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Place, Cornwall

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

see: Derek Harper @ geograph

see: Derek Harper @ geograph

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

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

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

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

see source

see source

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

see: English Heritage

see: English Heritage

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

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

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

see: Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

see: Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

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

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

Rostron&Edwards

see: Rostron&Edwards

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

see: Country Life Picture Library

see: Country Life

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

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

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

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

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

see: Ouless @ Panoramio

see: Ouless @ Panoramio

[G.I listing][Archive]

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

Rhug, Denbighshire

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

see: Country Life

see: Country Life

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

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

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

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

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

see: Phil Taylor/Panoramio

Phil Taylor@Panoramio

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

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

Dave Dunford@BLB

Dave Dunford@BLB

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

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

see: Your Paintings

see: Your Paintings

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

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

see source

see source

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

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

see: Such & Such

see: Such & Such/Rhug Estate

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

see: YouTube

see: YouTube/Rhug

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

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

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

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

see: Rhug Estate
see: Rhug Estate

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

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

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

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

Came House, Dorset

This is not how Handed on had intended to begin. Since this blog started at least four owners of houses featured here have subsequently died. Statistically this is probably not remarkable and certainly all were at least late middle-aged. On Sunday, however, in a stunning and ghastly coincidence literally as this piece was being assembled the Mail Online broke the news of the tragic and untimely demise of a young man named Charlie Norton in an accidental fall in Morocco. One month ago this name would not have registered; today, however, Handed on is suddenly and all too grimly aware that he was the husband of the present owner of the sizeable Came House estate in Dorset and the father of its next generation.

For what it’s worth, this is how the post was going to begin…

The thin line between aristocracy and gentry might these days seem an arcane distinction but it’s one which until quite recently would be periodically codified in separately dedicated 1,000-plus-page tomes. Peerages will doubtless continue to be produced but the last guide to the landed gentry was published fifty years ago at which point it would seem that (rather symbolically) the money ran out.

There has, of course, been a great deal of co-mingling of the species which, combined with the transience of titles, can mean that some places will fall between the cracks. Places like Came House, no owner of which has had a main entry in either code since about 1900. An estate now in its fourth century of continuous ownership, despite multiple unfecund heirs and significant recourse to the female line, one way or another Came House has been retained, a tenacity of possession which basically requires no greater explanation than this:

see: Peter Everett  @ Pinterest

see: Peter Everett @ Pinterest

Set into rising parkland, the silvery white Portland stone of Came’s N facade cannot fail to catch the eye of travellers along a lane just south of Dorchester. To some this place approaches the beau ideal, including the late Candida Lycett Green who featured Came in her book The perfect English country house: ‘Its ostentatious Georgian splendour makes the same impact now as then.’ In a way, Came could be seen as a representation of the aforementioned dichotomy being modest and manorial in scale yet distinctly noble in bearing. Which could be faintly ridiculous, of course, were not the conception and execution here so thoroughly excellent both inside and out. Little wonder its architect was pleased with himself.

see: RCHM

see: RCHM

Among the memorials to be seen in the small village church of Blandford St. Mary is that of Dorset master-mason and architect Francis Cartwright (d. 1758). The house depicted on the scroll at its base has been identified² as Came, Cartwright recording it as his greatest achievement, a view echoed down the ages. A ‘mid-C18 masterpiece hardly altered in more than two centuries,’ marvelled Pevsner.¹

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

‘Came is not a product of different periods, it is all of a piece, the expression of a single phase of taste,’ and in some part presumably that of Cartwright’s client, John Damer (1720-83).³ He was the grandson of Dorset Cromwellian Joseph Damer who had hightailed it to Ireland at the Restoration where he made ‘a fortune by usury and speculation.’ The legacy of the Damers in Ireland endures but by 1752 John Damer was owner of the Dorset estates.

see: Christie's

see: Christie’s

Elder brother Joseph meanwhile would be elevated to the peerage and later build himself Milton Abbey and also Dorchester House in Mayfair, now the site of the famous hotel. John Damer produced no children nor would his heir, nephew Lionel (r), who died in May 1807 reportedly as a result of ‘election fever‘. Lionel’s sister Caroline duly benefited and would do so again just the next year, the entire Damer Dorset properties now coalescing in her ownership when she inherited Milton from her childless brother, George.

Lady Caroline herself died in 1829, childless.

see: Country Life

see: Country Life

The estates would now be divided among the children of John Dawson, 1st earl of Portarlington, whose mother was the sister of the builder of Came House. Acquiring both the latter and an additional name was Col. George Dawson-Damer (d. 1856) who was to commission the only major alterations to Cartwright’s original composition. Now ordinarily it is at this point that alarm bells might start ringing…

see: RCHM

see: RCHM

…for common in the recent history of many a surviving C18 mansion is the moment when it is decided that the egregious ‘improvements’ of Victorian forebears really do have to go.

see: RCHM

see: RCHM

But, happily, at Came George’s interventions were to be largely sympathetic. The grander N front became the entrance with addition of a porch (above); internally the principal rooms, including the white and gold gilt splendour of the saloon (l), which feature the work of top-drawer London craftsmen like Vile & Cobb were left intact. Most conspicuous is the large domed conservatory c.1840, ‘a wonderfully light-footed affair’ which remains splendidly fit for purpose today.4

Lionel, 5th earl of Portarlington, died aged 42 in 1900, his widow arranging that Came should in time pass to their daughter, Lady Christian Martin. With the exception of her son Maj. Nigel Martin’s incumbency the estate has continued to pass in the female line to the present owner.

see: Quinlan Terry

see: Quinlan Terry

About 35 miles to the N-E just over the border into Wiltshire lies a house bearing close resemblance to Came. Looking the picture of Palladian perfection, Ferne Park (r) was in fact built in 2002 to a design by Quinlan Terry. The architect’s clients knew and admired Came House, suggesting it might serve as a template. The commission came from Lord and Lady Rothermere, owners of the organ which last Sunday revealed the bleak latest chapter in the story of this quite remarkable place…

see: RCHM

see: RCHM

[Grade I listing][Came shoot]

¹ Newman, J. and Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Dorset, 1972.
² Oswald, A. Country Life, 20/27 Feb 1953.
³ Cecil, D. Some Dorset country houses, 1985.
4 Mowl, T. Historic gardens of Dorset, 2003.

see: Lucy Vanel

see: Lucy Vanel

There is, it would appear, an unwritten law which dictates that where there are pyramids so shall there be mystery. Leave aside the marvel of the pharaohs’ tombs – preoccupation of many an archaeological and anthropological mind across the ages – and consider, if you will, goats’ cheese. This emblematic taste of French gastronomy has taken various classic forms, none perhaps more distinctive than the flat-topped, four-sided pyramid (r), the origins of which are hazy and subject to conjecture.

Theories naturally include reference to the wonders of Egypt; no mention is made, however, of their four-sided, flat-topped European equivalents, those rather less well-known objects of intrigue that are the ancient pyramids of…Bosnia. Never heard of them? You’re not alone.

One person who definitely has, however, is the present squire of Thorpe Hall, Hugh Lillingston, whose diverse enthusiasms for, amongst other things, New Age philosophies and French cheese, have served to raise the profile of an otherwise quite obscure, centuries-old traditional family estate which lies some five miles N-E of Tamworth.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

Earlier this month Lillingston, a self-confessed ‘old hippy‘, was set to host a study trip to Bosnia via his agency Reality Engineering: ‘Whatever else the Pyramid of the Sun is doing, it is also generating a coherent 28 kilohertz electro-magnetic beam straight up from the centre and out through the apex. In other words the Pyramid is some kind of advanced machine that is still working. It appears to be sending a signal outside our solar system.‘ Not everyone is convinced, of course. Where some perceive thrilling evidence of an advanced ancient civilisation, others see merely ‘a big hill.’

Lillingston is also an advocate of neurolinguistic programming – self-help through positive thinking – directly inspiring initiatives such as the Warrior Programme charity. Emerging from the self-styled Thorpe Institute, Reality Engineering is surely one of the more unlikely examples of rural estate diversification. Artisanal cheese-making may seem less so…

…though back in the mid-80s when Lillingston conceived his Staffordshire chevre it too was innovative in its own way (and the goats were played Mozart). This enterprise – whose signature product the Innes Button is a two-time blue riband winner at the the British Cheese Awards (and remains, Handed on can attest, sublime bordering on sinful) – is now owned by his collaborators-in-curd, the estate-based Bennett family, but retains in name at least an association with its founder…

…who was actually born Hugh Inge-Innes-Lillingston. And it is the first of that rather unwieldy trinity which has the oldest roots here, being the name of Richard Inge, son-in-law of wealthy Leicester vintner William Ives who had acquired the Thorpe estate in 1631 – the last time that this place changed hands by sale.

The first incarnation of Thorpe Hall was erected by Richard’s son, William, in 1651. The winds of change towards classicism which began to influence country house design during the Commonwealth would take some time to blow through this corner of the Midlands where Inge opted for the popular Dutch style, taking his cue from the likes of, well, Kew. The latter’s middle gable strongly resembles Thorpe’s matching set of three, all of which were to be lopped off five generations later when the house was Georgianised by William Phillips Inge (d.1838).

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

The now stuccoed five-bay original centre would be gradually complemented by early-C19 lower wings as ‘the old manor expanded into a spanking mansion three times its former size.’¹ The interior was similarly modernised to include a ‘delightful’² cantilevered staircase (below) not unlike a contemporaneous flight to be found at…

The Field

The Field¹

…Thorpe’s centuries-long next-door neighbour, Statfold Hall. (As previously featured, Statfold is the seat of the Pipe-Wolferstans, several of whom are in fact interred at the Thorpe estate church of St. Constantine which stands hard by the house.)
see: Charlie Cooper @ flickr

Charlie Cooper @ flickr


In the latter half of the C20 the parents of the present owner carried out further significant restoration and remodelling. The N-E facade would be re-established as the entrance while ‘the balustrading in the gardens came from Drayton Manor.’¹

The afternoon of Saturday 4 February, 1903 saw a solemn gathering in the library at Thorpe Hall where a formal inquest was convened into the sudden demise, at his own hand, of the then squire. 39-year-old William Inge had prematurely curtailed a day’s hunting with the Atherstone; his body was later discovered in a cowshed en route back to the house. Among those called at the inquiry was Poole, the butler – then but half way through a 59-year career on the staff at Thorpe – who produced a damaged riding crop and lash found at the scene.³

Atherstone Hunt

Atherstone Hunt

All but two of the tragic squire’s predecessors, back to mid-C17, had shared his name but there were to be no more William Inges at Thorpe. Leaving behind three daughters, his death would usher in those subsequent hyphenations as the property descended in the female line through the last century. None of which affected the estate’s enduring association with the Atherstone Hunt, however, a relationship which was celebrated on the occasion of the pack’s bicentenary last year with a meet – and speeches – at the Hall.

As it has for 365 years, Thorpe ‘stands splendidly erect surveying from its low rising ground the wide scene E and W,’ much of which comprises the 3,000-acre estate straddling the Warwickshire border. But the horizons being contemplated at Thorpe these days stretch way beyond these fields. And while embodying a history of continuity remarkable to most, it’s an inheritance the present incumbent might now consider to be but a mere trifle in the greater scheme of things..

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

[Listing][Archive]

¹ Montgomery-Massingberd, H. The Field 2 Aug 1986.
² Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Staffordshire, 1974.
³ Tamworth Herald 14 Feb 1903.
4 Thorold, H. Staffordshire: A Shell guide, 1978.

The year 1901 would turn out to be a rather notable one in the lives of Ernest Conant and his wife of two years Eva Tryon (as was). For over the course of those twelve months each would separately inherit a country house estate: as second-born children of their respective families neither eventuality had been preordained. Ernest’s elder brother, Edward, had died months before the couple’s 1898 wedding at which the bride, the eldest of three sisters, had been given away by her only brother. Having followed his family’s strong military tradition, Grenadier Guardsman Guy Tyron died less than three years later serving in the Boer War. So it was that the ownership of the Lyndon and Bulwick estates coalesced with the Conants, with whom they remain today. Handily, they’re just six miles apart as the crow flies.

Lyndon Hall gates @ Google Streetview

Lyndon Hall gates @ Google Streetview

To the mellow lanes of Rutland and its Northamptonshire borders, an area recently named Britain’s best rural place to live, the only drawback apparently being the relative cost of property. The value of the two houses featuring here has, of course, never been tested since neither has ever come onto the open market. Built at precisely the same time, Lyndon Hall and Bulwick Hall have also remained entirely private (not that there is a shortage of epic house-visiting opportunities locally with historic family seats like Rockingham Castle, Deene Park and Burghley all within a ten-mile radius).

Commonly, estates with no public access or venue facilities to promote make little or no effort web-wise. Which makes comely Lyndon Hall all the more exceptional, its online presence being fairly crammed with historical and architectural information way beyond the call of duty. But then such fulsome documenting is rather in keeping with the bent of Lyndon’s builder, Conant antecedent Abel Barker, whose thorough preparatory studies led one authority to declare Lyndon to be the only house of the period ‘that can be related in detail to the architectural literature on which it is based’.

A successful C17 sheep dealer and merchant, Barker’s various activities took him often to London but his second wife Mary would correspond regularly, reminding him that, for all their relative prosperity, the family badly needed a decent place to live. ‘The saddest weather for a day and a night that I ever knew in my life. The wind broke the windows and beat in the rain so that..I was forced to carry [the children] into the kitchen to be dressed,’ she reported in February 1662. Months later Abel acquired the estate at Lyndon but for various reasons Mary would have a further 15 years to wait before their new Hall was completed.

See: Lyndon/Country Life

See: Lyndon/Country Life

Abel Barker immersed himself in contemporary architectural thinking ahead of formulating his design. 1662 was also the year in which Roger Pratt completed his influential first house, Coleshill. Though altogether more modest (closer in scale to another house of the period, Thorpe Hall in Cambridgeshire) Lyndon speaks to some degree of this transitional phase in English country house building.

Barker’s eventual blueprints would be realised with the aid of his man on the ground, local surveyor John Sturges. But even when construction finally got under way progress was to be regularly frustrated as Mrs B. would relay to her oft-absent husband. ‘Your building goes on not in the least,’ she reported in June 1673. ‘It is the saddest weather that was ever known of man for this time of year. All the masons [were] constrained to go away. Suttons stayed the longest but John said they did more harm than good.’

see: Churches of Christ

see: Churches of Christ

It’s perhaps just as well that Sir Abel (as he became) was so intellectually and practically engaged by this project as he would have relatively little time to enjoy the end product, dying in 1679 just two years after Lyndon’s completion aged 61.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the south…

see: Panoramio

see: Panoramio

‘Bulwick was built in 1676 on the site of a C16 house and incorporates some of its fabrics. It had hipped roofs and stone-crossed mullioned windows, comparable in style with such nearby contemporary houses as..Lyndon Hall, Rutland.’¹ Don’t be misled by that past tense, Bulwick Hall still stands but not quite as its builder knew it. Where Lyndon to this day projects a satisfying conceptual completeness Bulwick Hall displays a puzzling disposition characteristic of the unfinished or the much-reduced. Here it’s the latter. Interestingly, an extant 1728 map indicates that Bulwick’s substantial truncation occurred barely fifty years after the house’s completion.

source: Country Life

Country Life 1899

Between Lyndon and Bulwick is the village of Harringworth. Still part of the Conant estates today, in the early 1620s this manor was purchased by Moses Tryon, a London merchant of Dutch extraction. It was his stepson James who would develop the Bulwick property to the SE creating a three-sided courtyard house with ‘over 40 rooms including a long gallery and chapel’. But following Charles Tryon’s later decision to downsize, for almost 300 years all that has remained is the 12-bay, two-storey N range and perpendicular to this the ‘remarkable and unusual’ ballustraded loggia.²

see: RCHM

see: RCHM

see: Sprout Gardens

see: Sprout Gardens


The last major development of Bulwick Hall was undertaken in the early C19 by Thomas Tyron who, in addition to remodelling the interiors, would add the curiously proportioned bowed extension. When he died in 1825 the estate was inherited by his 22-year-old son, also Thomas, whose 47-year tenure as squire ended most abruptly when he was thrown from his horse, perishing instantly.

In stark contrast to the reporting of this unfortunate incident, which received but brief notice in the provincial press, the sensational demise of Thomas’ third son 21 years later would consume a great many column inches in The Times and beyond. For the career of renowned naval commander Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon was to end calamitously and with ‘the largest peacetime loss of life in the history of the Royal Navy’.³

see: YouTube

see: YouTube

Widely regarded as ‘navigation genius’, Bulwick-born Tryon’s instincts were to inexplicably fail him one fateful day in 1893 off the coast of Tripoli. Helming the mighty HMS Victoria he directed a tight fleet manoeuvre that alarmed the officers under him but which, through a combination of faith and fear, they attempted to execute. The resulting collision caused the flagship to sink swiftly with the loss of 358 lives including that of Tryon himself. Remarkably, in 2004 the wreck of HMS Victoria was discovered standing vertically, bow-first in the Mediterranean seabed.

Sir George’s widow was naturally in attendance five years later at the wedding of his niece, Eva, the event (mentioned at the outset) which would effectively ally the Bulwick and Lyndon estates. On the groom’s side that day were his sisters – all nine of them. Historically, a preponderance of daughters – like the consequences of military service – has affected the continuity of many a family estate. Since then at Lyndon the gender balance has evened itself out. At Bulwick, meanwhile, the heir remains most apparent

[Lyndon Estate | GII* listing][Bulwick Estates | GII* listing]

¹ Heward, J. & Taylor, R. The country houses of Northamptonshire, RCHM, 1996.
² Country Life, 15 July 1899.
³ The Times, 2 Sept 2004.

Now some four years and 50 houses into this little odyssey, Handed on must confess to being no nearer to divining common characteristics which might help explain how these remarkable, mostly lesser-known survivors have quietly defied the gravitational pull towards extinction. Which was certainly the narrative of the country house estate across much of the last century, the tidal force of structural decimation running at full spate in the immediate post-war years. So it was perhaps the good fortune of Orleton Hall – an estate which has passed only by inheritance since the C14 – at that moment to become temporarily subsumed within an altogether grander, aristocratic domain.

Now managed by the National Trust, spectacular Powis Castle remains the seat of the Earls of Powis. The two World Wars were to claim both sons of the 4th earl, so it was that the title and substantial estates descended in 1952 to his kinsman Edward Herbert of Orleton Hall, some thirty miles due east across the English border, on the other side of Shrewsbury.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

An advertisement in The Times 13 May 1957: ‘Young woman wanted to help in house and dining room, other staff kept, for Orleton Hall, Wellington, from June, and Powis Castle, Welshpool, from October. Apply The Countess of Powis‘. This seasonal arrangement continued for another decade at which point the entire Orleton estate and its history came – quite literally – to a Holt.

Mr Vesey Holt, Esq. to be precise, whose obituary in the Daily Telegraph recorded a positively Wodehousian stroke of fortune: ‘In 1967 Holt was unexpectedly given Orleton Hall, an 18th century house and 2,000-acre estate in Shropshire, by his uncle Edward, Earl of Powis’. Splendid, what?! Holt – scion of the military banking family – was the great-grandson of Anna Maria, Mrs Robert Herbert, an only child whose 1854 marriage effectively brought to an end Orleton’s 500-year association with the family name of Cludde.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

Another house and estate chiefly remarkable for its boggling longevity in the same hands, for over 300 years from the end of the C14 Orleton passed directly from Cludde father to Cludde son. In 1721 a nephew, William Cludde, was required and when his son Edward duly inherited he soon set about giving the existing medieval family seat a Georgian makeover.

see: DiCamillo Companion

see: DiCamillo

Kirsche Tortshen@Flickr

Kirsche Tortshen@Flickr

Expanded on three sides, some original timbering survives in the centre of Orleton Hall as does one arm of the square moat which originally surrounded it’s earlier incarnation. Cludde also updated the C16 gatehouse (left) – ‘Orleton’s most picturesque feature’¹ – while another eye-catching survival in the grounds is the ‘remarkable’² mid-C18 octagonal Chinoiserie gazebo (r). The delightful detailing of these two structures does, however, rather serve to highlight the relatively featureless severity of the exterior of the grade II* listed Hall itself: ‘The windows devoid of any ornament, the [main] facade without platbands or quoins, the doorway little more than an opening’.³

see: CLA Midlands

see: CLA Midlands

The Field

The Field¹

Yet Orleton’s plainness was quite typical of Shropshire houses of the period (c1770), a trend being at once a reaction ‘to the decorative idioms of previous generations and a failure or disinclination to invent any other’. In the 1830s some slight relief was to arrive courtesy of prolific local architect Edward Haycock who, in addition to remodelling the interiors (r), would insert a colonnade into the shallow recess on the entrance side essayed in his favoured Greek Revival style. (Using the same Grinshill stone Haycock would late give full vent to this enthusiasm when creating Millichope Park 20 miles south.)

Richard Webb/geograph

Richard Webb/geograph

‘The mansion stands in a beautifully situated park and commands a magnificent view of the Wrekin, the bold arch of the mountain rising abruptly from the plain to heights unrivalled in England.’4 Although a public beauty spot, in the late C18 a 130-acre slice of this inspirational landmark was acquired by the Cluddes and remains part of the Orleton estate today following an abortive disposal attempt 10 years ago (see: ‘Middle Earth for sale’).

Other sales have been successful, however, including that of nearby Burcot Manor which had come into the fold via a mid-C18 marriage. Latterly serving as the estate’s secondary residence, this ‘substantial chunk of spare property’ was sold – for the first time since at least 1650 – in 2004. And, rather more controversially, just last year another 37.5 of the estate’s 1,700 or so acres were shaved off when a proposed housing development which had locals ‘frothing at the mouth‘ was given the go-ahead by the local council.

source: Pinterest

source: WCC/Pinterest

‘There can be few pleasanter places to visit in summer than the Wellington Ground under the mighty Wrekin,’ observed one 1980s visitor of the cricket club established in the park at Orleton by Edward Herbert, later 5th earl of Powis.¹ But pleasant for how much longer wonder the denizens of the minor leagues venue. Just one amongst many to formally lodge reservations about the development of land abutting the eastern edge of the park, the club’s concerns ranged from the unwelcome prospect of players being put off their stroke by ‘music blasting out from a Saturday afternoon barbeque’ to mildy apocalyptic visions of flooding and dead children.

Noticeably, this submission was cc’d to the club’s senior honorary figures – Mrs Elizabeth Holt (president) and Mr Peter Holt (deputy president, current owner of Orleton Hall and vendor of said land). But with this particular team currently on a score of 700 (years) not out, could the result ever seriously have been in doubt?

[Listing][Archive]

¹ Montgomery-Massingberd, H. The Field, 30 Aug 1986.
² Newman, J. and Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
³ Mercer, E. English architecture to 1900: the Shropshire experience, 2003.
4 Leach, F. County seats of Shropshire, 1891.

Sandbeck Park, Yorkshire

While history in its baldest telling is a matter of immutable fact, historical reputation is something altogether more fickle. The shifting sands of fashionable regard can be perfectly – and topically – exemplified by the career of Lancelot “Capability” Brown. As readers are probably aware, preparations are now well under way to celebrate in 2016 the tercentenary of the ‘genius’ Georgian landscaper’s birth, cementing his modern day standing as a more-or-less bulletproof heritage icon. In the era of Brown’s bicentenary, however, dissenting voices were not hard to find – ‘heritage hooligan’, more like:

It is to the 4th Earl of Scarbrough that attaches the reproach of having permitted Brown to work his wicked will on Roche Abbey. His lordship paid £3,000 to spoil the ruin and outrage its surroundings.’¹

Being the trenchant reproof of an early-C20 correspondent to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and not untypical of a prevalent antiquarian antipathy which by this time attached to Brown’s aesthetical approach. But at Roche Abbey and across the rest of the Sandbeck Park estate, which lies some ten miles east of Rotherham, Lancelot was only doing as he had quite literally been contracted.

That he should set about his work here ‘with Poet’s feeling and with Painter’s eye’ was the peculiarly florid stipulation laid down by Richard Lumley, aforementioned 4th earl, in his formal commission to Brown in 1774. Lumley desired uplifting views from the rooms of his substantially remodelled mansion; though the abbey was never visible from the house, a chestnut avenue arrows westward across the park directly towards the ecclesiastical ruin some 2km distant.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

A Cistercian monastery founded in 1147, ‘Roche Abbey is an outstanding example of early Gothic architecture in England, a surviving account of its suppression [being] one of the most important sources describing a monastery’s destruction’. The remnants proved a boon for Lumley, however, providing the earl with a ready-made romantic ruin for which others would have to engage the likes of Sanderson Miller to create. Though ‘archaeologists curse Lancelot for dismantling the cloister and levelling the footprint of the building in the Picturesque cause’, Roche is also notable as Brown’s earliest essay in this direction.²

see: Chris Morgan @ geograph

see: Chris Morgan @ geograph

Today, Roche Abbey is managed by English Heritage but remains the property of the Lumleys, Earls of Scarbrough, part of a now 5,000-acre estate which has passed only by inheritance since 1549. (The original and considerably older family seat, Lumley Castle in County Durham, also remains in their possession, managed as a high-end hotel since 1976.)

In the post-Dissolution carve-up in this part of south Yorkshire it was the local Saunderson family’s land acquisitions which would become the foundation of the Sandbeck estate. Sir Nicholas Saunderson (d.1631) – ‘whose reputation as squire was not an altogether savoury one’ – never lived to see the completion of a house he had commissioned, no impressions of which survive. But the retention of a significant element during its Georgian remodelling would help to give Sandbeck as we see it today it’s singular stamp. Architect James Paine was engaged here in the 1760s, the end result being ‘no doubt one of his most dramatic designs. The garden front in particular, with its projecting portico [over] heavily rusticated arches…is not easily forgotten’.³

see: United Environmental Services

see: United Environmental Services

The last of the Saunderson line, James, Viscount Castleton died in 1723 leaving his ‘considerable estates’ in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to his maternal cousin Thomas Lumley, younger son of the 1st Earl of Scarbrough. The two families’ estates would fully coalesce unexpectedly in 1740 when Thomas’ elder brother Richard, 2nd Earl, ‘blew his brains out, for reasons that remain mysterious’ at his house in Grosvenor Square.4 A bachelor when he perished, all now flowed to Thomas.

The latter’s only surviving son, Richard, succeeded in 1752 promptly engaging James Paine to work not at Sandbeck but in developing the 4th earl’s Lincolnshire property at Glentworth. However, his wife, Barbara Savile – herself an heiress who would bring Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire to the Lumleys – possibly had other ideas. Long before Lancelot Brown had been anywhere near the place she had declared Sandbeck to be “inexpressibly charming” and in time Paine’s energies would be redirected exclusively to their Yorkshire domain.

see: Anne E W @ flickr

see: Anne E W @ flickr

‘Rising high and high-waisted out of the green park..Sandbeck is unlike any other English house of its date.’4 Its distinctive proportions and plan are largely a function of the major room, the saloon, Paine’s repurposing of ‘a huge chamber traversing the first floor front of the house’, an arrangement by then a century out of fashion.5 This epic space features ‘a superb plaster ceiling of c.1775, perhaps the best in any Paine house’.³

Doubtless beneficial in the project management of Sandbeck’s 1760s remodelling was the ready supply of limestone from the quarry at Roche Abbey, an estate asset never as commercial as it might have been due to poor transport links. (This did, however, leave all the more for other family development schemes – like Skegness. A Saunderson manor since the early C17, the 9th earl (d.1884) would develop its seaside resort potential in the 1870s replacing a coastal hamlet with an entirely new model town, the sea wall promenade built with Roche Abbey stone.)6

The eventual arrival of the railway locally made viable the exploitation of other Sandbeck mineral resources, Maltby colliery being established just NW of the park in the early C20. Not that any such brutal practicalities were ever visible from the big house, of course, thanks to the idyllic cocoon conjoured by Capability Brown in the 250 ha park and beyond. ‘Perhaps no great house in Yorkshire is more out of the way than the Earl of Scarbrough’s seat. Nothing can be seen of it until several sylvan labyrinths and luxuriant groves have been threaded’ – a 1900 observation which still broadly holds, Sandbeck remaining an essentially private domain.

see: Safe@Last

see: Safe@Last

The harsher realities of life do occasionally pierce this cultivated haven, however, through the charitable activities of the current 13th earl and countess (r) . One local affiliation is a now decade-long patronage of the charity Safe@Last which focuses on the needs of vunerable, often abused young people in south Yorkshire. Now clay shooting may be the unlikeliest of social service allies but, as last year’s grim revelations from Rotherham, the Scarbroughs’ local town, show, Sandbeck’s guns are aimed in the right direction…

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

[Up close with the Grove and Rufford Hunt 2013]

¹ Sheffield Daily Telegraph 11 June 1904.
² Brown, J. The omnipotent magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783, 2011.
³ Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Yorkshire The West Riding, 1967.
4 Girouard, M. Sandbeck Park, Yorkshire I/II/III, Country Life Oct 1965.
5 Harris, J. The architect and the British country house 1620-1920, 1985.
6 Beastall, T. A North Country estate, 1975.

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