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Newhouse, Wiltshire

The foundations of both may have been somewhat undermined in modern times but Britain’s country houses (and their owners) have long understood the value of the institution of matrimony. Delving into the history of long-held country estates, the advantageous marriage is not hard to find, provident alliances historically a key means by which to bolster, sometimes super-charge, an estate’s fortunes. In the C18 ‘financial considerations often determined a family’s marital priorities [with] heiresses regarded as particularly good catches’.¹ And today marriage is once more playing a significant role in sustaining many an ancestral seat as country houses across the land vie to host ‘the wedding of your dreams’.

“I always wondered how people afforded to live in these lovely places. The answer was that many couldn’t. When I suggested weddings most bit my hand off“, said Diana Hastie, the founder of Country House Wedding Venues, recently. This enterprise is now one of many such agencies (1/2/3) whose websites, along with those of the individual properties themselves, today offer a rich source of what has been called ‘country house porn’ (a term, by-the-by, taken a tad literally in the latest edition of Tatler magazine). By way of a purely serendipitous example of the myriad options now available to the happy couple wanting to marry in surroundings to which they are unlikely ever to become accustomed, a simple dropped vowel during researches for this post inadvertantly took Handed on to the dedicated weddings website of Nether Whichendon House.

see: ArtFund

see: ArtFund

Deep in the Chilterns, this medieval/Tudor house was romantically Gothicised to his own design by Scrope Bernard in the late C18. Sir Francis Bernard (d.1779) had inherited a somewhat neglected pile late in life and his will instructed that the place be sold. And so it was but the buyer, against advice, was to be his youngest son, Scrope, possibly emboldened by his marriage to Harriet Morland…a banking heiress. Nether Whichendon remains in the family: ‘Timelessly enchanting and fabulous, this venue is absolutely unique and perfect for a truly romantic day and wonderful photographs…

…many galleries of which are displayed on their weddings website (there is another detailing public opening times and history). Alongside the pictorial riches afforded by such online marketing, the expansion of the role of the wedding photographer – from cheery snapper to virtual artist-in-residence – has likewise been a great incidental boon for the likes of your humble country house blogger. Gone, seemingly, are those ritualised post-ceremony permutations, now replaced by an immersive, fantasy-tinged photo-documentary of the entire day, often yielding revelatory perspectives of the hosting houses. (Long-standing Handed on readers will appreciate the exciting rarity of these interior images, for example.)

see: Newhouse Estate

see: Newhouse Estate

One particularly novel country house vista can be found on the website of ‘the wedding and special events venue’ that is the 1,300-acre Newhouse Estate in Wiltshire. In the view of one visitor, ‘the most extraordinary object on view at Newhouse is the ‘Hare’ picture (r) said to have been painted about 1640 as a satirical attack on the contemporary Court party‘.² Far be it from Handed on to gainsay the mighty Massingberd but this blog recommends the adjacent easel-mounted ariel perspective of this place for closest inspection.

For, however remarkable anything inside Newhouse might be, nothing can surely trump the extraordinariness of the building itself:

see: Angus Kirk @ flickr

see: Angus Kirk @ flickr

No, this is not a trick of photography but two arms of Newhouse’s three-pronged assault on the architectural senses. The seat of the Eyres and their descendants (today Jeffreys) since 1633, Grade 1-listed Newhouse is a remarkable and surprisingly little-documented survival, being one of only two Y-shaped ‘Trinity’ houses in existence (and much the best, the other being this C17 farmhouse in Herefordshire). ‘In late C16 England people were addicted to hidden meanings. Codes, devices and punning allusions were everywhere..entire buildings were constructed in the form of riddles‘.³ And John Thorpe – one of the six architects memorialised on the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum – was as keen a practitioner as any.

see: Barry Deakin

see: Barry Deakin

Among the few buildings which can be confidently associated with Thorpe are Thomas Tresham’s triangular lodge in Northamptonshire and the similarly triadic Longford Castle near Salisbury in Wiltshire (r). ‘One of the most freakish Elizabethan houses, [it's] plan based on the shield assigned in medieval heraldry to the Holy Trinity’, Longford has been the seat of the Earls of Radnor since 1717 but had been built in the late C16 for the Gorge family.4 In 1619 Sir Edward Gorge acquired the Newhouse estate a few miles to the S-E, with a ‘Mansion..late erected’, from William Stockman only to sell it again, in 1633, to another local landowner, Giles Eyre. Newhouse would change hands for money one last time in 1660 but on this occasion it was a family deal, Giles’s grandson William selling the place to his cousin, Sir Samuel Eyre, for £2000.

Samuel’s eldest son, lawyer Robert, his inheritance of Newhouse naturally assured, devoted his energies forging a notable parliamentary career. (Younger brother Henry, meanwhile, made his own way, buying in 1733 500 rural acres just outside London called St. John’s Wood. Later developed as a pioneering garden suburb whose character is still policed, the Eyre Estate remains with this branch of the family, the sale in 2011 of a 5.5 acre site yielding some £250 million for the 50 or so present-day beneficiaries of the family trust.)

see: Wikimapia

see: Wikimapia

see: Angus Kirk

see: Angus Kirk

The house inherited by Sir Robert’s son, also Robert, was still in it’s original form (above): a three-storey central hexagon with radial extensions on alternate sides, the entrance facade crowned by a trio of triangular gables. He would add the N-W wing c.1742 which points towards the stable block (above) erected shortly before he died childless in 1752. Newhouse would eventually go to his cousin Samuel whose matching S-E wing balanced the main facade and houses the ballroom which today ‘will seat a maximum of 102 guests for a wedding breakfast’…

…a point in proceedings still usually characterised by civility and order. Which rarely lasts, of course. Alexander Chancellor, the inheritor of ‘two crumbling Inigo Jones pavilions‘ in Northamptonshire, recently revealed the flipside of the country house wedding hosts’ lot : ‘It’s no fun being here when these noisy parties are going on; nor next morning to find my house surrounded by cars that have been left behind by drivers who have drunk too much the night before. Occasionally, I even find condoms in the flowerbeds.’

see: Wikimapia

see: Wikimapia

No doubt in the quarter of a century during which they have been hosting such events the Jeffreys of Newhouse will likewise have encountered their share of eye-opening goings on. But what is equally certain is that the thousands of wedding-goers who have had the pleasure of being their guests in that time will never have seen anything quite like it either…

[Newhouse Estate][Listing][Visit via the HHA]

1. Beckett, J.V. The aristocracy in England 1660-1914, 1986.
2. Massingberd, H. Newhouse in the shape of a ‘Y’, The Field, 21 June 1986.
3. Asquith, C. Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, 2005.
4. Hussey, C. Longford Castle I/II/III, Country Life, Dec 1931.

Busby Hall, North Yorkshire

When is a ‘big house’ never quite big enough? Answer: When it has been the inspiration for a classic novel set to be dramatised for television. ”Mr Rochester’s house wins,’ declared Country Life last month, reporting that this year’s HHA Restoration Award had been won by Norton Conyers, ‘the house said to have inspired Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre‘.

see: BookMoot

see: BookMoot

Charlotte Bronte’s book has been filmed numerous times, most recently by the BBC in 2006. Did this production feature GII*-listed Norton Conyers (r), charming gabled manor house and seat of the Graham family since 1624? Or, perhaps, that other modestly-proportioned ‘Thornfield’ contender in Yorkshire, Thornton Hall? No, it did not, producers favouring instead – not for the first time – the dramatic Grade I splendour of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire.

When it comes to screen adaptations of the classic ‘country house’ novel, it would seem, size matters.

In period drama’s tendency towards grade inflation (and many other respects) it was ITV’s landmark 1981 serialisation of Brideshead Revisited that raised the bar, aggrandizing mid-sized Madresfield Court, which fired Evelyn Waugh’s imaginings, into the palatial dimensions of Castle Howard. (These days the casting of ‘the house’ has become a mini-industry in itself.) One of the most recent entries into the field was Sir Tom Stoppard’s assured 2012 adaptation for the BBC of Parade’s End, Ford Madox Ford’s end-of-era tetralogy arcing World War One. It starred Benedict Cumberbatch as the central figure Christopher Tietjens, stolid, maddeningly correct and anguished about many things including the destiny of the family pile, Groby Hall.

In his creation of this milieu Ford would draw heavily upon the character and background of his some-time friend Arthur Marwood, a relationship which, though ultimately doomed, had provided the author with a much desired entre into landed society. Arthur was a scion of the Marwoods of Busby Hall, seated here now for well over 400 years. Appropriately, a house on the edge of the North Yorks moors was used as the filming location for the scenes at Groby – but it wasn’t GII* Busby Hall.

Paul Buckingham @ geograph

Paul Buckingham @ geograph

‘The only stately home in the North Yorks Moors National Park’, begins this newspaper profile of Duncombe Park, putting Busby, 14 miles to the north and similary just within Park bounds, firmly in it’s place. This Grade I house (r) by local man William Wakefield (heavily cribbing the likes of Vanburgh and Hawksmoor¹) was built in 1713 for the Duncombes, later Earls of Feversham; it and the 13,000-acre Helmsley Estate remain in their hands.

BBC’s Parade’s End was promoted in some quarters as the thinking person’s Downton Abbey but unlike at Highclere Castle, Duncombe Park wasn’t bracing itself for the hordes – the house has been closed to the public since 2010. “It was a difficult decision to close and certainly nothing to do with privacy”, present custodian Jake Duncombe explained. “We were happy to share the house [but], in effect, we were paying people to look around.” Meanwhile, over at the ‘real’ Groby…

see: Busby Estate

see: Busby Estate

… opening to the public has never been on the agenda though if architect John Carr, the Georgian dynamo of the north, had had his way Busby Hall would project a slightly grander, statelier presence. It would be the decisions – pragmatic or emotional, depending upon interpretation – of his one-time client, Mrs Jane Turner, that would determine not only the appearance of the house but also who gets to live there today.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

Sitting just below the rising slopes of the Cleveland Hills, with it’s westerly aspect commanding a panoramic vista of the Leven vale, the Busby estate was acquired by William Marwood in 1587. William’s nephew George, created a baronet during his own tenure at Busby, had a son, Henry, and daughter. The latter wed William Metcalfe (remember that name) of Porch House, Northallerton; Henry’s only son and heir George would predecease him, decoupling the title (which a short sequence of childless nephews would consign to extinction) from the estate, the entirety of which would flow to George’s daughter, Jane.

see source

see source

In 1757 Jane lost her husband of 46 years, Cholmley Turner MP, a wealthy landowner with an estate at Kirkleatham, some 12 miles N-E of Busby. With the Turner estates now going to a nephew, Jane returned ‘home’ to Busby. Working drawings for a failed moneyspinning gazeteer of Yorkshire houses c.1720 by entrepreneurial antiquarian John Warburton and his young draughtsman Samuel Buck give an impression of the house she came back to (above). Possibly accustomed to better at Kirkleatham Hall – ‘It is a thousand pities that the Hall was allowed to disappear,’ Pevsner would lament ten years after its demolition – Jane determined that Busby was due a fashionable upgrade.

In the same year she was widowed, Turner did what everyone else in these parts was doing at the time and called in John Carr. The Marwood archive contains the architect’s proposed designs for ‘an elegant new facade of seven bays and two storeys with a 3-bay pediment with Rococo cartouche, and a surprisingly architectural office wing’.²

see: Ryan Browne

see: Ryan Browne

But, for reasons unclear, Turner would eventually give the job to Kirkleatham builder Robert Corney who, whilst retaining flourishes such as the imperial staircase and it’s illuminating Venetian window, executed a smaller, less extravagant design though one ‘clearly based on the drawings of Carr’.²

Jane Turner’s son died unmarried aged 22 leaving just a daughter, also Jane. But while she herself had inherited Busby as a woman Jane Snr. would see to it that Jane Jnr. most definitely did not. One academic has suggested that Turner’s will, in which everything was to go instead to the sons of a distant relative, Thomas Metcalfe, with a strict male entail requiring adoption of the Marwood name everafter, reflected ‘the belief that land was masculine’.³ But less than fifty years after the event a rather more dramatic explanation of blatant disinheritance was recorded.

see: Oakminster / NYM planning

see: Oakminster / NYM planning

In his depiction of an old landed family in crisis in Parade’s End it might seem odd that Ford Madox Ford would create the Tietjens, ‘who came over with Dutch William’. But perhaps the writer had been apprised of this pivotal moment in Busby’s story and was imagining what might have been. For daughter Jane fell in love with and duly married Capt. Philip Van Straubenzee, an officer in the Dutch forces co-opted to resist the Jacobite rebellion. This union, it is said, appalled Jane’s mother whose animus neither the Dutchman’s later British naturalisation nor christening their first born Marwood Turner did anything to temper. Mrs Van Straubenzee and son were out in the cold: ‘It was by her disinheritance that the Metcalfes became the Marwoods of Busby’.

Ironically, the Van Straubenzees have climbed higher than Jane Turner could ever have dreamt. What’s more, her stipulation that subsequent heirs be male would open the doors of Busby Hall to another European emigre family following the premature death at 35 of George Marwood in 1893. Despite having been one of 13 children born to George (Metcalfe) Marwood and wife Frances, an early-C20 interregnum would ensue at Busby due to the practical unavailability of George’s four brothers, being variously: a high-flying career civil servant in London (William); a career soldier in India (Henry); a sickly intellectual (Arthur); dead (Charles). So, not for the first time, the Hall was available to let.

see source

see source

‘The present occupants of Busby Hall are Mr and Mrs Gjers who have done much to improve it and make it one of the most up-to-date country residences in Cleveland,’ noted this 1912 work. A family of innovative Swedish ironmasters who prospered on Teeside, the Gjers’ tenancy at Busby was apparently an unqualified boon for the place which is rather more than can be said of…

…Mrs. Millicent de Bray Pape, the unsuitable American to whom Groby is rented in the final volume of Parade’s End. One act of symbolic barbarism sees the felling of the totemic ‘Groby Great Tree’, a feature inspired by a magnificent chestnut – ‘said to be the largest in England’ – in the gardens of Busby Hall. Now while Duncombe Park may have been able to satisfy television’s predilection for Grade 1 grandeur the producers of Parade’s End had to manufacture their own tree out of polystyrene. Genealogical purists might suggest an element of contrivance, too, about the Marwood family tree but in this respect, of course – much like the Van Straubenzees these days – they’re keeping some very good company

[Listing][Busby Estate simulated shoot]

¹ Hussey, C. Duncombe Park I/II/III, Country Life, Feb 1957.
² Wragg, B. The life and works of John Carr of York, 2000.
³ Capern, A. Women, land and family in early-modern North Yorkshire [download].

Jayes Park, Surrey

Being by some margin the most densely populated of the old English shires and with its towns just a half-hour train ride from 7 million-plus Londoners, willfully or otherwise, Surrey has to be as hard a county as any in which to sustain obscurity. But a 2012 edition of Country Life magazine insisted that the place did still have some relatively undiscovered corners, listing ‘The ten secrets of Surrey: Everyone knows about Hampton Court, Clandon Park, Leith Hill…’

The last-named landmark is, some may know, topped by the unambiguously conspicuous structure that is Leith Hill Tower, an C18/C19 structure designed to be seen and to see from. Now managed by the National Trust, its platform is the highest elevation in S-E England offering, on a clear day, a limitless prospect in all directions. In the immediate vicinity ‘leafy Surrey’ is here at its leafiest. Looking north, the dense woodland of the Surrey Hills AONB is interrupted by a celebrated pastoral swathe between Guildford and Dorking. Here, ‘the landscape owes its timeless beauty to the benign ownership of local estates: the Dukes of Northumberland at Albury; the Bray family at Shere and the Evelyns of Wotton. These estates encompass thousands of acres, with some ownership going back to the C16.’¹

But while these particular estates are indeed still intact none of their associated ‘big houses’ remain in these families’ hands, all now having been sold off and variously repurposed. Turn about and look south from Leith Hill Tower, however, and there is a different story…

…albeit one which would appear to remain substantially untold. As the woods end and the land gently slopes away towards the Sussex Weald much of the immediate vista, significantly unchanged for centuries, is comprised of the Jayes Park Estate, family and little-known, always private, house still intact. Being also visible from the road, it could be said that Jayes Park has long been hidden in plain sight.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

An ancient family…it is certain that no-one not possessing the patronimic of Steere has ever lived at Jayes since the Conquest,‘ stated a 1879 profile of then owner, Lee Steere MP (1803-90).² A mightily impressive claim, to be sure, and a line which one local firm of estate agents found quite irresistible when tasked with marketing Jayes, circumstances having led to the house being available to let for a period in the mid-1930s: ‘Never before on the market since the Conquest’.

Attempting to ascertain the veracity of this statement, Handed on turned to Burke’s Family Index (pub. 1976, ‘a reliable and comprehensive guide to the 20,000 different family entries’ featured in Burke’s Peerage and Landed Gentry volumes since 1826) and found … absolutely nothing. No entry for Lee-Steere of Jayes Park ever. Which was frustrating, of course, yet at the same time really rather impressive.

Initially, the publicly available archive of documents relating to the Jayes Estate of the Lee Steere Family appears persuasive, spanning as it does the period C12-1920. (Though this collection has been on deposit since 1951 an experienced-looking archivist on duty at the Surrey History Centre when Handed on dropped by seemed never to have heard of the place – more bonus points!) The Centre’s page-and-a-half catalogue description stands as the most detailed historical scrutiny this place has ever received. It, and Ockley parish registers, certainly confirm the local presence of Steeres in the early C16 but reveals that ‘the property called Jayes was acquired by Thomas Steere in 1609′.

see: Robin Webster@geograph

see: Robin Webster@geograph

And it has never been sold since, passing by descent to present-day owner, Gordon Lee-Steere. The 1675 union of John Steere and heiress Fiducia Lee would lend a contemporary sounding Christian name to their son, Lee, and most subsequent Jayes Park squires until merging into the surname at the end of the C19.

The estate in John Steere’s day was c.800 acres and has since grown to its present 2,700 acres. Similarly, the residence has developed and enlarged over this time but just exactly when and how appears not to have been explored in any great detail. Turning again – with due caution – to that estate agent’s advertisement of 1935:

‘The main portion of the house is Georgian the rear of it being probably Elizabethan. 17 bed and dressing rooms. Garden and pleasure grounds..enjoy that distinctive character which age alone can give.

see: steerefarm.com

see: steerefarm.com

But architectural artifice can sometimes lend a hand, of course: ‘Elegant classical stock-brick front which looks early C19 but is actually of 1913, very restrained and unusual for the date‘.³
see: Surrey History Centre

see: Surrey History Centre

Pevsner’s one line entry for Jayes, concurring with the G.II-listing text that the entire main facade is neo-Regency. What to make then of these two photos (above, c.1908; r, 1972) which appear to suggest that the tower and an additional bay were the most fundamental alterations a century ago to what this 1822 account described as ‘Mr Lee Steere Steere’s..recently completed noble mansion’.

see: Surrey History Centre

see: Surrey History Centre

jayesgateAnd while the story of Jayes Park’s entrance facade is inexact the evolution of the diverse red-brick elements in rear, not the least of which being several fanciful turrets accentuating the garden walls at various points, is only marginally less so.

By contrast, indisputably a matter of record are the cruel blows dealt to the Lee-Steere male line in the last century by both World Wars. The present owner was but a few months old when his fighter pilot father Charles was lost over Dunkirk in May 1940. And the myriad melancholy WWI centenaries now coming upon us will soon include that of the death of the 19-year-old only son of Henry and Anna Lee-Steere of Jayes Park.

Novice platoon commander 2nd Lt. John Henry Gordon Lee-Steere left England for the front line on 16 Oct 1914. “I must confess to being rather jumpy at the moment,” he wrote home from the trenches in Ypres soon after. “The Germans have so many fresh troops they keep flinging in while we only just have enough to keep them off”, he reported ominously in another letter dated 17 Nov 1914 – his last. Wretchedly exposed and overrun, heavy casualties briefly thrust the young officer into commanding what remained of his company that day, before he too took a fatal sniper’s bullet.4

Colin Smith@geograph

Colin Smith@geograph

‘The men in uniform were, not surprisingly, disproportionately working-class but those who died were disproportionately the social elites.’5 John Lee-Steere is buried in ‘the Aristocrats Cemetery‘ close to where he fell in Flanders. Much nearer to home, hard by the old Roman road of Stane Street, stands Ockley village hall (r), given by his parents in memory of their personal toll in the Great War’s grim harvest of ‘the brightest and the best’…

[More interior & exterior photos from the Surrey History Centre]

¹ Cresswell, A. In praise of Surrey, Country Life 21 May 2014.
² Monthly Magazine: Surrey Record & Illustrated Journal, vol.2, no.17, 1879.
³ Nairn, I. and Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Surrey, 1971.
4 Murland, J. Aristocrats go to war, 2010.
5 Winter, JM. The Great War and the British people, 1986.

It’s a slight irony that while our National Parks seek to protect landscapes from the impact of humans, the quintessential chocolate-box image of British countryside idyll will more than likely depict a scene which is wholly man-made. And nowhere is this dichotomy presently highlighted in sharper relief than in the Lune Valley in the north-west of England. From the river’s mouth at Lancaster this verdant finger pushes its way north to the town of Kirkby Lonsdale beyond which the river takes on a flanking escort of fells.

‘For almost the whole of its length, the Lune Valley is a C19 Picturesque creation with park following park’,¹ a string of country house estates (mostly still private residences) forming a cleft between the rising slopes of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales National Parks yet outwith “the family” – but for how much longer? For a ruling by the Secretary of State for the Environment is expected in the autumn following a public inquiry into proposals to extend national park status hereabouts: ‘No county boundaries, modern nor historic, will change, but areas of Lancashire and Cumbria will have to get used to being in the Yorkshire Dales’. And, it is feared, to tighter planning regulations and greater visitor numbers. This administrative land grab has met with resistance and a group of affected Lune Valley landowners east of Kirkby Lonsdale are among those who have formally made their views known.

see: Boot boys

see: Boot boys

“I live at Whelprigg House (r) and am owner of the 2,500-acre estate. I hope wholeheartedly that this proposal will be firmly and permanently rejected. Nobody can dispute that it is a fine piece of country but “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.” Being the views of Henry Bowring whose family acquired Whelprigg – a C19 house by George Webster and ‘surely the only one in England where the main gate is reached by a mysterious tunnel’ – in 1924.¹

see: The Big Domain

see: The Big Domain

Contiguous to Whelprigg is the Underley Estate, these days running to 3,500 acres and passed by inheritance since 1840. “The reason this is a beautiful part of the country is because it has been managed as such for generations,” says owner Philip Pease, “[yet] Natural England are saying “nice job, but we’ll take it from here”.” Underley Grange (l) is now run by the estate as ‘a sumptuous self-catering house sleeping 16′.

see: Midlife Chic

see: Midlife Chic

Slightly S-E, sitting ‘snugly, as remote and beautiful as anywhere in England,’ is the 2,200-acre Leck Hall estate.² Of ‘the perfect late-Georgian style,’ Leck Hall (r) was purchased in 1952 by the Barons Shuttleworth who removed here from the ancestral seat Gawthorpe Hall which was subsequently made over to the National Trust. The embrace of another national preservation body isn’t welcomed by the present 5th Lord Shuttleworth, however: “I support the objections on behalf of the landowners and farmers represented at the inquiry by Rural Solutions”.

see: Peel Heritage

see: Peel Heritage

Consultancy Rural Solutions was founded in 1990 by Roger Tempest (l), a dynamic, pioneering figure in the world of rural regeneration. Yet Tempest’s superhero name and action man profile rather belie the fact that he is the present representative of one of oldest landed lineages in the kingdom.

see: St Stephens

see: St Stephens

Imposing Grade I Broughton Hall – late Elizabethan with major Palladian accretions (r) – stands at the centre of an estate of some 3,000 Yorkshire acres, most of which have never, ever been sold. But it was touch and go for a while after Tempest took the reigns in his early twenties: “We came very close to having to sell [which] would have blighted my life forever. To go down as the guy who lost it after 900 years? Unthinkable.”

The Rural Solutions consultancy business, borne out of Tempest’s experiences establishing the award-winning Broughton Hall Business Park, was to be later divested but not before applying a similar blueprint, albeit on a rather smaller scale, to the Newton Hall estate in the heart of the Lune Valley – childhood home of one Kitty North, aka Mrs Roger Tempest.

see: Panoramio

see: Panoramio

While only 3 miles distant from the aforementioned Leck Hall, the Norths of Newton are not party to that Rural Solutions submission to the Yorkshire Dales inquiry; crucially, Newton Hall (top left) lies t’other side of the river. This house forms part of the densest concentration of country house work by ‘one of England’s greatest Victorian architectural practices’.

see: Stephen Armstrong

see: Stephen Armstrong

The Lancaster firm of Sharpe, Paley and Austin took up the baton from George Webster in the north-west of England. Prolific church builders, their imprint domestically is all over the Lune Valley. Four miles down river from Newton Hall stands Hornby Castle (r),
see: Karl&Ali/geograph

see: Karl&Ali/geograph

‘a superb piece of architectural scenery, given its present feudal appearance by Paley & Austin’. And in between lies Thurland Castle (l), ‘perhaps even better architecture..nearly everything that can be admired today is Paley & Austin’s work’.³ By now it will be apparent that Handed on has been busily distracting you with lots of pictures of houses…

…except of the one that this post is nominally about. Which is simply because, in this case, a glimpse over the hedge is unfortunately the best this blog can offer. (This book includes a photograph of the main front.)

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

‘Newton Hall is an excellent example of Paley and Austin’s Jacobethan work – not too big, with light, well-proportioned rooms.’¹ ‘Keeping the bones of a house built c.1678 for Oliver & Jane North, the effect of the irregular E-shaped plan is relaxed, not grand; the garden with its terrace and topiary is especially pleasing.’4 But if Newton is a comparitively modest, inconspicuous example of Paley and Austin’s…

…essays locally, what sets it apart is the fact that it remains the seat of a family who have held lands here for 500 years.

The present incarnation of Newton Hall was built in 1880 for Mr. North North who, as North Burton, ended a run of eight father-to-son inheritances when succeeding to the estates of his great-uncle, Richard Toulmin North, adopting the surname as per, ‘apparently with a straight face’.5 For the previous hundred years or so the principal seat had in fact been Thurland Castle just across the river, the family having upgraded during a burst of late-C18 prosperity. (The old Newton Hall was neglected during this period and eventually pulled down in the 1850s.) But a serious fire at the castle in 1879 occasioned a return ‘home’ and a double commission – restoring the castle prior to its sale, and the new Newton Hall – for the prolific Paley & Austin.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

Readers of the edition of The Times of March 17, 1938, would have encountered headlines such as ‘Nazi purge in Austria’ and ‘Hitler’s triumph in Berlin’. Meanwhile, elsewhere in that same issue was the conclusion to a week of extensive reporting from the High Court in the case of North v. North, being a challenge to the will of distinguished soldier Brig-Gen. Bordrigge North, late of Newton Hall, by his son and heir, Edward. Had the latter but the slightest intimation of the ultimate personal consequence of those ominous headlines from Europe he may not have vexed so about what were essentially secondary details of his father’s legacy (inheriting, in any event, the settled Newton Hall estate). The General had been perfectly ‘sound of mind’ determined a perplexed judge, dismissing the son’s claims to the contrary. On New Year’s Day, 1942, Major Edward Tempest Tunstall North, 41, would die on active service.

His was one of three premature deaths which were to affect the family’s male line in the last century. Another of these was Edward North’s own son, Richard, the 43-year-old father of the aforementioned Mrs Roger Tempest, now of Broughton Hall. And while it might be the innovative revitalisation of the latter that has been making the headlines so far this century, where Handed on is concerned it is the relatively invisible, unheralded feats of endurance exemplified by the likes of the Norths of Newton Hall that remain the real ‘country house survival’ story…

[Listing][Newton Business Centre]

¹ Robinson, JM. A guide to the country houses of the North-West, 1991.
² Lycett Green, C. The perfect English country house, 1991.
³ Robinson, JM. Houses of the Lune Valley, Country Life Jan 28/Feb 4, 1982.
4 Hartwell, C. and Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Lancs: North, 2009.
5 Garnett, E. The dated buildings of South Lonsdale, 2007.

One day early last month notice was posted of a vacancy in the role of PA to the editor of Country Life magazine. Also that same day BBC TV were giving the go-ahead for a three-part fly-on-the-wall documentary series looking behind the scenes at the venerable publication. Coincidence? Who knows. But the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame does seem likely to beckon for the new appointee as ‘Inside Country Life follows editor Mark Hedges and his team in the weekly magazine’s 117th year‘.

Over that century-plus Country Life‘s winning formula has remained largely unaltered, from the froth of the girls-with-pearls frontispiece to the invaluable significance of its chronicling of Britain’s heritage architecture and landscape. count4And not forgetting, of course, those property ads, the ‘country house porn’ which since the mid-1970s has comprised a sizeable chunk of the first half of each book (‘72 pages of propertyshouts this week’s cover!). Here Handed on is naturally conflicted, realising that today their presence must significantly underwrite the entire enterprise yet turning these pages with dread lest another one bites the dust.

For many, browsing the properties for sale section is pure lottery-win escapism and Country Life has occasionally indulged the pipe-dreams of representatives of the high-end estate agents who buy that space, inviting them to reveal the houses they have sold but secretly coveted. In 2010 the chap from Savills nominated Holywell Hall in Lincolnshire and an image of this splendid GII* listed house still sits atop the company’s webpage.

Holywell Hall has changed hands several times since it was sold in 1954 after two centuries of ownership by the Reynardson (later Birch Reynardson) family. The latter name lives on, however, in Oxfordshire at a house which might be suggested as the very acme of the Country Life property pages all-time no.1 bestseller: the plain-but-practically-proportioned Georgian box. But, while it may look every inch the oven-ready marketable proposition, this is one place which hasn’t changed hands for money since 1680.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

And – nothwithstanding the fact that the M40 motorway lies just half a mile down the lane – it’s not too difficult to see why, you’ll agree.

To Adwell House, comely seat of the Birch Reynardsons, ‘a lesser-known survivor among the few long-established landed dynasties still seated in the old county of Oxfordshire‘.¹ The Reynardson side of this pedigree stems from prosperous City merchant Sir Abraham Reynardson who would rise to become Lord Mayor of London in 1648. Which, as a staunch Royalist, was not great timing. Three months after the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 Abraham found himself in the Tower, deposed after refusing to proclaim the Parliamentary act abolishing ‘kingship’. At the Restoration in 1660 he was invited to resume the mayoralty but declined due to infirmity, dying a year later.

see: Richard Croft

see: Richard Croft

Despite having also incurred some heavy fines Reynardson passed on a sizeable fortune some of which his grandson Samuel would later spend giving his seat, Holywell Hall (r), its Georgian stamp. Samuel’s heir Jacob had four daughters the eldest of whom married General Thomas Birch who became ‘Birch Reynardson’ as a condition of succeeding to his father-in-law’s estate in 1812.

Meanwhile, in a remote corner of S-E Oxfordshire, Thomas Birch’s brother, John, would also be happy to oblige with a name change in 1846 when he became the beneficiary of the demise of the Newells of Adwell. Rewind back to c.1660 but to a world far removed from the heady politics and patronage of Abraham Reynardson’s last days in Restoration London, to the marriage of Anne Newell and Henry Franklin which united the clerical and landowning dynasties of the rural parish of Adwell. The Franklins would go on to have three daughters whose future interests in the Adwell estate would, over time, be bought out such that Anne’s brother, William Newell, would eventually become the lord of the manor. Their C17 house would be ‘Georgianised’ three generations later in the time of Elizabeth Newell, the last of the line.

source: ITV / YouTube

source: ITV / YouTube

Modest in scale and style, GII* listed Adwell House’s star turn is undoubtedly the ‘fine staircase of c.1820, over it a dome flanked by two ribbed half-domes’.² Toplit by a cupola with a dainty plasterwork band, Handed on‘s illustration comes via some suitably DCI Barnaby-like sleuthing…
see: Midsomer Murders

see: MidsomerMurders.org


… Adwell House being one of many properties in ‘Midsomer Murders country’ (aka the Chilterns) to have profited from the long-running TV detective series’ enduring popularity.
see: greenskydream

see: greenskydream

Twenty years after inheriting the estate, John Newell-Birch would die childless, passing Adwell to his nephew Henry Birch Reynardson, son of Thomas B R of Holywell Hall. Henry made his mark at Adwell, enlarging the house by adding the east wing and completely rebuilding the church of St. Mary in the grounds.

By the time his grandson Lt. Col. Henry B R returned from service in South Africa in the mid-1930s ‘half of the Adwell estate [had been] sold without his prior knowledge and certainly not with his consent’. But though a relatively small seat Adwell then still employed ‘five gardeners, a gamekeeper, butler, a footman, a chauffeur, three in the kitchen, four housemaids, a lady’s maid and dressmaker‘.³

And the Adwell estate community would undergo a startling sudden expansion one day in the autumn of 1939 when two double-decker London buses parked up on the forecourt. “What the devil are those bloody buses doing in our drive” shouted father‘, recalled William B R.³ ‘My mother went very quiet. She had quite forgotten that a year before she had volunteered to have up to 50 evacuees in the event of war but omitted to consult my father. He took the news badly [and] retired from the scene with a major sulk as mother took control.‘ (As remembered later in The Times, over the course of the war years and beyond ‘Diana Birch Reynardson changed the lives of these [two dozen] children, turning them – with only two exceptions – into the useful, happy men and women they are today‘.)4

see: Rare Plant Fare

see: Rare Plant Fare

Doubtless the evacuees had great times in the gardens at Adwell, the early C19 foundations of which have since been significantly developed and enhanced with many picturesque features. The grounds can be enjoyed on Adwell’s annual charity open day, this year Sunday 7 September (r).

The country garden or house visitation is, of course, a weekly staple of Country Life and hopefully some such will form part of that forthcoming TV series. Adwell has never featured in the magazine’s pages but if it ever does hopefully it will be at the ‘right’ end, a scene such as this one remaining entirely fictional…

source: ITV / YouTube

source: ITV / YouTube

[Adwell Estate][Fine images of house & gardens][Under Sheriff of Oxfordshire]

¹ Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Calm and serene at Adwell, The Field 19 Oct 1987.
² Sherwood, J. & Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1974.
³ Birch Reynardson, W. Letters to Lorna, 2008.
4 The Times 21 Dec 1962.

‘A gloomy mansion..situated in an opening on the side of a barren and frightful mountain. The scenery around this structure is in every way horrible, and suited to inspire melancholy.’

see: Helbeck Shoot

see: Helbeck Shoot

Crikey, thank goodness we’re not going there, then!

Plainly, Helbeck Hall (r) at the top of the northern Pennines was not showing at its best or perhaps Thomas Brown was breaking in a new pair of boots as he passed this way over 200 years ago compiling his UK gazeteer (‘a more full and accurate account than has ever been given‘). To the modern eye, however, all appears rather more favourable: ‘A pretty C18 Gothic house on the side the fells with exceptional views over the Eden Valley’.¹

For sale twice in the C19, ‘Helbeck is a beautiful rural estate handed down through many generations, my late father, His Honour Judge AJ Blackett-Ord CVO, inheriting in 1952,’ writes Ben Blackett-Ord. As the younger son this was a handy inheritance for Judge “Jim” (following the deaths of mother and daughter Audrey and Olive Breeks within three weeks of each other). At 3,500 acres Helbeck was but a fifth the size of the family’s Whitfield Estate 25 miles due north across the fells in Northumberland which would come to his brother John on the death of their father, also John, in 1967.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

An estate which has changed hands just once since 1167, the Whitfields of Whitfield enjoyed ‘a straight line of descent over six centuries’, long as tenants of Hexham Priory then subsequently as owners after the priory’s dissolution in 1537. Their eventual defaulting on a mortgage arrangement led to Whitfield coming onto the market in 1750 and it was snapped up by William Ord, then head of a family long prominent in the regional economic powerhouse of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.²

Including much land long since incorporated into that city, the Ord estates were ‘the product of the fortuitous marriages and investments [particularly in mining] of local attorney John Ord, and his descendants’. Fenham Hall, built in 1745, was their first grand statement and local builder-architect Robert Newton was favoured with much work on this and other Ord properties over many years. But by the time William Ord determined that a new house was in order for his property way out west at Whitfield it was Robert’s architect son William who had emerged as the county set’s go-to guy.

see: BBC Four

see: BBC Four

It was as the author of Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms (1776) – featured (but unattributed) by Suzy Klein only this month (r) in her BBC Four series ‘Rule Britannia! Music, Mischief and Morals in the 18th Century‘ – that William Newton made his name locally. Business boomed and he was soon winning out over the likes of James Paine for choice commissions such as Howick Hall, seat of the Greys since 1319.

Though Newton’s death in 1798 was little remarked and ‘no portrait of him is known, he was the most prolific architect in the North-East in the late C18’³ and ‘the list of his known works makes quite an impressive collection and is still growing’.4

see: Mike Quinn @ geograph

see: Mike Quinn @ geograph

‘On a commanding terrace amid fine park scenery but almost entirely concealed from the road by luxuriant foliage,’ it was noted in 1833 and this, at least, has changed little since Whitfield went up in 1785. But “the current hall is (sadly) not at all as William Newton intended,” laments present owner John H. Blackett-Ord. Conceived as a two-storey stone Georgian mansion…

see: Hexham Courant

see: Hexham Courant

…the five-bay S front (r) originally featured a pronounced pedimented central section before Whitfield was subjected to a substantial mid-C19 remodelling. All of the windows were altered and a balustrade now topped an added second storey: “It’s a shame, the Victorians never seemed to have enough room to fit in furniture and servants as I don’t think the alterations were “improvements”.5

But if the Hall is nothing much to write home about architecturally all that extra space did at least provide ample storage for a vast and remarkable cache of letters written to a daughter of the house in the first half of the C19.

source: Tom Moss / Border Reivers blog

source: Tom Moss / Border Reivers blog

Discovered in the attics of Whitfield Hall in 1900, the correspondence and other papers of Thomas Creevey (1768-1838) would not only vividly illuminate the London political life of the age but also yield unique details of one of the great victories in British military history. ‘His importance as a historical source is considerable’6 thanks in no small part to the assiduous Miss Elizabeth Ord who would transcribe Creevey’s ‘execrable’ hand.

A Liverpool-born lawyer, Thomas Creevey was an irrepressible, convivial political operator with an historically unfortunate sense of timing. His energetic networking in Whig circles seemed to have paid off doubly in 1802 when he won a seat in Parliament and married Mrs. Eleanor Ord, widow three years since of the builder of Whitfield Hall. But just as Creevey achieved ministerial status the Whigs were swept from power, not to return for twenty years. Various subsequent tribulations saw Creevey and his step-family relocate for a period to Brussels.

see source

see source

Brussels. 1815. Sunday 18 June. Napoleon, back for one last throw of le dice, approaches with his forces from the south. Late in the evening Col. Andrew Hamilton, aide to General Barnes (and who would marry Anne Ord the following year), bursts into the Ord quarters to declare that all is lost and they should flee immediately. ‘After a short consulation with Mrs Creevey‘, – as captured by Hoppner (l), seemingly not a woman to be messed with – ‘under all the circumstances of her ill health, and the confusion of flying from an army in the night, we determined to remain.

In the early hours Creevey ventured out and soon discovered that in fact it was the French forces which been routed at Waterloo. Later in the morning he joined the throng gathered by the Duke of Wellington’s quarters. ‘I saw the Duke alone at his window. Upon his recognizing me, he immediately beckoned me to come up’, he noted (an account amply corroborated). “It has been a damned serious business“, the legendary allied commander told Creevey, “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Exhumed from the recesses of Whitfield Hall, the Iron Duke’s sentiments are quite possibly still being echoed hereabouts since the estate shoot today offers some of the most challenging sport in the country: ‘Guns travel from far and wide to pit themselves against the distant dots in the sky…Whitfield sets the standard for high birds’. And, it could be added, for Duke of Wellington anecdotes…

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

[Listing][Whitfield Sporting][Stay at Whitfield]

¹ Robinson, J.M. A guide to the country houses of the north west, 1991.
² Dodds, J.F. Bastions and belligerents, 1999.
³ Wills, M. William Newton – an elusive practitioner, Archaeologica Aeliana, v.36, 2007.
4 Pevsner, N., Richmond, I., Grundy, J, McCombie, G. Northumberland, 2nd ed., 1992.
5 Dobson, H.G. Men of merit, 2006
6 Thomson, R.L. Dictionary of national biography: Missing persons, 1993.

PS. (1 May 2014) Having returned to England, Creevey and his step-daughters spent some years as tenants of Rivenhall Place in Essex. As featured at the business end of the latest edition of Country Life magazine, this G.II* mansion is presently for sale [details].

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.

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