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.“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 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′. 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”. 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. 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.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’. 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), ‘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.)‘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.
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…
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.