The year 1901 would turn out to be a rather notable one in the lives of Ernest Conant and his wife of two years Eva Tryon (as was). For over the course of those twelve months each would separately inherit a country house estate: as second-born children of their respective families neither eventuality had been preordained. Ernest’s elder brother, Edward, had died months before the couple’s 1898 wedding at which the bride, the eldest of three sisters, had been given away by her only brother. Having followed his family’s strong military tradition, Grenadier Guardsman Guy Tyron died less than three years later serving in the Boer War. So it was that the ownership of the Lyndon and Bulwick estates coalesced with the Conants, with whom they remain today. Handily, they’re just six miles apart as the crow flies.To the mellow lanes of Rutland and its Northamptonshire borders, an area recently named Britain’s best rural place to live, the only drawback apparently being the relative cost of property. The value of the two houses featuring here has, of course, never been tested since neither has ever come onto the open market. Built at precisely the same time, Lyndon Hall and Bulwick Hall have also remained entirely private (not that there is a shortage of epic house-visiting opportunities locally with historic family seats like Rockingham Castle, Deene Park and Burghley all within a ten-mile radius).
Commonly, estates with no public access or venue facilities to promote make little or no effort web-wise. Which makes comely Lyndon Hall all the more exceptional, its online presence being fairly crammed with historical and architectural information way beyond the call of duty. But then such fulsome documenting is rather in keeping with the bent of Lyndon’s builder, Conant antecedent Abel Barker, whose thorough preparatory studies led one authority to declare Lyndon to be the only house of the period ‘that can be related in detail to the architectural literature on which it is based’.
A successful C17 sheep dealer and merchant, Barker’s various activities took him often to London but his second wife Mary would correspond regularly, reminding him that, for all their relative prosperity, the family badly needed a decent place to live. ‘The saddest weather for a day and a night that I ever knew in my life. The wind broke the windows and beat in the rain so that..I was forced to carry [the children] into the kitchen to be dressed,’ she reported in February 1662. Months later Abel acquired the estate at Lyndon but for various reasons Mary would have a further 15 years to wait before their new Hall was completed.Abel Barker immersed himself in contemporary architectural thinking ahead of formulating his design. 1662 was also the year in which Roger Pratt completed his influential first house, Coleshill. Though altogether more modest (closer in scale to another house of the period, Thorpe Hall in Cambridgeshire) Lyndon speaks to some degree of this transitional phase in English country house building.
Barker’s eventual blueprints would be realised with the aid of his man on the ground, local surveyor John Sturges. But even when construction finally got under way progress was to be regularly frustrated as Mrs B. would relay to her oft-absent husband. ‘Your building goes on not in the least,’ she reported in June 1673. ‘It is the saddest weather that was ever known of man for this time of year. All the masons [were] constrained to go away. Suttons stayed the longest but John said they did more harm than good.’It’s perhaps just as well that Sir Abel (as he became) was so intellectually and practically engaged by this project as he would have relatively little time to enjoy the end product, dying in 1679 just two years after Lyndon’s completion aged 61.
Meanwhile, a few miles to the south…‘Bulwick was built in 1676 on the site of a C16 house and incorporates some of its fabrics. It had hipped roofs and stone-crossed mullioned windows, comparable in style with such nearby contemporary houses as..Lyndon Hall, Rutland.’¹ Don’t be misled by that past tense, Bulwick Hall still stands but not quite as its builder knew it. Where Lyndon to this day projects a satisfying conceptual completeness Bulwick Hall displays a puzzling disposition characteristic of the unfinished or the much-reduced. Here it’s the latter. Interestingly, an extant 1728 map indicates that Bulwick’s substantial truncation occurred barely fifty years after the house’s completion. Between Lyndon and Bulwick is the village of Harringworth. Still part of the Conant estates today, in the early 1620s this manor was purchased by Moses Tryon, a London merchant of Dutch extraction. It was his stepson James who would develop the Bulwick property to the SE creating a three-sided courtyard house with ‘over 40 rooms including a long gallery and chapel’. But following Charles Tryon’s later decision to downsize, for almost 300 years all that has remained is the 12-bay, two-storey N range and perpendicular to this the ‘remarkable and unusual’ ballustraded loggia.²
The last major development of Bulwick Hall was undertaken in the early C19 by Thomas Tyron who, in addition to remodelling the interiors, would add the curiously proportioned bowed extension. When he died in 1825 the estate was inherited by his 22-year-old son, also Thomas, whose 47-year tenure as squire ended most abruptly when he was thrown from his horse, perishing instantly.
In stark contrast to the reporting of this unfortunate incident, which received but brief notice in the provincial press, the sensational demise of Thomas’ third son 21 years later would consume a great many column inches in The Times and beyond. For the career of renowned naval commander Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon was to end calamitously and with ‘the largest peacetime loss of life in the history of the Royal Navy’.³Widely regarded as ‘navigation genius’, Bulwick-born Tryon’s instincts were to inexplicably fail him one fateful day in 1893 off the coast of Tripoli. Helming the mighty HMS Victoria he directed a tight fleet manoeuvre that alarmed the officers under him but which, through a combination of faith and fear, they attempted to execute. The resulting collision caused the flagship to sink swiftly with the loss of 358 lives including that of Tryon himself. Remarkably, in 2004 the wreck of HMS Victoria was discovered standing vertically, bow-first in the Mediterranean seabed.
Sir George’s widow was naturally in attendance five years later at the wedding of his niece, Eva, the event (mentioned at the outset) which would effectively ally the Bulwick and Lyndon estates. On the groom’s side that day were his sisters – all nine of them. Historically, a preponderance of daughters – like the consequences of military service – has affected the continuity of many a family estate. Since then at Lyndon the gender balance has evened itself out. At Bulwick, meanwhile, the heir remains most apparent…
¹ Heward, J. & Taylor, R. The country houses of Northamptonshire, RCHM, 1996.
² Country Life, 15 July 1899.
³ The Times, 2 Sept 2004.