‘Don’t believe everything you read in the papers’ may be a healthy general maxim but in the matter of a key moment in the history of the ‘big house’ in the parish of Overbury, at the foot of Bredon Hill on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border, Handed on is happy to trust the press. Down through the years most publications which have treated this place record 1738 as the year in which the original gabled manor house here burned down; at variance, one particularly respected source suggests 1735. And then there is this brief item of news which appeared in the Daily Gazetteer in its edition of 1 June, 1736:

’Last Thursday Se’ennight a dreadful Fire broke out at Overbury in Worcestershire, the Seat of Mr. Martin, Esq., which burnt down the Inside of that fine House, with part of the Furniture, amounting to a very considerable damage.’

Whilst it’s not inconceivable that this place could suffer devastating misfortune twice in short order, this blog is satisfied that we have our date. Factual reporting of this nature is, of course, relatively uncontentious. By contrast, some 160 years after the Overbury blaze the first-ever female candidate for the presidency of the United States would be desperately trying to persuade the Martins, an English banking dynasty of impeccable rectitude (one of whom she was seeking to marry), that she was not the scandalous libertarian virago of press characterization.

Despite claiming that “my life has been made wretched by them all”,1 Idaho-born Victoria Woodhull’s extraordinary, rollercoaster odyssey would have an typically unlikely denoument: a lady of the manor and the largest shareholder in Martin & Co., the prosperous finance house which sustained a family estate ‘maintained [to this day] at a standard of perfection that can hardly be surpassed anywhere else in Britain’.2


see: Google Maps

 ‘House and village evoke a vanished age: all is beautifully maintained and the feeling of a manorial stronghold is still very strong.’3

But while time would appear to stand still here, the Overbury estate (of 5,000 acres encompassing two villages) is far from ossified. This is an olde worlde idyll now powered, for example, by superfast fibre-optic broadband, industrial strength connectivity handy not least for keeping abreast of the various dedicated websites of the estate/farms/villages hereabouts. Not forgetting the Grasshoppers Nursery, the naming of which has its roots in the foundations of the Martin family’s fortune.


see: Google Maps

In the early years of the eighteenth century three brothers from a well-established family of standing in Evesham, Thomas, John and James Martin, became partners in a private banking concern quartered at the sign of the Grasshopper in Lombard Street in the City of London. Originally the site of Elizabethan royal financier Sir Thomas Gresham’s activities, this address would remain the headquarters of Stone & Martin, later Martins Bank, for the next 200 years. (The firm merged with larger Bank of Liverpool in 1918 before finally being swallowed whole by Barclays Bank in 1969.)


see: Historic England

Such was their success, by the early 1720s the brothers were in the market for country estates. James would become lord of the manor of Stow cum Quy, east of Cambridge, seated at Quy Hall (r). Dying without issue in 1744 this property was devised to similarly childless Thomas who would in turn settle Quy upon his nephew, the heir and namesake of brother John. (The Quy estate passed by descent until being sold in 1855 to the Francis family in whose hands it remains.)

Not that John II was exactly short of options having married Judith Bromley, heiress of the Ham Court estate near Upton upon Severn in Worcestershire, while his father was now the squire of Overbury some eight miles to the east.


see: Curt Mekemson

Fire having consumed the residence which came with this estate (initially leased from the Dean and Chapter of Worcester in 1723), John Martin had built a ‘large ashlar house, 1739-43, perhaps by the younger William Smith‘. Of honeyed local limestone, the principal seven-bay facade – its centre pedimented and slightly projecting – faced south, with five-bay returns. (John II is understood to have improved the family seat, possibly with the introduction of the attic storey, the pediment being raised.)4

Further reflecting their ascendancy all three Martin brothers were returned to parliament, John as the member for Tewkesbury, a position in which he would be succeeded in turn by each of his three sons. (This constituency was represented by a member of the Martin family, ‘with but few interruptions, for very nearly 150 years’.) But while he did his turn as MP, eldest son John II did not join the bank, ‘having chosen a profession of being his father’s heir’.5 In addition to developing Overbury after inheriting in 1767, Martin also commissioned a new mansion at Ham Court (below) from local architect Anthony Keck.


see: Historic England

Having no children at his death in 1794 John II’s property now passed to his brothers, both of whom had become senior partners in the family bank. Ham Court was inherited by Joseph Martin, Quy by Joseph’s son, Thomas, while brother James (II) now took responsibility at Overbury Court. James Martin’s marriage to Penelope Skippe would yield yet more property: The Upper Hall, Ledbury, just over the border into Herefordshire (2,300 acres by 1873) and the significant collection of drawings amassed on his Grand Tour by her bachelor brother John Skippe (who retired to Overbury village, dying there in 1812).

jamesmartinJames (II) was a scrupulous parliamentarian, gaining the nickname ‘Starling’ Martin during his three decades as MP for Tewkesbury. ‘A frequent but awkward speaker, much given to protestations of his integrity and independence, he was not always taken seriously; but he was no buffoon. Generally recognized as one of the most independent Members of the House, he passionately advocated abolition of the slave trade.’ Martin paid 20 guineas to George Romney for his likeness (r), captured during seven sittings for the artist in 1786.6

James died in 1810; across the remainder of the nineteenth century there were to be but two (albeit largely absentee) landlords of Overbury Court. Such was the commitment of eldest son John (III) to the banking business that he lived ‘above the shop’ in Lombard Street and, perhaps unsurprisingly, married Frances Stone, daughter of a fellow partner, Richard Stone (both men having accessible country retreats in Chiselhurst, Kent). Until John’s son, Robert, retired to Overbury from life in London in 1873 the mansion was periodically let, tenants including Robert Berkeley, the heir to Spetchley Park elsewhere in the county.


see: Historic England

In the year of his return to Worcestershire Robert Martin suffered the loss of his daughter, Penelope, who died following the birth of what would be his only grandchild. (Son-in-law the Rev. Frederick Holland would remain in the family, however, marrying his late wife’s cousin, John Martin’s daughter Elinore, two years later.)


See: Overbury

Some years into his full-time residency at Overbury Court Martin engaged architect Richard Norman Shaw, initiating a rolling programme of major alterations to the house and grounds which would continue well into the twentieth century under his heir, son Richard, and Shaw’s pupil, Ernest Newton. The most substantial element was Shaw’s new north-west wing of 1897-1900 (above), the most publicly visible his earlier grand ornamental gates.


see: Historic England

‘At Overbury the elevations of Shaw’s additions were almost brutally plain [N entrance, left], the interiors rich but simple. He advised the Martins to put plain lining paper on the walls of their best bedroom to start with and then, after a year or two, “to put on a [William] Morris paper at 18s/6d a roll!, as provided by that rampant socialist for well-to-do people”.’7 But for the Martins the troubling world of radical social reform had come a whole lot closer to home than simply their choice in wallpaper.

victoriawFor, one day in December 1877, Robert’s younger son, John Biddulph Martin, then 36 and single, had decided to attend a public talk entitled ‘The Human Body, the Temple of God’ to be given by a 39-year-old woman recently arrived on these shores from her native America. An indefatigable controversialist, Victoria Claflin Woodhull was embarking on the next chapter of an extraordinary life which, in addition to her energetic espousal of women’s suffrage, spiritualism and ‘free love’, had hitherto encompassed: the establishment of both a stock brokerage and a fearlessly muckraking newspaper in New York, a spell of imprisonment for ‘obscenity’ and, not least, her pioneering female candidature for the American presidency in 1872.

John Biddulph Martin was instantly smitten. But the colourful ‘baggage’ of the soon-to-be equally enamoured Victoria made her a difficult enough sell to the wider Martin family even before the couple got around to mentioning her two previous marriages and Zula, her accompanying grown-up daughter.

After five years navigating turbulent emotional waters – an increasingly desperate Victoria’s revisionist biography cutting little ice, her torn beau calling it off at least once – the couple wed in secret in 1883. They began an active married life at their house in Hyde Park, Martin’s wealth funding his wife’s continued campaigning. [Archive]


see: Country Life

With the passage of time came grudging acceptance. A decade on, Robert Martin gifted his younger son the neighbouring Worcestershire estate of Bredon’s Norton – 1,200 acres centred upon Norton Park (right), ‘an amazingly early example of Victorian ‘Tudor Gothic’4 – on condition it should revert to him, should John predecease him. ‘Fortunately for Victoria, [her husband] survived his father by three days.’8

Now landed in her own right (and also ‘the major shareholder’ in Martins Bank8), from 1901 widow Victoria and her daughter began life as ladies of the manor.

overzulaTheir PR instincts remained acute, however: a multi-page spread in Country Life magazine in 1902 anointed their new-found status (daughter Zula even bagging the frontispiece in the same edition, left). The pair’s reformist zeal was now focused on dragging the unsuspecting villagers of sleepy Bredon’s Norton into the 20th century. While every local farmer was soon equipped with a telephone, various socially progressive educational initiatives would ultimately hit the reactionary buffers.


see: Savills

Victoria died in 1927 by which time neighbouring Overbury was in the hands of her late husband’s nephew, Robert Holland-Martin, ‘her one friend in the family’ (and to whom the Woodhull estate passed after spinster Zula’s death in 1940).1 Prior to taking up residence at Overbury in 1922 Holland-Martin, his wife Eleanor (Martin, of Ham Court) and their six sons had occupied Bell’s Castle (r), ‘a miniature neo-Gothic castle with an unforgettable view’, which stands between the Court and Norton Park.9 (Sold out of the family in 2014.)


see: Curt Mekemson


see source

‘A great deal had been done to the house and garden’ ahead of the Holland-Martin brood’s arrival – a full-height projection of c.1910 on the east front housed a lift shaft (left) – and Overbury Court would continue to evolve.

Architect Sir Herbert Baker contributed a large porch on the west side c.1925 (↑). ‘These improvements were only a beginning: neither Robert Holland-Martin nor any of his family ever felt that Overbury was as perfect as they could make it, and from that time onwards there has never been a moment at which some plan or other was not under discussion.’9 [GII* listing]


see: Historic England

In recent times a scheme for a colonnade and pergola which incorporated eighteen Corinthian columns (bank closure salvage) was rejected by planners troubled by its ‘modern garden centre’ aesthetic. The garden has been the object of particular focus over the past century with many designers taking a hand. ‘If it has a fault, like the houses of the village it has had almost too much money spent upon it.’10


see: Google Maps

The lawn and sunken features to the south (above) were another Edwardian addition, the removal of trees permitting a limitless vista beyond the ‘vast extent of clipped hedges (r) taking fourteen days in September to trim’. The crisp geometry here stands in contrast to the ‘serpentine pools linked by foaming cascades‘ weaving amongst mature trees bounding lawn to the west of the house.11


see source

When Robert Holland-Martin died suddenly in 1944 ‘the City lost one of its most genial, active and useful figures’ and Overbury Court one of its most enthusiastic hosts.12 A boundless fascination with bygone artefacts, which in his time filled every available corner of house, created a problematic legacy, however. ‘Rather than ‘spend the rest of my life wood-worming [it],’ the contents of Holland-Martin’s museum – ‘one of the most spectacular collections of useless objects in Britain’ – would be dispersed by Sotheby’s on behalf of Holland-Martin’s  granddaughter in 1996.13

There had been losses, too, during the time of his heir, son Edward (‘Ruby’), albeit often involuntary. One night in 1955 two men were caught red-handed attempting to break into the strongroom at Overbury using an oxy acetylene torch. The same space had been invaded just a year earlier with the loss of heraldic porcelain and silverware while another burglary in 1969 relieved the family of thousands of pounds worth of similar items.


see: Goldeneye Guides

Losses by design included the Skippe collection of important Old Master drawings which were sold in 1958 and, a year later, another two-day sale of valuable furniture and effects ‘owing to the reduction of the size of the house’. The latter was overseen by architect Victor Heal who ‘demolished Norman Shaw’s NW wing, replacing it with a smaller NE version’ (r).4

A renowned amateur steeplechase jockey between the wars, Edward Holland-Martin suffered a crippling fall in 1952 but in partnership with brother Thurston the family’s equestrian reputation continued with the establishment of Overbury Stud. Having bred the likes of Derby-winning Grundy the stud is today home to champion National Hunt sire Kayf Tara.


see: Calix / YouTube

Though he had also served many years as a director of the Bank of England and treasurer of the National Trust, at his death in 1981 The Times observed that ‘Overbury Court was the real centre of his life, a model estate maintained to the highest possible standards’.14 Standards to which his only child, Penelope (r), has since continued to aspire, and who, aside from superfast broadband, has brought to Overbury one asset money cannot (any longer) buy.

“I have just been listening to the story of Richard working to get a baronetcy,” the perpetually aggrieved Victoria Woodhull Martin would write of her aloof brother-in-law in 1897. “He will get it. Money buys all.”1 And in 1905, by whatever means, the then squire of Overbury did indeed gain this hereditary distinction – only for it to expire eleven years later when he died without children. But the death in 2017 of Major Sir Clive Bossom, 2nd Bt, would raise son Bruce (co-founder of ‘one of Europe’s most successful private equity real estate firms’) to the baronetcy, his wife of over thirty years henceforth to be formally addressed as Lady Penelope, with their son and heir the next in line…

[Overbury Enterprises]

1. MacPherson, M. The scarlet sisters: Sex, suffrage and scandal in the gilded age, 2015.
2. Sidwell, R. West Midlands gardens, 1981.
3. Reid, P. Burke’s and Savills guide to country houses, vol.II, 1980.
4. Brooks, A., Pevsner, N. Buldings of England: Worcestershire, 2007.
5. Martin, John B. The “Grasshopper” in Lombard Street, 1892.
6. Kidson, A. George Romney: A complete catalogue of his paintings, 2015.
7. Saint, A. Richard Norman Shaw, 2010.
8. Stinchcombe, O. American lady of the manor, 2000.
9. Adlard, E. (ed.) Robert Holland-Martin: a symposium, 1947.
10. Mowl, T. Historic gardens of Worcestershire, 2006.
11. Worcestershire Life, May 2011.
12. The Times, 28 January, 1944.
13. Daily Telegraph, 28 April, 1996.
14. The Times, 14 March, 1981.



HHoutlawIn the northern extremities of Shropshire during the early decades of the C16th the name of Humphrey Kynaston was legendary for all the right or wrong reasons, depending on your place in the social order. The heroic benefactor of a grateful and protective rural peasantry was simply a villainous bandit in the eyes of the local landowning class – of which, indeed, Kynaston’s own family had long been a part. Unbridled extravagance and an impetuous temper were among a sizeable collection of character failings which had seen ‘Wild Humphrey’ squander the advantages of his birthright ushering in a life of crime, being outlawed and reduced to sharing a vertiginous cave dwelling with his trusty steed, Beelzebub.


see: TheWrens

In the nineteenth century this primitive redoubt would be ‘shewn to travellers by a facetious old dame who inhabits it’. Today Kynaston’s cave can still be visited, as – occasionally and by appointment – can the ‘galumphing, provincially ambitious’ mansion which would be built twelve miles to the north by Humphrey’s direct descendant, six generations on.1 Hardwick Hall stands tall just to the west of Ellesmere, the distant view from the lane of its south front remaining little changed in almost three centuries.

Humphrey Kynaston died in 1534. His second cousin and sometime contemporary, meanwhile – being also called Humphrey Kynaston and living in north Shropshire – could perhaps have been forgiven if he had feared his own prospects might be somewhat tarnished by association. But he would nonetheless succeed in winning the hand of his neighbour, Mary Oteley, heiress of the Oteley estate immediately east of Ellesmere. An earlier fork in the genealogy of the two Humphreys would see Hardwick and Oteley descend independently (both occasionally in the female line) until the twenty first century when the Kynaston name would finally connect these longstanding Shropshire neighbours.


Hardwick Hall

see: Friends of Shropshire Archives

In a county still pleasingly stiff with dignified gentry houses Hardwick Hall’s badge of distinction is literally that, an unavoidable heraldic display framed within a peculiarly heightened segmental tympanum. The arms occupying this ‘strange, ungainly space’1 are a trophy of war, the chevron and ermine of Lancastrian troop commander Lord Audley having been adopted by his vanquisher Sir Roger Kynaston…

…  after the first battle of the Wars of the Roses in 1459. Sir Roger (the father of ‘Wild’ Humphrey, his brother being the grandfather of Humphrey of Oteley) ‘had claims through marriage on Myddle Castle’, between Ellesmere and Shrewsbury. Responsibility for this late-medieval pile was handed to his younger son, whose self-indulgence and consequent indebtedness would engender both his and the castle’s decline.

Humphrey’s childless elder brother had inherited the family’s core estate at Hordley, four miles south of Ellesmere, passing it in due course to Humphrey’s son, Edward. Hordley (and its since-converted manor house) would remain the seat and burial place of this branch of the Kynastons for the next five generations.

The marriage of Edward Kynaston (1640-1693) brought with it ‘very extensive property within the liberties of Shrewsbury’. Subsequent active involvement in the affairs of the town culminated in Edward being elected one of its two MPs; his son and heir likewise followed him into parliament, gaining the soubriquet ‘John of the trousers‘ on account of certain sartorial peculiarities. But John’s fashion sense plainly did him no harm in the matrimonial stakes, marriage to heiress first wife Beatrice (d.1703) eventually yielding the unentailed estates of the Corbets of Moreton Corbet.


see: ArtFund / Shrewsbury Museum

Purchases further expanded the Kynaston domain; by the 1720s (and with a new family by his second wife) John’s circumstances fairly demanded an upgrade of the family seat. On a virgin site north of Hordley John Kynaston set about building ‘a later Baroque house with tremendous punch’2 facing south ‘towards a beautiful view’.3


see: Heritage


see: Buntingsdale

Buntingsdale Hall (left) and Mawley Hall are two of several contemporary Shropshire houses very redolent of the style of prolific provincial master Francis Smith of Warwick. It has oft been thought…

… that Hardwick could be of similar provenance ‘but its detailing distinguishes it’ from such handsome company.3 Detailing which includes…


see: Bing Maps


see: noorcaughley

… the ‘almost aggressive’ tympanum4 and a lower string course which cuts a pair of giant pilasters off at the knees. Flanking this original entrance front, ‘quadrant walls link to symmetrical service pavilions set forward’.3


see source

By contrast, ‘the north front is of nine closely spaced bays,’3 seemingly a classically unconventional scheme to enable a five-bay saloon (behind a square entrance hall) and workable spaces either side. To the west is Hardwick’s ‘principal original feature, and finest space, the square staircase’, full height, with three twisted balusters per tread.3 ‘Chimneys with recessed panels are another feature of this eccentric house,’ and are a motif common to several houses by Staffordshire architect/builder Richard Trubshaw.1

Like his father before him, Corbet Kynaston, the eldest son of John by his first wife, entered parliament representing successively Shrewsbury and Shropshire. Corbet’s election expenses had initially been picked up by his father but relations became strained and his debts mounted. Being also pursued for substantial South Sea Bubble liabilities (not to mention his flirtations with Jacobitism) Corbet fled abroad, continuing to live ‘extravagantly’ in Boulogne.


see: Dunedin Art Gallery

Kynaston remained overseas until his father’s death in 1733 after which it was revealed John Kynaston had ‘disinherited his son of all except his entailed estates, in favour of Edward Kynaston, the first son of his second marriage’. (Corbet’s maternal inheritance provided income but he would sell much of this property back to his Corbet cousins, in whose hands it remains). Unlike the turbulent times of his step-brother, Edward Kynaston (right, as painted by Allan Ramsay) enjoyed a long and relatively uneventful tenure as squire (Corbet dying unmarried in 1740). Though an MP for over 30 years ‘he hardly ever spoke in debate’.

But despite a long marriage he, too, died childless in 1772, brother Roger now becoming the third son of John Kynaston to inherit the Hardwick estate. He would have little opportunity to enjoy the house in his remaining sixteen years, however, his sister-in-law having the use of Hardwick for her lifetime. Roger lived splendidly in Shrewsbury – sponsoring many civic initiatives – with his wife, Mary Powell, ‘who brought further estates to the Kynastons’, their son and heir John later inheriting those of his uncle, John Powell, (taking his name in accordance) in 1797.


see: NPG

Having failed in his quest to have an abeyant barony (of Grey de Powis) revived in his favour, Kynaston Powell (left) was instead ‘consoled with a baronetcy’. Dying childless, this title and the family estates now passed to his brother, Rev. Sir Edward Kynaston. It would be the latter’s son, Sir Roger, who – prior to his tenure as squire being abruptly terminated when he was knocked down in the road in central London – would effect significant changes to Hardwick Hall and its grounds in the middle of the nineteenth century.


see: Country Life / Rostron & Edwards

The house was now  ‘turned around’ and new additions built at each corner. A sitting room and a since-lost conservatory disrupted the balanced composition in the south (a verandah – ‘rather amusing in itself but altogether out of place’ – being later added).5 Twin single-storey three-bay spurs now flanked the north front, a new entrance porch being sited (‘in defiance of symmetry’3) at its west end, curiously connected to a central canted bay by a glass lobby. Inside, ‘Sir John removed the fittings of all the principal rooms; amid much of Victorian date there yet remains a sprinkling of good C18th furniture,’ noted Country Life magazine in its visitation precisely one hundred years ago.5


see: Invitation to View


see: Emily Dove

‘Said in 1861 to have spent £2,000 on his gardens,’ Sir John now had a raised terrace laid to the south, rolling down to a ha-ha and ornamental railings, while an arboretum and pleasure grounds were developed in the west.

Unmarried Kynaston’s fatal encounter with that cart in Charing Cross would mark the end of the direct male line at Hardwick, his sister Amy dying two years later ‘having devised the estates to the descendant of her maternal grandfather Robert Owen of Dublin’.6 The Rev Walter Owen assumed the name and arms of Kynaston at the outset of what would be a 35-year incumbency as squire.


see: England’s Places

Meanwhile, four miles east on other side of Ellesmere, the long Kynaston male line at Otelely had ended in 1781 when Edward Kynaston, though three times married, died without issue. His sister Mary had married James Mainwaring of Bromborough Hall, Cheshire, the heir to both estates being her grandson Rev Charles Mainwaring whose son Charles Kynaston Mainwaring would set about a dramatic transformation of the house at Oteley and its grounds abutting the largest of Shropshire’s ancient meres.


see: bakers_hill


see: source

A rambling half-timbered house (left) would be entirely replaced by a ‘Neo-Tudor mansion (↑) built 1826-30 to the designs of Thomas Jones of Chester. It must have made a romantic sight from the town across the mere’.3

But this arresting edifice, with its ‘strong display of gables and battlemented entrance tower’,2 was itself razed in 1960 by Mark Mainwaring (to be superseded by a replacement house seemingly designed, by contrast, to wholly emasculate the senses). It was survived by contemporary Italianate lakeside terracing (↑), a striking folly tower and other characterful structures which have been regularly visitable since 1927, Oteley being a founder-participant in the charitable National Gardens Scheme. Until very recently this tradition of access – continued by the present owner of the 1,600-acre estate – long distinguished Oteley Park from its near neighbour…

… but a turn of events has seen developments back at Hardwick Hall.

Having inherited less than one month after he came of age in 1935, decorated war hero Major John Kynaston ‘retired from the Army in 1947 to manage the family estate’. (Extending to some 3,500 acres in 1883, the original Hordley portion, a little over 900 acres, would be placed on the market in 1973). ‘A great supporter of village cricket, the pitch in the park at Hardwick with its modern pavilion and facilities was the envy of many.’


see: Hardwick Hall


see: Frankton CC

And the sporting profile of Hardwick Hall has expanded in recent times (r) while the house itself is also now occasionally opened to visitors. For John Kynaston passed away in 2011 aged 96, having been an only child and with none of his own. There being no direct heir the Hardwick Hall estate was taken on by Neil (Kynaston) Mainwaring, a younger son of the squire of Oteley Park – a remarkable conjoining of the bifurcated Kynaston line after a period of some five hundred years…

[Hardwick Hall Estate][GII* listing]

1. Gomme, A. Smith of Warwick, 2000.
2. Reid, P. Burke’s and Savills guide to country houses: Vol. II, 1980.
3. Newman, J., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
4. Lees-Milne, J. English country houses: Baroque 1685-1715, 1970.
5. Tipping, H.A. Hardwick Hall, Country Life 15 June 1918.
6. Burke’s landed gentry, 17th ed., 1952.


In 1762, at the height of his powers and popularity, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was engaged by the first Earl of Shelburne to reimagine the surroundings of Bowood, the Wiltshire house he had acquired (and subsequently enlarged) eight years before. Beyond establishing the bounds of his latest canvas Brown possibly paid the neighbouring lands little heed. Yet immediately south of Bowood’s park was a property already possessed of ‘a fine designed landscape’1 which had been developed before Brown was born and which bore the influence of a man whose work ‘was seminal to the development of the English landscape garden in the early 18th century’.

bowheth2Today, the name of Stephen Switzer does not resound like that of his later fellow practitioner. Similarly, whilst the pared-back splendour of 4,000-acre Bowood draws thousands annually its comely neighbour to the south, Whetham House, remains decidedly obscure; little-known and hidden from view. Though comparatively modest in all tangible aspects Whetham retains a distinction riches by definition cannot buy, being another corner of England which has never once changed hands for money. Despite a line of descent stretching back into the 13th century the essential character of this place has remained remarkably little altered, due in part to the fact that for some 250 years…

… Whetham would play second fiddle to a larger family estate sixty-five miles to the north. With a 450-year history alternately separate and shared, while Homme House in Herefordshire would eventually be uncoupled from joint inheritance in the 1920s (and has latterly developed a commercial profile) it, too, remains ‘very much a family home’.



see source

‘The arms of Fynamore, impaled by Ernle, are still to be seen carved upon the [west] front of Whetham House,’ relates this late-C19 source (which also carries a puzzling sketch, right, depicting the building in a form which has seemingly never existed). The ‘ornate armorial cartouche’ memorializes the first two families in the chain of ownership here, the Fynamore male line obtaining from c.1260 until the death of Roger Fynamore in 1574. His heiress Mary had married Michael Ernle, the couple being succeeded by a sequence of John Ernles, among them the most high-profile owner in Whetham’s history.


source: Historic England

Sir John Ernle would serve thirteen years as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1676 until eventually replaced under the new regime following the Glorious Revolution. ‘Sir John had a large house at his death in 1697,’2 L-plan by this time, a south front of five bays and two gables now perpendicular to the original range. While a new entrance bay was later added by his grandson heir (Ernle’s two sons having predeceased him) the main preoccupation of the new young squire would be the park and surrounding estate.

John Kyrle Ernle was born in 1682, the same year as progressive gardener Stephen Switzer whose name, for all his professional success, would quickly receed from memory. Just five years after Switzer ‘died a rich man’ in 1745 it was remarked that people were ‘ignorant that he had been the chief promoter of the present taste in gardening’.3 Hampshire-born Switzer’s career began in 1697 as an apprentice at the preeminent Brompton Park Nursery of Henry London and George Wise (later to be joined by his younger contemporary Charles Bridgeman).


see source

Significant involvement in large scale projects such as Blenheim, Kensington Palace and Castle Howard followed, the last-named bringing Switzer into the orbit of Sir John Vanbrugh. The pair would later team up to remake Grimsthorpe Castle for Robert Bertie, 4th earl of Lindsey. But Switzer’s output was as much theoretical, setting him apart from his fellow practicioners. In 1715 he published what would become the first element of his three-volume magnum opus Ichnographia rustica, his ‘manifesto for a designed landscape’.4 A reaction against the over-wrought, high maintenance country house grounds hitherto prevalent, Switzer advocated a more holistic, relatively informal estate vision, ‘an enfilade’ of diverse elements adapting the bounty of Mother Nature, ‘a little guided in her Extravagancies by the artist’s hand’.

‘His message was not fully adopted until well passed mid-century’ but a corner of Wiltshire caught on early. Switzer introduced an array of features to the grounds of Spye Park (‘all now sunk without trace’) and, immediately to the east, a young John Kyrle Ernle was keenly rolling up his sleeves. ‘Given the personal association between Swtizer and Kyrle Ernle, Switzer’s residence and nursery nearby, his work for other improvers in the area, and most notably the fact that in this very early period the only advocate for a garden-estate was Switzer himself, his authorship of Whetham is a very near certainty.’4


see: Bing Maps

‘Today the park at Whetham is a mixture of rough woodland and pasture but in its 1720s prime it must have approached very near to the Arcadian landscapes which William Kent would be creating in the 1730s’.5 A hands-on enthusiast, Kyrle Ernle developed various gardens, coppices, vineyards, and avenues including ‘ye Walk of ye Wilderness’ and, extending south, ‘ye Great Walk in front of ye House’. Most elaborately, in the wooded slopes to the north the flow of a stream was manipulated to create a spectacular water feature observed by the 1st Earl of Hopetoun on a visit in 1712.

‘The principal cascade began at the cascade-house – “25 feet broad and near as high, with statues and a dolphin’s head” – then descended some 60 feet [in] “10 or 12 steps for 500 feet”, finishing in a basin where three horse heads spouted water in the centre.’4 To sustain or increase the cascade flow, several years later Kyrle Ernle would pay £35 to a ‘Mr. Mitchell for ye Fire Engine’, a contraption for pumping water.1


see source

In another treatise, on ‘Hydrostaticks and Hydraulicks’, Stephen Switzer cited the Whetham water-works in the same breath as not only those at Chatsworth and Dyrham but also any that Italy or France could then boast, providing an analogous illustration (right).

But while the development of Whetham certainly preoccupied the attention of its young squire it was not the only estate of which he was now possessed. For his mother, Vincentia, was the only child of Sir John Kyrle whose great-grandfather had acquired the Herefordshire manor of Much Marcle in the second half of the 16th century. The extent of John Kyrle Ernle’s involvement here, if any, has not been established, and the Kyrle seat Homme House appears to have been leased during this time. But in a corner of the walled garden stands a building suggestive of a creative mind at work here on the Herefordshire / Gloucestershire border at around the time the two estates became linked.


see: geeflee

While some elements of the recently restored ‘remarkable summer house [appear] convincingly medieval’, grant-aiding Historic England describe a ‘late C17 Grade I-listed important and little altered early example of a Gothick garden building, predating Miller’s work at Radway Grange in the 1740s or Walpole’s work at Strawberry Hill’.  Homme House itself at this time was a battlemented sandstone C16 edifice to which a ‘low brick wing of c.1700’ would be added (below).6


see: Russell Lewis Photography

John Kyrle Ernle died in 1725, his schemes at Whetham beginning a slow, inexcorable decline not least because his only child, Constantia, married Lord Dupplin (later 9th Earl of Kinnoull) and spent much time in Perthshire. At her death in 1753 the earl – ‘who probably owed his reputation as a fool to the fact that the word for bore had yet to be invented’ – was displeased to learn that his wife’s not inconsiderable estates had been settled ‘upon the sole representative of her ancestors’…


c.1845 (see source)

… namely her cousin Elizabeth’s son, James Money, a fact which protracted litigation would not alter. By the time of Money’s son, William (d.1808), Whetham had gained a sizeable north range (r), undergone some internal adjustments and in 1795 the house, ‘lately fitted up’, was available to let. (The imposition of a turnpike road in 1790-1 was, alas, another nail in the coffin of John Kyrle Ernle’s designed landscape, cutting the southern half of the park off from the house.)


see: Jareklepak

Also around this time the character of Homme House would undergo rather more radical alteration. The castellated remnant now became an appendage to a three-storey Late Georgian block, ‘originally of stone, refaced in thin brick’. Inside, the ‘broad entrance hall’ and the rooms off it incorporate C17th fixtures from the earlier house, with ‘a handsome flying staircase’ (↓) beyond.7


see: bethbakescakes

Soon after inheriting both estates in 1808 William Money’s eldest son, later Maj. Gen. Sir James, took the additional surname of Kyrle by Royal Licence. This favouring of his Herefordshire heritage was further emphasised when he gave his clerical brother William tenancy of Whetham for his lifetime. The rector of nearby Yatesbury for over four decades, the Rev. William and his wife, Emma, nurtured a large family at Whetham in an atmosphere of strong morality and emotional articulacy.

‘Although they spent relatively little time apart, William and Emma wrote almost one thousand letters to each other during their forty-year marriage,’ the last years of which were passed at Homme House following the death of childless Sir James in 1843. The transition ‘from being a rural clergyman possessed of 450 acres, to a substantial proprietor of 4,000’ in Herefordshire was not entirely comfortable, however. Also adopting the Money-Kyrle moniker, ‘the ostentation and worldliness of their peers in the social elite into which William was [now] projected’ compared unfavourably with the wholesome piety of their previous existence. William died five years later aged 61, Emma outliving him by just three months.8

With the family’s material fortunes enhanced, soon after their inheritance of the Homme estate the couple’s eldest son, William Money-Kyrle, in his mid-thirties and unmarried, belatedly embarked on several years of travel in Europe and the Middle East. A rather more prosaic excursion would prove his undoing, however, a dip in the sea at Scarborough in the summer of 1868 inducing a chill from which he never recovered. But he had lived long enough to foresee trouble ahead for the family estates.


see: Prodrone Services

Having no children of his own, William’s heir was his brother, Lt-Col. John Money-Kyrle whose two eldest sons were now also young army officers serving in India. The difference between Ernle and his younger brother Audley was apparent early. “I should strongly counsel his not entering the army at all for, if he did pass, he would surely bring shame and disgrace upon us all by his ruinous and dissipated habits,” a 16-year-old Audley had advised his father in a letter home from school. Ernle did indeed pass out of Sandhurst and shame and disgrace did indeed ensue.

‘Court-martialled for debts and illegally selling beer, his deceits, criminality and lack of self-control became a template for ungentlemanly behaviour.’ Fleeing to England to escape his creditors, Ernle would be ‘retired‘ from military service in 1872, an exasperated (and by contrast eminently responsible) Audley now advising that their father “should simply decline to see him”, suggesting that he was a hopeless case.

And it transpired their uncle William had reached a similar conclusion, his will stipulating that the estate was to be entailed on John Money-Kyrle ‘as a life interest, with strict instructions it by-pass Ernle’. “Had he been different there is no doubt your uncle would have entailed the estate absolutely on me and my children,” lamented John. “Thus his miserable course has not only affected himself but may entirely change the direction of the property.”9

whethampaintxUpstanding Audley did eventually inherit in 1894, outliving his father by fourteen years before dropping dead suddenly whilst out shooting near Homme, aged 62. (He had made his mark at Whetham with a substantial extension, far left, at the western end of the south front.) This event was to usher in the most significant upheaval in the family estate for 250 years, a development not unconnected with the intellectual (and neurotic) preoccupations of Audley’s son and heir, Roger.

The disabled older brother of Roger Money-Kyrle (1898-1980) had died shortly before Roger was born, his father passing suddenly when he was ten. ‘My mother, a recognized beauty still in her forties, remained a widow. [They] were devoted to each other and the love and kindness I received from them made the later discovery of my Oedipus complex a very lengthy process.’10


see source

A fighter pilot shot down in the Great War, various psychological pressures led a demobbed Money-Kyrle to the nascent therapy of psysho-analysis whilst studying at Cambridge. (Referral to Sigmund Freud in Vienna would follow but not before he had ‘foolishly rushed off and married an older woman’, against advice.)11 Not least amongst his realizations during this time was the discovery ‘that instead of a comfortable income from two properties, I had a negative income of about £400 per annum. I then sold Homme, for which I think the older tenants never forgave me’.10

Whetham remained Money-Kyrle’s home his entire life but, despite initially acceding to expectations as squire (JP, High Sheriff), he came to realise that ‘I had no vocation for such activities’.10 After the Second World War, with two PhDs and several books already to his name, his focus turned instead to practising psycho-analysis in London (becoming a ‘highly renowned‘ figure in the profession), returning to Wiltshire on weekends.


see: Homme House

And while he had indeed sold Homme House it nevertheless remained in the family, the purchaser being his uncle, the Reverend Cecil Money-Kyrle, vicar of Much Marcle. (A great deal of the large Herefordshire landholding would be divested at this time, however.) Cecil died childless in 1962, Homme now descending via his sister’s grandson, Vice-Admiral John Ernle Pope. The house and 100+ acre park are today home to the family of the latter’s step-daughter who over the past decade have developed Grade II* listed Homme as a popular country house wedding venue

hommedogs… and who featured in Country Life (r) with their dachshunds back in 2014. This weekly magazine has been chronicling the vicissitudes of the British country house, large and small, for now well over a hundred years yet in all that time Whetham has, by contrast, entirely escaped mention. Modest in its dimensions but epic in lineage, this house and estate remain in the hands of the Money-Kyrle family, and one of the longest-held, least-heralded ancestral inheritances in the land…

[Estate archive][Roger Money-Kyrle archive]


1. Bishop, W. Whetham, Wiltshire: A Switzer garden?, Garden History, Vol.40, Summer 2012.
2. Crowley, D.A. (ed.). Victoria County History: Wiltshire Vol.17, 2002.
3. Brogden, W.A. Stephen Switzer, Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4. Brogden, W.A. Ichnographia Rustica: Stephen Switzer and the designed landscape, Routledge, 2017.
5. Mowl, T. The historic gardens of Wiltshire, 2004.
6. Pevsner, N., Cherry, B. The buildings of England: Wiltshire, 1975.
7. Brooks, A., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Herefordshire, 2012.
8. Rothery, M., French, H. Making men: The formation of elite male identities in England, c.1660-1900, 2012.
9. French, H., Rothery, M. Man’s estate: Landed gentry masculinities 1660-1900, 2012.
10. Money-Kyrle, R. Collected papers, 1977.
11. Forrester, J., Cameron, L. Freud in Cambridge, 2017.


Startling plot twists and fairytale endings, staple elements of the standard popular novel – but sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Strange fiction, even. In the early hours of March 10, 2005, 74-year-old one-time romantic novelist Cherry Drummond, aka the 16th Baroness Strange, summoned two house guests to her bedside to witness a change in her will. The ailing matriarch of Megginch Castle, north of the Firth of Tay, would be abruptly subverting family expectation that all was to be inherited by Adam, the eldest of her six children, now stipulating that the entire estate should go instead to the youngest, daughter Catherine. Lady Strange died the following day.

meggwill3The new will has changed everything. It is all very confusing and quite a few people are very upset. Everything about that family is strange. Strange by name, strange by nature.”1

That there was actually anything of significance beyond the title of baron to be passed on would perhaps have pleasantly surprised Cherry’s equally idiosyncratic father. In a memoir outlining his agricultural philosophy and innovations, John Drummond, 15th Lord Strange, had held out little optimism for the future: ‘I think, probably, the end of my plan will coincide with the end of the Megginch saga. In any case, the male line of this small landowning family comes to an end with me. I have no son.”2


see: Tatler

Slightly unusually, neither estate nor title were automatically entailed upon the eldest child, while the Strange peerage is among a minority which can be passed in the female line. Cherry did in fact inherit Megginch but faced a protracted tussle with one of her two sisters for the barony, their father having apparently lead each to expect that they would accede. Despite financial inducement to favour her sister’s claim, in 1986 the abeyant title was eventually granted to Cherry Drummond, subsequently an assiduous attendee of the House of Lords (surviving the 1991 cull of hereditary peers) for the rest of her days.3

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that when apples are stored in an apple loft or shed, it is essential to lay them out carefully and then to inspect them every now and again? The rotten apples must be taken out and thrown away before they can infect the other apples. Should not the same be done with terrorists?”

“I don’t quite know how to follow the noble Baroness,” would become a familiar refrain in Parliament’s upper chamber, Lady Strange importing a unique brand of folksy wisdom (not to mention a weekly supply of cut flowers from the abundance of her Scottish garden) to their lordships’ House. But while she prized her peerage its direct association with Megginch Castle was young, post-dating that of the Drummond family itself by some 300 years.


SAW051278’Although Megginch Castle does not present the appearance a highly defensive site today among its fine, level parks and woodlands, it was once secure indeed, islanded among spreading marshes and pools, as effective as any moat.’4 The fertile plain of the present-day Carse of Gowrie, between Dundee and Perth, belies its unpromising estuarine origins when the earliest (probably monastic) structure was erected on a rare elevated spot 50 feet above sea level.


see: Canmore

A branch of the Hay family, earls of Erroll – originators of nearby Errol Park – developed a C15 tower house subsequently incorporated within a significant expansion of 1575 by Robert Hay. Characteristic corbelling supports the watch-room and conical turret of this C16 block. But the Hays would not enjoy Megginch for much longer, financial exigencies obliging its mid-C17 sale to a cadet branch of another noble Scottish clan, the Drummonds, earls of Perth [see previous post: Drummond Castle, Perth].


see: Bing Maps

Having removed from their traditional fiefdom of Lennoch 45 miles west, during the time of purchaser John Drummond’s son and grandson Megginch would be enlarged, becoming an L-shaped house. The family’s sphere of influence also expanded as the grandson, John Drummond, became MP for Perthshire (1727-34) in the interest of James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, 7th Baron Strange (who would later marry Drummond’s daughter, Jean). ‘John sent his children by boat from Dundee to be educated in Holland. They absorbed some Dutch ideas and translated them to Scotland.’ One result was the Beech Walk – one of several tree-lined avenues at Megginch – planted c.1750 by Adam Drummond, 4th laird.2

When his father died in 1752 Adam was in America furthering a military career which had begun – controversially for a Drummond – fighting the Hanoverian cause in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Upon his return, marriage to a daughter of the 4th duke of Bolton oiled a passage into parliament where Drummond soon put his service experience to commercial use, forming a partnership which gained lucrative contracts to supply victuals to the naval fleet in the Americas. Tacking and trimming with changes of administration, valuable New World land and mineral rights followed but his business reputation would be dented when he turned his hand to banking.

Founded in 1769, Ayr Bank ‘was to provide one of the most dramtatic incidents in the history of European banking’. A private operation founded upon the ‘seemingly limitless credit’ of blue chip Scottish landowners, Ayr Bank ‘was a most obliging source of funds’  for increasingly fanciful property schemes at home and abroad. But when an allied banking house went under the domino effect quickly exposed Ayr’s speculative dealings and it too collapsed in 1772. Facing unlimited liabilities ‘many of the landowning families had to sell up’ yet Adam Drummond appears to have survived relatively unscathed.5

Indeed, three years later he would be invited by Thomas Coutts to replace Coutts’ incapacitated brother as partner in his private London bank. The recently-widowed Drummond lived on the bank’s premises on the Strand but before too long Coutts concluded that money management was not the Scotsman’s metier. Requesting his resignation in 1780, Thomas Coutts would later recall his erstwhile partner as ‘a useless incumberance’.6


see: Simon Forder

Generally, ‘the fourth laird preferred London life, Megginch being somewhat neglected’ during his tenure.7 Dying childless in 1786, his heir was nephew John Drummond who promptly sold off the ancestral Lennoch lands in favour of developing Megginch Castle to which a transverse, bow-ended drawing room wing would be added. ‘Unsubstantiated tradition alleges that this was the work of Robert Adam. The now-reconstituted ceiling was certainly good enough to be by him.’8 But as funds again became stretched Drummond now elected to sell Megginch itself, the buyer being his younger and considerably wealthier brother, Robert.


see: Craig Frew


see: Sandy Stevenson

In the grounds of the castle a hexagonal dovecote is topped by a ship weathervane commemorating the ‘General Elliott’, the vessel which intrepid East Indiaman Robert Drummond had captained to Bombay in then record time. Having invested £29,335. 16s. 4½d. of his trading fortune acquiring the family estate Drummond had soon set about adding some visual flourishes.7 The dovecote would be surrounded a striking stable range with neat Gothick fenestration; this fashion also informed the north lodge which these days abuts the A91 (see below) and a folly arch at the end of his uncle’s Beech Walk.


see: Google Maps

Paintings by fashionable portraitist George Romney now adorned the castle walls, Drummond paying 25gns upfront for his own at the first sitting. It would take a dozen sittings for the artist to capture a satisfactory likeness of Robert’s mother (‘a large number for a work this plain’) and a remarkable 17 sitttings for a portrait of his sister. ‘It must be supposed that Miss Drummond or her mother, or both, were difficult clients.’9

The one member of the family Romney did not encounter was Drummond’s brother, Adam, who became the third sibling to succeed as laird of Megginch when Robert died childless aged 50 in 1815. A year earlier Admiral (as he would later become) Adam Drummond had stepped back from a lively, full-time naval career spanning more than three decades. With his wife, Charlotte Murray, daughter of the 4th duke of Atholl (and 9th baron Strange), he now set about making significant alterations at Megginch.


see: Canmore (annotated)

meggsouth2 (2)

see: Nichola Dawson

A large armorial tablet records their further development of the bow-ended Georgian south wing (↑) including ‘an off-centre Roman Doric portico [see], removed in 1928′.10 In the north and east a new L-shaped two-storey wing now wrapped around the C16th block.

Following the admiral’s death in 1849 his eldest son Capt. John Drummond’s tenure as laird lasted forty years but perhaps the most singular legacy of this era was that created by his younger brother, Henry Drummond-Hay. Remembered as ‘a noble specimen of the true field naturalist’, a peripatetic military career enabled Henry to assemble ‘one of the largest ornithological collections in the country’, hundreds of species of European bird life all personally shot, stuffed and mounted, most of which remain in the billiard room at Megginch. (Drummond-Hay himself would retire to Seggieden House, just ten miles down the road, having married its heiress and added her family name.)


see: Carsesus.org

Meanwhile, Henry’s brother and sister-in-law made their mark in the Castle gardens. ‘The outstanding historical value of the designed landscape at Megginch is in its great age and the continuity of gardening by the Drummond family since the C17.’ Arboreally, 1000-year-old yews face competition as king of the trees hereabouts from the oldest Giant Redwoods in Britain (r), cultivated from Californian seeds supplied by a C19th neighbour, pioneering grower and evolutionary theorist Patrick Matthew.


see: GardenVisit.com

‘The top walled garden created c.1575 is still in use, its brick walls harbouring figs and nectarines,’ while the orchard at Megginch is home to a national collection of cider apples and pears. Capt. Drummond’s wife Mary was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and amongst the quirky topiary ‘is an extraordinary crown-shaped yew (left) planted to commemorate the monarch’s golden jubilee and concealing a delightfully gloomy chamber within’.11

Son Malcolm succeeded in 1889, marrying Geraldine, a daughter of Lord Amherst of Hackney the following year. Their children would enjoy summers at the latter’s country seat, Didlington Hall in Norfolk, in the halcyon years just prior to the discovery of the calamitous embezzlement of that estate by Amherst’s trusted solicitor (see also: Narford Hall, Norfolk). And the prospects were also none too rosy at Megginch when John Drummond eventually came into the estate in 1929.

I inherited a bag full of moonshine. I knew, of course, that we were broke. I had found the place slightly more dilapidated every time I came home, but no-one seemed unduly worried. Things went downhill but they went on as if there was no bottom to the hill.2


see: Hillandale News

Being ‘by some way the largest farmer in the district’, Drummond committed, in the face of sceptical counsel, to a belief that the Carse of Gowrie held more promise than the socio-economic landscape, introducing forward-thinking farm practices. Despite an Etonian upbringing which ‘fitted me to be nothing more than a good sport’, John Drummond had many strings to his bow.2 A some-time novelist and restaurateur, his most unlikely estate enterprise was Great Scott Records, one of the earliest record labels outside of London, established in 1933. With a roster of local talent, ‘most of the recordings were made in the great hall at the castle and the manufacturing carried out in a factory in the stable buildings’.

When the 9th duke of Atholl died unmarried in May 1957 his subordinate Strange barony fell into abeyance; John Drummond’s claim to be the 15th Lord Strange would be ratified seven years later. Alas, not long after Megginch gained this added distinction it would be writing a rather less welcome (and only too familiar) chapter in its country house story, ie. The Year of the Ruinous Blaze. Being 1969, when much of the interior of the south wing was lost or damaged. But over time the cupola-lit stair hall and Adamesque ceilings would be reconstituted while many fixtures would be replaced with pieces from other local historic houses.

‘The restoration was a magnificent act of faith by Cherry Drummond and her husband, Humphrey, who had moved in with their large family only a few years before.’7 But this episode possibly strained the already marginal economic position at Megginch and by the late 1980s the estate was in a ‘financial mess’. Enter a fairy godfather with a nearby castle of his own.


see: Press&Journal

‘Sir James Cayzer, 5th Bt., had inherited vast wealth derived from the shipping business founded by his great-grandfather and devoted most of his life to entertaining himself and friends in the style of a bygone age.’ Cayzer owned Kinpurnie Castle and his largesse would extend to his friends 20 miles south at Megginch when circumstances obliged the sale of a 330-acre farm. ‘Rather than let the estate be broken up,’ Sir James stepped in, buying the property and promptly gifting it to the Drummonds’ eldest son, Adam…12

… today the 17th Baron Strange, and perceived to have been the principal ‘victim’ of his mother’s dramatic change of heart in her last hours. Of his five siblings, the best placed to summon a degree of equanimity in the fallout of the great 2005 will revision was perhaps middle sister Amelie – or, as she was by then more formally known, the Duchesse de Magenta. Rewind twenty years:

Dressed in a crinoline gown spangled with gold, leaning against the wall of a ballroom in a vast house, she spotted someone starring at her. Across the room was a tall lean man wearing a daffodil-yellow tailcoat with red velvet collar and cuffs, full white tie and hunting boots. In his hand was a silver-topped malacca cane. Moments later they were chatting and a few moments after that Amelie decided she was talking to the man she would one day marry.’13


see: Julliieen@Instagram

Amelie Drummond is today chatelaine of splendiferous Chateau de Sully in the Loire Valley, with its ‘moat, wonderful state rooms and premier cru vineyards’.13 Her husband Philippe, 4th Duc de Magenta, died in 2002; ‘since 2012 she has been able to call on her sister Charlotte Drummond to help with the running of the estate.’ And there’s probably no better preparation for managing a castle than being raised in one. Perhaps the pair compare notes with their younger sibling, Catherine, present mistress of Megginch?


see: Irina Tolubenko

Doubtless it’s not all a bed of roses (though the gardens at Megginch do contain over 100 varieties of such, some centuries old) but Handed on would like to imagine that the words of the Drummond sisters’ grandfather, John, may to some extent still pertain:

I realised .. that I was brought up in a fairytale and was still living in one.’

[Megginch Castle][Listing]

1. Daily Telegraph 20 Apr 2006.
2. Drummond, J. Inheritance of dreams, 1945.
3. Financial Times 10 June 2006.
4. Tranter, N. Tales and traditions of Scottish castles, 1993.
5. Checkland, S. Scottish banking: A history 1695-1973, 1975.
6. Healy, E. Coutts & Co. 1692-1992, 1992.
7. Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Family seats: No.54, The Field 12 Oct 1985.
8. Lindsay, M. Castles of Scotland, 1986.
9. Kidson, A. George Romney: a complete catalogue of his paintings, 2015.
10. Gifford, J. Buildings of Scotland: Perth and Kinross, 2007.
11. Campbell, K. Policies and pleasaunces: A guide to the gardens of Scotland, 2007.
12. Daily Mail 16 Apr 1988.
13. A Renaissance chateau with a fairytale story, House & Garden Oct 2015.

Narford Hall, Norfolk

On April 28, 1733, a calamitous blaze took hold on the premises of White’s Chocolate-house – later to become exclusive gentlemen’s club, White’s – in Mayfair, central London.NHwhites The incident would feature in the sixth of the eight images which comprise ‘A Rake’s Progress‘ (1733-34), William Hogarth’s series of paintings and wildly popular engravings. ‘The Gaming House’ (left) sees Tom Rakewell, the hero of Hogarth’s morality tale, losing all (again). And for one contemporary art lover in particular this scene would have held an acute resonance.

For long-time local resident Sir Andrew Fountaine had stored a significant slice of his prodigious collection of art and antiquities in the upper rooms of White’s in the first months of 1733 ahead of imminent retirement to his country seat, Narford Hall in Norfolk. Among other things, the greatest accumulation of miniatures then in private hands would be lost to Fountaine (and national art heritage) in the fire.


see: Philadelphia Museum of Art

But the renowned connoisseur still remained possessed of plenty including an earlier William Hogarth ‘conversation piece’ of c.1729 featuring Sir Andrew (centre), his sister, niece and the latter’s future husband, Fountaine’s ‘right-hand man in collecting’, Capt. William Price. X-rays and a near-contemporaneous copy of this picture confirm that the satisfied figure of Andrew’s younger brother and then likely heir, Brigg, originally also featured, recumbent in the foreground.1 ‘An ignorant, worthless scoundrel-rake’ in the estimation of Fountaine’s close friend, Jonathan Swift, this particular rake’s progress would terminate some seven years before the death of his brother, his likeness subsequently painted over.

The doctored Hogarth is now in an American gallery, part of a steady stream of contents sales over the past 135 years that has seen the collections which gave this place renown significantly denuded and Narford Hall beat a C20th retreat into mildly notorious obscurity. “The most beautiful room in England” (in the view of one who has seen more such places than most) remains largely intact, however. Still the private home of the Fountaine family, ‘barely disturbed archives’ preserve the fascination of perhaps the least documented Grade I house in the land.2


see: Google Maps

Displaying quite differently in each of its principal aspects, Narford Hall’s distinct irregularity is the product of four main phases of evolution across 150 years from the turn of the 18th century.


see: Evelyn Simak

But while the house is foremost associated with the lauded discernment of Sir Andrew Fountaine (1676-1753), Narford’s ‘beautiful 7-bay south front, of carstone with a stone-faced centre’ was in fact created for his namesake father.3 Nor was Narford the first new country house fashioned for Andrew Fountaine (1), the ambiguous manner by which he acquired the means having its roots in his remarkable relationship with a scion of the largest landowning family in the county.



see: Salle Farms

As the third son of Norfolk barrister Brigg Fountaine, young Andrew (b. 1634) was naturally at the back of the queue for the property which had been accrued by this family in the parish of Salle since the mid-14th century. (This would in due course descend to the great-granddaughter of his brother, James, whose husband, Edward Hase, built Salle Park, left, in 1761.)

At the age of 18 Fountaine was dispatched in 1655 to study for the bar at the Inner Temple where he soon formed a bond with fellow Norfolk native John Coke, two years his senior. That same year Coke suddenly became heir to his family’s considerable estate at Holkham (and elsewhere) following the death of his older brother. When he then came of age Coke unexpectedly refused to sign up to the conventional resettlement of the family estate (which would have given him life tenancy but not outright ownership), causing a lasting rift with his father.

In a further act of rebellion Coke, with Andrew Fountaine, now decided to quit the Inner Temple without passing the bar, the pair instead setting out for France and remaining abroad for almost three years. Fountaine would later maintain ‘that it was ‘at John Coke’s entreaty’ that he neglected his studies to travel but Coke family lawyers in the future had little doubt that self-interest came into play’. On their return in 1660 Coke opted to reside with the Fountaine family in Salle; his father died the following year. John Coke now became ‘the absolute owner of the Holkham estate and Andrew Fountaine the chief manager of his concerns’.4

Over the next few years ‘Coke entered into a series of transactions which substantially enriched Andrew Fountaine’ including the grant of several lucrative long-term leases at very favourable terms on various Coke estate properties. ‘The most plausible explanation is that Coke did in fact intend to make large money gifts, of £20,000 or thereabouts, to Fountaine [over time] out of income but gave them as legal interests intended as securities to protect Andrew Fountaine, after Coke’s death, from the claims of Coke’s heirs’.5

And, sure enough, a queue of eager litigants quickly formed after John Coke died unmarried in August, 1671, aged 35. Broadly, they would argue that Fountaine had exploited the loose rein afforded to him as steward to fill his own boots, conducting intended estate investments instead in a personal capacity, the most conspicuous example being Fountaine’s acquisition of the Brookmans estate in Hertfordshire in 1666. Both sides would be mired in Chancery for the next two decades.

In the meantime, Andrew Fountaine would lose his first wife in 1671 but gain another – Sarah, daughter of Sir Thomas Chicheley of Wimpole Hall – a year on.


see: North Mymms History

‘A Hertfordshire squire of unattractive habits and personality, addicted to drink and always in money difficulties, Fountaine led his wife a most wretched existence.’ Sarah nevertheless provided her husband with a son, Andrew, in 1676 and, via some serious family string-pulling, a very handy seat in parliament three years later. By 1680 the ship had seemingly steadied sufficiently to allow Fountaine to develop a new residence at Brookmans (r).

Final settlement with the Coke estate was reached in 1694, all leases and income to be surrendered by Andrew Fountaine in exchange for £10,000. ‘This sum must have helped his purchase, only a year later, of Narford, which is still the home of the Fountaines. Thus one family prospered as a result of the legal carelessness of another.’4 Brookmans was disposed of in the spring of 1702 to fund a new project:

1702 Monday 29th June I laid the first stone of my new house at Narford.”2


Though a star classical scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, under the influence of its polymath dean Henry Aldrich – ‘one of the forerunners of the Palladian movement’ – there is no evidence (as yet) that the young Andrew Fountaine (2) took a direct hand in the shaping of his father’s new house.6


NHbell2Henry Bell of King’s Lynn has been suggested and Narford’s long since removed lantern as shown in Edmund Prideaux’s west front view c.1725 (left) echoes that of Bell’s Sessions House in Northampton (r).

In fact, in that summer of 1702 the recently knighted Fountaine, Jnr. was in Italy, a diplomatic mission to the elector of Hanover (later King George I) having turned into a three-year Grand Tour ‘of unusual intellectual intensity’.7

NHcarlo And while his precocious erudition impressed all, other qualities found favour with the fairer sex at court, reducing distinguished German mathematician/philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz to undisguised fan mail. “Your wit, your good looks, or rather your beauty, remains engraved in their imagination, and makes you as much noise at Court as your learning does.”8 Fountaine’s swoonsome aspect was captured in a drawing from life by Roman master Carlo Maratta preserved at Narford.

The declining health of his father obliged a domestic focus upon Sir Andrew’s return but in the next three decades he would largely favour the stimulating swirl of city life over Norfolk. Andrew Fountaine, Snr. died in 1706; four years later his 34-year-old heir would undergo a near-death experience at his London townhouse witnessed by good friend Jonathan Swift. Fountaine pulled through no thanks to his hovering relations according to the celebrated scribe:

Sir Andrew’s mother and sister are come above a hundred miles to see him before he died. I knew the mother; she is the greatest Overdo upon earth; and the sister, they say, is worse; the poor man will relapse again among them. Here was the scoundrel brother always crying in the other room till Sir Andrew was in danger; and the dog was to have all his estate if he died.

Pignatta, Giulio, 1684-1751; Sir Andrew Fountaine and Friends in the Tribune

see: Art UK

Long since returned to rude health, by 1714 Fountaine was venturing out on Grand Tour II with his now regular companion, the obscure Wiliam Price, and friends. A portrait depicting the group (Sir AF left, leaning) at ease within the octagonal Tribuna gallery of the Ufizzi in Florence was among his many souvenirs.NHinvent ‘Sir Andrew doesn’t seem to have made a record of his purchases abroad and his tours informed his later buying. An inventory of 1753 [by Price] lists a total of 3,327 prints in [just] one eleven-drawer cabinet in the Library Closet, one of the smallest rooms in Narford Hall.’8


see: Evelyn Simak @ geograph

Brimming with inspiration and acquisitions upon his return in 1717 Fountaine would soon embark on the first of two major phases of development at his Norfolk estate. A four-bay wing extending north housed a new Library, the room remaining ‘an outstanding example of an early-C18 interior, its appearance comparatively little changed’.2

This is not, however, the aforementioned ‘most beautiful room in England’, that epithet having been applied rather to Fountaine’s central Saloon (formerly the entrance hall). Still dominated by ten huge canvas panels by the Italian artist who was in pole position to decorate the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral until politics intervened, ‘the saloon at Narford is the sublime monument to the genius of Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini‘.9


see: Vitruvius britannicus

Sir Andrew surrounded the Hall with highly formal gardens of enclosed spaces and geometric avenues terminated by classical eye-catchers. ‘Fountaine was uniquely mingling the latest Palladian architectural styles from Hanover with the kind of structural atmospheric content gleaned from Dutch gardens. For an enthusiastic supporter of the Protestant succession, Narford was the ultimate politically correct garden.’7 A long canal extended north from the house, passing the church of St. Mary’s which still stands isolated NW of the Hall. Now redundant, ‘it is a woefully neglected place’…


see: John Salmon @ geograph

… one of the few remaining fixtures being Sir Andrew Fountaine’s memorial (left). “I am now building a Portico, and making a large plantation of oaks, as if I was to live 50 years longer,” he wrote in 1750, overestimating his longevity by some 47 years.8 The portico, a late indulgence, would not endure but much remains from a secondNHback significant phase of development at Narford after Fountaine’s retreat from the capital in 1733.

New bays were introduced north and west while, more significantly and seemingly also to his own design, a major new suite of rooms would now extend the house in the east.


see: Fairfax & Favor


see: Fairfax & Favor

‘The c.1735 work includes a four-bay block, now the Music Room, with a handsome Kentian fireplace [while] beyond, a typical singerie ceiling of exotic animals by Andien de Clermont crowns the Queen Anne Room.’2

Perhaps inspired by his time at the Ufizzi, Fountaine created an octagonal closet, top-lit and fronted by a glass door, specifically to display choice items from his then incomparable collection of maiolica and Limoges enamel ware. (Coins and medals were another enduring antiquarian obsession, numismatic expertise which doubtless contributed to his appointment as Warden of the Royal Mint in 1727. In contrast to his proactive predecessor in this role, Sir Isaac Newton, Fountaine evidently regarded the position as something of a sinecure, his years in office characterised by ‘indolence and inaccessibility’.10)

The Fountaine Family ?1776 by John Singleton Copley 1738-1815

see: Arts Council

Despite his noted appeal to the opposite sex, Sir Andrew would never marry and following his death in 1753 Narford descended through his niece Elizabeth and her husband William Price to their son, Brigg Price Fountaine. Though he would be squire for over half-a-century Brigg’s tenure saw little significant alteration to the Hall and its contents. But one new adornment would be a family portrait of c.1776, a work which has recently been acquired for the nation via the Cultural Gifts Scheme (whereby art works are accepted in lieu of tax). The ‘English School’ painting had been sold at auction for £36,000 in 1987 by Narford’s then owner, Andrew Fountaine (5), to pay for dry rot treatment at the Hall. Reacting to the assertion by its new owner months later that the picture was in fact a work by the leading American artist of the C18th, John Singleton Copley, and actually worth £2 million, Fountaine was philosophical: “I am very sceptical [but] if it is, I wish the chap all the luck in the world.”11


see: Fairfax & Favor

Brigg’s heir, Andrew (3), would enjoy Narford for just a decade, succeeded in 1835 by his son, Andrew (4), who soon initiated major changes, the estate coffers helpfully swollen by a four-day sale of surplus contents held in the Hall grounds in 1838. The rigid formality of the latter had long-since given way to open parkland. Surveying the scene in 1841 one visitor described ‘a place of great beauty though in miserable order at present’, a possible reference to the ongoing creation of the 60-acre lake behind the house.


see: Evelyn Simak

‘Before leaving this seat, it may be stated that we could discover no entrance to it at all worthy of the interior,’ the same author remarked, ‘the gateway [being] similar to that of a farmyard.’ Surprisingly, perhaps, the expansive plans of Andrew Fountaine (1801-74) would not remedy that situation as the house itself now underwent a programme of major aggrandisement.

In the 1850s, overseen by Robert Ketton of Norwich, the south front gained a dominating domed entrance tower ‘in the angle between the main house and the library wing of c.1718’2 while the single-storey range of 1735 was overwhelmed by ‘High Victorian grandeur’.12 The east face of this burly new block featured a canted bay book-ended by stout pavilions. Unlike so many cumbrous country house appendages of the period, all of the C19 work at Narford remains.


see: Historic England

Andrew Fountaine may have been impelled to enlarge his house having also inherited his esteemed ancestor’s weakness for C16 Continental china. ‘A wealthy man who combined fastidious taste with great courage as a buyer, who never scrupled to give immense prices for exceptional items,’ Fountaine was the last of Narford’s great collectors. His immediate heirs, daughter Mary and her husband (and first cousin), Algernon Fountaine, ‘preferred their equivalent in money’13


see: V&A

… kicking off a sequence of major dispersals with a ‘spectacle almost without rival’ in June 1884. Many of the 400+ pieces of “useless crockery” in the four-day Christie’s sale were acquired for the nation, displayed today at the British Museum and the V&A. A month later dozens of paintings and over 800 prints would be knocked down. One decade on, Rubens’ ‘Return of the Prodigal Son‘ was among more Old Masters sold, followed in 1902 by another four-day sale of almost one thousand folios and manuscripts from Narford’s library.

(Alas, a widowed Mary Fountaine would later be forced to sue the senior trustee of the Narford estate, Lord Amherst, when it was discovered that a large slice of the proceeds from these sales had been deposited with, and promptly embezzled by, his trusted solicitor.)

Mary Fountaine died two weeks before the 1918 wedding of her son, Charles, a career naval officer whose re-emergence from retirement to oversee North Atlantic convoys in WWII hastened his own demise in 1946. There followed an eccentric half-century at Narford dominated by the forceful but mutually antagonistic personalities of his widow and their son and heir.

“There is an iceberg between mother and me, there has always been a rift between us,” Andrew Fountaine (5) revealed to the Daily Mail in 1961. The newspaper had ventured to Narford to witness ‘the first international rally of the British National Party’, of which Fountaine was then president. The squire and his assembled acolytes were on manoeuvres in readiness to repel what they saw as the looming threat posed by non-white immigration into Britain. “Mother thinks it is outrageous. She owns the Hall but I own the grounds around it, so there is nothing she can do.”14


see: MACE

Exiled from the Conservative Party prior to the 1950 general election (the candidate for Chorley’s unapologetically racist views proving strong meat), Fountaine, as an independent, fell just 361 votes short of becoming the second of his line to be returned to Westminster. He would remain a prime mover in the BNP/National Front cause throughout the 1960s and ’70s – ‘the movement’s moneybags to a large degree’15 – losing more elections along the way. But in the 1980s ‘Fountaine largely abandoned his efforts to save the British race and concentrated on planting trees on his [5,000-acre] estate’.16

Meanwhile, his mother’s reign as the eccentric chatelaine of ‘the most inaccessible house in England’ having ended in 1968, more of Narford’s contents would gain new visibility via a steady trickle of further sales under Andrew Fountaine. Some key items have at least remained in the same county, Norwich Castle Museum acquiring Roubiliac’s ‘highly important’ terracotta bust of Sir Andrew (c.1747) in 1992, and the Grand Tour group portrait featured above.8


see: Fairfax & Favor

Pignatta, Giulio, 1684-1751; Sir Andrew Fountaine and Friends in the Tribune

see: Art UK

Sartorial scrutiny of that painting (left) reveals Sir Andrew Fountaine’s apparent fondness for distinctive footwear, the detail of his shoes being notably superior to that of his associates. While he would find much that has changed here since his time the renowned C18th aesthete might perhaps approve of the coveted creations peddled today by the Fountaines’ 21st-century generation from the converted stable block on the Narford Hall estate…


1. Einberg, E. William Hogarth: A complete catalogue of the paintings, 2016.
2. Parissien,S., Harris, J., Colvin, H. Narford Hall, Norfolk, Georgian Group Journal, 1987.
3. Kenworthy-Browne, J. et al. Burke’s & Savills Guide to Country Houses: East Anglia, 1981.
4. Hiskey, C. Holkham: The social, architectural and landscape history of a great house, 2016.
5. Macnair, M. (Mitchell, C., Mitchell, P., Eds.) Landmark cases in equity, 2012.
6. Colvin, H. A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, 3rd Edition, 1997.
7. Richardson, T. The Arcadian friends: Inventing the English landscape garden, 2007.
8. Moore, A. Norfolk and the grand tour, 1985.
9. Knox, G. Antonio Pellegrini, 1995.
10. Challis, C.E. (Ed.) A new history of the Royal Mint, 1992.
11. The Times 1 Sept 1987.
12. Pevsner, N., Wilson, B. Buildings of England: Norfolk 2: North West and South, 1999.
13. The Times 12 June 1884.
14. Daily Mail 22 May 1961.
15. The Times 22 Sept 1997.
16. Daily Telegraph 25 Sept 1997.
See also:
Harris, J. The Prideaux collection of topographical drawings, Architectural History, Vol.7, 1964.
Ford, B. Sir Andrew Fountaine: virtuoso, Apollo, pp.352-8, 1985.


Oxford academic, clergyman and man of letters Henry Kett was clearly not one of life’s fence-sitters:

This house is a disgrace to the noble scenery around it. Nature has done much for this charming place, but the builder caught no enthusiasm from the scene; for never was there an edifice reared in a more contemptible style.’1


see: Conishead Priory

In August 1798 The Reverend Kett had undertaken ‘A tour of the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland’, his observations and reflections being subsequently published ten years on. The residence which had so offended Kett’s sensibilities was Conishead Priory, ‘the seat of Mr. Bradyll, of white rough cast in front, with gothic battlements, and an arcade bordered with yellow stucco’.1

Being at that time a rather muddled mid-C18 renovation, had the author lived to encounter the full-on gothick fantasy which Conishead Priory would become just three decades later he may quite possibly have expired from apoplexy on the spot.


see: bonjourbobs / Instagram

’There is no house in England like Conishead,’ suggested Simon Jenkins in his personal selection of England’s Thousand Best Houses and ‘the extravagant gothic mansion, now a Buddhist retreat,’ is duly a grade II* listed building in recognition of its unique character. Conishead stands just east of Ulverston on the Furness peninsula, at the head of the Morecambe Bay estuary. Travelling some four miles north to the foot of the tributary river Crake valley, Henry Kett found a vista altogether more to his liking.

’Near Penny Bridge stands the house of [Mr. Machell], plain, commodious, and elegant, built of white stone, and roofed with sea-green slate. This agrees with the character of the scenery, and is exactly what Mr. Bradyll’s ought to have been.’


see: Croquet in the North West

While the adjectives he deployed would still appear apposite, the face of Penny Bridge Hall today, just as at Conishead, is apparently not that which presented itself before Henry Kett. And he had at least noticed a house which has passed only by inheritance and marriage (never sold) but whose very plainness has rendered it largely inconspicuous in the architectural annals.


That Penny Bridge Hall should have been overlooked in Nikolaus Pevsner’s original Buildings of England series is not particularly unusual; omissions were inevitable given the logistics (and subjectivity) of his heroic shoestring odyssey completed over three decades from 1945. However, anyone searching the ‘comprehensive’ 800-page revised Cumbria edition of 2010 for any reference to this enduring family seat will also be disappointed.

IMG_3136[1]The entry for buildings of note within the parish of Egton-cum-Newland does make brief mention of two houses, including Summer Hill (‘a minor Late Georgian villa’) and this ‘handsome residence’ was also amongst those charmingly illustrated in a two-volume survey (r) of ‘The History and Antiquities of Furness’, published in 1880. Wherein, once again, Penny Bridge Hall is nowhere to be found.2

Summer Hill is a grade II listed building, the national register of structures of architectural or historic interest having been established in the early post-war years just as Pevsner was likewise sallying forth notebook in hand. And, as with his Guides, the register would later be subject to wholesale revision: ‘The resurvey of the 1980s largely made good the defects of the original listing process in the 1950s which had been erratic and incomplete.’3 Throughout this whole process the Hall at Penny Bridge was once more deemed to be unworthy of remark…


c.1906 (see source)

… unlike the short late-C16 river crossing nearby, Grade II, widened two centuries later and from which both house and hamlet derive their name. ‘Some time after 1587, a bridge was built at the ford over the Crake by James Penny who had moved [with his father, Richard] to Crakeford in 1572. The bridge would be a very real help to travellers using the packhorse route between Ulverston and Kendal.’4


see: Google Maps

And, incongruous as it may seem today, the strategic significance of this structure – ‘the most southerly bridge over the Crake prior to 1820’5 – would play its part in turning this scenic spot at the foothills of the Lake District into a hive of heavy industry some 150 years later.

‘When the Crown monopolies [in mineral rights] ceased in 1650, the people who lived by the estuaries of the rivers Crake and Leven were well placed to take advantage. They had a plentiful supply of water, wood (for charcoal) and iron ore for smelting. They had a packhorse route for all northbound traffic and facilities to load and unload ships in these tidal estuaries which gave ready access to markets beyond Furness.’4

Four generations on from his bridge-building ancestor, William Penny (1708-1788) sought to leverage his particular advantage. Hitherto principally a supplier of wood from his estate to the disparate local iron masters, in 1748, spurred by a belief that the latter had been actively conspiring to depress the price of charcoal, Penny led a consortium of timber suppliers who committed exclusively to supply a new blast furnace to be built on his land.



’The Penny Bridge furnace [and a shipbuilding quay just south of the bridge] only had a short life – it worked at some profit but came to a standstill in 1800’4 – yet the initiative would have a lasting effect upon the destiny of the Penny family estate. For over on the river Leven, four miles to the east, James Machell, by 1748 sole owner of the Backbarrow ironworks (right) established by his grandfather, saw the advantage of amalgamation with the Crake valley upstart, successfully negotiating a merger of the two enterprises.

In 1767 came another union, the marriage of James Machell’s eldest son, John, and Isabel, the youngest daughter of William Penny.


see: Visit Cumbria

Penny’s only son had died in infancy leaving Isabel and her two sisters. In time John Machell bought out the interest of his wife’s co-heirs and eventually succeeded his father-in-law as the squire of Penny Bridge Hall. Prior to their relocation the family had lived at Hollow Oak, the Machell residence at nearby Haverthwaite, on the river Leven, which had been enlarged to accommodate their six children (and today serves as a nursing home).

The family would all be interred at St. Mary’s, the church (↑) endowed by William Penny and completed by his son-in-law. But precisely who was responsible for the development of Penny Bridge Hall itself as it stands today remains unclear.


see: angler @ uglyhedgehog

‘A dignified early-C19 Classical house in a pretty park,’ notes one significant regional survey, ‘the main five-bay front has a Victorian iron and glass verandah along the ground floor.’6 John Machell died in 1820, his heir, James Penny Machell, in 1854.


see: Google Maps


see: Google Maps

Some indication of the character of the earlier stone house is evident at its western extremity (left), the opposite end merging into the first of two later ranges, which also features a full-height bay facing north (visible from across the river).

‘The grounds, dappled and shining with rhododendron blossom in early summer, give on to pleasant pasture fields, and look across to steeply sloping deciduous woodland beyond the Crake.’7


James Penny Machell’s son, John – who ‘lived a very retired life and beyond the immediate vicinity of his residence was personally little known’8 – passed the Penny Bridge/Hollow Oak estate to his only daughter in 1884. ‘An extensive and most considerate landowner,’9 Justina Madeline Machell died unmarried in 1900 aged 61 leaving all to kinsman Major Edward Machell of nearby Newby Bridge (descended from a younger son of her 3x great-grandfather). In memory of his benefactor, and his eldest son who had perished in the Boer War, Maj. Machell commissioned the carved oak reredos and altar in St. Mary’s Church (below).


see: Carlisle Diocese

His younger son, Ulf, not being of age at the time of Edward’s death in 1920, Penny Bridge Hall became available to let for a short time: ‘Furnished, charming old family residence standing in seven acres of fine timbered gardens, with about 2,500 acres of good, mixed shooting. Accommodation comprises entrance hall, three large reception rooms, ten principal bedrooms, six servant bedrooms. Vinery, conservatory, etc.’10


see: Airbnb

The latter details can be seen today associated with the promotion of a self-contained apartment at Penny Bridge Hall as an agreeable base for a break in the Lake District. “The flat is part of a rather grand old house set in large, well kept grounds,” says one of many satisfied customers of the present owners (to whom the estate was bequeathed by Lorna, widow of Penny Bridge’s most enduring squire Ulf Machell, in 1998).


see: Archie Workman

Adapting a property for such purposes will of course be potentially less involved where the ‘grand old house’ is not a listed building. National Parks designation brings with it an additional layer of planning bureaucracy but here too Penny Bridge Hall – standing sentinel-like above the Crake as it nears the end of its course from Coniston Water – is favoured.

For close scrutiny of the map reveals that the demarcation of the southern boundary of the Lake District National Park actually lies twenty paces away, on the opposite side of old Penny Bridge…

[Estate archives 1200-1905]

1. Mavor, W. The British tourist’s pocket companion, Vol.5, 1809.
2. Richardson, J. The history and antiquities of Furness, 1880.
3. Sayer, M. The disintegration of a heritage: Country houses and their collections 1979-1992, 1993.
4. Rigg, AN. The industrial heritage of the parish of Egton-with-Newland, 1966.
5. Holme, B. The ramblings of a longshore loafer, 2012.
6. Robinson, JM. A guide to the country houses of the North-West, 1991.
7. Dawson, J. Valley of prospects, Country Life, 20 Nov 1980.
8. West Cumberland Times, 25 Oct 1884.
9. Preston Herald, 22 May 1886.
10. Country Life, 18 Mar 1922.
See also:
:: Bowden, M., Ed., Furness iron, English Heritage, 2000.
:: “Din’d with Mr. Penny and eat six eggs” – The Diary of Edward Jackson, Vicar of Colton, for the year 1775.


Given its once-vaunted reputation as the newspaper of record, it’s surprising to consider just how many landmark moments in history never in fact appeared on the front page of The Times. Stunning victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo, the sinking of the Titantic, the outbreak of World War One, all relegated to the inside pages alongside the Court Circular and the racing results as, for a century and a half until the summer of 1966, page one of the august organ was given over to content created by its readers in the form of classified notices. For a relatively modest outlay the column inches beneath that famous masthead were yours.


In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the 1st April, 1549, when John Dyott of Stychbroke, 1519-1580, Thrice Bailiff of Lichfield, made the manor of Freeford his dwelling.’

A discreet gesture quietly satisfying the pride of Richard Dyott (d.1965), squire of Freeford for over sixty years and the ninth of that name to preside over this place with its never sold, never opened house just to the south of Lichfield. And just as The Times gave over it primary space to parochial concerns, similarly idiosyncratic editorial judgments are evident in the prodigious journal of Dyott’s forebear, Gen. William Dyott (d.1847), which, despite his decades of military service, neglected reference to such events as Nelson’s ultimate victory, and the charge of the Light Brigade. One episode the General could not overlook, however, was the dramatic demise of his marriage – and neither, alas, would the newspaper of record.


see: Clive Reeves @ YouTube

When he died aged 86 in 1847, William Dyott’s coffin was processed from Freeford at night time through the thronged streets of Lichfield to the Dyott crypt at St. Mary’s Church. This family tradition of nocturnal burials has since ceased but a local cavalcade in the opposite direction continues to this day. The Sheriff’s Ride, which includes a pit stop on the Freeford estate (right), originated with Queen Mary’s Lichfield City Charter four-and-a-half centuries ago and has been held without interruption ever since. Much like Freeford Manor itself.

‘Henry Ludlow made no recorded contribution to the work of the 1st Parliament of King James I other than to interrupt a messenger from the Lords by breaking wind loudly in 1607.’ This flatulent interjection into the affairs of state would be quickly celebrated in ‘one of the most popular comic political poems of the early Stuart era’, a work in which fellow MP Anthony Dyott, son of the FFfartUSE2aforementioned John of Stychbroke, had the dubious honour of inclusion. The first of four Dyotts who would represent Lichfield at Westminster, by 1616 Anthony had consolidated his family’s ownership of the manor of Freeford and also overseen significant expansion east into neighbouring Whittington [map].


British Museum

Despite being combatants on the losing side it could be argued that the Dyotts had a good Civil War. Anthony’s deaf mute grandson, John ‘Dumb’ Dyott, is believed to have taken out ‘fanatical’ Cromwellian general Lord Brooke with a legendary sniper shot from the tower of Lichfield Cathedral. Yet the heir to Freeford, John’s elder brother, Richard (the first, right), would ultimately prove able to salvage his birthright…

… which would pass in 1719 to his great-grandson Richard (4) who, in the first decade of his half-century tenure, began building the core of the present house. ‘Although the structure has gone through seven stages of building, Freeford still retains its essentially Georgian character.’1


see: Victoria & Albert Museum

The varying correctness of the west front’s tripartite roofline gives an indication of the evolution of Freeford Manor (long-known as Freeford Hall). The three-bay centre section (pre-porch), accented by its tentative pediment and lunette window, represents the Dyotts’ original modestly-proportioned new house.


see: BSL Zone


see: BSL Zone

‘A drawing room (later the library) was added on the south in the mid-C18, and by the late-C18 another large room had been added on the east’ while a two-storey service wing now extended north. ‘The house was approached on the north through a courtyard, whose entrance was flanked by a pair of square buildings.’ ()2


see: Britain From Above

Richard Dyott’s daughter would marry into the neighbouring Astley family of Whittington Old Hall, a tie which would be later reinforced by the marriage of his grandson, Richard (6), to the latter’s first cousin, heiress Mary Astley, in 1783. This union had proved childless at the time of Richard’s sudden death at 58 in 1813, a year which would turn out to be something of an annus horribilis for his brother and heir, William (at this point resident at Whittington).

FFold1“I met with difficulty in settling with Mrs. Dyott,” William recorded in the diary he would maintain for almost the entirety of his long adult life. “I felt a little hurt that the family house [as pictured, 1797] was left to her for life. I should have been happy to have passed the remainder of my life at Freeford.”3

William would have to wait another thirteen years to get his wish. Somewhat more pressingly he was now also meeting with difficulty in respect of another Mrs. Dyott – his own wife, Eleanor.


“Having been at home leading an idle life for the space of three years,” in early 1781 William, the 19-year-old younger son of Richard Dyott (5), would set out for London seeking an army commission. So began a peripatetic military career which was to span almost half a century, the first years of which were mostly taken up with extended tours of duty in Ireland…and getting very, very drunk. ‘There are frequent references to parties, dances, dinners and shooting expeditions, his duties nothing more than attending reviews or the flogging of deserters.’3

ffWmDThere would also be diversions aplenty during a six-year posting to North America, notably a roisterous month in Halifax, Nova Scotia when young Lt. Dyott became the boon companion of fellow officer-about-town, Prince William (later King William IV). “The Prince would go into any house where he saw a pretty girl, and was perfectly acquainted with every house of a certain description.” This royal bond resulted in Dyott being appointed a personal aide-de-camp to the monarch in 1801, the year in which a posting to Egypt stymied William’s romantic interest in Maria Gresley of Drakelow Hall, fifteen miles north-east of Freeford.

It was during another tour of duty in Ireland in 1805 that Dyott’s domestic destiny took a fateful turn. “I had frequent opportunities of seeing the Thompsons, and felt a very considerable increase of inclination for Miss Eleanor,” confessed William to himself in December 1805. A whirlwind romance quickly culminated in marriage the following month. “No person was present just her own family,” they being the Thompsons of Greenmount, overlooking Lough Neagh, and sizeable estates in Co. Antrim (significant interest in which would descend to the Dyotts some eighty years later).

FFeleanorAfter a quarter of a century of overseas service Lt.-Gen. Dyott was now back home in Staffordshire, busy quelling Midlands Luddites and producing a daughter and two sons in short order. In 1813 incipient health concerns took Eleanor to London and the novel therapy of Turkish vapour baths located in Downing Street (which was then “a nest of filth and thieves” in the eyes of her husband). Further deterioration in Eleanor’s condition led the family to take a house near the hot springs of Clifton in Bristol, William visiting as and when.

Relations became strained and in March 1814 Dyott received a bombshell letter from his wife “expressive of her wish to separate from me. I was amazed and hurt in the extreme”. Matters had not been helped by the close attendance of Eleanor’s favoured physician, one Charles Dunne, whose manner, William suspected, had encroached beyond the bedside and against whom he successfully prosecuted a civil action for ‘criminal conversation’ with his wife the following year.

Eleanor counter-claimed adultery and cruelty ahead of her husband’s divorce petition in Parliament “to secure my poor children’s interest in their unfortunate mother’s property”. (The latter was not inconsiderable and included a quarter share in over 1,200 acres of plantations and several hundred slaves on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands which would provide a significant source of income, not to mention pineapple trees for friends, until it was sold in 1905.)

fftimesdivUSEThe sordid details of Dyott vs. Dyott as revealed over several days of proceedings in the House of Lords filled column inches in The Times (r) in the summer of 1816.

Despite an admission to his brother-in-law that he himself had taken ‘improper liberties’ with a young maid-servant, William got his divorce, and he and their children were never to see Eleanor again. She did not disappear entirely, however. In 1821 the former Mrs. Dyott had printed at her own expense a brief ‘memoir‘ claiming to expose the ‘odious attempts to ruin her character’, and to deprive her of her property. ‘I prefer freedom in an humble cottage,’ she insisted, ‘rather than be the victim of tyranny under the appearance of splendid magnificence.’


see: Historic England

Grade II* Hanch Hall, three miles NW of Lichfield, to where newly-divorced tenant William and his children relocated in 1817, initially belied the appearance of splendid magnificence, requiring “much exertion to make [it] comfortable, a dirty farmer having occupied it for the last two years”. But with the death of his sister-in-law in 1826 the family seat at Freeford Hall was at last his, and local architect Joseph Potter was soon engaged to make alterations.


source: The Field1

‘The old diehard put on a couple of bedrooms above the drawing room in 1828 and his son, Lt-Col. ‘Dick’ Dyott MP, added the dining room and service wing in 1849.’1 The latter would also introduce the two-storey, part-rusticated porch before he died childless in 1891, at which point Freeford passed in the female line to his first cousin Richard Burnaby on condition he adopted the family name. The subsequent tenure of this Richard Dyott’s grandson, Richard (9), was the longest of any at Freeford and included a major upgrade of the domestic offices, which ‘were hopelessly out-of-date from every point of view’ (work which still preserved Freeford’s distinctive rectangular courtyard plan).4



see: Britain From Above

The process of modernisation was not something which had ever sat easily with Freeford’s diarist Gen. William Dyott. A Tory squire of the old school, Dyott had been trenchantly opposed to most of the progressive reform initiatives of his day, including slave emancipation, workers’ rights and the ‘education of the lower classes [which] I am satisfied has in no wise tended to benefit society’. And these reactionary instincts engendered an initially hostile view of the advent of the railway, which Dyott feared would have negative implications for landowners and “render highways, horses and canals useless”. But he gradually became a convert and regular passenger, having conceded that “if it proved to be of general utility to the country, individual interest must, as it ever has, succumb to the welfare of the state”.


see: BSL Zone

This is a perspective the Dyotts of Freeford, along with a great many others, have found some difficulty reconciling in recent times as they grapple with the reality of finding themselves on the preferred route for High Speed 2. This highly controverial billion-pound project for a faster cross-country rail service is set to slice through the 750-acre Freeford estate in the south and east, with ‘significant loss of land and/or severance’. Preparatory excavations got under way in Whittington this April ahead of the scheduled start of construction next year.


see: Parliament TV

Two hundred years ago William Dyott would have cause to lament “many wretched journeys to town” in the course of pursuing his divorce bill through Parliament. Perhaps empathising, in this respect at least, with their Regency ancestor as they now beat a similar path, January 2016 saw representations apropos HS2 made at Westminster by Freeford’s present generation as they looked to safeguard the inheritance of the next

[Freeford Manor listing][Archives]


see: Britain From Above

1. Montgomery-Massingberd, H. The Dyotts of proud tradition, The Field 20 Sept 1986.
2. A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, Victoria County History, 1990.
3. Dyott’s Diary, 1781-1845: A selection from the journal of William Dyott Vol.1 | Vol.2, 1907.
4. Lichfield Mercury, 2 July 1914.