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One Sunday last month saw a larger-than-usual annual gathering at a lonely stone monument high on the Berkshire Downs some five miles south of Wantage. Another of the many sombre centenaries presently being observed, this ceremony marked (as the memorial records) ‘the dear memory of Philip Musgrave Neeld Wroughton of Woolley Park, major, Berkshire Yeomanry, killed in action at Gaza, Palestine, April 19th 1917, aged 29’. At the head of proceedings – as he has been for the past forty-five years – was Sir Philip Wroughton, 84, great-nephew of his namesake and present squire of the Woolley Park estate, a property which has passed only by descent across 450 years.

woolleymemorial

see: Google Maps

The loss of young Major Wroughton in the Middle Eastern theatre of the Great War had been keenly felt not least because the heir to Woolley Park had been a long time coming. In December 1875 Philip Wroughton (d.1910) and his wife Evelyn had welcomed Dorothy, their first-born, into the world. She would be followed in 1877 by Muriel, with their sister Florence coming along some twenty months later. Winifred arrived in 1880, eighteen months ahead of.. Violet. One can just imagine the collective composing of features in the household at news of the arrival of the couple’s sixth child in 1884, christened Mary.

eton

see: National Trust

The ‘monotonous regularity of six daughters in succession was a rather strong order’, their father would jokingly recall at the coming-of-age of his first son (pictured, far right, at Eton with Denys Finch Hatton of Out of Africa fame) who had finally arrived in the summer of 1887.1 The irony of this sequence of events would surely not have been lost on the author of the following reminiscence of Victorian life and times hereabouts:

No one who lives at Woolley would choose to be a lady. God made the place for Wroughton men, who throw a long leg over a horse and gallop about the downs – fox or no fox – from dawn to dusk.’2

Protected as the North Wessex Downs AONB since 1972, this ‘surprisingly remote, expansive landscape in the heart of southern England’ is the site of ancient drives, formerly ovine, today distinctively equine: ‘The area is second only to Newmarket in its importance as a centre of activity for the horseracing industry.’

woolleyview

see: Pam Brophy / geograph

And amidst these gallop-strewn chalk downlands ‘Woolley Park stands high and isolated in unspoiled [150a] parkland’.3 Ninety minutes from central London, the Grade II* listed mansion ‘remains a wholly private house to which there is no public access’.

‘Beautifully undulating and finely timbered,’4 Woolley Park dominates the northern end of the parish of Chaddleworth, an area ‘which it seems clear was early enclosed, perhaps as early as the 16th century’.5 This act was possibly coincident with the arrival on the scene of one Thomas Tipping who acquired the manor of Woolley on August 20, 1566, the last occasion on which this property changed hands by sale.

Thomas’s namesake grandson had one daughter, Catherine, who in 1662 would disclaim her interest in Woolley in favour of her cousin, her uncle Bartholomew’s son John, during whose tenure a new house was erected. It was to be a generic later-C17 brick house of a form (H-plan, hipped roof with dormers) exemplified by such as Fawley Court, Buckinghamshire, which happens to lie six miles south of another house which would soon come to the family.

Ibstone1

see: Country Life

John Tipping died c. 1700, the succession of his eldest child beginning a father-to-son sequence of four Bartholomew Tippings to the end of the 18th century. The second of these (d. 1737) married the granddaughter of Sir Henry Allnut of Ibstone House (r), a relationship which would in due course see Ibstone pass, with Woolley, to the niece of bachelor Bartholomew Tipping (d. Dec 1798).

The inheritance of Mary Musgrave would prove a turning point in the destiny of Woolley Park. Ten years earlier she had married her first cousin, the Rev. Philip Wroughton; very soon after her uncle’s death the couple commissioned a modish makeover of their new abode, engaging an architect whose pedigree then held more promise than his heretofore slender portfolio.

*

Published ‘in order to display the taste and science of the English nation in its style of Architecture at the close of the 18th century’, the first volume of George Richardson’s New Vitruvius Britannicus appeared in 1802 (eighty-seven years on from Colen Campbell’s landmark forerunner). Prominent among the collected designs were houses by the Wyatt brothers, Samuel and James. In Volume Two they would be joined by nephew Jeffry who, after a lengthy apprenticeship under both, had set up independently in Mayfair in 1799. Later famed for his remodelling of Windsor Castle for George IV (and knighted as Sir Jeffry Wyatville), among Wyatt’s clients that first year were the Wroughtons of Woolley Park.

woolleyNV1

see: New Vitruvius Britannicus

Wyatt’s plans for Woolley betrayed his Neo-classical tutelage and his scheme here remains ‘remarkably intact’.6 A full-height colonnaded bow now projected from the entrance front recess, shallow-domed with an iron balustrade garlanding the new raised storey (below). In-filling at the rear was altogether more modest, a single-storey colonnaded loggia stretched between the wings (its original iron balustrade later reworked in stone).

woolleyNV4

see: New Vitruvius Britannicus

‘The most impressive internal feature is Wyatville’s spectacular staircase hall [the original entrance hall], decorated with Neo-classical motifs and lit by a lantern rising out of a dome supported on segmental arches and pendetives.’3 The cantilevered stone stair divides at a half-landing where stands a longcase clock, ‘evidently part of the original design’.6 And telling the time was apparently not this instrument’s only function: ‘Woolley is light and cheerful

and smells of pot-pourri, the scented air sprinkled every fifteen minutes by chimes from an old clock on the stairs.’2

woolleyrail1

see: Minimoves

Philip Wroughton died in 1812 being succeeded by his eldest son Bartholomew who married Mary St. Quintin eight years on. (Woolley Park may have appeared comfortably familiar to his bride whose own family home, Scampston Hall in Yorkshire, had undergone a stylistically similar makeover at much the same time.) This couple having no children, upon Bartholomew’s death in 1858 Woolley now passed to his brother Philip, hitherto happily domiciled at Ibstone House.

Philip Wroughton, in later years ‘noted for having to wear an iron collar to keep his head on, after a fall out hunting when he broke his neck’, duly disposed of the Buckinghamshire estate and moved to the old family seat. ‘He and the six children rode in cavalcade to take possession of their new home. The mama followed by road, sobbing all the way, for she was leaving her own part of the country.’2 (The family of Blanche Norris had been seated at Hughenden Manor, east of Ibstone, prior to its sale to the family of rising political force Benjamin Disraeli, with whom Wroughton had related correspondence.)

woolleymainb&w

Arriving with their sizeable brood the Wroughtons quickly felt the need for more room, hence Woolley gained large extensions north and south between 1858-1860. The periodic encouragement of a good covering of foliage is perhaps indicative of the indifferent character of these wings externally.

woolleyback

see: Historic England

Inside, ‘the large and lavish drawing room takes up the whole ground floor of the south extension, with panelling and mirrors in the French Rococco style’. Some original interior spaces were repurposed but ‘the dining room with a screen of Ionic columns remains much as Wyatville left it’.3

Having completed his enlargement of the house Philip Wroughton now turned his attention to nearby Brightwalton parish church, a small dilapidated Norman edifice which was pulled down and replaced at his own expense. (Brightwalton was one of several neighbouring manors – including Fawley, Whatcombe and Chaddleworth – which were acquired over a fifty-year period from 1787, the Woolley Park estate presently estimated to extend to some 3,300 acres.)

chancel

see: Basher Eyre

fawley

see: Oswald Bertram

The Wroughtons were responsible for other local ecclesiastical commissions: a replacement village church at Fawley (l) and a chunky chancel (r) for St. Andrew’s, Chaddleworth. Gothic-Revivalist G. E. Street, creator of the Royal Courts of Justice, was the favoured architect for this beneficent building spree.

woolleypark3

see: Bing Maps

While his impact at Woolley would be significant Philip Wroughton’s tenure was the briefest of any, dying four days after his 57th birthday in 1862. His wife would remain forty years a widow, his eldest son, also Philip, as many years the squire until his own death in 1910. Though spared the wartime loss of his long-awaited son and heir, Philip Wroughton had already suffered the violent sudden death of the youngest of his eight children.

One spring day in 1903 the Town Clerk of Wantage was taking some friends for a 4mph spin in his early automobile when he was in collision with a ‘motor-bicycle’ at a hazardous local junction. Looking beneath his vehicle the driver was horrified to recognise the stricken teenage form of fellow auto-enthusiast Christopher Wroughton of Woolley Park. As a consequence, after his brother’s demise in 1917 the Woolley estate would be held by their sister Dorothy – eldest of the six long-lived ‘legendary Wroughton girls’7 – and her husband Herbert Lavallin Puxley until their son came of age in 1930.

kirsten1

see: Local Buzz

woolleybackdetail

see: Vine&Craven

At that point Michael Lavallin Puxley assumed the surname and arms of Wroughton (carved in stone above the east facade) by Royal Licence. And it would seem – Sir Philip Wroughton having two daughters – that a similar device will be required if the name is to live on here. In 1984 the eldest (r) – these days very much hands on at Woolley – married Thomas Loyd, heir to (now owner of) the 6,000-acre Lockinge Estate immediately to the north. But, by whichever name, cometh the hour doubtless the next generation will be stepping ‘once more unto the breach‘ at Woolley Park…

woolleygates1

see: Google Maps

[Estate archives 1290-1937]

1. Reading Mercury, 19 September 1908.
2. Carbery, Lady M. Happy world: The story of a Victorian childhood, 1941.
3. Pevsner, N., Tyack, G., Bradley, S. The buildings of England: Berkshire, 2010.
4. Reading Mercury, 5 August 1876.
5. Wordie, R. (Ed.) Enclosure in Berkshire 1485-1855, 2000.
6. Linstrum, D. Sir Jeffry Wyatville, 1972.
7. The Times, 17 January 1974.
braemar1

see: ak_nako / Instagram

In 1748, having faced down a second Jacobite rebellion north of the border, the Hanoverian government leased a dilapidated, conflict-ravaged building in the Highlands to serve as a garrison against the troublesome natives. Some half-a-century later Braemar Castle (r) would be returned to its owners, the Farquharsons of Invercauld, reconstructed and relatively habitable. Today, with post-Brexit tensions threatening a twenty-first century constitutional stand-off, a British government so-minded to quell those pesky Nationalists would find the lease on Braemar already taken. A mile or so east, Invercauld House – ‘the most beautifully situated mansion on Deeside’ – is similarly spoken for.

inverview5

see: Alan Findlay / geograph

In a double first Handed on heads at last to Scotland and spotlights a model of ancestral country house sustainability where occupation by the hereditary owner is not a practical (or appealing) proposition. At the end of the nineteenth century it was remarked that ‘the Invercauld Farquharsons seem to have adapted themselves promptly to altered times’, a trait which continues into the twenty-first.

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of an ongoing community-driven initiative at Braemar Castle which has maintained the building’s fabric and seen it develop as a thriving heritage attraction. A small band of dedicated volunteers convinced the Invercauld Estate to hand over the castle on a 50-year improving lease, averting its likely sale. Since 2003 Invercauld House has also been available, the maintenance burden at the 14-bedroom pile most recently taken on by a private tenant on a similar long-term lease. While the chief of Clan Farquharson and his heirs reside principally in England the family remain possessed of their ancestral residences which lie at the heart of one of the largest private landholdings in Britain.

inverbbc

BBC/YouTube: ‘Who owns Scotland’

Before the complicating reality of the Brexit vote the nationalist-dominated Scottish Assembly had already tossed a caber into another hornets nest with its vowed intent to shake up the traditional pattern of land ownership in Scotland. Characterised as “a Mugabe-style land grab” by one peer1 (the 4th Viscount Astor, 20,000 acres), the fact of less than 500 individuals owning half of the country excited much debate (r) before the passing of the 2016 Land Reform Act, seen as a staging post in pursuit of a ‘more socially just’ state of affairs.

The omission of a statutory register of ownership disappointed some campaigners. In its submission to the consultation process the Invercauld Estate had little issue with such a thing in principal and indeed readily declares its 108,000-acre (156 sq mile) extent here (though a figure over 120,000 acres is commonly cited). The estate did, however, demur from the proposition ‘that in future land should only be owned (or a long lease taken) by individuals or by a legal entity formed in accordance with the law of a Member State of the EU’. ‘This could,’ Invercauld suggested, ‘threaten inward investment from other nationals, such as the Swiss’ – a nationality plucked, in this case, not entirely at random.

*

inverBigAl

see: Clan Farquharson USA

Capt. Alwyne Compton Farquharson, who will be 98 next month, is the 16th ‘Farquharson of Invercauld’ and clan chieftain (r), his innings in these roles now longer by some margin than any of his predecessors. He had already been laird for three years by the time he was awarded the Military Cross in 1944 (having stuck to his task though ‘wounded in a hail of shellfire during the fighting in Normandy’).

Findlay, the 1st Farquharson of Invercauld, had less luck on the battlefield having perished with thousands of compatriots at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. Initially vassals, from the time of Robert, 5th laird of Invercauld (succeeded 1632), the Farquharsons would become substantial landowners here in their own right, and have remained so. The succession of Robert’s grandson John (9th Farquharson of Invercauld) in 1694 ushered in the greatest period of expansion and improvement of an estate which would have but two owners across the entire eighteenth century, his son James inheriting in 1750 (d. 1805).

see source

see source

In his time John Farquharson (r) would experience the violent double rupture of the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Though possibly less hardcore in his commitment to the cause, Farquharson was obligated to his local superior, the quixotic Earl of Mar, in actively supporting Mar’s call to arms at Braemar in September 1715. Once routed the earl fled to France, never to return. Meanwhile his lieutenant languished in Marshalsea Prison for nine months doubtless fearing the worst.

But Farquharson received a fair hearing from the king and parliament and after his release he would eventually acquire Mar’s attainted Braemar estate. Having been there, done that, John Farquharson decided to opt out of ‘the ’45’ entirely (leaving his Jacobite daughter Anne and her Hanoverian husband to fight out the conflict in microcosm, surely the mother of all domestics).

see source

see source

see source

c.1784 see source

‘A barrel-vaulted undercroft may be its oldest element,’ but details of the development of Invercauld House to this point have been subsequently obscured.2 While a relatively modest L-shaped affair – its naturally dramatic setting at this time further enhanced by radiating landscaped drives – Invercauld remained adequate for James Farquharson (r) as all but one of eleven children born to his first wife Amelia died young.

‘The mother, worn out with watching, anxiety and sorrow followed her children in 1779 leaving only the youngest, five-year-old Catherine,’ who would be thirty-one when inheriting as Invercauld’s first female laird. While Catherine may have lacked siblings her son and heir James made sure she would not want for grandchildren…

inverview3

see: Canmore

… he and wife Jane averaging a child a year between 1834 and 1845 (all of whom would reach maturity). Unsurprisingly given such a reproductive schedule Invercauld was enlarged, ‘the house becoming an extended Z-plan with north service wings, a long south elevation facing the river with Dutch gables and the SE wing, at right angles to the main block’.2

inverview2

see: Fellowship of the Thistle

But this demure appearance would be beefed up by the 13th laird ten years after he succeeded his father in 1862. ‘Piccadilly Jim’ Farquharson (below, d.1888) and his London architect John Thomas Wimperis were not exactly original in their concept for Invercauld House, however, joining in a mania…

inverJim

see: Christie’s

… for the ‘Scots Baronial’ style which had taken hold across the country by the middle of the nineteenth century. Robust yet lively compositions in granite, Ardverikie House – Invercauld’s exact contemporary some eighty mile west, familiar as the location for popular BBC series ‘Monarch of the Glen’ – exemplifies these romantic Highland confections. More locally the bar had been raised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s remodelling of neighbouring Balmoral from 1852.

inverview6

source: The Builder 5 June 1875

From 1872 Invercauld House would be recast as a refined echo of its natural setting with the principal materials all sourced from the vast estate. The granite structure now revolved around a 70ft tower ‘created by heightening the existing walls of the old main block to six storeys at the intersection of the main block and its SE wing’.2

inverint1

see: Canmore

inverview7

see: Country Life

The main entrance was now relocated from the elbow of that juncture to the opposite side. ‘Its pyramidal roof adds to the wider fantastical outline busy with battlements, crow-stepped gables and pepperpot towers.’3 Within, carved pine interiors…

… compete with wall-to-wall tartan and antlers, all by now de rigeur characteristics with a purpose beyond simple lairdly oneupmanship. For such displays became a marketing tool in attracting plutocratic seasonal tenants keen to enjoy the full Highland sporting experience: from the late C19 the Farquharsons would regularly decamp to make way for blue-chip paying guests. (With extensive grouse moors, a large deer population and 24-mile stretch of the River Dee, field sports continue to underpin the estate’s viability.) In 1956 they obliged for a royal tenant, the Queen Mother, who, with the builders in at Birkhall, leased Invercauld House in order that she could ‘give her usual summer house parties for the shooting’.4

inverdress

Nat. Museums Scotland

Her Royal Highness had plainly not been put off by the aesthetic impact which had recently been made here by the presiding mistress of Invercauld. American-born Frances Lovell Oldham – ‘Frances the fabulous‘ – a former fashion editor at British Vogue and editor of Harper’s Bazaar, had married (her third husband) Capt. Alwyne Farquharson in 1949 and gleefully set about importing a fondness for outre design and bold colour schemes into the tartan traditions of Deeside.

invermyrtle

15 Oct 1927

Also in the year of his marriage Alwyne would be formally recognised as chief of the clan by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Born the eldest son of Edward Compton of Newby Hall in Yorkshire, he had taken the Farquharson name having inherited Invercauld under the settlement of his maternal grandfather, Alexander Haldane Farquharson (r), in 1941. (Alexander had been succeeded by his eldest daughter, socialite Myrtle (far right) – a bridesmaid at the wedding of Vita Sackville West’s lover, Violet Keppel, ‘the most curious of many a Season’ – who would be killed in the London blitz that year.)

The Farquharsons alternated between Invercauld House and Braemar Castle as one or the other was let before Frances’s death in 1991. Since when the clan chief has remarried and relocated to Norfolk, returning for traditional gatherings. Having no children, the designated heir to Invercauld and effectively its present-day laird is Farquharson’s nephew, botanist Dr. Jamie Compton (Newby Hall having once again passed to a younger son).

At an event in 2014 the future lady of Invercauld, garden designer and writer Tania Compton, led a conversation with pre-eminent fellow practitioner Piet Oudolf about his recent undertakings at a rather unlikely arts complex evolving in rural Somerset. The choice of host that day was perhaps not entirely unconnected with the fact that the creators of the said Durslade gallery (complete with its Bar & Grill and boutique Farmhouse accommodation) have since 2012 been the Farquharsons’ tenants at Invercauld House.

arhwAn ability to ‘alchemise the wackiest contemporary art into vast sums of money’ through a canny combination of instinct and strategic commitment has seen this Swiss couple ranked among the most influential gallerists and dealers in the world. Last year saw the grand opening of a major 100,000-sq-ft presence in the Arts District of Los Angeles – adding to galleries in Zurich, London, New York and Somerset – the palpable expense involved being characteristically ‘natural and beside the point’.

wirthsnip

see: Braemar Buzzard June 2014

And, five years into a fifty-year lease at Invercauld House, this empathetic munificence is now flowing into upper Deeside. The venerable Fife Arms in Braemar has since been acquired and is presently undergoing a stylish transformation ahead of its rebirth as an ‘art hotel‘ in 2018. Less commercially, various local cultural and environmental initiatives are benefiting from generous support. (In light of such investment few will begrudge the indulgence of a rather more personal badge of commitment in the form of a bespoke tartan commissioned from top fashion designer Sir Paul Smith.)

clhwAt Invercauld itself the 1,400 acres of designed landscape surrounding the house are the focus of ‘a major programme of conservation, restoration and enhancement under the current tenant’, and outsized works of art have appeared.5 Al fresco sculpture was also occasionally to be seen outside the couple’s first London gallery, in the adjacent churchyard of St. James’s, Piccadilly. Built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1676, two centuries later this church was also in need of major restoration. The work would be overseen by J. T. Wimperis, the architect of Invercauld House…

[Category A listing][Invercauld Estate]

1. The Times, 22 May 2015.
2. Sharples, J., Walker, D., Woodworth, M. The buildings of Scotland: Aberdeenshire: south, 2015.
3. Goodall, J. Stalking splendour, Country Life 13 March 2013.
4. Daily Telegraph, 25 Aug 1956.
5. Autumn visit to Invercauld gardens and policies, The Garden History Society in Scotland, 2013.

It may have gained new currency but the phenomenon of so-called ‘fake news’ is hardly unique to our times. Take this assertion from the Middlesex Journal dated December 23, 1769:

The report that Lady Betty Germain has left £20,000 and Drayton, her fine estate in Northamptonshire, to Lord George Sackville has no foundation in truth.’

While confidently purporting to disabuse its readers, it was in fact they who were being misinformed. Now scepticism about such a spectacular bequest was perhaps understandable since there were no family ties between this particular lord and lady. But this was merely the latest in a sequence of unlikely twists in the destiny of Drayton House, ‘so fine a place [yet which] changed families so often and so quickly, without purchase or descent’.1

draytonmain8

see: Michael Trolove @ geograph

‘One of the best-kept secrets of the English country-house world, Drayton has remained hidden, mysterious, rarely open, guarding its privacy’ across more than 700 years.2 Though ‘far less well-known than the other Sackville house at Knole in Kent, Drayton [similarly] resembles a small fortified village in a parkland setting, retains outstanding C17 and C18  furnishings, and has not been subject to any major alterations during the past 200 years.’3

Lord George Sackville’s death in 1785 closed perhaps the most remarkable one hundred years in Drayton’s long history. Vita Sackville-West’s tart summation of her ancestor as ‘a soldier first and then a statesman, both disastrously‘ undersells a rollercoaster life in which the inheritance of Drayton was a welcome upswing. That of his ‘fairy godmother’4 Lady Betty Germain was, by contrast, a life of singular constancy.

Yet while she would be chatelaine in widowhood for over half a century, the earlier eight-year tenure of Lady Mary Mordaunt (later Duchess of Norfolk) was of greater moment for it introduced to Drayton the charming adventurist who was to wed them both. Sir John Germain provoked one of the most notorious and significant divorces in British history but would also play a major role in transforming Drayton House into ‘one of the most extraordinary buildings in England’.5

draytonmain2

see: pwaterton @ Panoramio

Drayton is hidden in its pastoral landscape. The approach is a magical one, silvery-grey walls and a tiered roofline of battlements, turrets, towers and cupolas.’3

The remarkably unified symmetry of the house’s SE-facing front belies its structural evolution in five discrete phases over 400 years from the end of the thirteenth century. The last of these included the fine early-C18 forecourt gates displaying the insignia of Mary, Duchess of Norfolk and her second husband, marking not just their union but also, it transpired, the point at which Drayton would pivot away from a 400-year-old hereditary lineage.

The medieval structure from the time of Simon de Drayton remains the core of a house which within a few years of his death in 1357 had passed by marriage to Henry Green. Green’s namesake son and heir would be peremptorily executed in 1399 for his energetic allegiance to Richard II but the family’s property survived unscathed. Henry Green III (d. 1467) enlarged Drayton with bookending low towers in his latter years before the estate passed, via his daughter Constance (‘one of the richest heiresses in England’), to John Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire.

draytonair

see: Google Maps

The second earl’s premature death without issue heralded a fifteen-year legal tussle between various parties before the claims of canny Turvey, Bedfordshire-based Henry VIII courtier Lord Mordaunt, through his wife (a Green descendant), prevailed. Mordaunt’s grandson, Lewis, 3rd baron (d.1601), would develop the footprint of Drayton as it stands today with his addition of the three-storey Elizabethan wing extending north-west.

draytonlib

see source

draytonwing

see: V&A

Occupying most of its top floor is the Long Gallery, adapted as a library 200 years later. While original panelling and paintings remain, ‘its ceiling and end window date from the beginning of the C20’.5

Suspected of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, the 4th Lord Mordaunt spent several months in the Tower, a location with which his grandson, an active ally of James II, would also become reluctantly familiar. Succeeding in 1642 as sixth baron and also now 2nd Earl of Peterborough, Henry Mordaunt backed the losing side in the Civil War, at some cost to his estate. He would be further constrained in his early ownership by the machinations of his mother but upon gaining full control of his entitlements Henry stamped his mark: ‘Everywhere at Drayton we find signs of the building of the second earl.’6

draytoneast

see: John Sutton @ geograph

Arms raised above a new Classical gateway punched through the C14 wall emphasised the new principal entrance to the south. Knightly nostalgia inspired Mordaunt’s remodelling of the entire north-eastern facade (r) which would now overlook garden pavilions of ‘elegantly severe Puritan minimalism’, all by Inigo Jones’ pupil, John Webb.7

draytonstair1

see: Siena Crawford

draytonwebb

see source

Indoors, Webb (and his client) were rather less restrained, an exuberant State Bedroom overmantel (left) soon part of a three-way fight for attention with the stunning needlework of a major series of Mortlake tapestries (two of which have since escaped to New York) and the magnificent bed itself. Access to the upper floors of this wing would now be via an ingenious feat of carpentry, the Walnut Staircase, ‘a spiral cantilever unique in England’.8 But the most renowned architectural statement at Drayton was still to come.

*

marymordaunt

see: National Trust

The second earl had one child, Lady Mary Mordaunt, who in 1677 would vault from mid-table aristocracy to the premier ranked title in the land by marrying Henry Howard, soon to become the seventh Duke of Norfolk. But the wheels began to come off this dream alliance one day in 1685 with the duke’s discovery that his wife had taken a lover. Enter John (later Sir John) Germain, Anglo-Dutch ‘soldier of fortune’ and gambler, a man dubious of morals and parentage (reputedly an illegitimate half-brother of William of Orange).

An imposed sojourn in a French convent failed to break Mary’s ardour, the couple continuing barely clandestine liasons at various residences across London, seamy details of which would spill out in sensational protracted divorce proceedings eventually initiated by the duke in 1691.

There was a lot at stake, including the authority of the Church in such matters. For the duke, mindful he had yet to produce an heir, had taken his case directly to parliament as the Church would not sanction remarriage following a divorce on the grounds of adultery. Over the course of a three-act, nine-year saga Norfolk and his agents subpoenaed sundry ex-servants to reveal quite literally what the butler saw, evidence savoured line-by-line in printed reports by a prurient public.

divorce2

divorce1The duchess denied everything and threw plenty back, aided by those ‘anxious to protect her reputation and property’.9 The latter had long been an issue, Mary claimed, revealing that a supplicant duke had once tried to persuade her mother that ‘if her daughter would consent that Drayton should be settled upon him he would thereby be made a happy man’.

In early 1700 Henry Howard finally got his divorce (‘the beginning of the long process whereby the state took control from the church’9) but little else, dying in 1701 aged 46. Six months later the duchess – a title she refused to relinquish – married her scandalous beau, the couple quickly calling in ‘William III’s favourite architect in England’, William Talman, to execute some defining flourishes at Drayton House.5

darytontalman

see: Brian Higgins

draytontower

see: Mark Coleman

Most conspicuous were twin tower extensions and cupolas accenting the roof-line; most striking, a new front to the main range facing the inner courtyard, ‘one of the most ornate Baroque facades in Britain, an architectural tour de force‘.2 That entrance…

roos5

see: Coflein

roos4

see: RCHM

… leads into Drayton’s principal interior space, the Great Hall (left), Talman’s pilasters reaching to a barrel ceiling inserted beneath the medieval roof. (Decoration is mid-C19 by Alexander Roos, then also busy designing.. Cardiff.)

Alas, the duchess had little time to enjoy her newly-fashionable surroundings, dying childless in 1705. With her final act she would succeed in putting another noble nose seriously out of joint. For, having inherited the Mordaunt barony and estate in her own right, Mary now bequeathed Drayton in its entirety to her second husband. It could perhaps be argued that the biggest bet of Sir John Germain’s life had paid off wildly, indeed that ‘Drayton was a reward for adultery’.10 Certainly, one individual was especially galled by Sir Johnny-come-lately’s spectacular fortune.

Charles Mordaunt, Mary’s cousin, had succeeded as 3rd Earl of Peterborough upon his uncle’s death in 1697. A soon-to-be celebrated military hero, he now renewed his claim to the property, ‘concluding it highly unreasonable so noble a branch of the ancient estate, and the only seat of the family, should be torn from it to be settled on strangers’. Meanwhile, 55-year-old Sir John Germain – ‘always a favourite of the other sex’10 – would meet and marry Lady Elizabeth Berkeley, 26, within a year of his first wife’s death, and the embellishment of Drayton continued apace.

draytonstair2

Country Life5

draytoncolon2

see: RCHM

‘John hearts Betty’ heraldic insignia now started popping up around Drayton, notably atop courtyard colonnades which would flank Talman’s bravura facade. Internally, the ceiling and walls of his stone staircase would be swathed with trompe l’oeil mythology.

Charles Mordaunt’s keen promotion of William III’s usurping of Catholic James II may have had a satisfying outcome but it proved something of a tactical blunder in his quest for Drayton since it landed his uncle in the Tower. The second earl so arranged his affairs as to provide maximum protection for Mary’s interests: ‘We must conclude that his emnity to his nephew was great enough to belittle in his eyes his daughter’s pecadilloes.’6

johngermain

see: RCHM

Germain died in 1718 and is handsomely memorialised in Lowick church. His widow would later recall, ‘My Lord Peterborow plagued Sir John all his lifetime but declared if ever he gave the estate to me, he would have done with it; and accordingly has kept his word, like an honourable man’. And so, having been both a legal battlefield and a construction site for much of the preceeding two decades, Drayton now entered a half-century of stability under the benign auspices of Lady Betty Germain.

*

Aside from her finely-wrought restoration of the private chapel (which had been sacked by an anti-popery mob in 1688), throughout her long tenure Lady Betty was largely content to maintain the fabric of Drayton House much as it was at the moment her husband died.

draytongarden

see: Hathi Trust

Outside, ‘though she lived well into the period when the landscape school prevailed, Lady Betty defended her great walled enclosures from the invasion of Kent and Brown’.6 The formal parterres (left) would finally succumb to the exigencies of World War II occupation but today ‘a sea of dull lawn’ is still dotted with Betty’s lead urns and statuary.7

Seeking at one point to enlarge the (now 200-plus acre) park in order that the house might sit more centrally, Lady Betty told her longtime friend and regular correspondent Jonathan Swift of her obligatory dealings with the wheedling local parson, “who flatters me black and blue when he comes for Sunday dinner”. Indeed, a desire for stimulating company would make visits to Drayton infrequent, Lady Betty largely preferring the social whirl of her St. James Square townhouse. And there was always the nearer option of Knole House in Kent.

knole

lostpastremembered

The Sackvilles, Lionel, first Duke of Dorset, and his wife Elizabeth, were mutual friends of Sir John and Lady Germain who, having lost three children in infancy, latterly determined that Drayton should pass to a Sackville younger son in the event of Lady Betty not remarrying. Thereafter, Knole would effectively become her second home and her personal apartment (r) is now among the principal ‘showrooms‘ preserved there by the National Trust.

The Drayton estate eventually became the property of 53-year-old Lord George Sackville in 1769 with the proviso that he take the name Germain. In truth, already having the use of Stoneland (now Buckhurst Park) in Sussex, Sackville was perhaps more appreciative of a new identity than another big house in the country at this particular juncture. For during the past ten years his name had – by royal edict – been mud.

draytoncartoon2

see: The British Museum

Sackville’s problems began in Germany on 1 August, 1759. No less a figure than the King himself, George II, would see to it that Lord George suffered exemplary humiliation following perceived failings as second-in-command of allied forces at the Battle of Minden. Sackville’s demand for a court martial that he might counter the reputational slurs of Prince Ferdinand backfired: he was proclaimed “unfit to serve His Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever”, the King relishing “a fate worse than death”.

Sackville continued as a member of parliament but ‘the whole of his public life was embittered and conditioned by the national memory of his conviction’.11 A year after inheriting Drayton, the latest jibe from a fellow MP on the floor of the House of Commons led to (the now) Lord George Germain taking aim at Governor George Johnstone at twenty paces in Hyde Park. Both men missed but Johnstone’s final shot blew Germain’s pistol clean out of his hand. His duelling demeanour certainly impressed Horace Walpole: “Whatever Lord George Sackville was, Lord George Germain is a hero!”

Having lost his honour and almost his life Lord George would soon lose, er, America! Rehabilitated by Lord North as Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1775, ‘Germain inherited a conflict that was already going badly for Britain [yet] was inevitably held by posterity to be more responsible than any other individual for the British loss in America’.12 But he would at least regain the family name, being created Viscount Sackville by a grateful George III upon his eventual retirement from office.

lordgeorge

see source

draytondining

see: RCHM

Like his benefactor before him, Sackville’s busy London diary and other residential options meant limited involvement with Drayton. But he was minded to remodel the Dining Room (left) and the Green Drawing Room in Neo-Classical vein, the work attributed to Sir William Chambers. ‘He also left behind handsome portraits of himself by Reynolds and Romney.’5

Since the viscount’s death in 1785 Drayton ‘has suffered no major alteration or addition’ and resumed a rather more conventional line of descent.13 His son Charles inherited not only Drayton but also, separately, the dukedom of Dorset, fifth and last of that ilk. Though ‘a fashionable figure of the Regency and a favourite with the ladies’, the duke died unmarried and childless in 1843, Drayton now devolving to his niece, Mrs. Caroline Stopford.10 Her son, the similarly childless Stopford Sackville Stopford would be squire of Drayton’s 6,000 acres for 54 years until dying in his bathtub at the Carlton Club in 1926.

Tea and ices at a cafe a mile and a half from the firing line.
This is a strange war.14

As recently recounted, Lionel and Geoffrey, the elder nephews of ‘Uncle Sack’ would both become casualties of World War One, the Drayton estate consequently passing to their younger brother, Nigel Stopford Sackville. In turn, ‘a massive programme of restoration, all of it without government grants,’2 would be carried out by his son upon taking the reins in 1973; his grandson is the present owner, just the eleventh at Drayton since 1642.

draygates1

That three of these in sequence acceded with no rooted affiliation to this ‘vast, homely yet palatial pile’15, and five failed to produce a direct heir, the survival of Drayton House intact and unsold across 700 years is surely, like the place itself, a thing of wonder…

[Drayton Estate][House plan][Grade I listing]

1. Northampton Mercury, 27 Dec 1879.
2. Jackson-Stops, G. Architectural Digest, Jan 1991.
3. Emery, A. Greater medieval houses of England & Wales 1300-1500, Vol.2, 1996
4. Mullett, C. Political Science Quarterly, Vol.78, No.3, 1963.
5. Cornforth, J. Country Life, May 13/20/27, June 3, 1965.
6. Tipping, A. Country Life, June 15/22, 1912.
7. Mowl, T., Hickman, C. Historic gardens of England: Northamptonshire, 2008.
8. Bailey, B. Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough, and Drayton House, Northamptonshire Past & Present, 2004.
9. Jones, C., Jones, D., eds, Peers, politics and power: House of Lords, 1603-1911, 1986.
10. Marlow, L. Sackville of Drayton, 1974.
11. Brown, GS. The court martial of Lord George Sackville, William & Mary Quarterly, Vol.9, No.3, 1952.
12. O’Shaughnessy, A. The men who lost America, 2013.
13. Jackson-Stops, G. Drayton House, 1978.
14. Draper, K. A Tale of Two Brothers: The Stopford Sackvilles and the First World War, 2016.
15. Lees-Milne, J. English country houses : Baroque 1685-1715, 1970.

Weston Hall, Yorkshire

‘The south-facing side of Lower Wharfedale, an undulating sylvan and pastoral landscape, strongly rural in character’ – a contemporary description of the north bank of the River Wharfe from Ilkley to Otley in West Yorkshire, land fundamentally unchanged in centuries and relatively little-traversed. The latter circumstance is partly explained by a still pertinent observation from 1873: ‘There is little doubt that if access were as easy as it is to the south side, the number of visitors to [these] tree-embowered sunny slopes would be much greater.’1

But while the single stepping stone crossing between the bridges of those towns has certainly contributed to this state of preservation and privacy, more influential has been the remarkable endurance hereabouts of three adjacent country estates. And, rather like the modern-day adage of sun-loungers and beach towels, in order to bag the plum spots you had to get there early – in this case around about the thirteenth century.

denton2

see: Denton Hall

denton5

see: Michael Ely

East of Ilkley lies the Denton Hall estate, an ancient property which first changed hands for money in 1717 when it was acquired by wealthy Leeds cloth manufacturer James Ibbetson. Today the John Carr house of 1778 is a corporate headquarters and wedding venue but remains at the heart of ‘2,500 acres of idyllic private parkland’.

farnley5

see: Ashmolean

farnley2

see: Paul Grubb

John Carr’s substantial south-facing addition to Farnley Hall is also visible from the banks of the Wharfe just east of Otley. Noted for its long association with JMW Turner, Farnley has been privately owned by the Fawkes family for over 700 years. Recently, however, the older Jacobean half became available to let.

Lying between these two places, meanwhile, is the Weston Hall estate, over 2,000 acres extending up into the Nidderdale AONB from the distinctive Grade I-listed house and its park wherein also stands a ‘very lavish and sophisticated’ banqueting house.2 Always private and passed only by inheritance since 1359, ‘the best view of both these structures from a publicly accessible vantage point is a tantalising oblique view between the trees’.3

westonglimpse

see: Harrogate Council

The oldest memorial in the small church which stands close by the Hall records the life of William Stopham upon whose death the manor of Weston passed to his brother-in-law, John Vavasour. The eventual failure of the latter male line after almost 500 years of father-to-son descent only partially explains the disappearance of the Vavasour name here (since: Carter→Dawson). For in 1833, in a reversal of customary gentry practice, the will of childless William Vavasour expressly forbade his heir, nephew William Carter, adopting the family name: “I am, and will die, the last of my race.”4

Not that, beyond the singular feat of endurance at Weston, this was an especially illustrious lineage. In contrast to the senior branch of the family at Hazlewood Castle twenty-three miles to the east, over the course of five centuries ‘it is remarkable that the Vavasours of Weston never threw up anyone of more than local importance’.5 Here, parochial affairs have largely preoccupied the lords of the manor, their approach to matters naturally varying over time:

1450: ‘To the Archbishop of York, complains John Doyd, your servant and humble tenant of Newall [now part of Otley], that whereas one John Vavasour, Lord of Weston, Henry his brother, and others, on Tuesday in the third week of Lent past, by night forcibly broke into your suppliant’s house, and dragged his wife out of the house naked from her bed, and would have killed him if he had been there; and now day and night they lie in wait to kill him.’6

This particular ‘Lord of Weston’ was the fourth of seven consecutive Johns to hold the manor, a run which would come to end a century later with the succession of 22-year-old William Vavasour. And it was the latter’s son, Mauger, who determined c. 1600 to significantly upgrade his ancestral home in the late Elizabethan style.

westonhall

see: Susan Heslup / Wikipedia

The ‘spectacular’ north wing (above, right) with its garden front of 690 individual panes remains unaltered from this time.2 Its counterpart and the central section would be scaled back and internally remodelled in the mid-C18, and twice subject to re-fenestration. Portraits dated 1588 of an extravagantly ruffed Sir Mauger and his second wife, Joan Savile, still hang at Weston and their taste in interior decor is similarly much on display in such spaces as…

westonblue

westondragon… the so-called Dragon Room with its panelling, ‘elaborate’ fireplace and plaster ceiling studded with Tudor iconography. More centrally, ‘what were presumably the Elizabethan great hall and great chamber are discernable, one above the other, the latter now an early C19 room with Adam-style ceiling’.2

westonsteps

westonmain1This room was part of the last substantial rearrangement at Weston – captured soon after by Neale (1821, left) – which created the garden front as seen today, its characterful if ‘rather confused appearance’ contrasting markedly with the ‘utilitarian’ Georgian entrance front (r) created by infilling the space between the cross-wings.2

The immediate vista from Sir Mauger’s many new windows comprised a formal walled garden in one corner of which he added a fashionable freestanding feature, appreciated today as ‘one of the best preserved late Tudor banqueting houses’ in the country.7

westonbanq1

see: Wyrd England

westonbanq2

see: RCHM

Echoing the big house with its canted bay and mullioned and transomed windows, this proud three-storey Grade 1 tower features Tudor-arched corner fireplaces serviced by front chimneys. In rear, a separate staircase turret culminates in a belvedere ‘more window than wall’, all the better to survey the parkland, river valley and its framing moors.5

westonair

see: Bing Maps

Mid-C18 gate-piers at an elbow in the road announce the long tree-lined drive at Weston but modern access is from the north via Church Lane, which terminates with the cemetery and towerless edifice of All Saints.

westonchurch

see: YouTube

Of Norman origin (recorded in Domesday), the church of  ‘this diminutive parish’ is outwardly unrefined. ‘Inside all is Georgian decorum,’5 however, nowhere more so than the private Vavasour family pew (left) ‘which has the appearance of a small scale drawing room’.8 A stove would be installed here by William, the last of the Vavasours, for the comfort of his new bride, heiress Sarah Cooke.

Orphaned at the age of ten, William, the youngest of three sons, only inherited Weston (in 1798) due to the premature demise of brothers Walter and Edward. His marriage three years later spurred on a programme of modernisation and refurbishment of the Hall but the optimism of these early years would not endure. The couple remained childless and in 1817, having come into her father’s fortune, Sarah left Weston for a largely independent life.

Vavasour’s journals reveal a pragmatic, paternalistic squire nevertheless wedded to the feudal order and correct form. They also record long-running feuds with the neighbours, particularly the parvenus over at Denton Hall: “Everyone for himself is their honest maxim; it is a family failing of the Ibbetsons.” Indeed, Vavasour was frequently to be disappointed by the behaviour of those who really ought to know better, notably the clergy. ‘A parson, Mr. Rye, dined at Weston Hall …

westonpark

Weston Park

westonair2

see: Google Maps

… after a day’s shooting. “[He] got so handsomely drunk that as we were putting him to bed he made his escape out of the door naked and we found him hindmost lifeless in a bed of nettles. The next morning, ashamed, he slipped off before I was up.”9

Little wonder that, when the opportunity arose, Vavasour elected to keep the living of Weston within the family, granting it (against expectations) to his artistic sister Ellen’s husband, the Rev. John Carter, then headmaster of Lincoln Grammar School. This couple’s son inherited Weston Hall but the male line would prove ill-starred: William Carter died just fourteen months later while his only son would pass away aged twenty-eight having already lost his own boy hours after birth.

So it was that in 1852 the Weston estate reverted to William Carter’s sister, Mrs. Emma Dawson, the philanthropic wife of Christopher Dawson of Royds Hall (whose grandfather, Joseph Dawson, had been a prime mover behind the Low Moor ironworks). The Dawsons have since proved most durable: In ninety-nine years from 1912-2011 Weston had but two owners whose middle names acknowledged their venerable antecedence. Emma Dawson’s grandson William Stopham Dawson died unmarried in 1969 to be succeeded by Herbrand Vavasour Dawson, father of the present owner.

westongates1

see: Google Maps

‘They have reason to rejoice in one of the most favoured situations in this favoured valley,’ observed one scholar a little over two centuries ago.10 The town of Otley may have encroached towards the old gates of Weston Hall in the modern era but in essence little has really changed since that time. Or, for that matter, since the Conquest…

[G1 listing][Archives]

1. Leeds Mercury, 12 June 1873.
2. Leach, P., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding, 2009.
3. Weston Conservation Area Character Appraisal, Harrogate Borough Council, 2011
4. The Weekly Telegraph, 15 Dec 1888.
5. Oswald, A. Country Life, 13 Nov 1958.
6. Baildon, W.P. Baildon and the Baildons [including ‘The Vavasours of Weston‘], 1912.
7. Henderson, P. The architecture of the Tudor garden, Garden History, Vol.27, No.1, 1999.
8. Bogg, E. Two thousand miles in Wharfedale, 1902.
9. Creaser, M. William Vavasour: The squire of Weston, Thoresby Society, Vol.LVI, 1979-81.
10. Whitaker, T.D. Loidis and Elmete, 1816.

The turn of a new century would prove to be somewhat more than a symbolic harbinger of change in the life of Mr. Roger Jenyns, Esq. In little more than two years from 1700 this gent would: gain a knighthood, acquire a country house and estate, lose one wife (their three children having all previously died in infancy), and marry another. The estate was at Bottisham, seven mile east of Cambridge, a place which, precisely one hundred years on, would welcome a son for whom life was to unfold in altogether more sedate fashion.

bottgates

see: Google Maps

The Rev. Leonard Jenyns lived all but seven years of the C19. His first post after university saw him venture north from Bottisham Hall .. about 800 yards north, to the adjacent parish of Swaffham Bulbeck which he would serve for the next thirty years. ‘I have never been abroad,’ he declared¹ in his 89th year, a lack of adventurousness not – as we shall see – without…

… its own historical significance but which was untypical of the spirit which had first brought the Jenyns family to this place, and where they remain to this day.

*

On the morning of May 30, 1649, at a house in London’s Temple Bar, nine gentlemen gathered in a mood of businesslike self-congratulation, the previous day having seen the passing of a private parliamentary Act ‘for draining the Great Level of the Fens‘. Senior among those assembled was the 5th Earl of Bedford (later 1st Duke thereof) who was spearheading the revival of his late father’s ambitious scheme, a project interrupted by the Civil War but now given fair wind by Fenlander Oliver Cromwell. This epic undertaking was to be bankrolled by private investors, termed ‘Adventurers’, in return for rights in much of the land reclaimed.

Also present that morning was one Thomas Jenyns, younger son of Hertfordshire squire Sir John Jenyns and at this time a leaseholder of land in Hayes, Middlesex. Despite the many tribulations of the Fens enterprise, the family’s investment was plainly fruitful. In 1677 Thomas’s son, Roger, would acquire the manor of Hayes, having been one of twenty-seven Adventurers who constituted the original board of the Bedford Level Corporation. Subsequent generations ‘filled many of the most responsible offices of the Corporation’ until well into the nineteenth century.²

Roger Jenyns served ‘successively as conservator, bailiff, and surveyor general of Fens till his death in 1693’ whereupon he was succeeded as surveyor by his eldest son, John (also MP for Cambridgeshire 1701-17). They are among many Jenyns interred in Hayes church but Roger’s namesake younger son would be strikingly memorialised in Cambridgeshire having relocated closer to the heart of the action.

Behind a screen in Holy Trinity church, Bottisham, life-size effigies of Sir Roger Jenyns and his second wife, Elizabeth Soame, sit reposed in night attire, a composition which raised eyebrows in the first half of the C18. Knighted in recognition of his Fenland endeavours, Sir Roger had purchased the old estate of the Alington family at Bottisham, on the edge the Fens.

bott2

see: RCHM

At the heart of this property was the C15 moated manor house which ‘shortly after 1700 Jenyns remodelled (r), refacing it in red brick and converted the moat into a ‘canal”. And so it would remain thoughout the long lifetime of Sir Roger’s son and heir, save for the installing of a ‘large library’ as might befit…

…  the lively mind of one of the eighteenth century’s more impish men of letters.

For Soame Jenyns (1704-87) life was rarely dull. Leaving Cambridge University without taking his degree, Soame promptly entered into a marriage – contrived by his father – with his first cousin Mary Soame, a young heiress (‘of between 20 and £30,000‘) of whom Sir Roger was guardian. In summer the three lived ‘tolerably well together’ at Bottisham but in winter Soame preferred the diversions of London, ‘his mind by some means warped aside to the paths of infidelity’.

soame1

see: National Trust

A sparkling conversationalist, Soame’s urbane charm compensated for an unfortunate physical appearance. ‘Jenyns was so ugly that when [the playwright] Richard Sheridan’s sister met him at a reading party she judged him “the most hideous mortal” she had ever beheld’.³ A dandyish sartorial style went only so far in distracting from various facial tumours, broken teeth and ‘a laugh scarcely human’. Horace Walpole held Soame’s portrait by Reynolds (r) to be veritable ‘proof of Sir Joshua’s art’.³

But from an (initially) anonymous debut verse, The art of dancing, Soame fancied himself at home in the rarified company of such sharp wordsmiths, becoming a prolific, whimsically provocative poet and pamphleteer on matters topical and philosophical. One particular work, A free inquiry into the nature and origins of evil, would be remembered by posterity but, alas, more for the celebrated critique it attracted from Dr Samuel Johnson who decided that its author needed ‘to be thrashed in full view of the public’.4

johnsonWhile he received hate mail, ‘letters charged with great acrimony [and] much abuse’, the lofty barbs from the editor of The Literary Magazine were perhaps more wounding. Suggesting a more fitting subject for Jenyns’ next disquisition, Johnson wrote: ‘I should wish that he would solve this question, Why he that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer.’ Twenty years after his death it would be said of Soame, ‘He wrote verses upon dancing, and prose upon the origin of evil; yet he was a very indifferent metaphysician, and a worse dancer’.

Matters were no less turbulent on the home front. Soon after old Sir Roger died Jenyns’s wife eloped with the MP for Nottinghamshire, notorious philanderer William Levinz (itself ‘extraordinary [as] she was noways inviting’). But Soame did not have to look far for a replacement, marrying another cousin, the importunate Elizabeth Grey, who had been taken in at Bottisham Hall several years previously.

bottmain

see: RCHM

As productive as his long life was (being also a dilligent MP, mostly for Cambridge, and public administrator over 35 years) at his death in 1787 Soame had no direct heir. So Bottisham now passed to his uncle’s great-grandson, the Rev. George Leonard Jenyns, who proceeded to sell off the contents of the old Hall which was then demolished in favour of a new house built just yards away (r).

‘We are well into the Neo-Classical period, and – in Cambridgeshire especially – the accompanying rejection of the great house type in favour of more compact, villa-like plans.’ Fashioned from the characteristic white bricks of the chalky Cambridgeshire Gault, Bottisham Hall is ‘an attractive and gratifying intact house of two tall storeys in the Wyatt manner’5

bottdoor

see: Jason Webb

bottstair

see: RCHM

… initially on a square plan (an L-shaped service wing being added later). The semi-circular central bay fronts an oval entrance hall; further in, ‘the main staircase rises around three sides of the ‘D’-shaped stairhall and returns to a landing [featuring] a screen of two Ionic columns’.‘Much of the furniture acquired c.1800 remains in the house.’

Over the next two decades Rev. Jenyns would also greatly expand the parkland around the house creating the present 140-acre private domain – as one 2016 visitor noted, ‘many locals told us this was the first time they had entered the Hall’s grounds’ – of which his youngest son would be especially appreciative. ‘Cambridgeshire being open country, the gardens and plantations were like an oasis in the desert,’ recalled Rev. Leonard Jenyns (1800-93) reflecting upon a lifetime of scholarly local fieldwork which would see him become ‘an eminent, much respected naturalist’.7

heb3

see: Yale Center

Somewhat regretful that his father, ‘while quite a young man, came into possession of all of the Bottisham Hall property .. leading him to abandon ways and habits suitable to a clergyman’, Leonard’s studious inclinations flowed from his mother and her immediate family.¹ Mary Heberden was the daughter and sister of distinguished physicians (her portrait being painted for his doctor by a grateful Thomas Gainsborough). But his father, being canon of Ely Cathedral, did have his uses…

… young Leonard being appointed curate at the church closest to the Hall directly upon ordination allowing continued study of the local flora and fauna, often in the company of his ex-Cambridge friends.

bottair5

see: Bing Maps

“I shall never forget, as long as I may live, the happy hours I spent with you at Bottisham,” wrote Charles Darwin, whose later renown Jenyns would inadvertently assist. For in 1831 Captain FitzRoy had offered Jenyns the berth as naturalist aboard HMS Beagle ahead of his five-year expedition to South America. Citing parish responsibilities and uncertain health Leonard would decline the invitation recommending instead his young friend, Darwin. The rest is (natural) history.

leo2

see: accessart

On this day two years ago a pair of windows commemorating Rev. Jenyns were unveiled in the porch of Swaffham Bulbeck church by the present owner of Bottisham Hall. Leonard’s father was himself vicar (for over fifty years) of Swaffham Prior just a mile or so further up the lane. The land between these two villages is principally occupied by the parkland of Swaffham Prior House. It was here in 1901 that the prolific bestselling novelist H. Rider Haggard was put up by squire Charles Allix as he travelled about taking the pulse of post-depression Rural England for the Daily Express.

rogerjenyns

Bulbeck Beacon (Jan 2015)

As Mr. Allix and his near neighbour, Roger Jenyns of Bottisham Hall (1858-1936), explained to the writer, ‘Some of the old Cambridgeshire families still remain but during the last score of years most of them have melted away, their place filled by an influx of millionaires’. In the 1980s Swaffham Prior House was itself sold to a local millionaire who would be knighted for his commitment to the region, as Sir Roger Jenyns had been three centuries before. But at the latter’s Bottisham estate, presently the home of his namesake (right), change continues to remain a relative stranger…

[Listing]

¹ Blomefield (formerly Jenyns), L. Chapters in my life, 1889.
² Wells, S. The history of the drainage of the great level of the Fens, 1830.
³ Rompkey, R. Soame Jenyns, 1984.
4 Hanley, B. Samuel Johnson as book reviewer, 2003.
5 Bradley, S, Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, 2014.
6 Kenworthy-Browne, J., et al. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses: East Anglia, 1981.
7 Dictionary of national biography, 2004.

‘Reader, I married him’

– Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

hintblue

see: Mike Smith @ geograph

Eastleigh is a town in Hampshire just north-east of the New Forest. It is also the name given to the fictional house and estate at the centre of a now ten-year-old novel, The Chase by Candida Clark: ‘Built in 1725, Eastleigh was a house to fall in love with. On certain days in spring the bluebell walk within a broad avenue of limes could be seen by the public.’

The house pictured above is grade I-listed Hinton Admiral, situated on the fringe of the New Forest some twenty-five miles south-west of Eastleigh. Its ‘magnificent twenty acre garden within a much larger estate’ includes a ‘ten acre lime-tree avenue filled with bluebells’, one of the many attractions of the Hinton Admiral annual open day each May. The Chase, Candida Clark’s sixth novel in eight years, was published in the spring of 2006. Later that same year the writer married George Meyrick, heir not only to the Hinton Admiral estate but also to Bodorgan Hall in north Wales (itself ‘a sizeable mansion house, run to a very high standard’) and an C18 baronetcy. Since when Clark has disappeared from the literary scene.

(In a remarkable example of art prefiguring life, the pivotal protagonist of Clark’s last book, Celia Domeyne, wife of Sir Leo, has two daughters and is pregnant with a son. The Meyrick household has since expanded in precisely the same rhythm.)

Were the author ever in need of narrative inspiration for a return to the fray she need look no further than the pictures on the walls. At Bodorgan Hall, a late C18 house sequestered within 14,000 acres on the island of Anglesey, there hangs a portrait, ‘Lady Lucy Meyrick (nee Pitt) as a child’. In fact, Lucy Pitt was but fourteen years old when she married into this family, she and her equally youthful cousin being sensational runaway brides of the schoolboy Meyrick brothers.

lydia

see: Dorset Life

Some 320 miles south, a Joseph Highmore portrait (r) of Lydia, Lady Mews, adorns Hinton Admiral, a house built a year after their marriage in 1719 by her similarly middle-aged husband. Sir Peter died six years later contentiously leaving all to the ‘hated’ Lady Lydia. These paintings form part of the collections of two private houses whose hitherto entirely separate histories coalesced 140 years ago under the ownership of Sir George Tapps Gervis Meyrick, 3rd Bt. (The tripartite surname endures, foreshortened in practice today.)

At the election of 1715 Owen Meyrick of Bodorgan entered parliament as the member for Anglesey upholding the Whig sentiments of a family long established on the island. Meanwhile, Sir Peter Mews, a Tory MP of five years standing, was again returned for Christchurch (then) in Hampshire, the manor he had purchased for £22,000 in 1708. However, politically and geographically poles apart, a mutual encounter between the two men significantly responsible for the dimensions of the present-day Meyrick Estate is perhaps unlikely.

Valued service to various Tudor monarchs had helped establish the position of the ancient Meyrick (Meurig) family in the south-west of Anglesey. A debilitating decade-long legal wrangle with a neighbouring landowner at the end of the C16 (which saw ‘both parties indulging in a lively campaign of slander, counter-slander and physical violence’) would take a century to recover from.¹ But throughout the lifetime of Owen Meyrick (1682-1759) ‘the Bodorgan estate grew enormously’, initially through inheritance of the lands of the Bold family through his mother, later by systematic purchase.² ‘Owen Meyrick was the real founder of the later fortunes of the family’ in Wales. [Estate archive, Bangor Univ.]

bodair2

see: Google Maps

Quite how this pillar of society took the news that two of his sons, then boarders at Westminster School, had impulsively entered into ‘quickie’ marriages with two even younger girls whom they barely knew, one can only imagine. Lady Lucy Pitt was the youngest child of Thomas Pitt, 1st earl of Londonderry, upon whose death in 1729 she was sent to live in the restrictive household of her cousin Jane Chomondeley’s family at their town house in Buckingham Gate, W1. Lucy’s older brothers, Thomas and Ridgeway, also attended nearby Westminster School.

The miserable regime to which young Lucy and Jane were subject came to the attention of the Meyrick boys, Pierce and Richard, who, upon gallant impulse, enacted a ‘plan’ to liberate the girls, marry and perhaps even flee abroad. A dash to the environs of the debtors’ Fleet Prison hastily ensued, wherein dissolute clergymen ‘earned a disgraceful livelihood coupling young people together at the shortest notice’, no questions asked, commonly in the upstairs room of a local tavern. Trade came mostly from the lower orders but ‘occasionally the dreary purlieus of the Fleet were lighted up by erratic flashes of quality and fashion’.

woodlands

see source

So it was that Pierce took Lucy, Richard took Jane and, surprisingly, all appear to have lived happily ever after. For, as the annals of Westminster School record, after a period of years both couples formally remarried in 1732. On reflection, Owen Meyrick perhaps concluded that the boys could have fared no better in the marriage market had matters taken a more conventional course. Lady Lucy’s grandfather had sold the fabulous ‘Pitt Diamond‘ (acquired during his time as Governor of Madras) to the French monarchy in 1717 for over £100,000. Comfortably outliving her two childless brothers, Woodlands Manor in Wiltshire (r) was among the Pitt assets which flowed to Pierce Meyrick via his wife. (Jane Cholmondeley was also reportedly ‘a lady of great fortune’.³)

Down in Hampshire impetuous teenage offspring were one problem Sir Peter and Lady Mews would never encounter, the pair being both in their forties when they married in 1719. When he was aged just 25, Mews had been appointed Chancellor to the Bishop of Winchester (who happened to be his uncle). Ten years later, the ambitious purchase of the manor of Christchurch, while enhancing his status and taking him to Westminster, gradually burdened his coffers to the extent that a late marriage to Islington property heiress Lydia Jarvis (or Gervis), 42, suddenly made great sense. And now, of course, Lady Lydia would need an appropriate residence.

hintondraw

‘Hinton Place’ (see: British Library)

warbrook

Len Williams @ geograph

In the north of Hampshire stands Warbrook House (r), built for himself by architect John James in 1723, the same year in which he succeeded Sir Christopher Wren as surveyor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. James Lees-Milne has not unreasonably suggested that Hinton Admiral is strongly redolent of James’ ‘plain Baroque’4 style, the Mews’ house being similarly a brick mansion with an ‘unmistakable’5 raised central section defined by simple pilasters. Two long service blocks ran perpendicular to the main house, connected by colonnades, a ‘grandiose, grossly inconvenient plan for a house of by no means large proportions’.6

Alas, at the height of his squirarchical pomp Sir Peter Mews died in 1726 aged 54. Claiming no family, Mews left all to his wife but a Thomas Mew of London was anonymously encouraged by letter to pursue a claim. ‘Everybody hates My Lady Mew and wish that she may lose the estate. They say that she is a mean, miserable woman and tricking.’7 A subsequent legal challenge was eventually seen off by the redoubtable Lydia who would bequeath Hinton to her nephew, Benjamin Clerke. His son would also encounter Chancery woe when inheriting as a minor, a suit questioning the legitimacy of Joseph Jarvis Clerke being thrown out at a hearing at the Guildhall in January 1754.8

hintair3

see: Google Maps

In 1777, the year before he died, Joseph saw his house gutted by fire. But the exterior structure remained sound, faithful reconstruction commencing immediately, seen through by his heir, cousin George Tapps (created Sir George, 1st Bt., in 1792). Additionally, balancing wings behind each colonnade filled out the original composition.

Meanwhile, just as the restoration and expansion of Hinton was coming together, in 1779 up on Anglesey a new house was also rising.

Bodorgan was now in the hands of Owen Meyrick’s grandson, Owen Putland Meyrick, seen (r) in a George Romney portrait of 1788. Meyrick had married Clara, eldest of three daughters of wealthy Richard Garth (whose family were long seated at Morden Hall in Surrey, now National Trust). Through the first half of the C18 the three great landed interests on Anglesey – Bodorgan, the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill and the Baylys at Plas Newydd – had jostled for dominance. But by the 1770s the young masters of Bodorgan and Baron Hill were congenial contemporaries, Owen Meyrick, Lord Bulkeley and their heiress wives frequently dining together.9

baronhill

see: Oliver Mills

Between 1776-1779 architect Samuel Wyatt was engaged to significantly remodel Baron Hill (left, now derelict though the estate remains in the same hands). Wyatt’s site manager on this project was young John Cooper who would be talent-spotted by Meyrick and given his big break with the commission to rebuild Bodorgan.

bodair1

see: Coflein

The old hall was largely demolished, replaced by a ‘neo-classical mansion of smooth ashlar masonry in a pale, yellowish stone, with a slate roof. The main east front has nine bays, the central three on a semi-circular bow with a domed roof. [There are] fine views from the house and garden out over the park to the estuary and Snowdonia beyond.’ (John Cooper would go on to complete the Anglesey ‘big house’ hat-trick, remodelling Plas Newydd soon after.)

Owen and Clara’s only child, Clara, married Augustus Fuller and their son, Owen Fuller Meyrick, succeeded to Bodorgan in 1825, dying unmarried in 1876. His long tenure saw some rearrangement and extension of the house but ‘the circular saloon, and the hall with its graceful curving stone staircase, remain today as models of C18 elegance’.9 The gardens (which in Tudor times featured terracing
down to the sea) would gain particular repute during this period: ‘A large sum is annually put at the gardener’s disposal for the procurement of horticultural novelties. On visiting Bodorgan the wonder is how such an Eden could be formed in so out-of-the-way a place.’10

hintonback

see: Tina Endall

In the same year that her brother had inherited this remote domain, Meyrick’s sister, another Clara, married the heir to Hinton Admiral, Sir George Tapps Gervis, 2nd Bt., (whose father had willed that the ‘Jarvis’ variant be appended henceforth ‘to mark my respect for the memory of Lady Mews’). Their son, Sir George Tapps Gervis of Hinton Admiral, gained his second estate and third surname from his bachelor uncle in 1876. (While the last name has been a variable, the christian name of every baronet has remained the same, a tradition certain to continue for at least the next two generations.) Since the unification of Hinton and Bodorgan descent has been straightforwardly father-to-son, the present owner being…

gervis

see: Bournemouth.com

… Sir George (Tapps Gervis) Meyrick, 7th Bt., who ranked on the most recent Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated worth of £125m. This figure is accounted for less by 14,000-acre Bodorgan (and its state-of-the-art racetrack) than by the 6,000 acres of southern England, including sizeable swathes of Bournemouth and Christchurch whose C19 development was significantly underwritten by Meyrick estate investment.

hpark4

see: Bing Maps

The Hinton Admiral estate also includes 2,000 acres of woodland in the New Forest national park, the proposed boundaries of which were redrawn to explicitly exclude the parkland around the house – ‘It is notable that there are no public rights of way through Hinton Park’ – following a landmark legal case. (Similarly, walkers on the Wales Coastal Path are obliged to take an uncommon detour inland around Bodorgan, affording a level of privacy appreciated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their Anglesey sojourn.)

haterrace

see: Gabriella Gardens

In the early years of the last century the fourth baronet engaged Harold Peto to reimagine some of the principal interior and exterior spaces at Hinton. His ‘rich Frenchy ballroom’5 features ‘plentiful gilding done in powdered gold, a method rarely employed on account of its cost’.6 But it is as the creator of ‘some of the finest gardens in England’ that Peto is best known and the annual garden open day at Hinton affords a chance to enjoy the Italianate pergola and terracing (r) of his ‘matchless remodelling’.11

hapeacock

see: Country Life

That terracing will likely have had a good hosing down before the day in order to remove the deposits of Hinton’s most conspicuous and troublesome residents, delightful peacocks who further endear themselves by ‘screeching at dawn beneath the bedroom window’.

Celia glanced up as one of the peacocks cried out on the terrace. They were her husband’s, too; after ten years of marriage she had still not got used to them.‘ – Candida Clark, The Chase, 2006.

[Bodorgan Estate]

¹ Jones, E.G. Some notes on the principal families of Anglesey in the C16 & early C17, Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society, 1939.
² Roberts, T. The Meyrick family of Bodorgan Hall, Trans.Ang.Ant.Soc., 1983.
³ Grub Street Journal, 10 Aug 1732.
4 Jeffery, S. English baroque architecture: The work of John James, thesis, 1986.
5 Pevsner, N., Lloyd, D. The buildings of England: Hampshire, 1967.
6 Weaver, L. Hinton Admiral, Country Life, 8 Oct 1910.
7 Turcotte, D. Strange affairs at Christchurch, 2011.
8 Whitehall Evening Post, Jan 1754.
9 Mapp, V.E. The rebuilding of Bodorgan Hall, Trans.Ang.Ant.Soc., 1983.
10 North Wales Chronicle, 13 June 1837.
11 Mowl, T., Whitaker, J. The historic gardens of England: Hampshire, 2016.

If, as is sometimes suggested, the cost of a Catholic upbringing is a life-long guilty conscience, how much worse for the recusant landed family whose estate owes its existence to Henry VIII’s rupture with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries? And the ironies don’t stop there at Cheeseburn Grange, near Stamfordham, eleven miles north-west of Newcastle upon Tyne, a property passed only by marriage and inheritance since the Reformation.

cgview

see: Andrew Curtis @ geograph

Cheeseburn Grange is just one of several houses in the county which have been associated successively with the same two extensive Northumbrian families, the Widdringtons and Riddells, whose religious and Royalist affiliations, combined with their proxmity to Scotland, lead almost inevitably to their participation in the 1715 Jacobite uprising. Strange then that Cheeseburn’s most high-profile owner to date should have been a Puritan Parliamentarian who actively sought to undermine the constitutional position of the Scots.

*

You have established your throne upon two columns of diamond, Piety and Justice; the one gives you to God, the other gives Men to you, and all your subjects are most happy in both.”

widdi2

see: NPG

Words taken from the address of the Recorder of York, Thomas Widdrington, greeting the arrival of King Charles I in the city on 30 March, 1639, effusive loyalty which plainly went down well as Widdrington was knighted the following day. Eighteen years later, however, Sir Thomas (left), by now the Speaker of the House of Commons, was overseeing Oliver Cromwell’s investiture as Lord Protector (Cromwell having resisted Widdrington’s recommendation that he take the crown as king).

Sir Thomas’s father, Lewis Widdrington, was the illegitimate offspring of a family prominent in Northumbria since the C12; by the end of the C16 he was the owner (via marriage) of Cheeseburn, formerly a grange of Hexham Priory. Thomas duly inherited in 1630, married Frances Fairfax three years later and in April 1640 as the MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed he entered parliament and the cockpit of constitutional calamity.

widdiA cautious lawyer by reputation, Puritan Widdrington, whilst ready and willing to confront the likes of backsliding bishops such as Matthew Wren (right), would have no part in the prosecution of their tacit inspiration, the king himself. But there could be no real hiding place from the harsh realities of civil conflict when your brother-in-law (Thomas Lord Fairfax) was commander-in-chief of the New Model Army and your sister (Hannah) was married to John Rushworth, personal secretary to Oliver Cromwell.

Widdrington’s metier was backroom negotiation and he would be right there at the anvil as a new constitutional settlement was hammered out. Sir Thomas was not without his own agenda, however. As the leader of the ‘Northern Gentlemen’ faction of MPs (historically wary of their neighbours north of the border), Widdrington’s perceived attempts to relegate the role of Scotland created ‘apprehension which contributed greatly to the outbreak of the Second Civil War’.¹

But Thomas’s generally moderating stance throughout these turbulent times saw him survive relatively unscathed in the spasm of vengeance which accompanied the restoration of the monarchy. Able to remain an MP, Widdrington lost most of his positions of office but not his property. His only son having predeceased him, at Sir Thomas’s death in 1664 Cheeseburn Grange passed briefly to his brother, Henry, and thirty years on was in the possession of Henry’s son, Ralph and his wife, Mary.

cgdoor1

cgdoor

see: Santhosh Nair

We can be precise about this thanks to a feature in the walled garden at Cheeseburn, a splendid survival from a major remodelling of the house which would take place some 120 years later: ‘Entry to [the] summerhouse re-uses a door surround of 1694. In the pediment a large crest and shield of the Widdrington family inscribed RW MW 1694. Flanking the pediment two large busts of spotted bulls, the crest of the Widdringtons.’ [Listing]

swin

see: Country Life

Ralph’s namesake grandson was to be the last Widdrington of Cheeseburn Grange, however. This Ralph’s sister, Mary, had married Thomas Riddell of Swinburne Castle (right), another Northumbrian seat which had belonged to the Widdringtons from the C13 until passing by marriage in 1678. (Swinburne has remained in this line; a C16 wing and C18 orangery were incorporated into a new house in the 1990s.)

Both Ralph Widdrington and Thomas Riddell were proactive Jacobites and spent several years in exile after their routing in 1715 but ultimately survived with their properties intact. Ralph died childless in 1752, Cheeseburn passing to his nephew, Thomas’s second son – Ralph.

felton1

see: Country Life

It’s clear that being Catholic gentry in the least densely populated county in England did somewhat limit the gene pool. Ralph Riddell’s elder brother, Thomas, married Elizabeth Widdrington, heiress of Felton Park (left). In turn, two of their sons would marry the Salvin sisters of that Catholic Co. Durham dynasty (seated at Croxdale Hall since the C15). The younger son, Edward, having inherited Felton Park through his mother, died just seven months after his wedding.

With Felton now passing to her brother-in-law (Ralph Riddell), Edward’s widow remarried … her late husband’s cousin, Ralph Riddell of Cheeseburn Grange.

Both Ralphs would significantly remodel their houses; at Cheeseburn, Ralph Riddell (1771-1831) turned to the coming man of architecture in the area, John Dobson. This young practicioner was not long back in his native North East after a spell furthering his education in London. Dobson had resisted flattering encouragement to set up in the capital sensing greater opportunities back home. And he was not wrong, being fully employed throughout a career which would leave a dominant stamp on both town and country locally. Ralph Riddell was amongst his earliest significant patrons, Dobson being engaged to refashion the house and park at Cheeseburn Grange from 1813.²

cheesemain

see: Newcastle Uni Music

While his country houses are most characteristically crisply classical in style, Dobson also developed a line in picturesque Gothic of which Cheeseburn is an agreeably modest example. Having removed the old main door surround to the garden, the entrance was now to the south and emphasised by a castellated porch and tower while ‘a high parapet pierced with Gothic openings [hid] the old roof’.³

cgchapel

see: A.J. Wigham / Flickr

Proposed turrets at each corner of the house never materialised but a new chapel attached to the west side of the house would be served by a private chaplain in continuance of the tradition of a Catholic mission at Cheeseburn.

cheeseview3

see: Historic England

The altar (left) was later redesigned by ‘one of the most remarkable characters of the Victorian age’, Joseph Aloysius Hansom, also responsible for a substantial Gothic wing added to house c.1860 (r). While the inventor of the Hansom cab and founder of The Builder (now Building) magazine also has a substantial built legacy – Birmingham Town Hall, Arundel Cathedral, etc – this no longer includes his extension at Cheeseburn which was demolished in the 1970s.

cgscott

see: Gary Scott / Flickr

‘Dobson’s proposals [at Cheeseburn] are important for also including major alterations to the surrounding parkland. He suggested a whole new scheme of planting to shelter the house, and replanned the driveway to enable the visitor on approach to fully appreciate the siting of the house in its landscape.’³ And very recently the visitor has been invited to appreciate the siting of other creations within this landscape…

… the past few years having seen the emergence of Cheeseburn Sculpture.

Sculpture at Cheeseburn, Northumberland

see: Sally-Ann Norman

On the walls are old masters whose darkness conceals their artistic insignificance‘ – Somerset Maughm’s comic put-down of the art likely adorning the minor country seat. Doubtless Cheeseburn Grange has had its share of such but is now determinedly raising its game. Part of a mini-trend which has seen some traditional private estates develop their grounds as occasional alfresco art galleries – at the opposite end of the country, Delamore in Devon (‘in the same family since 1688’) is a not-dissimilar model – Cheeseburn has, since 2014, become ‘a showcase for sculpture, design and art, where the public can encounter new and established work in the setting of our historic house and gardens’.

cheeseowner

see: The Journal

Behind this serious commitment to new art is Joanna Riddell (left), wife of the present squire of the 2,000-acre Cheeseburn Grange estate. Since taking over from Simon Riddell’s bachelor uncle in 1992 gradual rejuvenation of the house and gardens (“project after project .. serious hard graft”) has finally made way for novel creativity. The recent conversion of outbuildings has expanded the curatorial options for Riddell (and arts consultant Matthew Jarratt); Cheeseburn’s latest show takes place this coming weekend.

Potentially overlooked these days amidst this sudden influx of diverting objets d’art, spare a thought for an ancient garden feature which was hitherto without rival as the object of curiosity and wonder hereabouts:

Pedestal sundial. C17. Sandstone. Complex multi-faceted top recording the time not only in Stamfordham but also in Cracow and Mexico.’

cgsun

see: TammyTourGuide

But of course, Cracow and Mexico, where else? The exotic, mystifying dimensions of this grade II listed artifact gave inspiration to recent writer-in-residence, Linda France:

The old sundial has given up its ghost, a puzzle now of broken gnomons and random numbers, nearly worn away by centuries of March winds and April showers.’

The Dictionary of National Biography perhaps provides some clues: ‘James Riddell (d.1674) was the son of an English merchant descended from a landowning family who traded in Cracow, Poland, and later moved to Edinburgh.’

cgball2

see source

Intruigingly, an earlier edition also notes that this James ‘made the acquaintance of Oliver Cromwell, who is said to have stayed some time in his house in Leith’.

Maybe one day all will be explained. But for now, with the bar having been significantly raised in the fascination stakes around here, it’s perhaps just as well that the old sundial should remain simply another of the riddles of Cheeseburn Grange…

[Cheeseburn][GII* listing][More views]

¹ Scott, D. The ‘Northern Gentlemen’.. and Anglo-Scottish relations in the Long Parliament, The Historical Journal, 1999.
² Wilkes, L. John Dobson: Architect and landscape gardener, 1980.
³ Faulkner, T., Greg, A. John Dobson Architect of the North East, 2001.