Tregothnan, Cornwall

Throughout history the British have oft taken particular delight in getting one over on the French. For 18th-century Admiral Edward Boscawen this purpose was just about the principal reason for getting out of bed, his boundless zeal for the cause the driving force behind a brilliant naval career. Its zenith came in 1758 during the Seven Years War, Boscawen’s masterminding of victory at Louisburg effectively wresting colonial control of Canada from the old Gallic foe.


see: V&A Museum

To mark this great triumph the Worcester Porcelain Factory rushed out a celebratory mug carrying a likeness of  ‘one of Britain’s finest naval officers’, the image adapted from a portrait of Boscawen by his friend Allan Ramsay.1 The original painting hangs not at Hatchlands, the Surrey mansion Boscawen was then building on the back of his French booty (and for which, soon after Louisburg, he ‘hired Robert Adam to fit out the interior’) but at Tregothnan in Cornwall, his birthplace and seat of the Boscawens, Viscounts Falmouth, for almost 700 years.

Despite this prodigious longevity, however, one late 19th-century historian was moved to observe that, in contrast to ‘other distinguished Cornish families, who have all yielded more than one man of mark deserving special notice, this can hardly be said of the Boscawens: the interest centres in Admiral the Hon. Edward Boascawen almost to the exclusion of all his ancestors, and [to this point] all of his descendants’.2


see: rmg.co.uk

As the third son of the 2nd viscount, Boscawen would never in fact inherit the family seat. But the admirable admiral’s splendid full-length portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (later copied, right) would be given pride of place above a new 42ft imperial staircase as part of his grandson’s wholesale reimagining of Tregothnan House in the second decade of the 19th century. And hopefully the contents of this ever-private country house will also include one of those old commemorative mugs, a highly appropriate receptacle with which to enjoy the Boscawen estate’s present-day claim to fame as the UK’s original purveyor of homegrown tea.

The Roseland peninsula, east of Truro, is a long way from tropical Asia, the more natural home of the Camellia sinensis shrub from which all teas are derived. But the Tregothnan estate – bounded by the Tresillian and Truro rivers in the west and the Fal to the south – enjoys ‘an extremely special micro-climate’, which has been yielding ‘the most British tea in history’ since 2005. An Earl Grey blend features among Tregothnan’s commercial range, the rank of earl also being the Boscawens’ aristocratic high-water mark, from which they would later retreat by one step.

The family’s various surviving titles include the barony of Boscawen Rose, created in 1720 in recognition of the Boscawens’ original Cornish manor, further west near Lands End, whence John Boscawen would remove following his 1334 marriage to Joan, daughter and sole heir of John Tregothnan, of that place. Many subsequent alliances over the course of the next five centuries would prove the Boscawen boys’ finely-tuned radar for an eligible landed heiress…


see: Google Maps

… not least John and Joan’s daughter-in-law, Joan de Albalanda, who would bring into the fold extensive tracts south-west of Truro which in time were to yield great mineral riches. (One modern survey of UK land ownership reckoned the Boscawens’ Cornish holdings to be 42,000 acres, ‘one of the largest landed estates in the country’.3)

But despite the family’s increasing prominence in the county it was not until the 17th century that they began to flex some political muscle.


see: Tregothnan

In the wake of their Roundhead sympathies, Hugh Boscawen (1625-1701) became ‘the first of the family to sit’ in Parliament, representing various Cornish constituencies over a period of half a century. Of the house he had inherited at Tregothnan (‘which formed three sides of a court entered through a gate-tower’) all that remains today is a doorway repurposed as the entrance to the kitchen garden (right). This he would rebuild c.1650 in the compact rectangular style of the Commonwealth period, its hipped roof ‘surmounted by a cupola and a pair of tall chimneys’.4


see: Historic England

Internally, two parlours from this period, with moulded ceilings and ‘lavish chimneypieces’, would survive a later (and altogether more dramatic) remodelling of Tregothnan House.4 Visiting in 1698 family relation Celia Fiennes noted that while the principal rooms were ‘new modelled, wanscoated and hung just as the new way is’, she was pleased to find some of her cousin’s handiwork – ‘old hangings, to the bottom’ – still about the place.


Country Life 17 May 1956

‘In the Cupulo I could see a vast way at least 20 miles round,’ Fiennes recorded, also noting the practical bent of the gardens close by the house. These were the product of Hugh’s wife Margaret’s keen interest in medicinal remedies, adapting recipes and ideas sourced from her sizable library of works on the subject.5 Alas, this diligence would be to little avail, the couple’s offspring…

… being ‘numerous but unhealthy’, with all eight sons predeceasing their father.

As a consequence Tregothnan passed to a nephew, also Hugh, the son of his brother Edward, recently come of age and married to Charlotte, niece of the 1st Duke of Marlborough and a Maid of Honour to Queen Anne. And at the Hanoverian succession in 1714 Hugh Boscawen found ready acceptance within the new court, appointed comptroller of the Royal Household and ‘the only important English courtier to accompany George I to Hanover in 1715’.6


see: British Museum

By this time the Boscawens had Truro and several other Cornish constituencies completely sewn up, Hugh having represented most of them by the time the king ‘offered him an annual pension of £4,000 if he would lead the government in the Commons’.7 Deciding that this role would likely be far more trouble than it was worth, Boscawen declined and in 1720 removed to the Upper House upon being created Viscount Falmouth (and Baron of Boscawen Rose).

‘Maliciously nicknamed ‘Lord Foulmouth’,’ he died of an apoplexy fit as he came downstairs’ in October 1734, to be succeeded by his namesake eldest son. This Hugh Boscawen had reputedly been somewhat of a disappointment to his father (‘not behaving in a manner he expected with regard to him’), a sentiment later shared by the second viscount’s wife, Hannah, ‘who often threatened .. that she ‘would part with my lord”.2

Personal shortcomings aside, the family’s fortunes prospered through Falmouth’s near-half-century as master of Tregothnan, not least through his exploitation of the Boscawens’ many and various mineral rights in the county. But towards the end of his life resistance to the family’s local political dominance began to surface.

Betrayed and deserted as we have been by Men who professed themselves our Friends ..  we join in utter detestation and Contempt of their treacherous Practices.”

An excerpt from a press notice paid for by George Evelyn Boscawen and his cousin William, nephews of Lord Falmouth, placed in reaction to secret manoeuvres by the corporation of Truro to select other candidates in the general election of 1780. For their part the dissatisfied locals declared that Falmouth’s ‘avarice, increasing with age, grossly abused their confidence’ and that the ‘interference of any peer in the election of Members of the Lower House is subversive of the very essence of our constitution’.8

In a separate notice, George Boscawen claimed to have been caught on the hop by the dissolution of Parliament: “I was unfortunately in a very remote part of Ireland. On first news of it I lost no time to repair to England where .. I had the Mortification to find that the Station of being one of your Representatives, which I have always had sanguine Hopes of attaining to, had been allotted to another.”8 However, even if his desire had been granted, 42-year-old George would soon have had to stand down…

tregoth3rd… as in February, 1782 his uncle died without legitimate issue, and he became the 3rd Viscount Falmouth (r). As the youngest son of national hero Admiral Edward Boscawen this turn of events had never been an inevitability. A late child, born in the year of his father’s great triumph at Louisburg, George had lost his two older brothers: Edward, a sickly ‘fop‘ (who nevertheless somehow became Member of Parliament for Truro), had died in a French health resort in 1774, five years after young naval recruit William Boscawen had drowned whilst bathing in the West Indies.

But, just as his father had been, George would be taken in his fiftieth year, dying in February, 1808; three months later his son and heir, Edward, came of age and his era would see the house at Tregothnan radically redefined.


In 1809 landscape architect Humphry Repton visited Cornwall, his winning ways proving persuasive to the Corytons of Pentillie Castle, near Saltash, much of the surroundings of which would soon be typically beautified. Repton’s proposals also included the romantic Gothicising of the Corytons’ house (Pentillie remains in that family) which would also be taken up, the realisation of which he left in the hands of his architectural friends and fellow East Anglians, Messrs William Wilkins senior and junior.


see: mrjackckc @ Instagram

Maximising his visit way out west that year, Repton (and elder son, George) also took the opportunity to call in on the 4th Viscount Falmouth just as the new squire of Tregothnan was getting to grips with his birthright. Coming up with another of his trademark Red Books (which in Tregothnan’s case ‘is actually blue’9), Repton’s scheme, though later modified, would underpin the development of the Boscawens’ parkland, including the introduction of an epic four-mile driveway (‘the longest in Europe‘) meandering the wooded bank of the Tresillian.

Unlike at Pentillie, however, young Lord Falmouth – that tricky specimen, a client with ideas of his own – proved somewhat less receptive to Humphry and George’s designs for the remodelling of his family seat. But another member of the Repton family would still prove highly influential, albeit indirectly, in the imminent radical transformation of Tregothnan House.

Profoundly deaf John Adey Repton, the younger son of Humphry, was born in Norwich in 1775 and as a teenager was sent by his father to study under “my ingenious friend” architect William Wilkins in that city; Wilkins’s own son, William junior, born in Norwich in 1778, also became a pupil in his father’s practice.10 The young Repton soon became a deft, diligent draughtsman.


see: British Museum

In February 1808 he exhibited his fine studies of a ‘richly decorated’ but then ruinous brick Tudor mansion in Norfolk, East Barsham Manor (r), at the Society of Antiquities, of which both he and the Wilkinses were fellows. ‘In the following decade Repton’s detailed survey became the source for two influential houses by William Wilkins, Jnr.’11


see: Rosebery Estates

Commissioned in 1814 by the Earl of Rosebery, Dalmeny House on the Firth of Forth west of Edinburgh (r), was something of a stylistic and structural sensation in the context of architectural traditions north of the border. ‘Dalmeny’s entrance front clearly derives from East Barsham Manor’ but the ‘regularity of the plan [and muted neo-Classical interiors] showed ‘Wilkins’ appreciation that the historical style had to be adapted to contemporary life.’12 And, being more than 500 miles away at the opposite end of Britain, Viscount Falmouth was happy to ask Wilkins down to Cornwall to more or less repeat the trick at Tregothnan (↓).

tregothEtchWhere the Reptons had proposed completely replacing the existing house, Wilkins was now happy to accommodate Falmouth’s wish to encase its Cromwellian core, whose five bays became the plainest element of new elevations ‘of extreme picturesqueness: castlellations, turrets and a forest of elaborately decorated chimneys’.13 His client’s later whim to incorporate a substantial ballroom ‘ending in a polygonal projection facing the river’ further added to Tregothnan’s eventual ‘most pleasing‘ irregularity as the project gradually evolved distinctive variations on the Dalmeny model.12


Historic England


Historic England

‘The two-storey entrance porch leads through to a spectacular staircase contained in the square tower. High above, the fretted and gilded ceiling is rich in Tudor emblems [and] large windows fill the space with light.’4 But elsewhere, as at Dalmeny, Gothic gave way to restrained Classical principal rooms of which ‘the library, fitted with Grecian bookcases is the most impressive’.14

In 1821 Falmouth was further elevated to become 1st Earl of that ilk, a fitting accompaniment to the aggrandized house in which, two decades on, he would rather suddenly expire (‘the first symptom of the attack of which he died having shown itself but an hour and a half before he was a corpse’).15 This event ushered in the succession of his accomplished if somewhat eccentric bachelor son George, then 39 and who, despite a relatively short tenure, would also make his mark at Tregothnan House.

‘Reputedly the worst-dressed man-about-town in London,’ the 2nd earl, a keen amateur musician, spent much of his time at No.2 St. James’s Square…16

tregothchopin… the family’s handsome townhouse (acquired by the 2nd viscount for £8,200 a century before) wherein his sartorial disregard meant that ‘he was more apt to be taken for a servant than the master of the house’. It was here in the summer of 1848 that Falmouth would host a recital by the great Frédéric Chopin (‘attended by a numerous assemblage of the dilettanti’) for the specific purpose of which the earl imported a splendid Broadwood pianoforte.17

Five years on Falmouth’s own collection of instruments (including his Stradivarius violin) would be sold at auction (along with ‘perhaps the most complete library of chamber music over formed’) following Boscawen’s demise aged 41 at St. James’s Square in August 1852. Yet despite his metropolitan life, a world away down in Cornwall the 2nd earl had also overseen the further enlargement of Tregothnan, creating the mighty footprint the house retains to this day.


see: Historic England

While George Boscawen’s lack of children meant the extinction of the earldom (but not the viscountcy), the marriage of his cousin and heir Evelyn in 1845 would bring another title to the family in due course. For the 1st earl had earlier been involved in the guardianship of one Mary Stapleton, the daughter of a sister-in-law, who as a nine-year-old in 1831 had inherited not only an estate in Kent, Mereworth Castle, but also the ancient le Despencer barony (being among that small number of titles also held by right in the female line).


see: Historic England

In 1836 Colen Campbell’s spectacular early-18th century Palladian villa at Mereworth (r)  was in need of remedial attention, architect Lewis Vulliamy, rated ‘a highly competent practitioner of the second rank’, being hired for the work.18 Subsequently, in 1845 (and seven years before he would trump her with his Falmouth viscountcy), Evelyn Boscawen married Mary Stapleton, by now the 13th Baroness le Despencer…

… as his uncle the 2nd earl was midway through his enlargement of (Grade I listed) Tregothnan House, the work there being overseen by .. Lewis Vulliamy.


see: The Motion Farm @ YouTube

Adding more towers, chimneys and projecting gables, rendered in a style wholly consistent with William Wilkins’ richly wrought Tudor homage, ‘Lewis Vulliamy’s extensions dramatically elongated the north and south elevations, and greatly increased the picturesque effect’.13 However, despite Tregothnan’s enhanced magnificence and, pertinently, the splendid and ample stable facilities (↓)…

tregothstables… its far-flung location would prove inconvenient – certainly relative to that of his wife’s inheritance – for pursuit of the 6th Lord Falmouth’s passion, the breeding of top-class racehorses. Thus Mereworth Castle now became the Falmouths’ primary centre of operations, the stud there developing a formidable reputation. Recruiting trusted allies, trainer Matthew Dawson and a promising young jockey, Fred Archer, the trio would carry all before them throughout the 1870s and early 1880s, achieving unprecedented success including 15 homebred classic winners.


see: National Trust

But Falmouth’s racing days would come to a rather abrupt end, the ageing peer’s growing disenchantment seemingly reaching tipping point with the 1883 Derby, post-race rumours soon suggesting that Archer had deliberately underperformed aboard Falmouth’s horse Gaillard to the advantage of the race’s winner, Highland Chief, trained by Archer’s younger brother. The following year the earl’s racing concern was sensationally disbanded, resulting in what was then ‘the most important disposal of bloodstock on record’.19 Meanwhile, down in Cornwall…


see: jamespanteri @ Instagram

… Lord Falmouth would oversee substantial development of the gardens at Tregothnan where the locally competitive Victorian enthusiasm for exotic plant-hunting was taken up with gusto by his brother, Rev. John Townshend Boscawen, Rector of nearby Lamorran. Many varieties of camellia and rhododendron along with sundry other rare species were introduced and which have since collectively matured into ‘Cornwall’s largest historic garden’, its 50 acres opened (unlike the House) two days a year, billed as ‘the world’s largest open garden weekend’.9

(In early 2000s formal terracing before the south front of Tregothnan House was the primary element (↓) in a programme of garden enhancements undertaken for the Hon. Evelyn Boscawen, who assumed management of the estate in 1980. ‘The new parterre was constructed over the remnants of a Victorian garden by William Andrews Nesfield. We were subsequently asked to produce landscape proposals for the enlarged ponds in the botanic garden, including a new summerhouse designed as a Chinese tea pavilion.’)


see: Robert Myers Associates

Lord Falmouth died at Mereworth in 1889, his son, Evelyn also later succeeding as 14th Baron le Despencer on the death of his mother in 1891.


see: klismogallery @ Instagram

Hitherto a professional soldier, ‘the 7th viscount, while using and developing his Cornish seat, spent much time and gave great thought to Mereworth’ where Lady Falmouth took the lead in redesigning the gardens (left). ‘Nowhere has modern formalism been better contrived than in the environs of the best and completist Palladian villa on English soil,’ purred Country Life magazine.19

But death duties in the wake of the 7th Lord Falmouth’s demise in 1918 occasioned some retrenchment. The great house at Mereworth was sold in 1922 (with ‘a remarkable group of Jacobean full-length portraits’ now transferring to the staircase hall at Tregothnan4), followed later by the disposal of No.2 St. James’s Square. Some 2,000 acres of land in Kent were retained, however, and where today the present heir to Tregothnan is producing alcoholic additions to the Boscawens’ beverages range from vineyards cultivated since 2016.

Beyond his stewardship of Tregothnan 8th viscount Evelyn Boscawen would establish a notable career in science and energy administration and research (being a prime mover behind the rise of Imperial College, London) prior to his death in 1962. He would doubtless have been most interested in Tregothnan’s most recent mining venture, prospecting for potential lithium extraction on the estate, an initiative made viable by the inexorable transition to electric vehicles and one which, remarkably, his heir lived long enough to see, the 9th Viscount Falmouth dying aged 102 in March this year (pictured below).


see: Cornwall Live

The destiny of George Boscawen had been determined by the death of his elder brother, Evelyn, killed in action in World War Two. ‘Conscientious Lord Falmouth paid close attention to the mining rights owned by his family [which] had for generations helped to support the landed estate’ and which may do so again under his son Evelyn, 10th and present Viscount Falmouth.20

One way or another Tregothnan seems intent on recharging our batteries, if not through lithium then at least with a nice cup of tea


see: Historic England

[Tregothnan Estate]

1. Wilkinson, C. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
2. Tregallas, W. Cornish worthies: sketches of some eminent Cornish men and families, (2 vols.) 1884.
3. Cahill, K. Who owns Britain, 2001.
4. Hussey, C. Tregothnan, Cornwall I-II, Country Life 17/24 May 1956.
5. Leong, E. ‘Herbals she persueth’: reading medicine in early modern England, Renaissance Studies, Vol.28, No.4, Sept 2014.
6. Beattie, J.M. The English Court in the reign of George I, 1967.
7. Hatton, R. George I, 2001.
8. St. James’ Chronicle, 28 Sept 1780.
9. Gamble, B. Cornwall’s great houses and gardens, 2014.
10. Repton, H. & JA. Observations on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1805.
11. Musson, J. East Barsham Manor, Country Life, 26 Feb 2004.
12. Liscombe, R.W. William Wilkins 1778-1839, 1980.
13. Beacham, P. Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Cornwall, 2014.
14. Robinson, J.M. The Regency country house: from the archives of Country Life, 2005.
15. Cornwall Advertiser, 31 December 1841.
16. Zaluski, I. & P. Chopin in London, Musical Times Vol.133, No.1791, May 1992.
17. Atwood, W.G. Frederic Chopin: pianist from Warsaw, 1987.
18. Colvin, H. A biographical dictionary of English architects 1660-1840, 1952.
19. Avray Tipping, H. Mereworth Castle I-III, Country Life, 17/19/26 June, 1920.
20. Daily Telegraph, 4 April 2022.

Thorpe Hall, Yorkshire

Returning home from a service of evensong at the village church one Sunday in September 1909, local squire Alexander Bosville and his lady wife became aware of a furtive presence ‘skulking behind the bushes near the front door’ of the family seat, Thorpe Hall, Rudston, in Yorkshire’s East Riding. Revealing himself as a local newspaper reporter, the couple’s surprise was further heightened by the nature of his journalistic enquiry, as he now pressed the pair for details surrounding their initiation of a pending civil action at the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh.

The Observer 12/9/1909

‘As nothing at all had yet been made public about our proceedings, we asked him how he knew that any “case” to do with us was in prospect. He then told us that there was a long account of the whole story in the London Observer (left) that very day.’1 Filing his own copy, the reporter now told readers of the Yorkshire Evening News how ‘a romantic story of special interest for Yorkshire people is likely to be developed in connection with the action about to be commenced .. centring around an almost forgotten princely liaison and a Gretna Green marriage’.2

Taking exception to Bosville’s lawsuit was its defendant, his relation Ronald, 6th Baron Macdonald, of Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye, who ‘objected to looking into something which happened more than 100 years ago’.3 The ace reporter from the Yorkshire Evening News would elicit some reassurance for the peer, however. ‘Interviewed on his return from church last night, Mr. Bosville [made] clear that he was not claiming the Macdonald peerage nor the Macdonald estates – what he desired to be done was to establish the legitimacy of his grandfather.’2

In a peculiar irony, some sixty years earlier the man in question, another Alexander Bosville, had found himself in the law courts opposing an action brought by his younger brother who had similarly been seeking to assert the legitimacy of Alexander’s birth! Their resolution in 1847 would settle the destiny of the family’s English and Scottish estates while in the denouement of 1910 lies the explanation of how an ancient clan chiefdom has ever since come to reside at a little-known country pile five miles west of Bridlington.


see: RS MickeyMoo Productions

Not to be confused with Godfrey (Bosville-)Macdonald (b.1947), 8th and present Baron Macdonald of Slate, 34th High Chief of Clan Donald (and resident at Kinloch on the Isle of Skye), Yorkshire’s Sir Ian Godfrey Bosville Macdonald (b.1947 ↓) is the 17th Baronet and 25th chief of Clan Macdonald of Sleat. The (Irish) Macdonald peerage had been created for the 9th baronet Sir Alexander Macdonald in 1776, eight years after his marriage to Elizabeth Bosville had united two families with ancient roots. 


see: Clan Donald

In the 12th century, as Somerled Macdonald was asserting as 1st Lord of the Isles, the de Bosvilles, originally of Normandy, were wending their way to the north of England. In the mid 15th century, as Hugh Macdonald became the ‘1st of Sleat’ on the Isle of Skye, Richard Bosville inherited an estate at Gunthwaite in south Yorkshire, which would remain the home of his descendants for the next 300 years. Later, up on Skye, Charles I would lock in the active loyalty of the Macdonalds of Sleat with the award of baronetcy to Donald of that ilk in 1625.

By which point in time it is unlikely that either family was remotely aware of the village of Rudston, in the chalky wolds of ‘Yorkshire’s hidden landscape‘, where their fortunes were to coalesce – unless, perhaps, one of their number had been a particularly keen student of British prehistory.


see: Google Maps

“It is rather mystifying that the Rudston Monolith is not better known [since] this stunning slender pillar is the tallest standing stone in Britain.’ The pagan symbol measuring 25 feet (above ground) had been dragged to this spot from a coastal source at least two thousand years before being joined by its 12th-/13th-century Christian neighbour, the church of All Saints. The stone represented a looming presence in the lives of locals rivalled only by that of the lord of the manor…

… which role was assumed by one John Wood, Esq. via his purchase of Rudston’s principal landholding in 1557,  ‘since when it has not been sold’. The male Wood line was exhausted in 1695, the Thorpe estate now ‘bequeathed by Thomas Wood to his godson and great-nephew, Thomas Hassell’.4 The latter’s 1716 marriage to Ann Wentworth began an association with that family, whose estate lay at West Bretton near Wakefield. In the first decades of the 18th century, as his father-in-law Sir Matthew Wentworth began the rebuilding of Bretton Hall, Thomas Hassell would also set about remodelling his (relatively modest) seat.


thorpecarz1The resulting three-storey, five-bay block remains the core of present-day Thorpe Hall, featuring on the north (entrance) front ‘a fine early-C18th round-headed doorway framed by fluted Ionic pilasters’.5 Internally, the staircase would appear to be the only substantial survival from this period (its Venetian window likely a mid-C18th addition by his son and heir).6


see: V&A Museum

Amongst the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is a mourning ring commemorating the demise of this Thomas Hassell (2) in 1773 (r). Married but without children, his estate was now bequeathed to Godfrey Bosville, the husband of his cousin, Diana Wentworth, and all in all a very lucky chap for whom Thorpe Hall represented a landed inheritance hat-trick.

Having naturally come into the old Bosville estate at Gunthwaite in 1724 when still a minor, Godfrey would also inherit a Staffordshire property called Byanna from a distant relation in 1762. Writing from Bretton Hall, Sir Thomas Wentworth teased his sister and brother-in-law about their burgeoning portfolio: ‘Dear Diana, it must be needless to wish you both Joy but Health to enjoy your new Estate & House,’ wondering if they might now ‘remove from one to t’other like King and Queen?’7


see: Staffordshire Past Track

Both Gunthwaite and Byanna (left) had commodious houses but, whether for reasons of geography, practicality or perhaps novelty, upon inheriting Thorpe in 1773 the middle-aged couple relocated to Rudston almost immediately, embarking on a significant programme of development at the Hall before the decade was out. 

Doncaster architect William Lindley would oversee the widening of the house with the addition of single-storey wings east and west, and Lindley was also probably responsible for the 13-bay pedimented stable block.


see: Thorpe Hall Estate

The east wing comprised a new Gallery, beneath whose ‘fine Adamesque plaster ceiling’ came to hang a respectable collection of Old Masters, and family portraits by the likes of Philippe Mercier and Sir Joshua Reynolds (↓).6


thorpegallery‘Family tradition talks of the first party in the Gallery was held to celebrate the wedding’ of the couple’s younger daughter, Julia (right, later the Viscountess Dudley and Ward) in the 1780s.7 It was, however, their elder daughter Elizabeth’s earlier marriage to Scots laird Sir Alexander Macdonald, 9th Bt., later 1st Baron Macdonald of Slate, which would usher in the next significant chapter in the evolution of Thorpe Hall.


When I am dead I would like to have my body opened, and my lungs examined .. for it may be of benefit to Mankind, but chiefly to my Posterity, as they may probably inherit any Ailment of this Ancestor.’

Godfrey Bosville died in 1784 having made the above stipulation several years before, concern for his descendants’ welfare being coupled with a belief that such action would ‘secure me from being buried alive, which I am satisfied many are‘.8

Thorpe now passed to his eldest son William who, in marked contrast to his parents’ interest in the place, would take a decidedly arms-length approach to his Yorkshire inheritance. Not for ‘Billy’ Bosville the irksome expectations of a country squire, preferring instead the sophisticated salons of central London, being himself the fastidious host of one such at his townhouse in Welbeck Street. 

thorpebilly‘Dressed in the outmoded powdered wig and frock coat of a mid-18th century courtier, on each weekday he received no more than twelve guests to dine at 5pm precisely. Visitors who missed the appointment even by a couple of minutes were refused entry.’9 Regulars amongst their number were many leading political Radicals of the day, Bosville befriending and personally funding the activities of William Cobbett and John Horne Tooke, and becoming an object of caricature.

William’s only brother Francis having been killed in action in France, the eccentric bon vivant represented the end of the Bosville male line when he died unmarried in London in December 1813, leaving the bulk of his sizable estate to his nephew. By the terms of Bosville’s will Col. Godfrey Macdonald would adopt his mother’s maiden name by royal licence the following year.

thorpemarialouiseUnlike his bachelor benefactor, full-time soldier Godfrey had been only too keen to enter into the state of matrimony, his itinerant profession being one of several complicating factors surrounding a hasty 1799 marriage to sweetheart Louisa Maria Edsir. For his intended was not just 17 years old (any such marriage in England therefore requiring formal parental consent) but also the illegitimate daughter of HRH the Duke Gloucester (brother of King George III) and ‘expected to make a more brilliant match than was possible with the second son of an Irish peer’.1

Relying on Macdonald’s familial Scottish domicile, the lovestruck pair had ‘eloped to Scotland, marrying by ‘mutual consent’ under Scottish law’.10 Three children had been produced by the time uncertainty began to surface about the legal validity of their relationship (and consequent status of their offspring), doubts sufficient to spur an English marriage ceremony in Norwich in 1803. But if the couple now imagined the matter settled, they were wrong.


Ten more children followed and upon inheriting his uncle Billy’s estate, Thorpe Hall suddenly became a lively family home after almost three decades of effective dormancy. In order to accommodate their brood, the by-now Mr & Mrs Bosville would heighten the wings (r) providing more bedrooms, while much interior detailing of this period remains. So, too, various lasting embellishments in the grounds and parkland.

The Gypsey Race chalk stream would be manipulated to produce a half-mile chain of serpentine ponds while various singular buildings were now arrayed around the house. To the east a freestanding billiard room and adjoining orangery ‘stand on a stone podium of three steps’ (shown above) while on the opposite side…


see: Historic England


see: Historic England

… an ‘outstanding’ octagonal model Dairy survives, among a group of structures ‘in the rustic picturesque style’.11 With its stained glass windows and an interior entirely covered in glazed tiles with a white marble table centrepiece, the Dairy is amongst the more obscure of England’s Grade I listed secular structures (and outranks the Grade II* Hall itself).

thorpe3rdbaronPutting a coronet upon this period of adornment at Thorpe, in 1824 Godfrey (r) gained the titles held by his elder brother, the unmarried 2nd Lord Macdonald, 10th Baronet. Changing the family name to Bosville Macdonald, the third baron could normally have expected that in due course his first-born, Alexander, would inherit these honours, and the entailed Scottish estates. But uncertainty as to the legitimacy of the children born before Godfrey’s [second, English] marriage still lingered, reinforced by counsel’s opinion sought by Godfrey at the time of his own succession.

‘This doubt he handed on to his children, and it exerted an important influence on their lives’.12

The 3rd Baron Macdonald died in October 1832 one day before his 57th birthday whereupon his second son, Godfrey, first-born after his parents’ second marriage, ‘claimed the place of the eldest [Alexander], whom he pronounced illegitimate’.7 It was, however, a decision which, a decade on, the 4th Baron would begin to regret. Alexander, meanwhile, took possession of the Yorkshire properties, reasserting the Bosville name by royal licence as per the will of great uncle Billy.


Armadale Castle, Skye

Although running to well over 100,000 acres, while the size of Macdonald lands in the Hebrides vastly outstripped the combined landholdings south of the border, their lesser intrinsic value, along with the inflexibilities of a strict entail attaching to the barony, rendered them less readily disposable, circumstances which for Godfrey – or more pertinently his creditors – in time began to chafe.

Could the brothers’ respective inheritances perhaps be revised, he wondered?

‘Accordingly, in 1843 an action was brought in England in the name of the 4th Lord Macdonald for the purpose of ejecting Alexander Bosville from possession of the English estates.’ This was followed the next year by another Chancery suit which sought a declaration that their parents’ original Scottish marriage was in fact legitimate. ‘Both actions were opposed by [his older brother, whose] position was a strange one, as Alexander was practically asserting his own illegitimacy’.3

But wiser counsel would eventually prevail, the family’s internal wrangling being concluded by a private Act of Parliament passed in 1847, an agreement between the two brothers that effectively enshrined the status quo, which ‘should not be open to challenge at the instance of remoter heirs’.3 The Act made no ruling on the legitimacy of Alexander Bosville upon whom the regrettable saga had taken an emotional toll; he died within months of its enactment, aged 46.


In the middle of all the legal tussles, in 1843 Bosville’s daughter Julia had married Henry Willoughby, 8th Baron Middleton. Later, his son and heir Godfrey would also marry into that family only to die suddenly, aged 39, two weeks after the birth of his first child, Alexander. Consequently, in the middle decades of the 19th century Thorpe Hall would often be available to let until the young squire came of age.

Soon after that event Alexander Bosville married Alice Middleton, their optimism expressed in the construction of a sizable 7-bay extension at the western end of Thorpe Hall (a third projecting wing achieving a degree of balance on the garden front not replicated to the north). The whole would be cloaked in unifying harling while internally, technological early-adopter Bosville introduced electric lighting throughout the ‘house of long corridors and lofty rooms’.13


‘The designed landscape of Thorpe Hall is of particular historic interest because it retains much of the physical character that had been achieved by the early 20th century,’ Alice Bosville being the principal author its next significant chapter.4 ‘Alex let me make a garden stretching down to the “Ponds” which made for itself quite a reputation for beauty.’1

thorpegarden‘Near the house, terraces and steps were made [while] a broad grass walk hedged with yew leads right down the garden, and the look of this is continued on the opposite shore of the ponds up the hill to a vista through the wood on its top.’4 The broad swathe would be studded with hidden groves and classical statuary. 

The couple were very active artistically, church organist and choirmaster Alex Bosville being the prime mover behind the Bridlington Musical Society and annual Festival while the coach house at Thorpe Hall was now ‘converted into a miniature theatre’.14 But a real-life domestic drama would be initiated in the first decade of the last century as the squire sought to scratch a hereditary itch: the stigma which still attached to the birth status of his namesake grandfather.

Unsurprisingly, from his castle on the Isle of Skye, Ronald, 6th Lord Macdonald, objected to the formal legal action launched by his cousin discintering matters which potentially revisited their respective inheritances. “Do you wish to petition for the peerage?,” Bosville’s KC enquired, adding that in his considered opinion “I think you would get it.”1

thorpekilt2“Absolutely not,” replied his client, stressing that his principal motivation was proving that their ancestors’ 1803 English marriage had indeed legitimised the children born prior to it. He had no interest in the 130,000 acres, nor evicting the baron from his castle. However, ‘the pursuer stated that one of his objects in bringing the action was to vindicate his right to the baronetcy’, in which he would be successful.12


The Bystander 18 April 1906

Following the June 1910 Scottish Court of Sessions ruling that the elder children were indeed legitimate, the newly styled Sir Alexander Bosville Macdonald of the Isles took the lease of a modest property at Duntulm on Skye. The couple’s regular visits were perhaps made in one of their fleet of early motor cars (r), all painted yellow (including a 1900 Daimler, ‘the second so made, the first [having] gone to Sandringham’).1

The 14th baronet and 22nd Chief of Sleat died in his sleep in March, 1933. During his son Sir Godfrey’s 18-year stewardship a ‘tolerable porch’5 was introduced on the north front while the Reynolds portrait of Julia Bosville would be among a selection of pictures hitherto ‘hidden away at Thorpe Hall’ sold at Christie’s in 1935.15 ‘Many notable paintings remain,’ however, ‘[and] there is much good furniture too dating from the mid-18th century onwards.’6


The Journal June 1992

Some of the latter items in the Gallery at Thorpe would suffer water damage as a result of defective plumbing work in the early 1980s, one of various restoration battles fought by Sir Ian Macdonald, 17th and present baronet (who succeeded as a child, his father having survived the 15th baronet by just seven years).16 In his time Sir Ian has also seen off energy firm Centrica’s scheme for the ‘proposed injection of 200,000 tonnes of methane into the gas bearing porous strata’ directly beneath the house, which was finally abandoned a decade ago.


see: Thorpe Hall

Rather more welcome have been the steady stream of campers and caravanners to the well-regarded campsite (r) which has occupied the old walled garden for the past three decades. The 18th-century stable block has also since been converted to further promote visitor potential, the whole Thorpe estate enterprise being today managed by its heir, Somerled Macdonald and his wife Charlotte. ‘There is an ambition to create a unique identity centred around [the] chalk landscape…

… that would help the estate stand out from other Yorkshire country houses.’17 However, ‘being a family home, the Hall and gardens are not open to the public’. And these days Thorpe (which at the turn of the last century formed part of the family’s 9,000 acres in the county) is not this couple’s only landed concern.


see: York Museum Trust

In 1891 a pre-Roman Celtic sword of iron ‘with a finely decorated hilt’ was unearthed along with bones in June, 1891 in the kitchen garden at Thorpe (r) – quite interesting but not exactly the world’s most sensational archaeological find. One contender for that particular title is, of course, the 1922 discovery by Howard Carter of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb, in excavations funded by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon…

… using the proceeds of a surplus-to-requirements estate inherited from his grandmother in 1885. ‘Set in an oasis of rolling Derbyshire hills, the Bretby Park estate extends to some 2,000 acres.’ ‘The Carnarvons never lived at Bretby Park, preferring their home at Highclere Castle [but] did make regular visits, particularly for shooting,’ a sporting pursuit that continues commercially at Bretby today. The estate was sold by Lord Carnarvon to a local industrialist in 1915 since when it has passed down to the present owner Charlotte Macdonald ‘who escorts [shoot] guests and ensures the smooth running of the day. Charlotte and her husband Somerled are both keen shots and live in East Yorkshire…’


see: RS MickeyMoo Productions

[Thorpe Hall Estate][Archives]

1. Macdonald, Lady A. All the days of my life, 1929.
2. Yorkshire Evening Post, 13 September 1909.
3. Bosville v. Macdonald and another, Casemine.
4. Neave, D. and S. Thorpe Hall, Rudston, Yorkshire Gardens Trust, 2013.
5. Pevsner, N. and Neave, D. Buildings of England: York and the East Riding, 1995.
6. Johnson, F. Thorpe Hall, The Archaeological Journal, Vol.141, 1984.
7. Macdonald of the Isles, Lady. The fortunes of a family through nine centuries, 1928.
8. U DDBM/33/39, [MS] Papers of the Bosville-Macdonald Family, Hull History Centre.
9. Carter, P. William Bosville, Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2008.
10. Papers of the Bosville-Macdonald Family of Gunthwaite, Thorpe and Skye, Hull History Centre.
11. Neave, D., Turnbull, D. Landscaped parks and gardens of East Yorkshire, 1992.
12. The Times, 6 June 1910.
13. Wood, G.B. Historic homes of Yorkshire, 1957.
14. Fitzjohn, G.J.M. Historic houses of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire: Thorpe Hall, Hull Times, 14 July 1928.
15. Daily Telegraph, 25 February 1935.
16. U DFJ/1081/1-5, [MS] Francis Johnson & Partners project file: Thorpe Hall. Hull History Centre.
17. Traill, J et al. ‘Chalkshire’- Britain’s Most Northerly Chalk Outcrop: a development study, Catchment Based Approach, 2021.

Whatcombe House, Dorset

It is vain to reason with Lord Milton .. and as vain to expect fair treatment from him, who uses everybody brutally. I am not the thief his malice represents me.

Disharmony between architect and client, not uncommon and seldom productive, a circumstance perhaps no better exemplified than by the complete breakdown in relations between Sir William Chambers, architectural advisor to King George III, and a hectoring Dorset landowner, Joseph Damer. Having purchased the ancient Milton Abbey estate south-west of Blandford Forum in 1752, on being raised to the peerage as Baron Milton a decade later Damer enlisted the biggest names of the day to radically reimagine his new domain.


see: Historic England

An increasingly exasperated Chambers was three-quarters of the way through the construction of the stylistically atypical essay in Gothic that was the new house at Milton Abbey (r) when he threw in the trowel, walking away from the major project and his ‘very difficult client’. The aggrieved architect earnestly defended himself against damaging accounting aspersions, put about by Milton, in letters to influential associates such as Lord Pembroke (quoted above).1

But William Chambers was not the only one pushed to the edge by the aspirant Joseph Damer (later further ennobled as 1st Earl of Dorchester, and scion of an already prominent local family whose fortunes had been supercharged by the opportunistic operations of his grandfather in Restoration Ireland). Most directly affected were the 500-600 inhabitants of the little town of Middleton (or Milton) which was now highly inconvenient to his grand scheme, being a) visible and b) not – as Damer much preferred – a lovely lake.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown would spend many years overseeing the episodic arcadian overhaul of Milton Abbey’s environs, which included the demolition of Middleton and the co-creation (with Chambers) of its tucked-away replacement settlement, Milton Abbas. Eventually, in the last decade of the 18th century his lordship set about flooding the now vacated valley for his scenic satisfaction.


see: Historic England

Such features were typically achieved by the damming of a local water course and this the now Earl of Dorchester proceeded to do with (typically) scant regard to the consequences for the community living immediately downstream. Being the parish of Milborne St. Andrew whose own squire, Edmund Morton Pleydell, despite repeated correspondence and eventual recourse to law, found no indulgence from his arrogant, aristocratically-advantaged neighbour.

Lack of water would ultimately render life at his seat, Milborne House, unviable. Handily, however, in 1750 (two years before Damer had appeared on the scene) Pleydell had created a Georgian shooting box/second home three miles away at Whatcombe, to which he now fully relocated. What had appeared simply an act of fashionable extravagance now took on an aura of remarkable prescience – there must have been something in the water (while it lasted).


see: Google Maps

Temporary 20th-century inhabitants of Whatcombe House (↑) would likely have attributed such a turn of events to divine intervention. The Christian Barnabas Fellowship were the last in a sequence of post-war institutional occupants of the enlarged Georgian mansion prior to its reversion as a private family home, one which has passed several times in the female line. As, too, has the neighbouring Winterborne Clenston estate, a survival of no less remark and which came to the Mortons of Milborne St. Andrew through marriage in the middle of the 16th Century.


see: Historic England

By that point never-sold Clenston, one mile north of Whatcombe on the opposite bank of the Winterborne, was the home of Sir George de la Lynde whose only son would outlive him by just four months. Thus the T-shaped medieval manor house (right), distinguished by a ‘central projecting stair turret, rising to a gable supported on an elaborate arrangement of corbelling’, now passed to Sir George’s sister, Warburga, wife of Thomas Morton.2

This couple’s grandson, Sir George Morton, is thought to have enlarged Clenston Manor (widening the main range and heightening the rear wing). Despite this his own son, Sir George Morton, 1st Baronet (cr. 1619) appears to have found the old house unbecoming of his new status (Clenston would be a tenanted farmhouse for the next three centuries), deciding instead to build himself a new mansion back at Milborne St. Andrew, four miles south-west. As depicted in the following century by early Royal Academician William Tomkins, the three-storey, gabled Milborne House ‘was a fine, characteristic Jacobean manor house, its entrance recessed between two balancing wings, facing west down a long canal’ (↓).3

miltoncolourThe Mortons’ property was already burdened with debt as the nation slid into civil war; Sir George ‘died an outlaw in 1662, his son Sir John Morton being allowed to compound for £600, and the estate returned to him’ the following year. A Dorset MP for three decades, Sir John died in 1699, his only child Anne having married fellow parliamentarian Edmund Pleydell, the member for Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire.

Only the youngest of this couple’s four sons, Edmund, had survived to succeed in 1726, being long satisfied with Milborne House, which he improved in 1729. But soon after standing down after two decades in parliament as a local MP, with more time now spent at home Morton’s thoughts turned to the creation of a secondary residence in the modern style, for which, in these parts, the Bastard brothers of Blandford Forum were the leading proponents.


see: British History Online

whatrostThe resulting square brick box, originally of two storeys and a five-bay entrance front facing south, on a gently rising site between Winterborne Clenston and Milborne, is thought less indicative of their involvement than certain internal details, most notably the ‘central staircase, two flights of cantilevered stone stairs with an ornate wrought-iron balustrade’ (right). Whatcombe House’s principal spaces would be embellished with decorative Rococo plasterwork and chimneypieces.2 And just as this relatively modest Georgian work was nearing completion a noisy new neighbour arrived in the next valley.



see: Boston Museum

Edmund Morton Pleydell died in 1754, his son Edmund (II) subsequently enjoying several comfortable decades as a twin-seated Georgian squire with his wife Anne Luttrell, exemplified in separate three quarter-length portraits of the couple by Thomas Gainsborough. Two years before Edmund inherited Joseph Damer had acquired the Milton Abbey estate, three miles to the west and north of Whatcombe and Milborne St. Andrew respectively, his big (if protracted) plans for that place in time having pivotal consequences for the established populace.

Damer’s own parliamentary career took an agreeable turn in 1762 when the MP for Dorchester was elevated to the Upper House as the first Baron Milton; the following year Capability Brown began his two-decade off-and-on landscaping of the parkland at Milton Abbey. As mentioned, from his grand new house – which would be completed by James Wyatt after Sir William Chambers’ resignation – Damer desired a picturesque lake in the space anciently, and now intolerably, occupied by the little town of Middleton.

Though the blithe damming of Milborne Brook to this end would not begin until a dozen years after the great landscaper’s death, ‘Brown must take some blame for the lake: either he puddled it inadequately or the chalk subsoil was impossibly porous. It shrank and makes no kind of impact’.4 But it certainly made an impact on Milborne St. Andrew where Edmund Morton Pleydell (III)…


see: Google Maps

… after succeeding in 1794, was soon ‘having to sink wells to serve his dairy-house, kennels and fish-ponds’ while his and others livestock had to be driven to watercourses further afield. In the face of his neighbour’s intransigence Pleydell successfully resorted to law on behalf of himself and his tenants; Damer went to his grave in 1798 demanding a retrial.5 Compensation from a more conciliatory 2nd Earl of Dorchester proved too little too late to avert the abandonment of Milborne House, which fell to ruin…

… (its armorial gate piers being later reclaimed, above) and the permanent relocation of the Pleydell household to Whatcombe House which was now necessarily enlarged.


see: Rachel Brooks @ Facebook


see: British History Online

In the first years of the 19th century the Georgian box was extended northwards, and the principal entrance reoriented to the centre of a consequently elongated east facade (↑). Paired pilasters, carried through to a new attic storey, now flanked a doorway crowned with an armorial lunette, an arrangement echoing the Venetian window above; unifying stucco clothed the three bays each side. A matching wing was appended to the north-west corner creating a north front with a ‘deeply recessed centre bay’, while service ranges were added west. 


see: Mike Searle @ geograph

The father of five daughters, Edmund Morton Pleydell had married into the Clavells of Smedmore House (r), 35 miles south near the Dorset coast, whose own lack of direct male heirs would in time yield a helpful double inheritance to satisfy twin grandsons born to his fourth daughter, Louisa. She and her younger sister, Emma, had met and married a pair of officers in the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Regiment of Foot.

While not involved at Waterloo this outfit would later be tasked with supervising the transportation of Napoleon, and his imprisonment on the remote island of St. Helena where Lt. Cols. George Bingham and John Mansel had intimate awareness of the deposed despot’s disposition. “We neither hear nor see much of Bonaparte now, which will tend to increase his corpulence,” Mansel wrote home to his wife Louisa who, unlike Emma Bingham, had not travelled to the South Atlantic on account of her pregnancy.6

whatcourtThe Pleydell sisters’ unmarried uncle, the Rev. John Clavell of Smedmore, passed away in 1833 apparently intestate. But Clavell’s former bailiff, John Barnes, now came forward brandishing a hitherto unknown document purporting to give him (and Clavell’s former housekeeper Mrs. Church) significant claim on the estate. This pitched Louisa (as the only sibling with sons) into a testy court case, Barnes v Mansel  being ‘very elaborately argued, and at great length, producing a great sensation in the neighbourhood’.

The claimants’ contention that their late master had ‘generally disliked the Pleydells’ would be countered by family testimony that Clavell had oft exhibited ‘a fond regard for his [twin] nephews’. The lengthy judgement ultimately threw out and ‘deprecated [as fraudulent] the claims’ of Barnes in 1836. Meanwhile…


see: Richard Wilkin

… Edmund Morton Pleydell had died the previous year leaving Whatcombe House (north front, right) initially to his eldest daughter Margaretta, who had married late (aged 45), her husband Rev. James Michel dying just three years later in 1839. Widowed Mrs. Michel would survive as lady of the manor of Whatcombe until 1871, the personal underwriting of a new church at Winterborne Clenston, designed by Edward Vulliamy (below) … 


see: Google Maps

… being one among many acts of local beneficence. In the interim John, the elder of her twin nephews, built a new house, Longthorns, halfway to Milborne St. Andrew, residing there with second wife Isabel. At the death of his aunt he now relocated to Whatcombe, formally adding the Pleydell suffix to his name unlike twin brother George Mansel who inherited Smedmore (by instruction the seats were not to be joined7) which has likewise since passed by descent.


On Friday, 2 May, 1902 John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell set out from Whatcombe bound for Dorchester where he was to present a paper at the Dorset Field Club, the 83-year-old enjoying an unrivalled county reputation as an antiquarian and natural historian. Alas, Club members were be deprived of ‘The palaeontology of birds’ as its author was taken ill on the journey, dying back at Whatcombe the following day.

see: Art UK

Mansel-Pleydell bequeathed his vast specimen collections to the County Museum, of which he had been a co-founder in 1846. A decade later the archetypal improving Victorian squire was establishing a new reform school for boys in Milborne St. Andrew, an initiative (whose legacy endures) which would curiously prefigure a future function of Whatcombe House itself.

The 8,700-acre estate now passed to his son, Edmund Mansel-Pleydell. Previously resident at Longthorns, despite inheriting the big house the new squire would be ‘little-seen in the neighbourhood, as the English climate was very trying to him’.8


see: Opusculum

Rather, Edmund, his wife Kate and their young family of two sons and two daughters opted to spend months of each year in Morocco where, as recalled in a memoir by Kathleen Mansel-Pleydell, pig-sticking (r) occupied a good deal of the couple’s time. The author recounts one particularly memorable pursuit: ‘I had the head of my boar sent to England to be stuffed and it now hangs over my writing table, a trophy I am indeed proud of.’9

Edmund Mansel-Pleydell died unexpectedly in a south Wales hotel en route to Morocco ten weeks after the outbreak of World War One and was thus spared the devastating consequences this conflict would soon visit upon his own family.

see: iwm.org.uk

Lieutenant Edmund Morton Mansel-Pleydell

see: iwm.org.uk

Eldest son Edmund (left) was 28 years old when he succeeded to Whatcombe and the same age when he died, being ‘mortally wounded crossing No Man’s Land leading his platoon in a charge against German troops’ south of Ypres in March 1915. A little over a year later his brother Henry Mansel-Pleydell MC (r) also succumbed on the battlefield (in ‘slightly strange circumstances’), his local parishioners being moved to ‘deplore the loss of our young squire’, Whatcombe’s third in two years.10 Both were single but their widowed mother (who died 1945) would see her two daughters married in 1919, the eldest, Vivien, to Lt.Col. Henry Railston, henceforth Railston-Pleydell.


The Times 9 Aug 1920

A sizeable sale of outlying land occurred in 1920 while Whatcombe House itself would be periodically advertised across the course of the decade as available to let, even ‘offers to buy being invited’.11 Yet Henry, ‘one of England’s finest polo players’, captained his own Whatcombe team, his involvement with many local organizations evidenced by the nearly one hundred wreaths presented at his funeral in Clenston church in 1936.12

One month before the outbreak World War II Vivien Railston-Pleydell hosted a coming-out dance at Whatcombe for their two daughters though neither would marry until the early 1950s, the eldest June to Richard Clarke-Carlyle (in which family Winterborne Clenston Manor remains) and Patricia to Desmond Chichester. In straitened post-war times neither would call Whatcombe House home, the mansion now entering upon three decades of institutional use.


see: Peter Bottomley @ Facebook

A British couple returning from India, the Hollidays, now rented Whatcombe, establishing a school for boys ‘identified as having ‘failed’ in education’, an enterprise which removed to Somerset (where it continues) after several years. But this purpose was renewed in 1960 when two schoolteachers decided that ‘the elegant Dorset country house’ was just the place for an alternative, spiritually-inspired, rules-free educational regime for ‘maladjusted males’. Providing for some ‘the best years of my life’, the Susheila project closed in 1968.

Next to feel the pull of this quiet corner of Dorset were the Rev. Reg East and his wife, Lucia, Charismatic Christians from Clacton. The couple’s calling drew them to Whatcombe for the first time in the early weeks of 1971: ‘In the chilly drizzle the huge box, dumped on the slope of a gentle hill among clumps of old trees, was anything but inviting. Mrs. Railston-Pleydell lived in a more modern house about half-a-mile away, and Whatcombe itself belonged to one of her daughters, Mrs. Patricia Chichester.’13


see: Historic England

Their small band of supporters equally enthused by the concept of a community retreat baulked at the financial terms stipulated by the estate but determined that ‘if it was the Lord’s will that they should go to Whatcombe then he would provide the necessary cash’. And, lo, it came to pass. A hectic period of DIY repair and adaptation ensued, the ‘graceful arches and warm red brick’ of the cellar being repurposed as a chapel.13

The life of the Barnabas Fellowship at Whatcombe did not extend much beyond the retirement of Rev. East in 1980, a decade which later saw the death of Mrs. Chichester (in 1987) and the marriage of her son and heir, Piers, two years later. Since when Whatcombe House has been reinstated as a private family home, the estate’s owner in recent times obliging in a fashion which contrasts ironically the circumstances which faced his 18th-century ancestor in the wake of the Earl of Dorchester’s scenic self-indulgence at nearby Milton Abbey.

For the place which would perforce, through consequential shortage of water, become the family seat these days accepts periodic inundation for the greater good: ‘With grateful thanks to Piers Chichester, parts of the Whatcombe House park have been allowed to flood in three or four places, holding water from causing flooding in Winterborne Whitechurch. This just demonstrates the importance of appreciating the bigger picture…’14


[Grade II* listing][Archives]

1. Oswald, A. Milton Abbey, Dorset, Country Life 16 June 1966.
2. Hill, M. East Dorset country houses, 2013.
3. Oswald, A. The story of three Dorset houses, Country Life, 26 July 1962.
4. Mowl, T. The historic gardens of Dorset, 2003.
5. Wansbrough, R. The tale of Milton Abbass, 1974.
6. Hawkins, D (ed.). The Grove diaries: The rise and fall of an English family 1809-1925, 1995.
7. The Pleydell Society Newsletter, No. 6, December 1995.
8. Bere Regis & Winterborne Kingston parish magazine, December 1914.
9. Mansel Pleydell, K. Sketches of life in Morocco, 1907.
10. Bere Regis & Winterborne Kingston parish magazine, July 1916.
11. Country Life, advertisement, 1921.
12. Western Gazette, 28 February 1936.
13. Gunstone, J. The beginnings at Whatcombe: An experience of community, 1976.
14. Valley News, March 2020.
See also: Hill, M., Newman, J., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Dorset, 2018.


Now stranded amidst the northerly suburban spread of the town of Northampton stands a 100-foot column of white sandstone, erected in 1764 by the local squire William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford, to the memory of his late friend (and a former prime minister) the 4th Duke of Devonshire. It was as good an excuse as any. For rarely, it seems, would the typical 18th- or 19th-century landowner pass up any opportunity to indulge in that most ponderous of landscape adornments, the erection of an obelisk. Their creations represent a sizeable proportion of the 2,760 such objects which today enjoy the protection of Historic England. A lesser-spotted specimen of this pointed prosaic tendency lies at the foot of Barningham Moor in Teesdale, which straddles the border of County Durham and Yorkshire’s North Riding.

Historic England

It was commissioned to commemorate the record-breaking grouse-shooting feat of Frederick Milbank 150 years ago this August. The future first baronet would personally account for 728 birds in just one day – ‘190 at a single drive lasting 25 minutes’ – on Wemmergill Fell, then another Milbank family landholding twenty or so miles north-west of Barningham (whence the obelisk, left, was later transplanted). ‘Twice he killed two birds at one shot, three loaders and two guns sweating to keep pace while the birds poured onwards.’1

barnBWThe total bag on August 22, 1872 was 2,070 grouse by the party of six guns which included several squires of Barningham Park: the then incumbent, Mark Milbank, and his successor sons Powlett and the aforesaid Frederick. Also claiming to have been present on that day of days was 23-year-old (William) Harry Vane Milbank, Frederick’s oldest son…

… who, in the normal course of events, was also in line to inherit Barningham. But for Harry Milbank ‘the normal course’ would always be the road less travelled.

While, like his father, he too would become a sharp-shooter of no little renown, a lethally over-developed sense of chivalry led to many of Harry’s targets being not feathered but human. “I have fought duels in Russia, Germany and France [and] deeply regret that some of them have resulted fatally,” he would recall; “I was dragged into almost all of them against my will, [and] would much rather have avoided [them], could I have done so honourably.”2

This particular propensity had seemingly yet to manifest itself by 1872 but Harry’s alarmingly impulsive character was already conspicuous enough to provoke the Milbanks being formally disentailed in that year from the great estates and wealth of the dukes of Cleveland, to which the family had been heirs presumptive since 1836. Coincidentally, it was reputedly an ancestor’s similar proclivity for pistols at dawn which had seeded the family’s prominence in the region: Ralph Milbanke, courtesan of Mary, Queen of Scots, ‘is stated to have sought asylum in England having fought a duel in his native country’, subsequently acquiring an estate on Tyneside.3

barncrest1Ralph’s namesake grandson was among the prosperous cadre of north-eastern merchant adventurers running the show in 16th- and 17th-century Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This Ralph would divert rather too much of his wealth in the cause of sustaining Charles Stuart in exile, and enabling his eventual restoration to the throne. Like other similarly out-of-pocket loyal donors, Milbanke found that royal compensation extended little further than the bestowal of a (now extinct) baronetcy upon his eldest son.

Luckily, however, the inheritance of his wife Dorothy, the daughter of seriously successful fellow Newcastle alderman Ralph Cocke, would enable their sons to variously establish themselves as landed gents. And, like others of their ilk (see: Dalton of Hauxwell Hall), the North Riding of Yorkshire was their destination of choice.


see: Lost Heritage

Eldest son Sir Mark Milbanke acquired Halnaby, south of Darlington, initiating Halnaby Hall which, with its later storied associations, would be sold out of the family two centuries on, and subsequently demolished. (The mid-20th century also saw the extinction of the baronetcy, which had similarly descended in the senior Milbanke line, when war-scarred Sir Ralph Milbanke, 12th Bt., turned a gun upon himself at his London home in 1949.)

Both within 20 miles of Halnaby, Sir Mark’s younger brothers Acclom and John would respectively acquire the estates of Barningham Park and Thorp Perrow, north and south of Richmond, the ownerships of which were to coalesce in the middle of the 18th century. In 1692, the year in which the Barningham purchase (from the Tunstall family) was finalised, Acclom suffered the loss of his first wife, by whom he had three daughters.4 He remarried teenaged Anne Davidson two years later producing seven sons, only one of whom survived to adulthood.


see: Historic England


see: Google Maps

The house at Barningham which was passed to Mark Milbanke in 1704 had been expanded from the late-medieval thick-walled core of the present north-east wing, in which stone arches and vestigial (now internal) fenestration also remain.4

The perpendicular principal range was initiated in the early 18th century (↑), the influence of regional architect Robert Trollope tentatively suggested.

barnthorp1Having acquired the manorial rights of Barningham parish in 1742, Mark Milbank – ‘the first to drop the ‘e”, thus distinguishing this branch of the family – died in 1758 unmarried at which point the property passed to his namesake godson who would also naturally inherit Thorp Perrow (r, the house having been developed by his grandfather and father). This Mark Milbank (2) died unexpectedly in an accidental fall from a hayrick during harvest, also unmarried and apparently childless, his estates now being taken on by three maiden aunts.5

‘Curiously, however, each of these sisters would in time leave their portion to a young man called William Melville, the obvious conclusion [being] that he was Mark Milbank’s illegitimate son,’ who was seventeen when the last aunt died in 1785.6 For a time William ‘seems to have gone spectacularly off the rails, arrested in 1787 for assaulting and threatening to shoot the rector’.5 But upon coming of age he would formally take the Milbank name, and a wife, Miss Dorothy Wise.


Historic England

The young squire now quickly set about upgrading both of his Yorkshire properties, surviving bills of work from this time indicating significant developments.4 At Barningham Park the main range was now heightened and thoroughly Georgianised. barnvenetian‘This seems to have included the installation of the present main staircase, and of the plasterwork and chimneypieces of the principal interiors,’7 while two ‘unusual double Venetian windows were inserted into the later medieval masonry of the older wing’.8

Venetian windows would also feature in Milbank’s simultaneous remodelling of Thorp Perrow which included a spectacular ballroom ‘added at the west end of the [retained centre], ‘superb craftsmanship throughout’. The stabling on both estates was handsomely enlarged, an eight-bay pedimented range topped with a clock tower being introduced at Barningham Park (below) to home Milbank’s string of racehorses. Alas, the latter were among the chattels later sold off in order to meet the debts accumulated during this expansionist spending spree.6


see: Dave W @ Tripadvisor

William Milbank was just 34 when he died in 1802 (Dorothy having predeceased him in childbirth five years earlier), to be succeeded by his only son, 7-year-old Mark. Soon after coming of age this Mark Milbank (3) married Lady Augusta Vane, daughter of the exceedingly wealthy Earl of Darlington, later created 1st Duke of Cleveland. Some of the latter’s 100,000-plus acres of England lay in the far-flung Cornish town of Camelford, a pocket borough wherein his new son-in-law was soon installed as an ‘almost silent’ member of parliament (a status he would enjoy until the Reform Act of 1832).

barnthorp2In 1825 the Milbanks were visited at their principal residence Thorp Perrow by fellow parliamentarian and diarist Thomas Creevey: ‘Their house is in every way worthy of them – a great fat house three stories high, a fat butler, a table with a barrel of oysters and a hot pheasant, etc wheeled into the drawing every night at half past ten.’9

It was a bountiful lifestyle later to be seemingly future-proofed by the strategic estate planning of Lady Augusta Milbank’s father, a decision which was, however, to bring as much anguish as assurance.


Three years after he was created the 1st Duke of Cleveland (of the 2nd creation), William Vane, conscious that his three 30-something sons had yet to produce a child between them, formally anointed his then 16-year-old grandson, Mark and Augusta Milbank’s second son, Frederick, as fallback heir presumptive should the situation not change.

As the decades went by, the dukedom passing to each childless son in turn, the enormous Cleveland inheritance began to loom as a serious reality, increasingly perceived by Frederick Milbank and his wife Aline as more a pending burden than a bonanza. Simultaneously concerning for the couple was the wayward behaviour of their eldest son and heir, (William) Harry Vane Milbank, yet the latter’s erratic antics would provide a handy (and lucrative) release from a double-edged destiny.


see: NPG


see source

Terrible calamity made known to us this morning,’ recorded Aline in April 1871, ‘Harry’s marriage. How an hour can change one’s whole life. Misery and disgrace forever: God help us.’ The couple had just learned of their son’s shock nuptials a month earlier in Paris, Harry having fallen instantly in love with and promptly married…

… Alice Belleroche (↑), a beautiful Belgian widow and mother of two.10 Further ignominy would follow later that year when Harry was summoned by the Court of Bankruptcy to answer for liabilities estimated at £76,000 which had been largely accrued indulging glamorous high-maintenance London ‘actress’ Mabel Grey (↑), ‘a celebrity then living under the protection of Mr. Milbank’.11 (Harry’s father, it is said, ‘paid her the considerable sum of £10,000 to give up the idea of marrying his son’).12

The family horror at this playboy lifestyle was seemingly echoed by his cousin the childless 4th Duke of Cleveland who was soon consulting lawyers seeking a means to disentail the Cleveland estates from potentially passing into the hands of such a rakish spendthrift. And so it was that in 1872, to the mutual satisfaction of all, the duke arranged to buy out the Milbanks’ entire future interest. “I naturally received something,” Harry later told the press; “I gave up my future rights and received in return £400,000 in cash.”2 (His father benefitted similarly.)


see: Northern Echo

Newly minted, Harry went on to establish a stylish domestic life in Paris with his adopted family (to whom his parents would gradually warm), interspersed with regular bouts of duelling and drug-taking, and sporting visits to Barningham Park, where the house had been enlarged with ‘ungainly Victorian service wings to the north’7 during the time of Harry’s long-lived grandfather, Mark.

Following the latter’s death in 1881 and that of his uncle Mark (the father of two daughters) two years later, Barningham duly passed to Harry’s father, Frederick. But with Thorp Perrow remaining the principal family locus, the most influential figure on the Barningham estate in the second half of the 19th century would be Sir Frederick’s youngest brother, (Augustus) Sussex Milbank.


see: NPG

Named for his royal godfather Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, Milbank – who would remain childless but whose diaries record amours and ‘his dalliances with maids at Barningham Park’ – took a great interest in the management of the estate. A two-mile stone wall would delineate his reinstated 200-acre deer park while a new model farm, ‘Hawsteads’, incubated various progressive agricultural methods. While the latter remained his home, as a longtime martyr to asthma Sussex had taken to spending regular sojourns in Monte Carlo, where he died in 1887.5


Yale Center

Frederick, meanwhile, had been elected MP for North Yorkshire in 1865 and found himself caricatured by Vanity Fair magazine a decade on (r). ‘Having spent some forty thousand pounds over three elections, one of the most conservative of Liberals [is] a great adherent of Mr. Gladstone. Very rich, a reckless bidder at Christie’s, he is a great lover of the arts, and a rare patron of the drama; nor has any artist in difficulties ever appealed in vain to his large and open-handed generosity. One of these days he must have a peerage.’13 In fact, prime minister William Gladstone’s gratitude would extend only as far as a baronetcy, in 1882.

One decade later Sir Frederick’s troublesome heir Harry died aged 42 though not, surprisingly, twelve paces distant from an duelling adversary. “I have a pistol ball in my body, another in my thigh, a sword thrust in my arm, another in my hand, and so on,” he told an American reporter just a few months before succumbing to the effects of rather more insidious enemies (morphine and cocaine) at a clinic in Switzerland.2 ‘Despite a manner which labelled him as a man of the world,’ one friend recalled, ‘there was a look in his eyes which betrayed the solitudes of which he drank. I don’t suppose this country will ever again produce such a man.’14


For the Milbanks the remainder of the 19th century would be a battle of wills. A year after Harry’s predictably untimely demise his first cousin, Godolphin Vane Milbank, launched ‘one of the most remarkable law cases of the present century’ at the Royal Courts of Justice, one in which ‘nobody but the judge and counsel appeared to comprehend the points at issue’.15 Essentially, he was challenging the aforementioned disentailing of the Cleveland estates, arguing that he was in fact their rightful heir. His claim was thrown out but Godolphin would at least benefit from a curious aspect of the will of his grandfather (the ‘disentailer’) Mark Milbank who devised to him ‘all the furniture at Thorp Perrow and Barningham Park (↓) ‘except that belonging to Sir Frederick’.10


see Historic England [PDF]

This bequest presumably accounts in part for a subsequent series of contents sales at Christie’s. Sir Frederick died in 1898 and the suggestion that both houses would be significantly denuded was now deployed by Lady Aline Milbank’s lawyers in negotiations with Harry Milbank’s widow who, due to legal oversights a decade earlier, stood to inherit both family seats!

‘A complex series of agreements’ produced a mutually acceptable settlement with Alice Milbank in July 1901 which would see all the Yorkshire estates remain within the family, passing to Harry’s younger brother Powlett who would dispose of Thorp Perrow in 1902.10 However, ‘bridesmaid’ Barningham Park still did not become the principal residence of its squire.

barnnortonFor Powlett had also benefited handsomely from the Cleveland bequests of the last duke (inheriting £679,000 in 18925) and opted to invest in his wife’s family seat, Norton Manor in Radnorshire (r). There Sir Powlett Milbank (who became MP for his adopted area) would reside for the rest of his life, returning to Barningham seasonally to continue the tradition of magnificent shooting over the Milbanks’ moors.

Sir Powlett’s mother the dowager Lady Milbank would outlive all of her children, residing at Barningham Park in her later years and dying in 1919. The baronet himself had passed the year before, being buried at Norton where the house and 3,000-acre estate would later be sold by his son and heir Sir Frederick who settled at Barningham Park upon his return from distinguished service in World War One.


see: Historic England

A well-head erected in the grounds of the house was commissioned by the dowager on the occasion of her grandson’s marriage to Dorothy Wilson. While the 3rd baronet’s forty-six years as squire would extend into the Swinging Sixties, Sir Frederick’s tenure at Barningham was steadfastly traditional: ‘One of the attractions of his house,’ one obituary related, ‘was the unchanging regime there, which depended partly on an inimitable butler-friend, Leggatt, who served the family for close on half a century.’16

By the time he succeeded to the title and (today 7,000-acre) Barningham estate in 1964 Sir Mark Milbank had been serving the Crown for more than a decade. An ‘urbane, matety’ Master of Her Majesty’s Household from 1953 to 1967, the 4th baronet remained a royal equerry until his death in 1984.17 Twenty years on his son Sir Anthony Milbank, 5th Baronet, upon learning of a French theme for the 2004 Barningham village fete, delighted in recalling the violent demise of the monarchy in France, presenting bemused locals with a specially commissioned replica of the guillotine used to dispatch Louis XVI and Marie Antionette.18


see: Historic England

Less eccentrically, having taken over the estate in the late ’70s, Sir Anthony and Lady Belinda Milbank would continue a programme of major improvements at Barningham which had been ongoing since the 1960s under the aegis of architect Francis Johnson. The unloved Victorian additions would be ‘nipped off, the north front tidied up (r), dry rot eradicated and authentic Georgian colour schemes’ reinstated.7

And the baton has since been taken up by current occupants Sir Edward and Lady Natalie Milbank (↓), ‘who have undertaken to [further] restore the property to its Georgian roots’.4 “Each generation has to save a bit of the house,” they say


see: Luxe Magazine

… the couple’s recent priority having been the thorough rehabilitation of the original north-east wing which had long fallen into disrepair. Another focus has been the revitalization of Barningham’s village pub, the Milbank Arms. Unlike the estate’s commercial shooting, and environmental asset enterprises [1|2], the pub “is not a money-making [concern], it’s what’s right for the community, part of a 100-year plan for us”. After 330 years the Milbanks of Barningham Park aren’t calling time: the eldest son – who shares the name (but it might be hoped not the tendencies) of his dissolute duelling forebear – “knows how it all works and that he’s up next…”19

[Grade II* listing][Interior images]

1. Yorkshire Post, 31 October 1914.
2. Northern Weekly Gazette, 23 April 1892.
3. Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage, 99th ed., 1949.
4. Cooper-Dunn, H. Falling through the cracks? An archaeological approach to gentry houses, York University MA dissertation, 2018.
5. Smith, J. Round the world: An A-Z miscellany of Barningham and its neighbours, 2019.
6. Worsley, G. Thorp Perrow, Country Life, 19 Sept 1991.
7. Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Milbank of Barningham Park, The Field, 22 Feb 1986.
8. Heritage statement (planning application submission), 2016.
9. Maxwell, Sir H. The Creevey papers: a selection from the correspondence & diaries of the late Thomas Creevey, 1904.
10. Kirby, D.P. Country house scenes in North Yorkshire in the 19th century: Thorp Perrow, Barningham and the Milbank family, 2007.
11. The Standard, 27 July 1871.
12. Sutherland, D. The mad hatters: Great sporting eccentrics of the 19th century, 1987.
13. Vanity Fair, 17 July 1875.
14. Denham, Sir J. Memoirs of the memorable, 1922.
15. Daily Telegraph, 18 January 1893.
16. The Times, 12 May 1964.
17. Daily Telegraph, 14 March 1963.
18. Durham County Publications, 26 June 2004.
19. Agnew, E. A family affair, Luxe Magazine, September 2019.
See also:
Roberts, M., Pevsner, N., Williamson, E. Buildings of England: County Durham, 2021.
Truscott, J. Tapestry for autumn [Barningham’s gardens], Country Life, 21 September 1989.

Routinely cited as Britain’s first prime minister, soon after taking office in 1721 Sir Robert Walpole would instigate the creation of Houghton Hall, his mighty Palladian statement in north Norfolk later duly adorned with a commensurate art collection accumulated by Walpole over the course of his career. Such extravagance stood in marked contrast to the character of the other great political figure of the first half of the 18th century, ‘not only the most important parliamentarian of his day’ but a man with ‘an equally good claim to the title’ of the nation’s first PM.1


Fox Searchlight

“It’s shocking that there hasn’t been some kind of big, luscious biopic about Robert Harley, the most subtle, effective politician of the period,” one historian suggested earlier this year (though Harley proved something of a scene-stealer in the garlanded Queen Anne drama The Favourite (r) in 2018). A key enabler of the Acts of Union (with Scotland, 1707) and Settlement (prescribing a Protestant monarchy, 1701), the arc of Harley (later the Earl of Oxford’s) brilliant career also included one and a half attempts on his life and two years in the Tower of London.

However, unlike a life of Walpole, moviemakers seeking to remedy that perceived deficit would likely be tempted into a touch of grade inflation regarding the casting of the ‘big house’. For, unlike the unabashed Walpole, Presbyterian Robert Harley took a particular pride in not benefitting personally from his rise to the top, and remained content with his family’s relatively modest ancestral home in a remote corner of north-west Herefordshire.


see: Historic England

Indeed, few ancient family seats are so thoroughly eclipsed by the politics and proclivities of their successive owners as Brampton Bryan Hall. Not content with shaping the nation, the Harleys would be (repeatedly) out on a limb in the English Civil War, while the fruits of their later collecting habits became a founding cornerstone of the nascent British Library.

The Brampton Bryan estate’s intrinsic claim to fame is that it has never changed hands for money since the Norman Conquest, no mean boast. But a question of inheritance which arose in the mid-19th century (occasioned by a lack/loss of male heirs) saw sisters mired in Chancery for two decades, and Brampton Bryan consequently pivot way from – or was it a return to? – the senior family line.


see: Google Maps

Signs of custodial continuity are not hard to find in this spot at the convergence of the Herefordshire, Shropshire and Welsh borders, from the epically bulbous yew hedge, which rides the curving wall of the Hall grounds and St. Barnabus’s church, to the conspicuous turquoise livery of the surrounding cottages. ‘The whole village is one of considerable historic character which continues to be conserved through single estate ownership and the consequent absence of development pressure. The Harley estate owns almost all the freeholds in Brampton Bryan village.’2

It has been ‘the Harley estate’ since the marriage, in the first decade of the 14th century, of Robert Harley to the sole heiress of Brian de Brampton, a union which came with a tower house and its curtilage. This property would be developed by the Harleys later that century, becoming a more substantial defensive structure with two stout round gatehouse towers now framing an additional portcullis. At a strategically narrow point, ‘Brampton Bryan Castle guarded the important route from Ludlow along the Teme valley into central Wales.’3


[Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, 1731]

Passing straightforwardly from father to son for generations, in later Tudor times the Castle received some domestic enhancements, with the addition of mullioned windows and an ashlar porch and stair leading to the first floor main hall. This last phase possibly occurred during the tenure of Thomas Harley who died in 1631, at which point Charles I was two years into his personal rule of the kingdom without Parliament.

Thomas Harley was succeeded by his eldest son Sir Robert who, though he had been knighted by James I, was to become increasingly alienated by the tyrannical tendencies now being exhibited by his successor to the crown. Sir Robert Harley’s concerns were heightened by his full-throated Puritanism, the Herefordshire squire’s religious antennae becoming increasingly twitchy at Charles’ Arminian overtures, perceived as Catholicism by the back door.

But such antipathy was not widely shared back in the MP’s home county. Indeed, when push finally came to shove in the First Civil War the Harleys – Sir Robert and his two oldest sons, Edward (‘Ned’) and Robert (‘Robin’) – would find themselves largely isolated, with Brampton Bryan increasingly conspicuous as an island of parliamentarian sympathy in a royalist Herefordshire sea.

By now Sir Robert was married to wife number three, the first two (Anne Barrett and Mary Newport) having provided handsome dowries and several children but all of whom had died prematurely. So it was that in July 1623 the 44-year-old had married a woman almost half his age, Lady Brilliana Harley bringing less wealth than her predecessors but some very useful connections. For in that same year her father Sir Edward Conway (later Viscount Conway, of Ragley) would be made a secretary of state, his influence oiling Harley’s subsequent appointment as Master of the Mint.

Crucially (inasmuch as 17th century conventions allowed) Sir Robert could be said to have found a soulmate in Brilliana, a young woman fully committed to his causes and course – which was just as well because two decades on, as civil war raged, she would come to find herself quite literally holding the fort.


see source

“I am threatened every day,” Lady Harley wrote to her soldier son Ned from Brampton Bryan early in 1643 as royalist forces intimidated the motley band of one hundred or so musketeers and likeminded locals therein gathered.4 Constantly supplying local intelligence (including a plot “to blow up the castle”) to her husband – who felt compelled to remain away politicking in London – Brilliana’s letters to Sir Robert ‘make us realise we are in the presence of a true woman, brave but not fearless, prepared to sacrifice herself to her sense of duty and rise to the loftiest heights of heroism’.5

The inevitable siege began in July, continuing fruitlessly (and with remarkably little loss of life within the castle) for seven weeks before the frustrated royalist forces were redeployed elsewhere. But the strain of resistance had taken its toll on a weakened Lady Brilliana, who succumbed to a form of pneumonia in October. In the absence of her galvanizing presence, Brampton Bryan Castle was overrun and wrecked the following year.


see: NPG

But the now thrice-widowed Sir Robert was not without an outlet for any vengeant urges he may have felt, being soon appointed to head up a committee to oversee the removal and destruction of idolatrous church fixtures and fittings, a role he took to with (possibly hands-on) alacrity. ‘The planing off of pictures in Westminster Abbey and the burning of the embroidered High Altar cloth of Canterbury Cathedral [were among] the list of receipts for iconoclastic work done under his direction in the years 1644-5.’5

But disillusionment with the increasingly authoritarian ways of the Cromwell regime soon set in, the Harleys’ fundamental opposition to the regicide of King Charles resulting in Sir Robert becoming persona non grata during the first years of the Commonwealth. However, he also remained a stranger to Brampton Bryan, only finally returning to Herefordshire in his casket to be buried at St. Barnabus (‘believed to be one of only six English churches built or rebuilt during the Commonwealth Period’) in the winter of 1656.


see: England’s Places

It was left to his son, Sir Edward (politically rehabilitated at the Restoration ‘though never a figure of national importance like his father’) to rebuild the family seat. Moving on from the past but not from the site, a modest six-bay house with a hipped roof and dormers now arose just a stone’s throw from the ruin of Brampton Bryan Castle (everafter maintained, r, as the grandest of garden ornaments).

But this construction project – a la mode but hardly ambitious – was not without casualty. “I hope the building is hastened and the workmen more careful to preserve themselves,” Sir Edward Harley enquired of his (second) wife, Abigail, writing from London in June 1663. Several labourers had suffered an accidental fall, and Harley would soon learn of a consequent fatality. “I desire you to enquire what wife or children the dead person hath left,” he replied, “that I might [make] some provision for them.”5

The Harleys’ correspondence hints at his family’s interim accommodation: ‘There is a large couch, which was my father’s, I would have brought into my study at the dairy house, and I desire that some stuff curtains be made for the windows.’5 But while Sir Edward would be responsible for instigating the revival of Brampton Bryan and its new Hall his most notable contribution to posterity was undoubtedly the creation of his son and heir, Robert, later 1st earl of Oxford, ‘a political wizard‘ who would ascend to the highest offices of state.


As she anticipated 24-year-old Robert’s 1685 marriage to a daughter of the wealthy Foley family of Witley Court in Worcestershire, Lady Harley worried that her son’s bride might find it “strange .. to be cubed up in our little house out of such a fine one”.5 But Elizabeth Harley was soon settled as the new mistress of Brampton Bryan, producing two daughters and a son as her husband, first elected in 1689, began to make his way in parliament.

The death of his wife and that of the couple’s fourth child in 1691 was a rare reversal in the seemingly charmed rise of the young MP for New Radnor who – despite a somewhat desultory education (“sometimes extremely lazy so that I have been near whipping him,” his father once despaired) – had hit the ground running at Westminster. Soon appointed a Commissioner of Accounts, the £500 salary was useful enough but not nearly so much as the insight the role afforded into parliamentary personalities and procedure. Harley soaked it up.


see: Meisterdrucke

Now exhibiting a prodigious capacity for hard work, the politically moderate, pragmatic Tory swiftly gained an unrivalled reputation as a wily operator who knew where the money went and how to get things done. ‘A master of schemes, the art of mystery which surrounds him was a natural emanation of his serpentine intelligence and love of intrigue.’ And Harley not only kept his cards close to his chest – he kept everything, the ‘inveterate hoarder‘ accumulating an unparalleled archive of business and personal papers over the course of his life.

In 1692, during a one of Harley’s infrequent visits to his Welsh borders constituency he was assailed in broad daylight by two disaffected locals, the coming man of Westminster perceiving the attack ‘as nothing less than a conspiracy to assassinate him’. It wouldn’t be the last.

In 1701 Harley was elected Speaker of the Commons, credited with negotiating the passage of the Act securing a future Hanoverian succession (though its eventual beneficiary would show him scant gratitude). Harley’s ascendancy was aided by key lieutenants: his brother, fellow MP and exchequer Auditor Edward Harley would always have his back (also taking care of family business back in Herefordshire), while his recruitment of journalist Daniel Defoe demonstrated a innovative grasp of the power of public relations, the pair establishing ‘one of the most comprehensive systems of information that England had ever known’.6

The creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain came during Harley’s tenure as Northern Secretary of State (1704-08) before the machinations of competitive political egos saw him consigned to the relative wilderness for two years. Another change in the winds saw Harley bouncing back as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1710, a sensational attempt on his life by French spy the Marquis de Guiscard the following year proving the springboard for Harley’s final ascent to the top.


see source

The Chancellor’s choice of a heavily embroidered jacket on that March day in Whitehall (left) almost certainly saved Harley’s life (both the garment and the assailant’s broken knife being preserved today at Brampton Bryan Hall). But it was given out to be touch and go for some weeks, the suggestion of Harley’s possible demise giving rise to a groundswell of appreciation which would carry our soon recuperated hero to the vaulted heights of Lord Treasurer – prime minister, effectively – later that same year.


see: NPG

Crowning Harley’s annus mirabilis, in May 1711 Harley was ennobled, though his co-opting of the ancient earldom of Oxford raised heraldic eyebrows, it having only recently become extinct in the original de Vere line. (Perhaps wary of a future claimant to that title, the novel expedient of 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer was allowed.) But from the zenith, of course, the only way is down. When it came in 1714 Harley’s fall was precipitous, his style of operating (‘obfuscation was raised to an art form’1) and an increasing alcohol dependence eventually losing him the confidence of Queen Anne. ‘The blow fell on 27 July, the queen making public her reasons for dismissing the prime minister: ‘That he neglected all business; was seldom to be understood; that he never came to her at the appointed time [and] often came drunk.’7


see: BramptonBryan.org

Her death just five days later made little difference, the new Hanoverian monarch George I having his own reasons for taking an even dimmer view of Oxford, leading to his eventual impeachment for high treason and incarceration in the Tower of London. The last he endured with trademark equanimity, accompanied by his loyal second wife Sarah, the couple finally being released two years later, the case against him having crumbled. A quiet retirement among his books and grandchildren at Brampton Bryan followed, the earl dying in May 1724, Alexander Pope contributing lines to his memorial in the church of St. Barnabus (left).


Though he had prided himself on his lack of self-enrichment whilst in office, Robert Harley had long indulged one weakness, amassing thousands of books and historical manuscripts (with the guidance of librarian/scholar Humfrey Wanley), a collection and obsessive bibliophile tendency inherited – and taken to the next level – by his eldest son.


see: BBC

Edward, 2nd earl of Oxford’s bottomless budget for book-buying stemmed from his 1713 marriage – brokered by his father at the peak of his power – to the most prized heiress in England, Henrietta Cavendish Holles, only daughter of the 1st duke of Newcastle. Homely Brampton Bryan Hall now took a distinct back seat since the bride came with not only a great fortune but two great houses, Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire (r), which the couple made their home.


see: National Trust

Acquiring books and manuscripts on a vast scale (routinely paying premium prices for items which were then expensively bound), the earl turned the Harley collection into ‘the finest private library of the time’.8 Oxford befriended and sponsored many literary figures of the age – notably Alexander Pope, Matthew Prior, Jonathan Swift – and favoured architect James Gibbs with the commission for a much-needed library wing at Wimpole.

(Gibbs was also recruited for the residential development of land in Marylebone, central London, whose smart streets and squares still resound with family associations.) 


see: British Museum

But his spendthrift ways (coupled with ‘abysmal business acumen’9) eventually caught up with the second earl whose ‘later years were clouded by the huge scale of his financial neglect’.10 His demise was pathetic, apologising to his wife (‘who took control, selling Wimpole in 1739’10) before dissolving in a stupor of alcoholic self-pity, dying at his London home in 1741. Thousands of books and antiquities were soon sold, the earl’s vast hoard of manuscripts being retained until 1753 when they were acquired for the nation, forming ‘one of the foundation collections of the British Library’.8

The couple’s only child, Henrietta, would carry the Cavendish properties to the family of her husband, William Bentinck, duke of Portland, while the Herefordshire Harley estates and the earldom now passed to Edward’s namesake cousin, the son of ‘Auditor’ Harley. While he would be principally seated at Eywood, the mansion his father had built at Titley, ten miles south of Brampton Bryan (and which would continue as the Harleys’ primary locus for the next 130 years), the 3rd earl of Oxford was nonetheless seemingly responsible for the recasting of Brampton Bryan Hall in the form it stands today.


see: Miles Russell [360° @ Facebook]

His portrait (recording the earl’s parliamentary high water mark, his piloting of jury reform legislation) hangs over the 17th-century five-flight well staircase in the enlarged house, now of three storeys, ‘the seven-bay south front featuring a pedimented three-bay projection’.11 This remodelling was perhaps not unconnected with the marriage of son and heir Edward to Suzannah Archer (of Welford Park, Berkshire) in 1751.

Edward Harley succeeded as 4th earl just four years later. His marriage produced no children, however, and in 1790 the Harley estates again passed to a cousin, another Edward Harley, son of John Harley, Bishop of Hereford, who luckily didn’t live long enough to disapprove of the notorious goings-on at Eywood after the 1794 marriage of the 5th Earl of Oxford to Miss Jane Scott.

bramptonjanescott‘It is evident that the brains and most of the energy of [this] family belonged to his wife.’12 Despite also being the progeny of a man of the cloth, the new Countess of Oxford and Mortimer (left) was not wired for marital fidelity. With an eager appetite for progressive politics and in particular the more dashing proponents thereof, Jane was to discover the elasticity of the earl’s tolerance after finding herself home alone with one such, landed radical Sir Francis Burdett. The pair’s intercourse over those several days would be .. vigorous.

The countess’s conscience did at least prompt her confess all upon her husband’s return, his forgiving equanimity only proving the green light for a string of future transgressions culminating, in her forties, with legendary lothario Lord Byron. The ‘autumnal’ charms of a lover twice his age (for whom Byron had unceremoniously dumped Lady Caroline Lamb) ended with a miscarriage, and the Harley family  decamping for a two-year European tour in 1803.

(Jane Harley may also have been keen to put some distance between Byron and her 11-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to whom the poet had also taken a shine, subsequently dedicating his work Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to her. And the girl herself was considered by some to bear more than a passing resemblance to the aforesaid Sir Francis Burdett.)

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s older sister Jane would make a lasting impression upon one Henry Bickersteth, a young medic recruited to accompany the touring party (the pair being unexpectedly reunited in matrimony more than three decades on). Relations between these elder sisters (senior to Ladies Anne and Frances) became strained in the second half of the 19th century, the destiny of the Harley estates in dispute. It was a trying legal saga which might possibly never have arisen but for the tragic demise of their eldest brother on New Year’s Day 1828.



The Times 4 Jan 1828

Coming into Jersey from St Malo that afternoon, the sloop La Fanny had been forced to heave a mile or so out awaiting a tide to deepen the harbour. Some of the passengers were rowed in while others preferred to wait on board, a fatal choice. ‘The winds suddenly shifted northwards, blowing a perfect hurricane, more violent than has been known here for many years,’ recounted an oarsman. ‘About ten minutes after I had landed I had the horror of being informed…

… that she had struck upon on a rock and sunk immediately. The unfortunate passengers were all drowned.’ These included 27-year-old Lord Edward Harley, his brother Alfred now promoted heir to the title and, initially, the family estates. As per the will of their father the 5th earl (drawn up in 1835 and seeking to keep Brampton Bryan and Eywood together), in the absence of a male heir from Alfred’s (1831) marriage all would flow successively to his sisters (and their male heirs) as required, with the strict proviso that any daughter so benefitting should revert to the Harley name within twelve months of inheriting. 


see: NPG

This document (later crucially amended) would set sisters Jane and Charlotte on a collision course; the lives of both had experienced significant change in the year of its drafting. “You may be surprised, and perhaps amused, that I have decided to commit matrimony,” wrote the aforementioned Henry Bickersteth (who had long since thrown up medicine for law) to his brother in July, 1835: “Lady Jane Harley is the person – I have known her since she was seven years old, now more than thirty years ago.” The following year saw the arrival of the couple’s only child, Jane (r), while Bickersteth was appointed Master of the Rolls and raised to the peerage as Baron Langdale, the first and last.13

Meanwhile, the young family of Lady Charlotte, who had married professional soldier Anthony Bacon in 1823, would return to England in 1835 after several lively years in Portugal. Having survived serious injury at Waterloo, General Bacon had ‘formed a private army in the service of Dom Pedro [in the Portugese Civil War], which rendered him seriously ‘impoverished since he never received the money he had advanced to his soldiers’.14 Clearly unimpressed by his debt-ridden son-in-law’s ways (which were to land Bacon in court repeatedly over the years), the 5th earl of Oxford’s will had expicitly disbarred Charlotte’s husband from benefitting from any inheritance his daughter might receive. It would get worse.

bramptoncharlTen years on, with no sign of a child from Alfred’s marriage, the earl now drafted a codicil to his will, removing Lady Charlotte Bacon entirely from the potential chain of inheritance, her sister Jane, Lady Langdale duly receiving the Harley properties upon the 6th earl’s death (five years after their father’s and two years after her husband’s) in 1853. Charlotte (r) soon called in the lawyers, who pressed a claim that Jane had not reverted to her maiden name within the stipulated time, thus forfeiting the legacy. The case was lost but matters rumbled on. After the death of her husband in 1864, Lady Charlotte Bacon set out for Australia where her children were now living, staying for more than a decade.

(In 1857, Lady Jane’s daughter, Jane Bickersteth, had married a fortune-hunting Hungarian bounder, Count Teleki, who promptly dumped her within weeks having realised the inaccessibility of the strictly entailed Harley inheritance. Emotionally battered, his bride nevertheless styled herself Countess Teleki thereafter, taking a particular and direct interest in the work of the early computer polymath Charles Babbage before predeceasing her mother by two years in 1870.)

In the interests of her eldest surviving son, Edward, Lady Charlotte Bacon was again filing suit soon after her sister’s death, this time arguing that their father’s codicil had not explicitly covered non-freehold Harley property. Whilst the judges concluded that it was probable the earl had intended the codicil to apply to the entire estate, ‘they could not assert words that were not there’.15 So it was that in 1873 Eywood came into the possession of Charlotte and her son Edward Bacon (the grandfather of painter Francis Bacon16).


see: kingtondiscountbay

The house was later taken on (lock, stock & Tompion clock) ‘for a term of years’ by industrialist Lord Ormathwaite who soon went bankrupt, the sale of Eywood now ensuing. Ironically, the Harley family’s association with this property would be renewed two decades on with the marriage of the then Brampton Bryan heir to the eldest daughter of a subsequent owner, Charles Gwyer. Some of the contents of Eywood would find their way to Brampton Bryan Hall, the house itself finally being demolished in 1952 save for a lone surviving doorway.

Meanwhile, Lady Jane Harley’s death in 1872 had seen Brampton Bryan pass to her nominated heir, a name plucked almost at random from the genealogical depths Lady Charlotte was keen to suggest in a letter to the press two years before own her demise in 1880.

Sir, in the World of the 25th September there appeared a paragraph surrounding the intended marriage of a Mr. Harley, of Brampton Brian, which concluded with the statement that he had inherited the estates of his relative the late Earl of Oxford. I being the only surviving sister of the late Earl..contradict this latter part of the announcement, as this Mr. Harley is not in the remotest degree connected with the Oxford family. If [he] were a legitimate descendant of my brother, or of my late father, he would have inherited the title, though the freehold estates were in Lady Langdale’s gift.17

Robert William Daker Harley, of Shrewsbury, from a long line of aldermen of that Shropshire town, was 26 years of age when he came into Lady Jane’s handsome bequest. The nature of their association is unclear, but the decision was seemingly driven in part by Lady Harley’s determination to reassert the male line, a common 16th century ancestor (John Harley, d.1542) being identified.


see: England’s Places

The house Robert Daker Harley inherited had been added to by his benefactor, the west front gaining ‘a balustraded porch of two pairs of Roman Doric columns, probably by Thomas Nicholson,’ the same architect now engaged by Harley for additions including a large north-east service wing. (‘Most internal detail is 18th-19th century including, in the drawing room, a fine mid-C19th chimneypiece of white marble, from Eywood.’)11

The lifestyle of the young Victorian squire of Brampton Bryan Hall, who married a daughter of the 6th Baron Rodney in 1878, was sustained by an estate of 10,000 acres (since reduced by around half [map])… 


see: Balfours

… some 400 of which, then as now, comprised the ‘magnificent’ former deer park, six miles in circumference.18 On rising ground south-west of the village, this centuries-old ‘beautiful area of classic English parkland’ has long been at one remove from the Castle/Hall. Within, ‘protected by hills that surround it, Park House (r) is a stunning 9 bedroom mid-19th century former shooting lodge, with carved bargeboards and gothic detailing’ (leased).


see: rostronandedwards

Robert Harley died in 1907, succeeded in turn by his sons Robert (who died without issue in 1920) and Maj. Ralph Harley (died 1960). Having housed evacuated schoolchildren in the Second World War (which claimed the life of the major’s eldest son, Robert), Brampton Bryan would be leased as a P.N.E.U. school in the 1950s before being ‘sympathetically restored as a family seat by [younger son] Christopher Harley and his wife Susan’.

‘As well as repointing the old castle, Harley tackled the dry rot in the house by nipping off most of his grandfather’s Victorian additions.’19 After four decades as squire, having added 200,000 trees to the estate, Harley ‘died in the room in which he was born’ in August, 1997.20


see: The High Sheriff

“It’s not always as perfect as it may seem, even in Arcadia,” his eldest son Edward Harley, present squire (and presiding Lord-Lieutenant and a former (very) High Sheriff of Herefordshire, right) suggested in the early days of his stewardship.21 Amongst non-civic appointments, heritage champion Harley served for a decade as president of the Historic Houses association

… although Grade II* listed Brampton Bryan Hall – ‘which was the subject of a major refurbishment in 2006-08 when a new kitchen and open undercroft was added between projecting wings on the north side’ – nor the Grade I Castle have ever been routinely opened.22

Beyond the Hall gates, converted estate buildings house a mix of small enterprises in and around the village, where prohibition of such things as hanging baskets and (visible) satellite dishes seeks to preserve an aesthetic cohesion. ‘We are trying to keep something a bit special here. It’s hard work, [with] many micro-battles,’ said Harley. While these may not be of quite the same existential order as those which faced legendary Lady Brilliana in the 17th century, as the father of four daughters ‘the squire’ may perhaps hope that her resourceful spirit can be still be summoned down among the Castle ruins…


see: Google Maps

[Harley Estate]

1. Jones, C. The Harley family and the Harley papers, British Library Journal Vol.15, no.2, Autumn 1989.
2. Border Group neighbourhood development plan 2011-2031, Herefordshire County Council, 2018.
3. Shoesmith, R. A guide to castles and moated sites in Herefordshire, 1996.
4. Eales, J. Puritans and Roundheads: The Harleys of Brampton Bryan and the outbreak of the English Civil War, 1990.
5. The manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1891.
6. Hamilton, E. The backstairs dragon: A life of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, 1969.
7. Speck, W.A. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2004.
8. Stoker, D. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2004.
9. Lees-Milne, J. Earls of creation: Five great patrons of 18th century art, 1962.
10. Adam, D. The great collector: Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, 2013.
11. Brooks, A., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Herefordshire, 2012.
12. Erdman, D.V. Lord Byron and the genteel reformers, PMLA, Vol.56, No.4, 1941.
13. Hardy, T.D. Memoirs of Henry Lord Langdale, 1852.
14. Boger, A.J. The story of General Bacon: Being a short biography of a Peninsula and Waterloo veteran, 1903.
15. The Times, 30 April, 1873.
16. Peppiatt, M. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an enigma, 2018.
17. The Truth, 10 October, 1878.
18. Verey, D. Herefordshire: A Shell guide, 1955.
19. Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Brampton Bryan of the Harleys, Family seats no.10, The Field, 15 Dec 1984.
20. The Times, 28 August, 1997.
21. Edward Harley interview, British Library [sound recording], 1999.
22. Donald Insall Associates. Design, access and heritage statement [planning submission], 2020.
See also:
Reid, P. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses, Vol.II: Herefordshire…, 1980.
Whitehead, D. A survey of historic parks and gardens in Herefordshire, 2001.

‘Hauxwell is a genuine specimen of strict seclusion,’ observed lawyer and historian William Hylton Longstaffe, Esq., in his 1852 Concise guide to Richmondshire in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Longstaffe was referring specifically to the 11th-century parish church of St. Oswald but his comment could equally have applied to nearby Hauxwell Hall, the two edifices essentially comprising the former township of West Hauxwell, and at one remove from its counterpart, tiny East Hauxwell village.

The Hauxwell estate was acquired by a 17th-century knight of the realm, the Hall in its existing style being initiated by another and which has now descended to the present owner, who was similarly honoured by the Crown in 2005. However, for all that Sir Richard Dalton is a direct descendant of Sir William Dalton (who d. 1649), joining the dots of Hauxwell’s passage from one to the other over time is far from the straightforward story it may appear at first glance. Indeed, that Hauxwell Hall – perhaps the epitome of the obscure, inherited family seat, very little known and entirely private across nearly four centuries – should have descended thus is little short of remarkable having scarcely passed directly from father to son since 1671.


The Daltons may spring ‘from as good old stock as any in Yorkshire’ but their rise has its origins 100 miles from Hauxwell, in the opposite, south-eastern corner of England’s largest county.1 The family emerged as prominent wool traders in the port city of Kingston upon Hull in the 15th century, becoming players in the local political scene (and serial holders of the mayoralty over a period of more than one hundred years).

It was merchant adventurer Thomas Dalton (d. 1591) who would take the family’s fortunes to the next level through trading links with the Netherlands, being twice elected member of parliament for Hull and using ‘much of his considerable wealth to buy land’ around and about. Dalton’s substance now enabled his own children to broaden their horizons, with son William moving away from trade to practise law, becoming in time recorder of both Hull and the city of York.

York was by this time the seat of the King’s Council of the North, to which Dalton would serve as attorney-general for seventeen years until 1628, being knighted by a grateful Charles I the following year. In 1631 Sir William purchased the Hauxwell estate, between Leyburn and Richmond in Lower Wensleydale, for his son John. However, the king’s increasingly strained relationship with a fractious parliament would ultimately foreshorten the tenure of Hauxwell’s first Dalton squire.


see: Google Maps

John Dalton married a daughter of the Darcy family of Hornby Castle, six miles east of Hauxwell, later joining with his brother-in-law’s troop of horse tasked with escorting Queen Henrietta Maria, heading south from Bridlington with supplies and reinforcements in aid of her beleaguered husband in Oxford. Though the Royalist forces were successful in enabling her passage across the river Trent…

… the battle of Burton Bridge in 1643 would ultimately claim the life of John Dalton who died from his wounds the following year. In a flyleaf inscription in a legal tome his father mourned “A valiant man and A duetyfull and lovinge son”, Sir William himself living just long enough to see their royal liege beheaded, dying later in January 1649. (‘There is a portrait of him, as an old man, at Hauxwell.’2)

Meanwhile, the previous year had seen the death of the Daltons’ next door neighbour and fellow Royalist, Sir Marmaduke Wyvil, Bt., of Constable Burton (which estate and ‘perfect mid-Georgian house’, immediately south of Hauxwell, remains in that family3), two of whose daughters were married off to sons of the late John Dalton. The eldest, William, would be knighted at the Restoration while younger brother Thomas set in train the cadet branch of the Dalton family, which was to boomerang back to Hauxwell three centuries later.


see: Google Maps

In St. Oswald’s church (partway along the southern approach to Hauxwell Hall and ‘probably the oldest in Richmondshire’4) a ‘big tablet in the gristly Continental mid-17th century style’ records in Latin the demise of Sir William Dalton in 1671.3 In his time Sir William had certainly at least erected an archway on the eastern side of the courtyard north of the Hall, with ‘fluted Ionic pilasters supporting a coat of arms, Dalton impaling Wyvil, flanked by caryatids and strapwork’.4 But the first significant steps in the remodelling of the existing modest Elizabethan house apparently came during the relatively brief tenure of his son and heir, Marmaduke.


see: National Trust

Also knighted (in 1676) by Charles II in respect of his forebears, in the following year Sir Marmaduke Dalton (r) took a wife. But the Hon. Barbara Bellasis, a sister of Lord Fauconberg, was a somewhat ill-starred bride. Six years earlier she had married a man twice her age, Walter Strickland, to whom his brother Sir Thomas Strickland had recently made over the family’s Westmorland estate, Sizergh Castle. However, Walter died barely a year later, with Sizergh now reverting back to her brother-in-law.


see: National Trust

Barbara Strickland remarried Sir Marmaduke Dalton in London in February 1677. But just three years later the squire of Hauxwell would also be cut down in his prime,  drowning in circumstances which remain unclear near Topcliffe, twenty-five miles south-east of Hauxwell. Yet short though it had been, Dalton’s marriage produced three daughters in quick succession (two of whom reached adulthood, later memorialising their parents in St. Oswald’s), and he had initiated the rebuilding of Hauxwell Hall.

One of several panels of ‘excellent’ Elizabethan enamelled glass3 to be found at Hauxwell sits over the north doorway of Marmaduke’s central three-bay, three-storey block, of coursed stone, within which rises ‘an open-well staircase of late-17th century decorative turned balusters of oak, painted white’. [Grade II* listing]


see: Historic England Aerial Photo Explorer

The now twice-widowed Barbara Dalton died herself in 1708, entombed in St. Oswald’s with her husband, who had devised Hauxwell to his unmarried daughter, Elizabeth; she in time would pass the estate to her uncle, Charles Dalton (who had ‘bailed her out’).2 In the middle of a field beyond the chain of fishponds south of the Hall stands one of England’s least-known obelisks, erected by Charles to the memory of his niece in the wake of his succession in 1717.

Since 1710 Charles Dalton had been among the gentry ranks officiating in the outer reaches of the royal court as an usher at the Palace of Westminster. From 1727 until his death twenty years later he would hold the most senior office of Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, with its enhanced salary and concomitant knighthood, and expanding Hauxwell Hall began to feel the benefit.5 Starting on the east side, uneven wings (recessed to varying degrees on the south front ↓) would progressively evolve through the middle decades of the 18th century.


see: PMT Tiling and Decorating

The east wing contains the ‘fine’ drawing room, with fluted pilasters and columns; on the opposite side (since rendered), the ground floor library incorporates 17th century panelling, ‘above it the tapestry room with C18th overmantel’.3 (‘Family tradition believes Sir Charles “acquired” the notable pieces of Flemish tapestry from the Palace of Westminster. He also collected books, many of which have survived as has his dress sword and part of his black rod.’2)

But, for all its various enhancements, Hauxwell Hall would remain essentially a bachelor pad for much of the 18th century, Sir Charles being succeeded by his similarly unmarried nephew, Rev. Charles Dalton (who would also double up as rector of St. Oswald’s throughout his forty years as squire). Hauxwell passed to legal official Francis Dalton on his brother’s death in 1788, to be succeeded just four years later by his only daughter, ushering in nearly a century of descent in the female line.


Curiously, while several of Hauxwell’s owners would be granted knighthoods, the family never attracted a hereditary title – not that such an honour is likely to have survived, of course, since every child born in the main family line between 1750 and 1847 was a girl. In 1779 Francis Dalton’s only child, Mary, became the wife of Henry Gale (d.1821), squire of Scruton Hall ten miles east of Hauxwell. Their marriage produced four daughters, three of whom reached adulthood.

The eldest, Harriet, wed Col. Foster Lechmere Coore in 1816 and would in due course succeed to Scruton. But in the early years of their marriage the couple appear to have shared Hauxwell with the unmarried Gale sisters, Catherine and Anne, and their mother, Mary. Certainly the early 19th century saw some internal refitting of the Hall, notably, in the northern half of the east range, ‘the morning [now dining] room of c.1810, with large fireplace, minstrels’ gallery and a ceiling divided into square panels with moulded ribs, perhaps 17th century’. [Listing]


[OS 1891/3] see: National Library of Scotland

Later, a new man would join the Hauxwell Hall household, Harriet’s daughter Mary Coore having married Col. Hamlet Wade at St. Oswald’s (three days before the death of her grandmother Mary Gale) in early 1845. And the last substantial built additions to the property would be introduced during the time of ‘Col. Wade and the ladies of Hauxwell Hall’1 in the form of stabling extending north to ‘an office range [of] single-storey wings and central two-storey block with a segmental-arched carriage entrance, above which a 17th-century coat of arms’.4


see: Ryan Noordally @ Twitter

As per the will of the last surviving sister, Miss Anne Gale (d. 1877), Col. Wade would add the name of Dalton in 1879. In the 20th century the Victorian gatehouse and offices would be repurposed as a museum, including pieces of armour from the Daltons’ Civil War escapades and, doubtless…

… the many ‘splendid collections of ornithological and [game] trophies’ amassed by the Wade-Daltons’ eldest son, Hamlet.6


see source

‘It was practically inevitable that [Lt Col] Hamlet Wade-Dalton should become a soldier,’ eventually retiring from his final regimental command in India in 1893. Before returning to embrace his Yorkshire birthright, for a further two years Wade-Dalton travelled in the remote northern territories of the Sub-Continent, enthusiastically shooting not only big game but also ‘a most remarkable and beautiful series of photographs illustrating his wanderings in country some of which had been almost unvisited’.6

Finally back at Hauxwell, Hamlet ‘threw himself heartily into the life of a country squire’ though his prized grouse moor at Barden to the north would be gradually colonized as a military training facility used by nearby Catterick barracks.6 (Almost simultaneously, his youngest brother, Rev. Frederick Wade-Dalton, became rector of St. Oswald’s, outliving the squire before resigning in November 1932 after forty years, expressing a wish to travel. Alas, he would get only as far as London, dying of natural causes in his bath at a West End hotel just a few weeks later.7)


see: St. Mary’s Nottingham

Lt-Col. Wade-Dalton died unmarried in 1929, the Hauxwell estate now passing to his nephew, his brother Foster’s son, William Wade-Dalton, already by this time ten years a widower. Having served in and survived the Great War, less than a month before the armistice with Germany Wade-Dalton had walked down the aisle of St. Mary’s in the Lace Market in Nottingham likely suffused with optimism, his young bride on his arm. One week later, however, 19-year-old Katherine Wade-Dalton was dead, fatally stricken by the flu pandemic during their honeymoon in Bournemouth; the families later commemorated ‘the Lace Bride’ in stained glass.

William remarried (Anne Gott, of Armley House, Leeds) in 1932, dying childless four decades later having made arrangements to bequeath Hauxwell Hall and its 4,500-acre estate in trust to his ‘distant kinsman’, Richard Dalton, at the time ‘still a child’.2 (A mid-18th century marriage had taken this branch of the family south towards Ripon, to Sleningford Park and, latterly, nearby Grewelthorpe.) Dalton’s father Maj Gen John Dalton occupied the Hall as its “caretaker” until his death in 1981 by which time his son was a decade into a diplomatic career with the Foreign Office.2


see: Gulf International Forum/YouTube

An Arabist, Richard Dalton (and a growing family) would be posted to various Middle Eastern hotspots, notably as our man in Libya from 1999-2002 (after a 17-year hiatus in relations) and finally as Her Majesty’s ambassador to Iran (2003-06), the British embassy in Tehran being not uncommonly the target of hostile gunfire. Knighted for his services in 2005, three years later Sir Richard retired to the backwater calm of his Grade II* listed family seat, a direct descendant of Thomas Dalton, son of John, the first of that name at Hauxwell, and who succumbed in defence of the Crown after the battle of Burton Bridge…


see: Google Maps

1. Yorkshire Gazette, 8 September 1860.
2. Dalton, Maj Gen JCD. The Yorkshire Daltons, Journal of the Dalton Genealogical Society, Vol.5, 1974.
3. Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Yorkshire North Riding, 1966.
4. Hatcher, C. Richmondshire architecture, 1980.
5. Beattie, J.M. The English court in the reign of George I, 1967.
6. The Die-Hards: The journal of the Middlesex Regiment, Vol.3, No.4, May 1929.
7. Daily Mail, 29 December 1932.

Terling Place, Essex

inert 1. Adjective

Someone or something that does not move at all

In one sense, given its demonstrably rooted constancy, the long-held country house could perhaps be seen to exemplify this definition as offered by Collins English Dictionary. Some such places may, indeed, also qualify thus:

inert 2. Adjective

Not very lively or interesting

One estate of which this certainly cannot be said, however, is Terling Place, eight miles north-east of Chelmsford, not least because of its singular association with

inert 3. Adjective [technical]

A substance which does not react with other substances .. gases like argon.

Being one of the few houses in Essex which is still owned by the family of its builder, Terling (pro. Tarling) is remarkable enough but in 1904 its then squire John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, would be awarded the Nobel Prize for physics. Nine years earlier Rayleigh – to the incredulity of some in the scientific community – had conclusively identified a new periodic element, named argon, after years of experimentation in his homemade laboratory above the stables at Terling Place.

‘The last of the great polymaths of physical science,’ born of a barely educated teenaged mother, the endlessly questing Rayleigh was something of a freak in the Strutt family lineage.1 Less so his son the 4th baron, a distinguished physicist in his own right, ‘the first to prove the existence of ozone in the atmosphere’.2 Life has been more than a gas at private Terling Place, however, a house which (in addition to the preserved laboratory) features an interior reckoned ‘one of the most accomplished if least-known monuments of the Greek Revival in domestic architecture’ and whose estate was pre-eminent in the advancement and ubiquity of a livestock breed emblematic of British farming in the 20th century.3


see: Bing Maps

March 20, 2022 will mark the 250th anniversary of the laying of the first white brick in the construction of Grade II* listed Terling Place, a moment which itself symbolized the rise of the Strutt family from entrepreneurial artisan millers to bona fide landed gentry. Over the course of the 17th century successive John Strutts had developed their operations around the river Chelmer: ‘At one time or another most of the water-mills between Chelmsford and [estuary port] Maldon were in Strutt possession.’4

Establishing a family business tradition, all profits so derived would be invested in purchasing land around and about. In the 1720s, John Strutt relocated to Terling, an ‘especially attractive village with a large number of picturesque [15th and 16th-century] timber-framed houses’, having purchased several farms in the parish.5 Precisely why Strutt ‘chose Terling for his home is not known, but it is probably safe to say that his descendants have never regretted his choice’.6


see: Google Maps

After the death of his childless namesake son the accumulating family fortune would pass to Strutt’s nephew, another John, who was evidently only too keen embrace the family’s upwardly-mobile status. ‘On being asked what profession he proposed to follow, young Strutt is said to have answered that he intended to be a gentleman, and that his father and uncle must find him the means. This they ultimately did.’6

After his marriage in 1756 Strutt and his wife lived for a time in a fine Georgian house in Chelmsford. But some four years later the final substantial piece of the Terling jigsaw became available. Though his family had quickly become dominant landholders, the manor of Terling itself and its associated 850-acre farm were the possession of Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh. The absentee baronet was then in the process of adding to the splendours of his principal seat, Uppark in Sussex, and proved amenable to John Strutt’s offer of £18,500 for his Essex outpost.


see source

The couple now moved into the Parsonage House on Terling village green and ‘his correspondence shows that for the next ten years John Strutt (left) was trying to make up his mind where and how to build himself a permanent home’.6 He would be regularly hectored in this agreeable quandry by his county friends, Bamber Gascoyne (of Bifrons, Barking; sometime MP for Maldon) and Thomas Bramston of Skreens, an estate a dozen or so miles west of Terling. But a decade on still no decision had been made.

In February 1770 Gascoyne informed Strutt of the impending visit of landscape designer Nathaniel Richmond to Skreens, suggesting he might take the opportunity to at last ‘fix the site of your intended new house’. Richmond may or may not have been decisive in the eventual siting of Terling Place south of the church – he would be responsible for the evolution of its park over the next several years – but Strutt certainly seems to have been persuaded by Bramston’s recommendation of an architect recently employed at Skreens.7

terlingeng1Leicester-born John Johnson had made good as a high-end property developer in London and was now following the money into the surrounding shires. He was, Bramston informed his friend, “exceedingly honest, cheap and ingenious – what would you more?”8

Johnson was duly handed his first complete country house commission and after design revisions building at last commenced in March 1772 (↑). ‘Predominantly a rectangular block of three storeys and seven bays, in a restrained neo-classical style, the south-east entrance front [carried] a large pediment above the three central bays,’ while a two-storey service wing extended in rear.9 ‘John Strutt and his wife had a picnic dinner at the house on Christmas Day, [moving] into temporary quarters and some attic bedrooms on 26 November, 1773.’8


[detail] source8

Subject to significant remodelling half-a-century later, the drawing room at Terling ‘is the only room by Johnson that survives substantially intact, its plasterwork ceiling (left) decorated with four ovals incorporating female figures suspended from ribbon ties’.5 Terling Place was completed in 1775, ‘the total cost excluding furniture estimated at £6,045 10s 5¼d’.8

In the previous year, the bumptious urgings of Bamber Gascoyne (‘something of a rough diamond in the polite world of 18th century society’, a likeness of whom resides among the portraits by Zoffany and others at Terling) had prodded John Strutt to further prominence, the new squire now being elected a member of parliament for Maldon. (‘Strutt and his son would represent the borough without a break for the next 52 years.’)

The Strutts’ intended heir, eldest son John, became ill during his first year up at Oxford. In October 1779 the couple (more in hope than expectation) waved him off from Falmouth in fretful silence, optimistically bound for remedial Portugese climes. His body would be returned from Lisbon just a month later.


A decade on, the marriage of second son Joseph to Lady Catherine Fitzgerald, a daughter of the 1st duke of Leinster, represented another social step-change, one which would prompt significant development at Terling Place in the wake of his succession in 1816. (Two years prior, an anonymous letter writer had threatened to hasten the old squire’s demise unless he provided more work locally: “We will burn down Terling Hall just to make a beginning. If there’s not great alterations within 3 weeks we insist of murdering John Strutt.” Strutt died of natural causes in his 98th year).1o

The widescreen magnificence of the Duke of Leinster’s seat, Carton House in Co. Kildare, appears to have induced something of an architectural inferiority complex in his son-in-law, soon engaging the services of Thomas Hopper (fashionable through an association with Prince Regent) who wrought extensive change at Terling Place, inside and out.

terlingengraving2Most conspicuously, ‘low two-storey wings east and west swept back at an oblique angle, ending in little temple fronts in antis with pediments’.5 Although both wings appeared to connect through to the original house, the west wing was in fact joined by a solid wall and entirely self-contained, a detail which would prove critically advantageous a century on.

These outstretching arms pulled towards a new Tuscan entrance porch on the north side (↓), the house having been effectively ‘turned round’.


see: England’s Places


see: England’s Places

Architectural details added to the new garden facade included, at the owner’s suggestion, attached Ionic columns at first floor level.9

(Curiously, Terling would now more closely resemble original architect John Johnson’s most noted public building, Chelmsford Shire Hall, created during his 30-year tenure as County Surveyor of Essex, an office also subsequently held by Hopper for four decades from 1812.)

Trumping the lateral expansion of Terling Place, Thomas Hopper’s most arresting statement lay within, the former staircase hall now replaced by a double-height, shallow-domed saloon. Beneath its first-floor cast iron gallery and yellow marble-effect columns runs a full-scale plaster cast frieze based upon the most exciting recent addition to the collection at the British Museum, the Elgin marbles.

Soon after the Parthenon treasures had been acquired in 1816, sculptor Richard Westmacott negotiated ‘a private arrangement to create and sell moulds and [perfected] casts from them,’  available to select wealthy patrons.11 Terling’s saloon remains ‘a perfect neo-Greek room of its date’.5 ‘All the door cases on both floors are of beautifully marbleised wood.’12 Elsewhere, ‘a new dining room was formed left of the saloon, nearer to the kitchens in the east wing’, Johnson’s former such space now being enlarged to create a library.9



Work on the house was finally completed in 1824, the year in which estate labourers tasked with laying a new drive across the park struck gold in the form of earthenware pots containing several hundred Roman coins (c.5th century) and assorted items of jewellery. “The rings are as perfect and Nice as if they came this minute out of a trinket box,” Terling’s estate steward Robert Ellis reported to his boss in London. Alas, he was also obliged to report some less than perfect behaviour on the part of the workers, apologising that “the Men did not give all they found up to me. I find now they sold some few [pieces] as low as three for sixpence on Saturday”.13


see source

Midway through Joseph Strutt’s remodelling of his birthright the family’s ascendancy was confirmed with granting of a peerage, though not, unusually, to Strutt himself but to his wife. ‘Conceited and smug, under a cloak of false humility, [Strutt had] vainly pestered successive Tory ministries on the strength of his own and his father’s electoral and militia services in Essex’. Persistence was at last rewarded in 1821 with the Barony of Rayleigh: “I had through life declined personal honour and it was granted as I requested, in the person of your mother,” a decision, he later explained to his daughters, “I have lived long enough to repent of.” For the arrangement would in time give his heir ‘precedence of rank over him’, an indignity which fairly put a top hat on the long-strained relationship between father and son.

Having been an archetypal Regency buck in his early adulthood, John James Strutt’s lifestyle took a pivotal turn in his late twenties which saw him ‘converted from a rake to an evangelical religious maniac‘, thereafter regularly butting heads with his father at Terling Place. One particularly testy (if obscure) disagreement festered between 1824-5: ‘[Even] though for the great part of the time father and son were living under the same roof all communication on the subject of the dispute was by letter and ran to about 100,000 words, though anyone reading them [today] would find it hard to say what the argument was about.’6


see source

(More constructively, John James would channel his fervent Christianity into incentivising the villagers of Terling towards a more wholesome and productive way of living, not least through his early adoption of the principles which would drive the allotment movement.)

In their later years Joseph Strutt and his wife spent more and more time away from Terling, ostensibly for health reasons, residing mostly in Bath (where Baroness Rayleigh died in 1836 and her husband likewise in 1845). ‘Strutt had the mortification of seeing his son seated in the Lords’ before a rapprochement of sorts would develop after the 45-year-old 2nd Baron Rayleigh’s belated marriage, albeit to a teenaged girl who lacked both money and education. And this unlikely union would turn more remarkable still, for it would beget genius.


Of dispossessed minor gentry transplanted from Ireland to Essex, 17-year-old Clara Vicars, now Lady Rayleigh, chatelaine of Terling Place, produced a son and heir precisely nine months after her wedding in 1842. More sons were to follow, the ebb and flow of Clara’s siblings further enlivening the scene in the revitalised Strutt household. The couple would also effect physical change: a modish (but undistinguished, and recently demolished) conservatory now gave access to the west wing from the main block, wherein Johnson’s original drawing room received redecoration. (Hailed ‘a magnificent apartment’ later that century14, this particular intervention has come to be viewed as ‘regrettable’.12) More successfully, the formal Italianate garden is also of this mid-19th century era.


see: Essex Balloons

‘Lord Rayleigh rarely went anywhere, staying at Terling Place and busying himself with estate affairs, the benign despot of his parish.’6 During his father’s stewardship the family domain had expanded by a further ‘2,330 acres at a cost of £103,000, drawn entirely from savings’.

In 1868 Terling experienced a serious typhoid epidemic in the wake of which Rayleigh ‘set about to engineer a new water supply for the village’, a problem-solving instinct which was to characterise, albeit on an altogether more esoteric plane, the stellar scientific career of his first-born.15

After a peripatetic, illness-plagued schooling followed by a brilliant passage through Cambridge, restlessly inquisitive John William’s star was certainly in ascendance by the time of his father’s death in 1873, 27-year-old Strutt being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society that same year. Two years earlier he had married Evelyn Balfour, sister of one future prime minister and related to another, the couple now moving into Terling Place where they quickly set about converting the west wing into what ‘would eventually become one of the largest private laboratories in Britain’.15

terlingsoundCovering predominantly the fields of acoustics, optics, and hydrodynamics, the 3rd Lord Rayleigh ‘was always at his best when faced by a puzzle’. Throughout a prolific career (which saw the publication of over 450 papers), ‘Rayleigh demonstrated an uncanny ability to derive effective results from a judicious combination of theory and experimentation, the latter seemingly simple in design but never failing to get at the heart of the matter’.1

terlingburneScientific activity dominated life at Terling Place, estate workers being prevailed upon to render requisite bits of laboratory kit while ‘experiments transgressed into living areas of the house and gardens’. Rayleigh (pictured at work by Philip Burne-Jones, left) enjoyed the active support of his wife in ‘negotiating the use of domestic space for science’16 and her adroit engineering of the heady mix of high politics and academia at Terling’s weekend parties (‘the famous visitor’s book is witness to this’17).

What’s more, Evelyn was even able to assist with some of the number-crunching computation Rayleigh found irksome, having willingly ‘furthered her learning in physics and mathematics through his tutelage, the lessons [having] constituted a form of courtship’.16 (Rayleigh also enjoyed the valuable assistance of his wife’s sister, mathematician Eleanor Sidgwick, later an activist for the higher education of women and principal of Newnham College, Cambridge.)

In 1879, as the the agricultural economy nosedived, Lord Rayleigh decided to return to Cambridge University as professor of the famed Cavendish Laboratory (‘setting up a systematic course of instruction in experimental physics which has remained the core of the Laboratory’s teaching programme’), tasking his brother Edward with the management of the Terling estate. ‘The countryside was going derelict and with Lord Rayleigh’s financial backing Edward Strutt set out to save the estate by taking over the [formerly tenanted] land and farming it himself.’4


see source

This he did with such conspicuous success it attracted an approach from Guy’s Hospital to manage their landholdings in eastern England, Strutt (left) joining forces with fellow Essex farmer Charles Parker to form land agency Strutt & Parker. This timely, privately owned concern soon developed a life of its own, initially as contractor, later as a landowner in its own right, acquiring bargain-basement farms as they became available.


see: Museum of English Rural Life

Another key strand in the Strutt farming operation as the 19th century came to a close was the development of Friesian cattle. In time the Terling herd would become ‘the largest and most famous in the kingdom, and certainly the most important .. generation after generation of first-class cows’ which farmers across the land were always keen to buy into.18

With scientific input from his brother up at the big house, Terling’s milk operation would raise the bar in production standards, and entrepreneurial Edward was soon diversifying into direct supply from premises in central London under the banner ‘Lord Rayleigh’s Dairy‘. Despite his career-defining identification of argon in 1895 (for which Rayleigh later received the Nobel Prize), the 3rd baron would joke that across the capital he was rather more well-known as a milkman.



see: Westminster Abbey

‘The last of the giants of the Victorian era in physical science’ died in June 1919, aged 77.19 Just three months earlier his son and heir, Robert, had suffered the loss of his first wife, Mary, a daughter of the 4th Earl of Leitrim and mother of their four children. Undaunted by his father’s much-garlanded stature (being memorialised in Westminster Abbey), the 4th Baron Rayleigh would also pursue a scientific career, becoming a leading physicist in his own right. (‘The photometric unit for sky brightness, the rayleigh, is named after him.’2)

A year after he succeeded the new squire met and would soon marry the widowed Kathleen Cuthbert, likewise a single parent of three sons and a daughter and then resident at the Cuthbert seat, Beaufront Castle in Northumberland. Thereafter, ‘the two families were brought up together,’ dividing the year between Beaufront and Terling Place.20

‘Late last Thursday night a destructive fire apparently originated in Lord Rayleigh’s laboratory in the west wing at Terling,’ newspapers reported in March 1930.21 The solid dividing wall had at least prevented the blaze spreading into the main part of the house but ‘his Lordship  – who motored back from a dinner in London – was,’ reports suggested, ‘greatly distressed at the loss of his scientific instruments’. “I’m not as upset as people seem to think,” Rayleigh clarified, “life is too short to worry about the burning down of a wing. So long as a family is alright nothing else matters.”20 The episode would not be entirely without casualty, however.


see: sarahc_captures [detail]

For Rayleigh’s uncle (and still effectively the overseer of the Terling estate) Edward Strutt, ‘having next morning inspected the results of the fire, had a stroke and passed away on the evening of the same day’. With Lord Rayleigh’s Farms and the lands owned or managed by Strutt & Parker, ‘by his death Strutt was farming 25,000 acres scattered across a wide area’.20 Continuing the established arrangement, Strutt’s sons picked up where he had left off while Lord Rayleigh (↓) set about reconstituting his scientific facilities, the west wing at Terling gaining a domed observatory in the process.


see: NPG

Like his father before him, the 4th Lord Rayleigh ‘was a highly skilled experimentalist’, maintained a prolific output of scientific papers throughout his life, and ascended to the presidency of many august bodies (including the Royal Institution from 1945 until his death three years later).2 In his down time, weather permitting, Rayleigh was partial to swimming in the river Chelmer, ‘nude, except for a Panama hat’, a mild streak of eccentricity…20

… which would be taken to altogether more alarming levels by his heir, son John. Several readers of the 5th baron’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph in 1988 would deprecate its ‘cruelly selective’ focus upon certain bizarre incidents of an evident mid-life crisis (including a fine for flashing on Paddington station in his 50th year) over ‘his great charm, erudition and enormous generosity’.22 Essex landed society and representatives of many local organisations had thronged the 87-year-old’s funeral in February at St. Michael’s church, just beyond Terling’s park wall.


see: Essex Walks @ Google Maps

Married but without children, the title and 9,000-acre estate now passed to his nephew, brother Charles’ son, and the latest John Strutt, 6th and present Baron Rayleigh↓. (In 2012 this inheritance was supplemented by the Co. Donegal estate formerly associated with the (extinct) earldom of Leitrim, including Mulroy House, which had descended to Lord Rayleigh’s bachelor uncle, the Hon. Hedley Strutt.)



Irish MoS 12/4/2015

In the mid-1990s Lord Rayleigh commissioned sympathetic alterations and additions to Terling Place from classical architect Quinlan Terry: an ‘elegant Palladian summerhouse5 within the walled garden beyond the east wing which was itself ‘almost entirely rebuilt…

… to provide accommodation better suited to the needs of the family and the estate management team in the 21st century’.9 A century which has recently seen a significant divestment, the 13,000 acres owned by Strutt & Parker Farms having been sold in 2019 yielding an estimated £200 million for its private shareholders, whose number ‘had grown to more than 80 over the generations’. At the family-founded property agency, meanwhile, the next generation at Terling Place prepares to become master of all he surveys

[Estate archives]

1. Lindsay, R.B. Lord Rayleigh: the man and his work, 1966.
2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
3. Watkin, D. The buildings of Regency Britain: A guide and gazetteer, 1982.
4. Gavin, Sir W. Ninety years of family farming, 1967.
5. Bettley, J., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Essex, 2007.
6. Strutt, Hon. C. The Strutt family of Terling 1650-1873, (privately printed) 1939.
7. Brown, D. Nathaniel Richmond (c1719-1784), ‘scholar of Brown’. In: Finch, J., Wouldstra, J. (Eds), Capability Brown, royal gardener: The business of placemaking in Northern Europe, 2020.
8. Briggs, N. John Johnson 1732-1814, 1991.
9. Donald Insall Associates, Terling Place: Historic building report, (planning application submission) 2015.
10. French, H. An irrevocable shift: detailing the dynamics of rural poverty in southern England, 1762-1834: a case study, The Economic History Review, Vol.68, No.3, 2015.
11. Payne, E. Casting the Parthenon sculptures from the eighteenth century to the digital age, 2021.
12. Norwich, J.J. The architecture of southern England, 1985.
13. O’Neil, B.H., Pearce, J. The Terling treasure, The Numismatic Chronicle, 5th series, Vol.13, No.51, 1933.
14. Rush, J.A. Seats in Essex, comprising picturesque views.., 1897.
15. Schaffer, S. Physics laboratories and the Victorian country house. In: Smith, C., Agar, J. (Eds) Making space for science, 1997.
16. Opitz, D. “Not merely wifely devotion”: Collaborating in the construction of science at Terling Place. In: Lykknes, A. et al. For better or worse? Collaborative couples in the sciences, c2012.
17. Balfour, Lady F. Ne obliviscaris: Dinna forget, Vol.1, 1930.
18. Stanford, J.K. British Friesians: A history of the breed, 1956.
19. Cokayne, G.E.C. The complete peerage, 1910-.
20. Strutt, G. The Strutt family of Terling 1845-1973, 1980.
21. Essex Newsman, 8 March 1930.
22. Daily Telegraph, 23 April 1988.

Skelton Castle, Yorkshire


see: FabulousFollies.net

Standing somewhat incongruously within a short length of rubble wall on farmland in the parish of Gilling West, a few miles north of Richmond in North Yorkshire, is a classical doorway leading to nowhere in particular. ‘Of fluted Roman Doric columns carrying a full entablature, surmounted by a pediment,’ its details are echoed in a pair of similarly isolated stone pavilions to be found in fields round about.

All are vestiges of Gillingwood Hall, the gabled early-17th century seat of the Wharton family which had been given a fashionable classical treatment only for the house to burn to the ground on Boxing Day 1750.1 Just months before this calamity the family’s male line had also perished with the death of Gillingwood’s moderniser, bachelor William Wharton. But thanks to the will of his eccentric (and similarly childless) sister, ‘Peg’ – ‘who never had issue but one in her leg‘ – the family name would be carried forty miles east to a rather more storied mansion, Skelton Castle; the Whartons association with both places endures to this day.

Curiously, there is more evidence for proposed changes to Skelton Castle which would never in fact be realised than any which would explain the evolution of this moated Grade I listed property in Cleveland with origins reaching back to the 12th century. ‘The architectural history of the house has not yet been written,’ recorded Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1966 survey of the Yorkshire’s North Riding, a persisting vacuum in contrast to the story of Skelton’s most notable squire, a man to whom, certainly in respect of his salacious literary oeuvre, the expression ‘too much information’ might aptly be applied.2


see source

‘About Moral Tales: A Christmas Night’s Entertainment, published in 1783, the less said the better: Cuckoldry, multiple adultery, bestiality .. often involving monks and nuns..’3 The dubious Gothic yarns of John Hall Stevenson sprang directly from the notorious hospitality enjoyed by his coterie at Skelton, and the sensational literary success suddenly achieved by one of his most regular houseguests, lifelong friend Laurence Sterne. In turn, the latter’s innovative Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman owed no little debt to the inspirational atmospherics Sterne relished in sojourns at his crony’s ‘Crazy Castle’, which then still retained significant, romantically ruinous, remnants of its medieval origins…

… being the elevated, moated stronghold of the de Brus family, the nucleus of their vast post-Conquest domains in northern England. In due course Skelton would be carried by marriage first to the de Fauconbergs, thence to the Conyers whose male line expired in 1557, the Castle being shared between three sisters. This situation was to prove the root of its gradual deterioration, their husbands now engaging in a lack-of-maintenance standoff across two decades before one party folded, selling out to Robert Trotter, Esq.


see: V&A

Over the course of the 17th century the Trotters would acquire the remainder of the Skelton Castle estate, wherein Edward Trotter began quarrying dye-fixing alum reserves and by 1673 was credited with ‘a great house of 17 hearths’.4 His family’s prosperity is evidenced by the bedazzling inlayed richness of a wooden cabinet (r) – ‘a masterpiece’ now to be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – which was commissioned c1700 at the time of the marriage of Edward’s daughter Margaret Trotter to George Lawson.

Edward Trotter died in 1709 to be succeeded by his grandson Lawson Trotter who was incumbent at Skelton (where armorial stained glass of this era survives) when its rambling western prospect was sketched by topographer Samuel Buck c1720, complete with substantial twin ramparts.



Despite such stout defences, however, nervousness engendered by Lawson’s Jacobite leanings would see the unmarried Trotter decamp permanently to France and the transference of Skelton Castle into the hands of his sister Catherine’s husband, Durham lawyer Joseph Hall.

Hall died in 1733; two years later his son and heir John fatefully enrolled at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he quickly fell in with an older, relatively impecunious undergraduate by the name of Laurence Sterne, the pair striking up what would become a lifelong, mutually influential, friendship.


Portrait by Philippe Mercier 1740

‘An example of those often intriguing people who have existed as satellites of greater men,’ John Hall’s intellectual pretensions would always be more style than substance.3 ‘He read widely and collected an excellent library at Skelton but was not a genuine scholar. He took no degree and probably intended none,’ departing instead for a two-year Grand Tour in 1738.6 Very soon after his return Hall made a decision he would live to regret, marrying would-be heiress Anne Stevenson, ‘a young lady of £25,000 fortune’7, in a ceremony conducted by Sterne who had been ordained in the interim. Alas, having added her name to his in anticipation of future fortune, Hall-Stevenson’s father-in-law later contrived to lose it, becoming himself a burden at Skelton.6

In 1745, seizing an opportunity for some freelance action, Hall-Stevenson rounded up a posse of his local peers, the so-called Yorkshire Royal Hunters pitching in to put down the second Jacobite rebellion. Thereafter, several of their number – ‘old soldiers and misfit squires’ – comprised an informal fraternity centred on Skelton Castle and the boundless hospitality of its ringmaster squire.6 Hall-Stevenson ‘kept a full-spread board, and wore down the steps to his cellar’ in exchange for the stimulating conviviality of his cast of cronies – the self-styled ‘Demoniacs Club’ – later cryptically chronicled in the most widely known of Hall-Stevenson’s literary works, his Crazy Tales.8

And at least one of their number, Robert ‘Panty’ Lascelles, would become semi-resident, his portrait remaining among the family collection at Skelton. On his travels in 1755, John Hall-Stevenson made the acquaintance of an aspiring architect, William Chambers, and was soon promoting the ‘the most thoroughly trained British architect of his generation’ to Lascelles’ wealthy relation, Edwin Lascelles, who was then in the market for a statement country house. Alas, ‘the result was a momentous failure’, Chambers’ Continental design for Harewood House proving rich meat for the Yorkshire palette (local man John Carr later getting the commission).9

skeltontempleHall-Stevenson kept the faith, however, being among the subscribers to the original edition of Chambers’ influential Treatise on the decorative part of civil architecture (1759). But was such sponsorship then the limit of Hall-Stevenson’s architectural patronage? He certainly resisted Chambers’ complementary tempter, a speculative design for a temple at Skelton (left), while his friend Laurence Sterne recognised the reality: “The fates have decreed it, as you and I have sometimes supposed it on account of your generosity, that you are never to be a monied man .. whether you adorn your castle or not.”10

But in 1760 the 45-year-old Rev. Sterne hit pay dirt himself with the soaraway success of the first volume of Tristram Shandy, John Hall-Stevenson soon riding unashamedly on its coattails with the publication of his own Crazy Tales. While the latter did enjoy a second edition it was hardly a moneyspinner and Hall-Stevenson struggled to sustain a suitable profile in London, becoming increasingly resigned to country life and prone to bouts of maudlin torpor (dependent upon which way the Yorkshire wind was blowing).

Believing there was still some profit to be had, in 1765 Hall-Stevenson reopened the alum works on his estate, the enterprise being sold off a decade later at which juncture there is definite evidence of improvements afoot at Skelton Castle.


A plan of alterations design’d for Skelton Castle,’ was prepared by Thomas White, ‘a lesser known landscaper in the manner of Capability Brown’, for Hall-Stevenson in 1775 [here]; the same date has been found in a floorboard of one of ‘two fine later 18th century rooms’ at the southern end of the Castle’s west front. ‘Clearly work was going on in this period’11 but uncertainty still clouds the chronology of this embattled widescreen range, of two seven-bay sections divided by a projecting square turret…


see source

.. lack of documentation obscuring precisely how much development had been realised by the time of Hall-Stevenson’s death in 1785. The Skelton estate now passed to John’s grandson, also John, of whom it would later be said, by way of contrast, ‘neither imagines himself an invalid, nor is imagined by his friends a wit’.12 And the 21-year-old’s tenure got off to a sensational start, his youthful promise now securing a separate spectacular windfall which served to put rocket boosters under the young squire’s (ultimately disastrous) ambitions.

For over at the village of Gilling West, though the manor house of Gillingwood Hall lay in ruins, the Wharton estate had devolved to John’s eccentrically parsimonious great-aunt, Margaret ‘Peg’ Wharton, who ‘heaped up wealth with an avidity that was a disgrace to human nature’.12 (The family’s fortunes owed much to merchant Humphrey Wharton (d.1694) who was apt to boast, ‘I am a great trader .. and keep a thousand men at work every day’.) With the proviso that he forthwith took her family’s name in place of his own, the soon-to-be centenarian now gave to the personable young squire of Skelton ‘one hundred and fifty thousand pounds’, making him ‘also heir to her landed estates’.


see source

John Hall-Stevenson thus became John Wharton in 1788 and that same year saw the publication of various ‘Plans, elevations, and sections of buildings executed in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire..etc‘ by the rising architect John Soane. This volume included ‘three designs for the alterations and improvements of Skelton Castle; the plan and elevation No.2 (r) are settled to be carried into execution’. Which, for reasons unclear, they weren’t.

‘As if to compensate for the disappointment, Soane erected one of his most handsome stable blocks at Skelton [see], away from the house but designed to be seen from it, [and today] quite properly listed Grade I.’ His service range behind the existing house also survives ‘virtually untouched’.13


see: Google Maps

Whatever the precise nature and scale of Skelton Castle’s remodelling in John Wharton’s first years – the ‘destruction’ of its old form was viewed by one witness ‘with tears in my eyes’8 – no less a preoccupation for the young squire at this time was an eagerness to gain a seat in parliament. Deemed ‘too young, volatile, and little known’ to be adopted for York in 1789, the next year saw the effervescent Whig storm to a wide-margin victory in Beverley. ‘It is beyond the power of imagination to conceive the popularity of Wharton here,’ an attraction for the freemen electorate which had much to do with the upstart candidate’s very deep pockets (not to mention Wharton’s apparently winning way with their wives).

skeltonairviewThereafter, Wharton became something of a political junkie. Though he would be on the right side of history as ‘a stalwart supporter of the abolition of slavery, and constitutional and parliamentary reform’ and ‘dominated politics in the town for the next forty years’, the costs involved in sustaining his parliamentary status through a dozen elections would lead to Wharton’s ruin. In the first decade of the 19th century, however, his optimism still knew no bounds.

In 1805 Wharton enlisted the services of architect Joseph Bonomi to pick up where John Soane had left off, further developing the scheme for the remodelling of Skelton Castle. Bonomi’s death three years later threatened to further stymy progress but Wharton now elected to take a chance on the late architect’s barely trained son, Ignatius – an admirable act of faith and loyalty or cynical taking advantage of a nascent practitioner (and his family’s) needy circumstance?14


see: RIBA

Whatever the motivation, 21-year-old Ignatius Bonomi began by putting the finishing touches to his father’s artistic impression of a new-look Skelton (right, posthumously exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1809) before evolving the scaled-back version which would eventually be rendered.


see: Mick Garratt@geograph

skeltonsideviewpcardThough deemed by some ‘the most extraordinary specimen of folly and bad taste to be found in the whole country’, behind the new (and extant) entrance front (↑) to the south lay an ‘elegant and commodious interior, with an excellent [flying] staircase, and a suite of genteel apartments’.15 Such were the changes effected at Skelton (the courtyard gateway, right, is of the later-19th century) before Wharton’s financial situation – initially so very advantageous – began to implode.


‘My trustees above a year and a half ago took possession of my rents,’ a by-now straitened squire – eight election campaigns and an effectively new country house later – wrote in 1818. ‘I am actually existing on what they choose to allow me and must continue in this state of dependence and degradation until the termination of their trust. It shall, however, be my study to remedy the inconveniences I have caused .. and I shall ever reflect on them with deep regret.’ A decade later John Wharton would find himself with plenty of opportunity for reflection.

skeltonfullviewUSEThe ‘conduct and profligacy’ of the master of Skelton had been noted as early as 1789; thirty years on his failure to win in Beverley in the election of 1828 deprived Wharton of immunity from the consequences of his predicament. Being ‘so deeply embarrassed in his pecuniary affairs, he was immediately arrested, and for the last fourteen years he has remained a prisoner within the rules of the Queen’s Bench’. Wharton was still in that situation at the time of his death in May, 1843 (his two daughters having predeceased him.)


see: East Cleveland Industrial Heritage

‘Property at Skelton was auctioned to pay his debts, excluding that which was entailed,’ the Castle now passing to his nephew, John Thomas Wharton, 32, who in time found financial redemption deep underground (r).

For ironstone exploitation would make ‘east Cleveland and North Yorkshire the powerhouse of Britain, when the region produced over a third of the world’s steel’. With its seam at 740ft the North Skelton mine established on Wharton’s land by Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. would be deeper than any, royalties therefrom (which the operation continued to yield until 1964) enabling the estates to be built back up, collectively totalling around 9,000 acres at the time of John Wharton’s death in 1900. (Today Skelton & Gilling Estates extends to ‘over 11,000 acres’.)

Wharton had married Charlotte Yeoman who died in 1892, their son and heir William having married her niece Harriet Yeoman four years earlier. Skelton Castle now underwent internal alterations for the new incumbents only for tragedy to strike. ‘The greatest sympathy is felt on all sides for the young squire in his sad and unexpected loss,’ newspapers reported in October 1894. ‘On Wednesday last week Mrs Wharton gave birth to a child, and on Monday night, about 7 o’clock, she died.’16 Despite soon remarrying, daughter Margaret remained an only child.


see: SkeltoninCleveland.com



Hunting was ‘the ruling passion of Col. Wharton’s life’ and he would preside half-a-century as Master of the Cleveland Hunt, a mantle taken up by Mrs Ringrose-Wharton after her father’s death in 1938.17

While ‘William Wharton never lost the opportunity of assisting in the building of churches and other institutions,’17 All Saints, ‘a modest wonder, almost out of sight’ at the entrance to the estate (below), was inherited and would become redundant, superceded by a similarly dedicated Victorian Gothic edifice at the opposite end of Skelton village.18 With its triple-decker pulpit and box pews, old All Saints had been funded in his last days by Demoniac-in-chief John Hall Stevenson (perhaps atoning for the rackety indulgence of earlier days?); the ‘Georgian gem‘ remains readily accessible.


see: Skelton History Group


see: Mick Garratt@geograph

Across lies the castle, the tremendous moat carefully mown, the great lawns like green lakes,’ observed the novelist Jane Gardam in 1994.

In the village there are people who have never seen the castle, don’t know that it exists, and the owner Anthony Wharton [75, who succeeded his distant cousin in 1991] says he wants to keep it that way. He concerns himself with his crops and lives unspectacularly in the shades of his great forebears..18


see: Google Maps

[Skelton & Gilling Estates][Wharton archives]

1. Waterson, E., Meadows, P. Lost houses of York and the North Riding, 1998.
2. Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Yorkshire the North Riding, 1966.
3. Hartley, L. Sterne’s Eugenius as indiscreet author: The literary career of John Hall-Stevenson, PMLA Vol.86, No.3, 1971.
4. Harrison, B. Skelton Castle in the late 16th century, Cleveland History, 106, 2014.
5. Samuel Buck’s Yorkshire sketchbook, 1979.
6. Cash, A. Laurence Sterne: The early & middle years, 1979.
7. York Courant 12 Feb, 1740.
8. Ord, J.W., The history and antiquities of Cleveland, 1846.
9. Harris, J., Snodin, M. Sir William Chambers: architect to George III, 1996.
10. Melville, L. The life and letters of Laurence Sterne, Vol.1, 1911.
11. Turnbull, D., Wickham, L. Thomas White (c1736-1811): Redesigning the northern British landscape, 2022.
12. Anon. The Whig Club: or, A sketch of modern patriotism, 1794.
13. Dean, P. Sir John Soane and the country estate, 1999.
14. Crosby, J.H. Ignatius Bonomi of Durham, architect, 1987.
15. Graves, J. The history of Cleveland, in the North Riding of the County of Yorkshire 1808.
16. York Herald 10 Oct/13 Oct, 1894.
17. Fairfax-Blakeborough, J. Col. W.H.A. Wharton, Yorkshire Homes Feb 1928.
18. Gardam, J. The Iron Coast: Notes from a cold country, 1994.


Bowringsleigh, Devon

The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould was one of those bogglingly productive Victorians the mere recitation of whose prodigious accomplishments being sufficient to send the average mortal staggering to the chaise lounge clasping a revivifying tincture.


see: NPG

In addition to his fifteen-volume Lives of the saints, ‘3,600 biographies arranged in order of saints’ days (1872-7), Baring-Gould wrote over fifty novels; over sixty theological volumes; hymns (‘Onward Christian soldiers’, ‘Now the day is over’); twenty-four guide and travel books; a score of general interest volumes; and collections of folk songs’. All of this whilst fathering 14 children to adulthood and ministering successively to parishes in Yorkshire, Essex and, latterly, in his home county of Devon.1

Baring-Gould’s final ecclesiastical harbour had been determined by his eventual inheritance of the family estate, Lew Trenchard Manor in west Devon, where he proceeded to further channel his energies transforming the existing 17th-century house into the ‘intriguing confection‘ which survives – essentially intact – today. (While Lew House has been leased as a hotel for some decades both it and the 800-acre estate remains in the ownership of Baring-Gould descendants whose paternal oversight has continued – perhaps uniquely – despite recent generations being largely absentee US nationals.)

Thus, the Devon squarson’s credentials naturally recommended him to Country Life magazine as just the man to pen an appreciation of another of the county’s ancestral seats, one which had likewise been acquired in the 17th century and undergone anachronistic elaboration in the second half of the nineteenth.


‘One of the stateliest of the old mansions in South Devon,’ Baring-Gould declared of Bowringsleigh, in the parish of West Alvington near Kingsbridge, ‘the situation of the house is beautiful, in a valley between wooded hills with a park full of ancient trees.’2 Notably absent from this particular appraisal, however, was the undisguised opprobrium Baring-Gould had aimed at a contemporary Devonian cleric in a county guide he had published several years earlier.


see: England’s Places

For in his eyes Archdeacon Alfred Earle, formerly vicar of West Alvington and neighbouring South Huish, was an architectural vandal, ‘the destroyer of the remarkable rood screen’ at All Saints, West Alvington, while the ‘rich, noble’ example at South Huish had been ‘left to rot’ during Earle’s tenure. Approvingly, Baring-Gould noted that the latter at least had been rescued and rehomed at Bowringsleigh (r) by the enlightened squire, Mr. William Roope Ilbert.3

Intriguingly, Ilbert and Earle were brothers-in-law, and the archdeacon’s son would in due course inherit not only the aforesaid screen but the entirety of the Bowringsleigh estate.




A prosperous wool merchant with a house at Rill, south of Buckfastleigh, William Ilbert (I) had made the purchase of Bowringsleigh, twenty miles due south, in the years following his marriage to ‘heiress’ Jane Osborne. What he got for his money in 1695 was a substantially Tudor house of shallow E-shape in formal grounds (a stone summerhouse from which is extant), with an off-centre porch (left) and some notable interior enrichment which had been introduced by previous owners the Gilberts, most strikingly perhaps in the great hall to the left of the entrance.


Country Life2

Here the relative delicacy of the Elizabethan plasterwork ceiling is overpowered by an eye-poppingly ornate wooden screen (right).  ‘[This] magnificent, very accomplished early-17th century piece is by far the richest [of its type] in Devon .. with Corinthian columns, strapwork panels, and ebony inlay.4 The screen would be reinstated to its original situation in the second half of the 19th century ‘having been rescued from the ignominious position of forming stalls to a stable’.5


see: England’s Places

Very soon after acquiring Bowringsleigh the Ilberts set about make some enduring interior statements of their own. Two rooms at either end of the house would be crowned with decorative plasterwork ceilings representing ‘war’ and ‘peace’, the former featuring horsemen, assorted weaponry, and the Ilbert family crest. This last detail is repeated in the broken pediment of the doorcase to what would later become the dining room (left).


see: The 100 Objects Project

William Ilbert’s residential upgrade would be reinforced socially by the marriage of his son, William (II), who in 1735 gained the hand of Bridget, a daughter of Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Bt., (de jure 6th Earl of Devon) of Powderham Castle. ‘A lady of fine accomplishments and fortune,’ this union led to further refinement of the Ilbert household.6 ‘A suite of six chairs and two settees supplied by Elizabeth Hutt & Son of London in 1739 (documented by the original bill, preserved at Bowringsleigh) was made for ‘Mr. Courtenay, on behalf of William Ilbert, his brother-in-law’. Bowringsleigh also contains an elaborate clock by Stumbels of Totnes, which is paralleled by another at Powderham.’ (r)7


see: Knight Frank

William Ilbert died in 1751 (his somewhat younger wife surviving him by forty years), being succeeded by the couple’s then teenaged son, William (III) who, ten years on, would make the third good marriage in a row at Bowringsleigh. For his bride Frances was the sole heir of her father, William Roope of Horswell House in the neighbouring parish of South Milton. ‘A magnificent example of a Queen Anne manor (↑) retaining a wealth of original features,’ Horswell would be a favoured family residence into the 20th century.


see: England’s Places

The Ilberts’ run of good fortune met with a tragic reversal in 1781 when eldest son William, a naval recruit, drowned off the south Devon coast. Second son Rev. Roope Ilbert thus inherited on the death of their father in 1783, remaining the bachelor squire of Bowringsleigh for the next forty years. He in turn was briefly succeeded by his similarly childless brother Peter, 60, ‘who had lived at Horswell House most of his life’ (dying two years later in 1825).8

The same domiciliary preference would largely be continued by the latter’s heir, nephew William Ilbert (III) and his wife (and first cousin) Augusta. This despite their undertaking a rather grand programme of redecoration at Bowringsleigh, which would be often let to tenants during their time. But disaster would strike whoever was in residence on the night of September 12, 1843, when a major inferno consumed much of the eastern portion of the mansion. Thereafter, what remained would to be let as a farmhouse residence. The appointment of a new vicar to West Alvington in 1865 would prove an influential factor in Bowringsleigh’s eventual resurrection and future destiny.


One of the earliest events following the arrival of the aforementioned Rev. Alfred Earle (later Bishop of Marlborough and Dean of Exeter) to this rural south Devon parish – before ‘wantonly’ denuding All Saints’ church of existing furnishings3 – was his marriage to Frances, daughter of the late squire William Ilbert (d.1862). Aside from his sister’s wedding, another prominent date in the 1866 diary of the new master of Bowringsleigh, William (IV) was attendance at ‘the coin-planting ceremony’ on the site of the incipient Albert Memorial in London.9

Clerk of the works throughout the construction of the striking monument to the late Prince Consort was junior architect Richard Coad, a Cornishman in the employ of prolific Victorian practitioner George Gilbert Scott. Coincidence or not, Coad would now be commissioned in his own right to undertake the refurbishment of West Alvington church, at the conclusion of which in 1868 he was then engaged by William Ilbert to restore and remodel his fire-ravaged family seat.


The Building News 27 Aug 1886

The project seemingly occupied Coad for the best part of two decades, the result eventually being illustrated in the leading trade journal of the day (↑). Scaled back somewhat over the course of discussions, further to the complete reconstitution of the east wing Bowringsleigh would be lightly romanticised with the introduction of battlements and a four-storey tower on the entrance front.

bowpcardThe latter feature arose from the ashes of Bowingsleigh’s gutted private chapel, its ground floor replacement now incorporating another spectacular church screen jettisoned by Rev. Earle, that formerly of neighbouring South Huish parish church and salvaged by Squire Ilbert for 20gns.10 The principal domestic spaces created in this Victorian renovation were the library, ‘a drawing room [beyond], with a Jacobean styled ribbed ceiling, overlooking the garden through bay windows,’ and a billiard room and a conservatory behind.11 (From the other end of the house an array of service buildings extended north enclosing a courtyard.)


see: South Hams Happy

‘The late Mr. W. Roope Ilbert [d. 1902] devoted his life to the restoration and enlargement of Bowringsleigh,’ recorded Sabine Baring-Gould in Country Life‘s visitation of 1907, at which point the house was ‘the seat of Miss Ilbert’, William’s sister, Augusta.2 Until her unexpected death in the summer of 1904 Augusta Ilbert had shared Bowringsleigh with younger sister Catherine; at Augusta’s own demise two decades on their nephew Francis, the surviving son of Bishop Earle and their elder sister, Frances, now assumed the name Ilbert and ownership of the estate.

‘The present owner, Lt-Col. Francis Ilbert, maintains the pleasant house and charming garden in excellent condition,’ it was observed in 1937.12 Subsequently, however, ‘maintenance of the property declined partly due to lack of resources – [some ‘remarkably fine’ 17th-century West Country silver would be sold through Sothebys around this time12] – and partly the Colonel’s lack of interest after his son and heir was killed accidently in 1933′.11


The Times 21 June 1930


source: “One and All”14

Then serving in Sudan, 28-year-old Lt. Timothy Ilbert had taken time out for a spot of big game hunting, a buffalo pursuit which was to have a mutually destructive conclusion. Just three months prior Ilbert’s engagement to Daphne Hurle-Cooke had been announced in the columns of The Times, the same organ which some three years earlier had carried notice (↑) of the anticipated nuptials of one Lt. Hubert McLintock and Timothy’s only sibling, his sister Margery. For whatever reason, however, this event too failed to transpire for Margery Ilbert remained unmarried when she succeeded to Bowringsleigh at her father’s death in 1959.


see: Mike Wonnacott

In her time serious overtures would be made to the National Trust with a view to the charity taking the Grade I listed property on. With access to the case notes, ex-regional Trust curator and architectural historian Hugh Meller has revealed this splendid pen-portrait of Bowringsleigh’s doughty chatelaine: ‘Miss Ilbert is the very best sort of Englishwoman, thick-tweeded, flat heeled with a deep voice and charming manner. She lives alone in this sizeable house, breeding deerhounds, running parish affairs and never throwing anything away.11



see: Gull Perch/YouTube

This was to be another thwarted courtship, however. The energetic Ms Ilbert battled on but by her death aged 75 in March 1984 the house and gardens were reportedly ‘in a sad state’, an unpromising legacy which would now be taken on by her first cousin once removed, Michael Manisty and his wife Nicola. Their subsequent thorough restoration inside and out rescued Bowringsleigh from the brink.8

In the now ‘exceptional’ 8½-acre garden (opened occasionally in aid of charity) a commissioned sundial marked three centuries of family ownership.11 And ongoing recognition of the value of continuity at Bowringsleigh would seem to be assured, the eldest of the next generation being since 2005 a partner at Currey & Co., ‘a small firm of private client solicitors established in 1812, [offering] advice to land-owning and other families, some of whom have been clients since the early 19th century…’


see: Google Maps

[Archives][Grade I listing]

1. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2004.
2. Baring-Gould, S. Bowringsleigh, Country Life, 6 March 1915.
3. Baring-Gould, S. Devon, 1907.
4. Cherry, B., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Devon, 1991.
5. The Building News, 27 August 1886.
6. Daily Journal, 18 Feb 1735.
7. Jervis, S. A 1739 suite of seat furniture at Bowringsleigh, Furniture History, Vol.29, 1993.
8. Day, M. The Ilbert family, 2015.
9. Holden, P. Richard Coad (1825-1900): A Cornish architect in London, Jnl of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 2017.
10. Betjeman, J. Shell guide to Devon, 1936.
11. Meller, H. Country houses of Devon, 2015.
12. Tipping, H.A. English homes: Late Tudor & Early Stuart 1558-1649, 1937.
13. Western Morning News, 21 June 1935.
14. “One and All” The Journal of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, Vol.IV, No.2, Nov 1933.

The death of a black man under the knee of an American police officer on a street in Minneapolis might seem a world away from the bucolic refinement of the British country house. But the shockwaves from that brutal 2020 crime induced a spasm of critical introspection within the UK’s cultural heritage sector, a controversial re-examination of the tangible remnants of Britain’s ‘complex‘ colonial history which shows little sign of abating. Some organizations have been ahead of the game in this regard, however.


Historic England

‘It is no accident that the opening up of Britain’s involvement in the Caribbean coincides with a particularly intense period of country house building,’ observed Historic England’s ‘cutting edge’ tour d’horizon, Slavery and the British country house (2014, download left). Meanwhile, evolving since 2009, the Legacies of Slavery database compiled by University College London throws light on the mix of British beneficiaries of this activity, spin-off studies drilling down into the common ‘cleansing‘ of fortunes so derived by the creation of splendid country seats.

And this May saw the publication of the latest, distinctively personal, addition to a doubtless rapidly expanding canon, Alex Renton’s Blood legacy: Reckoning with a family’s story of slavery, wherein the author investigates the private papers of his maternal ancestors, the Fergussons of Kilkerran. kilkerranRentonAn estimable exercise in genealogical self-flagellation (if not entirely appreciated, apparently, by some on his paternal side), Renton confronts the contradictions of the age: ‘The Fergussons were wealthy, well-educated and influential. It is more than uncomfortable to realise that, were it possible to erase their West Indian business ventures, you might find some likeable, even admirable people.’1


see: Ian Goudie @ Facebook

‘In a fairytale setting, woods behind, park before, Kilkerran House has great dignity and much charm,’2 qualities likely aspired to by brothers Adam, Charles and James, the Fergusson generation of the second half of the 18th century whose ventures into Caribbean plantation/slave ownership were typical of their landed Ayrshire milieu.

‘One of the darker episodes in the nation’s history, Scots were deeply involved in the planation economies; it was commonplace for younger sons to seek their fortunes on the islands of the British Caribbean.’3 While the Kilkerran Fergussons were, relatively speaking, quite ‘late to the party’ and not terribly successful – ‘the Government made more in taxes on [their] West Indian business than the family did in profits’ – it was an arena they would not leave for 170 years.1

Renton’s clear-eyed odyssey (any profits from which will go to remedial causes) sets out to rectify the received family history of subsequent generations, which have been notable for serial high-ranking colonial office. The architectural bones of Kilkerran House, however, and the Fergussons’ association with this particular slice of south Ayrshire – an outstanding landscape ‘consciously made by energy and vision’ – predate that problematic period, reaching back with certainty to the middle of the fifteenth century.4


‘The Kilkerran Fergussons appear on record as a landed family in 1464 – but John Fergusson of Kilkerran was not the first of his line, only the first recorded.’5 Three generations later the Battle of Pinkie (1547) claimed heir William Fergusson, his son Bernard later similarly outliving his eldest boy, being succeeded ‘after 1600’ by grandson, John.


see: Dwight Potter

Though elevated to be a knight of the realm, the Fergussons’ lairdly gains in the Girvan valley – exemplified by Kilkerran Castle tower-house, now a ruin (r) some two miles south-west of the present-day mansion – would be imperilled by Sir John Fergusson’s Royalist allegiance in the Civil Wars. While his loyalty had gained honour it later irrecoverably indebted his estate which was sequestered by Cromwell and now held in bond by a neighbour, Lord Bargany.

Sir John retreated to the Continent, returning after the Restoration just in time to die. All the while his younger brother, Simon, had quietly prospered but it was the conspicuous success of Simon’s son, John (b. 1656), which would ultimately prove the Fergussons’ salvation, becoming progenitor of the line in which the Kilkerran estate has subsequently descended.

kilk1stbt‘At the Scottish bar, John Fergusson acquired reputation and wealth,’ the latter to an extent such that in 1700 he was able to clear off and reclaim his cousin’s debt-laden estate, Sir John Fergusson’s son and grandson being only too pleased to sign away in perpetuity any claims thereto.6 The new laird’s 1684 marriage to heiress Jean Whytefoord would in due course yield the neighbouring Barclanachan estate, with a baronetcy in 1703 further elevating his status. High time to consider the creation of a splendid new abode.

The Barclanachan site plainly offered greater scope, its modernized tower-house now subsumed within a classical carapace, and rechristened. Though seemingly not ennacted until around the time of son and heir James’ marriage in 1726, the design of new Kilkerran House has suggested the hand of leading late-17th century Scottish architect James Smith (d.1715).4

kilketchX‘On rising ground south of the Girvan, with fine views down the valley,’ the H-plan house faced north, with two wings flanking the six-bay, three-storey centre.7 A pediment (later removed) spanned four bays supported by two pilasters rising above the ground floor: ‘A curious mix of elegance and awkwardness’4 or ‘a neat display of visual balance, like one of Palladio’s courtyard elevations.’8


Country Life4

Surviving today, ‘remarkable rooms in the [east] early-18th century wing have full-height panelling and [later] William Adam fireplaces [with] unusual moulded frames above’.9 ‘Perhaps the finest of these is Lord Kilkerran’s room, which takes its name from the Allan Ramsay portrait incorporated above the chimneypiece,’ the sitter being Sir James Fergusson, who succeeded in 1729.4 James’ own legal career culminated in his being appointed a judge at the Court of Sessions, routinely sentencing common thieves to death or banishment overseas.

A boundless thirst for claret induced chronic gout such that the 2nd baronet ‘could barely walk further than his own garden’, which presumably limited somewhat his enjoyment of the enhancements that Sir James had wrought to the policies at Kilkerran.10 In his father’s time nurseryman William Boutcher had applied a largely geometric scheme c.1721:


see: Mac Jodie Says

‘His designs were strictly formal with a ruthless application of the ruler and set-square which made his proposed area of ‘Natural Wood’ at the bottom of the park quite exceptional and unexpected.’11

Reflecting the fashion of his age Sir James would set about developing this latter aspect, reporting progress of his landscaping project to wife Jean in Edinburgh: “I have pierced ye view threw the park, and have carried off a spiral walk up to the head of it into ye great diagonal [which] realy looks extreamly pretty and very natural, and will, I’m sure, please you.”12

Only half of the couple’s fourteen children reached adulthood; son and heir John was a keen but sickly soldier, surviving Culloden only to succumb to consumption in 1750, being buried on his 23rd birthday. Second son Adam thus duly inherited Kilkerran in 1759; kilkerranadamone year earlier the 25-year-old had sat to the fashionable Rome painter Pompeo Batoni for his portrait resplendent in a colourful embroidered waistcoat, both items among the many acquired in the course of a two-year Grand Tour. More flattering to Fergusson’s intellect, collected books and drawings now seriously embellished his father’s library at Kilkerran House, alterations to which soon followed the third baronet’s accession.

Most notably Sir Adam would ‘turn’ the house to the west, with a long drive approaching the promoted front ‘of Georgian serenity’. Within, a single flight of stairs now ascended to the piano nobile from the new entrance hall while to the north-east of the house ‘a picturesque walk, ‘Lady Glen‘, crossed the river by four bridges, rising to a waterfall at the top’.4 More widely ‘the flat, gently rolling valley landscape [was] laid out as parkland [which remains] scenically attractive; there are 536 acres in the designed landscape today, similar to the extent of 1750’.7


see: Google Maps

Prior to his grand tour, Adam Fergusson had qualified as an advocate and would pursue a successful legal career in tandem with the management of not just his family’s Scottish property but also of exotic new acquisitions thousands of miles away in the West Indies, the Fergussons belatedly following the path of many of their compatriots in the pursuit of a colonial bonanza.


In 1769 Sir Adam’s brother Charles Fergusson, in partnership with fellow Ayrshire banker William Hunter, paid £14,200 (‘a vast sum’) for Rozelle, a sugar plantation in Jamaica complete with ‘154 enslaved humans, most of them first generation arrivals from Africa’. But a banking collapse would soon oblige the baronet to bail his brother out; the Hunters now became silent partners leaving all management decisions to absentee landlord Sir Adam (and a series of variously competent but invariably Scottish on-site managers).1


see: Tobago Today

Four years later Fergusson would double-down on this investment, optimistically underwriting the speculative Caribbean venture of his 26-year-old younger brother, James, hitherto a somewhat unfocussed, frivolous character. After a scouting mission, James now invested around £5,000 of his brother’s money establishing a plantation on virgin territory at Bloody Bay (r) on the island of Tobago. An initial draft of ten slaves were acquired, and regular extensive shopping lists of essential supplies to be sourced from Britain followed (young Fergusson at one point optimistically discussing designs for a monogrammed branding iron with which to literally seal their joint enterprise).1

However, the chaotic consequences of the American War of Independence – the latest of many vicissitudes faced by the nascent project – would eventually prove calamitous. One year later James fell fatally ill. Thousands of miles away in south Ayrshire Sir Adam made efforts to recoup his investment before finally pulling the plug on his brother’s ‘unfortunate adventure’ in 1787.1


see source

By this time the laird of Kilkerran was also MP for Edinburgh and would later vote against the abolition of slavery. For he remained co-owner (and sole boss) of the Rozelle plantation (r) in Jamaica, ‘a useful investment, but not a wildly profitable one, [performing] half as well as the average Caribbean sugar estate’. Indeed, as time went on Fergusson became increasingly persuaded that there was more profit to be had in the breeding and sale of human slaves, and keen that his managers should regularly restock with fertile females to this end.1

(Sir Adam’s meticulous accounts record the ceaseless litany of setbacks and material demands borne by each returning ship and delivered to his door. And on one extraordinary occasion, Renton reveals how Fergusson came face-to-face with one of his human possessions, a remarkably resourceful runaway slave arriving at his master’s central London townhouse to present his grievances in person.1)

Despite his standing, Sir Adam never came remotely close to marrying, his similarly unmarried sister Jean being a lifelong companion at Kilkerran. But the household would change dramatically upon the succession of his nephew James Fergusson in 1813, being then well into the production of what would eventually be fifteen children (by two wives). Almost immediately Sir James initiated a commensurately expansive remodelling of Kilkerran (and its policies), architect James Gilliespie Graham awarded the tasty commission.

kilkpostcardUltimately, however, only relatively limited alterations would be realised, crossed wires between architect and client resulting in mutual frustration. Bowed extensions north and south of the entrance front created enlarged reception rooms while new roofing occasioned the loss of the pediment on the north facade. Truncated though it was, this work together with new gate lodges, major garden works by leading Scottish practicioner John Hay, and an ever-expanding family stretched Sir James’ expenditure way beyond his income. But despite continued indebtedness several factors were to combine to ensure that his son and heir’s prospects would be surprisingly rosy.


see: National Trust For Scotland

The profitability of the Rozelle plantation had long remained distinctly marginal but some financial salvation emerged in 1836 with state compensation for former slave owners, the Fergussons and Hunter-Blairs sharing a payout of some £3 million (contemporary valuation). Sir James died two years later, son Charles now inheriting not only Kilkerran but also that same year the ‘stunning’ Newhailes estate near Edinburgh (left) via his spinster aunt, Christian Dalrymple.


see: Mary & Angus Hogg @ geograph

Though he would only be laird of these places for a decade the 5th baronet made his mark, building schools and funding churches13 around and about, and would be memorialized with a stone hilltop monument after his death in 1849. Inheriting the Ayrshire estate of some 22,000 acres, son James at last disposed of the family’s far-flung West Indian property, selling the depreciated asset in 1875.

But this soldier turned politician (‘elected MP for Ayrshire aged 23 while in the trenches at Sebastapol’14) remained ‘an imperialist to the backbone’15: between 1868-1885 Sir James Fergusson would serve successively as Governor of South Australia, New Zealand and Bombay. While these ‘public duties compelled him to spend the best of his years far from his ancestral home’16 Sir James did initiate changes at Kilkerran, introducing a single-storey billiards room infilling the space between the north front wings (↓) soon after his return from the Crimea. However, as in his father’s time, a far more ambitious (Italianate) remodelling of Kilkerran House would get no further than the drawing board…


see: Canmore

… the introduction of a wooden porch and some internal changes being the extent of the sixth baronet’s later interventions. A similarly modest garden proposal went somewhat awry. ‘Writing from New Zealand, he asked that a few flower beds be laid out. The sunken garden made at this time, [a] grandiose and expensive interpretation,’ which Sir James discovered upon his return, ‘cost the gardener his job’.7

kilkVFIn an ironic twist, though he had ended the family’s landowning association with the island, Jamaica was to claim the life of the globetrotting baronet (r). Visiting on a business trip, soon after his arrival the thrice-married 74-year-old was killed instantly by falling masonry in a cigar shop brought about by the devastating Kingston earthquake of 1907. His heir, Sir Charles, would have a much-decorated military career before reprising his father’s role as Governor-General of New Zealand for six years between the wars. (During these extended absences Kilkerran was often let.)

Sir Charles’ eldest son, writer/historian James, was two years into what would be a twenty-year tenure as Scotland’s first Keeper of Records when he succeeded to the family estate in 1951. ‘In many ways the epitome of the gentleman scholar .. Fergusson’s standing helped to attract many important collections’ to Scotland’s national archive, it was noted following his death in 1973.17


see source19


Country Life

Two decades on, in the early hours of April 17, 1994, James’ son & heir Charles would be roused by smoke seeping into his bedroom. “I put my hand on the [drawing room] doors and felt the heat within,” he recounted.18 At least the ‘substantial, well-fitting doors helped to confine the blaze to one wing’ but the principal drawing room was gutted, losses included Batoni’s portrait of Sir Adam Fergusson and those by Allan Ramsay of his sisters, Jean and Margaret.19

kilklyonAlthough a comparatively disparate brotherhood, in 1719 Sir John Fergusson, 1st Bt., had been granted arms as chief of clan. The various Fergusson families in Ayrshire recognized the seniority of Kilkerran, a position which would be cemented nationwide over the course of the 18th century. In March of this year Sir Charles Fergusson, 9th Baronet ‘and Chief of the Name of Fergusson’, died aged 89, some five weeks ahead of the publication of his nephew’s researches; Alex Renton has noted how ‘the family still carried the names of their 18th century ancestors’.1

Sir Charles has been succeeded by his son Adam, whose own son James now stands heir to the Kilkerran House estate…


1. Renton, A. Blood legacy: Reckoning with a family’s story of slavery, 2021.
2. Close, R. Ayrshire and Arran: An illustrated architectural guide, 1992.
3. Graham, E.J. Burns and the sugar plantocracy of Ayrshire, 2014.
4. Rowan, A. Kilkerran House, Ayrshire I/II, Country Life, 1/8 May, 1975.
5. Fergusson, Sir J. The Fergussons: Their lowland and Highland branches, 1956.
6. Burke’s landed gentry: The Kingdom of Scotland, 19th ed., c.2001.
7. Kilkerran: Garden & designed landscape, Historic Environment Scotland, 1987.
8. Macauley, J. The classical country house in Scotland 1660-1800, 1987.
9. Close, R., Riches, A. Buildings of Scotland: Ayrshire & Arran, 2012.
10. Fergusson, J. Lord Hermand: a biographical sketch, Star Society I, 1940.
11. Tait, A.A. The landscaped garden in Scotland 1735-1835, 1980.
12. Fergusson, Lady A. An 18th century lady and her family, Blackwood’s Magazine, March 1931.
13. Robertson, W. Ayrshire, its history and historic families, 1908.
14. Ward, J.T. Ayrshire landed estates in the nineteenth century, Ayrshire Collections, Vol.8, AANHS,1969.
15. The Economist, 18 May, 1907.
16. Millar, A.H. Historical and descriptive accounts of the castles and mansions of Ayrshire, 1885.
17. Imrie, J. The modern Scottish Record Office, Scottish Historical Review, Vol.53, No.156, Oct 1974.
18. Country Life, May 5, 1994.
19. Fire protection measures in Scottish historic buildings, Technical advice note 11, Historic Scotland, 1997.