Challenged, as they would be last year, with appreciating the somewhat abstruse notion of ‘facilitating emptiness’, the good officers of West Lindsey District Council planning department were perhaps as well-placed as any.
‘North Lincolnshire, cut off by the Humber and the Trent, is probably the most out-of-the-way corner of England .. leisurely, spacious country, vast in scale and rather bleak.’¹
So declared Country Life‘s 1934 visitation to Brocklesby Park, seat of the Pelhams, Earls of Yarborough, for some 450 years. With the planting of an estimated thirty million trees on this estate between 1787 and 1938, successive owners have more than somewhat relieved the wolds’ desolate openness hereabouts. And in the past decade the Hall and grounds at Brocklesby have themselves undergone a scheme of root and branch rehabilitation driven by the 8th Earl and Countess. In the wake of recent planning consent 2016 should see the realisation of the latest element, a bold, contemporary pavilion of concrete and glass – ‘a purely abstract expression, a definite stance against simple nostalgia’ – intended to facilitate the aforementioned emptiness.
‘When passing through the outer walls, you immediately find yourself on the inside. There is no buffer, no grey areas, simply inside.’
Of course, besides tempting architects into flights of chin-scratching verbiage the documentation surrounding a modern-day planning application can often yield revelatory detail. Here, too, the Brocklesby Park Pavilion scores big…
…not least with this contemporary image of the hard-to-see house itself. The air of tidy rightness exuded here belies centuries of evolution occasioned by fortune both good and ill. The official listing text manages to sum Grade I Brocklesby in just 250 words; altogether more instructive and fascinating is the ‘masterplan’ commissioned by…
…the present owners contextualizing the vision for their inheritance, a copy of which also accompanied that pavilion application. ‘The 8th Earl and Countess need to be allowed the freedom of their ancestors to continue improving and enhancing their seat,’ it was therein argued, a hankering for a time when the only limitations on what was thrown up on private property were means and imagination. One can but wonder how the local planning committee would have responded if presented with, say, a proposition such as this:
Being Jeffry Wyatville’s stupendous palatial vision for Brocklesby c.1821 offering an architectural knockout punch as might befit a fiefdom then in excess of 50,000 acres. (Though significantly reduced the estate remains the largest landholding in Lincolnshire at some 27,000 acres.) Alas, a modest Gothic lodge is as much as Wyatville would get to realise here while Brocklesby’s most notable building is another free-standing structure elsewhere on the estate essayed by his uncle, James Wyatt, for their mutual patron, Charles Anderson-Pelham. The latter’s death would thwart Jeffry while the death of Pelham’s wife had, as we shall see, inspired James.
But the first Pelham to put down roots in the Lincolnshire Wolds was Elizabethan soldier/administrator Sir William Pelham who snapped up many of the plentiful (if unpromising) acres of various former religious establishments post-Dissolution. Several generations on, by the beginning of the C18 the estate had devolved to Charles Pelham (d.1763), key aspects of whose long tenure define Brocklesby to this day.
The recently reinstated main facade of the Hall (below) has the appearance of William Etty’s 1720s design as captured by George Stubbs. Sojourning locally, a principal subject for the artist here was the Brocklesby Hunt which has been in existence since 1700 and always with a Pelham as Master: ‘The hounds are the oldest private pack in the country and the only pack of purebred English Foxhounds.’
Charles Pelham was also a key figure in the early development of the thoroughbred racehorse, breeding from North African stallion imports champions such as Brocklesby Betty and Spanker who in turn begat successful progeny. Ironically, for someone so preoccupied with bloodlines, twice-married Charles’s failure to produce offspring of his own spelled the end of the Pelham male line at Brocklesby…
…and saw the estate pass to his great-nephew. Charles Anderson, who added the ‘Pelham’ name upon succeeding, was raised to the peerage as the first Lord Yarborough in 1794 but he would be forever without his ‘Lady’.
For James Wyatt had recently completed his melancholy ‘majestic masterpiece’² in the park at Brocklesby, a mausoleum raised in tribute to Charles’s wife, Sophia Aufrere, who had died in January 1786 at the age of 33. ‘Erected upon a commanding eminence, this classic monument must ever remain a fine specimen of Wyatt’s good taste and exquisite skill in Grecian architecture.’ In a tragic echo Yarborough’s son and heir would also lose his wife before he gained the title (later upgraded to an earldom), 25-year-old Henrietta Bridgman joining the mother-in-law she never knew in the mausoleum in 1813.
The unwitting joint legacy of both young women was the accidental assembly within the space of four years at Brocklesby of an Old Masters art collection still routinely described – despite some belt-tightening disposals in 1929 -as among the finest remaining in private hands (r). Wealthy merchant George Aufrere died in 1801 leaving his Chelsea house (in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, former home of Sir Robert Walpole) and its contents – ‘one of the best collections in Britain at the end of the C18’ – to his late daughter Sophia’s husband, in trust for their sons.³ Four years later Henrietta Bridgman, as sole heir to her uncle, connoisseur Sir Richard Worsley (yes, that guy), inherited fabulous Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight and all it contained. In 1807 Brocklesby gained a one-storey gallery extension to house much of this cultural windfall…
…but not the so-called Museum Worsleyanum, ‘the first important collection of Greek marbles in England’. Long displayed in the Orangery, the C21 masterplan intended their relocation to the newly-reinstated entrance hall (l), a space which had been fashioned by Capability Brown c.1773 in addition to his work landscaping the park. Along with much else at Brocklesby this room would be the subject of ‘meticulous restoration’ around the turn of the C20 after a devastating fire in November 1898.
The central five-bay section of the Georgian entrance facade was among the few parts of the Hall unscathed. (The house had by this time swollen threefold: a matching brick block was added in 1827 at the other end of the gallery which was itself heightened by William Burn thirty years later creating a dominant centre. Almost all of these additions would be swept away in the 1950s, the house contracting to more-or-less its original Georgian footprint.)
The man chosen to undertake the post-blaze restoration was Sir Reginald Blomfield, ‘the very model of the successful Edwardian architect’, who looked back wistfully in 1932: ‘My first really important work.. Brocklesby Park was typical of that delightful country practice which I was fortunate enough to have built up before the war, and which since the war has ceased to exist.’4 Blomfield laid out a new parterre and entrance of which Country Life would later approve: ‘Particularly happy are the twin oblong pools that flank the approach.’
To the C21 revisionist eye, however, these were now not only in the wrong place (the main entrance being around the corner) but deemed ‘somewhat municipal’ in character and have been buried ‘for the purposes of archaeology’.6
Quietly looking on over centuries of change at Brocklesby has been a stunning mechanical marvel. In the early 1720s, putting the finishing touches to his new seat, Charles Pelham was desirous of a turret clock to sit atop his large stable block close by the house. Luckily, just eight miles north in the village of Barrow upon Humber was the workshop of John Harrison, carpenter, clockmaker and incipient genius. The zero-maintenance instrument – ‘the origin of accurate timekeeping’ – that Harrison developed for Pelham has told the time at Brocklesby ever since. More significantly, made largely of lignum vitae, a self-lubricating exotic hardwood, and featuring a novel friction-free movement, ‘Harrison took his important first step towards building a sea clock at Brocklesby Park.
‘A clock without oil, until then absolutely unheard of, would stand a much better chance of keeping time at sea,’ so cracking a critical navigational conundrum, the determinination of longitude, for which he would – eventually – be financially rewarded by the state.5
‘Without any major grant aid or outside support the 8th Earl and Countess continue the living evolution of Brocklesby Park,’6 being always reminded that time never stands still by Harrison’s horological wonder (r) – unless, of course, the staff forget to wind it…
¹ Hussey, C. Brocklesby Park I/II, Country Life, Feb/Mar 1934.
² Pevsner, N., Antram, N. Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, 1989.
³ Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4 Blomfield, Sir R. Memoirs of an architect, 1932.
5 Sobel, D. Longitude, 1995.
6 Simpson & Brown/Kim Wilkie Associates. The Brocklesby Park Masterplan.