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:
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’.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…
…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.
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.‘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.
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…
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.