Emerald turf beneath my tread,
Soft gray mist around my head;
Salt the breeze, the air how sweet,
Where the Esk and Eden meet!

– Millicent von Boeselager, Songs of Solway1

At the confluence of those two grand rivers lies the Solway Firth, a wild, dynamic expanse of estuary, mudflats and marsh, its detail restlessly redrawn by the tidal ebb and flow. Entering from the north, the Esk carries cartographic significance, its meandering channel emphasised by the dashes and crosses symbolizing the border between England and Scotland.


see: James Smith/Vimeo

The historic territorial skirmishes between these two nations is recalled on southerly Burgh Marsh where stands an isolated monument (r) to the Hammer of the Scots, King Edward I, marking the place of his expiry en route to another run-in with Robert the Bruce. ‘Burgh is only one of the great salt marshes of the Cumbrian Solway; the biggest and most important for wildlife is Rockcliffe Marsh’…

… a verdant swathe topped and tailed by the Esk and Eden. With vast transient populations of waders and over-wintering geese this marsh is a sanctuary of international import, its status derived in no small part from the fact Rockcliffe, ‘unlike Burgh, has always been kept a strictly private place by its owners, the Mounsey-Heyshams of Castletown House’.2


see: Castletown Estate

“Our USP is the inland saline lagoon. We have just had two pairs of avocet adults producing five chicks, which is a first for Cumbria,” revealed present owner Giles Mounsey-Heysham just last month…


see: Yorkshire Post

… in the course of accepting the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Tye Trophy for 2017, an award commending conservation measures in farming across the north of England. This is but the latest recognition for Rockcliffe Marsh, ‘the single largest expanse of saltmarsh in the Solway Coast AONB‘ and land which constitutes a significant proportion of the 4,000-acre Castletown Estate.


see: Ann Lingard

The marsh has been formally ‘stinted’ – grazed by arrangement – since divisive Articles of Agreement signed in 1769 which excluded those living in the eastern half of Rockcliffe parish. Before neutral arbitration prevailed this perceived injustice looked set to be compounded by the enclosure process of 1805, the prime mover of which was Rockcliffe’s newest and biggest landowner, Robert Mounsey, of Mounsey & co., solicitors, of nearby Carlisle.

Now the saltmarshes of Solway are a by-product of evolving river flow – but what Mother Nature giveth she also taketh away. And no-one would be more sensitive to this locally than William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (d.1872), the owner of Burgh Marsh on the opposite bank of the Eden. In 1864, citing erosion protection, his Lordship began the construction of a brick jetty 100 yards in length. He swiftly faced court action by the Mounseys who claimed the jetty ‘would force the current to the other side of the river and wash away the plaintiff’s land’.3


see: Bing Maps

Years of legal proceedings ensued, Castletown’s case aided by the family firm and the Earl losing expensively at every turn. As the saga played out one irony was doubtless not lost on either party: For the rise of Mounseys from humble origins a century before to county prominence as lawyers and landowners had its roots in the benevolence of the Lowther estate.

Thirty miles south of Rockcliffe, on the bounds of vast Lowther Castle park, lies the village of Askham where Robert Mounsey’s grandfather (also Robert) was born in 1696. The following year Viscount Lonsdale endowed a grammar school on his estate where young Robert would later thrive, subsequently entering the church and serving as vicar of Ravenstonedale for several decades.

Rising from a junior position in the office of the Registrar of the Diocese of Carlisle, law proved to be the metier of Robert’s son, George, who would later establish Mounsey & co., subsequent generations developing the firm and its stranglehold on diocesan legal affairs. With his wife, Margaret, George Mounsey produced fourteen children several of whom would be placed in the care of wet nurses outside of town, third son Robert being sent a few miles north to the village of Rockcliffe.

The Mounsey family’s proliferation mirrored that of Carlisle itself at this time, the town experiencing a cotton-printing boom. By the turn of the 19th century Carlisle’s cadre of middle-class movers and shakers were ready to upgrade to the league of country gentlemen, the aspriation of Messrs Mounsey (law), Ferguson (mills) and Hodgson (banking) seemingly spurred on by the timely arrival in town of the new county surveyor for Cumberland.


see: Google Maps

On the recommendation of renowned engineer/architect Thomas Telford, Peter Nicholson arrived in 1808 from Glasgow where he had recently completed Carlton Place (r), ‘the most chaste and elegant of the buildings which grace the Clyde’. An accomplished craftsman and draftsman, Nicholson’s main driver was education, his peripatetic career being something of a one-man mission to instill…


see source


see: NPG

… ‘with as much perspicuity as possible’, the discipline of mathematics into the art and craft of architecture. Already author of several manuals of innovative instruction, Nicholson would leave Carlisle for London after just two years in post to continue publishing and teaching, but not before he had essayed a clutch of Classical villas to the north of the town for his aspirant clientele.

All three houses – within three or four miles of one another, their construction overseen by Nicholson’s partner, architect William Reid – were variations on a theme: two-storey, five-bay principal blocks flanked by subordinate pedimented wings. Houghton House for William Hodgson (below, left) features a ‘delightful cast-iron veranda and a beautiful little octagonal library’4


see: Historic England


see: Historic England

… while at the Fergusons’ Harker Lodge nearby a broad fan-light crowns a recessed entrance, the pavilions being explicitly remote.

But the largest and perhaps most successful composition of this trinity was achieved at Rockcliffe for Robert Mounsey on the land which he had acquired in 1802.


see: tauck.com

That Castletown House could be described back in 1989 as ‘a remarkable early-C19th survivor .. still lived in by its original family’ is surely testament to the toll of ancestral seats over the past one hundred years.5 For, by the standard of most of the houses hitherto considered here, Grade II* listed Castletown is positively a young ‘un, but it’s an original house built on a virgin site and mercifully little-altered.


see: PhotoCumbria/Instagram

Completed in 1811, ‘Castletown sits in a spectacular location’ overlooking the Eden (the attraction of which may have palled somewhat just the following year when the Mounseys’ second son, ten-year-old Robert, drowned whilst bathing in the river).


see: JFitzpatrick Travel

As at Houghton and Harker Lodge, the central section of the original entrance front of Castletown House stands proud of its (here two-storeyed and, in the west, bow-ended) wings. ‘The short links are canted back, which jars a little but allows the apsidal ends of the main rooms to be lit.’4


Country Life5

Two-column screens emphasise these apses in the dining room (below) and drawing room, the intervening hallway (featuring a decorative plasterwork ceiling) being similarly defined. An elegantly trim cantilevered staircase rises beyond.


Hugh Palmer/The Field (detail)10

‘Much of the furniture is of the same date as the house.’5 Externally, the portico comprises square pillars featuring locally novel incised decoration ‘characteristic of John Soane’s work at the Bank of England’ in the last years of the eighteenth century when Peter Nicholson was first in London.6


see: Historic England

Either side (with flanking louvred shutters) are elongated ground floor windows, all the better to maximise the carefully selected southerly vista. However, while they might afford fine views out they do, of course, allow others to readily see in.

In a Grecian or Italian edifice, it may be essential that the entrance occupy the centre of one of the fronts; in which case, I think it equally essential that the living rooms should not be on the same front. On the contrary, we frequently see the entrance on the south front, and the drawing room or library exposed to the gaze of the servants from the carriage, whilst the windows, which should have opened upon the embellishments of a terrace or pleasure ground, look upon a sweep of glaring gravel.’


see: Historic England

The opinions of painter William Sawrey Gilpin who in later years would apply his aesthetic sensibilities in the role of landscape consultant. He averred that two-thirds of the houses he had seen were ‘spoiled’ by such inattention and urged reorientation wherever practicable.


see: Britain From the Air

Though he died the year after Robert Mounsey, Gilpin is known to have worked at Castletown7 – the terrace above a dwarf wall is a typical motif – and may have sown the seed for the house being ‘turned round’ by Mounsey’s son 1851-2. Castletown was deepened to incorporate the inset Doric portico of the new north entrance (above).


see: Google Maps

The project was overseen by architect James Stewart whom George Gill Mounsey (d.1874) also employed in the building of new churches at Rockcliffe and on family land at Gilsland Spa (r) 22 miles east on the Cumbria / Northumberland border…

… where a large hotel enterprise would also be redeveloped. This burst of building activity followed the death of three-time Carlisle mayor Mounsey’s wife, Isabella Heysham, the daughter of the town’s leading medic, Dr. John Heysham, a pioneer in the treatment of the disease-ridden local poor.

The Mounseys’ second son, George, became Mounsey-Heysham upon inheriting the estate of his uncle, James Heysham, in 1871. By the time he also came into Castletown House ten years later (his elder brother Robert dying unmarried at 52) George was well-established practicing law in London and raising a family in Kensington. His only son, also George, a soldier and solicitor in the family firm, would also be unmarried at the time of his death in 1928. Castletown now passed to Richard, the son of his eldest sister (Agnes, wife of Capt. Richard Gubbins), who had been orphaned a decade earlier and until attaining his majority enjoyed the singular guardianship of his aunt, Sybil Mounsey-Heysham.

‘A unique and vivid character of whom people would say quite matter-of-factly that she ought to have been a man,’ Sybil already had experience in teenage mentoring having previously taken a young Olave Soames – later wife of Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, and the driving spirit of Girlguiding – under her wing. Olave ‘stayed at Castletown as often as she could’, coming to regard unconventional Sybil – ‘reputedly one of the three best duck shots in the country’ and an enthusiastic violinist – as ‘an example and an inspiration’.8


see: StatelyHomeNews

Richard Gubbins-Mounsey-Heysham left three children by his second wife, Margaret Barne, at his death in 1960. The eldest daughter would marry into the Howard/Lawson family of Corby Castle (r), another Peter Nicholson house on the banks of the river Eden, some 15 miles upstream of Castletown on the other side of Carlisle. Regarded as ‘his masterpiece’, Grade I Corby has had an ill-starred recent past.9 Its sale out of the family after 400 years in 1994 led to an acrimonious courtroom saga driven by Sir John Howard-Lawson’s son and ‘heir’; the multi-millionaire industrialist purchaser would perish in a helicopter crash ten years later.

In marked contrast to such drama, for most of the past half-century Castletown has known the constant stewardship of its seventh (and longest-serving) squire, a man of many hats, and long-married to Penelope Twiston-Davies, sister of leading National Hunt racehorse trainer, Nigel. And the suggestion of continuity would be there from the outset of Giles Mounsey-Heysham’s ownership: ‘On his twenty-first birthday, in the best feudal tradition, the tenants on the estate presented him with the lodge gates to Castletown House.’10


see: Google Maps

[Castletown Estate][Rockcliffe Marsh Nature Reserve]

1. nee Mounsey-Heysham, Millicent. A book of verses, 1914.
2. Ratcliffe, D. Lakeland, 2002.
3. Carlisle Journal 25 Oct 1864.
4. Hyde, M., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cumbria, 2010.
5. Worsley, G. Castletown House, Cumberland, Country Life 7 Sept 1989.
6. Taylor, A. The dukeries of Carlisle, Country Life 21 Aug 1989.
7. Piebenga, S. William Sawrey Gilpin: Picturesque improver, Garden History, Vol.22, No.2, 1994.
8. Jeal, T. Baden-Powell, 1989.
9. Robinson, JM. A guide to the country houses of the North-West, 1991.
10. Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Surveying the future at Castletown, The Field 12 Jan 1985.

Completely out of the blue one autumn day in 1872 Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton, 11th baronet, was informed that he had been bequeathed an eighteenth-century mansion, Henley Hall in Shropshire (below), together with its landed estate in the will of a recently deceased neighbour, Mr. John Knight. Being already squire of his own handsome ancestral pile – Downton Hall just to the north – Sir Charles’s surprise at this turn of events was as nothing compared to that of Knight’s three appalled adult sons who quickly set about mounting a legal challenge to have the will set aside.


see: Imsweddings

Relaxed and somewhat nonplussed about the whole business, Sir Charles duly submitted to the process which saw a jury in the Court of Probate successfully persuaded of the proposition that Knight, labelled ‘a capricious, morose recluse’, had edged from mere eccentricity into insanity. Testimony that he ‘seldom dressed till the middle of the day’ and was ‘fond of listening to German bands’ and cruelly pranking his servants was of perhaps less significance than a landmark judgement from a generation before in convincing the jury that Knight’s legacy was indeed perverse.

For Sir Charles, the court was reminded, ‘was the descendant of a person who in 1840, in consequence of a decision of the Court of Chancery, had come into the possession of a [separate] magnificent estate which had previously belonged to the Knight family and had ever since been in the possession of the Boughtons’. (The Boughton baronetcy, meanwhile, had descended, as we shall also see, from Sir Charles’s great-grandfather via a sensational – and retrospectively dubious – murder trial and execution.)

So the Knights duly retained Henley Hall (at least for a short time before selling). But, while the Rouse-Boughton baronetcy is now extinct, the Downton Hall estate – a Grade II* house sitting at the heart of ‘5,500 acres of breathtakingly beautiful Shropshire countryside’1 – remains with Sir Charles’s descendants having passed only by inheritance and marriage down more than three centuries. Always private, the late-C20th death of the reclusive last of the direct line revealed a veritable time capsule, with exquisite rooms ‘no-one had been in for 50 years’.


While the Rouse-Boughton name may be that most associated with Downton Hall, it is not there now nor was it there at the beginning. In the latter part of the C17, funded by income from legal services, the Wredenhall, Pearce and Shepherd/Hall families had begun acquiring parcels of land north-east of Ludlow, separately but sometimes together. Intermarriage would further coalesce their interests. In 1726 sergeant-at-law William Hall devised his property in trust to create an inheritance for the use of his sister, Elizabeth Shepherd, who had married Wredenhall Pearce in 1722. Several generations of asset consolidation was reaching critical mass: a statement country seat was soon called for.


see: Jeremy Bolwell @ geograph

‘On a magnificent hilltop site looking eastward to Titterstone Clee,’ Pearce upgraded the house of his grandfather, Richard Wredenhall, to a fine mansion of local brick and stone quoins.2 Downton’s three-storey, nine-bay east facade with projecting wings was the work of William Smith, Jnr., and very much in keeping with the foursquare house style of the prolific Midlands practice established by his father Francis and his namesake uncle.

In 1760 the south front would undergo another signature makeover this time at the hands of local architect/engineer Thomas Farnolls Pritchard at the behest of Wredenhall Pearce’s son and heir, William Pearce Hall.


see: Sue Bremner

A narrow, pedimented entrance doorway was introduced between characteristic full-height canted bays, a demure exterior belying the exuberant delights within. For Pritchard had dug into his contacts book, most likely calling in trusty Italian stuccatore to produce the ‘magnificent mid-C18th interiors [which remain] largely intact’.2

One young American visitor to Downton, writing home to her family a century on, was suitably impressed with their achievements: ‘Lunch was served in a very fine room…


see source


Country Life7

… they say altogether more beautifully embellished than any other dining room in the area. Some admirable portraits are inserted into the walls, and around them are white plaster frames in relievo corresponding to other ornamental work. The whole produces a beautiful, and to me novel, effect.’


Country Life


Country Life

Bigger and better yet is the saloon where, beneath ‘a large ceiling oval encircled by a vine wreath’2, hand-carved ‘trophies of the chase and music appear, united to pendants of flowers and oak-leaf festoons’.3 This decoration continues in the passage and also adorns the stair.

Now with sufficient means any amount of finery might be acquired; improved social status was generally harder to come by. However, in the same year that Pritchard had been contracted to enhance Downton, another country seat some 75 miles east in Warwickshire had welcomed the arrival of a son and heir to a venerable estate and a baronetcy created in 1641. It was a title soon destined for Downton Hall as a consequence of the controversial premature demise of Sir Theodosius Boughton, 7th Bt., in 1781.


see source

Twenty-year-old Theodosius lived at Lawford Hall (r), near Rugby, with his mother, sister and brother-in-law Capt. John Donellan. The young baronet’s somewhat feckless, impulsive nature did not augur well for the family fortune of which he would shortly be master. Just months before he attained his majority an ailing Theodosius was administered a draught, ostensibly medicinal, by his mother. Two days later he was dead.

Days of fevered speculation about the cause of the young Sir’s death prompted a public exhumation and autopsy in the churchyard at Newbold-on-Avon, traditional resting place of the Boughton line. Certain cadaverous odours, combined with the reportedly suspicious behaviour of Donellan (whose wife now stood to benefit) led to the latter’s arraignment at Warwick Crown Court before notorious ‘hanging’ judge, Justice Buller. Though the evidence against Boughton’s brother-in-law was entirely circumstantial, judge and jury lost little time in finding Donellan guilty of murder by poisoning and he was hanged within days, protesting his innocence to the end.

Meanwhile, over in Herefordshire, one particular gentleman could not disguise his delight at the turn of events. “Wonderful news,” wrote Edward Boughton, a distant relative of the ‘victim’ upondowntonaaroom2 learning that he, as eldest surviving great-grandson of the 4th baronet, now assumed the title. (This whole affair would be recounted at Downton, left, in a 2010 edition of the BBC celebrity genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?)

Sir Edward – lamented as ‘indolent’ by his mother yet whose memorial records a man ‘of inviolable honour and integrity’ – died in 1794, unmarried but the father of several daughters by a maid-servant, to the eldest of whom he left the family’s Poston Court estate. His brother Charles, though slighted by this act, duly became the ninth baronet and was hardly destitute having already married Catherine, only daughter and sole heiress of William Pearce Hall of Downton Hall.


I now consider myself bound in Honour, as well as urged by Affection, to declare that my Inclination, my Attachment, my high Opinion of your Merits remain unaltered.’

downtonaaChasA somewhat stilted declaration from Charles Boughton whose object was not, on this occasion, Catherine Pearce of Downton but his first love, Charlotte Clavering whom Charles had encountered during thirteen years at the anvil of empire in India. Theirs would be a protracted, long-distance relationship complicated by the influence of variously-motivated third parties. Ultimately rebuffed upon his return to England the thwarted suitor soon entered parliament as Charles Boughton-Rouse, MP for Evesham (having previously inherited the Worcestershire estate of Rous Lench from a distant cousin, Thomas Phillips-Rouse).

I have a clear £1,500 a year to spend. Debts I have none. Even the expenses of my late Election are completely satisfied. I shall wait with the most anxious impatience to learn that the Alliance I propose is favoured with your approbation.”


see source

All of which was music to the ears of William Pearce Hall, by this time a man with debts aplenty who would gladly hand over not just his daughter Catherine – Boughton-Rouse’s new object of desire (captured, left, in a full-length portrait of 1785 by George Romney) – but also his Downton Hall estate as swiftly as matters could be arranged.4 Having reasserted his family name on inheriting the Boughton baronetcy after the death of his brother in 1794, Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton died in 1821 leaving three daughters and a son William who, rather extraordinarily, managed to pull off the same trick as his father in marrying a ‘Downton’ heiress, albeit inadvertently.


see: Stonebrook Publishing

Eight miles south-west of Downton Hall, over the border into Herefordshire, stands Downton Castle (r), the singular Picturesque creation of aesthete Richard Payne Knight. Oddly, having invested so thoroughly, Payne Knight tired of his romantic project soon after its completion, entrusting the Castle to his brother Thomas Andrew Knight and thereafter, apparently, to his heirs male. Alas, Thomas Knight’s son would die in a shooting accident in 1827, three years after the marriage of his youngest sister Charlotte to Sir William Rouse-Boughton.

A two-year legal case followed Thomas Knight’s death in 1838, a male member of the extended Knight family contesting Sir William’s claim that Thomas’s property could indeed now flow to his daughter. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, a ruling which would see Downton Hall and Downton Castle, and all the land between, united in the same direct ownership for the next sixteen years. (The landmark judgement in Knight vs Knight ‘is still applied by the courts today in order to determine the validity of a trust’.)


see: Historic England

It was an expanded empire of which the court victor became excessively proud, as the aforementioned young American visitor discovered in the course of a personal tour of the estate in 1852. Her party were taken on rail carriages deep into the candlelit quarries beneath Clee Hill (which had been initiated with the proviso ‘that the workings shall not be visible from Downton Hall’): ‘The whole work we were expected to consider very wonderful – and so it was.’

But its seems a little of the 10th baronet – ‘a large, stout, red-faced, white-haired gouty old gentleman’ – went a long way. ‘At dinner I sat on Sir William’s right. He talked enough for a dozen, and I was frightened at my proximity to him, for his great object is to pump everyone to see how little they know and show how much he knows. I must admit that I think Sir William a humbug and a great tyrant.’


see: cloud9photography

A dim view of the squire could not dent an admiration for the attractions of Downton Hall, however: ‘[From] an exquisitely picturesque gate and lodge you gradually ascend a range of hills through an avenue two miles long. How can I convey the glorious scene which breaks upon you as you approach the house..the beautiful vision of the valley beneath.’ (That south lodge is just one of three including in the west ‘an untouched example () of that composite Jacobean-Gothick which flourished in the West Midlands in the 1760s: provincial, unscholarly, picturesque and paper thin’.5)


see: Google Maps

In the year of Sir William’s marriage to Charlotte Knight (a precocious horticulturalist recognized for creating ‘one of the greatest cherries we have’) local architect Edward Haycock was commissioned to design a new entrance on the west side of Downton Hall (). Executed in trademark Greek Revival style, a one-storey colonnade precedes a ‘circular vestibule, shallow-domed and top-lit with Ionic columns carrying a continuous entablature’.2


BBC/Who Do You Think You Are?

In ponderous Victorian fashion, a stone balustrade incorporating the family motto in latin would be introduced atop the south and east elevations by their son, Sir Charles, 11th Bt. (d.1906), during the course of his fifty-year tenure as squire of Downton. (Downton Castle, meanwhile, had passed to his younger brother, Andrew Rouse-Boughton-Knight, descending in that line until finally being sold in 1979.)


see: Equipix

Equine pursuits would come to dominate affairs on the estate through the twentieth century. ‘Downton Hall is one of those homes that exudes fox-hunting,’ Major Sir Edward Rouse-Boughton (d. 1963) having established the North Ludlow here between the wars. This pack was later amalgamated with the Ludlow Hunt of which Lady Rouse-Boughton and their only child, Mary, would be joint-masters between 1952 and 1973.6

Though given a coming out ball at Claridge’s in the debs’ season of 1935, and a society wedding bridesmaid at least twice, the last baronet’s daughter would never marry. ‘After her mother’s death [in 1976] Miss Mary lived all alone in a single room of the lovely red-brick Georgian house. The other rooms, kept so tightly shuttered that their plastered and gilded walls are amazingly well preserved, are a time-warp back to another, more gracious age.’7


see: MERL

Mary Rouse-Boughton died in 1991. In the stable tack room a two-bar electric fire had been left on continuously for twenty years ‘in case Miss Mary’s saddles should get damp’.7 To meet death duties the Romney portrait (above) of Catherine, Lady Rouse-Boughton – ‘the finest and most valuable of that richly furnished house’s treasures’8 – was given to the nation and hangs here. (The whereabouts of another portrait also commissioned by her husband Sir Charles of his prize pig is not known.)


see: Audra Jervis

The entire Downton Hall estate was bequeathed to Mary’s great-nephew Michael ‘Micky’ Wiggin who, having ‘no idea what to do with it’, promptly invited three-time Grand National-winning racehorse trainer Capt. Tim Forster to relocate his stables there. This arrangement continues today under their respective successors, the present owner of Downton being also regional partner at a high-end estate agency yet whose own house has, ironically, never itself been sold…


1. Sunday Times, 10 March 1996.
2. Newman, J., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
3. Ayscough, A., Jourdain, M. Country house baroque, 1941.
4. Fielding, M. The indissoluble knot? Public and private representations of men and marriage 1770-1830, thesis, 2012.
5. Mowl, T., Earnshaw, B. Trumpet at a distant gate, 1985.
6. Country Life, 26 February 1976.
7. Daily Telegraph, 6 January 1995.
8. Tipping, H.A. Country Life, 21 July 1917.
See also:
Reid, P. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses, Vol.II, 1980.
Ionides, J. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard of Shrewsbury, 1999.
Ionides, J., Howell, P. The old houses of Shropshire in the C19th: the watercolour albums of Frances Stackhouse Acton, 2006.

The Reverend Edmund Luttrell Stuart died in 1869 aged 71 having been for many years rector of the tiny rural parish of Winterbourne Houghton in deepest Dorset. In marked contrast to this outwardly modest existence – ‘a country parson, holding a living of 158 pounds a year’1 – not one, not two but all three of his sons would succeed to an earldom dating from 1562, sundry other titles, and houses and acres galore some six hundred miles north. It was a family destiny altered by the failing of an aristocratic direct line described as ‘almost without parallel in the British Peerage’.2


The good reverend’s own father Archibald Stuart had in fact missed out on the very same inheritance only by a matter of minutes, his twin brother Francis eventually succeeding as the 10th Earl of Moray in 1810. By such twists of birth – and one particular generation’s spectacular lack thereof – 50-year-old John Douglas Stuart (r) stands today ennobled as the 21st Earl of Moray, Lord Abernethy, Lord Strathdearn, Lord Doune, Lord St. Colme and Baron Stuart of Castle Stuart. When the 17th earl died in 1930 he could boast almost as many country houses as he had titles. Some have since been repurposed or sold but the Moray property portfolio remains considerable including two wholly private mansions which lie at the heart of estates held by this family over many centuries.


see: Colin Mathieson

Foremost historically has been the remote fastness of Darnaway Castle, still today enveloped by ‘an extent of woodland which as surrounding the residence of any gentleman in Scotland is, perhaps, unexampled‘. The most renowned element of this Grade A house is its medieval Great Hall featuring, a full ninety feet above the ground, ‘the earliest surviving roof of its type in Britain’. Known also as Randolph’s Hall, this space – ‘said to be capable of holding 1,000 men-at-arms’ – is the last remnant of an embattled past, the earldom of Moray and its concomitant estates having long been a prize worth fighting for.



see: Canmore

In the tumultuous turf warfare of Scotland’s early history the earldom of Moray was a strategic reward which frequently reverted to the gift of the Crown. It was first created by King Robert the Bruce for his nephew and ally Thomas Randolph in 1312. However, dendochronology dates the hammer-beam roof (left) of Darnaway’s Great Hall to 1387 by which time the title and its attendant property had been freshly bestowed upon Randolph’s grandson, John Dunbar (d. 1391).

By the mid-C16 the earldom was held by George Gordon, already the 4th Earl of Huntly. But the machinations of Mary, Queen of Scots would initiate the present Moray line in 1562 when she relieved Gordon of his second title in favour of her half-brother, James Stewart, one of the many illegitimate sons of King James V of Scotland. This (fifth) iteration of the Moray earldom has endured despite the most inauspicious of beginnings, earls one and two both being sensationally murdered.


c.1561 (@Darnaway; see source)

An ambitious man ‘blighted by bastardy’, James Stewart’s loyalty to his half-sister was tested to breaking point by Mary’s car-crash marriages after the tragic loss of her first husband, Francis, Dauphin of France.3 One month on from her forced abdication, in August 1567 Stewart would be declared Regent – de facto King – in the stead of Mary’s one-year-old son, James. The Earl of Moray’s ‘reign’ was not wildly popular but his regard soared almost overnight when on January 21, 1570 he gained the unwelcome distinction of becoming the first recorded victim of assassination by gunshot.


see: Historic Scotland

Violent death would also be the popular making of Stewart’s successor, his son-in-law James Stuart who ‘on his marriage acquired in some way which has never been made clear the dignity of Earl of Moray’.4 The marriage in 1581 of his 13-year-old son to the 15-year-old daughter of ‘the Good Regent’ had been a personal coup for another James Stuart, the master of Doune Castle (r) in Perthshire (who would be ennobled as Lord Doune the same year). Alas, the 2nd Earl of Moray was exasperatingly different from his canny father: ‘The advancement he reveled in, the constraints of marriage he ignored.’3 Though fathering five children, Moray routinely neglected his wife and the Darnaway estate in favour of familiar territory at Doune almost 150 miles south.


see: James Innes & Son

Although ruinous from the turn of the eighteenth century, Doune Castle remained the possession of the earls of Moray until the 1980s and is today managed as a heritage attraction by Historic Scotland. But the Moray Estate still includes the Doune Park estate of more than 12,000 acres, with extensive (vestigial) gardens and an early-C19 house, Doune Lodge (left).


see: Peter Herbert

Developed in front of a long two-storey C18 range, the plain classical mansion with its three-bay Doric portico and ‘simple, distinctive interior’ (left) is rather upstaged by the remote stable block.5 ‘A spectacular palace for horses,’ the main facade of this quadrangular edifice with its hipped roofed pavilions and central octagonal steeple can be clearly seen from the bounds of the private parkland.6


see: Google Maps

The standing of the wayward 2nd earl was somewhat undermined by the death of his well-born wife in 1591. Early the following year a combination of monarchical insecurity and hereditary enmity lead to Moray’s fatal ambush by the 6th Earl (later 1st Marquess) of Huntly and his cohorts at Donibristle House, his mother’s home on north shore of the Firth of Forth.


see: Sing Out!

A lifesize painting of the young earl’s disfigured cadaver (commissioned by his mother and sent to the King) now hangs behind screens in the Great Hall of Darnaway Castle having been rediscovered a century ago at Donibristle.

Remarkably, James Stuart, son and heir of ‘the Bonnie Earl‘ would eventually wed the daughter of his father’s killer, a peace-making alliance encouraged by King James. The 3rd earl ‘was a quiet unobtrusive man, who neither courted nor attained notoriety’ (and indeed for the next one hundred years the Moray line continued relatively peaceably). But James did make his mark, not least with the building of Castle Stuart on the Moray Firth north-east of Inverness in 1625. Latterly repurposed as a hotel and championship golf course, Castle Stuart remains a significant element of the modern estate.


see: Squawking7000


see: MyInstaScotland

And, despite its grizzly association, Donibristle never fell from favour. In the early part of the C18 the 6th Earl of Moray decided to build a large new house on the site, the original L-shaped wings and grand gates of which stand today before a reconstructed main block. The earl and his next four successors were laid to rest in the contemporaneous mortuary chapel; today both buildings are surrounded by the suburbia of Dalgety Bay, a 1960s/70s ‘newtown’ development promoted by the 19th earl.


see: Yale Pevsner Guides

Francis Stuart, 9th Earl of Moray would return the family focus back to Darnaway, replacing the crumbling stone tower house with the ‘huge pile of princely appearance’ which stands today.


see: Canmore

The mass of the 11-bay north-facing castellated main facade is interrupted by a raised entrance with Gothic windows: ‘The overall effect is undeniably imposing but achieved through uniformity rather than architectural sophistication.’7 In the south the roof of the Great Hall was preserved upon new sandstone ashlar walls centrally perpendicular to the new main block by architect Alexander Laing.


see: BBC / YouTube

As glimpsed (but not identified) in 2014 BBC TV series The Secret History of Our Streets, ‘the interior is very fine .. with few material changes since 1812’.7 The first floor entrance hall (left) is dominated by a screen of four Corinthian pillars and a profusion of portraits from ‘one of the UK’s finest private art collections’.
Separate staircases service the east and west wings and feature, like all of Darnaway’s principal spaces, much fine decorative plasterwork. At the rear to the west a quadrant links to an eight-bay service wing (see above).

Amidst a designed landscape of some 2,800 acres and with far-reaching vistas to the coast, in its precipitous setting Darnaway has been adjudged ‘even more magnificent in point of situation than it is handsome and beautiful in structure’.


see: Reg Stuart


see: Yvonne Whyte

Long private approaches from the east and west (r) are sentineled by substantial mid-C19 lodges and ‘highly impressive contemporary gates’.7 The expansive 9th earl was also largely responsible for the present 4,500 acres of Darnaway Forest having planted well over ten million trees during his 43-year tenure.

The building of Darnaway Castle would be completed by his son Francis Stuart, 10th earl, but the latter’s most distinctive built legacy is to be found 160 miles further south.


see: BBC / YouTube


see: BBC / YouTube

In 1782 his father had purchased the Drumsheugh Estate just outside Edinburgh which forty years on was now abutted on three sides by the expanding city. Succumbing to the commercial pressure on his own terms, Stuart and his agents planned the Moray Feu, a high-end residential development which remains the smartest quarter in Edinburgh with ‘the longest Georgian terrace in Europe’.


see: Ben Pentreath

While the 19th earl’s initiative at Dalgety Bay was architecturally undistinguished, in the 21st century the 21st earl has drawn some inspiration from the Moray Feu to continue the family’s urban development tradition. Earlier this year saw the first residents moving in to properties at Tornagrain, a new town planned entirely from scratch on 500 acres of Moray Estate land fifteen miles west of Darnaway Castle. Amongst a wave of landowners responding to the UK housing shortage, Tornagrain is ‘looking to the Scottish vernacular for architectural inspiration’ for its 5,000 varied housing units, a project the earl believes will occupy him for the rest of his days.


The 10th Earl of Moray died on the 12th of January, 1848 setting in train the remarkable sixty-year sequence which would see title and estate pass in turn to six male Stuart heirs none of whom produced a child. The earl had four sons (two each by different wives): all lived beyond sixty years of age but none would marry. They inherited successively, averaging eleven-and-a-half years under the ermine.


see: Queensland Cyclones

While the incumbency of last of these, George, the 14th earl was, at twenty-three years, comfortably the longest, ‘his Lordship was almost personally unknown in the district where he owned large estates, but which he seldom visited. He never occupied Darnaway Castle and it was never let‘.2

At his death in 1895 the sons of the Dorset vicar mentioned at the outset – the grandsons of the 10th earl’s twin brother Archibald – were now called upon. But the drought of direct heirs continued, earls 15 and 16 both dying childless. At last, their brother Morton, upon his death in 1930, was finally able to leave all to a son. However, Francis, 18th Earl of Moray would have only daughters, his brother Archibald being duly obliged to throw up a settled family life in southern Africa for the cooler climes of northern Scotland in 1943.


see: Earl of Moray

Since when, the son and (presently) the grandson of the 19th earl have straightforwardly succeeded to the 30,000-acre estate. Throughout its turbulent history a constant feature of the Moray inheritance has been an ancient oak estimated to be exactly synchronous with the 700-year-old title. At Darnaway, it would seem, the acorns are once again falling closer to the tree…

[Moray Estates]

1. Derry Journal, 15 July 1901.
2. Dundee Advertiser, 19 March 1895.
3. Potter, H. BloodFeud: The Stewarts and Gordons at War, 2001.
4. The Complete Peerage, Vol. IX, 1936.
5. Gifford, J., Walker, F. The buildings of Scotland: Stirling and Central, 2002.
6. Mackean, C. Stirling and the Trossachs, 1985.
7. Walker, DW, Woodworth, M. The buildings of Scotland: Aberdeenshire: North & Moray, 2015.

One Sunday last month saw a larger-than-usual annual gathering at a lonely stone monument high on the Berkshire Downs some five miles south of Wantage. Another of the many sombre centenaries presently being observed, this ceremony marked (as the memorial records) ‘the dear memory of Philip Musgrave Neeld Wroughton of Woolley Park, major, Berkshire Yeomanry, killed in action at Gaza, Palestine, April 19th 1917, aged 29’. At the head of proceedings – as he has been for the past forty-five years – was Sir Philip Wroughton, 84, great-nephew of his namesake and present squire of the Woolley Park estate, a property which has passed only by descent across 450 years.


see: Google Maps

The loss of young Major Wroughton in the Middle Eastern theatre of the Great War had been keenly felt not least because the heir to Woolley Park had been a long time coming. In December 1875 Philip Wroughton (d.1910) and his wife Evelyn had welcomed Dorothy, their first-born, into the world. She would be followed in 1877 by Muriel, with their sister Florence coming along some twenty months later. Winifred arrived in 1880, eighteen months ahead of.. Violet. One can just imagine the collective composing of features in the household at news of the arrival of the couple’s sixth child in 1884, christened Mary.


see: National Trust

The ‘monotonous regularity of six daughters in succession was a rather strong order’, their father would jokingly recall at the coming-of-age of his first son (pictured, far right, at Eton with Denys Finch Hatton of Out of Africa fame) who had finally arrived in the summer of 1887.1 The irony of this sequence of events would surely not have been lost on the author of the following reminiscence of Victorian life and times hereabouts:

No one who lives at Woolley would choose to be a lady. God made the place for Wroughton men, who throw a long leg over a horse and gallop about the downs – fox or no fox – from dawn to dusk.’2

Protected as the North Wessex Downs AONB since 1972, this ‘surprisingly remote, expansive landscape in the heart of southern England’ is the site of ancient drives, formerly ovine, today distinctively equine: ‘The area is second only to Newmarket in its importance as a centre of activity for the horseracing industry.’


see: Pam Brophy / geograph

And amidst these gallop-strewn chalk downlands ‘Woolley Park stands high and isolated in unspoiled [150a] parkland’.3 Ninety minutes from central London, the Grade II* listed mansion ‘remains a wholly private house to which there is no public access’.

‘Beautifully undulating and finely timbered,’4 Woolley Park dominates the northern end of the parish of Chaddleworth, an area ‘which it seems clear was early enclosed, perhaps as early as the 16th century’.5 This act was possibly coincident with the arrival on the scene of one Thomas Tipping who acquired the manor of Woolley on August 20, 1566, the last occasion on which this property changed hands by sale.

Thomas’s namesake grandson had one daughter, Catherine, who in 1662 would disclaim her interest in Woolley in favour of her cousin, her uncle Bartholomew’s son John, during whose tenure a new house was erected. It was to be a generic later-C17 brick house of a form (H-plan, hipped roof with dormers) exemplified by such as Fawley Court, Buckinghamshire, which happens to lie six miles south of another house which would soon come to the family.


see: Country Life

John Tipping died c. 1700, the succession of his eldest child beginning a father-to-son sequence of four Bartholomew Tippings to the end of the 18th century. The second of these (d. 1737) married the granddaughter of Sir Henry Allnut of Ibstone House (r), a relationship which would in due course see Ibstone pass, with Woolley, to the niece of bachelor Bartholomew Tipping (d. Dec 1798).

The inheritance of Mary Musgrave would prove a turning point in the destiny of Woolley Park. Ten years earlier she had married her first cousin, the Rev. Philip Wroughton; very soon after her uncle’s death the couple commissioned a modish makeover of their new abode, engaging an architect whose pedigree then held more promise than his heretofore slender portfolio.


Published ‘in order to display the taste and science of the English nation in its style of Architecture at the close of the 18th century’, the first volume of George Richardson’s New Vitruvius Britannicus appeared in 1802 (eighty-seven years on from Colen Campbell’s landmark forerunner). Prominent among the collected designs were houses by the Wyatt brothers, Samuel and James. In Volume Two they would be joined by nephew Jeffry who, after a lengthy apprenticeship under both, had set up independently in Mayfair in 1799. Later famed for his remodelling of Windsor Castle for George IV (and knighted as Sir Jeffry Wyatville), among Wyatt’s clients that first year were the Wroughtons of Woolley Park.


see: New Vitruvius Britannicus

Wyatt’s plans for Woolley betrayed his Neo-classical tutelage and his scheme here remains ‘remarkably intact’.6 A full-height colonnaded bow now projected from the entrance front recess, shallow-domed with an iron balustrade garlanding the new raised storey (below). In-filling at the rear was altogether more modest, a single-storey colonnaded loggia stretched between the wings (its original iron balustrade later reworked in stone).


see: New Vitruvius Britannicus

‘The most impressive internal feature is Wyatville’s spectacular staircase hall [the original entrance hall], decorated with Neo-classical motifs and lit by a lantern rising out of a dome supported on segmental arches and pendetives.’3 The cantilevered stone stair divides at a half-landing where stands a longcase clock, ‘evidently part of the original design’.6 And telling the time was apparently not this instrument’s only function: ‘Woolley is light and cheerful

and smells of pot-pourri, the scented air sprinkled every fifteen minutes by chimes from an old clock on the stairs.’2


see: Minimoves

Philip Wroughton died in 1812 being succeeded by his eldest son Bartholomew who married Mary St. Quintin eight years on. (Woolley Park may have appeared comfortably familiar to his bride whose own family home, Scampston Hall in Yorkshire, had undergone a stylistically similar makeover at much the same time.) This couple having no children, upon Bartholomew’s death in 1858 Woolley now passed to his brother Philip, hitherto happily domiciled at Ibstone House.

Philip Wroughton, in later years ‘noted for having to wear an iron collar to keep his head on, after a fall out hunting when he broke his neck’, duly disposed of the Buckinghamshire estate and moved to the old family seat. ‘He and the six children rode in cavalcade to take possession of their new home. The mama followed by road, sobbing all the way, for she was leaving her own part of the country.’2 (The family of Blanche Norris had been seated at Hughenden Manor, east of Ibstone, prior to its sale to the family of rising political force Benjamin Disraeli, with whom Wroughton had related correspondence.)


Arriving with their sizeable brood the Wroughtons quickly felt the need for more room, hence Woolley gained large extensions north and south between 1858-1860. The periodic encouragement of a good covering of foliage is perhaps indicative of the indifferent character of these wings externally.


see: Historic England

Inside, ‘the large and lavish drawing room takes up the whole ground floor of the south extension, with panelling and mirrors in the French Rococco style’. Some original interior spaces were repurposed but ‘the dining room with a screen of Ionic columns remains much as Wyatville left it’.3

Having completed his enlargement of the house Philip Wroughton now turned his attention to nearby Brightwalton parish church, a small dilapidated Norman edifice which was pulled down and replaced at his own expense. (Brightwalton was one of several neighbouring manors – including Fawley, Whatcombe and Chaddleworth – which were acquired over a fifty-year period from 1787, the Woolley Park estate presently estimated to extend to some 3,300 acres.)


see: Basher Eyre


see: Oswald Bertram

The Wroughtons were responsible for other local ecclesiastical commissions: a replacement village church at Fawley (l) and a chunky chancel (r) for St. Andrew’s, Chaddleworth. Gothic-Revivalist G. E. Street, creator of the Royal Courts of Justice, was the favoured architect for this beneficent building spree.


see: Bing Maps

While his impact at Woolley would be significant Philip Wroughton’s tenure was the briefest of any, dying four days after his 57th birthday in 1862. His wife would remain forty years a widow, his eldest son, also Philip, as many years the squire until his own death in 1910. Though spared the wartime loss of his long-awaited son and heir, Philip Wroughton had already suffered the violent sudden death of the youngest of his eight children.

One spring day in 1903 the Town Clerk of Wantage was taking some friends for a 4mph spin in his early automobile when he was in collision with a ‘motor-bicycle’ at a hazardous local junction. Looking beneath his vehicle the driver was horrified to recognise the stricken teenage form of fellow auto-enthusiast Christopher Wroughton of Woolley Park. As a consequence, after his brother’s demise in 1917 the Woolley estate would be held by their sister Dorothy – eldest of the six long-lived ‘legendary Wroughton girls’7 – and her husband Herbert Lavallin Puxley until their son came of age in 1930.


see: Local Buzz


see: Vine&Craven

At that point Michael Lavallin Puxley assumed the surname and arms of Wroughton (carved in stone above the east facade) by Royal Licence. And it would seem – Sir Philip Wroughton having two daughters – that a similar device will be required if the name is to live on here. In 1984 the eldest (r) – these days very much hands on at Woolley – married Thomas Loyd, heir to (now owner of) the 6,000-acre Lockinge Estate immediately to the north. But, by whichever name, cometh the hour doubtless the next generation will be stepping ‘once more unto the breach‘ at Woolley Park…


see: Google Maps

[Estate archives 1290-1937]

1. Reading Mercury, 19 September 1908.
2. Carbery, Lady M. Happy world: The story of a Victorian childhood, 1941.
3. Pevsner, N., Tyack, G., Bradley, S. The buildings of England: Berkshire, 2010.
4. Reading Mercury, 5 August 1876.
5. Wordie, R. (Ed.) Enclosure in Berkshire 1485-1855, 2000.
6. Linstrum, D. Sir Jeffry Wyatville, 1972.
7. The Times, 17 January 1974.

see: ak_nako / Instagram

In 1748, having faced down a second Jacobite rebellion north of the border, the Hanoverian government leased a dilapidated, conflict-ravaged building in the Highlands to serve as a garrison against the troublesome natives. Some half-a-century later Braemar Castle (r) would be returned to its owners, the Farquharsons of Invercauld, reconstructed and relatively habitable. Today, with post-Brexit tensions threatening a twenty-first century constitutional stand-off, a British government so-minded to quell those pesky Nationalists would find the lease on Braemar already taken. A mile or so east, Invercauld House – ‘the most beautifully situated mansion on Deeside’ – is similarly spoken for.


see: Alan Findlay / geograph

In a double first Handed on heads at last to Scotland and spotlights a model of ancestral country house sustainability where occupation by the hereditary owner is not a practical (or appealing) proposition. At the end of the nineteenth century it was remarked that ‘the Invercauld Farquharsons seem to have adapted themselves promptly to altered times’, a trait which continues into the twenty-first.

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of an ongoing community-driven initiative at Braemar Castle which has maintained the building’s fabric and seen it develop as a thriving heritage attraction. A small band of dedicated volunteers convinced the Invercauld Estate to hand over the castle on a 50-year improving lease, averting its likely sale. Since 2003 Invercauld House has also been available, the maintenance burden at the 14-bedroom pile most recently taken on by a private tenant on a similar long-term lease. While the chief of Clan Farquharson and his heirs reside principally in England the family remain possessed of their ancestral residences which lie at the heart of one of the largest private landholdings in Britain.


BBC/YouTube: ‘Who owns Scotland’

Before the complicating reality of the Brexit vote the nationalist-dominated Scottish Assembly had already tossed a caber into another hornets nest with its vowed intent to shake up the traditional pattern of land ownership in Scotland. Characterised as “a Mugabe-style land grab” by one peer1 (the 4th Viscount Astor, 20,000 acres), the fact of less than 500 individuals owning half of the country excited much debate (r) before the passing of the 2016 Land Reform Act, seen as a staging post in pursuit of a ‘more socially just’ state of affairs.

The omission of a statutory register of ownership disappointed some campaigners. In its submission to the consultation process the Invercauld Estate had little issue with such a thing in principal and indeed readily declares its 108,000-acre (156 sq mile) extent here (though a figure over 120,000 acres is commonly cited). The estate did, however, demur from the proposition ‘that in future land should only be owned (or a long lease taken) by individuals or by a legal entity formed in accordance with the law of a Member State of the EU’. ‘This could,’ Invercauld suggested, ‘threaten inward investment from other nationals, such as the Swiss’ – a nationality plucked, in this case, not entirely at random.



see: Clan Farquharson USA

Capt. Alwyne Compton Farquharson, who will be 98 next month, is the 16th ‘Farquharson of Invercauld’ and clan chieftain (r), his innings in these roles now longer by some margin than any of his predecessors. He had already been laird for three years by the time he was awarded the Military Cross in 1944 (having stuck to his task though ‘wounded in a hail of shellfire during the fighting in Normandy’).

Findlay, the 1st Farquharson of Invercauld, had less luck on the battlefield having perished with thousands of compatriots at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. Initially vassals, from the time of Robert, 5th laird of Invercauld (succeeded 1632), the Farquharsons would become substantial landowners here in their own right, and have remained so. The succession of Robert’s grandson John (9th Farquharson of Invercauld) in 1694 ushered in the greatest period of expansion and improvement of an estate which would have but two owners across the entire eighteenth century, his son James inheriting in 1750 (d. 1805).

see source

see source

In his time John Farquharson (r) would experience the violent double rupture of the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Though possibly less hardcore in his commitment to the cause, Farquharson was obligated to his local superior, the quixotic Earl of Mar, in actively supporting Mar’s call to arms at Braemar in September 1715. Once routed the earl fled to France, never to return. Meanwhile his lieutenant languished in Marshalsea Prison for nine months doubtless fearing the worst.

But Farquharson received a fair hearing from the king and parliament and after his release he would eventually acquire Mar’s attainted Braemar estate. Having been there, done that, John Farquharson decided to opt out of ‘the ’45’ entirely (leaving his Jacobite daughter Anne and her Hanoverian husband to fight out the conflict in microcosm, surely the mother of all domestics).

see source

see source

see source

c.1784 see source

‘A barrel-vaulted undercroft may be its oldest element,’ but details of the development of Invercauld House to this point have been subsequently obscured.2 While a relatively modest L-shaped affair – its naturally dramatic setting at this time further enhanced by radiating landscaped drives – Invercauld remained adequate for James Farquharson (r) as all but one of eleven children born to his first wife Amelia died young.

‘The mother, worn out with watching, anxiety and sorrow followed her children in 1779 leaving only the youngest, five-year-old Catherine,’ who would be thirty-one when inheriting as Invercauld’s first female laird. While Catherine may have lacked siblings her son and heir James made sure she would not want for grandchildren…


see: Canmore

… he and wife Jane averaging a child a year between 1834 and 1845 (all of whom would reach maturity). Unsurprisingly given such a reproductive schedule Invercauld was enlarged, ‘the house becoming an extended Z-plan with north service wings, a long south elevation facing the river with Dutch gables and the SE wing, at right angles to the main block’.2


see: Fellowship of the Thistle

But this demure appearance would be beefed up by the 13th laird ten years after he succeeded his father in 1862. ‘Piccadilly Jim’ Farquharson (below, d.1888) and his London architect John Thomas Wimperis were not exactly original in their concept for Invercauld House, however, joining in a mania…


see: Christie’s

… for the ‘Scots Baronial’ style which had taken hold across the country by the middle of the nineteenth century. Robust yet lively compositions in granite, Ardverikie House – Invercauld’s exact contemporary some eighty mile west, familiar as the location for popular BBC series ‘Monarch of the Glen’ – exemplifies these romantic Highland confections. More locally the bar had been raised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s remodelling of neighbouring Balmoral from 1852.


source: The Builder 5 June 1875

From 1872 Invercauld House would be recast as a refined echo of its natural setting with the principal materials all sourced from the vast estate. The granite structure now revolved around a 70ft tower ‘created by heightening the existing walls of the old main block to six storeys at the intersection of the main block and its SE wing’.2


see: Canmore


see: Country Life

The main entrance was now relocated from the elbow of that juncture to the opposite side. ‘Its pyramidal roof adds to the wider fantastical outline busy with battlements, crow-stepped gables and pepperpot towers.’3 Within, carved pine interiors…

… compete with wall-to-wall tartan and antlers, all by now de rigeur characteristics with a purpose beyond simple lairdly oneupmanship. For such displays became a marketing tool in attracting plutocratic seasonal tenants keen to enjoy the full Highland sporting experience: from the late C19 the Farquharsons would regularly decamp to make way for blue-chip paying guests. (With extensive grouse moors, a large deer population and 24-mile stretch of the River Dee, field sports continue to underpin the estate’s viability.) In 1956 they obliged for a royal tenant, the Queen Mother, who, with the builders in at Birkhall, leased Invercauld House in order that she could ‘give her usual summer house parties for the shooting’.4


Nat. Museums Scotland

Her Royal Highness had plainly not been put off by the aesthetic impact which had recently been made here by the presiding mistress of Invercauld. American-born Frances Lovell Oldham – ‘Frances the fabulous‘ – a former fashion editor at British Vogue and editor of Harper’s Bazaar, had married (her third husband) Capt. Alwyne Farquharson in 1949 and gleefully set about importing a fondness for outre design and bold colour schemes into the tartan traditions of Deeside.


15 Oct 1927

Also in the year of his marriage Alwyne would be formally recognised as chief of the clan by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Born the eldest son of Edward Compton of Newby Hall in Yorkshire, he had taken the Farquharson name having inherited Invercauld under the settlement of his maternal grandfather, Alexander Haldane Farquharson (r), in 1941. (Alexander had been succeeded by his eldest daughter, socialite Myrtle (far right) – a bridesmaid at the wedding of Vita Sackville West’s lover, Violet Keppel, ‘the most curious of many a Season’ – who would be killed in the London blitz that year.)

The Farquharsons alternated between Invercauld House and Braemar Castle as one or the other was let before Frances’s death in 1991. Since when the clan chief has remarried and relocated to Norfolk, returning for traditional gatherings. Having no children, the designated heir to Invercauld and effectively its present-day laird is Farquharson’s nephew, botanist Dr. Jamie Compton (Newby Hall having once again passed to a younger son).

At an event in 2014 the future lady of Invercauld, garden designer and writer Tania Compton, led a conversation with pre-eminent fellow practitioner Piet Oudolf about his recent undertakings at a rather unlikely arts complex evolving in rural Somerset. The choice of host that day was perhaps not entirely unconnected with the fact that the creators of the said Durslade gallery (complete with its Bar & Grill and boutique Farmhouse accommodation) have since 2012 been the Farquharsons’ tenants at Invercauld House.

arhwAn ability to ‘alchemise the wackiest contemporary art into vast sums of money’ through a canny combination of instinct and strategic commitment has seen this Swiss couple ranked among the most influential gallerists and dealers in the world. Last year saw the grand opening of a major 100,000-sq-ft presence in the Arts District of Los Angeles – adding to galleries in Zurich, London, New York and Somerset – the palpable expense involved being characteristically ‘natural and beside the point’.


see: Braemar Buzzard June 2014

And, five years into a fifty-year lease at Invercauld House, this empathetic munificence is now flowing into upper Deeside. The venerable Fife Arms in Braemar has since been acquired and is presently undergoing a stylish transformation ahead of its rebirth as an ‘art hotel‘ in 2018. Less commercially, various local cultural and environmental initiatives are benefiting from generous support. (In light of such investment few will begrudge the indulgence of a rather more personal badge of commitment in the form of a bespoke tartan commissioned from top fashion designer Sir Paul Smith.)

clhwAt Invercauld itself the 1,400 acres of designed landscape surrounding the house are the focus of ‘a major programme of conservation, restoration and enhancement under the current tenant‘, and outsized works of art have appeared.5 Al fresco sculpture was also occasionally to be seen outside the couple’s first London gallery, in the adjacent churchyard of St. James’s, Piccadilly. Built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1676, two centuries later this church was also in need of major restoration. The work would be overseen by J. T. Wimperis, the architect of Invercauld House…

[Category A listing][Invercauld Estate]

1. The Times, 22 May 2015.
2. Sharples, J., Walker, D., Woodworth, M. The buildings of Scotland: Aberdeenshire: south, 2015.
3. Goodall, J. Stalking splendour, Country Life 13 March 2013.
4. Daily Telegraph, 25 Aug 1956.
5. Autumn visit to Invercauld gardens and policies, The Garden History Society in Scotland, 2013.

It may have gained new currency but the phenomenon of so-called ‘fake news’ is hardly unique to our times. Take this assertion from the Middlesex Journal dated December 23, 1769:

The report that Lady Betty Germain has left £20,000 and Drayton, her fine estate in Northamptonshire, to Lord George Sackville has no foundation in truth.’

While confidently purporting to disabuse its readers, it was in fact they who were being misinformed. Now scepticism about such a spectacular bequest was perhaps understandable since there were no family ties between this particular lord and lady. But this was merely the latest in a sequence of unlikely twists in the destiny of Drayton House, ‘so fine a place [yet which] changed families so often and so quickly, without purchase or descent’.1


see: Michael Trolove @ geograph

‘One of the best-kept secrets of the English country-house world, Drayton has remained hidden, mysterious, rarely open, guarding its privacy’ across more than 700 years.2 Though ‘far less well-known than the other Sackville house at Knole in Kent, Drayton [similarly] resembles a small fortified village in a parkland setting, retains outstanding C17 and C18  furnishings, and has not been subject to any major alterations during the past 200 years.’3

Lord George Sackville’s death in 1785 closed perhaps the most remarkable one hundred years in Drayton’s long history. Vita Sackville-West’s tart summation of her ancestor as ‘a soldier first and then a statesman, both disastrously‘ undersells a rollercoaster life in which the inheritance of Drayton was a welcome upswing. That of his ‘fairy godmother’4 Lady Betty Germain was, by contrast, a life of singular constancy.

Yet while she would be chatelaine in widowhood for over half a century, the earlier eight-year tenure of Lady Mary Mordaunt (later Duchess of Norfolk) was of greater moment for it introduced to Drayton the charming adventurist who was to wed them both. Sir John Germain provoked one of the most notorious and significant divorces in British history but would also play a major role in transforming Drayton House into ‘one of the most extraordinary buildings in England’.5


see: pwaterton @ Panoramio

Drayton is hidden in its pastoral landscape. The approach is a magical one, silvery-grey walls and a tiered roofline of battlements, turrets, towers and cupolas.’3

The remarkably unified symmetry of the house’s SE-facing front belies its structural evolution in five discrete phases over 400 years from the end of the thirteenth century. The last of these included the fine early-C18 forecourt gates displaying the insignia of Mary, Duchess of Norfolk and her second husband, marking not just their union but also, it transpired, the point at which Drayton would pivot away from a 400-year-old hereditary lineage.

The medieval structure from the time of Simon de Drayton remains the core of a house which within a few years of his death in 1357 had passed by marriage to Henry Green. Green’s namesake son and heir would be peremptorily executed in 1399 for his energetic allegiance to Richard II but the family’s property survived unscathed. Henry Green III (d. 1467) enlarged Drayton with bookending low towers in his latter years before the estate passed, via his daughter Constance (‘one of the richest heiresses in England’), to John Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire.


see: Google Maps

The second earl’s premature death without issue heralded a fifteen-year legal tussle between various parties before the claims of canny Turvey, Bedfordshire-based Henry VIII courtier Lord Mordaunt, through his wife (a Green descendant), prevailed. Mordaunt’s grandson, Lewis, 3rd baron (d.1601), would develop the footprint of Drayton as it stands today with his addition of the three-storey Elizabethan wing extending north-west.


see source


see: V&A

Occupying most of its top floor is the Long Gallery, adapted as a library 200 years later. While original panelling and paintings remain, ‘its ceiling and end window date from the beginning of the C20’.5

Suspected of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, the 4th Lord Mordaunt spent several months in the Tower, a location with which his grandson, an active ally of James II, would also become reluctantly familiar. Succeeding in 1642 as sixth baron and also now 2nd Earl of Peterborough, Henry Mordaunt backed the losing side in the Civil War, at some cost to his estate. He would be further constrained in his early ownership by the machinations of his mother but upon gaining full control of his entitlements Henry stamped his mark: ‘Everywhere at Drayton we find signs of the building of the second earl.’6


see: John Sutton @ geograph

Arms raised above a new Classical gateway punched through the C14 wall emphasised the new principal entrance to the south. Knightly nostalgia inspired Mordaunt’s remodelling of the entire north-eastern facade (r) which would now overlook garden pavilions of ‘elegantly severe Puritan minimalism’, all by Inigo Jones’ pupil, John Webb.7


see: Siena Crawford


see source

Indoors, Webb (and his client) were rather less restrained, an exuberant State Bedroom overmantel (left) soon part of a three-way fight for attention with the stunning needlework of a major series of Mortlake tapestries (two of which have since escaped to New York) and the magnificent bed itself. Access to the upper floors of this wing would now be via an ingenious feat of carpentry, the Walnut Staircase, ‘a spiral cantilever unique in England’.8 But the most renowned architectural statement at Drayton was still to come.



see: National Trust

The second earl had one child, Lady Mary Mordaunt, who in 1677 would vault from mid-table aristocracy to the premier ranked title in the land by marrying Henry Howard, soon to become the seventh Duke of Norfolk. But the wheels began to come off this dream alliance one day in 1685 with the duke’s discovery that his wife had taken a lover. Enter John (later Sir John) Germain, Anglo-Dutch ‘soldier of fortune’ and gambler, a man dubious of morals and parentage (reputedly an illegitimate half-brother of William of Orange).

An imposed sojourn in a French convent failed to break Mary’s ardour, the couple continuing barely clandestine liasons at various residences across London, seamy details of which would spill out in sensational protracted divorce proceedings eventually initiated by the duke in 1691.

There was a lot at stake, including the authority of the Church in such matters. For the duke, mindful he had yet to produce an heir, had taken his case directly to parliament as the Church would not sanction remarriage following a divorce on the grounds of adultery. Over the course of a three-act, nine-year saga Norfolk and his agents subpoenaed sundry ex-servants to reveal quite literally what the butler saw, evidence savoured line-by-line in printed reports by a prurient public.


divorce1The duchess denied everything and threw plenty back, aided by those ‘anxious to protect her reputation and property’.9 The latter had long been an issue, Mary claimed, revealing that a supplicant duke had once tried to persuade her mother that ‘if her daughter would consent that Drayton should be settled upon him he would thereby be made a happy man’.

In early 1700 Henry Howard finally got his divorce (‘the beginning of the long process whereby the state took control from the church’9) but little else, dying in 1701 aged 46. Six months later the duchess – a title she refused to relinquish – married her scandalous beau, the couple quickly calling in ‘William III’s favourite architect in England’, William Talman, to execute some defining flourishes at Drayton House.5


see: Brian Higgins


see: Mark Coleman

Most conspicuous were twin tower extensions and cupolas accenting the roof-line; most striking, a new front to the main range facing the inner courtyard, ‘one of the most ornate Baroque facades in Britain, an architectural tour de force‘.2 That entrance…


see: Coflein


see: RCHM

… leads into Drayton’s principal interior space, the Great Hall (left), Talman’s pilasters reaching to a barrel ceiling inserted beneath the medieval roof. (Decoration is mid-C19 by Alexander Roos, then also busy designing.. Cardiff.)

Alas, the duchess had little time to enjoy her newly-fashionable surroundings, dying childless in 1705. With her final act she would succeed in putting another noble nose seriously out of joint. For, having inherited the Mordaunt barony and estate in her own right, Mary now bequeathed Drayton in its entirety to her second husband. It could perhaps be argued that the biggest bet of Sir John Germain’s life had paid off wildly, indeed that ‘Drayton was a reward for adultery’.10 Certainly, one individual was especially galled by Sir Johnny-come-lately’s spectacular fortune.

Charles Mordaunt, Mary’s cousin, had succeeded as 3rd Earl of Peterborough upon his uncle’s death in 1697. A soon-to-be celebrated military hero, he now renewed his claim to the property, ‘concluding it highly unreasonable so noble a branch of the ancient estate, and the only seat of the family, should be torn from it to be settled on strangers’. Meanwhile, 55-year-old Sir John Germain – ‘always a favourite of the other sex’10 – would meet and marry Lady Elizabeth Berkeley, 26, within a year of his first wife’s death, and the embellishment of Drayton continued apace.


Country Life5


see: RCHM

‘John hearts Betty’ heraldic insignia now started popping up around Drayton, notably atop courtyard colonnades which would flank Talman’s bravura facade. Internally, the ceiling and walls of his stone staircase would be swathed with trompe l’oeil mythology.

Charles Mordaunt’s keen promotion of William III’s usurping of Catholic James II may have had a satisfying outcome but it proved something of a tactical blunder in his quest for Drayton since it landed his uncle in the Tower. The second earl so arranged his affairs as to provide maximum protection for Mary’s interests: ‘We must conclude that his emnity to his nephew was great enough to belittle in his eyes his daughter’s pecadilloes.’6


see: RCHM

Germain died in 1718 and is handsomely memorialised in Lowick church. His widow would later recall, ‘My Lord Peterborow plagued Sir John all his lifetime but declared if ever he gave the estate to me, he would have done with it; and accordingly has kept his word, like an honourable man’. And so, having been both a legal battlefield and a construction site for much of the preceeding two decades, Drayton now entered a half-century of stability under the benign auspices of Lady Betty Germain.


Aside from her finely-wrought restoration of the private chapel (which had been sacked by an anti-popery mob in 1688), throughout her long tenure Lady Betty was largely content to maintain the fabric of Drayton House much as it was at the moment her husband died.


see: Hathi Trust

Outside, ‘though she lived well into the period when the landscape school prevailed, Lady Betty defended her great walled enclosures from the invasion of Kent and Brown’.6 The formal parterres (left) would finally succumb to the exigencies of World War II occupation but today ‘a sea of dull lawn’ is still dotted with Betty’s lead urns and statuary.7

Seeking at one point to enlarge the (now 200-plus acre) park in order that the house might sit more centrally, Lady Betty told her longtime friend and regular correspondent Jonathan Swift of her obligatory dealings with the wheedling local parson, “who flatters me black and blue when he comes for Sunday dinner”. Indeed, a desire for stimulating company would make visits to Drayton infrequent, Lady Betty largely preferring the social whirl of her St. James Square townhouse. And there was always the nearer option of Knole House in Kent.



The Sackvilles, Lionel, first Duke of Dorset, and his wife Elizabeth, were mutual friends of Sir John and Lady Germain who, having lost three children in infancy, latterly determined that Drayton should pass to a Sackville younger son in the event of Lady Betty not remarrying. Thereafter, Knole would effectively become her second home and her personal apartment (r) is now among the principal ‘showrooms‘ preserved there by the National Trust.

The Drayton estate eventually became the property of 53-year-old Lord George Sackville in 1769 with the proviso that he take the name Germain. In truth, already having the use of Stoneland (now Buckhurst Park) in Sussex, Sackville was perhaps more appreciative of a new identity than another big house in the country at this particular juncture. For during the past ten years his name had – by royal edict – been mud.


see: The British Museum

Sackville’s problems began in Germany on 1 August, 1759. No less a figure than the King himself, George II, would see to it that Lord George suffered exemplary humiliation following perceived failings as second-in-command of allied forces at the Battle of Minden. Sackville’s demand for a court martial that he might counter the reputational slurs of Prince Ferdinand backfired: he was proclaimed “unfit to serve His Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever”, the King relishing “a fate worse than death”.

Sackville continued as a member of parliament but ‘the whole of his public life was embittered and conditioned by the national memory of his conviction’.11 A year after inheriting Drayton, the latest jibe from a fellow MP on the floor of the House of Commons led to (the now) Lord George Germain taking aim at Governor George Johnstone at twenty paces in Hyde Park. Both men missed but Johnstone’s final shot blew Germain’s pistol clean out of his hand. His duelling demeanour certainly impressed Horace Walpole: “Whatever Lord George Sackville was, Lord George Germain is a hero!”

Having lost his honour and almost his life Lord George would soon lose, er, America! Rehabilitated by Lord North as Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1775, ‘Germain inherited a conflict that was already going badly for Britain [yet] was inevitably held by posterity to be more responsible than any other individual for the British loss in America’.12 But he would at least regain the family name, being created Viscount Sackville by a grateful George III upon his eventual retirement from office.


see source


see: RCHM

Like his benefactor before him, Sackville’s busy London diary and other residential options meant limited involvement with Drayton. But he was minded to remodel the Dining Room (left) and the Green Drawing Room in Neo-Classical vein, the work attributed to Sir William Chambers. ‘He also left behind handsome portraits of himself by Reynolds and Romney.’5

Since the viscount’s death in 1785 Drayton ‘has suffered no major alteration or addition’ and resumed a rather more conventional line of descent.13 His son Charles inherited not only Drayton but also, separately, the dukedom of Dorset, fifth and last of that ilk. Though ‘a fashionable figure of the Regency and a favourite with the ladies’, the duke died unmarried and childless in 1843, Drayton now devolving to his niece, Mrs. Caroline Stopford.10 Her son, the similarly childless Stopford Sackville Stopford would be squire of Drayton’s 6,000 acres for 54 years until dying in his bathtub at the Carlton Club in 1926.

Tea and ices at a cafe a mile and a half from the firing line.
This is a strange war.14

As recently recounted, Lionel and Geoffrey, the elder nephews of ‘Uncle Sack’ would both become casualties of World War One, the Drayton estate consequently passing to their younger brother, Nigel Stopford Sackville. In turn, ‘a massive programme of restoration, all of it without government grants,’2 would be carried out by his son upon taking the reins in 1973; his grandson is the present owner, just the eleventh at Drayton since 1642.


That three of these in sequence acceded with no rooted affiliation to this ‘vast, homely yet palatial pile’15, and five failed to produce a direct heir, the survival of Drayton House intact and unsold across 700 years is surely, like the place itself, a thing of wonder…

[Drayton Estate][House plan][Grade I listing]

1. Northampton Mercury, 27 Dec 1879.
2. Jackson-Stops, G. Architectural Digest, Jan 1991.
3. Emery, A. Greater medieval houses of England & Wales 1300-1500, Vol.2, 1996
4. Mullett, C. Political Science Quarterly, Vol.78, No.3, 1963.
5. Cornforth, J. Country Life, May 13/20/27, June 3, 1965.
6. Tipping, A. Country Life, June 15/22, 1912.
7. Mowl, T., Hickman, C. Historic gardens of England: Northamptonshire, 2008.
8. Bailey, B. Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough, and Drayton House, Northamptonshire Past & Present, 2004.
9. Jones, C., Jones, D., eds, Peers, politics and power: House of Lords, 1603-1911, 1986.
10. Marlow, L. Sackville of Drayton, 1974.
11. Brown, GS. The court martial of Lord George Sackville, William & Mary Quarterly, Vol.9, No.3, 1952.
12. O’Shaughnessy, A. The men who lost America, 2013.
13. Jackson-Stops, G. Drayton House, 1978.
14. Draper, K. A Tale of Two Brothers: The Stopford Sackvilles and the First World War, 2016.
15. Lees-Milne, J. English country houses : Baroque 1685-1715, 1970.

Weston Hall, Yorkshire

‘The south-facing side of Lower Wharfedale, an undulating sylvan and pastoral landscape, strongly rural in character’ – a contemporary description of the north bank of the River Wharfe from Ilkley to Otley in West Yorkshire, land fundamentally unchanged in centuries and relatively little-traversed. The latter circumstance is partly explained by a still pertinent observation from 1873: ‘There is little doubt that if access were as easy as it is to the south side, the number of visitors to [these] tree-embowered sunny slopes would be much greater.’1

But while the single stepping stone crossing between the bridges of those towns has certainly contributed to this state of preservation and privacy, more influential has been the remarkable endurance hereabouts of three adjacent country estates. And, rather like the modern-day adage of sun-loungers and beach towels, in order to bag the plum spots you had to get there early – in this case around about the thirteenth century.


see: Denton Hall


see: Michael Ely

East of Ilkley lies the Denton Hall estate, an ancient property which first changed hands for money in 1717 when it was acquired by wealthy Leeds cloth manufacturer James Ibbetson. Today the John Carr house of 1778 is a corporate headquarters and wedding venue but remains at the heart of ‘2,500 acres of idyllic private parkland’.


see: Ashmolean


see: Paul Grubb

John Carr’s substantial south-facing addition to Farnley Hall is also visible from the banks of the Wharfe just east of Otley. Noted for its long association with JMW Turner, Farnley has been privately owned by the Fawkes family for over 700 years. Recently, however, the older Jacobean half became available to let.

Lying between these two places, meanwhile, is the Weston Hall estate, over 2,000 acres extending up into the Nidderdale AONB from the distinctive Grade I-listed house and its park wherein also stands a ‘very lavish and sophisticated’ banqueting house.2 Always private and passed only by inheritance since 1359, ‘the best view of both these structures from a publicly accessible vantage point is a tantalising oblique view between the trees’.3


see: Harrogate Council

The oldest memorial in the small church which stands close by the Hall records the life of William Stopham upon whose death the manor of Weston passed to his brother-in-law, John Vavasour. The eventual failure of the latter male line after almost 500 years of father-to-son descent only partially explains the disappearance of the Vavasour name here (since: Carter→Dawson). For in 1833, in a reversal of customary gentry practice, the will of childless William Vavasour expressly forbade his heir, nephew William Carter, adopting the family name: “I am, and will die, the last of my race.”4

Not that, beyond the singular feat of endurance at Weston, this was an especially illustrious lineage. In contrast to the senior branch of the family at Hazlewood Castle twenty-three miles to the east, over the course of five centuries ‘it is remarkable that the Vavasours of Weston never threw up anyone of more than local importance’.5 Here, parochial affairs have largely preoccupied the lords of the manor, their approach to matters naturally varying over time:

1450: ‘To the Archbishop of York, complains John Doyd, your servant and humble tenant of Newall [now part of Otley], that whereas one John Vavasour, Lord of Weston, Henry his brother, and others, on Tuesday in the third week of Lent past, by night forcibly broke into your suppliant’s house, and dragged his wife out of the house naked from her bed, and would have killed him if he had been there; and now day and night they lie in wait to kill him.’6

This particular ‘Lord of Weston’ was the fourth of seven consecutive Johns to hold the manor, a run which would come to end a century later with the succession of 22-year-old William Vavasour. And it was the latter’s son, Mauger, who determined c. 1600 to significantly upgrade his ancestral home in the late Elizabethan style.


see: Susan Heslup / Wikipedia

The ‘spectacular’ north wing (above, right) with its garden front of 690 individual panes remains unaltered from this time.2 Its counterpart and the central section would be scaled back and internally remodelled in the mid-C18, and twice subject to re-fenestration. Portraits dated 1588 of an extravagantly ruffed Sir Mauger and his second wife, Joan Savile, still hang at Weston and their taste in interior decor is similarly much on display in such spaces as…


westondragon… the so-called Dragon Room with its panelling, ‘elaborate’ fireplace and plaster ceiling studded with Tudor iconography. More centrally, ‘what were presumably the Elizabethan great hall and great chamber are discernable, one above the other, the latter now an early C19 room with Adam-style ceiling’.2


westonmain1This room was part of the last substantial rearrangement at Weston – captured soon after by Neale (1821, left) – which created the garden front as seen today, its characterful if ‘rather confused appearance’ contrasting markedly with the ‘utilitarian’ Georgian entrance front (r) created by infilling the space between the cross-wings.2

The immediate vista from Sir Mauger’s many new windows comprised a formal walled garden in one corner of which he added a fashionable freestanding feature, appreciated today as ‘one of the best preserved late Tudor banqueting houses’ in the country.7


see: Wyrd England


see: RCHM

Echoing the big house with its canted bay and mullioned and transomed windows, this proud three-storey Grade 1 tower features Tudor-arched corner fireplaces serviced by front chimneys. In rear, a separate staircase turret culminates in a belvedere ‘more window than wall’, all the better to survey the parkland, river valley and its framing moors.5


see: Bing Maps

Mid-C18 gate-piers at an elbow in the road announce the long tree-lined drive at Weston but modern access is from the north via Church Lane, which terminates with the cemetery and towerless edifice of All Saints.


see: YouTube

Of Norman origin (recorded in Domesday), the church of  ‘this diminutive parish’ is outwardly unrefined. ‘Inside all is Georgian decorum,’5 however, nowhere more so than the private Vavasour family pew ‘which has the appearance of a small drawing room’.8 A stove would be installed here by William, the last of the Vavasours, for the comfort of his new bride, heiress Sarah Cooke.

Orphaned at the age of ten, William, the youngest of three sons, only inherited Weston (in 1798) due to the premature demise of brothers Walter and Edward. His marriage three years later spurred on a programme of modernisation and refurbishment of the Hall but the optimism of these early years would not endure. The couple remained childless and in 1817, having come into her father’s fortune, Sarah left Weston for a largely independent life.

Vavasour’s journals reveal a pragmatic, paternalistic squire nevertheless wedded to the feudal order and correct form. They also record long-running feuds with the neighbours, particularly the parvenus over at Denton Hall: “Everyone for himself is their honest maxim; it is a family failing of the Ibbetsons.” Indeed, Vavasour was frequently to be disappointed by the behaviour of those who really ought to know better, notably the clergy. ‘A parson, Mr. Rye, dined at Weston Hall …


Weston Park


see: Google Maps

… after a day’s shooting. “[He] got so handsomely drunk that as we were putting him to bed he made his escape out of the door naked and we found him hindmost lifeless in a bed of nettles. The next morning, ashamed, he slipped off before I was up.”9

Little wonder that, when the opportunity arose, Vavasour elected to keep the living of Weston within the family, granting it (against expectations) to his artistic sister Ellen’s husband, the Rev. John Carter, then headmaster of Lincoln Grammar School. This couple’s son inherited Weston Hall but the male line would prove ill-starred: William Carter died just fourteen months later while his only son would pass away aged twenty-eight having already lost his own boy hours after birth.

So it was that in 1852 the Weston estate reverted to William Carter’s sister, Mrs. Emma Dawson, the philanthropic wife of Christopher Dawson of Royds Hall (whose grandfather, Joseph Dawson, had been a prime mover behind the Low Moor ironworks). The Dawsons have since proved most durable: In ninety-nine years from 1912-2011 Weston had but two owners whose middle names acknowledged their venerable antecedence. Emma Dawson’s grandson William Stopham Dawson died unmarried in 1969 to be succeeded by Herbrand Vavasour Dawson, father of the present owner.


see: Google Maps

‘They have reason to rejoice in one of the most favoured situations in this favoured valley,’ observed one scholar a little over two centuries ago.10 The town of Otley may have encroached towards the old gates of Weston Hall in the modern era but in essence little has really changed since that time. Or, for that matter, since the Conquest…

[G1 listing][Archives]

1. Leeds Mercury, 12 June 1873.
2. Leach, P., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding, 2009.
3. Weston Conservation Area Character Appraisal, Harrogate Borough Council, 2011
4. The Weekly Telegraph, 15 Dec 1888.
5. Oswald, A. Country Life, 13 Nov 1958.
6. Baildon, W.P. Baildon and the Baildons [including ‘The Vavasours of Weston‘], 1912.
7. Henderson, P. The architecture of the Tudor garden, Garden History, Vol.27, No.1, 1999.
8. Bogg, E. Two thousand miles in Wharfedale, 1902.
9. Creaser, M. William Vavasour: The squire of Weston, Thoresby Society, Vol.LVI, 1979-81.
10. Whitaker, T.D. Loidis and Elmete, 1816.