Theories naturally include reference to the wonders of Egypt; no mention is made, however, of their four-sided, flat-topped European equivalents, those rather less well-known objects of intrigue that are the ancient pyramids of…Bosnia. Never heard of them? You’re not alone.
One person who definitely has, however, is the present squire of Thorpe Hall, Hugh Lillingston, whose diverse enthusiasms for, amongst other things, New Age philosophies and French cheese, have served to raise the profile of an otherwise quite obscure, centuries-old traditional family estate which lies some five miles N-E of Tamworth.Earlier this month Lillingston, a self-confessed ‘old hippy‘, was set to host a study trip to Bosnia via his agency Reality Engineering: ‘Whatever else the Pyramid of the Sun is doing, it is also generating a coherent 28 kilohertz electro-magnetic beam straight up from the centre and out through the apex. In other words the Pyramid is some kind of advanced machine that is still working. It appears to be sending a signal outside our solar system.‘ Not everyone is convinced, of course. Where some perceive thrilling evidence of an advanced ancient civilisation, others see merely ‘a big hill.’
Lillingston is also an advocate of neurolinguistic programming – self-help through positive thinking – directly inspiring initiatives such as the Warrior Programme charity. Emerging from the self-styled Thorpe Institute, Reality Engineering is surely one of the more unlikely examples of rural estate diversification. Artisanal cheese-making may seem less so…
…though back in the mid-80s when Lillingston conceived his Staffordshire chevre it too was innovative in its own way (and the goats were played Mozart). This enterprise – whose signature product the Innes Button is a two-time blue riband winner at the the British Cheese Awards (and remains, Handed on can attest, sublime bordering on sinful) – is now owned by his collaborators-in-curd, the estate-based Bennett family, but retains in name at least an association with its founder…
…who was actually born Hugh Inge-Innes-Lillingston. And it is the first of that rather unwieldy trinity which has the oldest roots here, being the name of Richard Inge, son-in-law of wealthy Leicester vintner William Ives who had acquired the Thorpe estate in 1631 – the last time that this place changed hands by sale.
The first incarnation of Thorpe Hall was erected by Richard’s son, William, in 1651. The winds of change towards classicism which began to influence country house design during the Commonwealth would take some time to blow through this corner of the Midlands where Inge opted for the popular Dutch style, taking his cue from the likes of, well, Kew. The latter’s middle gable strongly resembles Thorpe’s matching set of three, all of which were to be lopped off five generations later when the house was Georgianised by William Phillips Inge (d.1838).The now stuccoed five-bay original centre would be gradually complemented by early-C19 lower wings as ‘the old manor expanded into a spanking mansion three times its former size.’¹ The interior was similarly modernised to include a ‘delightful’² cantilevered staircase (below) not unlike a contemporaneous flight to be found at… …Thorpe’s centuries-long next-door neighbour, Statfold Hall. (As previously featured, Statfold is the seat of the Pipe-Wolferstans, several of whom are in fact interred at the Thorpe estate church of St. Constantine which stands hard by the house.)
In the latter half of the C20 the parents of the present owner carried out further significant restoration and remodelling. The N-E facade would be re-established as the entrance while ‘the balustrading in the gardens came from Drayton Manor.’¹
The afternoon of Saturday 4 February, 1903 saw a solemn gathering in the library at Thorpe Hall where a formal inquest was convened into the sudden demise, at his own hand, of the then squire. 39-year-old William Inge had prematurely curtailed a day’s hunting with the Atherstone; his body was later discovered in a cowshed en route back to the house. Among those called at the inquiry was Poole, the butler – then but half way through a 59-year career on the staff at Thorpe – who produced a damaged riding crop and lash found at the scene.³All but two of the tragic squire’s predecessors, back to mid-C17, had shared his name but there were to be no more William Inges at Thorpe. Leaving behind three daughters, his death would usher in those subsequent hyphenations as the property descended in the female line through the last century. None of which affected the estate’s enduring association with the Atherstone Hunt, however, a relationship which was celebrated on the occasion of the pack’s bicentenary last year with a meet – and speeches – at the Hall.
As it has for 365 years, Thorpe ‘stands splendidly erect surveying from its low rising ground the wide scene E and W,’ much of which comprises the 3,000-acre estate straddling the Warwickshire border. But the horizons being contemplated at Thorpe these days stretch way beyond these fields. And while embodying a history of continuity remarkable to most, it’s an inheritance the present incumbent might now consider to be but a mere trifle in the greater scheme of things..[Listing][Archive]
¹ Montgomery-Massingberd, H. The Field 2 Aug 1986.
² Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Staffordshire, 1974.
³ Tamworth Herald 14 Feb 1903.
4 Thorold, H. Staffordshire: A Shell guide, 1978.