Standing, slightly recessed, at the top of ‘the best preserved street’ in the town1 from which it takes its name, the ancestral home of the Bell family provides one answer to the question, ‘When is a country seat not a country seat?’ An intriguing rus in urbe hybrid, in marked contrast to the allure of a tantalizing glimpse behind sequestering timbers, private Thirsk Hall has always had a distinctly public face.


see: Google Maps

‘The house lies right by the church. The two belong together as in a village, and one can easily forget they are in a town’ (albeit a largely ‘disappointing’ one), observed Nikolaus Pevsner in 1966. The highlight of the legendary architectural historian’s visitation was 15th-century St. Mary’s – ‘without question the most spectacular Perpendicular church in the North Riding’ – with whose Gothic glories its secular next-door neighbour has never sought to compete.2

thirskkirkgateview2Rather, the sober, resolutely unostentatious Thirsk Hall is in conformity with the more earthbound brick plainness of the town itself. Not that the schizophrenic Grade II* listed house, with its rural flipside (↓), is devoid of interest, of course, far from it. ‘There has never been a major dispersal sale of the contents…


see: Thirsk Hall Estate

… many of which have been in the house since the mid-18th century’. “It’s a treat to have been brought up surrounded by beautiful things,” the present owner once said, “but it does mean you are limited by what you canthirskinterior2 put in yourself.” Yet despite this constraint the tradition of accumulation at Thirsk Hall has continued, ‘bearing witness to the changing tastes’ of successive generations.3


A local family certainly since Elizabethan times, merchant Robert Bell was making his mark in Thirsk in the mid-1660s, issuing armigerous trading tokens (below) in response to a paucity of coinage in the realm at that time. And the extent of the family’s property interests and influencethirsktoken in the town would be evidenced on three occasions between 1710-1715 when Bell’s son Ralph was returned unopposed as one of the two MPs for Thirsk. In 1717, however, Ralph Bell voluntarily stood down from parliament in favour of a lucrative customs position at the port of Hull.

In that same year Bell also consolidated his professional relationship with the then Lord of the Manor of Thirsk, being appointed bailiff to James Stanley, the 10th earl of Derby. Stanley would soon be spending large sums aggrandizing his Lancashire seat, Knowsley Hall, and in 1723 agreed to sell the manor of Thirsk to his man on the ground for the sum of £6,300. Ralph Bell’s ascendancy would be underscored by the appearance of ‘a handsome new-built house’ just a stone’s throw from the fine parish church.


see: Google Maps

More town house than country manor, the original five-bay, two-storey residence (columns and ‘Kentian’ classical detailing within2) remains at the core of present-day Thirsk Hall. Married but without any children, Ralph Bell’s will, drafted several years in advance of his 1735 demise, sought to head off…

…  the plainly anticipated disappointment of his younger brother, John.

Bequeathing a home in neighbouring Sowerby and an annuity of several hundred pounds to his widow Elizabeth, Bell declared the principal beneficiary would be his nephew, leaving ‘to Ralph Consett and his heirs my mannor of Thirske and all other real estate whatsoever‘. John would have to accept merely a £50 annuity and then only ‘under the proviso that if he do on any account oppose my will, or give any trouble to my loving wife, or to my nephew, in the peaceable enjoyment of what I herein give to them respectively, then the said annuity shall cease‘.

Meanwhile, the sole proviso placed on his namesake nephew was that he changed his surname to Bell.


see: emmajmozz

Ralph was the younger son of Ralph Bell’s sister Elizabeth and her late husband, Peter Consett of Brawith. (Unlike highly conspicuous Thirsk Hall, Brawith Hall three miles to the north – still today the home of the Consett family – remains in every sense obscure: hard to see and little-known.)

Though Ralph Bell (2) lived until the last day of 1770 it’s evident that for most of the preceeding decade Thirsk Hall had been the marital home of his son and heir, Ralph (3). For in spring 1761, shortly after returning from a honeymoon with his bride, heiress Ann Conyers, the house would be visited by noted cabinet-maker Robert Gillow, calling to discuss the happy couple’s furniture needs.


see source

The resulting bespoke commission was quite substantial, including a sofa, two large dining tables and accompanying suites of chairs, and a tall mahogany clothes press (right) featuring carved Corinthian pilasters and blind fretwork. But “something Chinese” was desired for the drawing room at Thirsk, ‘Bell’s daintier tea table the most intricate piece of early Gillow furniture so far discovered’.4 The couple would be back for more a decade later when there was further space to fill.

With the death of Ralph Bell (2) in December 1770 Ralph (3) now came fully into his estate. Coincidentally, in that same year his wife (whose father had previously devised the income from various Conyers properties on the couple ‘for their joint lives’) would receive a £2,000 legacy from a deceased uncle. According to family tradition, ‘Ann found Thirsk Hall particularly inadequate and pressed her husband to make substantial alterations’.5 Their financial position being nicely enhanced, the couple now called upon the services of the biggest architectural name in the North.

Being then ‘at the height of his powers, John Carr’s practice in York had a near monopoly of country house building in the county until 1790’.6


see: Stephen Richards @ geograph

At Thirsk, Carr directed a three-and-a-half year project which saw the Hall more than double in size, two symmetrical wings being added north and south of the original block which was itself raised another storey. With the possible exception of the doorcase, any temptation to external enlivenment was stoutly resisted.

thirskplasterworkThere would be greater scope for expression inside, however, Carr designing multiple chimneypieces, and Adam-esque decoration in the new 60ft Great Dining Room executed by plasterer James Henderson. (For Thirsk’s 21st-century squire this refined space, with its Sevres porcelain chandelier, is “miles from the kitchen so we only use it about twice a year”.3)

Soon after submitting his final bill early in 1775 John Carr realised that he had mistakenly undercharged his clients to the tune of £100. “I am very happy it has hap’ned in the hands of a Gentleman who I am confident will take no advantage of it,” the architect wheedled, “but will I hope excuse it [and] remit the balance when it is convenient.” (It would be convenient four months later.)5

And the Bells turned once again to high-end furniture makers Gillows of Lancaster for some choice items for their new dining room, notably a pair of tall mahogany wine cisterns and ‘a fine and rare sideboard table in the commode style’.4


see: NCMA

Above the last piece hangs another of the couple’s genteel indulgences during this period, the likeness of Mr and Mrs Bell having been captured in separate full-length portraits by Thomas Gainsborough at around the time of the pre-eminent painter’s relocation from Bath to London. Described in the mid-19th century as having been ‘frequently valued by connoisseurs at one thousand guineas each’, in 1897 a subsequent squire (Reginald Bell, d.1921) succumbed and today ‘Ralph Bell’ (r) resides in an American museum.7 However, the accoutrements with which he posed before Gainsborough, Bell’s cane and shoe buckles, are still to be found at Thirsk Hall.5

The new look mansion (which remains fundamentally little-altered today) would be duly inherited by the Bells’ eldest son, John (1), whose own first-born died young, the estate passing in 1822 to his second son, John. At the age of 31 John Bell (2) became the second member of the family to represent his home town in Parliament, elected unopposed in 1841. But ‘even before then, his friends had seen signs of failing health’.

thirsklunacy2Thirsk Hall’s ‘museum’, containing the skeleton of a horse and albino specimens of domestic wildlife, was but a mildly eccentric twist on the Victorian fascination with natural science and taxidermy. But in his late thirties Bell began to exhibit an alarming affinity with his stuffed birds of prey.

‘Sometimes he fancied himself to be an eagle, and made motions with his arms,’ John Packer, Thirsk’s butler, told a formal Commission of Lunacy convened at the Three Tuns hotel in June 1849. Troubled by his disturbing and occasionally violent behaviour, the inquiry had been requested by Bell’s two sisters whom he was now wont to accuse of poisoning his tea with iodine. The jury concurred with all of the witnesses – long-standing friends and professional opinion – that the squire was no longer of sound mind.8 Addressing concerns about the town’s representation in Parliament, it soon became apparent that there was at this time no mechanism by which a sitting MP could be replaced in such circumstances, and Bell would remain nominally the Member for Thirsk until his death in 1851.


see: Google Maps

In the wake of the verdict a bloodstock sale dispersed John Bell’s 20-plus stable of racehorses and hunters. However, the equine enthusiasm of his successor at Thirsk Hall, nephew Frederick (Macbean) Bell, saw the introduction of an enduring sporting attraction to the town when a full-scale racecourse was created in his back garden. Well, almost.

In 1854 Frederick and several like-minded associates determined that the long dormant horse racing heritage of Hambleton district should be rekindled, the squire offering an expanse of land extending west beyond the bounds of the Hall’s small park. And, despite the hot favourite, Bell’s own brown gelding Pop Goes the Weasel, being beaten in the inaugural two-horse race on a bitterly cold day in March 1855, Thirsk Racecourse has prospered ever since. Whilst it is operationally independent the course remains part of the Bell estate, subsequent landlord/directors overseeing its steady development.

Like his uncle before him, Frederick Bell would die unmarried in his early forties, being suddenly stricken in the ‘richly panelled‘ library of Thirsk Hall one day in early 1875. Having ‘seldom spent any time away from the town, as soon as his death became known the whole of the shops drew down their blinds’.9 Nephew Reginald Smith now became the third such to take the Bell name by Royal Licence.

thirskverandapostcardAppended during his time was the cast-iron veranda (left) which still spans the original garden front of the house today. Notwithstanding the sale in 1918 of a thousand or so outlying acres – and the Hall’s literally urban outlook – Thirsk would maintain a traditional country estate profile across the 20th century.


see: Thirsk Hall Farms

But the next generation is set to have a new focus, developing what has hitherto been the ad hoc hosting of al fresco weddings and events in the environs of the Hall. Planning permission has recently been granted for the £2m conversion of a range of dilapidated farm buildings elsewhere on the estate (r) creating a ‘dedicated fully indoor facility .. a new chapter in the progressive development of this well-established family estate’.10

Meanwhile, ‘farmer’ John Bell, squire of Thirsk Hall for the past four decades, has long had another string to his bow having established a contemporary art gallery on Kirkgate, just a short walk from the house, in 1988.


see: Royal Academy

“It’s a bit like a drunk opening a pub,” he once confessed, “you end up buying a lot of the stock.”3 And anyone lucky enough to be invited back to see his etchings will notice many by Norman Ackroyd (←) with whom both gallery and owner have struck up a significant relationship. Indeed, the artist might even be there in person: “It’s a beautiful house,” he has said, “and a kind of home-from-home. I love it.”11

[Thirsk Hall Farms][Estate archives]

1. Thirsk and Sowerby conservation area appraisal, Hambleton District Council, 2010.
2. Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The North Riding, 1966.
3. Moro, A. Pass it on, Daily Telegraph, 20 Nov 2010.
4. Stuart, S. Gillows of Lancaster and London, 2008.
5. Belsey, H. A case of mistaken identity: Gainsborough’s Ralph Bell, North Carolina Museum of Art bulletin, 1991.
6. Jackson-Stops, G. Ribston Hall, Yorkshire, Country Life, 18 Oct 1973 [Contemporary Carr ceiling, similarities noted]
7. Grainge, W. The Vale of Mowbray: Thirsk and its neighbourhood, 1859.
8. Yorkshire Gazette, 7 July 1849.
9. York Herald, 13 Jan 1875.
10. Thirsk Lodge planning statement, ELG Planning, 2019.
11. [Audio] National Life Stories: Artists’ Lives – Norman Ackroyd, British Library, 2012.

As a time and a place in which to put down dynastic roots few can surely have been less propitious than the Scottish Borders in the first half of the sixteenth century. If the natives’ perennial confrontations with a territorially ambitious English crown were not enough, sudden havoc and devastation could always lie just over the hill courtesy of avaricious freebooting Border reivers. Loyalties were routinely bought and sold to suit ever-shifting agendas, all parties attempting to exploit volatile circumstances to their particular advantage.


see: Bing Maps

Abutting the north-western extremity of Galashiels, the Torwoodlee estate of the Pringle family was established in the teeth of just such unpromising circumstances. Over 500 years later it survives, having faced down existential threat more than once along the way. The wider Clan Pringle were as active players as any during the Borders’ turbulent history, gaining and losing by turns. William, a younger son of James Pringle (Hoppringle) of Smailholm would branch out ten miles west, fully acquiring Torwoodlee in 1510.

Just one year earlier a thrusting young Henry VIII had ascended the throne; in 1513 his forces would claim the life of William Pringle, being one of the thousands of Scots to fall in the disastrous Battle of Flodden. Decades later Henry’s still unsatisfied ambitions for his dominion would affect the destiny of William’s sons, George and Sandy.

Mary, daughter of James V of Scotland, was born on December 8, 1542; within a week she was queen. Henry quickly resolved to secure a union with his young son Edward, a proposal to which the Scots initially agreed before thinking better of it six months later. Thus began the years of so-called Rough Wooing which included ‘a remarkably systematic English effort to create a body of Scots collaborators’.1 If taken up, formal assurance agreements afforded not only protection from English harassment but license to menace and pillage recalcitrant neighbours if desired.


see: Register of Tartans

With varying degrees of commitment ‘the Pringles – [clan tartan, r] – had signed up as “assured Englishmen”‘.2 Though initially coerced, the subsequent opportunistic alacrity demonstrated by William’s younger son Sandy Pringle came to be ‘regarded as intentional treachery rather than Borders craftiness by his fellow Scots’. So ‘English’ did he become that permanent relocation south of the border was deemed expedient (cushioned by the reward of a pension ‘and monastic grants from a grateful Henry VIII’).3

At one point the English had reason to believe that they also had brother George Pringle, 2nd Laird of Torwoodlee, on side, only to later accuse him of ‘treasonably assisting the Ancient enemies of England’ when his allegiance reverted.2 Pardoned for any such activity in 1551, George now evidently thrived: ‘[He] seems to have been a wealthy man, and to have lived in greater splendour than might have been expected, when security was so precarious.’4 And such apparent prosperity would indeed eventually bring out the very worst in some of Pringle’s fellow borderers, a mob of several hundred sacking the original house in late 1568, looting anything of value and murdering the laird in his bed.


see: milliecitra @ Instagram

Family fortunes would take a generation to recover, George’s grandson – also George – at last being able properly to replace the principal dwelling in 1601. Today approached by an avenue rising through woodland, the ruined remains (r) of George’s ‘very smart house’ stand enshrouded by trees on the 3,000-acre Torwoodlee Estate.5 ‘On a steep slope that was extensively terraced to receive the building,’ its semicircular tower remains distinctive, corbelled two-thirds of the way up to a square top storey [listing].

(For long, the laird has welcomed a visitation to Torwoodlee Tower as an important element of Galashiels’ annual Braw Lads Gathering.)

Their house re-established, George now set about restoring Pringle family honour, criminal prosecution of the families of his grandfather’s assailants resulting in their outlawry and the seizure of assets. Marrying at least three times, George’s first wife Margaret Pringle, of the Pringles of nearby Whytbank, produced their son and heir, James. (One of James’ own daughters, Anna, would also look no further than this branch of Clan Pringle, marrying Alexander, 4th Laird of Whytbank, whilst another, Margaret, married George Pringle, 6th Laird of Buckholm, Torwoodlee’s immediate neighbour to the east.)

If ‘fear and expediency [had given] the English the great bulk of their supporters in Scotland’ during the time of the Rough Wooing, ‘desire for the reformed faith gave them their most devoted supporters’.1 A century on, the rising influence of James, Duke of York (later King James II) saw the religious tide begin to turn once again. Having previously fought the royal cause in Scotland, George Pringle – ‘a staunch friend of the Covenant‘ who succeeded his father at Torwoodlee in 1657 – would now ‘suffer greatly on account of his religion’.6


see: Nat.Galleries of Scotland

The 6th Laird (left) became a key ally of James’ arch-enemy Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll. The latter’s dubious prosecution and resultant death sentence in 1681 led to the earl’s audacious prison escape whence he headed initially for Torwoodlee, an expectant George Pringle supplying fresh horses and assistance to England. Argyll would ultimately find refuge in Holland to where in time Pringle himself also fled. The pair made an ill-fated return in 1685, Pringle being amongst many exiled Scots to support Argyll’s doomed overthrow of James II.

The ambitious earl was captured and executed; Pringle managed to escape back to Holland but Torwoodlee was confiscated and given to a royal ally. During his time abroad pressure for information was exerted on George’s only son, James, the teenager resisting threats that ‘every bone in his body would be broken, his flesh ripped up and boiling lead and oil poured into him’.6 The successful invasion by William of Orange in 1688 saw Pringle’s eventual return but his homecoming was brief, dying the following year, aged 58.

torsketchTorwoodlee would soon be restored to Pringle family ownership and, overdue a period of stability and calm, the tenure of James (d.1735) was long and relatively uneventful, that of his son even more so. Bachelor George, the 8th Laird, ‘hardly appears in the records [and] seems to have lived quietly’, sharing Torwoodlee with various spinster sisters.6 At his demise in 1780 all now passed to his nephew James…

… the one and only time Torwoodlee has failed to pass from father to son in its 500-plus year history. (Every laird since has been named James.)

Upon inheriting, 21-year-old James promptly threw up his legal studies and began what would be a defining incumbency stretching across six decades. Losing little time, in 1782 the young squire married Elizabeth Tod, co-heiress of the Dryburgh estate ten miles south-east of Torwoodlee. This property would soon be sold which was opportune since in 1783 the Pringles not only welcomed the birth of their first son but would also set about building themselves a fashionable new residence.


see: Canmore

Eschewing the increasingly redundant defensive vernacular in favour of Georgian comfort and elegance, the new Torwoodlee House was typical of the neat classical country villas now going up in the Scottish Borders. Attributed to emerging Kelso architect William Elliot, Torwoodlee’s ‘main block of two storeys over a high basement’ would be linked to flanking low pavilions ‘by screen walls originally topped by decorative urns’.5


see: Canmore

The original five-bay south-facing entrance front is seemingly little-altered, ‘an excellent predimented doorway approached by a graceful flight of steps’ (r).5 The house was completed in 1785, the expense incurred being further defrayed by the sale of nearby Bowland, an estate which had been acquired by James’ father in 1752. Local literary superstar Sir Walter Scott would be among the subsequent visitors to ‘Mr. Pringle’s beautiful seat’.

James died in 1840 and the rest of the 19th century at Torwoodlee would be seen out by his namesake son and then grandson both of whom joined the Royal Navy at a young age. ‘Though not lucky enough to have been at any of the great naval battles,’ his father’s longevity enabled the 10th Laird to rise to the rank of rear-admiral at his retirement in 1846.7 Thirteen years later his son Commander James Pringle would in turn come ashore upon inheriting Torwoodlee and its ‘neat and substantial mansion’.


see: Iain Lees

For reasons of privacy, this James soon decided that the house should be turned round, the entrance now facing north. In robust Victorian fashion his new centre breaks boldly from the relatively chaste original composition, capped by an armorial pediment rising to the roof ridgeline. Peddie & Kinnear were engaged for the project, the prolific Edinburgh practice also heightening the twin pavilions. Internally, the original entrance hall ‘was incorporated into the existing drawing room’.5


see: Canmore

In 1854 James’ sister Elizabeth had married John Borthwick, 14th Laird of Crookston, an estate 15 miles further up the Gala Water valley, held by this family since the 15th century. Producing no children, Crookston passed to Borthwick’s brother, William, whose two eldest sons would head back downriver, finding brides in the shape of James Pringle’s daughters, Melana and Adelaide. Meanwhile, the sisters’ eldest sibling, John, dying young, brother James duly inherited Torwoodlee in 1902 and would see the estate through the first half of the 20th century.


see: Southern Reporter

In recent times attention has focused on old Torwoodlee Tower, which was ultimately abandoned after the family transferred to their new house. Funded by a combination of Roxburghe Estate windfarm bounty and an appeal to the global diaspora of Clan Pringle, the ruin is preserved, as befits a ‘monument of national importance .. which has the potential to contribute to our knowledge of the changing nature of polite architecture during this transitional period’. (With ‘impressive ancient oaks’, Torwoodlee’s parkland, too, is ‘a site of some interest that deserves further investigation’.8)

torsquiIn contrast to the civility of the Category A-listed House, the old stone Tower is a reminder of wilder times in the Scottish Borders. Not, of course, that the present (14th) Laird of Torwoodlee is entirely above taking sides and going into battle against pesky territorial invaders…


[Torwoodlee Estate][Clan Pringle]

1. Merriman, M.H. The assured Scots, The Scottish historical review, Vol.47, No.143, 1968.
2. Tait, J. Dick the devil’s bairns: Breaking the Border mafia, 2018.
3. Miekle, M.M. Lairds and gentlemen: A study of the landed families of the eastern Anglo-Scottish borders. [Thesis, PDF] Edin. Univ., 1988.
4. Burke, B. A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the landed gentry, 1848.
5. Cruft, K., Dunbar, J., Fawcett, R. Buildings of Scotland: Borders, 2006.
6. Pringle, A. The records of the Pringles or Hoppringles of the Scottish border, 1933.
7. Carre, W.R. Border memories, or Sketches of prominent men and women of the border, 1876.
8. Borders designed landscapes survey, Peter McGowan Associates, 2009.


Loton Park, Shropshire

Exploding upon the consciousness of an unsuspecting nation in August 2004, Channel 4’s one-off TV documentary ‘The F***king Fulfords‘ presented an eye- and ear-opening window into the chaotic world of the 24th squire of Great Fulford and his young family at home in their dilapidated grade I mansion in Devon. Once heard, never forgotten, Francis Fulford’s compellingly plummy candour (couched in appropriately ancient Anglo-Saxon) would serve, if nothing else, to obliterate  memory of the equally unreconstructed reflections of a Shropshire counterpart, captured by the BBC in a similar documentary exercise twelve months before.


see: Rob Guys Art

“They want their bloody pound of flesh, these people,” cursed Sir Michael Leighton to cameras recording a year in the life of ‘A Country Estate‘, namely his ancestral seat, Loton Park, straddling the Welsh border ten miles west of Shrewsbury. On this occasion the freely spleen-venting 11th baronet had in his sights the quango formerly known as English Heritage, a sizeable grant from whom had obliged the opening of his home for a limited period. ‘A genuine eccentric, he cheerfully admits he would love to lock his gates to the great unwashed,’ a visiting Daily Mail told its readers that same year.1

Having inherited in 1957 aged just 22, the continuing tenure of thrice-divorced Sir Michael as master of the Loton estate comfortably outstrips in longevity that of any of his predecessors over the course of an association here stretching back to the fifteenth century. The Leightons’ impressive survival has been attributed in no small part to the art of keeping your head down. ‘Families eager to meddle with the affairs of state take, as a rule, light root in their lands,’ one antiquarian family member observed a century ago. ‘The house of Leighton has for the most part been content to add little to the history of the country. They have done their duty in Shropshire, and are still lords of their Shropshire manors.’2

And the landed gentry of this pleasingly inconspicuous county have, historically, seemed notably content to copy their peers in the design of their country seats. Across several eras the style of certain practicioners became de rigeur hereabouts and, as will be seen, Loton Park ticked every box. The home of the Leightons is, however, peculiarly schizophrenic, the gabled neo-Jacobean embrace of its present entrance front contrasting markedly with the Baroque grandeur Loton projects across the Severn vale to the north.


see: Roger Parry & Associates


Follow the sinuous course of Britain’s longest river into and out of Shrewsbury, on its north bank some ten miles the other side of the county town lies the manor of Leighton, held by the eponymous family in the 12th century, passing from father to son for ten generations. Advantageous marriages subsequently occasioned moves within the county: south to Church Stretton in the late 14th Century then, one hundred years on, across to the western border, the union of John Leighton (d.1493) and Anchoret, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Burgh, having yielded the adjacent manors of Cardeston, Wattlesborough and Loton.


see: Historic England

Still (just about) standing south of Loton is a roofless square keep tower within a vestigial moat, all that remains of medieval Wattlesborough Castle (r) which became the principal family residence in the time of Sir Edward Leighton (d.1593). Throughout the entire 16th century the unbroken male line had continued, heirs succeeding not only to the Shropshire estates but also to a seat in Westminster as an MP for the county. A 60-year parliamentary hiatus followed the death of Thomas Leighton in 1600…

… normal service resuming with his great-grandson Robert who, in the years following his election, would also develop a property at Loton.


see: Government Art Collection

Later to be remodelled and significantly enlarged, Robert Leighton’s Caroline house of c.1665 – as captured (r) by Welsh artist Moses Griffith in 1792 – remains the core of Loton Park as it stands today. Retained behind a 19th-century loggia, stacked pillars define the centre bay, its crowning ‘broken pediment displaying a floridly crested shield of arms, an eloquent 17th century survival’.3

lotonchristiesFour years after Robert’s death his eldest surviving son, Edward (left) would be granted a baronetcy. (“Our fortunes started going down from the moment we got [it],” the present incumbent – who sold his predecessor’s portrait in 1999 to raise funds – once lamented.1) Sir Edward Leighton died in 1711, bequeathing the use of Wattlesborough Castle to his second wife for her lifetime, his heir Sir Edward (2) now relocating to the house at Loton which he soon resolved to aggrandize in a style which was then sweeping Shropshire.


see: 1119ATC

‘A large, tall rectangular building of three full storeys above a basement, the doorway slightly emphasised, the windows [having] no ornament other than keystones’ – with its stately full-height columns, the appearance of Cound Hall (r) c.1704 has been identified as an architectural step-change regionally, influencing country house building in the county over the first three decades of the eighteenth century.4

And demand for the model would be readily met by the efficient firm of Francis and William Smith of Warwick, to whom the development of Loton Park at this time has been stylistically attributed.5


[1796] see: National Library of Wales

However, the second baronet did not fully commit to the fashion, electing instead simply to bolt a wider (nine-bay) Baroque facade onto the back of his existing seven-bay house. The centre is recessed in two shallow steps, stone quoins at the angles providing the visual columnar function of pilasters seen at the likes of Berwick House and Buntingsdale Hall.


see: Country Life


see: Country Life

At Loton, in fact, this detail would be found on the inside, new interiors such as the saloon (now dining room, left) being dominated by fluted paneling.

Sir Edward would be also be responsible for introducing two distinctive Christian names to the Leighton pedigree, second son Baldwin taking the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, his heir that of Edward’s mother, Sir Charlton Leighton succeeding as 3rd baronet in 1756. In his later years, Charlton engaged two more designers who would find particular favour among the Shropshire gentry. Precise details of the work carried out by leading architect Robert Mylne at Loton in the 1770s are unclear but his local colleague Thomas Farnolls Pritchard certainly contributed the ‘exquisite Gothick mahogany chimneypiece’ which adorns an upstairs room.3

Sir Charlton Leighton died in 1780, his unmarried son Sir Charlton (2) just four years later. The death of the latter’s bachelor half-brother, Sir Robert, 5th Bt., in 1819 would occasion the first deviation from the direct line of descent in five centuries, title and estate now reverting to a nephew of the 3rd baronet, a military veteran of the American war of independence.

lotonchristies2aGen. Sir Baldwin Leighton (pictured, aged 13) quickly set about ringing the changes at Loton, enlisting the services of prolific Shrewsbury architect Edward Haycock to remodel the south front of the house. A classical loggia was now introduced between the wings which themselves gained new (anachronistic) emphasis, with gables and mullioned and transomed windows (↓).


see: Historic England

Succeeding in 1828, the general’s son was a conscientious squire whose sense of fiscal rectitude would cause him to look askance at what he viewed as the irresponsible shortcomings of many of his peers in the county. Thwarted in his early attempts to continue the family’s parliamentary tradition – Leighton’s criminal prosecution of his own gamekeeper for alleged ‘off the book’ sale of estate game somewhat denting his popularity locally – Sir Baldwin eventually succeeded in 1858. At Westminster, similar preoccupations would earn him the sobriquet ‘Leighton Buzzard’ but also an enduring place on the Statute Book, his Poaching Prevention Act 1862 remaining in force to this day.


see: Loton Park

Sir Baldwin had married heiress Mary Parker of nearby Sweeney Hall, a talented amateur artist whose sketchbooks recorded the changes on the Loton Park estate during the couple’s tenure. The house itself was slightly enlarged, the west front being pushed out to back-fill the space behind outer bay of the Baroque facade (r). This work, and the creation of a new service range and lodges, was overseen by Thomas Jones with considerable design input from his highly engaged patrons.6

Having adopted a distinctive spelling of his name, the individual spirit of Baldwyn, Sir Baldwin’s heir, would not always meet with parental approval. “B determined to give up Sweeney & live in London,” the baronet recorded soon after his son’s marriage to Eleanor Leicester-Warren (of Tabley House in Cheshire, later inherited by the couple’s second son, Cuthbert). “I am very sorry for it, as I was in hopes by residing in the country he would gradually learn some of the duties of a landed proprietor but by living in town both he & Nelly I fear will become useless Members of Society.”7


see: Country Life

And sober Sir Baldwin might well have deemed his son’s first major intervention at Loton soon after he inherited in 1871 as a somewhat frivolous indulgence. For the house now gained a vaulting neo-Jacobean wing extending south-east from the entrance front, its dimensions determined in no small measure by the 8th baronet’s enthusiasm for amateur dramatics.


Historic England

With a proscenium arch stage (r) and ‘exquisitely painted drop curtain and scenery’, Loton’s private theatre – ‘an exceptional survival in the British Isles’6 – gained a preeminent reputation in its day ‘thanks to the energetic zeal of its host as stage manager’. By contrast, a seemingly insatiable appetite for real-life drama would drive his globe-trotting son and heir, Bryan, a turn-of-the-century action man straight out of the pages of Boy’s Own.

Just how well young Margaret Fletcher, one of the many daughters of Major John Fletcher of Saltoun Hall, understood the character of her 22-year-old bridegroom when they married in December 1890 is unclear. But within months Leighton had enlisted in the local cavalry regiment, seeing active service in South Africa during the course of his rise to the rank of captain in 1897, the year in which he also succeeded to the baronetcy and the Loton Park estate.


see: Christ Church

If Lady Leighton had entertained hopes her husband would now settle into landed life at home with their two young sons they were quickly dashed. For Sir Bryan soon began an extraordinary peripatetic freelance career, forever dashing off to where the action was. Something of a connoisseur of the art of military combat, where he could not actively participate Leighton began supplying critical observations from the front line to various national newspapers.

In the spring of 1898 he turned up in the port of New York offering his services to the Americans in their war with the Spanish over Cuba (‘A baronet here to fight’ headlined the New York Times). However, having relished the prospect of “a war carried on in an up-to-date business-like way, by two civilised nations armed with the latest modern firearms,” Sir Bryan found himself disappointed, particularly with the American command. ‘Not once during the fighting around Santiago did General Shafter visit the firing line or inspect the disposition of the American troops, “but remained three miles in rear having his head massaged in his tent.”‘8

lotonbryan2Twelve months on, Leighton’s family could learn of his exploits in various Boer War skirmishes in southern Africa via the pages of the Illustrated London News.  Later, ‘when the Russo-Japanese War began, Sir Bryan was soon upon the scene, a witness to much of the most important fighting in Manchuria’.8 And no sooner had he returned from the First Balkan War in 1913 than he was up in the air mastering the earliest fighting planes, and flinging himself from airships testing prototype parachutes.

‘He did a great deal of valuable experimental work [in World War One], and during the Zeppelin raids asked for permission to ram an enemy airship and escape by parachute. Permission was denied.’9 Back from the front in the summer of 1915 Leighton found himself in court charged with negligent driving, his car and two passengers having been ‘thrown five feet in the air’ after colliding with an army truck on London’s King’s Road. (Fined £5.)10

Ironically, after a life of adrenalised derring-do, 50-year-old Sir Bryan succumbed to a fatal bout of Spanish flu in London in 1919, having ‘selected as his place of burial the top of a rugged tor in the centre of Loton’s deer park’.11


see: Richard Dorrell

Leighton’s two sons were also combat aviators, John, the eldest, dying from his injuries having been shot down two years before. So it was that Richard, 25, now succeeded as 10th baronet, later marrying Kathleen Lees, the only daughter of his next-door neighbours at Rowton Castle (r), which would be sold in 1941 and is today a hotel.


see: VSCC/John Hallett

During World War II the deer park at Loton was requisitioned for the storage of incendiary and chemical munitions. ‘The army laid around 14 miles of roads throughout the park’; after inheriting in the late 1950s, Sir Michael Leighton ‘saw the potential and a course was created’ [aerial view]. Since 1960 vintage motorsport enthusiasts have enjoyed gatherings ‘redolent of the carefree speed trials of pre-war times’ at a venue boasting the ‘longest hill climb in England’.

Happily, however, the park’s original denizens remain in residence, Loton being ‘one of only two privately-owned deer parks still extant in Shropshire’. “I’ve looked after them since I was 21, I know them all,” the present squire once said of the 200-300 strong herd established in the first half of the 18th century and which has had ‘no incursion of new blood in living memory’.12


see: Google Maps

The lineage of 84-year-old Sir Michael Leighton, of course, comfortably outrivals that of his cervine cohabitants at Loton Park but now confronts a novel destiny. For in due course the Leighton estate will pass, for the first time in 800 years, into the female line, the 11th baronet’s only daughter set to inherit all. Well, not quite all. Ironically, after a lifetime of sterling conservation work at Loton and beyond (notably towards preservation of the Welsh red kite13) Sir Michael finds himself an endangered species, his 1693 baronetcy the latest of that titular rank to be facing extinction…

[Loton Park][GII* listing]

1. Daily Mail 22 July, 2003.
2. Leighton, S. Shropshire houses past and present, 1901.
3. Newman, J., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
4. Mercer, E. English architecture to 1900: the Shropshire experience, 2003.
5. Gomme, A. Smith of Warwick, 2000.
6. Musson, J. The joy of sunflowers, Country Life 3 Dec, 2014.
7. Walsh, V. The diary of a country gentleman: Sir Baldwin Leighton, Bt. Trans. of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, Vol.LIX, Pt.2, 1971/2.
8. Ranson, E. Baronet on the battlefield: Sir Bryan Leighton in Cuba, Journal of American Studies, Vol.9, No.1, Apr 1975.
9. Daily Mail 20 Jan, 1919.
10. Daily Telegraph 20 July, 1915.
11. The Times 25 Jan, 1919.
12. The Field 1 Sept, 2008.
13. Musson, J. The kite runner, Country Life 11 Jun, 2008.
See also: Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Family seats: no.97 Loton Park, The Field 16 Aug, 1986


Mulgrave Castle, Yorkshire

The situation of the House, I did not frame; nor had I any hand in ye Building; I think both soe fine, I should think it is too good for any private Body to live in.”1


see: Royal Collection

Writing in 1723 to Mrs. Henrietta Howard (the then mistress of the Prince of Wales, later George II), Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham was actively marketing the London home built by her late husband as a residence altogether better suited to such as the family of the heir to the throne. John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham (d.1721), had named the handsome early-18th century mansion abutting the western end of St. James’s Park after himself.

Buckingham House (↑) would indeed be acquired by the royal family but not until some eighteen years after the duchess’s death and for a sum substantially less than half that of her suggested £60,000 valuation.

As she rarely allowed anyone to forget, Katherine (nee Darnley) was in fact herself of ‘the royal blood’, numbering among the many illegitimate offspring of James II. While she is today a relatively obscure historical figure doubtless the duchess would be exceedingly gratified by her prominence within the recently opened Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries wherein the ‘greatest treasures’ of Westminster Abbey are now on permanent display.


see: Westminster Abbey

Amongst the Abbey’s ‘unsurpassed collection of remarkable yet little-known’ life-sized funeral effigies, the Duchess of Buckingham stands beside that of her three-year-old son, Robert. Remarkably preserved and ‘wearing the finest clothes money could buy in the early 18th century’, Robert was the middle of the Buckinghams’ three sons, all of whom died young. In consequence of their premature demise, as stipulated in the duke’s will (unsuccessfully challenged by his widow), Buckingham House passed to his bastard son, Charles Sheffield, after Katherine’s death.

Had any of their boys reached adulthood the destiny of a later house, the situation of which the duchess did frame and take ‘a hand in ye building’ of – Mulgrave Hall, near Whitby in Yorkshire’s North Riding – might also have been quite different. As it was, in 1743 this property descended to her 21-year-old grandson Constantine Phipps whose mother, Lady Catherine Annesley, was the product of Katherine Darnley’s brief unhappy first marriage to the 3rd earl of Anglesey. Today Mulgrave Castle (as it was later styled) is owned by his direct descendant Constantine Phipps, 5th Marquess of Normanby.


see: Britain From Above

“Our home in Yorkshire is cut off from the rest of the world by the sea on one side and the moors on the other,” Lord Normanby, 65, told the Financial Times in 2014. This detachment is reinforced by the dimensions of the Mulgrave Estate – some 15,000 partially accessible acres – which has more than doubled since the end of the 19th Century. While the house, too, has undergone similar expansion (by John Soane and others) since the Duchess of Buckingham’s time, it remains entirely private, the heart of an inheritance dating to 1591.



see: British Museum

Three years after heroic service as the precocious 24-year-old captain of his ship The Bear and its 500-man crew in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Lord Edmund Sheffield (left) would be granted the manor of Mulgrave by the crown. Raised to the peerage as Earl of Mulgrave in 1626, incredibly, despite producing twenty children by two wives, Edmund had no surviving son at his death twenty years on. By contrast, his namesake grandson would be succeeded as 3rd earl by his only son John Sheffield, later 1st Duke of Buckingham.

The duke’s public life combined two facets common to Mulgrave squires down the ages: naval service and a literary bent.


see: National Maritime Museum

Despite cultivating friendships with the likes of John Dryden (with whom he would indeed collaborate), Sheffield was frankly out of his league in such company, remembered as ‘superficial in everything, even in poetry, which was his forte’ by Alexander Pope. And while he had ‘served gallantly‘ at sea from a young age, it was commonly held that Sheffield’s real metier was playing the court. But here, too, his bumptious self-confidence seemingly ruffled (royal) feathers. In 1680 he was put in command of a fleet to relieve the English garrison at Tangier ‘to get him out of the way, as he was making love to the Princess Anne’.2

This relationship would prove fruitful two decades on, however, Sheffield being granted both a dukedom and also permission to build Buckingham House in a plum spot by Queen Anne within a year of her ascent to the throne. A late starter in the matrimonial stakes, the duke was nearly sixty when in 1706 he married his third widow, Katherine Darnley being the only one to bear him children. Sometime between her husband’s death and that of their longest-lived child in 1735, the duchess commissioned a new house on the Sheffields’ Yorkshire estate.


see: Google Maps

Later altered and enlarged, scant information about the ‘rectangular three-storey house‘ erected above the densely wooded creeks running to the coastal village of Sandsend survives but ‘the core of the building is still quite evident’.3 This property would represent a sizeable chunk of the inheritance of Katherine’s heir, grandson Constantine Phipps, whose marriage she was to hastily engineer in cahoots with the father of the bride John, Lord Hervey, shortly before her death in 1743. ‘They sent for the boy but the day before from Oxford, and bedded them at a day’s notice,’ reported Horace Walpole.

The Phipps’ had risen from relatively humble beginnings. Constantine’s namesake grandfather, the scholarly son of a Reading tavern owner, crowned a legal career with his appointment as Lord Chancellor of Ireland (and a knighthood) in 1710, having married the daughter of Charles II’s attorney-general on the way up. An Irish peerage would come the way of his grandson, Constantine (2) being created Baron Mulgrave in 1767.


see: National Portrait Gallery

By the time he succeeded as 2nd baron aged 31 in 1775, Mulgrave’s son Constantine (3) was already a veteran of naval campaigns in the West Indies and North America, and had recently helmed a pioneering (if ultimately thwarted) Arctic expedition in search of a north-west passage to India. Continued military preoccupations both active and political seem to have retarded consideration of marriage until middle age. “Seventeen and forty-seven is a little disparity, but it is her choice,” wrote a friend of Phipps’s youthful eventual spouse, Elizabeth Cholmley, who was to die giving birth to their daughter within a year of the event.


see source

Barely dry on the wall, Thomas Gainsborough’s 1787 portrait of Constantine’s tragic bride now adorned a freshly enlarged Mulgrave Hall, the house having been ‘modernized in preparation’ for family life. ‘A potentially interesting commission’ (right) for architect John Soane was in the event somewhat attenuated, ‘his client unerringly [choosing] the dullest of options’ for symmetrical wing extensions to the Duchess of Buckingham’s original house.4 However, in addition to the present library, drawing and dining rooms, ‘two of Soane’s finest interiors survive within: the domed ante-room adjacent to the remodelled early-18th century staircase, and a first floor barrel-vaulted lobby’.5


see: Mulgrave Estate

(Mulgrave’s ‘massive walled garden, with chimneys and flues on all sides to service glasshouses which wrapped around virtually the entire perimeter’, has also been attributed to Soane.4 Its elaborate heating system was redundant within years but extensive greenhouses remain, some ‘kept frost-free in winter, a luxurious and increasingly rare practice allowing a wide range of exotics to be cultivated’. Part of a long-evolved project, ‘the gardens at Mulgrave Castle are rare survivors from a period when the grand homes of the aristocracy were powerhouses of horticultural prowess. Rarer still because Mulgrave remains in private ownership and closed to the public’.*)

The death of the 2nd baron in October 1792 interrupted plans to improve the wider grounds of the house, ameliorating and enhancing its exposed situation. Humphry Repton had inspected Mulgrave in September of that year; ten months on he would be asked by Constantine’s heir, his brother Henry, to consolidate his thoughts and proposals in the form of a trademark Red Book (↓).


see source

Lauding the potential of Mulgrave’s abundant inherent advantages, Repton’s opening remarks included an apology for the fact that his submissions would perforce be based upon an inexact recall of his visit. One thing he had clearly not forgotten, however, was the last leg of the journey: “Every attempt to improve the natural beauties of Mulgrave must be in vain, unless we can render the place accessible by a safe and convenient approach: this can hardly be said to exist at present, since the road from Whitby is always tedious from the heaviness of the sands, and often dangerous from the uncertainty of the tides.”6

Repton suggested instead “such lines of approach..as may display the beauties of the place, and excite admiration without terror”. He also urged the objective of cohesion through strategic tree-planting which would in turn permit walks, rides and framed vistas of such as Old Mulgrave Castle (a medieval ruin 1km south-west of the house), Whitby Abbey and the sea.

While the broad thrust (if not the precise details) of Repton’s Red Book would eventually be adopted by Henry Phipps – and indeed is still actively informing the management of Mulgrave’s 850-acre parkland to this day – little would be done for almost two decades. In the meantime work commenced to remedy a situation which had perplexed the famous landscape designer: “The new mansion has been called Mulgrave Castle without any symptom of a Castle form, or even a crenellated appearance to warrant the appellation.”

In 1805 Henry, 3rd baron (later 1st Earl of Mulgrave), reached the zenith of his military and political career, being appointed Foreign Secretary under William Pitt the Younger.


see: Ken Stanford

At the same time he now engaged architect William Atkinson (whose ‘long suit was Picturesque Tudor/Gothic’) who proceeded to create the profile and footprint of Mulgrave Castle as it stands today.7 Extending the house northwards, Atkinson introduced towers, turrets and a projecting entrance, while the entire house would be fringed with castellations.

When Henry’s son and heir Constantine (4) came of age in 1818, the earl saw to it that he now replaced his brother Edmund as MP for Scarborough. But to his Tory father’s displeasure Constantine’s liberal tendencies quickly revealed themselves and within two years uncle Edmund was back, his nephew beating a retreat to Tuscany (which over time would become his second home).


see: Art UK

The earl had already had an indication of his son’s independence of mind, meeting a young Constantine’s impetuous written proposal of marriage to an Irish actress with threats of disinheritance. While abroad, Viscount Normanby (the courtesy title by which he was known) authored the first of several works, including four romantic novels, which he would publish anonymously. ‘There is a mysterious novel come out [Matilda] which I am convinced is Normanby’s,’ wrote a contemporary, ‘except that it is very well written, with considerable talent, which exceeds my estimate of his powers.’ Similar scepticism would attend Constantine’s subsequent political and diplomatic career.


see: Ken Stanford

Returning to Britain, Normanby was soon back in the House of Commons, voting in 1828  ‘to condemn the misapplication of public money for building work at Buckingham House’ by King George IV, nominal ‘repairs’ which would turn the home of his forebears into the present-day royal palace. Though succeeding to Mulgrave in 1831 the new squire was soon on his travels. Serving variously as governor of Jamaica, lord-lieutenant of Ireland and ambassador to France, detractors would characterise his diplomacy as ‘indiscreet and blundering’. The duke of Wellington was seemingly no fan either, regarding the (by now) Marquess of Normanby ‘s appointment as Home Secretary as ‘very bad and very foolish’.8


see: Morgan Library

(Soon after coming into his estate Normanby had pruned Mulgrave’s art collection, the sale including a dozen works by Sir David Wilkie of whom his father had been a significant patron; portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds were among later-19th century dispersals. Foremost among the survivors of these periodic culls is ‘Rembrandt’s first masterpiece‘, Judas Returning the 30 Pieces of Silver (1629, r), one of the very few major works by the artist in private hands in UK.)

In 1858 the marquess would be recalled from what turned out to be his final foreign posting, to Florence, his stance on European affairs now at variance with London. ‘Everybody liked him, nobody can well say why,’ remarked one obituary at his death five years later whereupon his only son George promptly resigned his post as lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia and returned to Yorkshire. But the lure of abroad remained as strong for the 2nd marquess, not least because the salary of a colonial administrator comfortably outstripped his income from the Mulgrave estate. Most of his last two decades would be spent down under, governing New Zealand and various Australian states.8


see: MorganFourman

Meanwhile, his son and heir Constantine (5) had also been busy administering, if only to his flock in the decidedly less exotic parish of Worsley, near Manchester. However, soon after Reverend the 3rd Marquess of Normanby succeeded in 1890 he set about repurposing Mulgrave as an exclusive prep school, providing personal mentoring to a favoured few. After a dozen years this project came to an end for the least anticipated of reasons when in 1903 the 57-year-old ‘parson peer, [hitherto] considered a confirmed bachelor’, took a wife…9


see: Hartlepool History

… twenty-four years his junior, Miss Gertrude Foster, of Moor Park near Ludlow. The widowed marchioness welcomed young evacuees (left) to Mulgrave at the outbreak of the Second World War. Oswald, the last of the couple’s three children (and only son), had just turned twenty when he became the 4th marquess of Normanby in 1932.


see: Geni

Bizarrely, the WWII prisoner-of-war veteran would face an unexpected challenge to his right to the title during his wedding ceremony at Lythe village church in 1951 when an interloping engineer from Newcastle piped up to claim ‘just cause or impediment’ on behalf of his own father.10 Surviving this intervention to become the new marchioness, Grania Guinness (r) – who died last year – was an heiress of the brewing dynasty, inheriting her father Lord Moyne’s faux-medieval Baillifscourt in Sussex after his assassination in 1941.


see: Lost Heritage

The couple would finally sell that 1,000-acre property in 1974 five years after their acquisition of another, much closer to home and more than ten times the size. Subsequently demolishing ‘amid little protest the unmanageable Victorian monstrosity’ at the heart of Warter Priory (left), this estate 50 miles due south of Mulgrave was itself sold by the present marquess for £48 million in 1998.11

‘If you need to dynamite a country house, do it early on Monday morning,’ Oswald once advised a friend.

mulgetchAt Mulgrave, ‘a Victorian wing of c.1880’ would be the only part of the Castle to receive such treatment as the couple set about extensive renovations to house and estate.3 The marchioness was particularly engaged: ‘As well as having the castle redecorated, she collected lost pictures, filled gaps in the library and made a garden.’12


see source

Labelled the ‘Red Marquess’ as a sometime member of Labour administrations in the House of Lords, Oswald’s extensive public life included a ‘brilliant’ period as chair of the National Art Collections Fund. However, ‘he did not understand ‘heritage’ in the modern sense. Normanby did not believe that he was a custodian of national property, but that, on the contrary, Mulgrave belonged to his family. No National Trust functionary ever went through the hall doors, no Country Life intellectuals ever hissed proprietorially, no tourists queued, baying for tea, against scarlet ropes’.13


see: Francis Roberts

And this philosophy broadly continues under his son, occasional novelist Constantine Phipps (6), the 5th Marquess of Normanby who succeeded in 1994. While Mulgrave remains essentially private and ‘is not a massively commercial enterprise’ its roster of tenants includes a gin distillery and piano makers by royal appointment, meanwhile the estate itself continues to evolve (left), pursuing an active programme of residential property development home and abroad, and significant philanthropy.

Married to fellow writer Nicola Shulman, the marquess ‘divides his time between Yorkshire and London’ where the family have two handsome Chelsea residences including Argyll House halfway along the Kings Road (↓).


see: Google Maps

Architect Giacomo Leoni’s well-preserved ‘little country house of my invention’ was created in 1723, the year which also saw the death of Constantine Phipps (1) whose son William had married the Duchess of Buckingham’s daughter five years before.14 The demise (in 1735) of the duchess’s longest-lived son Edmund, 19 – whose uniquely recumbent effigy can also be seen in Westminster Abbey – would beget not only the Phipps’ enduring association with Mulgrave Castle but also that of the royal family and the most famous house in the land…

[Mulgrave Estate][Map][Heritage statement]

1. Add MS 22627, British Library.
2. Cokayne, G.E.C. The complete peerage, 1910-59.
3. Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Yorkshire, the North Riding, 1966.
4. Darley, G. John Soane : an accidental romantic, 1999.
5. Dean, P. Sir John Soane and the country estate, 2018.
6. Eyres, P., Lynch, K. On the spot: Yorkshire Red Books of Humphry Repton, 2018.
7. Hussey, C. English country houses: Late Georgian 1800-40, 1958.
8. Davenport-Hines, R. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2008.
9. Sheffield Telegraph, 26 Aug 1932.
10. The Times, 1 Feb 1994.
11. Country Life, 26 Mar 1998.
12. The Times, 7 Feb 2018.
13. The Independent, 3 Feb 1994.
14. Gomme, Sir L., Norman, P. (Eds.) Survey of London Vol. IV, 1913.

Melbury House, Dorset

Coming very soon to a cinema near you, Downton Abbey the movie – perhaps an inevitable development given the international success of the television franchise which ran to fifty-two episodes over the course of five years. Not forgetting, of course, Downton Abbey the board game (see below)! Although the conventional costume drama depicting the fortunes of the aristocratic Crawley family and their household is entirely fictional, its scenarios are rooted in the common experience of many British country house estates.

melbgameThe themes of Series One, for instance – primogeniture, the premature demise of male heirs and the significance of the daughters of the house – find echoes in the history of Melbury House and the Ilchester Estate in Dorset. And one person you probably wouldn’t want to find yourself playing that board game with is Melbury’s present owner who is not, these days, an earl of Ilchester.


see: Google Maps

Today Robin Fox-Strangways, the 10th of that ilk, lives on this road in rural Warwickshire and not – unlike most of his predecessors – at grade I Melbury, ‘one of the most remarkable houses in south-west England’ and the centrepiece of the 15,000-acre Ilchester Estate.1


see: Google Maps

The 10th earl might perhaps compare notes with John Monckton-Arundell, the 13th Viscount Galway, who lives on this suburban road in Toronto, Canada, and not, as most of  his predecessors had, at the ancestral seat, grade I Serlby Hall set in 3,000 north Nottinghamshire acres (), created by architect James Paine for the 1st viscount in 1751. In fact both house and land would be sold in the 1980s as surplus to requirements since..

.. over the course of the preceding decades the slings and arrows of fortune had conspired such that both the Ilchester and Galway estates had devolved to just one woman, the present Mrs. Charlotte Townshend.


see: Rumblefish

The premature death at just 41 of the 9th Viscount Galway in 1971 would see the decoupling of title and estate, Charlotte, his only child, ultimately inheriting the latter (left), the title going to a series of cousins. Viscount Galway was married to Teresa Fox-Strangways who had similarly benefited in 1964 as the only surviving child of the 7th Earl of Ilchester. She died in 1989, daughter Charlotte now also becoming principal beneficiary of the Ilchester estate.

But all this was nothing new for Melbury. After the demise of the Strangways male line in 1726, ‘inheritance by two heiresses in succession meant that women played an unusually important part in shaping the destiny of [this] house and estate in the 18th century‘.2 The big headline from Country Life magazine’s primogeniture survey of 2011 (‘Daughters are beginning to inherit‘) demonstrated that Melbury has long been ahead of this particular curve.

Uncannily foreshadowing the tragedies which would befall the 7th earl over two hundred years later, the two sons of 18th-century Melbury heiress Susanna Strangways died young leaving just a daughter. In stealthily engineering thirteen-year-old Elizabeth’s marriage to the son of wealthy Sir Stephen Fox (‘one of the great arrivistes of the 17th Century’3) Susanna would unwittingly gold-plate the Ilchester inheritance, a cousinly connection with the Foxs/Lords Holland later yielding the Holland House estate in west London.

melbroadsigns‘Residential property on Ilchester Place is the most expensive in the country,’ it was reported last year. This landholding now amounts to a mere twenty-or-so acres but they – more so even than 15,000 glorious acres of Dorset – explain how private Melbury and its vast park ‘have been kept up as well and as fully as in the past’.4 And more directly they account for Charlotte Townshend’s ranking in the Sunday Times Rich List which, at £456m in 2019, is comfortably north of, er, the Queen’s.


Harpers & Queen March 1990

Being ‘the only other person in Britain entitled to own swans‘, Townshend’s ‘near monarchical existence (she never carries money)’ became the object of print media fascination in the late 1980s and early ’90s, a curiosity then as now largely frustrated by the landowner’s ‘low key’, determinedly traditional custodianship of her more than 500-year-old inheritance.


The Moncktons, viscounts Galway, became ‘Monckton-Arundell‘ after a legacy of 1769. Although Charlotte, only child of the 9th viscount, did not carry the latter half of her father’s name prior to marriage, being an ‘Arundell’ in fact redoubled her connection with the original builder of her maternal inheritance (and present home), Melbury House. For Sir Giles Strangways (d.1547) was the son and heir of Henry Strangways by his first wife, Dorothy, the daughter of Sir John Arundell of Lanherne.

But it was Henry’s third marriage to Catherine Brouning which would introduce the Strangways to the manor of Melbury Sampford (midway between Dorchester and Yeovil), Henry purchasing the reversion of the Brouning estate from his wife’s nephew in 1500. Dying just four years later, this Dorset acquisition may have been a late addition to a legacy which now included ‘property in eight counties’ but it would become, in the latter half of Henry VIII’s reign, the place where his son and heir Giles elected to build a house. And not just any house.

melbbelvcolourDisplaying ‘influences beyond the local vernacular, one has to turn to the Tudor royal palaces for architectural parallels’.1 The square courtyard principal block was of a ‘regularity in advance of its time’.6 While the other facades of the house were later to be significantly refashioned, ‘the west range [remains] largely untouched’ (right), Melbury’s crowning 16th-century feature, the hexagonal tower and viewing lantern, rising from a cross wing at its centre.1 ‘Without a peer for prominence,’7 the belvedere ‘must have been one of the first erected in England’.6

Knighted at 30, Sir Giles ‘spent a lifetime in the service of the crown’ and was well placed to expand his landholding in the county by snapping up the coastal estate of the former Abbotsbury Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Chesil Beach

see: Dorset Rambler


see: Abbotsbury Swannery

Most of 18-mile Chesil Beach, and Abbotsbury village with its unique swannery and subtropical garden, remain in the family.

Giles Strangways lost his son Henry as the pair fought the French at the siege of Boulogne but he lived just long enough to see his grandson satisfactorily married. Alas, the second Sir Giles Strangways ‘lived – and died – extravagantly. In June 1555 he surrendered himself to the Fleet to avoid outlawry for debts that included over £100 to two London tailors. When he died in his early thirties in 1562, he left his widow with at least six children under 21.’ But the family estates were to be most seriously imperiled two generations on.

Wadham College Chapel

see: Trover

Things began rather propitiously for young John Strangways who inherited 6,000 acres of Dorset and Somerset upon coming of age in 1606, becoming ‘Sir John’ two years later and joint-heir of wealthy Nicholas Wadham in 1609. (The latter’s will would also lead to the founding of Wadham College, Oxford, the chapel of which still features the east window donated by Strangways, right.)

unknown artist; Sir John Strangways, MP

see: Art UK

At Westminster during the reign of Charles I, Sir John (left) did his bit to try to shore up ‘that chain which links and unites the hearts and affections of the prince and people together’, but which would eventually snap with the outbreak of the Civil War. Though he was a relatively moderate Royalist Strangways languished for two years in Tower of London, the price of the return of his freedom and sequestrated estates being an eye-watering ten thousand pounds. Sir John died in 1666.

Less than nine years on, the ‘sudden death from a stroke of his rubicund, hearty son Giles ought not to have surprised anyone: Strangways’ accounts for sack and sherry had long been Falstaffian’. And the demise of Giles’ first-born just a year later would have lasting impact as the ensuing tenure of his younger son Thomas would be most notable for a major overhaul of the character of Melbury House…


see: Historic England

… where a large family portrait was soon to dominate the landing of a new principal stair. In the background Melbury is depicted in a more radicial treatment (minus the tower) than would in fact be executed. Also to be found in Melbury’s art collection is the likeness of one ‘Mr. Watson, architect to Tho. Strangways esq, who enlarged & adorned this house 1692‘. Being the otherwise distinctly obscure John Watson, a local practicioner selected for the task of giving the Tudor house a contemporary makeover.

melbchristies1The north and south fronts received near-identical treatment (r), five two-storey bays defined by stacked pilasters being squeezed between the existing gable ends. The east front, however, was entirely rebuilt, the result being described variously as ‘delightfully provincial confusion’7 or ‘maldroit artisan Baroque’.8 Fronting three new rooms including a 5-bay hall was ‘a Classical facade of 11 bays with an overly narrow central section and a pediment which uncomfortably fails to span the full width’.(↓)1


see: Historic England

While certain important earlier features, including an elaborate 17th-century fireplace, would be preserved, ‘much internally is of the Watson period’, including a pair of Grinling melbceilingGibbons-like carved overmantels in the hall and several spectacular painted ceilings.7

Thomas Strangways died in 1713, his childless heir Thomas jnr. thirteen years later at which point Melbury was inherited by the latter’s sisters, Elizabeth and Susanna. Spinster Elizabeth, 36, suddenly became attractive to the 5th Duke of Hamilton; the success of their marriage can perhaps be gauged by the complete absence of the duke from his wife’s will following her death less than two years after the event. Having unusual autonomy over her own property, Elizabeth now bequeathed her stake in the Strangways estate to her sister and with the express proviso that her brother-in-law was in no way to ‘intermedle’ therewith.2

In the year of their father’s death Susanna had married Thomas Horner (of Mells in Somerset) but this union, likewise – notwithstanding the birth of three children – was an unhappy one. Flexing her newly enhanced financial muscle, soon after her sister’s death Susanna took herself off to Europe for several years, Elizabeth (the couple’s only surviving child) in tow, leaving her increasingly vexed husband behind. Whilst abroad Susanna would strike up an ambiguous relationship with Henry Fox, later 1st Baron Holland, a younger son of Sir Stephen Fox (who had risen ‘to immense wealth and public prominence from humble origins’ at the court of Charles II).


see: National Trust

The pair would persuade Henry’s eligible elder brother Stephen, 31 (left, seated), hitherto distracted by a decade-long homosexual relationship with John, Lord Hervey (second right), to regularise his lifestyle by secretly marrying the now 13-year-old Elizabeth in 1735. (William Hogarth painted this conversation piece for both men; Fox’s version remains at Melbury.) The marital fait accompli was the final ignominy for Elizabeth’s father who would go to his grave unreconciled in 1741.


see: Historic England

The following year, with her daughter now satisfactorily ensconced as mistress of the Fox seat at Redlynch less than thirty miles to the north, a liberated Susanna threw herself into projects at Melbury. Most particularly, the surrounding parkland received a significant (if somewhat passe) overhaul. Avenues would be incised through woodland providing ‘wild walks’ culminating in splendid vistas while water courses were manipulated to create cascades. All of which could be contemplated in repose from an existing garden house newly tricked out in fashionable Gothick style (r).8

Her son-in-law having been raised to the peerage in 1741, two years before her death Susannah would have the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth’s status elevated to that of countess, Stephen Fox being created 1st Earl of Ilchester in 1756. The couple now exchanged Redlynch for Melbury House (and later a new mansion – Elizabeth’s ‘Pin-money Castle’ – at Abbotsbury, since demolished) where the countess would indulge her love of card games for up to eight hours a day.2

Beach, Thomas, 1738-1806; Henry Thomas Fox-Strangways (1747-1802), 2nd Earl of Ilchester

see: National Trust

To what extent this habit influenced their son and heir Henry’s proclivity for gambling is unclear; the 2nd earl routinely lost thousands in an evening at the tables. After his mother’s death in 1792, Henry relocated not just his family but also some choice furnishings from Redlynch to Melbury: Mortlake tapestries now adorned the Breakfast Room, with surplus items from the two houses being dispersed in a sale in 1801. The 2nd earl died the following year and ‘Redlynch would never be lived in again by the family’ (the 4,400-acre estate finally being sold for £97,000 in 1912).2


see source

Squire of Melbury for half a century Henry, 3rd Earl of Ilchester, picked up the loose ends of his father’s upheavals, restoring “all the old-fashioned grandeur”, but was himself disinclined towards major change.2 Both sons predeceasing him, Henry’s 62-year-old half-brother William inherited as 4th earl in 1858 after a lifetime in the diplomatic service. Dying childless seven years later, the 4th earl’s young nephew, Henry Fox-Strangways now succeeded to the title and a 20,000-acre portfolio which was soon to a receive an initially burdensome but potentially valuable south-eastern supplement.


In 1768 Susanna Strangway’s erstwhile favourite Henry Fox, now Lord Holland, had acquired a 200-acre estate not far from royal Kensington Palace west of London complete with an imposing Jacobean mansion, Holland House. Legendary entertaining therein by later generations drained the family coffers, however, and from the 1820s the parkland would be steadily eroded by leasehold residential development.

melbShawUltimately, the widow of the 4th Baron Holland brokered the sale of the estate to her husband’s kinsman Henry, 5th Earl of Ilchester, who soon initiated further bespoke building work on the heavily-mortgaged property. From 1875 a series of large houses ‘designed by leading architects for successful artists’ would be erected on the north side of Kensington High Street.9 Holland House itself was preserved only to be destroyed in WWII. While the surviving parkland was sold to London Corporation and remains a prized public amenity, the very exclusive real estate has been retained. (‘Written consent is required from the Ilchester Estate for any external alteration to the appearance of your house’ – Holland Park Conservation Area Appraisal 2017).


This metropolitan focus had occasioned an interruption to the expansionist 5th earl’s programme of substantial developments at Melbury, which eventually ‘doubled the size of the house’. In 1872 architect Anthony Salvin had removed the conservatory in the south-west corner and added a cavernous gable-roofed library extending from the short transverse tudor wing on the west front.



Twelve years on George Devey warmed to this theme, adding a second tower (above), a service range abutting the library and a port-cochere to the right of the north (entrance) front with an enclosed courtyard beyond, all in ‘stage set’ Jacobethan style.1


see: NPG

Dying in 1905, the 5th earl’s half-century at Melbury would be precisely matched by his son, the reserved but ‘engagingly frivolous’ family historian Giles (left, d.1959), at which point the reins were handed over to his own son, Edward.10 But the ill-starred 7th earl outlived his father by only five years having already endured double tragedy with the loss of both sons. In 1947 a fatal accident while cycling home from shooting grey squirrels in the woods had claimed 13-year-old Giles. Eleven years on, younger son Stephen, 20, was shot in the back by Greek terrorists in Cyprus just weeks from the end of his National Service.

Thus in 1964 the Ilchester estate passed to Edward Fox-Strangways’s remaining daughter Theresa (by this time Viscountess Galway), the earldom drifting away to distant male relations.


Tatler [January 2014]

As outlined earlier, at the 9th viscount’s premature death his Serlby Hall estate was placed in trust for the couple’s only child Charlotte who, by the time she additionally came into Melbury in 1989, had already married and divorced her first husband, Guy, the father of Melbury’s present heir, Simon Morrison (b.1984, right).


see: Dorset Magazine


see: Hampshire Chronicle

Melbury’s chatelaine – seen, left, in the Salvin library – was remarried to industrial farmer and fellow hunting enthusiast James Townshend (r) in 1995. The following year saw the arrival of their daughter, rising eventer Melissa Townshend

… and also the departure of several hundred of Melbury’s ‘accumulated contents no longer in use’.11 Now a single sock could perhaps be regarded as the epitome of redundancy. But spared from inclusion in the decluttering Christie’s auction was ‘one of the socks worn by Napoleon I at the time of his death’..


Hogarth’s ‘The Indian Emperor’

.. said item being among 497 ‘heritage assets’ at Melbury House qualified for exemption from Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax with the proviso they are made available ‘for the general public to view’. The annual Heritage Open Days festival provides strictly limited opportunity to see some of Melbury’s Old Master-laden rooms – ‘the 18th Century at its most sumptuous and civilized’4 – and, maybe, the odd sock…

[Ilchester Estates]

1. Hill, M. West Dorset country houses, 2014.
2. Martin, J. Wives and daughters: women & children in the Georgian country house, 2004.
3. Beckett, JV. The aristocracy in England 1660-1914, 1986.
4. Cecil, D. Some Dorset country houses: a personal selection, 1985.
5. Daily Mail 7 June, 1995.
6. Oswald, A. Country houses of Dorset, 1959.
7. Hill, M., Newman, J., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Dorset, 2018.
8. Mowl, T. Historic gardens of Dorset, 2003.
9. Sheppard, FHW (ed.) Survey of London: North Kensington, 1973.
10. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2004.
11. Russell, F. The Melbury sale, Christie’s 14 Oct, 1996.


Wedding presents can be a tricky business at the best of times. For 31-year-old bachelor Sir Stephen Glynne, the unworldly squire of the Hawarden Castle estate in north Wales, this occasional quandary would be exacerbated in the summer of 1839 by the decision of his two sisters to celebrate their nuptials by way of a joint wedding ceremony. Youngest sibling Mary was betrothed to the 4th Lord Lyttleton, already possessed of his magnificent family seat, Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, while Catherine was to marry a young politician beginning to make his mark at Westminster, William Ewart Gladstone.

Though naturally averse to such occasions, with their attendant “excitement and want of quiescence”, Sir Stephen thought he had hit on just the thing, gifting his sisters one share each in a company newly established to exploit the mineral reserves on a small landholding he owned in Staffordshire.1 Encouraged by his optimistic business manager Glynne anticipated tidy dividends, yielding pin money for his sisters year after year.

But, disastrously, the gift that was intended to keep on giving quite quickly turned into a financial black hole, unlimited liabilities on the failing enterprise threatening to sink the Hawarden estate and take the family down with it. William Gladstone’s beyond-the-call-of-duty commitment to the salvation of his wife’s heritage would prove a crash course in economics for the future prime minister, lessons learned promptly informing his first stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Fast-forward 170 years…


see: YouTube

“It was like doing a really meaty MBA,” the present-day custodian of Hawarden Castle recalled recently (r), reflecting on an ill-judged over-expansion of Pedlars, his well-established vintage homewares business. While it may have been “a disaster”, Charlie Gladstone – aka Sir Charles Gladstone, 8th Baronet – would appear to share the durable, energetic character of his illustrious Victorian forebear, Pedlars being just one of many creative enterprises these days associated with their mutual home, Hawarden (pro. Harden).


see: donna butler

“I don’t think you have an obligation to know the history,” Gladstone contended last year, an approach born partly of the fact that grade 1 listed Hawarden, with its ‘first rank Georgian interiors’ and Temple of Peace (the perfectly preserved former study of the 19th century’s preeminent statesman), has never opened to the public. “Castellated and very well done, no pretensions inside to anything but comfort,” noted a visitor in 1831, “just the sort of place one would like to have.”2

And a far cry from the ‘Hawarden Castle’ first acquired by the Glynne family, which was little more than a freshly wrecked shell…


see: Coflein

… its slighting by parliamentary forces in the Civil War being a lesser price paid by James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, for his Royalist allegiance. Stanley was executed in 1651; two years later his sequestrated Hawarden estate was opportunistically purchased by Welsh MP John Glynne, ‘a skilful lawyer and industrious parliamentarian’ whose star had risen during the Protectorate.3 ‘A phenomenal committee man,’ Glynne would tack deftly towards the restoration of the monarchy over time, his lucrative private practice all the while thriving. Glynne’s evident prosperity at such a time did little for his popularity, however, and sympathy was in short supply when ‘he added to the gaiety of the coronation by falling off his horse during the procession’.


see: National Trust

Though they would eventually see off legal challenges by the Stanleys to their acquisition of Hawarden, the 680 Welsh acres seemingly held little intrinsic appeal for John Glynne (left, d.1666) and his immediate heirs, his son Sir William, 1st Bt., and eldest grandson preferring their estate at Ambrosden, Oxfordshire. But not long after succeeding his brother as 3rd baronet, Sir Stephen Glynne decided to cash out of Oxfordshire and relocate his growing brood to north Wales, a strategy not entirely unrelated to the presence there…

… of a young child named Honora Conway.

In 1723 Honora was the five-year-old orphaned heiress of the Broadlane estate immediately adjacent to Hawarden and complete not with a ruin but a substantial Hall which the Glynne family would rent. Though his sons were somewhat older, a convenient long-range alliance cannot have been far from Sir Stephen’s thoughts. And, lo – despite the deaths in quick succession of the 3rd baronet and his two eldest sons over a period of eighteen months – it duly came to pass that 19-year-old Sir John Glynne, 6th Bt., married 14-year-old Honora Conway in 1731, thereby instantly doubling the extent of the Hawarden estate.


see: National Library of Wales

‘In 1732 I commenced planting in Broadlane,’ the young squire recorded, the progress of his geometric imparking of the land north and west of the Hall captured some eight years on in Thomas Badeslade’s exaggerated engraving.2

The couple would also be seriously preoccupied with raising a family at this time. The practical realities of rearing fourteen children (despite several not reaching adulthood), allied with other commitments, ensured that it would be two decades before any notion of replacing their old house could seriously entertained. But a 1757 portrait by Thomas Hudson of Sir John and Lady Glynne, he with a scrolled architectural plan in his right hand, celebrated the fact that just such a project was by then nearing completion.


see: National Library of Wales [p.101]

Artist Moses Griffith’s illustration for fellow North Walian Thomas Pennant’s ‘Tour’ published in 1778 shows the tall Georgian box which now replaced the original gabled iteration of Broadlane Hall. Though it would be stylistically overwhelmed externally half a century later, the work of builder/architect Samuel Turner of Whitchurch still ‘forms the nucleus of the present building’.4


Country Life


see: Tatler

‘Excellent classical interiors’4 include a cantilevered stone staircase, its landing (left) decorated with ‘bold, sophisticated plasterwork’, while the drawing room features ‘the best ceiling in the house’.5

Sir John’s eldest surviving son was the 32-year-old rector of Hawarden when he succeeded his father in 1777. Fatefully, during the Rev Sir Sir Stephen Glynne’s brief tenure as squire – before his sudden expiry in the hunting field at Enville Hall in the spring of 1780 – the 7th baronet would take a wife. Among the landed assets yielded by his alliance with heiress Mary Bennett was an unremarkable 100-acre property called Oak Farm, at Kingswinsford in Staffordshire; unwittingly, the seed of Hawarden’s near-destruction was sown.

Sir Stephen had also sown a seed of his own, however, his heavily-pregnant widow giving birth to a son and heir just a month after her husband’s premature demise. During the ensuing prolonged minority, under the management of Lady Glynne and her agent, Henry Boydell, the Hawarden estate prospered, hundreds of marshy acres south of the river Dee being enclosed and reclaimed. When he at last came of age Sir Stephen, ‘with no father to restrain him and a handsome fortune, contrived to to turn his house into a castle’.6

hawView‘A young Regency man of Romantic tastes,’ the 8th baronet initially approached John Nash who came up with a castellated makeover of Broadlane Hall in 1807.4 For reasons not entirely clear, Nash did not get to follow through but his scheme would heavily inform the building executed by Thomas Cundy, ‘then a little-known architect, the completed project (↑) omitting only Nash’s conservatory and great tower’.7 The Georgian house would gradually gain a new stone facade pierced with mullioned windows and crowned with battlements. Large irregular extensions included ‘a service wing with an octagonal turret and a west wing containing a library with Gothic windows and a canted bay’.4


see: Tatler


see: Tatler

These fanciful fortifications echoed the ready-made romantic ruins of nearby old Hawarden Castle but this stylistic theme would be largely left at the door, Cundy’s principal interiors being ‘the ‘elegant, mellow library (left) and restrained classical dining room’.7

haw8th4The project would be completed c.1812 (Broadlane Hall being rechristened to reflect its new image) but ill health would allow Sir Stephen little time as king of the new Hawarden Castle. Together with his wife and young son he travelled to the south of France in the winter of 1814 seeking respite from the onset of tuberculosis. He died there the following March in his thirty-fifth year, the same age as his father at his premature demise. (The melancholy return of Lady Glynne and the seven-year-old 9th baronet Sir Stephen would be complicated by the chaos occasioned by Napoleon’s resurgence from exile.)

But this undoubtedly traumatic episode is unlikely to account for the singular personality of the young heir who did not develop quite as others, as would be regularly observed. ‘Sir Stephen is small, shy, timid, gentle-looking, and [speaks] deliberately, gravely,’ commented a visitor to Hawarden in 1831: ‘He never rides, shoots, or dances, or likes any young man’s pursuits, so that he keeps quite aloof in his own house except just the going into dinner.’2 ‘It really is pitiful in the extreme,’ wrote another.8

hawSirStephen‘It is now recognized that the 9th baronet was suffering from what is today known as Asperger’s Syndrome.’2 A prodigious memory for purposeless information would gradually be applied to esoteric areas of interest, in particular British ecclesiastical architecture, the visitation and recording of which was to consume much of his adult life. Indulged and beloved by his mother and sisters, with whom he continued to happily share Harwarden, Sir Stephen’s disinclination to engage with the world beyond his spheres of interest rendered him ill-suited to the traditional expectations of a landed squire.


see: a_crafty_traveler

It would also make him peculiarly susceptible to the influence of those entrusted with day-to-day management of the estate. Hawarden’s agent at this time, James Boydell, was the latest generation of his family to occupy this role. But, like his employer, he too was a man driven by obsessive enthusiasms. This unfortunate cocktail, and their mutual failings, would bring Hawarden to its knees.

Of an inventive engineering bent (‘a prolific patenter’), James Boydell became seized with the latent economic potential of iron and coal reserves beneath Oak Farm, the 100-acre Glynne property in Staffordshire, some eighty miles south-east. With the acquiescence of his employer Boydell resigned as Hawarden agent to manage the new mining enterprise which would be powered by his innovative machinery and underwritten by his invested partners, being the 9th baronet and his brothers-in-law, Lord Lyttleton and William Gladstone, to whom Sir Stephen had been pleased to gift shares upon their joining the family.


see: NPG

But in his optimistic haste Boydell grossly underestimated the capital investment required and debts quickly spiraled, unlimited liabilities leaving all members of the partnership seriously exposed. By 1842 William Gladstone was looking to his exceedingly successful father for advice about the escalating situation. Liverpool commodities trader Sir John Gladstone (left) “made the family fortune”, his great-great grandson Sir William Gladstone of Hawarden would tell listeners to BBC radio favourite Desert Island Discs in 1976.


see: Canmore

(He was also ‘one of the largest slave owners in the West Indies’.9 In his maiden speech in the House of Commons Gladstone’s youngest son, the future four-times prime minister, had argued for a fair deal for slave owners after emancipation: no-one would benefit more from the subsequent compensation scheme than John Gladstone. Later created Sir John 1st Bt., ‘of Fasque’, his Scottish mansion (r) would eventually be sold off by the Gladstones of Hawarden in 2010, its remaining contents separately realising £1.8 million at Christie’s the following year.)

Heeding the advice of his father, William and Lord Lyttleton backed out of the Oak Farm partnership in 1843. By 1847 the enterprise was bankrupt, the resources of Sir Stephen – the semi-detached squire having been frequently absent throughout in pursuit of his private interests – by now completely exhausted. With debts well in excess of £300,000 the end of the Glynnes’ association with Hawarden loomed.


see: mj_heywood

Gladstone, however, found the prospect of selling his wife’s heritage unconscionable and committed, with others, to finding a solution. Drawing on his inheritance he purchased as many of Hawarden’s 8,500 acres as he could afford, halving the debt; the Castle would be shuttered for the next five years. ‘In 1853 an arrangement was made by which Mr & Mrs Gladstone with their family settled to make their home at Hawarden, sharing household expenses with Sir Stephen Glynne. Under these happy circumstances the house was reopened.’2

While the shadow of Oak Farm would hang over the estate for the remainder of the century, in these re-ordered, somewhat reduced circumstances affairs at Hawarden Castle returned to a relatively even keel, Gladstone now beginning his political ascent in earnest.

March 1864: In this month was commenced the building of a new Tower on the north side of the Library, containing 3 storeys, of which the lower was applied to the use of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.’6


see: Country Life


see: Coflein

Being the opening entry in what would become known as the Hawarden estate ‘Events Book’ (updated annually by every squire since and published by Sir Willam Gladstone in 2017).

Gladstone’s so-called Temple of Peace, the fount of prodigious public and private industry over the next three decades, remains intact (above, r). The statesman’s accumulation of paperwork and books was such that, towards the end of his life, an octagonal strongroom would be appended to the Castle, and Gladstone himself began wheelbarrowing publications into Hawarden village, the foundation of what is today ‘Britain’s finest residential library, and its only Prime Ministerial library’.

This unique repository is also home to the 106 volumes of notes on ecclesiastical architecture amassed by Sir Stephen Glynne, who was out on yet another church scouting mission when he collapsed and died in June 1874, aged 66. It had been agreed that Hawarden would pass ultimately to his nephew, the Gladstones’ eldest son, Willy; the latter predeceased his father, his only son later being killed in action in the Great War.


see: Google Maps

At this point Prime Minister Gladstone’s third son Henry (later 1st and last Baron Gladstone) stepped in, purchasing the succession, clearing all remaining debts and engaging architect (and relative) Harry Goodhart-Rendel to add to the estate. ‘Fortunately a changing economy prevented a second massive enlargement of Hawarden Castle’6; satellite adornments included a summerhouse with Gothic fenestration, and Wynt Lodge (left).

The childless peer died in 1935, Hawarden now passing to his unmarried nephew, Sir Albert Gladstone, 5th Bt., who would give the place over, firstly, to the RAF during World War Two and then, by deed of gift in 1946, to his brother Charles. “We wish to record our gratitude for this wonderful gift. We realise that it offers unlimited opportunities for our happiness,” the father of six would record in the Hawarden Events Book.

hawgoodAnd unlimited opportunities for happiness is just what is being promised these days by his grandson, (father of six Sir) Charlie Gladstone, co-founder of The Good Life Experience, a festival run by family and friends on the 3,000-acre estate, now in its sixth year.


see: YouTube

Offering oodles of soulful, interactive inspiration (and, in 2019, ‘glamping’ in the walled garden, r), The Good Life is just one of an expanding range of enterprises at Hawarden, and the Gladstones’ 30,000-acre Glen Dye estate in Scotland, endeavouring to proselytize (and monetize) their sustainable, creative lifestyle.

Unsurprisingly, this aesthetic has permeated Hawarden Castle itself in the past decade, since the present generation moved in. (Sir William Gladstone, 7th Bt., died last year, just weeks after recording this podcast conversation with his son and heir.)


see: Ronald Phillips


see: Telegraph

‘The formal rooms have been kept pretty much intact .. but the house, where the family does a lot of entertaining, is also filled with the “tens and thousands” of vintage objects that Gladstone and his wife have collected over the years while running Pedlars.’ Naturally some things have been moved on to make space. One high-end antiques dealer (r) is currently seeking offers in excess of £100,000 for ‘a highly important, virtually untouched’ 1750 Rococo mirror, one previous owner – a literal reflection of ever-changing times at Hawarden Castle…

[Hawarden Estate][Pavilion][CharlieGladstone.com]

1. Veysey, A.G. Sir Stephen Glynne, 1807-74, Flintshire Historical Soc. Journal, Vol.30, 1982,
2. Pritchard, T.W. The Glynnes of Hawarden, 2017.
3. Oxford dictionary of national biography, 2004.
4. Hubbard, E. The buildings of Wales: Clwyd, 1986.
5. Cornforth, J. Hawarden Castle, Flintshire, Country Life 15 June, 1967.
6. Gladstone, Sir W. Hawarden events book, 2017.
7. Mansbridge, M. John Nash: a complete catalogue, 1991.
8. Huxley, G. Lady Elizabeth and the Grosvenors: Life in a Whig family, 1965.
9. Quinalt, R. Gladstone and slavery, The Historic Journal, Vol.52, June 2009.


Dalton Hall, Yorkshire

As she verged upon her 16th year in the spring of 1768, Henrietta Hotham, the only daughter of Colonel Charles Hotham, soon-to-be 8th baronet, was in receipt of some worldly relationship advice from her father:

No woman who values her own happiness, or her husband’s affection, will ever for an instant appear in his sight undressed.

dalton8thHaving judged that the time was right to address such matters, Col. Hotham (right) – whose military duties abroad had obliged his absence throughout much of his daughter’s childhood – had penned an extensive missive setting out a great many well-intentioned strictures in order that Henrietta ‘might be less at a loss how to play [her] part’, given that ‘the Natural Walk and Situation of Woman is marriage’.


The first object is the Choice of the Man. If he is ten years older than you, so much the better.’


’If ever you manifest towards him before any human eye the least familiar fondness .. it would be disgusting to him, and shocking to everybody else.’


Intimacies between women in general are dangerous things. The fewer friends you have the better.’

And there was plenty more where that came from. Already a confident, spirited soul, Henrietta was nonetheless grateful for this cautionary advice although its effect was perhaps not quite that which her father had intended: his daughter would never marry.


Marble Hill Society

Had she been apprised of the rather scandalous circumstances of her own conception, however, young Henrietta (left) might have found her father’s trenchant guidance somewhat harder to swallow. For Charles’s own nuptials had been a hastily convened affair, his thwarted elopement with Dorothy Hobart, a woman several years his senior, nevertheless resulting in her pregnancy. Though born at the Hobarts’ Blickling Hall, Norfolk, Dorothy had been raised – and at this point still resided – at the home of her initially disapproving aunt, a woman who knew a thing or two about improper relationships.1

For Henrietta Howard’s disastrous first marriage to the 9th earl of Suffolk had carried her into a decade-long affair with the Prince of Wales (later George II), royal reward for services rendered later enabling the Countess to commission a Palladian Thames-side villa twixt Richmond and Twickenham. Marble Hill House (below) would become a magnet for some of the great figures of the age –


see: RIBApix

Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Horace Walpole – and a home-from-home not just for the Countess’s impetuous niece, Dorothy, but also, in due course, for the latter’s rashly conceived (but emolliently christened) daughter, Henrietta Hotham.

daltonVBThis house would be selected by architect Colen Campbell for inclusion in Volume III of Vitruvius Brittanicus (1725), his seminal work which would ‘provide the momentum for English architectural development for the next 100 years’.2 Volume IV (1739) contained a design conflating elements seen in Marble Hill’s principal facades and which, had fate not intervened to stymie its execution, would have been the inheritance of Col. Charles Hotham, and Henrietta’s family home.

As things transpired it would fall to Charles some forty years later to finally build a residence befitting the squire of South Dalton, six miles north-west of Beverley in Yorkshire’s East Riding, a district wherein his line had held lands for 500 years. As, indeed, they do to this day, Dalton Hall estate and attendant titles having survived intact notwithstanding a spectacular lack of direct heirs spanning the entirety of the 19th century (and beyond). But, while their Victorian descendants may have struggled in this respect, the Hothams definitely had the knack in the beginning.


Immediately east of South Dalton lies the hamlet of Scorborough. At the end of the 13th century this manor was held by John de Hotham; thereafter, for twelve generations, it would pass from father to son, all but one being named John, all but two receiving knighthoods. In 1622 the then incumbent acheived a titular upgrade, being created Sir John Hotham, 1st baronet, courtesy of King James I. But Hotham’s on-off relationship with James’s successor would have ultimately disastrous consequences.

dalton1st‘Hotham (right) represented Beverley in all the five parliaments of Charles I.’ He would be married as many times, ‘the lands and money [so] acquired enlarging his already substantial estate’.3 But the king’s dissatisfaction with Sir John in his role as governor of the port of Hull led to Hotham’s removal, his loyalty to the crown eroding rapidly. It would be pushed to breaking point in 1642 when, with his son John, Hotham secured Hull against a besieging Charles by order of parliament. The king declared Hotham a traitor; the Protectorate would eventually have both men’s heads.

After a year as mutually uncomfortable bedfellows Cromwell’s regime learned that the vacillating Hothams were bargaining to realign once again with the Royalists; parliamentary forces seized Hull in 1643, throwing the baronet and his heir into the Tower. Sir John was finally beheaded on 2 January, 1645, his son being denied even a momentary elevation in status having been dispatched in the same fashion the day before. With the loss of both his father and grandfather, 12-year-old John Hotham now inherited.


daltonlordCompared to that of the first baronet, Sir John’s life at Scorborough was a model of stability founded upon a long and committed marriage. The family’s sequestered estate having been substantially returned, Hotham subsequently prospered to the extent that…

… in 1680 he was able to expand his landholdings locally with the acquisition of two hundred acres in neighbouring South Dalton.

With his affairs frequently taking him away from their Yorkshire homestead, Sir John was ever willing to provide reassurance to his anxious wife Elizabeth: “Had I a thousand hearts they would all be for your sake,” he wrote in 1684.4 Two years on the ascent of King James II occasioned their most prolonged domestic rupture, Sir John joining the anti-Catholic flight to Holland. Alas, his eventual homecoming procession on the coattails of the Glorious Revolution would be blighted by the worst of Yorkshire weather, inducing a chill from which he finally succumbed in April 1689. The 2nd baronet’s memory is preserved by a stupendous tomb in St. Mary’s church, South Dalton.


Georgian Soc. East Yorks


see: Peter Church

(With its ‘serenely proportioned steeple, one of the loveliest in England’, this striking replacement church would be built by the Hotham family in the 1850s for ‘the huge sum, at the time, of £25,000’.)5

The death just two years later of his son, Sir John, 3rd Bt., a sickly, childless widower, brought to an end four centuries of direct descent, his soldier cousin Charles Hotham now succeeding. While the 4th baronet was on active service abroad (‘possibly a prisoner’), the news from home was far from moral-boosting, his wife Bridget dying in 1707 barely two years after their house at Scorborough had burnt down.

Upon his eventual return, instead of reinstating a country seat Sir Charles now commissioned a grand residence in Beverley from architect Colen Campbell. This edifice would become something of an expensive white elephant, however, never actually being occupied and effectively abandoned by his son, Charles, after his succession in 1723. The 5th baronet would instead turn his attention to South Dalton.


see: Royal Academy


see: Google Maps

The ‘Plan & Elevations of the Hon. Seat of South Dalton..most Humbly Inscribed’ by John Rocque in 1737 captures a work in progress. From an existing manor house on the estate, Sir Charles intended a modish makeover of the property, clearly influenced by trendsetting developments down beside the Thames. (Like the Countess of Suffolk, Hotham had cultivated a profitable association with the Prince of Wales, a variety of appointments significantly boosting his income.) Contemporaneous with the Countess’s Marble Hill, further downriver the 3rd earl of Burlington, in tandem with William Kent, had created Chiswick House where they had also set about breaking down ‘the rigid formality of the early 18th century garden to create a revolutionary, natural-looking landscape’.

daltonkentBurlington’s country seat, Londesborough Park, was just six miles west of South Dalton; the earl’s loyal gardener Thomas Knowlton would take a significant hand in Hotham’s plans. And William Kent would in fact design a pavilion for Dalton, set to be the termination of a broad avenue defined by encroaching woodland threaded with meandering pathways (↑) ‘reminiscent of Pope’s designs for Marble Hill Park’.6 But the eventual (GI listed) summerhouse has been attributed to Colen Campbell and remains in context as a key element of…


see: WR Dunn

… one of the best-preserved early 18th-century Rococo gardens in the country’. But the final piece of the jigsaw, the house from which these maturing grounds were to form a cultured westward prospect, would not be realised. Though many bricks had been produced locally for the purpose, Sir Charles Hotham died ‘prematurely‘ seemingly before construction had begun in earnest.

‘Work stopped and the estate entered a long minority,’ until his son, Charles, came of age in 1755. Despite inheriting some of his father’s positions at Court, the 6th baronet would gradually retreat from public life, his withdrawn character only exacerbated by the loss of his wife little more than a year after their marriage. ‘Increasingly spending time abroad at foreign spas, when he died [childless] in 1769 Charles left the estate finances in chaos, and [there was] still no house.’7

dalton7thbtHis ageing uncle, Sir Beaumont Hotham, 7th Bt (r) now attempted to steady the ship and was in no hurry to initiate any major capital projects. Instead, he would be busy managing the expectations of his son, and Dalton’s heir, Charles. Despite (or perhaps because of) the latter’s wife and daughter having both spent their formative years in the care of the Countess of Suffolk at Marble Hill House, the redolent existing design for Dalton Hall would now be set aside as Charles looked to build.

‘I do not wonder you should wish to be better lodg’d,’ Beaumont sympathised with his son in 1767, his prudent assessment of affairs affording scant encouragement. ‘Considering the demands upon me .. and others I find coming, I do not foresee anything can be compleated in some years; [but] a beginning, to be sure, might be made.’4 Undaunted, Charles was soon seeking out designs and tenders from various local practitioners.

It was York-based Thomas Atkinson who would find favour with a composition similar in plan to his recently completed house for the Langdales, Houghton Hall, at Sancton, just six miles SW of the Dalton estate: a five-bay central block with single-storey links to flanking three-bay, two-storey pavilions set forward on the entrance side. ‘I don’t come into your idea about the Pavilions, for many reasons,’ Sir Beaumont advised his son, ‘it would swell the expense extremely [and] add little, if at all, to the conveniency.’

Work had barely begun on the main section of the house in 1771 when Charles’s father died; the death of his mother the following year would yield more Yorkshire properties. Liberated and secure, the 8th baronet now pushed on full steam ahead with the Atkinson scheme which he hoped would prove ‘an acceptable present to my successors’.4

Daltonview1Sir Charles was finally able to move into Dalton Hall in 1775, ‘having built and furnished it out of his income, at a cost of £30,000’.4

Circumstances were indeed propitious. Land enclosures and a generally favourable agricultural economy would swell revenues to the extent that more land purchases could be entertained. ‘By the early 19th century the Hotham estate was one of the largest in Yorkshire.’8 A hundred years after the completion of the Hall, Bateman’s landmark survey of ‘Great Landowners’ would record a holding in excess of 20,000 acres (today c.13,000a), the family legacy having weathered a remarkable 150-year sequence of inheritance following Sir Charles’ death in 1794.


see: Historic England

One year earlier his only child Henrietta had come into Marble Hill House for her lifetime (having been a significant beneficiary of the will of her great-aunt since the latter’s death in 1767). Dalton Hall and the baronetcy duly passed to Rev. Sir John Hotham who would outlive his brother by less than two years. Sir John’s son Charles succeeded as 10th baronet, dying in 1811 without issue as would many of his successors over the course of the next century.


see: Historic England

Charles’ uncle, Sir William Hotham, 10th Bt., was a 75-year-old retired admiral when he now inherited. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having been ‘barely ever at home’ over the course of a forty-year naval career, William was unmarried when he died at Dalton two years later, his personal legacy being a peerage granted ‘by a grateful king’ in 1797.4 So it was that in 1813 his 76-year-old brother Beaumont, 2nd Lord Hotham, became the fourth son of Beaumont, 7th Bt., to inherit all. He died ten months later, to be succeeded by his grandson, Beaumont.


see source

The 3rd Baron Hotham would be squire of Dalton for over fifty years. Although he ‘barely resided there beyond a day or two’, the ‘fine landscaped park’ east of the house would be developed in the 1820s.9 Dying unmarried at the end of 1870, bachelor nephew Charles now stepped up only to expire just 18 months later, his brother John, 34, now taking on a country seat in need of attention.


see: Historic England

The 5th Lord Hotham promptly initiated an extensive Victorian remodelling of Dalton Hall. The west front gained a pair of large canted bays looking out onto new terracing (above). On the entrance side ‘Atkinson’s elegant porch was replaced by a colonnade and semicircular porticoes placed in the angles with the wings’. Extensive balustrading and conservatories were also added; the stables ‘were refronted in an Italianate style’ (↓).9


see: thecountrylifeuk

Despite this major commitment to the ‘modernisation’ of Dalton Hall the 5th baron would remain a bachelor with no obvious beneficiaries. Such was the scarcity of male heirs to the title and entailed estate that upon his death in 1907 all now passed to Frederick, the fifth son of his grandfather’s brother.

‘The strange tradition of the Hotham peerage, which, though established in 1797, has never yet descended from father to son is kept up at the death after a long illness of the 6th baron at Dalton Hall, aged 60,’ reported the Daily Mail in October 1923, another distant cousin, Henry Hotham, now being unearthed to succeed as 7th baron.10 The present-day appearance of grade II* listed Dalton Hall dates from Henry’s post-war interventions.


see: Chris Milner Photography

The Victorian colonnade was now truncated, the garden front bays removed entirely while the north pavilion was reduced to a single storey. (Throughout Dalton Hall’s spasmodic upheavals its principal rooms to the west would largely retain their Georgian character, with fine plasterwork ceilings, chimneypieces and fittings.)

Despite the loss of three boys in infancy the 7th baron would at last become the first holder of the title to be succeeded by a direct heir, son Henry inheriting in November 1967. And fifteen years ago the 8th Lord and Lady Hotham decided to relocate to a newly-built ‘Dower House‘ in the village, making way for the current generation at Dalton Hall. Since when the walled kitchen garden on the otherwise ‘completely private’ estate has been restored and is now for hire as ‘a truly unique venue for weddings (↓) and other corporate functions’.


see: njphotographic

‘Marriage is of all others the most fiery trial you can undergo,’ Dalton’s builder Sir Charles Hotham counselled his teenage daughter in 1768. ‘When I consider that State and and look round me and see how very few become it, I tremble for you.’4 Henrietta, of course, managed to avoid the fate her father had deemed inevitable. Their present-day descendants, meanwhile, remain pleased to host those still happy to take the plunge…

[Dalton Estate][Archive]

1. Borman, T. King’s mistress, queen’s servant, 2007.
2. Stuchbury, H. The architecture of Colen Campbell, c.1967.
3. Dictionary of national biography, 1908.
4. Stirling, A. The Hothams Volume 1 & Volume 2, 1918.
5. Jenkins, S. England’s 1000 best churches series, Country Life, 14 Jan 1999.
6. Colvin, H., Harris, J. (eds.) The country seat, 1970.
7. Worsley, G. Rococo survival, Country Life, 17 May 1990.
8. Roebuck, P. Yorkshire baronets 1640-1760, 1980.
9. Neave, D., Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 1995.
10. Daily Mail, 8 Oct 1923.
See also:
Fry, C.A. The dissemination of neo-Palladian architecture in England, 1701-1758, [thesis] 2006.
Neave, D., Turnbull, D. Landscaped parks and gardens of East Yorkshire 1700-1830, 1992.