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Challenged, as they would be last year, with appreciating the somewhat abstruse notion of ‘facilitating emptiness’, the good officers of West Lindsey District Council planning department were perhaps as well-placed as any.

‘North Lincolnshire, cut off by the Humber and the Trent, is probably the most out-of-the-way corner of England .. leisurely, spacious country, vast in scale and rather bleak.’¹

So declared Country Life‘s 1934 visitation to Brocklesby Park, seat of the Pelhams, Earls of Yarborough, for some 450 years. With the planting of an estimated thirty million trees on this estate between 1787 and 1938, successive owners have more than somewhat relieved the wolds’ desolate openness hereabouts. And in the past decade the Hall and grounds at Brocklesby have themselves undergone a scheme of root and branch rehabilitation driven by the 8th Earl and Countess. In the wake of recent planning consent 2016 should see the realisation of the latest element, a bold, contemporary pavilion of concrete and glass – ‘a purely abstract expression, a definite stance against simple nostalgia’ – intended to facilitate the aforementioned emptiness.

When passing through the outer walls, you immediately find yourself on the inside. There is no buffer, no grey areas, simply inside.’

Of course, besides tempting architects into flights of chin-scratching verbiage the documentation surrounding a modern-day planning application can often yield revelatory detail. Here, too, the Brocklesby Park Pavilion scores big…

brockhess

see: Hesselbrand

…not least with this contemporary image of the hard-to-see house itself. The air of tidy rightness exuded here belies centuries of evolution occasioned by fortune both good and ill. The official listing text manages to sum Grade I Brocklesby in just 250 words; altogether more instructive and fascinating is the ‘masterplan’ commissioned by…

…the present owners contextualizing the vision for their inheritance, a copy of which also accompanied that pavilion application. ‘The 8th Earl and Countess need to be allowed the freedom of their ancestors to continue improving and enhancing their seat,’ it was therein argued, a hankering for a time when the only limitations on what was thrown up on private property were means and imagination. One can but wonder how the local planning committee would have responded if presented with, say, a proposition such as this:

Being Jeffry Wyatville’s stupendous palatial vision for Brocklesby c.1821 offering an architectural knockout punch as might befit a fiefdom then in excess of 50,000 acres. (Though significantly reduced the estate remains the largest landholding in Lincolnshire at some 27,000 acres.) Alas, a modest Gothic lodge is as much as Wyatville would get to realise here while Brocklesby’s most notable building is another free-standing structure elsewhere on the estate essayed by his uncle, James Wyatt, for their mutual patron, Charles Anderson-Pelham. The latter’s death would thwart Jeffry while the death of Pelham’s wife had, as we shall see, inspired James.

But the first Pelham to put down roots in the Lincolnshire Wolds was Elizabethan soldier/administrator Sir William Pelham who snapped up many of the plentiful (if unpromising) acres of various former religious establishments post-Dissolution. Several generations on, by the beginning of the C18 the estate had devolved to Charles Pelham (d.1763), key aspects of whose long tenure define Brocklesby to this day.

stubbs

The recently reinstated main facade of the Hall (below) has the appearance of William Etty’s 1720s design as captured by George Stubbs. Sojourning locally, a principal subject for the artist here was the Brocklesby Hunt which has been in existence since 1700 and always with a Pelham as Master: ‘The hounds are the oldest private pack in the country and the only pack of purebred English Foxhounds.’

brockfount

see: Oaktree Photography

Charles Pelham was also a key figure in the early development of the thoroughbred racehorse, breeding from North African stallion imports champions such as Brocklesby Betty and Spanker who in turn begat successful progeny. Ironically, for someone so preoccupied with bloodlines, twice-married Charles’s failure to produce offspring of his own spelled the end of the Pelham male line at Brocklesby…

…and saw the estate pass to his great-nephew. Charles Anderson, who added the ‘Pelham’ name upon succeeding, was raised to the peerage as the first Lord Yarborough in 1794 but he would be forever without his ‘Lady’.

mauso2

Stephen Richards

For James Wyatt had recently completed his melancholy ‘majestic masterpiece’² in the park at Brocklesby, a mausoleum raised in tribute to Charles’s wife, Sophia Aufrere, who had died in January 1786 at the age of 33. ‘Erected upon a commanding eminence, this classic monument must ever remain a fine specimen of Wyatt’s good taste and exquisite skill in Grecian architecture.’ In a tragic echo Yarborough’s son and heir would also lose his wife before he gained the title (later upgraded to an earldom), 25-year-old Henrietta Bridgman joining the mother-in-law she never knew in the mausoleum in 1813.

titian

see: Mapping Titian

The unwitting joint legacy of both young women was the accidental assembly within the space of four years at Brocklesby of an Old Masters art collection still routinely described – despite some belt-tightening disposals in 1929 -as among the finest remaining in private hands (r). Wealthy merchant George Aufrere died in 1801 leaving his Chelsea house (in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, former home of Sir Robert Walpole) and its contents – ‘one of the best collections in Britain at the end of the C18’ – to his late daughter Sophia’s husband, in trust for their sons.³ Four years later Henrietta Bridgman, as sole heir to her uncle, connoisseur Sir Richard Worsley (yes, that guy), inherited fabulous Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight and all it contained. In 1807 Brocklesby gained a one-storey gallery extension to house much of this cultural windfall

bphall…but not the so-called Museum Worsleyanum, ‘the first important collection of Greek marbles in England’. Long displayed in the Orangery, the C21 masterplan intended their relocation to the newly-reinstated entrance hall (l), a space which had been fashioned by Capability Brown c.1773 in addition to his work landscaping the park. Along with much else at Brocklesby this room would be the subject of ‘meticulous restoration’ around the turn of the C20 after a devastating fire in November 1898.

brocketty

see:BrundellWoolley

The central five-bay section of the Georgian entrance facade was among the few parts of the Hall unscathed. (The house had by this time swollen threefold: a matching brick block was added in 1827 at the other end of the gallery which was itself heightened by William Burn thirty years later creating a dominant centre. Almost all of these additions would be swept away in the 1950s, the house contracting to more-or-less its original Georgian footprint.)

clifere

see source

The man chosen to undertake the post-blaze restoration was Sir Reginald Blomfield, ‘the very model of the successful Edwardian architect’, who looked back wistfully in 1932: ‘My first really important work.. Brocklesby Park was typical of that delightful country practice which I was fortunate enough to have built up before the war, and which since the war has ceased to exist.’4  Blomfield laid out a new parterre and entrance of which Country Life would later approve: ‘Particularly happy are the twin oblong pools that flank the approach.’

To the C21 revisionist eye, however, these were now not only in the wrong place (the main entrance being around the corner) but deemed ‘somewhat municipal’ in character and have been buried ‘for the purposes of archaeology’.6

stableQuietly looking on over centuries of change at Brocklesby has been a stunning mechanical marvel. In the early 1720s, putting the finishing touches to his new seat, Charles Pelham was desirous of a turret clock to sit atop his large stable block close by the house. Luckily, just eight miles north in the village of Barrow upon Humber was the workshop of John Harrison, carpenter, clockmaker and incipient genius. The zero-maintenance instrument – ‘the origin of accurate timekeeping’ – that Harrison developed for Pelham has told the time at Brocklesby ever since. More significantly, made largely of lignum vitae, a self-lubricating exotic hardwood, and featuring a novel friction-free movement, ‘Harrison took his important first step towards building a sea clock at Brocklesby Park.

‘A clock without oil, until then absolutely unheard of, would stand a much better chance of keeping time at sea,’ so cracking a critical navigational conundrum, the determinination of longitude, for which he would – eventually – be financially rewarded by the state.5

windup

BBC/YouTube

‘Without any major grant aid or outside support the 8th Earl and Countess continue the living evolution of Brocklesby Park,’6 being always reminded that time never stands still by Harrison’s horological wonder (r) – unless, of course, the staff forget to wind it…

[Brocklesby Estate]

¹ Hussey, C. Brocklesby Park I/II, Country Life, Feb/Mar 1934.
² Pevsner, N., Antram, N. Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, 1989.
³  Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4 Blomfield, Sir R. Memoirs of an architect, 1932.
5 Sobel, D. Longitude, 1995.
6 Simpson & Brown/Kim Wilkie Associates. The Brocklesby Park Masterplan.

 

 

 

 

 

A little over two weeks after her wedding in August 1738 at St. Paul’s Cathedral 16-year-old Sarah Steavens would return church, this time to bury her father. As a consequence of these events the young bride of rising lawyer James West, 35, now came freighted not just with a £30,000 share of wealthy London timber merchant Sir Thomas Steavens’s fortune but also a whole heap of future trouble in the shape of his new ward, Sarah’s 11-year-old brother, Thomas.

{ “My heart must be black indeed” }

Similarly advantaged by a first-class education and an inherited income courtesy of successful mercantile families, Thomas’ feckless self-indulgence would be thrown into sharp relief against his guardian’s respected accomplishments. James West became a high-flying government figure, president of the Royal Society and, most significantly here, the creator of a delectable (Grade I listed) country house. Alscot Park, ‘one of the finest, earliest and most complete surviving examples of Rococo Gothick’,¹ is still the private home of the Wests and ‘has remained unchanged in its essentials since James’s death in 1772’.²

alscotmid1

see: Ash Midcalf @ Panoramio

Now, as some might realise, we have actually been here before – after a fashion. But while this blog, like Alscot, has remained fundamentally unaltered some early posts now appear decidedly wanting. Handed on makes no apology for revisiting a house and estate of undoubted but perhaps still under-appreciated distinction, a remark which might also apply to the political career of James West.

westnpg

National Portrait Gallery

An MP for over thirty years, West’s great value was as right-hand man to the Pelham brothers at the heart of successive mid-C18 Whig administrations. Firstly with Chancellor of the Exchequer Henry and subsequently as Joint Secretary of the Treasury aiding the first Duke of Newcastle – each time in effect Cabinet Secretary to the Prime Minister – ‘West was extremely important to the government’.³ It has been observed that while ‘there are hundreds of letters from West in the Newcastle papers his personality eludes delineation [being mostly] dry business communications written in the third person’.

By contrast, this consummate administrator, so at ease with great affairs of state, would be pushed to the edge in attempting to manage the affairs of his wayward brother-in-law, Thomas Steavens:

I know not what to do … I am at my wits end.4

Set to inherit his father’s estates south of the Thames, Steavens’ prodigal tendencies would quickly become evident, creating a trail of debts from Eton to Oxford (where his sister’s plea to “take your diversions more moderately and sometimes confine yourself to old fashioned family hours” went unheeded) and on up to London.  A startlingly frank letter to Sarah in April 1747 revealed her brother’s unabashed approach to matters:

Dear Sister, As Mr. J. has refused me his daughter, £5,000 of whose fortune I required for the payment of my debts, it is necessary that some plan should be immediately entered into.”4

A dim view was plainly taken of Thomas’ next ruse, namely that his brother-in-law might help realise a new-found “desire of coming into Parliament”, and soon Thomas had departed for Europe.

alscotair2

see: Bing Maps

Meanwhile, in 1749, James West, seeking a rural refuge from his demanding life in the capital, purchased the Alscot estate in south Warwickshire, an area with which he had historical family ties. The property came with an unprepossessing old residence (in the words of his wife, “the comicallest little house you ever saw”) sited on a bend in the River Stour. That same year Horace Walpole began work on Strawberry Hill House, his celebrated exercise in Gothic Revival, a fanciful style which was in fact already flowering in West’s newly-adopted county.

radway

John Sutton @ geograph

arbury

NCSU/Luna

Since 1745 gentleman architect Sanderson Miller had been Gothicising his small family estate Radway Grange (l), ten miles east of Alscot, inspired by this place having been the venue of the Battle of Edge Hill a century before. And up in north Warwickshire Sir Roger Newdigate was beginning his 50-year odyssey at Arbury Hall (r), which remains the family seat: ‘Arbury’s interior decoration is England’s outstanding evocation of C18 Gothick, surpassing even Walpole’s Strawberry Hill.’5

Miller, Newdigate and Walpole were all men of an antiquarian bent and, while the mid-C18 emergence of Rococo Gothick has been seen as a reaction ‘to the rigid discipline of English Palladianism..the strict obedience to rule and precedent’¹, their own Gothick expressions would be closely informed by historical reference. James West was certainly a man of similar persuasion (amassing a vast collection of books, objects and manuscripts) yet seemingly at ease with a looser, less pedantic interpretation of Rococo Gothick at Alscot Park, which would be developed in two distinct phases.

alscotside2

see: Alscot Park (old site)

Remodelling of the original house began in 1750, the modest block being extended, battlemented and the largest of five full-height canted bays looking out across the river. ‘Internally, the staircase is the special delight of this wing .. a little masterpiece of light-hearted Rococo, the bold scrolls of the iron balustrade exquisitely echoed by twirling plasterwork.’¹

stair

see source

This work was completed in 1752, the same year Thomas Steavens’ domestic debts would finally be cleared. But, alas, West’s increasingly dissolute brother-in-law had been carrying on regardless on an all-too-Grand Tour of Europe. In correspondence, his sister Sarah told how her husband had returned home one day ‘shocked .. having been told by a very Great Person that his letters from Venice were full of your expensive way of life there’. Thomas, however, was seeing things rather differently:

I will have the vanity to say my conduct has been approved of in all the countrys I have yet been, which is a merit with those who know in how absurd, contemptible and detestable a manner the English behave abroad.4

‘I love plain facts and plain dealing,’ declared James West at one point in the face of Thomas’ self-serving bluster during increasingly testy postal exchanges. By the summer of 1755 he wanted answers:

June: “Can you? or will you? let us know your scheme of life? when you intend to come home? of where to settle? & what to do? or will you continue the same desultory rambling for years more?

July: “For God’s sake take care. You owe £5,000 already, you have sold one estate besides. Unless you determine to live on less..you are undone.

‘Things are now coming to a crisis,’ he wrote in November 1755 not in reference to his parliamentary in-tray and the high politics of the incipient Seven Years’ War but to the never-ending fallout from Thomas’ seven-year Tour:

Your total ruin is advancing dreadfully. You have done everything in your power to ruin your health, estate and family. I have already suffered too much than to desire to be any further connected with you.4

Thomas had in fact returned to England for a time but ‘caught veneral disease from a Drury Lane orange seller’ and took off to the Continent again, initially in search of a cure. But his incorrigible consumptive lifestyle took its inexorable toll and Thomas died in June 1759, aged 31. ‘We hope the news did not over-surprise you,’ wrote West’s sister, Elizabeth, in weary condolence.

What remained of the Steavens estate now reverted to the Wests. With the replacement of the Duke of Newcastle as prime minister in 1662 James’ career in government was effectively over. Like his patron, who would divert his energy and resources toward further aggrandising his house, Claremont, West now set about giving Alscot the character of a fine gentry seat.

Alscot Park House

see: Ash Midcalf

Being just four miles from Stratford-upon-Avon it’s no surprise that the name Shakespeare should feature here – yes, George Shakespear who was re-engaged with his fellow master-builder John Phillips to pick up much where they had left off a decade earlier. South-facing and creating a ‘T’-shaped house, the essentially classical new main block was suffused with another orgy of ogee arches.

alscotdraw

see source

Once again a lightness of spirit prevailed. ‘There is nothing serious about the hall,’ while the drawing room is ‘ablaze’ with a gilded papier-mache ceiling by Thomas Bromwich (r).¹ Fine Georgian furniture abounds. Alscot would not escape the Victorian era unscathed, however. A monumental mid-C19 carved buffet ‘tends to reduce the most talkative guest to momentary speechlessness’ while work in recent times, notably on the fenestration and the dining room, has ameliorated the heavy aesthetic tread of James Roberts West (1811-82).

Excellent gates, though, sir!

gates2

see: Google Streetview

westcatJames West died just two years after Alscot was at last completed. Confounding Horace Walpole’s belief that ‘he was so rich that I take for granted nothing will be sold’, West’s prodigious antiquarian collections would be auctioned over fifty days in early 1773 at his town house in King Street, Covent Garden. A Caxton first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was bought by King George III and is today among the ‘treasures‘ of British Library. (Rather more prosaically, at the dispersal sale of ‘livestock & sundry estate items’, Mrs West reclaimed ‘a spotted cow, named Pratt’.6)

roadAlscot’s biggest asset disposal since that extraordinary event would occur in 1960 when the Steavens’ original Bermondsey estate was put up for auction. New statutory housing standards demanded capital investment greater than this landlord of 787 dwellings (developed by James Roberts West) could then bear. The entire ‘well-managed, respectable housing estate’7 north of the Old Kent Road was acquired by the local council for £350,000, a sum which today would leave you comfortably the underbidder on just one of these neat Victorian terraced properties.

rev2

BBC / YouTube

A BBC documentary in 2012 (r) explored the history of those forty south London acres, the present owner of Alscot Park featuring throughout. However, having inherited in 1989 aged just 19, Emma Holman-West’s relentless (award-winning) focus has been the 4,000 acres of south Warwickshire, now home to a diverse range of enterprises whilst still remaining essentially a private family residence.

alscothg“I escape to London to de-stress,” she told House & Garden in a cover feature in the July edition this year. Savouring the magazine’s illustrations, its readers may have felt more inclined to share the sentiment of Emma’s direct ancestor, James West, writing exactly 260 years earlier amid much ‘Parliamentary Politicks’ in the capital as colonial warfare loomed: “I want to be at Alscot…”4

[Alscot Estate]

¹ Girouard, Mark. Alscot Park I/II/III, Country Life, May 1958.
² Tyack, Geoffrey. Warwickshire country houses, 1994.
³ Wilkes, John. A Whig in power, 1964.
4 Add MS 34731-34732 West papers: Correspondence of Thomas Steavens, British Library.
5 Jenkins, Simon. England’s thousand best houses, 2003.
6 Sale catalogue, Live and dead stock, &c. in the park. 1772 Oct. 19, V&A.
7 Reynolds News, 12 Feb 1961.

Ammerdown House, Somerset

An occurrence now seemingly as regular as Christmas, a legislative stand-off last month between the elected and non-elected chambers of the British parliament once again revived that hoary constitutional perennial, demand for the reform of the House of Lords. So far the only significant development to this end has been the substantial culling, in 1999, of the hereditary titles, now reduced to a rump of ninety or so who have been elected by, well, their peers.

see: Kalayaan

see: Kalayaan

Considered a hideous anachronism, the ‘hereditaries’ remain the softest of targets for reformers but one of their number at least has long served to confound the stereotype. On paper, Raymond Hervey Jolliffe, 5th Baron Hylton, 83 – Eton, Oxford, Guards – ticks all the ‘wrong’ boxes. Worse still, he is the inheritor of a sizable landed estate which includes a gracious Grade I mansion with ‘many fine features’ inside and out. Hardly the typical profile of a dynamic campaigner for peace and the interests of the vulnerable and the marginalised.

The plight of migrants and refugees; social housing provision; conflict resolution – defining themes of an active House of Lords career spanning some 44 years and counting: ‘Lord Hylton has spoken in 44 debates in the last year and received answers to 235 written questions — well above average amongst Lords.’ Hylton’s ancestor Thomas Samuel Jolliffe, builder of the aforesaid mansion, was himself a member of the legislature for some years but there the similarity ends: ‘There is no record of his having spoken.’

But while he may have been a man of few parliamentary words, Thomas’s physical legacy – the Ammerdown House estate in Kilmersdon, north Somerset – speaks for him.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

The manor of Kilmersdon was acquired in 1659 by Bristol merchant Gabriel Goodman and would soon pass, via his daughter Sarah’s marriage, to the Twyford family. In turn, the marriage one century later of the Rev. Robert Twyford’s daughter Ann yielded this property to the Jolliffes, specifically Thomas Samuel, who had perhaps learned the art of bagging an heiress from his twice-married father, John.

In March 1731 John Jolliffe wed Catherine Michell who had lately inherited the bulk of the estate of her father, landowner Robert Michell, MP for the pocket borough of Petersfield, Hampshire. Three months later Catherine was dead. Jolliffe was now in a position to facilitate a seat in parliament for his uncle, Sir William Jolliffe (and for the next 150 years most MPs for Petersfield would be of this name). A grateful Sir William would later bequeath part of his large estate to the sons of John Jolliffe by his second wife, Mary, herself co-heir with her sister to the sizable fortune of their father, Samuel Holden, governor of the Bank of England.

see source

see source

A fine series of horse paintings commissioned from James Seymour (‘one of the first true sporting artists in Britain’) formed part of Sir William’s legacy and would later serve as fitting adornment for the house that Thomas Samuel built. Wasting little time following the death of his mother-in-law, Thomas (right, note) relocated to Somerset, securing the services of architect James Wyatt who would spend three days visiting Kilmersdon in 1788 composing his thoughts for a new house on a raised site, hitherto open sheep tract. ‘Of Bath stone, three storeys with a tall rusticated ground floor. Only the E front (below) is in its original state.’¹

see: living_room @ Flickr

see: living_room @ Flickr

For while Ammerdown ‘retains the appearance that Wyatt gave it, it has twice been enlarged, in 1857 with remarkable skill, and in 1877 with less’. The earlier expansion of which Country Life magazine approved was westwards, a recessed entrance (r, since in-filled) being created by shallow wing extensions which elongated the original cube. ‘Both elevations are models of the refinement of which Wyatt was master.’²

see: Hayley Ruth Photography

see: Hayley Ruth Photography

Pleasing as they are, a visitation shortly after this mid-C19 enlargement asserted³ that ‘the interior of the mansion is more striking than its external appearance’, a statement at once tantalising and frustrating since, as Lord Hylton once owned, ‘Ammerdown House is seldom opened’.4

see: Ammerdown House

see: Ammerdown House

In fact the one and only public opportunity to see inside came briefly one week in the summer of 2012 when funds were sought to restore the fine Georgian ceilings. ‘The dining room (r) is as Wyatt left it’,¹ the fittings all commissioned from top London craftsmen aside from the Bacchus chimneypiece which was acquired from Lord Egremont’s house in Piccadilly apparently in exchange for two racehorses.5

see source

see source

Country Life‘The staircase is unique in its form and structure. A circular dome, embracing a considerable part of the central roof, is supported by Ionic columns [since glazed]. A flight of steps ascends the elliptic space.’³

Contemporaneous with the original house, Wyatt’s Orangery and a walled garden were contained spaces within otherwise naturalistic, rolling parkland established from scratch by Thomas Samuel Jolliffe.

see: Lutyens Trust

see: Lutyens Trust

Though bang on trend for the 1780s such an open setting, it was later thought, ill-served the elevations of the house. In the early years of the last century Edwin Lutyens was offered ‘his first chance to give a fine English house a formal garden. Ammerdown acquired an Italianate ‘star’ sculpted out yew, with paths radiating outwards’.6 ‘It would be difficult to cite another house of the style or period where gardens have been added with such a true understanding of the architectural requirements.’²

Michael Lee @ Pinterest

Michael Lee @ Pinterest

Within this cultivated embrace stand several mythological sculptures all appearing quite at home despite being originally conceived as adornments to a rather more peculiar Ammerdown Park landmark. Not the half-moon-shaped, naturally fed bathing pool still to be found down in the woods. Nor the stadium created to promote athletic competition amongst the local youth (a worthy initiative sadly undermined by ‘the indisposition…

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

… of candidates to endure the necessary discipline and severities of training’).³ No, the figures had once occupied plinths around the base of a monumental structure likely to have elicited excitement even amongst those mid-C19 teenage slackers. Designed by Joseph Jopling with echoes of the Eddystone lighthouse, creating the Ammerdown Column would preoccupy the last years of Col. John Twyford Jolliffe as he sought to memorialise the achievements of his father, Thomas Samuel.

Standing 150ft high and topped by a glass and iron belvedere affording limitless vistas to those able and willing to ascend the spiral staircase, this edifice was unfinished at the time of the colonel’s death in 1854. A last-minute codicil obliged his heirs ‘to keep in complete repair the Column now being erected’ on pain of disinheritance, a burden which fell immediately to his childless brother, Thomas, but which was plainly not binding thereafter.7 (The estate next passed to a cousin, Sir George Hylton Jolliffe, later first Baron).

Handed on guesses that the present Lord Hylton would be underwhelmed at the thought of being remembered by so ostentatiously pointless a gesture. In fact, his legacy at Ammerdown is already in place: not spectacular views, merely far-sighted vision. Since 1969 most of the estate’s residential property has constituted a rural housing association in order to assist the provision of affordable local housing. And in 1973, again at Hylton’s initiative, Wyatt’s stable block became the Ammerdown Centre, an ecumenical retreat and study centre promoting inter-faith dialogue and world peace whilst also recognizing the restorative powers of homemade cake…

[Ammerdown House]

¹ Foyle, A. and Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Somerset: North, 2011.
² Hussey, C. Ammerdown House I/II, Country Life, Feb/Mar 1929.
³ Anon. Description of the mansion, marbles and pictures at Ammerdown, 1857.
4 Little, B. and Aldrich, A. Ammerdown: the house and the centre, 1977.
5 4th Lord Hylton, letter to Country Life, 2 July 1964.
6 Brown, J. Lutyens and the Edwardians, 1996.
7 Bath Chronicle, 11 Nov 1858.

‘This remote corner of south Gloucestershire is a secret and unspoilt place, with barely a sign of modern life visible in any direction,’ says the National Trust by way of introducing the location’s least secret house. From its prominent siting Newark Park’s eastward prospect surveys limestone escarpments whose the densely-wooded valleys embosom a further three, rather more sequestered, country house estates.

see: John Grimshaw

see: John Grimshaw

Strictly speaking Newark is the odd one out amongst these centuries-long neighbours being originally an outlying Tudor hunting lodge some ten miles distant from the seat of Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a courtier to Henry VIII. Several subsequent family owners would gradually expanded Newark into a 20-room stately residence before it was eventually taken on by the National Trust and an enthusiastic tenant on a long-term repairing lease. Newark lies in the parish of Ozleworth but the Poyntz family’s interest here had long since been divested by the time of…

SouthCotwoldRamblers

SouthCotswoldRamblers

…the late-C18/early-C19 development of Ozleworth Park probably for the Miller family.¹ Hard to believe today but this classically-detailed house commanding ‘a spectacular view west’² was apparently ‘once derelict‘; over the past 25 years Ozleworth has been fulsomely restored as a private family home by Michael Stone complete with “simply magnificent” gardens.

Country Life / Savills

Country Life / Savills

And another beneficiary of later-C20 salvation can be found a mile-and-a-half up the valley at Lasborough Park, one of James Wyatt’s castellated compositions erected for the Estcourt family c.1797. Wyatt had been working at Newark earlier that decade; his oblong block with square corner turrets was greatly expanded in the C19 and changed ownership several times in the last before being taken in hand by the Proudlocks.¹ Last year Lasborough – excellent aerial footage here – was sold to Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing of recent tragic notoriety.

Abutting these estates is the final member of this local quartet, a place whose history contrasts starkly with its neighbours’ all-too-typical tales of turbulent ownership, neglect and salvation. ‘Submerged in its rural charm’, arcing through box tree woodland of national significance is the drive to isolated Boxwell Court and church, the abode of the Huntley family for some 500 years.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

The aforementioned Nicholas Poyntz supported Henry VIII’s religious reforms with some zeal, ‘incorporating in several of his properties, including in Ozleworth, stones from smashed crosses from churches’.³ One of Poyntz’s allies locally was George Huntley who lived ‘scarce 40 paces from Ozleworth’, his family being tenants of Gloucester Abbey at Boxwell and duly benefiting after its dissolution. In the early C17 the Huntleys would consolidate their position hereabouts with the eventual acquisition of landholdings forfeited by Sir Walter Ralegh after his downfall.

see: Roger Cornfoot @ geograph

see: Roger Cornfoot @ geograph

‘In a secluded valley, surrounded by woods..the nucleus of the house is probably C15,’ but much of Boxwell’s façade is in fact much younger.² Some Tudor stonework detailing and two Jacobean panelled rooms (one featuring ‘a handsome chimney-piece finished with Corinthian columns in the best stile of workmanship’ and the family arms) predate the house’s first major enlargement at the end of the C18.

Between the years 1712 and 1857 Boxwell Court was the seat of ‘The Reverend Richard Huntley, rector of Boxwell’, there having been four consecutive father-to-son squarsons of that name and office. Richard the third of this sequence inherited in 1794 and, perhaps sensing an imminent need for more space (he was ultimately the father of ten), would soon add the present N front with its west-facing bow. A ‘fine top-lit staircase hall’ also dates from this time. [G.II* listing]

see: Collin West @ Panoramio

Collin West @ Panoramio

However, as John Harris records, a later Huntley squire ‘tried to erase the Georgian modernizations of 1796 with ‘Jacobogus’ furnishings, knowing that Charles II slept there on his flight from the Battle of Worcester in 1651′.4 If, as is suggested, a royal ring from the latter event still remains it was seemingly not the Huntleys only shiny Civil War souvenir.

There is a grim tale of three Roundheads who laid an ambush for a Huntley but he was made aware of their would-be trap, and slew them all. He had three little holes made in a gold ring and into each was sealed a drop of the blood of the three enemies. This ring remains in the possession of the owner of Boxwell Court.5

see: John Wilkes

see: John Wilkes

Reinforcing these tales of an embattled past, a rather surprising pair of castellated turrets and a courtyard-enclosing curtain wall are in fact a romantic flourish, being little more than one hundred years old. In no need of embellishment, however, is the descent of Boxwell Court across half a millennium in the Huntley male line, most of whom are still to be found here in this ‘very secluded position’, interred next door in the C13 church of St. Mary…

see: ChurchCrawler @ flickr

see: ChurchCrawler @ flickr

[Archives]

¹ Kingsley, N. The country houses of Gloucestershire, Vol.2, 1992.
² Verey, D. & Brooks, A. Buildings of England: Gloucestershire 1, 3rd ed., 1999.
³ Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4 Harris, J. Moving rooms, 2007.
5 Western Daily Press, 6 Apr 1937.

On the right of the railway upon rising ground is seen Swinnerton Hall with its extensive park, the seat of T. Fitzherbert, Esq. The ancestral oaks which surround this mansion chronicle on their furrowed trunks ages before the Conquest.’

Being an extract from Thomas Roscoe’s 1839 guide to the recently opened Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Liverpool, highlighting sights which would meet ‘the eye of the traveller as he passes swiftly along, in this the 19th century.’ In this the 21st century future travellers will likely be passing even more swiftly along – at 225mph to be precise – if, as expected, enabling legislation for the proposed High Speed 2 rail line gains Royal Assent in the present Parliamentary session. Were a similar companion guide to be compiled Swynnerton Park would surely feature again since four-and-half miles of the preferred route for the second half of this controversial project arrows straight through the heart of an estate which has passed only by descent since the C13.

see source

see source

Little has fundamentally changed at Swynnerton since Thomas Roscoe’s 1839 description save for ‘y’ now replacing ‘i’ in the favoured spelling of the place and the Fitzherberts, Esq. having since come into a title. And not just any title, oh no. That a fine Grade I Georgian mansion surveying a landscaped park set amidst 6,000 acres in the middle of Staffordshire should be the seat of the Lords Stafford is fitting and pleasingly apt – but also entirely coincidental.

see: Simon Huguet @ geograph

see: Simon Huguet @ geograph

The C17 title originated with the Staffords, Dukes of Buckingham, and owes its ‘homecoming’ a century ago to the persistence of a C19 Norfolk baronet. In October 1637 William Howard, great-grandson of the 4th Duke of Norfolk, wed Mary Stafford who was able to revive an eponymous family barony then in abeyance.

But the descent of this title would again be truncated – so too, quite literally, its holder – in 1680 when William Howard was beheaded. Having been dubiously implicated in the ‘Popish Plot‘ on the evidence of Titus Oates all of Howard’s titles were attaindered. Fast-forward to 1809 and to Costessey Hall in Norfolk, seat of Sir George Jerningham, 7th bt., but – more importantly here – the great-great-great grandson of the ill-fated Howard. Sensing an opportunity to ascend from the aristocratic foothills Sir George petitioned the Privileges Committee of the House of Lords asserting his claim to the title of Baron Stafford.

Such wheels turn slowly and it was sixteen years before a conclusion was reached. (This was thanks in no small part to a late counter-claim by a party by the name of McCarthy whose supporting evidence – some suspicious-looking entries in a C17 church register and a family tradition “that my mother’s descent was good” – was eventually discounted.¹) But in 1825 Jerningham’s claim was formally ratified. Two childless nephews later, in 1913, the title passed to Francis Fitzherbert, the eldest son of Sir George’s niece Emily and her husband, Basil Fitzherbert of Swynnerton Hall. ‘Lord Stafford’ had arrived in Staffordshire.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

What also unites the Fitzherbert, Howard and Jerningham families, of course, is their Catholicism. ‘The Fitzherberts possess a title to fame far more glorious than that of ancient lineage. In spite of fierce persecution they have been ever loyal to the ancient faith…shirking not from poverty or exile, imprisonment or death.

‘A Catholic family in trouble throughout the Elizabethan period,’ the Fitzherberts’ recusant travails may be exemplified by the life of Thomas Fitzherbert (1517-91) who would spend a total of thirty years in various prisons, eventually dying in the Tower. In 1868 their adherence to Rome was finally made manifest in the form of the richly-decorated Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption (by Catholic architect Gilbert Blount) which stands behind the Hall (above). But the first church to be built by this family is to be found 25 miles to the east in the Derbyshire village of Norbury.

see: National Trust

see: National Trust

‘St Mary & St Barlok church was built by the Fitzherberts in 1295 and contains two fine alabaster family tombs.’ From Norman times until they finally sold up in 1881 the Fitzherberts were lords of the manor at Norbury; their former house – ‘a very rare example of a medieval hall built on the first floor’ – is now National Trust (r). But recusancy fines and the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War took their toll at Norbury which would gradually be supplanted as the primary family seat in favour of Swynnerton.² This place had come to the Fitzherberts through the mid-C16 marriage of William Fitzherbert to the heiress of Humphrey Swynnerton whose line had held the eponymous manor for three centuries.

The relocation was sealed in the 1720s when Thomas Fitzherbert commissioned a fashionable new house for his Staffordshire estate.

see source

see source

Externally, at least, the scene at Swynnerton Hall (l) remains much as conceived and executed 1725-29 by Fitzherbert’s architect/builder. Strong stylistic and circumstantial evidence has identified the latter as the prolific Francis Smith of Warwick, being highly typical of his ‘big blockish houses…strong, dignified but not strikingly imaginative.’

see source

see source

‘It was as a designer and builder of country houses for the Midland gentry that Smith became famous and consequently rich.’³ With its urn-accented attic storey, Swynnerton shares distinct resemblance with exact contemporaries such as Wingerworth Hall in Derbyshire (demolished) and Berwick House (r) just outside Shrewsbury (still private, last sold in 1875).

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

Agreeable vernacular outbuildings (l) and a general well-preserved character, all tell-tale signs that ‘Swynnerton is an Estate Village owned by Lord Stafford. [It] was sited behind the Hall…ensuring unhindered vistas across landscaped grounds and open parkland to the south. Although the presence of the Hall is felt, so is its privacy; it presents a quite forbidding tall stone boundary wall and irregular rear elevation to the village.[Conservation report]

The early C19 saw major internal alterations to the house by noted bridge-building engineer James Trubshaw. ‘The principal result is the hall in its present form, two-storeyed with columns above and below, and the spacious main staircase [which] goes to the top of the house.’4

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

Plainly a versatile sort, Trubshaw also made ‘major alterations’ to the large park at Swynnerton. Versatile and confident, too, since the original hand here was only the biggest name in the game, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1758). The latter’s plans were only partially realised but Swynnerton remains ‘a lovely park of deep undulations, [with] a ‘Brownian’ lake and boundary plantations.’5

YouTube/StaffsUni

YouTube/Staffs Univ

Plantations which are now the subject of emergency reinforcement as the reality of the High Speed 2 rail line comes ever closer (and 640m from the house). Interviewed last year the present Lord Stafford was asked, ‘What keeps you awake at night?’ to which he replied, ‘Nothing.’ With the first trains not expected for over a decade his son and heir might perhaps be wondering whether he will be able to say the same…

[Archives][Lord Stafford Awards][HS2 vs the country house]

¹ House of Lords Committee of Privileges: Minutes of Evidence 1809-25.
² Smith, B.M. A history of the Fitzherbert family, 1995.
³ Gomme, A. Francis Smith of Warwick, 2000.
4 Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Staffordshire, 1974.
5 Brown, J. The omnipotent magician, 2011.

Place, Cornwall

Occupying raised ground at the centre of this small, ancient harbour town, Place could perhaps be regarded as the Camelot of Fowey. Notwithstanding the fact that, unlike King Arthur’s fabled fort, it is obviously does exist, Place has long remained a tantalising presence hereabouts. With the land sloping away to the estuary only the loftier castellated features of this grade I listed house – domain of the Treffry family for at least 600 years – can be glimpsed, partially visible here and there above the rooftops and the high wall of its grounds. The local heritage society advises that ‘the best way to see Place is from the river.’

see: Derek Harper @ geograph

see: Derek Harper @ geograph

As the estate itself owns, ‘It is unquestionable that the position of Place within Fowey is absolutely paramount.’ But in a town whose dominant economic driver these days is tourism, are the two perhaps in something of a mutual bind? For those tasked with promoting Fowey’s attractions can only go so far in trumpeting a landmark which has been the town’s defining constant (quite literally, the shape of Fowey’s development having been dictated by the curtilage of Place House) yet which remains a wholly private entity. Meanwhile, the preservation of this privacy in the face of a lapping tide of presumptuous visitors curious about a place so palpably ‘historic’ and ‘interesting’ is a battle in itself.

There have been an increasing number of people trespassing within the grounds of Place…looking around the historic house and in a number of cases…pitching tents.’ Last year the Treffry Estate sought retrospective planning consent for a more robust entrance gate, the old one apparently having failed to ‘provide any security or privacy to the property.’ The authorities took rather a dim view of the new barrier but they might perhaps at least be thankful that the family haven’t resorted to their most legendary mode of intruder repellent – molten lead poured from a height. But then that was over the heads of the French.

All along the sea coast and in the Channel disorder was endemic. A kind of mob law prevailed [and] Fowey was the leader in these exploits.’ Ah, the good old, bad old days of the mid-C15: ‘This was the heyday in the town’s history – never was there such a time before or since.‘¹ The line between legitimate sea trading, smuggling and outright piracy fluctuated as freely as our relations with France, privateering often constituting the front line of defence.

Violent skirmishes were commonplace and in a serious reprisal attack in 1457 the town of Fowey was sacked. Yet at Place the French marauders were kept at bay, the doughty Elizabeth Treffry stepping up in her husband’s absence with the aforementioned heavy metal resistance. In the wake of this the house was further fortified (r) and when the couple’s staunchly Lancastrian sons John and William later returned from exile with the soon-to-be Henry VII, the family’s ensuing prosperity was reflected in greater embellishment of Place.

see source

see source

William died ‘an exceedingly rich man’² and the basic footprint of the compact Tudor gothic courtyard house which would be occupied by his nephew Thomas Treffry for 54 years from 1509 is little altered. But whatever was spent on Place during his tenure (which encompassed the entirety of Henry VIII’s reign), it seems Thomas’ service in defence of the realm way out west would prove to be the greatest drain on his inheritance. In 1536 he was minded to write to Thomas Cromwell explaining how ‘for 26 years he had maintained the defence of Fowey largely at his own expense.’

see: English Heritage

see: English Heritage

Having underwritten the construction and operation of two nearby forts, Thomas had come to feel that his loyalty – and, perhaps, geographical remoteness? – had been, if not exploited, rather under-appreciated. But his labours and expenditure have at least bequeathed two Treffry-built castles – St. Mawes (r) and St. Catherine’s – which can, unlike Place, be visited today.

There is no surviving C17 work and not much C18 work remaining at Place other than the attractive Rococo ceiling in the library. One has the impression that the condition of the house was deteriorating in the second half of the C18 along with the family’s prominence in the county and the decline of Fowey as a port.’²

Also finally faltering at this time was the Treffry male line, a name change by licence being required of William Toller upon succeeding to the estates of his uncle, John Treffry, in 1731. And a similar device would be invoked a century later by the remarkable man whose endeavours would turbocharge the local economy, reviving the fortunes of Place and creating the house as it stands today.

see: Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

see: Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

‘Place is an overwhelming display of early C19 Victorian Gothic..ambitious, somewhat elephantine Walter Scottian romanticism.’³ By no means the only striking physical legacy of the industrious Joseph Thomas Treffry – witness the quietly awesome Luxulyan Viaduct – Place was his grand indulgence across 30 years, a fair fortune being invested in his entreprenurial embrace of an initially unpromising inheritance.

William Esco Treffry died childless in 1779, the estate being settled equally upon his surviving siblings Jane and Susanna. The Treffry sisters would marry the Austen brothers, Nicholas and Joseph respectively, Susanna and Joseph producing the only boy, Joseph Thomas, who bought out his cousins’ interest in 1808. Unusually, ‘the Treffry family never owned extensive landed estates; instead Joseph Thomas saw the possibilities of industrial expansion and the estate benefited accordingly.’ His diverse economic odyssey was powered principally by the hugely profitable mining of copper and tin, Treffry’s can-do attitude overcoming logistical obstacles with major infrastructural initiatives of enduring benefit.

Rostron&Edwards

see: Rostron&Edwards

The region’s mineral riches were also exploited in JT’s restoration of Place. Workable Pentewan stone aided exuberant carving, the surviving C16 bay a template for two more in an initially faithful, fulsome homage to Place’s Tudor pomp. But the statements became bolder and more idiosyncratic as time went on: most emphatic are the polished Porphyry Hall (‘a grand curiosity of Cornish geology’4 which wowed Prince Albert) and the 105ft bifurcated granite tower.

see: Country Life Picture Library

see: Country Life

‘The most elaborate room is the drawing room’ (r). A plaster ceiling painted to resemble wood is bordered by a cornice featuring ‘weird heads that look down on the room with various expressions of anxiety, ferocity and amusement.’ And the discomfitted will find no relief as they exit, ‘the main staircase [being] a world of monsters and beasties who laugh, sneer and tease all who pass up and down. It is extraordinary that a man such as Treffry should have made so public his dream world.’5

‘Not much physically has changed at Place since Joseph Thomas died’² (even if the exquisite Georgian suite pictured in the drawing room has since been sold).

‘Treffry was not only the biggest employer in Cornwall by the time he died, but one of the best. He worried about his miners.’6 And their gratitude for JT’s paternalism was made plain at his funeral in February 1850. The local press were quite taken aback:

We were not at all prepared for the spectacle that awaited us a mile or two from Fowey. Thousands of Mr. Treffry’s work people [in] procession, not one who was not decently, even respectably dressed – it was difficult to realise they were working miners. Their multitudes showed the vastness of his undertakings as an employer, and their appearance proved the comforts they had enjoyed under his protection.7

But Treffry’s workforce had not always shown him such respect. During the annual Fowey Regatta in Queen Victoria’s coronation year, for one day only, the grounds of Place were opened to the locals. ‘The trouble started when a couple of hundred intruders, fortified with drink, took possession of the house and only left after they had caused a great deal of destruction.’8 If the memory of this unfortunate occasion has been passed down along with everything else at Place it’s perhaps little wonder that the present generation should continue to uphold a tradition of privacy. Will the next be any more inclined to, er, rock the house?

see: Ouless @ Panoramio

see: Ouless @ Panoramio

[G.I listing][Archive]

¹ Rowse, AL. Tudor Cornwall, 1941.
² Treffry, D. Place and the Treffrys, Royal Institution of Cornwall, vol.2, pt.4, 1997.
³ Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cornwall, 1970.
4 Beacham, P., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cornwall, 2014.
5 Cornforth, J. Country Life 21/28 June 1962.
6 Smelt, M. 101 Cornish lives, 2006.
7 Royal Cornwall Gazette, 8 Feb 1850.
8 Keast, J. The king of mid-Cornwall, 1982.

Rhug, Denbighshire

One day in October 1998 on the Rhug estate in north Wales, Robert Wynn, 8th Baron Newborough, blasted his late father out of an C18 cannon. The ceremonial scattering of his ashes in this explosive fashion was a fitting finale to the life of ‘Micky’ Wynn, a decorated war hero and Colditz inmate who, as we shall see, also had ‘previous’ when it came to loosing off the family’s antiquated arsenal. The cannon was a remnant of many such owned by the Wynns down the ages just as Rhug (pro. reeg) is the last of several notable houses to remain in their possession.

see: Country Life

see: Country Life

That Rhug should have finally emerged as the locus of this dynasty was never obvious, it being the only Wynn house they did not actually build and also the only one of their four properties to be located away from the family’s historical stamping ground west of Snowdonia.

Rhug comprises some 12,500 acres which in all likelihood have never changed hands for money and which have descended through three families since 1500. The Newborough estates were certainly among the great Welsh landholdings, 28,800 acres being recorded in 1873. For four centuries until 1971 444 of these were accounted for by Bardsey Island off the Lleyn Peninsula, one of many disposals by the 7th Lord Newborough who would also sell the original seat of the Wynns, Bodfean Hall.

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

‘A large mansion in the Georgian style built in 1736, remodelled and greatly expanded in the late C19,’ Bodfean (aka Plas Boduan) was relinquished in 1967 and its contents sold separately. As the Sunday Times noted, ‘It was the type of auction which will become increasingly rare; in which Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Sheraton furniture looked as if it had remained unmoved since it had been bought.’¹

Generations of fealty to the Crown had helped the family accrue a sizeable estate, and then a baronetcy for the builder of Bodfean Hall, Sir Thomas Wynn (d. 1749). The latter’s marriage to heiress Frances Glynne would in due course yield the Glynllifon estate to the north which by the time his grandson had been enobled as the 1st Baron Newborough had become the family’s principal seat.

see: Phil Taylor/Panoramio

Phil Taylor@Panoramio

‘A moderate sized brick mansion of 1751′ burned down in 1836, Spencer, 3rd Lord Newborough then commissioning the elongated neo-classical affair we see today. While the land here has been retained the 102-room house has had a rather chequered history since 1949 when it was vacated by Thomas, 5th Lord Newborough citing “high taxation and because I find it almost impossible to get staff.”

Money troubles but entirely of his own making had also forced the flight from this place of Thomas, 1st Lord Newborough (1736-1807). Still to be seen at Glynllifon are the 8-mile estate wall and the tower and armoury he styled Fort Williamsburg, all testament to defensive preoccupations which would be most spectacularly expressed some three miles north at the entrance to the Menai Straits.

Dave Dunford@BLB

Dave Dunford@BLB

‘Notable for being the only purpose built fortress of the American Revolution on this side of the Atlantic,’ low-lying Fort Belan would later stand primed (with Newborough’s own full-time militia) to repel the Napeolonic threat. But live action came there none and the place would be later converted for domestic family use. (The guns always remained serviceable, however, as the 7th Lord Newborough for one regularly delighted in proving, incurring a minor criminal conviction in the process. The Daily Mail amongst others reported his 1976 prosecution after ‘a 9lb cannonball whistled a quarter of a mile across the Straits, damaging a yacht sail and frightening people on the beach.’)²

While Newborough’s well-intentioned ‘military fantasies’ helped gain him a peerage they would also reduce him to a state of financial embarrassment such that he eventually felt ‘obliged to live obscurely abroad’. So it was that in 1782 a newly widowed Newborough relocated with his young son to Tuscany where he remained for ten years and where, fatefully, he would meet a girl called Maria.

see: Your Paintings

see: Your Paintings

Maria Stella Petronilla was a minor starlet of the Florence stage. She was also just 13. Though 35 years her senior Newborough became smitten, bedazzling her low-born but ambitious parents into the cause of winning round the reluctant Maria. In a sensational memoir some forty years later the second Lady Newborough (r) recalled her teenage dread: ‘Realising that it was not a joke, I implored them to let me become a nun, [anything] so long as I was not forced to make such a detestable match.’ But the grown-ups got their way, the eventual return of the squire to Glynllifon with his unlikely new bride giving rise to no little excitement in north Wales and the salons of the capital.

In 1800 Newborough’s 27-year-old son and heir died; his stepmother, 26, would yield once more. ‘His father’s grief was so great, and he had always shown me so much kindness, that I at last felt it to be my duty to make the most painful sacrifice for his sake.’ The future 2nd and 3rd Lord Newboroughs duly resulted.

see source

see source

In a rather amazing parallel Thomas, the 5th baron, would also make a controversial second marriage to an exotic Continental woman 37 years his junior who would later publish a tell-all memoir. The tenor of Denisa, Lady Newborough’s ‘Fire in my blood’ may be adduced by its lengthy serialisation in the News of the World in April 1959: ‘One of my friends said to me: “Have you heard the man’s reputation?” “Good heavens,” I said, “I’ve got a reputation too, you know. I’m not exactly a Vestal Virgin.” Another friend warned, “Tommy Newborough doesn’t want a wife, he wants a brood mare. He’s just crazy to have sons.”

But unlike Maria, Denisa nor any of Tommy’s three wives produced a male heir and his cousin Robert Vaughan Wynn of Rhug succeeded. Robert’s father Charles, a younger son of the 3rd Lord Newborough, had inherited the Rhug estate from his godfather Sir Robert Vaughan Bt (d. 1859), the last of his line. The Vaughans had benefitted similarly in 1780 by the will of Maria Salusbury in whose family Rhug had descended since an early C16 marriage.

see: Such & Such

see: Such & Such/Rhug Estate

Today Rhug is the home of Robert, 8th Ld Newborough (who has relocated from Peplow Hall in Shropshire, a relatively recent acquisition currently on the market). The present classical house was erected at the very end of the C18 and stands in an extensive landscaped park, the work of Humphry Repton.

see: YouTube

see: YouTube/Rhug

The latter’s Red Book for this place outlined the challenges of working ‘in a country like that of North Wales, abounding in magnificent scenery…yet exposed to frequent rains and violent storms of wind.’ Repton concluded that ‘Gothic architecture is infinitely more applicable to such situations than the lofty portico of Greece.’ Enter, later, architect Joseph Bromfield with a portico of unambiguous loftiness which has nevertheless survived unlike some later cumbrous Victorian additions.

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

A colonnade and enclosing ground floor walls are all that remain of a clunky full-height pedimented east wing wherein a curious ballroom-cum-conservatory arrangement was attempted (l). But much original interior detailing remains including a staircase with panelling from an older house and ‘excellent plaster friezes, painted and gilded, the dining room’s being particularly fine.’³

Some half a mile from the house is Rhug’s private chapel, ‘an astonishing survival, [its] profusion of ornamented surfaces a remarkable document of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.’† And no doubt a useful facility to have on hand for someone feeling in need of a miracle. Speaking in 1951 the present owner’s grandfather augured that ‘the future of large estates cannot be anything but gloomy.’††

see: Rhug Estate
see: Rhug Estate

Yet one place which has certainly confounded this prognosis is Rhug itself, today a thriving brand employing over 100 staff and supplying produce to high-end establishments around the globe. Behind all of this is the energetic 8th Lord Newborough, for the past 15 years something of a Richard Branson-esque figure at the forefront of the organic farming movement and who was named national Farmer of the Year in 2013.

A thoroughly estimable character by all accounts.. unless, of course, the present Lady Newborough – his second wife – has some tales she cares to share…

[Rhug Estate][Archives][GII* listing]

¹ The Sunday Times 17 Dec 1967.
² Daily Mail 16 Jan 1976.
³ Haslam, R, Orbach, J, Voelcker, A. The buildings of Wales: Gwynedd, 2009.
† Haslam, R. Rug, Clwyd I/II, Country Life 6/13 Oct, 1983.
†† Shaw, H.R. Country heritage: the stately homes of the NW counties and N Wales, 1951.

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