Now some four years and 50 houses into this little odyssey, Handed on must confess to being no nearer to divining common characteristics which might help explain how these remarkable, mostly lesser-known survivors have quietly defied the gravitational pull towards extinction. Which was certainly the narrative of the country house estate across much of the last century, the tidal force of structural decimation running at full spate in the immediate post-war years. So it was perhaps the good fortune of Orleton Hall – an estate which has passed only by inheritance since the C14 – at that moment to become temporarily subsumed within an altogether grander, aristocratic domain.
Now managed by the National Trust, spectacular Powis Castle remains the seat of the Earls of Powis. The two World Wars were to claim both sons of the 4th earl, so it was that the title and substantial estates descended in 1952 to his kinsman Edward Herbert of Orleton Hall, some thirty miles due east across the English border, on the other side of Shrewsbury.
An advertisement in The Times 13 May 1957: ‘Young woman wanted to help in house and dining room, other staff kept, for Orleton Hall, Wellington, from June, and Powis Castle, Welshpool, from October. Apply The Countess of Powis‘. This seasonal arrangement continued for another decade at which point the entire Orleton estate and its history came – quite literally – to a Holt.
Mr Vesey Holt, Esq. to be precise, whose obituary in the Daily Telegraph recorded a positively Wodehousian stroke of fortune: ‘In 1967 Holt was unexpectedly given Orleton Hall, an 18th century house and 2,000-acre estate in Shropshire, by his uncle Edward, Earl of Powis’. Splendid, what?! Holt – scion of the military banking family – was the great-grandson of Anna Maria, Mrs Robert Herbert, an only child whose 1854 marriage effectively brought to an end Orleton’s 500-year association with the family name of Cludde.
Another house and estate chiefly remarkable for its boggling longevity in the same hands, for over 300 years from the end of the C14 Orleton passed directly from Cludde father to Cludde son. In 1721 a nephew, William Cludde, was required and when his son Edward duly inherited he soon set about giving the existing medieval family seat a Georgian makeover.
Expanded on three sides, some original timbering survives in the centre of Orleton Hall as does one arm of the square moat which originally surrounded it’s earlier incarnation. Cludde also updated the C16 gatehouse (left) – ‘Orleton’s most picturesque feature’¹ – while another eye-catching survival in the grounds is the ‘remarkable’² mid-C18 octagonal Chinoiserie gazebo (r). However, the delightful detailing of these two structures does rather serve to highlight the relatively featureless severity of the exterior of the grade II* listed Hall itself: ‘The windows devoid of any ornament, the [main] facade without platbands or quoins, the doorway little more than an opening’.³
Yet Orleton’s plainness was quite typical of Shropshire houses of the period (c1770), a trend being at once a reaction ‘to the decorative idioms of previous generations and a failure or disinclination to invent any other’. In the 1830s some slight relief was to arrive courtesy of prolific local architect Edward Haycock who, in addition to remodelling the interiors (r), would insert a colonnade into the shallow recess on the entrance side essayed in his favoured Greek Revival style. (Using the same Grinshill stone Haycock would late give full vent to this enthusiasm when creating Millichope Park 20 miles south.)
‘The mansion stands in a beautifully situated park and commands a magnificent view of the Wrekin, the bold arch of the mountain rising abruptly from the plain to heights unrivalled in England.’4 Although a public beauty spot, in the late C18 a 130-acre slice of this inspirational landmark was acquired by the Cluddes and remains part of the Orleton estate today following an abortive disposal attempt ten years ago (see: ‘Middle Earth for sale’).
Other sales have been successful, however, including that of nearby Burcot Manor which had come into the fold via a mid-C18 marriage. Latterly serving as the estate’s secondary residence, this ‘substantial chunk of spare property’ was sold – for the first time since at least 1650 – in 2004. And, rather more controversially, just last year another 37.5 of the estate’s 1,700 or so acres were shaved off when a proposed housing development which had locals ‘frothing at the mouth‘ was given the go-ahead by the local council.
‘There can be few pleasanter places to visit in summer than the Wellington Ground under the mighty Wrekin,’ observed one 1980s visitor of the cricket club established in the park at Orleton by Edward Herbert, later 5th earl of Powis.¹ But pleasant for how much longer wonder the denizens of the minor leagues venue. Just one amongst many to formally lodge reservations about the development of land abutting the eastern edge of the park, the club’s concerns ranged from the unwelcome prospect of players being put off their stroke by ‘music blasting out from a Saturday afternoon barbeque’ to mildy apocalyptic visions of flooding and dead children.
Noticeably, this submission was cc’d to the club’s senior honorary figures – Mrs Elizabeth Holt (president) and Mr Peter Holt (deputy president, current owner of Orleton Hall and vendor of said land). But with this particular team currently on a score of 700 (years) not out, could the result ever seriously have been in doubt?
¹ Montgomery-Massingberd, H. The Field, 30 Aug 1986.
² Newman, J. and Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
³ Mercer, E. English architecture to 1900: the Shropshire experience, 2003.
4 Leach, F. County seats of Shropshire, 1891.