, is exceedingly grateful…

(*Delete as applicable according to latest budget allocation.)

[Exton Park Estate][Up close with the Cottesmore Hunt Feb 2013]

¹ Record Office for Leicestershire & Rutland, catalogue record.
² The Morning Post, 25 May 1810.
³ Pevsner, N. & Williamson, E. Leicestershire & Rutland, 2nd ed., 1984.
† Curl, J.S. The life and works of Henry Roberts, 1983.
†† Purchas, F.H. The Estate Magazine, Feb 1907.

Another occasional update of developments at houses previously featured.

Browsing the web search terms which have directed enquirers to Handed on, many are typically of the ‘Who lives at…?’, ‘Who owns…?’ variety. And, generally speaking, they have come to the right place. But not quite, alas, when the query ends with the words…

[Ormsby Hall, Lincolnshire]

When last we were down this way a degree of uncertainty hung over the future of the 3,000-acre estate and its GII* listed James Paine brick mansion. Ormsby has been the seat of the Massingberd/Massingberd-Mundys since the 1630s but could the family’s unbroken association with this place now be effectively at an end, at least for the foreseeable future?

see: Chris @ geograph

see: Chris @ geograph

On August 30, 2012 Adrian John Massingberd-Mundy died aged 85. Like his only only sibling, Anne, AJ M-M never married nor had children. In drafting his final will in 2004 the squire was clearly not bound by any prescriptive entail and at liberty to dispose of his estate as he wished. Here are some extracts:

‘The gross value of the said estate amounts to £19,709,585, net value £17,498,465.’

‘I appoint as my executor trustees [solicitor] David Stedman and [land agent] Robert Lawrence Hay Bell.’

‘I give to my Trustees all my property and assets of every kind and wherever situated and the net proceeds of what is sold together with all income that is received (my ‘Residuary Estate’). My Trustees shall hold the capital and income for the benefit of any one or more of the Beneficiaries of my Residuary Estate.

Robert Bell & Co. are a long-established local firm of chartered surveyors and ‘have managed the South Ormsby Estate for a number of generations’. (Robert Bell senior died in 2007; the company’s website carries this report of a Royal Forestry Society estate visit just weeks before Adrian Massingberd-Mundy passed away.) And Sara Perceval?

‘This top fashion designer..has lived in the peace of the Lincolnshire Wolds for the past eight years,’ a local magazine explained after a visit to the Hall in 2003. Most noteably associated with the gowns of singer Dame Shirley Bassey, Perceval’s client list has been starry: ‘Norman Hartnell had died…Barbara Cartland wanted someone to take over as her dress designer and had chosen Sara. It was Dame Barbara who introduced Sara to Adrian Massingberd-Mundy which in turn led to Sara’s move to Lincolnshire.‘¹

The Trustees of the will have the power:

‘To dispose of and develop any land comprised in my Residuary Estate as if they were the absolute beneficial owners without being bound to maintain any building or structure on the land’

‘To permit any person beneficially entitled to all or any part of my Residuary Estate to occupy or enjoy it on whatever terms my Trustees think fit’

So then, what chance any more M-Ms joining the full set of family portraits which hang at Ormsby? It costs six pounds to obtain a copy of this will from the Probate Office in High Holborn. On reflection, for a similar amount you could get a couple of pints at the Massingberd Arms down the lane from the Hall and, quite likely, a deal more elucidation…

see: GoogleStreetview

see: GoogleStreetview

[Update Oct 2013: 'Cloven Hills Farm is located on the outskirts of the South Ormsby Estate and has been under the ownership of the Massingberd-Mundy family for nearly 400 years. 213 acres, guide price £1.2million.' Sold!]

Such matters can be greatly simplified, of course, by the expedients of having
a) a child and/or b) a title. And good old primogeniture kicked in in time-honoured fashion not so long ago at the similar-sized but significantly older estate of…

[Shuckburgh Hall, Warwickshire]

…where Sir James Shuckburgh, 14th bt. (r), moved into the old place earlier this year following his father’s premature death in 2012. A picture of the late Sir Rupert doing the honours at his local horse show remains comfortably the most visited link of any ever provided here. But might this action shot of Sir James fulfilling the same obligation back in May challenge this dominance? Certainly, ‘Sir James’ is now becoming a more frequent search term than ‘Sir Rupert’, a recent example being ‘Sir James Shuckburgh + wife’, which rather brings to mind the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

[Hatton Grange, Shropshire]

Of course, one way in which the production of a son and heir could potentially complicate rather than clarify succession matters is to produce two at once. Which is precisely what has just happened at this large estate where the Kenyon-Slaneys welcomed twins Robert and Orlando into the world on 14 August. Do the rules of primogeniture hold good right down to minutes or even seconds? And, boys, don’t go having sisters or things could get really messy…

[Fenton House, Northumberland]

“Why [my sisters] are threatening to sue now, when I have got on with them for 50 years, I don’t know,’ sighed Ned, 7th Earl of Durham, his lawyers earlier this year serving a writ on Ladies Anne, Beatrix and Lucinda Lambton to halt their claim on their late father’s sizeable estates. Tudor Gothic-style Fenton is currently the Earl’s favoured English seat but with two more in Co. Durham…

see: Vanity Fair

see: Vanity Fair

…(not forgetting the ‘magnificent Baroque villa situated on some of the most breathtaking acreage in Tuscany,’ left) you’d imagine there was more than enough to go round. But the 6th Earl (aka Lord Lambton) left all to his only son, the youngest of his six children, in 2006. “None of the claimant’s sisters is mentioned in Lord Lambton’s will”, stated the Earl’s High Court writ; “This is unseemly behaviour,” said Lady Lucinda, “We have never wanted bad blood”. The thrice-married Lord Durham has one son and one daughter (so far).

[Netherwitton Hall, Northumberland]

It’s hardly a situation that Durham’s MP could much help with but should he ever need such recourse in future he might well find that, architecturally at least, his local member of parliament’s home in the county comfortably trumps his own. In 2010, Anne-Marie Trevelyan of G.1 Netherwitton came as close as anyone has in eight General Elections since the ’70s to unseating LibDem stalwart Sir Alan Beith as MP for the Berwick-on-Tweed constituency. Beith has recently announced his intention to retire leaving the reselected Conservative candidate as the favourite to win in 2015. (Incidentally, Ld Durham’s father was Beith’s predecessor in the seat and Ned once had a crack at it himself standing for Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party but losing his deposit.) An energetic campaigner, Trevelyan has battled wind farm proposals (ongoing) which would affect the skyline north of the Hall, precisely the issue also facing…

[Stanage Park, Powys]

…where matters are complicated by cross-border considerations. Welsh heritage lobbyists are concerned about the impact on the Humphrey Repton-conjured vista from Stanage of a proposed wind farm 2.3km away – in England. The Welsh Assembly stepped in last month demanding that an Environmental Impact Assessment be undertaken on what protestors consider a looming blot on the landscape. Indeed, the whole business has uncanny echoes of Stanage Park’s moment of TV stardom back in the ’80s, an irony noted in this BBC TV news report which offers fresh perspectives of the private estate:

see: BBC News

see: BBC News

¹ Lincolnshire Life November 2003

see:  St. Paul's

see: St. Paul’s

Any visitor to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London will at a certain point assume the position: head back full tilt, bottom lip held between the teeth, the better to survey the glorious dome. And whose handiwork are they gazing upon? Well, if Sir Christopher Wren had had his way, none but his. However, the powers that be decided someone should be invited to colour in the space that Wren had framed.

Though undoubtedly another big-hitter of the English Baroque, the name of muralist James Thornhill has travelled less well down the ages. ‘More memorable as the father-in-law of Hogarth than for his own artistic powers, though these were considerable‘, it was being said as long ago as 1849. And just last week in the course of his fine BBC series Music and Monarchy historian David Starkey spoke to Thornhill’s masterwork in the Painted Hall at Greenwich without attribution. But Sir James – the first artist ever to be knighted for his work – was the foremost decorative artist of his day, his frescoes also adorning the likes of Blenheim and Chatsworth. Thornhill was a son of Dorset and the finest example of his work in his home county can be seen at Charborough House – but only if you happen to live there.

The lack of access to the mural at Charborough is the cause of much chagrin to local Thornhill enthusiasts and historians,’ bemoaned a correspondent to Country Life magazine in 2005.¹ Twenty years earlier writer John Julius Norwich in his weighty tome The architecture of Southern England had recorded, ‘I must confess to not having seen the staircase since I was not allowed in.’

Country Life March 1935

Country Life March 1935

The sight of which they were deprived was of the ‘first rate’² staircase of 1718, richly carved and decorated, working sketches for which survive in various collections (see below). This feature is the centrepiece of a grade I-listed house which has evolved and been added to since the time of the Civil War, much like the name of its owners the stupendously-monikered Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family.
source: The Huntington

source: The Huntington

Other families had been associated with the Charborough estate prior to the marriage of heiress Mary Wyke to Walter Erle during the time of Elizabeth I but ‘there is no evidence, as far back as records go, of its ever having changed hands by sale‘.³ It was Erle’s grandson, Sir Walter, who would really get stuck into the place. Inheriting in 1597 aged just eleven he would be master of Charborough for 65 years. Buying out local minor gentry through the first half of the C17 he assiduously expanded the estate (today some 7,000 acres in size) and would build a himself a house only to see it all but destroyed in the Civil War.

A very active Parliamentarian, Erle would later pillage Royalist redoubt Corfe Castle for materials to rebuild when the balance of power turned. His replacement seat was a modish single block, seven bays by five, with ‘dormer windows, hipped roofs and lofty chimneystacks typical of the group of Commonwealth houses that include Coleshill and Thorpe Hall‘. One early visitor was his relation, pioneering travel writer Celia Fiennes who was suitably impressed: ‘The house is new built on ye brow of ye hill whence you have large prospects of 20 mile round. There is a very good Hall at the entrance, the chambers are good and lofty and sizeable, all well wanscoated and painted.

After the insertion of Thornhill’s showstopping staircase at the behest of Sir Walter’s grandson, accomplished soldier Gen. Thomas Erle, the next major remodelling of Charborough was a by-product of the first of many failures of the male line. Thomas’s only child Frances married Sir Edward Ernle, 3rd bt., and they in turn would have two daughters of which only the younger, Elizabeth, married, becoming Mrs Henry Drax (her first cousin). As well as coming into his estate Drax succeeded the general as local MP, emerging as a ‘great favourite’ of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and later his secretary (‘though according to Horace Walpole he could not write his own name‘).

see: Panoramio

see: Panoramio


see: British History

source: RCHM

see: Mike Faherty @ geograph

see: Mike Faherty @ geograph


Drax entertained HRH at Charborough in 1741, the prince being accommodated in specially created quarters, possibly the building perpendicular to the main house which would be developed into the Library by John Nash in the next century. (Nash also oversaw a four-bay extension of the principal block, a pediment and pilasters spanning the join and the whole stuccoed creating the house much as it is today.)

source: English Heritage

source: RCHM

Lasting but a year the tenure of Henry’s son Edward may have been the shortest of any but yielded the monumental erection that is Charborough Tower standing 150 yards SE of the House and approached by a broad grassed flight.
see: PWilliams @ Flickr

see: PWilliams @ Flickr

Ascent of the tower’s spiral staircase is presumably rewarded with a panoramic vista of the 300-acre deer park (‘the finest in Dorset’²) bounded in the north by a three-mile long brick wall.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

source: English Heritage

source: English Heritage


Also responsible for Charborough’s high Gothic Armoury (above, left), this wall was the creation of Sawbridge Erle-Drax, formerly John Sawbridge of Olantigh Towers, Kent, who married heiress Jane E-D in 1827.
John Palmer@geograph

John Palmer@geograph

The prodigious boundary was constructed in 1841/2 and marked his successful promotion of a turnpike road (now the A31). It is punctuated not just by some statement arches (above, right) but also, latterly, by regular impact holes being something of a notorious traffic accident black spot. ‘Ten to fifteen cars go into it every year..something must be done,’ said one local MP only last year, and one with more than just a passing interest in the matter, being….

…Richard Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, MP for South Dorset, present owner of said wall and all that lies within.

Standing for election as plain Richard Drax, the prospective member denied suggestions that he had been leant on by Tory HQ to ‘de-posh’ his name. Whatever, in selecting Drax from the various options available to him the MP was favouring a name which had been adopted willingly through licence by no less than four predecessors who had married into the family during a long run of Charborough heiresses spanning the entire C19. Their readiness so to do had its roots in the will of Col. Henry Drax (great-uncle of the aforementioned Henry, friend to royalty) and the colonial riches contained therein. Time, alas, for the ‘s’ word.

Or, to be fair, the ‘s’ words: sugar and, unavoidably, slavery. Arriving from England in 1629, 18-year-old James Drax was an early settler on the island of Barbados. Over years of trial and error he developed a sugar production process second to none and from which a fast fortune was made. ‘James Drax was the stand-out success story of the 1640s’, and he, like other plantation owners, would reinvest some of the profits in support of a key element of the business model, the supply of slave labour from Africa.††

Frederick Lange/slaveryimages.com

Frederick Lange/slaveryimages.com

James died back in England in 1661, his younger son Henry eventually inheriting the Barbados operation but producing no direct heir of his own. Instead, his sister Elizabeth Shetterden’s son Thomas was chosen with the proviso he changed his name, ‘and his posterity after him’, to Drax. And so they have, consolidating an inheritance that has included not just Charborough Park but also James Drax’s 1650s house, ‘the oldest surviving Jacobean mansion in the Americas’ (right).††

Like Charborough, Drax Hall still sits at the heart of an operational private estate, the 800-acre sugar plantation also continuing in the ownership of the Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family to this day.

[Charborough Estate]['Not your usual MP']

¹ Country Life, Narch 24, 2005.
² Newman, J. & Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Dorset, 1972.
³ Oswald, Arthur. Country Life, 30 March, 1935.
† Royal Commission on Historical Monuments: Dorset. Vol.2, pt.1, 1970.
†† Parker, Matthew. The sugar barons, 2012.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers