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‘Scorrier House, Tregullow and Burncoose are fine examples of grand houses and estates built for mining industrialists. These predominantly belonged to one family – the Williams’, one of the greatest mining dynasties in the Old World.’ (2004)

No need for the past tense here because they still do – and rather more besides. Likewise, the family’s renown, originally founded on the exploitation of Cornwall’s subterranean bounty, also endures although more these days through endeavours overground. Their name could be said to be more widely known than ever, in fact; at this time of year chances are there’s a Williamsii abloom somewhere near you right now.

caerHHA

see: HHA

One sunny day early last month saw a presentation on the lawns of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall (r), owner Charles Williams accepting the award of Garden of the Year 2016 from the Historic Houses Association and prize sponsor, Christie’s. ‘Caerhays is very much a traditional Cornish spring flowering garden, open from February to the beginning of June.’

The Castle itself can also be visited during this limited season, Caerhays being the most accessible and architecturally extravagent tip of the wider Williams family’s West Country iceberg, extending to half-a-dozen houses and an estimated 20,000 acres.1

Allowing architect John Nash free rein to create this Picturesque vision on the south Cornish coast financially embarrassed owner John Trevanion so acutely that he was forced to abandon his ancient family seat and flee abroad. The virtually derelict house would eventually be acquired in 1853 by Michael Williams (1784-1858), the fourth generation of a family ‘who made the other mining magnates of Cornwall look like under-achievers’2 and was, as will be seen, a ‘bold, skillful architect of his own colossal fortunes’.

werr1

see: Countryman’s Fair

The gardens at Caerhays began as the private passion of Michael’s grandson, John Charles Williams (d. 1939), who, whilst waiting to inherit the Castle from his mother, purchased Werrington Park (r), fifty miles to the north, from the Duke of Northumberland. An ‘ancient house’ with significant Georgian and late-Victorian remodelling, both Grade I Werrington (‘admirably sited’ above a large landscaped park, ‘excellent interior decoration’) and Caerhays remain in the possession of JC Williams’ descendants.3 As does…

burnc2

see: CornishMemory.com

…Burncoose (left), some fifty miles south-west down the A30.  The most modest of this trio, it would be the base from which, after acquisition in 1715, the Williams would ascend from tin and copper mine manager/owners to landed society, ‘their wealth rivalling that of potentates and nabobs’.4

burncgate

see: Street View

‘The well-known nursery and woodland garden is open all year round but the house, remaining in the Williams family, is strictly private*.’5  Burncoose was inherited in 1775 by John Williams (d. 1841) ‘the greatest adventurer, ablest manager, best practical engineer of his time’ in Cornwall. John, however, would leave the early C19 development of this property to his son, Michael (who would later buy Caerhays), having built, in 1778, a new house four miles away…

… at Scorrier.

orchardToday, Caerhays and its commercial counterpart Burncoose have the recognized horticultural credentials but could the profile of Scorrier House and its garden (whose annual open afternoon has just been and gone) be set to rise? For this spring has seen the publication of a new book by bestselling historical novelist Tracy ‘The girl with the pearl earring‘ Chevalier. At the edge of the orchard concerns a struggling fictional family of American settlers, one of whom strikes out for the West Coast where he falls in with real-life Victorian plant hunter William Lobb.

In the years immediately prior to his globetrotting missions seeking out exotic blooms on behalf of the Veitch nursery Lobb had been head gardener…

monkey

Scorrier House

scordoor

see: Scorrier House

… at Scorrier and is ‘responsible for the rare and fine specimens in the grounds’.6. Until last year when it sadly succumbed to old age (r), these included the tallest monkey puzzle tree in the land.

Lobb’s employer at Scorrier, John Williams, handed the property on to his eldest son, the aforesaid Michael. Having already successfully diversified into copper smelting, a quick-thinking stroke of enterprise would see Michael Williams famously play up his fortune in 1845 (critically, just prior to the arrival of a national rail link).

scor2

see: BBC / YouTube

On learning during a visit to London that the price of tin had suddenly gone through the roof Williams took the first coach back to Exeter, galloped the rest of the way on horseback and snapped up all available tin options before the news reached Cornwall. Buying low selling high turbocharged Williams’ finances, enabling the acquisition of Caerhays and also the expansion of Scorrier House eastwards overlooking the park (r).

scorfire

see: CornishMemory.com

The historical division of the Williams estates occurred upon Michael Williams death in 1858, Caerhays and Burncoose going to eldest son John Michael, Scorrier to his sixth, George. George’s son, John, inherited in 1891 and would return from the hunting field one afternoon seventeen years on to find Scorrier had been all but destroyed by ‘one of the most destructive fires ever recorded in Cornwall’.7

scorstair

see: Scorrier House

Scorrier House was quickly rebuilt, however, ‘the interior planned around a sumptuous, extravagant staircase and entrance hall’ adorned by pictures which were among the items rescued from incineration.3 (To Williams’ particular dismay the latter did not include the contents of the cellar. As one fireman told reporters, ‘bottles of champagne were hissing and popping off in all directions’.7)

The sound of popping champagne corks still regularly resounds hereabouts though in altogether jollier circumstances. For, while Scorrier ‘remains a private family home in the hands of Richard and Caroline Williams, their dogs and family’, the house and its ‘400-acre oasis of parkland and garden’5 are today a popular wedding venue. Now it’s not entirely inconceivable that the natural exuberance of such events may occasionally come to the notice of Scorrier’s next-door neighbour…

tregsco3

see: Bing Maps

… being Tregullow House (left), presently the home of Richard Williams’ younger brother, James.

treg2

see: CornishMemory.com

Tregullow was built in 1826 by William Williams, a younger brother of Michael (of Scorrier and later Caerhays), the proximity possibly explained by their having married the Eales sisters, Caroline and Elizabeth.  The brothers’ architectural tastes, too, were seemingly not dissimilar: two-storey Classical houses, relatively plain but with imposing rectangular porte-cocheres.

tregstair

see: Cornwall Council

treg3

see source

With an inferno-free history, G.II Tregullow retains ‘numerous features of significant quality’ (r). In recent times both the house and its ‘truly secret‘ garden have felt the benefit of the present owner’s remunerative former career in international finance, undergoing a programme of substantial renovation.8

The builder of Tregullow ‘did even better in status if not in wealth’ than his brother (legendary tin speculator Michael), ‘acquiring not only a 6,000-acre estate but also a baronetcy’.9 Created Sir William Williams, of Tregullow, in 1866, that this title has already reached its tenth incarnation is due to the premature demise of the third baronet and each of his three sons between 1903 and 1917…

upcott

see: Upcott House

… a sequence of events which would precipitate the separation of house and title. Today, Sir Donald Williams, 10 Bt, ‘of Tregullow’, is in fact of Upcott House, near Barnstaple in Devon. ‘Set amongst gardens and woodland with far-reaching views across the Taw Valley, Upcott is owned by the Williams family, our home since it was built in 1752.’

This is not the family’s first outpost over the border, however. Another Devon house, Gnaton Hall, was owned and occupied by Michael Williams and his descendants through the second half of the C19. Much closer to home back in Cornwall the same line would also lease and significantly alter the two houses of the Beauchamps, Pengreep and Trevince (which remains in that family). And in 1809 the builder of Scrorrier, John Williams, acquired Sandhill House wherein he doubtless enjoyed his retirement (having remarried, aged 79, a Miss Edwards, 25).

Interviewed recently, Caroline Williams of Scorrier House remarked how, ‘when they left home [their now grown-up children] found it strange to live in houses that other people, rather than family, had lived in’. It would seem they would have to travel some way beyond the West Country simply to find one…

[Scorrier House][Tregullow][*Burncoose]

1. Cahill, K. Who owns Britain, 2001.
2. Smelt, M. 101 Cornish lives, 2006.
3. Beacham, P., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cornwall, 2014.
4. Cornish Times, 20 June 1857.
5. Gamble, B. Cornwall’s great houses and gardens, 2014.
6. Delderfield, E.R. West Country historic houses & their families, 1968.
7. The West Briton & Cornwall Advertiser, 5 March, 1908.
8. Oral history of Barings Bank: James Williams interview, British Library, 2009.
9. Thompson, F.M.L. Life after death, Economic History Review, 1990.

Oft-times the best laid plans can come to nought. In the case of the most famous address in the land, quite literally so.

I told the contractor how I wanted the lettering done and got something entirely different..and completely wrong.”

The words of architect Raymond Erith in 1964 not long after having completed a major renovation and expansion of the official residences in Downing Street, London SW1. Erith was referring to a detail which, although relatively minor in the scheme of what was an inevitably high-profile, sometimes fraught, project would become something of a defining emblem: the wonky zero.

gatzero

see: Gov.uk

No matter what moment is being played out before it, Handed on has long been vaguely transfixed by this quirky badge of Britishness. Or bodge, as Erith would have it: “The numerals..are beastly,” he declared, “all I want to do is forget about it”. But there would be no hiding place for his newly-finished creation in 1963 when scandal convulsed the political establishment. All eyes were on No.10 as sensational revelations about the behaviour of War Minister John Profumo pushed Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s ship towards the rocks.

Immediately after his resignation from government Profumo was able to give a rabid press pack the slip for thirteen days, hiding out at the Warwickshire village home of his constituents Air Commodore and Mrs. Victor Willis. And it’s not too fanciful to speculate that the last-named had also been affording sanctuary of a sort to Raymond Erith throughout his trying times at No.10, being ascribed as the client for a building regarded as among the architect’s ‘most characteristic and successful’ works.

gatwillis

erithretro

gaterith

Exactly contemporaneous with his Westminster project, the Gatley Park Folly would be chosen to illustrate the covers of both the only substantive monograph on Erith’s career (left, by his daughter Lucy Archer) and the catalogue which accompanied the Sir John Soane’s Museum restrospective in 2004 (r), some thirty years after his death.

One of the more defiantly un-modern 1960s buildings of listed status (GII), the domed three-storey tower on an oval plan exemplifies Erith’s distinctive style: restrained classicism significantly informed by locally appropriate forms and material. Built around a spiral staircase newel post ‘reputedly the trunk of one vast tree’ and commanding spectacular views, this indulgent little edifice even featured a small library.1 John Fowler was hired to fit out the interiors but he and Erith ‘did not work together terribly well, for Erith was a rather austere man with little understanding of how most people lived’.2

The residence was concieved as a dower house for Peggy Willis on the ancestral estate of her former husband, Philip Dunne, in association with their son and heir, Capt. Thomas Dunne. In a remarkable echo of previous events, precisely ten years after the Profumo affair the Dunnes’ daughter Philippa and son-in-law the 2nd Earl Jellicoe would pitch up at Gatley seeking rural refuge from political scandal. In May 1973 Jellicoe, then Leader of the House of Lords, had decided to fall on his sword in anticipation of more call girl revelations. Their bolthole would be quickly rumbled, however: ‘Two hours later, the press knocked on the door at Gatley. The News of the World wanted to upstage one of their rivals by bringing Christine Keeler to be photographed at the bottom of the drive.’3

But Herefordshire remains as good a place as any in which to hide out. ‘A remote and seemingly secret part of the world, to the layman it means half-timbered houses and the county is rich in them.’4 And it would seem Gatley Park was just one among them when it was acquired by Royalist parliamentarian Sir Sampson Eure in 1633. Dendochronology ‘suggests that Gatley was built during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. It would appear that Sir Sampson added a brick skin to the original timber-framed Tudor house’.

The central cluster of nine octagonal chimneys is, however, thought to predate this work. Eure’s gabled house was on a modest ‘square plan with a projecting panel-lined porch’; extant metal fixtures at Gatley still bear dated engravings of his arms or initials. The estate would be sold for the last time in 1678, Sir Samuel’s widowed daughter-in-law selling to Philip Dunne (‘descended from the Welsh family of Dwn, and through them from many of the early Welsh princes’) whence it has passed in the male line to this day.

gatmem3

see: jmc4 @ Flickr

The next three generations at Gatley are memorialised together in Aymestrey parish church. Philip’s son Thomas (d. 1734) was responsible for various interior enhancements including much panelling and ‘an overmantel with an early C18 painting of the house in its landscape’.5 But the house was to remain substantially unaltered until the last years of the C19 as family attentions turned elsewhere…

… initially to the nearby town of Ludlow, just over the border into Shropshire.

broad2

see: Street View


broad3

see source

‘In or around 1757’ Thomas’s son, also Thomas (d .1770), created a pair of Georgian townhouses – ‘smart little buildings with a raised walk in front of them’ – at the lower end of Broad Street. The scene is little changed today (above, looking south). In 1770 his son and heir Martin Dunne (left, mounted) ‘moved into no. 36 and practiced there for the next forty-four years as a doctor’.6

‘A practicioner much ahead of his time who did his own experiments on the use of electricity in healing,’7 Dr. Martin died childless and the Dunne estate now passed to his nephew Thomas. The latter married Ann Smith whose own substantial paternal inheritance, Bircher Hall just two miles SW of Gatley, would be enlarged by Thomas c.1827 and become the favoured Dunne abode for the next two generations.

4ashes1

see source

(In 1854, the same year as her husband’s death, Ann somewhat unexpectedly inherited Four Ashes Hall in Staffordshire (left) from a distant relative. Having little need of another large house it was given to her second son, Charles, who took the name Amphlett in exchange for an estate which has since passed by descent in that line and ‘remains something of a time capsule‘.)

It was in the last decade of the C19 that Gatley Park took on the enlarged footprint seen today, if not it’s exact form. For so ‘appalling‘ and ‘aesthetically disastrous’ were new wings east and west that they would be ‘thoroughly remodelled , 1907-8, to [now] conform remarkably will with the gabled brick centre’.5

Secreted away at the end of a ‘magnificent’ kilometre-long winding drive which rises through dense woodland (‘halfway between parkland and arboretum’), 2,500-acre Gatley retains the quality which was to see it cast momentarily as a fastness from political scandal.8

gatdrive2

see: Google Maps


gathill

Richard Webb @ geograph

Not that any such has ever attached to Gatley Park’s present occupant, of course. Being Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow and the Minister of State for Defence Procurement in the current Tory administration. ‘Philip lives near Ludlow where he was brought up on the family farm,’ says his official website. Now coyness is hardly the first attribute one might ascribe to the typical elected politician but Dunne is by no means alone at Westminster in seeking to play down a sizable ancestral inheritance.

The MP for Dorset South, for instance, Richard Drax was ‘brought up in Dorset .. where local schoolchildren [can] spend a day on his farm’ aka the 7,000-acre Charborough Park estate complete with its fine mansion (as previously featured). Berwick-upon-Tweed’s Anne-Marie Trevelyan makes no mention at all of the family home at Grade I Netherwitton Hall while Richard Benyon MP, present squire of the 14,000-acre Englefield estate (by descent since 1635), is simply ‘a local farmer .. born and raised in West Berkshire’.

One hundred and fifty years ago over 400 MPs ‘came from families owning 2,000 acres or more’. In 1910 – when Philip Dunne’s great-grandfather Edward was the member for Walsall – ‘the landowning fraternity’ still constituted a quarter of the House of Commons.9 Today, while there are several ‘farmers’, the number of ‘landowners’ is apparently zero. Another wonky political zero, you might say…

1. House and Garden, February 1966.
2. Wood, M. John Fowler: Prince of decorators, 2007.
3. Windmill, L.A. A British Achilles, 2005.
4. Reid, P. Burke’s and Savills guide to country houses. Vol. 2, 1980.
5. Brooks, A. and Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Herefordshire, 2012.
6. Girouard, M. The English town, 1990.
7. Lloyd, D. Broad Street – its houses and residents through 8 centuries, 1979.
8. Mowl, T. and Bradney, J. Historic gardens of Herefordshire, 2012.
9. Beckett, J.V. The aristocracy in England 1660-1914, 1986.

 

From the official record of the House of Lords dated March 22, 1789:

Q. “What did you see pass between Charles Charles and Mrs. Nash in February 1779?”

A. “When I went down, I went to Charles Charles’s Room, the Cloaths were turned up on one Side; Charles Charles’s Arms were round her; she had her Shift and under Petticoat on.”

Q.”In what Posture?”

A. “In a leaning Posture.”

Q. “Were they upon the Bed?”

A. “They were in the Bed.”

Q. “What did you observe at that Time?”

A. “I had no good Opinion of them.”

At once confirming that a) divorce has long been a messy old business, and b) that Handed on is not above resorting to a bit of gratuitous salacious detail to grab the reader’s attention. The above being an extract from the proceedings of a parliamentary Bill, entitled “An Act to dissolve the Marriage of John Nash Architect with Jane Kerr his now Wife, and to enable him to marry again’. Such was the requirement of the age. The helpfully disapproving witness here being probed to establish grounds was Mrs. Ann Morgan, landlady, of Aberavon. And also, as it happens, a close relative of John Nash…

…who was not, at this juncture, ‘the celebrated John Nash’ of Regency fame but a chastened bankrupt on the long road to rehabilitation. A long and mostly Welsh road, it turned out. The implosion of an early property development enterprise in London’s Bloomsbury Square would see Nash eventually fleeing the capital to south Wales, ‘his business reputation in ruins’.1 His wife Jane had already been packed off to the Principality, her shopaholic tendencies only exacerbating the financial strain; Nash enlisted a childhood friend, the aforesaid Mr Charles Charles, ‘to ride out with her and show her the pleasures of the country’.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink?

The suspicion of collusion ultimately doomed Nash’s divorce petition but not before several other associates had been summoned to Parliament to bare witness, among them a fellow architect, Samuel Simon Saxon. In 1785 John Nash’s modest first step on the path back to professional credibility had been a winning tender jointly with Saxon to re-roof St. Peter’s church in Carmarthen; their partnership would continue for several years.2 Today, while many landmark creations in the capital and beyond attest to Nash’s wildly successful renaissance, the name of Samuel Saxon, a pupil of Sir William Chambers at the influential Office of Works until 1782, languishes in obscurity.3 Little of his work is recorded and in fact just one house designed by him is known to survive – but it’s a gem.

 

courtgard

see: Natasha Thompson Weddings & Lifestyle

 

‘Courteenhall is a remarkably perfect and rather unusual example of the mid-sized Georgian house of the last decade of the C18. Since it was completed no change of significance has been made.’4 The seat of the Wake family, this house and estate has passed directly from father to son, the present head of the family being Sir Hereward Wake, 14th baronet, who turns 100 later this year.

courtview

see: South Northants Council

If the brief from Sir William Wake, 9th bt., had been for a practically proportioned house of stately refinement then Samuel Saxon pretty much nailed it. Humphry Repton in his ‘Red Book’ for Courteenhall (1791/93) notes that he was consulted both as to the siting of a new house and its basic form, being ‘induced to prefer that which has been so elegantly designed and executed by my ingenious friend Mr. Saxon’.5

buck1

see: Lost Heritage

The pair were also responsible for the creation of Buckminster Park, Leicestershire, (c.1793-8, Saxon’s only other known house, demolished in 1952 and replaced), a connection suggested to explain just how it came to be that the enviable opportunity ‘to design a completely new house on a virgin site was given to a little-known pupil of Chambers’.4

However, Handed on finds another timeline no less persuasive.

Inheriting Courteenhall and its existing Elizabethan manor house as a minor, the 9th baronet came of age in 1789. The following year would be a lucrative one, the sale of a substantial property in Norfolk yielding £18,000 whilst William’s marriage in July to Mary Sitwell of Renishaw Hall added a further £25,000 to the coffers.5 Meanwhile, on May 15 1790 it was announced after an open competition that the architect to design and supervise the building of Northampton’s new General Infirmary – just six miles north of Courteenhall – was to be a certain Mr. Samuel Saxon. Construction of the hospital duly got under way but it would seem that the attention of its designer was soon distracted:

courtdine3

see: ARM/Vimeo

hosp1

see: Google

‘Mr. Saxon presumably drew his commission but he had seldom been near the building, leaving everything to his Clerk of Works.’6 Genteel, wealthy patron trumps municipal functionality? Who can say.

(Remarkably, the contemporaneous connection between Saxon’s only two known buildings continues as Courteenhall’s present occupant and estate manager, the grandson of Sir Hereward Wake, is also a sometime medic and presently attached to .. Northampton General Hospital.)

courtdoor2

see:Eneka Stewart

However it was that Samuel Saxon landed the job, there’s no doubting that Courteenhall bears the stamp of a focussed mind. ‘The design throughout is remarkably coherent,’ characterised by a wholly admirable restraint.7 Of local limestone ashlar, the pedimented, uniquely 7-bay garden facade (top) announces itself most directly, a subtle contrast to the more understated entrance front (r). A most pleasing exterior which is more than matched within: ‘[That] Saxon was an architect of very considerable ability [is] most clearly shown by the interiors.’8

courthallAt one remove from the long entrance hall, ‘the thin, cantilevered treads of the principal staircase’, top-lit by a glazed oval dome, rise against marbled walls, ‘a rare survival’. (Picture: Tom Jamieson / Courteenhall Events@Facebook). Beneath fine decorative friezes fluted columns articulate each of the principal spaces, the apsidal end of the library, ‘beautifully contrived with doors curved to fit’, exemplifying Saxon’s sure-footed finesse.9

courtlib

see: Courteenhall

Sitting at the heart of the 3,000-acre estate, Courteenhall’s presence is one of graceful reticence. The same can hardly be said, however, of the stables across the park, born with ideas above their station and which predate the house by perhaps two decades. Credited to John Carr of York and now converted for residential use – move in! – the always incongruously scaled block…

courtstab3

see: Aerialvue @ Vimeo

… was erected for the mostly absent 8th baronet seemingly in an effort to keep up with the (hunting mad) Joneses locally. In fact, prior to his father deciding otherwise, his own family literally were the Joneses round here.

The Wake Joneses to be precise. The Wake lineage can be definitively traced back to at least the C13; from 1265 they were lords of the manor of Blisworth immediately next door to Courteenhall before selling in 1532. The happenstance which would see them boomerang back here 140 years later suggests a certain predestination about the Wakes’ habitation of this particular corner of England.

bingcourt

see: Bing Maps

In the grounds at Courteenhall is a C17 schoolhouse (r) now partly converted for residential use and latterly the home of Sir Hereward and Lady Wake. A Latin inscription above the main door records that the school had been endowed by Sir Samuel Jones, the acquisitive son of a wealthy London merchant, who bought the Courteenhall estate in 1647. With no children of his own Jones’ intended heir was his nephew, Sam Pierrepoint, until some offence by the latter saw him cut out of the will.

Fortune now favoured the only other Samuel in the family, the fifth son of Sir Samuel’s niece, wife of Sir William Wake, 3rd bt., on condition of taking the name. But the drought of direct heirs continued. Two ‘Wake Jones’ nephews and a distant cousin later Courteenhall (and several other properties) came to Sir William, 7th bt., who had been born and elected to stay a Wake. The name had been reclaimed ‘but it was Samuel Jones who supplied the seat and inheritance upon which a succession of Wakes have lived happily ever after since’.10

saxbook

see: Archive.org

Today, the family’s distinctive heraldic emblem, the “Wake Knot“, has taken on a coincidental resonance at Courteenhall with happy couples now able to tie their own against the backdrop of Samuel Saxon’s comely creation. The house was among those featured in the The New Vitruvius Britannicus (1802, left), ‘plans and elevations of modern buildings by the most celebrated architects’.

(The demolished Buckminster Park was also included. Hard to believe today but Courteenhall faced the same post-war fate until wiser counsel prevailed.5)

SocArchs1811

see: British Imperial Calendar 1811

With such an elegant early calling card, to find the architect still keeping good company and apparently well in the game some twenty years on (r) is no great surprise; the mystifying scarcity of his work, however, most certainly is…

[Courteenhall Estate][G.II* listing]

courteengate2

see: Google Streetview

1. Summerson, J. The life and work of John Nash, 1980.
2. Suggett, R. John Nash: Architect in Wales, 1995.
3. Colvin, H. A biographical dictionary of British architects 1600-184, 2008, p.729.
4. Hussey, C. English country houses: Mid-Georgian 1760-1800, 1955.
5. Gordon, P. The Wakes of Northamptonshire, 1992.
6. Waddy, F.F. A history of Northampton General Hospital 1745-1947, 1974.
7. Heward, J. & Taylor, R. The country houses of Northamptonshire, 1996.
8. Oswald, A. Courteenhall I/II, Country Life, Aug 12/19, 1939.
9. Bailey, B., Pevsner, N., Cherry, B. The buildings of England: Northamptonshire, 2003.
10. Stone, L., Stone, JFC. An open elite? England 1540-1880, 1984.

Challenged, as they would be last year, with appreciating the somewhat abstruse notion of ‘facilitating emptiness’, the good officers of West Lindsey District Council planning department were perhaps as well-placed as any.

‘North Lincolnshire, cut off by the Humber and the Trent, is probably the most out-of-the-way corner of England .. leisurely, spacious country, vast in scale and rather bleak.’¹

So declared Country Life‘s 1934 visitation to Brocklesby Park, seat of the Pelhams, Earls of Yarborough, for some 450 years. With the planting of an estimated thirty million trees on this estate between 1787 and 1938, successive owners have more than somewhat relieved the wolds’ desolate openness hereabouts. And in the past decade the Hall and grounds at Brocklesby have themselves undergone a scheme of root and branch rehabilitation driven by the 8th Earl and Countess. In the wake of recent planning consent 2016 should see the realisation of the latest element, a bold, contemporary pavilion of concrete and glass – ‘a purely abstract expression, a definite stance against simple nostalgia’ – intended to facilitate the aforementioned emptiness.

When passing through the outer walls, you immediately find yourself on the inside. There is no buffer, no grey areas, simply inside.’

Of course, besides tempting architects into flights of chin-scratching verbiage the documentation surrounding a modern-day planning application can often yield revelatory detail. Here, too, the Brocklesby Park Pavilion scores big…

brockhess

see: Hesselbrand

…not least with this contemporary image of the hard-to-see house itself. The air of tidy rightness exuded here belies centuries of evolution occasioned by fortune both good and ill. The official listing text manages to sum Grade I Brocklesby in just 250 words; altogether more instructive and fascinating is the ‘masterplan’ commissioned by…

…the present owners contextualizing the vision for their inheritance, a copy of which also accompanied that pavilion application. ‘The 8th Earl and Countess need to be allowed the freedom of their ancestors to continue improving and enhancing their seat,’ it was therein argued, a hankering for a time when the only limitations on what was thrown up on private property were means and imagination. One can but wonder how the local planning committee would have responded if presented with, say, a proposition such as this:

Being Jeffry Wyatville’s stupendous palatial vision for Brocklesby c.1821 offering an architectural knockout punch as might befit a fiefdom then in excess of 50,000 acres. (Though significantly reduced the estate remains the largest landholding in Lincolnshire at some 27,000 acres.) Alas, a modest Gothic lodge is as much as Wyatville would get to realise here while Brocklesby’s most notable building is another free-standing structure elsewhere on the estate essayed by his uncle, James Wyatt, for their mutual patron, Charles Anderson-Pelham. The latter’s death would thwart Jeffry while the death of Pelham’s wife had, as we shall see, inspired James.

But the first Pelham to put down roots in the Lincolnshire Wolds was Elizabethan soldier/administrator Sir William Pelham who snapped up many of the plentiful (if unpromising) acres of various former religious establishments post-Dissolution. Several generations on, by the beginning of the C18 the estate had devolved to Charles Pelham (d.1763), key aspects of whose long tenure define Brocklesby to this day.

stubbs

The recently reinstated main facade of the Hall (below) has the appearance of William Etty’s 1720s design as captured by George Stubbs. Sojourning locally, a principal subject for the artist here was the Brocklesby Hunt which has been in existence since 1700 and always with a Pelham as Master: ‘The hounds are the oldest private pack in the country and the only pack of purebred English Foxhounds.’

brockfount

see: Oaktree Photography

Charles Pelham was also a key figure in the early development of the thoroughbred racehorse, breeding from North African stallion imports champions such as Brocklesby Betty and Spanker who in turn begat successful progeny. Ironically, for someone so preoccupied with bloodlines, twice-married Charles’s failure to produce offspring of his own spelled the end of the Pelham male line at Brocklesby…

…and saw the estate pass to his great-nephew. Charles Anderson, who added the ‘Pelham’ name upon succeeding, was raised to the peerage as the first Lord Yarborough in 1794 but he would be forever without his ‘Lady’.

mauso2

Stephen Richards

For James Wyatt had recently completed his melancholy ‘majestic masterpiece’² in the park at Brocklesby, a mausoleum raised in tribute to Charles’s wife, Sophia Aufrere, who had died in January 1786 at the age of 33. ‘Erected upon a commanding eminence, this classic monument must ever remain a fine specimen of Wyatt’s good taste and exquisite skill in Grecian architecture.’ In a tragic echo Yarborough’s son and heir would also lose his wife before he gained the title (later upgraded to an earldom), 25-year-old Henrietta Bridgman joining the mother-in-law she never knew in the mausoleum in 1813.

titian

see: Mapping Titian

The unwitting joint legacy of both young women was the accidental assembly within the space of four years at Brocklesby of an Old Masters art collection still routinely described – despite some belt-tightening disposals in 1929 -as among the finest remaining in private hands (r). Wealthy merchant George Aufrere died in 1801 leaving his Chelsea house (in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, former home of Sir Robert Walpole) and its contents – ‘one of the best collections in Britain at the end of the C18’ – to his late daughter Sophia’s husband, in trust for their sons.³ Four years later Henrietta Bridgman, as sole heir to her uncle, connoisseur Sir Richard Worsley (yes, that guy), inherited fabulous Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight and all it contained. In 1807 Brocklesby gained a one-storey gallery extension to house much of this cultural windfall

bphall…but not the so-called Museum Worsleyanum, ‘the first important collection of Greek marbles in England’. Long displayed in the Orangery, the C21 masterplan intended their relocation to the newly-reinstated entrance hall (l), a space which had been fashioned by Capability Brown c.1773 in addition to his work landscaping the park. Along with much else at Brocklesby this room would be the subject of ‘meticulous restoration’ around the turn of the C20 after a devastating fire in November 1898.

brocketty

see:BrundellWoolley

The central five-bay section of the Georgian entrance facade was among the few parts of the Hall unscathed. (The house had by this time swollen threefold: a matching brick block was added in 1827 at the other end of the gallery which was itself heightened by William Burn thirty years later creating a dominant centre. Almost all of these additions would be swept away in the 1950s, the house contracting to more-or-less its original Georgian footprint.)

clifere

see source

The man chosen to undertake the post-blaze restoration was Sir Reginald Blomfield, ‘the very model of the successful Edwardian architect’, who looked back wistfully in 1932: ‘My first really important work.. Brocklesby Park was typical of that delightful country practice which I was fortunate enough to have built up before the war, and which since the war has ceased to exist.’4  Blomfield laid out a new parterre and entrance of which Country Life would later approve: ‘Particularly happy are the twin oblong pools that flank the approach.’

To the C21 revisionist eye, however, these were now not only in the wrong place (the main entrance being around the corner) but deemed ‘somewhat municipal’ in character and have been buried ‘for the purposes of archaeology’.6

stableQuietly looking on over centuries of change at Brocklesby has been a stunning mechanical marvel. In the early 1720s, putting the finishing touches to his new seat, Charles Pelham was desirous of a turret clock to sit atop his large stable block close by the house. Luckily, just eight miles north in the village of Barrow upon Humber was the workshop of John Harrison, carpenter, clockmaker and incipient genius. The zero-maintenance instrument – ‘the origin of accurate timekeeping’ – that Harrison developed for Pelham has told the time at Brocklesby ever since. More significantly, made largely of lignum vitae, a self-lubricating exotic hardwood, and featuring a novel friction-free movement, ‘Harrison took his important first step towards building a sea clock at Brocklesby Park.

‘A clock without oil, until then absolutely unheard of, would stand a much better chance of keeping time at sea,’ so cracking a critical navigational conundrum, the determinination of longitude, for which he would – eventually – be financially rewarded by the state.5

windup

BBC/YouTube

‘Without any major grant aid or outside support the 8th Earl and Countess continue the living evolution of Brocklesby Park,’6 being always reminded that time never stands still by Harrison’s horological wonder (r) – unless, of course, the staff forget to wind it…

[Brocklesby Estate]

¹ Hussey, C. Brocklesby Park I/II, Country Life, Feb/Mar 1934.
² Pevsner, N., Antram, N. Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, 1989.
³  Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4 Blomfield, Sir R. Memoirs of an architect, 1932.
5 Sobel, D. Longitude, 1995.
6 Simpson & Brown/Kim Wilkie Associates. The Brocklesby Park Masterplan.

 

 

 

 

 

A little over two weeks after her wedding in August 1738 at St. Paul’s Cathedral 16-year-old Sarah Steavens would return to church, this time to bury her father. As a consequence of these events the young bride of rising lawyer James West, 35, now came freighted not just with a £30,000 share of wealthy London timber merchant Sir Thomas Steavens’s fortune but also a whole heap of future trouble in the shape of his new ward, Sarah’s 11-year-old brother, Thomas.

{ “My heart must be black indeed” }

Similarly advantaged by a first-class education and an inherited income courtesy of successful mercantile families, Thomas’ feckless self-indulgence would be thrown into sharp relief against his guardian’s respected accomplishments. James West became a high-flying government figure, president of the Royal Society and, most significantly here, the creator of a delectable (Grade I listed) country house. Alscot Park, ‘one of the finest, earliest and most complete surviving examples of Rococo Gothick’,¹ is still the private home of the Wests and ‘has remained unchanged in its essentials since James’s death in 1772’.²

alscotmid1

see: Ash Midcalf @ Panoramio

Now, as some might realise, we have actually been here before – after a fashion. But while this blog, like Alscot, has remained fundamentally unaltered some early posts now appear decidedly wanting. Handed on makes no apology for revisiting a house and estate of undoubted but perhaps still under-appreciated distinction, a remark which might also apply to the political career of James West.

westnpg

National Portrait Gallery

An MP for over thirty years, West’s great value was as right-hand man to the Pelham brothers at the heart of successive mid-C18 Whig administrations. Firstly with Chancellor of the Exchequer Henry and subsequently as Joint Secretary of the Treasury aiding the first Duke of Newcastle – each time in effect Cabinet Secretary to the Prime Minister – ‘West was extremely important to the government’.³ It has been observed that while ‘there are hundreds of letters from West in the Newcastle papers his personality eludes delineation [being mostly] dry business communications written in the third person’.

By contrast this consummate administrator, so at ease with great affairs of state, would be pushed to the edge in attempting to manage the affairs of his wayward brother-in-law, Thomas Steavens:

I know not what to do … I am at my wits end.4

Set to inherit his father’s estates south of the Thames, Steavens’ prodigal tendencies would quickly become evident, creating a trail of debts from Eton to Oxford (where his sister’s plea to “take your diversions more moderately and sometimes confine yourself to old fashioned family hours” went unheeded) and on up to London.  A startlingly frank letter to Sarah in April 1747 revealed her brother’s unabashed approach to matters:

Dear Sister, As Mr. J. has refused me his daughter, £5,000 of whose fortune I required for the payment of my debts, it is necessary that some plan should be immediately entered into.”4

A dim view was plainly taken of Thomas’ next ruse, namely that his brother-in-law might help realise a new-found “desire of coming into Parliament”, and soon Thomas had departed for Europe.

alscotair2

see: Bing Maps

Meanwhile, in 1749, James West, seeking a rural refuge from his demanding life in the capital, purchased the Alscot estate in south Warwickshire, an area with which he had historical family ties. The property came with an unprepossessing old residence (in the words of his wife, “the comicallest little house you ever saw”) sited on a bend in the River Stour. That same year Horace Walpole began work on Strawberry Hill House, his celebrated exercise in Gothic Revival, a fanciful style which was in fact already flowering in West’s newly-adopted county.

radway

John Sutton @ geograph

arbury

NCSU/Luna

Since 1745 gentleman architect Sanderson Miller had been Gothicising his small family estate Radway Grange (l), ten miles east of Alscot, inspired by this place having been the venue of the Battle of Edge Hill a century before. And up in north Warwickshire Sir Roger Newdigate was beginning his 50-year odyssey at Arbury Hall (r), which remains the family seat: ‘Arbury’s interior decoration is England’s outstanding evocation of C18 Gothick, surpassing even Walpole’s Strawberry Hill.’5

Miller, Newdigate and Walpole were all men of an antiquarian bent and, while the mid-C18 emergence of Rococo Gothick has been seen as a reaction ‘to the rigid discipline of English Palladianism..the strict obedience to rule and precedent’¹, their own Gothick expressions would be closely informed by historical reference. James West was certainly a man of similar persuasion (amassing a vast collection of books, objects and manuscripts) yet seemingly at ease with a looser, less pedantic interpretation of Rococo Gothick at Alscot Park, which would be developed in two distinct phases.

alscotside2

see: Alscot Park (old site)

Remodelling of the original house began in 1750, the modest block being extended, battlemented and the largest of five full-height canted bays looking out across the river. ‘Internally, the staircase is the special delight of this wing .. a little masterpiece of light-hearted Rococo, the bold scrolls of the iron balustrade exquisitely echoed by twirling plasterwork.’¹

stair

see source

This work was completed in 1752, the same year Thomas Steavens’ domestic debts would finally be cleared. But, alas, West’s increasingly dissolute brother-in-law had been carrying on regardless on an all-too-Grand Tour of Europe. In correspondence, his sister Sarah told how her husband had returned home one day ‘shocked .. having been told by a very Great Person that his letters from Venice were full of your expensive way of life there’. Thomas, however, was seeing things rather differently:

I will have the vanity to say my conduct has been approved of in all the countrys I have yet been, which is a merit with those who know in how absurd, contemptible and detestable a manner the English behave abroad.4

‘I love plain facts and plain dealing,’ declared James West at one point in the face of Thomas’ self-serving bluster during increasingly testy postal exchanges. By the summer of 1755 he wanted answers:

June: “Can you? or will you? let us know your scheme of life? when you intend to come home? of where to settle? & what to do? or will you continue the same desultory rambling for years more?

July: “For God’s sake take care. You owe £5,000 already, you have sold one estate besides. Unless you determine to live on less..you are undone.

‘Things are now coming to a crisis,’ he wrote in November 1755 not in reference to his parliamentary in-tray and the high politics of the incipient Seven Years’ War but to the never-ending fallout from Thomas’ seven-year Tour:

Your total ruin is advancing dreadfully. You have done everything in your power to ruin your health, estate and family. I have already suffered too much than to desire to be any further connected with you.4

Thomas had in fact returned to England for a time but ‘caught veneral disease from a Drury Lane orange seller’ and took off to the Continent again, initially in search of a cure. But his incorrigible consumptive lifestyle took its inexorable toll and Thomas died in June 1759, aged 31. ‘We hope the news did not over-surprise you,’ wrote West’s sister, Elizabeth, in weary condolence.

What remained of the Steavens estate now reverted to the Wests. With the replacement of the Duke of Newcastle as prime minister in 1662 James’ career in government was effectively over. Like his patron, who would divert his energy and resources toward further aggrandising his house, Claremont, West now set about giving Alscot the character of a fine gentry seat.

Alscot Park House

see: Ash Midcalf

Being just four miles from Stratford-upon-Avon it’s no surprise that the name Shakespeare should feature here – yes, George Shakespear who was re-engaged with his fellow master-builder John Phillips to pick up much where they had left off a decade earlier. South-facing and creating a ‘T’-shaped house, the essentially classical new main block was suffused with another orgy of ogee arches.

alscotdraw

see source

Once again a lightness of spirit prevailed. ‘There is nothing serious about the hall,’ while the drawing room is ‘ablaze’ with a gilded papier-mache ceiling by Thomas Bromwich (r).¹ Fine Georgian furniture abounds. Alscot would not escape the Victorian era unscathed, however. A monumental mid-C19 carved buffet ‘tends to reduce the most talkative guest to momentary speechlessness’ while work in recent times, notably on the fenestration and the dining room, has ameliorated the heavy aesthetic tread of James Roberts West (1811-82).

Excellent gates, though, sir!

gates2

see: Google Streetview

westcatJames West died just two years after Alscot was at last completed. Confounding Horace Walpole’s belief that ‘he was so rich that I take for granted nothing will be sold’, West’s prodigious antiquarian collections would be auctioned over fifty days in early 1773 at his town house in King Street, Covent Garden. A Caxton first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was bought by King George III and is today among the ‘treasures‘ of British Library. (Rather more prosaically, at the dispersal sale of ‘livestock & sundry estate items’, Mrs West reclaimed ‘a spotted cow, named Pratt’.6)

roadAlscot’s biggest asset disposal since that extraordinary event would occur in 1960 when the Steavens’ original Bermondsey estate was put up for auction. New statutory housing standards demanded capital investment greater than this landlord of 787 dwellings (developed by James Roberts West) could then bear. The entire ‘well-managed, respectable housing estate’7 north of the Old Kent Road was acquired by the local council for £350,000, a sum which today would leave you comfortably the underbidder on just one of these neat Victorian terraced properties.

rev2

BBC / YouTube

A BBC documentary in 2012 (r) explored the history of those forty south London acres, the present owner of Alscot Park featuring throughout. However, having inherited in 1989 aged just 19, Emma Holman-West’s relentless (award-winning) focus has been the 4,000 acres of south Warwickshire, now home to a diverse range of enterprises whilst still remaining essentially a private family residence.

alscothg“I escape to London to de-stress,” she told House & Garden in a cover feature in the July edition this year. Savouring the magazine’s illustrations, its readers may have felt more inclined to share the sentiment of Emma’s direct ancestor, James West, writing exactly 260 years earlier amid much ‘Parliamentary Politicks’ in the capital as colonial warfare loomed: “I want to be at Alscot…”4

[Alscot Estate]

¹ Girouard, Mark. Alscot Park I/II/III, Country Life, May 1958.
² Tyack, Geoffrey. Warwickshire country houses, 1994.
³ Wilkes, John. A Whig in power, 1964.
4 Add MS 34731-34732 West papers: Correspondence of Thomas Steavens, British Library.
5 Jenkins, Simon. England’s thousand best houses, 2003.
6 Sale catalogue, Live and dead stock, &c. in the park. 1772 Oct. 19, V&A.
7 Reynolds News, 12 Feb 1961.

Ammerdown House, Somerset

An occurrence now seemingly as regular as Christmas, a legislative stand-off last month between the elected and non-elected chambers of the British parliament once again revived that hoary constitutional perennial, demand for the reform of the House of Lords. So far the only significant development to this end has been the substantial culling, in 1999, of the hereditary titles, now reduced to a rump of ninety or so who have been elected by, well, their peers.

see: Kalayaan

see: Kalayaan

Considered a hideous anachronism, the ‘hereditaries’ remain the softest of targets for reformers but one of their number at least has long served to confound the stereotype. On paper, Raymond Hervey Jolliffe, 5th Baron Hylton, 83 – Eton, Oxford, Guards – ticks all the ‘wrong’ boxes. Worse still, he is the inheritor of a sizable landed estate which includes a gracious Grade I mansion with ‘many fine features’ inside and out. Hardly the typical profile of a dynamic campaigner for peace and the interests of the vulnerable and the marginalised.

The plight of migrants and refugees; social housing provision; conflict resolution – defining themes of an active House of Lords career spanning some 44 years and counting: ‘Lord Hylton has spoken in 44 debates in the last year and received answers to 235 written questions — well above average amongst Lords.’ Hylton’s ancestor Thomas Samuel Jolliffe, builder of the aforesaid mansion, was himself a member of the legislature for some years but there the similarity ends: ‘There is no record of his having spoken.’

But while he may have been a man of few parliamentary words, Thomas’s physical legacy – the Ammerdown House estate in Kilmersdon, north Somerset – speaks for him.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

The manor of Kilmersdon was acquired in 1659 by Bristol merchant Gabriel Goodman and would soon pass, via his daughter Sarah’s marriage, to the Twyford family. In turn, the marriage one century later of the Rev. Robert Twyford’s daughter Ann yielded this property to the Jolliffes, specifically Thomas Samuel, who had perhaps learned the art of bagging an heiress from his twice-married father, John.

In March 1731 John Jolliffe wed Catherine Michell who had lately inherited the bulk of the estate of her father, landowner Robert Michell, MP for the pocket borough of Petersfield, Hampshire. Three months later Catherine was dead. Jolliffe was now in a position to facilitate a seat in parliament for his uncle, Sir William Jolliffe (and for the next 150 years most MPs for Petersfield would be of this name). A grateful Sir William would later bequeath part of his large estate to the sons of John Jolliffe by his second wife, Mary, herself co-heir with her sister to the sizable fortune of their father, Samuel Holden, governor of the Bank of England.

see source

see source

A fine series of horse paintings commissioned from James Seymour (‘one of the first true sporting artists in Britain’) formed part of Sir William’s legacy and would later serve as fitting adornment for the house that Thomas Samuel built. Wasting little time following the death of his mother-in-law, Thomas (right, note) relocated to Somerset, securing the services of architect James Wyatt who would spend three days visiting Kilmersdon in 1788 composing his thoughts for a new house on a raised site, hitherto open sheep tract. ‘Of Bath stone, three storeys with a tall rusticated ground floor. Only the E front (below) is in its original state.’¹

see: living_room @ Flickr

see: living_room @ Flickr

For while Ammerdown ‘retains the appearance that Wyatt gave it, it has twice been enlarged, in 1857 with remarkable skill, and in 1877 with less’. The earlier expansion of which Country Life magazine approved was westwards, a recessed entrance (r, since in-filled) being created by shallow wing extensions which elongated the original cube. ‘Both elevations are models of the refinement of which Wyatt was master.’²

see: Hayley Ruth Photography

see: Hayley Ruth Photography

Pleasing as they are, a visitation shortly after this mid-C19 enlargement asserted³ that ‘the interior of the mansion is more striking than its external appearance’, a statement at once tantalising and frustrating since, as Lord Hylton once owned, ‘Ammerdown House is seldom opened’.4

see: Ammerdown House

see: Ammerdown House

In fact the one and only public opportunity to see inside came briefly one week in the summer of 2012 when funds were sought to restore the fine Georgian ceilings. ‘The dining room (r) is as Wyatt left it’,¹ the fittings all commissioned from top London craftsmen aside from the Bacchus chimneypiece which was acquired from Lord Egremont’s house in Piccadilly apparently in exchange for two racehorses.5

see source

see source

Country Life‘The staircase is unique in its form and structure. A circular dome, embracing a considerable part of the central roof, is supported by Ionic columns [since glazed]. A flight of steps ascends the elliptic space.’³

Contemporaneous with the original house, Wyatt’s Orangery and a walled garden were contained spaces within otherwise naturalistic, rolling parkland established from scratch by Thomas Samuel Jolliffe.

see: Lutyens Trust

see: Lutyens Trust

Though bang on trend for the 1780s such an open setting, it was later thought, ill-served the elevations of the house. In the early years of the last century Edwin Lutyens was offered ‘his first chance to give a fine English house a formal garden. Ammerdown acquired an Italianate ‘star’ sculpted out yew, with paths radiating outwards’.6 ‘It would be difficult to cite another house of the style or period where gardens have been added with such a true understanding of the architectural requirements.’²

Michael Lee @ Pinterest

Michael Lee @ Pinterest

Within this cultivated embrace stand several mythological sculptures all appearing quite at home despite being originally conceived as adornments to a rather more peculiar Ammerdown Park landmark. Not the half-moon-shaped, naturally fed bathing pool still to be found down in the woods. Nor the stadium created to promote athletic competition amongst the local youth (a worthy initiative sadly undermined by ‘the indisposition…

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

… of candidates to endure the necessary discipline and severities of training’).³ No, the figures had once occupied plinths around the base of a monumental structure likely to have elicited excitement even amongst those mid-C19 teenage slackers. Designed by Joseph Jopling with echoes of the Eddystone lighthouse, creating the Ammerdown Column would preoccupy the last years of Col. John Twyford Jolliffe as he sought to memorialise the achievements of his father, Thomas Samuel.

Standing 150ft high and topped by a glass and iron belvedere affording limitless vistas to those able and willing to ascend the spiral staircase, this edifice was unfinished at the time of the colonel’s death in 1854. A last-minute codicil obliged his heirs ‘to keep in complete repair the Column now being erected’ on pain of disinheritance, a burden which fell immediately to his childless brother, Thomas, but which was plainly not binding thereafter.7 (The estate next passed to a cousin, Sir George Hylton Jolliffe, later first Baron).

Handed on guesses that the present Lord Hylton would be underwhelmed at the thought of being remembered by so ostentatiously pointless a gesture. In fact, his legacy at Ammerdown is already in place: not spectacular views, merely far-sighted vision. Since 1969 most of the estate’s residential property has constituted a rural housing association in order to assist the provision of affordable local housing. And in 1973, again at Hylton’s initiative, Wyatt’s stable block became the Ammerdown Centre, an ecumenical retreat and study centre promoting inter-faith dialogue and world peace whilst also recognizing the restorative powers of homemade cake…

[Ammerdown House]

¹ Foyle, A. and Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Somerset: North, 2011.
² Hussey, C. Ammerdown House I/II, Country Life, Feb/Mar 1929.
³ Anon. Description of the mansion, marbles and pictures at Ammerdown, 1857.
4 Little, B. and Aldrich, A. Ammerdown: the house and the centre, 1977.
5 4th Lord Hylton, letter to Country Life, 2 July 1964.
6 Brown, J. Lutyens and the Edwardians, 1996.
7 Bath Chronicle, 11 Nov 1858.

‘This remote corner of south Gloucestershire is a secret and unspoilt place, with barely a sign of modern life visible in any direction,’ says the National Trust by way of introducing the location’s least secret house. From its prominent siting Newark Park’s eastward prospect surveys limestone escarpments whose the densely-wooded valleys embosom a further three, rather more sequestered, country house estates.

see: John Grimshaw

see: John Grimshaw

Strictly speaking Newark is the odd one out amongst these centuries-long neighbours being originally an outlying Tudor hunting lodge some ten miles distant from the seat of Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a courtier to Henry VIII. Several subsequent family owners would gradually expanded Newark into a 20-room stately residence before it was eventually taken on by the National Trust and an enthusiastic tenant on a long-term repairing lease. Newark lies in the parish of Ozleworth but the Poyntz family’s interest here had long since been divested by the time of…

SouthCotwoldRamblers

SouthCotswoldRamblers

…the late-C18/early-C19 development of Ozleworth Park probably for the Miller family.¹ Hard to believe today but this classically-detailed house commanding ‘a spectacular view west’² was apparently ‘once derelict‘; over the past 25 years Ozleworth has been fulsomely restored as a private family home by Michael Stone complete with “simply magnificent” gardens.

Country Life / Savills

Country Life / Savills

And another beneficiary of later-C20 salvation can be found a mile-and-a-half up the valley at Lasborough Park, one of James Wyatt’s castellated compositions erected for the Estcourt family c.1797. Wyatt had been working at Newark earlier that decade; his oblong block with square corner turrets was greatly expanded in the C19 and changed ownership several times in the last before being taken in hand by the Proudlocks.¹ Last year Lasborough – excellent aerial footage here – was sold to Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing of recent tragic notoriety.

Abutting these estates is the final member of this local quartet, a place whose history contrasts starkly with its neighbours’ all-too-typical tales of turbulent ownership, neglect and salvation. ‘Submerged in its rural charm’, arcing through box tree woodland of national significance is the drive to isolated Boxwell Court and church, the abode of the Huntley family for some 500 years.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

The aforementioned Nicholas Poyntz supported Henry VIII’s religious reforms with some zeal, ‘incorporating in several of his properties, including in Ozleworth, stones from smashed crosses from churches’.³ One of Poyntz’s allies locally was George Huntley who lived ‘scarce 40 paces from Ozleworth’, his family being tenants of Gloucester Abbey at Boxwell and duly benefiting after its dissolution. In the early C17 the Huntleys would consolidate their position hereabouts with the eventual acquisition of landholdings forfeited by Sir Walter Ralegh after his downfall.

see: Roger Cornfoot @ geograph

see: Roger Cornfoot @ geograph

‘In a secluded valley, surrounded by woods..the nucleus of the house is probably C15,’ but much of Boxwell’s façade is in fact much younger.² Some Tudor stonework detailing and two Jacobean panelled rooms (one featuring ‘a handsome chimney-piece finished with Corinthian columns in the best stile of workmanship’ and the family arms) predate the house’s first major enlargement at the end of the C18.

Between the years 1712 and 1857 Boxwell Court was the seat of ‘The Reverend Richard Huntley, rector of Boxwell’, there having been four consecutive father-to-son squarsons of that name and office. Richard the third of this sequence inherited in 1794 and, perhaps sensing an imminent need for more space (he was ultimately the father of ten), would soon add the present N front with its west-facing bow. A ‘fine top-lit staircase hall’ also dates from this time. [G.II* listing]

see: Collin West @ Panoramio

Collin West @ Panoramio

However, as John Harris records, a later Huntley squire ‘tried to erase the Georgian modernizations of 1796 with ‘Jacobogus’ furnishings, knowing that Charles II slept there on his flight from the Battle of Worcester in 1651′.4 If, as is suggested, a royal ring from the latter event still remains it was seemingly not the Huntleys only shiny Civil War souvenir.

There is a grim tale of three Roundheads who laid an ambush for a Huntley but he was made aware of their would-be trap, and slew them all. He had three little holes made in a gold ring and into each was sealed a drop of the blood of the three enemies. This ring remains in the possession of the owner of Boxwell Court.5

see: John Wilkes

see: John Wilkes

Reinforcing these tales of an embattled past, a rather surprising pair of castellated turrets and a courtyard-enclosing curtain wall are in fact a romantic flourish, being little more than one hundred years old. In no need of embellishment, however, is the descent of Boxwell Court across half a millennium in the Huntley male line, most of whom are still to be found here in this ‘very secluded position’, interred next door in the C13 church of St. Mary…

see: ChurchCrawler @ flickr

see: ChurchCrawler @ flickr

[Archives]

¹ Kingsley, N. The country houses of Gloucestershire, Vol.2, 1992.
² Verey, D. & Brooks, A. Buildings of England: Gloucestershire 1, 3rd ed., 1999.
³ Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4 Harris, J. Moving rooms, 2007.
5 Western Daily Press, 6 Apr 1937.

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