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Completely out of the blue one autumn day in 1872 Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton, 11th baronet, was informed that he had been bequeathed an eighteenth-century mansion, Henley Hall in Shropshire (below), together with its landed estate in the will of a recently deceased neighbour, Mr. John Knight. Being already squire of his own handsome ancestral pile – Downton Hall just to the north – Sir Charles’s surprise at this turn of events was as nothing compared to that of Knight’s three appalled adult sons who quickly set about mounting a legal challenge to have the will set aside.

henleyhall

see: Imsweddings

Relaxed and somewhat nonplussed about the whole business, Sir Charles duly submitted to the process which saw a jury in the Court of Probate successfully persuaded of the proposition that Knight, labelled ‘a capricious, morose recluse’, had edged from mere eccentricity into insanity. Testimony that he ‘seldom dressed till the middle of the day’ and was ‘fond of listening to German bands’ and cruelly pranking his servants was of perhaps less significance than a landmark judgement from a generation before in convincing the jury that Knight’s legacy was indeed perverse.

For Sir Charles, the court was reminded, ‘was the descendant of a person who in 1840, in consequence of a decision of the Court of Chancery, had come into the possession of a [separate] magnificent estate which had previously belonged to the Knight family and had ever since been in the possession of the Boughtons’. (The Boughton baronetcy, meanwhile, had descended, as we shall also see, from Sir Charles’s great-grandfather via a sensational – and retrospectively dubious – murder trial and execution.)

So the Knights duly retained Henley Hall (at least for a short time before selling). But, while the Rouse-Boughton baronetcy is now extinct, the Downton Hall estate – a Grade II* house sitting at the heart of ‘5,500 acres of breathtakingly beautiful Shropshire countryside’1 – remains with Sir Charles’s descendants having passed only by inheritance and marriage down more than three centuries. Always private, the late-C20th death of the reclusive last of the direct line revealed a veritable time capsule, with exquisite rooms ‘no-one had been in for 50 years’.

*

While the Rouse-Boughton name may be that most associated with Downton Hall, it is not there now nor was it there at the beginning. In the latter part of the C17, funded by income from legal services, the Wredenhall, Pearce and Shepherd/Hall families had begun acquiring parcels of land north-east of Ludlow, separately but sometimes together. Intermarriage would further coalesce their interests. In 1726 sergeant-at-law William Hall devised his property in trust to create an inheritance for the use of his sister, Elizabeth Shepherd, who had married Wredenhall Pearce in 1722. Several generations of asset consolidation was reaching critical mass: a statement country seat was soon called for.

downton3

see: Jeremy Bolwell @ geograph

‘On a magnificent hilltop site looking eastward to Titterstone Clee,’ Pearce upgraded the house of his grandfather, Richard Wredenhall, to a fine mansion of local brick and stone quoins.2 Downton’s three-storey, nine-bay east facade with projecting wings was the work of William Smith, Jnr., and very much in keeping with the foursquare house style of the prolific Midlands practice established by his father Francis and his namesake uncle.

In 1760 the south front would undergo another signature makeover this time at the hands of local architect/engineer Thomas Farnolls Pritchard at the behest of Wredenhall Pearce’s son and heir, William Pearce Hall.

downton2

see: Sue Bremner

A narrow, pedimented entrance doorway was introduced between characteristic full-height canted bays, a demure exterior belying the exuberant delights within. For Pritchard had dug into his contacts book, most likely calling in trusty Italian stuccatore to produce the ‘magnificent mid-C18th interiors [which remain] largely intact’.2

One young American visitor to Downton, writing home to her family a century on, was suitably impressed with their achievements: ‘Lunch was served in a very fine room…

downsaloon3

see source

downsaloon2

Country Life7

… they say altogether more beautifully embellished than any other dining room in the area. Some admirable portraits are inserted into the walls, and around them are white plaster frames in relievo corresponding to other ornamental work. The whole produces a beautiful, and to me novel, effect.’

downstair

Country Life

downsaloon1

Country Life

Bigger and better yet is the saloon where, beneath ‘a large ceiling oval encircled by a vine wreath’2, hand-carved ‘trophies of the chase and music appear, united to pendants of flowers and oak-leaf festoons’.3 This decoration continues in the passage and also adorns the stair.

Now with sufficient means any amount of finery might be acquired; improved social status was generally harder to come by. However, in the same year that Pritchard had been contracted to enhance Downton, another country seat some 75 miles east in Warwickshire had welcomed the arrival of a son and heir to a venerable estate and a baronetcy created in 1641. It was a title soon destined for Downton Hall as a consequence of the controversial premature demise of Sir Theodosius Boughton, 7th Bt., in 1781.

lawfordhall

see source

Twenty-year-old Theodosius lived at Lawford Hall (r), near Rugby, with his mother, sister and brother-in-law Capt. John Donellan. The young baronet’s somewhat feckless, impulsive nature did not augur well for the family fortune of which he would shortly be master. Just months before he attained his majority an ailing Theodosius was administered a draught, ostensibly medicinal, by his mother. Two days later he was dead.

Days of fevered speculation about the cause of the young Sir’s death prompted a public exhumation and autopsy in the churchyard at Newbold-on-Avon, traditional resting place of the Boughton line. Certain cadaverous odours, combined with the reportedly suspicious behaviour of Donellan (whose wife now stood to benefit) led to the latter’s arraignment at Warwick Crown Court before notorious ‘hanging’ judge, Justice Buller. Though the evidence against Boughton’s brother-in-law was entirely circumstantial, judge and jury lost little time in finding Donellan guilty of murder by poisoning and he was hanged within days, protesting his innocence to the end.

Meanwhile, over in Herefordshire, one particular gentleman could not disguise his delight at the turn of events. “Wonderful news,” wrote Edward Boughton, a distant relative of the ‘victim’ upondowntonaaroom2 learning that he, as eldest surviving great-grandson of the 4th baronet, now assumed the title. (This whole affair would be recounted at Downton, left, in a 2010 edition of the BBC celebrity genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?)

Sir Edward – lamented as ‘indolent’ by his mother yet whose memorial records a man ‘of inviolable honour and integrity’ – died in 1794, unmarried but the father of several daughters by a maid-servant, to the eldest of whom he left the family’s Poston Court estate. His brother Charles, though slighted by this act, duly became the ninth baronet and was hardly destitute having already married Catherine, only daughter and sole heiress of William Pearce Hall of Downton Hall.

*

I now consider myself bound in Honour, as well as urged by Affection, to declare that my Inclination, my Attachment, my high Opinion of your Merits remain unaltered.’

downtonaaChasA somewhat stilted declaration from Charles Boughton whose object was not, on this occasion, Catherine Pearce of Downton but his first love, Charlotte Clavering whom Charles had encountered during thirteen years at the anvil of empire in India. Theirs would be a protracted, long-distance relationship complicated by the influence of variously-motivated third parties. Ultimately rebuffed upon his return to England the thwarted suitor soon entered parliament as Charles Boughton-Rouse, MP for Evesham (having previously inherited the Worcestershire estate of Rous Lench from a distant cousin, Thomas Phillips-Rouse).

I have a clear £1,500 a year to spend. Debts I have none. Even the expenses of my late Election are completely satisfied. I shall wait with the most anxious impatience to learn that the Alliance I propose is favoured with your approbation.”

downtonladyrb

see source

All of which was music to the ears of William Pearce Hall, by this time a man with debts aplenty who would gladly hand over not just his daughter Catherine – Boughton-Rouse’s new object of desire (captured, left, in a full-length portrait of 1785 by George Romney) – but also his Downton Hall estate as swiftly as matters could be arranged.4 Having reasserted his family name on inheriting the Boughton baronetcy after the death of his brother in 1794, Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton died in 1821 leaving three daughters and a son William who, rather extraordinarily, managed to pull off the same trick as his father in marrying a ‘Downton’ heiress, albeit inadvertently.

downtoncastle

see: Stonebrook Publishing

Eight miles south-west of Downton Hall, over the border into Herefordshire, stands Downton Castle (r), the singular Picturesque creation of aesthete Richard Payne Knight. Oddly, having invested so thoroughly, Payne Knight tired of his romantic project soon after its completion, entrusting the Castle to his brother Thomas Andrew Knight and thereafter, apparently, to his heirs male. Alas, Thomas Knight’s son would die in a shooting accident in 1827, three years after the marriage of his youngest sister Charlotte to Sir William Rouse-Boughton.

A two-year legal case followed Thomas Knight’s death in 1838, a male member of the extended Knight family contesting Sir William’s claim that Thomas’s property could indeed now flow to his daughter. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, a ruling which would see Downton Hall and Downton Castle, and all the land between, united in the same direct ownership for the next sixteen years. (The landmark judgement in Knight vs Knight ‘is still applied by the courts today in order to determine the validity of a trust’.)

downview

see: Historic England

It was an expanded empire of which the court victor became excessively proud, as the aforementioned young American visitor discovered in the course of a personal tour of the estate in 1852. Her party were taken on rail carriages deep into the candlelit quarries beneath Clee Hill (which had been initiated with the proviso ‘that the workings shall not be visible from Downton Hall’): ‘The whole work we were expected to consider very wonderful – and so it was.’

But its seems a little of the 10th baronet – ‘a large, stout, red-faced, white-haired gouty old gentleman’ – went a long way. ‘At dinner I sat on Sir William’s right. He talked enough for a dozen, and I was frightened at my proximity to him, for his great object is to pump everyone to see how little they know and show how much he knows. I must admit that I think Sir William a humbug and a great tyrant.’

downpark

see: cloud9photography

A dim view of the squire could not dent an admiration for the attractions of Downton Hall, however: ‘[From] an exquisitely picturesque gate and lodge you gradually ascend a range of hills through an avenue two miles long. How can I convey the glorious scene which breaks upon you as you approach the house..the beautiful vision of the valley beneath.’ (That south lodge is just one of three including in the west ‘an untouched example () of that composite Jacobean-Gothick which flourished in the West Midlands in the 1760s: provincial, unscholarly, picturesque and paper thin’.5)

downlodge

see: Google Maps

In the year of Sir William’s marriage to Charlotte Knight (a precocious horticulturalist recognized for creating ‘one of the greatest cherries we have’) local architect Edward Haycock was commissioned to design a new entrance on the west side of Downton Hall (). Executed in trademark Greek Revival style, a one-storey colonnade precedes a ‘circular vestibule, shallow-domed and top-lit with Ionic columns carrying a continuous entablature’.2

downtonaagreek

BBC/Who Do You Think You Are?

In ponderous Victorian fashion, a stone balustrade incorporating the family motto in latin would be introduced atop the south and east elevations by their son, Sir Charles, 11th Bt. (d.1906), during the course of his fifty-year tenure as squire of Downton. (Downton Castle, meanwhile, had passed to his younger brother, Andrew Rouse-Boughton-Knight, descending in that line until finally being sold in 1979.)

downtonhunt1

see: Equipix

Equine pursuits would come to dominate affairs on the estate through the twentieth century. ‘Downton Hall is one of those homes that exudes fox-hunting,’ Major Sir Edward Rouse-Boughton (d. 1963) having established the North Ludlow here between the wars. This pack was later amalgamated with the Ludlow Hunt of which Lady Rouse-Boughton and their only child, Mary, would be joint-masters between 1952 and 1973.6

Though given a coming out ball at Claridge’s in the debs’ season of 1935, and a society wedding bridesmaid at least twice, the last baronet’s daughter would never marry. ‘After her mother’s death [in 1976] Miss Mary lived all alone in a single room of the lovely red-brick Georgian house. The other rooms, kept so tightly shuttered that their plastered and gilded walls are amazingly well preserved, are a time-warp back to another, more gracious age.’7

downpig

see: MERL

Mary Rouse-Boughton died in 1991. In the stable tack room a two-bar electric fire had been left on continuously for twenty years ‘in case Miss Mary’s saddles should get damp’.7 To meet death duties the Romney portrait (above) of Catherine, Lady Rouse-Boughton – ‘the finest and most valuable of that richly furnished house’s treasures’8 – was given to the nation and hangs here. (The whereabouts of another portrait also commissioned by her husband Sir Charles of his prize pig is not known.)

downton1

see: Audra Jervis

The entire Downton Hall estate was bequeathed to Mary’s great-nephew Michael ‘Micky’ Wiggin who, having ‘no idea what to do with it’, promptly invited three-time Grand National-winning racehorse trainer Capt. Tim Forster to relocate his stables there. This arrangement continues today under their respective successors, the present owner of Downton being also regional partner at a high-end estate agency yet whose own house has, ironically, never itself been sold…

[Archives]

1. Sunday Times, 10 March 1996.
2. Newman, J., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2006.
3. Ayscough, A., Jourdain, M. Country house baroque, 1941.
4. Fielding, M. The indissoluble knot? Public and private representations of men and marriage 1770-1830, thesis, 2012.
5. Mowl, T., Earnshaw, B. Trumpet at a distant gate, 1985.
6. Country Life, 26 February 1976.
7. Daily Telegraph, 6 January 1995.
8. Tipping, H.A. Country Life, 21 July 1917.
See also:
Reid, P. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses, Vol.II, 1980.
Ionides, J. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard of Shrewsbury, 1999.
Ionides, J., Howell, P. The old houses of Shropshire in the C19th: the watercolour albums of Frances Stackhouse Acton, 2006.
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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.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

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.

see: Bing Maps

see: Bing Maps

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.

see: DiCamillo Companion

see: DiCamillo

Kirsche Tortshen@Flickr

Kirsche Tortshen@Flickr

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). The delightful detailing of these two structures does, however, 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

see: CLA Midlands

see: CLA Midlands

The Field

The Field¹

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.)

Richard Webb/geograph

Richard Webb/geograph

‘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 10 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.

source: Pinterest

source: WCC/Pinterest

‘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?

[Listing][Archive]

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.

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Another occasional update of developments at houses previously featured.

Browsing the web search terms which have directed enquirers to Handed on, many are typically of the ‘Who lives at…?’, ‘Who owns…?’ variety. And, generally speaking, they have come to the right place. But not quite, alas, when the query ends with the words…

[Ormsby Hall, Lincolnshire]

When last we were down this way a degree of uncertainty hung over the future of the 3,000-acre estate and its GII* listed James Paine brick mansion. Ormsby has been the seat of the Massingberd/Massingberd-Mundys since the 1630s but could the family’s unbroken association with this place now be effectively at an end, at least for the foreseeable future?

see: Chris @ geograph

see: Chris @ geograph

On August 30, 2012 Adrian John Massingberd-Mundy died aged 85. Like his only only sibling, Anne, AJ M-M never married nor had children. In drafting his final will in 2004 the squire was clearly not bound by any prescriptive entail and at liberty to dispose of his estate as he wished. Here are some extracts:

‘The gross value of the said estate amounts to £19,709,585, net value £17,498,465.’

‘I appoint as my executor trustees [solicitor] David Stedman and [land agent] Robert Lawrence Hay Bell.’

‘I give to my Trustees all my property and assets of every kind and wherever situated and the net proceeds of what is sold together with all income that is received (my ‘Residuary Estate’). My Trustees shall hold the capital and income for the benefit of any one or more of the Beneficiaries of my Residuary Estate.’

Robert Bell & Co. are a long-established local firm of chartered surveyors and ‘have managed the South Ormsby Estate for a number of generations’. (Robert Bell senior died in 2007; the company’s website carries this report of a Royal Forestry Society estate visit just weeks before Adrian Massingberd-Mundy passed away.) And Sara Perceval?

‘This top fashion designer..has lived in the peace of the Lincolnshire Wolds for the past eight years,’ a local magazine explained after a visit to the Hall in 2003. Most notably associated with the gowns of singer Dame Shirley Bassey, Perceval’s client list has been starry: ‘Norman Hartnell had died…Barbara Cartland wanted someone to take over as her dress designer and had chosen Sara. It was Dame Barbara who introduced Sara to Adrian Massingberd-Mundy which in turn led to Sara’s move to Lincolnshire.‘¹

The Trustees of the will have the power:

‘To dispose of and develop any land comprised in my Residuary Estate as if they were the absolute beneficial owners without being bound to maintain any building or structure on the land’

‘To permit any person beneficially entitled to all or any part of my Residuary Estate to occupy or enjoy it on whatever terms my Trustees think fit’

So then, what chance any more M-Ms joining the full set of family portraits which hang at Ormsby? It costs six pounds to obtain a copy of this will from the Probate Office in High Holborn. On reflection, for a similar amount you could get a couple of pints at the Massingberd Arms down the lane from the Hall and, quite likely, a deal more elucidation…

see: GoogleStreetview

see: GoogleStreetview

[Update Oct 2013: ‘Cloven Hills Farm is located on the outskirts of the South Ormsby Estate and has been under the ownership of the Massingberd-Mundy family for nearly 400 years. 213 acres, guide price £1.2million.’ Sold!]
[Update 2016: Ormsby Hall and entire estate SOLD]

Such matters can be greatly simplified, of course, by the expedients of having
a) a child and/or b) a title. And good old primogeniture kicked in in time-honoured fashion not so long ago at the similar-sized but significantly older estate of…

[Shuckburgh Hall, Warwickshire]

…where Sir James Shuckburgh, 14th bt. (r), moved into the old place earlier this year following his father’s premature death in 2012. A picture of the late Sir Rupert doing the honours at his local horse show remains comfortably the most visited link of any ever provided here. But might this action shot of Sir James fulfilling the same obligation back in May challenge this dominance? Certainly, ‘Sir James’ is now becoming a more frequent search term than ‘Sir Rupert’, a recent example being ‘Sir James Shuckburgh + wife’, which does rather bring to mind the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

[Hatton Grange, Shropshire]

Of course, one way in which the production of a son and heir could potentially complicate rather than clarify succession matters is to produce two at once. Which is precisely what has just happened at this large estate where the Kenyon-Slaneys welcomed twins Robert and Orlando into the world on 14 August. Do the rules of primogeniture hold good right down to minutes or even seconds? And, boys, don’t go having sisters or things could get really messy…

[Fenton House, Northumberland]

“Why [my sisters] are threatening to sue now, when I have got on with them for 50 years, I don’t know,’ sighed Ned, 7th Earl of Durham, his lawyers earlier this year serving a writ on Ladies Anne, Beatrix and Lucinda Lambton to halt their claim on their late father’s sizable estates. Tudor Gothic-style Fenton is currently the Earl’s favoured English seat but with two more in Co. Durham…

see: Vanity Fair

see: Vanity Fair

…(not forgetting the ‘magnificent Baroque villa situated on some of the most breathtaking acreage in Tuscany,’ left) you’d imagine there was more than enough to go round. But the 6th Earl (aka Lord Lambton) left all to his only son, the youngest of his six children, in 2006. “None of the claimant’s sisters is mentioned in Lord Lambton’s will”, stated the Earl’s High Court writ; “This is unseemly behaviour,” said Lady Lucinda, “We have never wanted bad blood”. The thrice-married Lord Durham has one son and one daughter (so far).

[Netherwitton Hall, Northumberland]

It’s hardly a situation that Durham’s MP could much help with but should he ever need such recourse in future he might well find that, architecturally at least, his local member of parliament’s home in the county comfortably trumps his own. In 2010, Anne-Marie Trevelyan of G.1 Netherwitton came as close as anyone has in eight General Elections since the ’70s to unseating LibDem stalwart Sir Alan Beith as MP for the Berwick-on-Tweed constituency. Beith has recently announced his intention to retire leaving the reselected Conservative candidate as the favourite to win in 2015. (Incidentally, Ld Durham’s father was Beith’s predecessor in the seat and Ned once had a crack at it himself standing for Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party but losing his deposit.) An energetic campaigner, Trevelyan has battled wind farm proposals (ongoing) which would affect the skyline north of the Hall, precisely the issue also facing…

[Stanage Park, Powys]

…where matters are complicated by cross-border considerations. Welsh heritage lobbyists are concerned about the impact on the Humphrey Repton-conjured vista from Stanage of a proposed wind farm 2.3km away – in England. The Welsh Assembly stepped in last month demanding that an Environmental Impact Assessment be undertaken on what protestors consider a looming blot on the landscape. Indeed, the whole business has uncanny echoes of Stanage Park’s moment of TV stardom back in the ’80s, an irony noted in this BBC TV news report which offers fresh perspectives of the private estate:

see: BBC News

see: BBC News

¹ Lincolnshire Life November 2003

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In the advancement of the human condition over time this country has long punched above its weight. A litany of progressive contributions in science, the arts, in civic affairs can be advanced but Handed on ventures to suggest that few of Britain’s bright ideas have proved quite so universally persuasive as the Industrial Revolution and Association Football. And in a corner of Shropshire lies an under-heralded country house with singular connections to both.

see: Alan Hannam

Ironbridge: The community draws its name from the famous Iron Bridge erected in 1779 by Abraham Darby III.‘ Designated a World Heritage Site, that UNESCO citation sadly omits to mention the name of the person who designed this ground-breaking and now internationally emblematic structure. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard was that man and Hatton Grange…

see: dickiemint

…a handsome brick mansion twenty miles east of Pritchard’s home town of Shrewsbury, stands as ‘the only extant house definitely built by Pritchard on a country estate.‘¹ Convincing circumstantial evidence has led to other Pritchard attributions, notably the much-restored Brockhampton House in Herefordshire – recently for sale – but ‘the decoration of the interiors at Hatton is virtually unaltered [and] it remains Pritchard’s most complete existing work.’¹

Hatton Grange was built in 1764 for Plowden Slaney on an estate acquired by the family (now Kenyon-Slaney) in the C16 and which today extends to some 2,000 acres. Originally iron masters themselves, the Slaneys had had business involvement with the pioneering Darbys of Coalbrookdale. But while Pritchard ‘has a place of national importance in the history of bridge-building’ his domestic work, at least in the eyes of one authority, is merely ‘good mid-Georgian provincial’.²

see source

Externally, Hatton’s most conspicuous alteration has been the addition in 1897 of those bays to the south front, an attempt to counter a percieved proportional imbalance in Pritchard’s original conception.

see source

But, as noted, the interior remains much as it was, including lashings of top-drawer carving and plasterwork (by Pritchard’s trusty band of local artisans) rightly celebrated by Country Life in a 1968 visit. The magazine attributed the survival of these features in part to the fact that the family had other houses on which to spend their money’.³

Shropshire Life

The author may or may not have been aware that in that same year they would add another, Simon Kenyon-Slaney (uncle of Hatton’s present owner, Rupert K-S) buying the ancient Shropshire estate of Chyknell (sold again last August for upwards of £5m, see left). And Simon’s son Andrew has since taken on the Pradoe estate…

see: Google Maps

…the Kenyon seat in the N-W of the county and which was for 70 years the home of Col. John Kenyon until his death in 2006. Pradoe (right), ‘a charming late C18 brick house situated in an extensive and attractive park,’† would have its own obscurity interrupted briefly when it starred as the location for BBC TV childrens wartime reality series Evacuation Manor House.

The 1845 marriage of William Kenyon and heiress Frances Slaney had united the two families, the latter inheriting Hatton on the death of her father, and Hatton’s most prominent incumbent, Robert Aglionby Slaney (who had fallen through the floor at the opening of the 1862 International Exhibition). Though described as ‘a political hypochondriac’ by The Times, over the course of a long parliamentary career Slaney emerged as a leading campaigner for the poor, ‘his philanthropic exertions universally commended‘. But, while hardly philanthropic, it is surely the exertions of his grandson on Saturday 8 March 1873 which give Hatton Grange its most fantastic claim to fame.

see source

At 3pm that day William Kenyon-Slaney, 25, also later to become a diligent MP and ‘model landlord’ of the Hatton estate, took to the field at The Oval in south London representing England against Scotland in what would be only the nascent sport of football’s second international fixture. The two teams had played out a 0-0 draw the previous November but this time England had a ‘lively, dashing attacker, among the best of the 1870s’ in Kenyon-Slaney.†† Undoubtedly the superior player,‘ notes a memoir, ‘Kenyon-Slaney’s dribbling qualities and the great pace he showed with the ball…caused the first score to be made by England. A ‘score’ which was not only the first-ever goal for England but the first in the history of international football. Back of the net, Hatton Grange, back of the net!

hattonair

see: Google Maps

[G.II* listing] [Update: Sept 2013]

¹ Ionides, J. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard of Shrewsbury, 1999.
² Colvin, H. A biographical dictionary of British architects 1660-1840, 1995.
³ Cornforth, J. Country Life 29 Feb 1968.
† Reid, P. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses Vol.II, 1980.
†† Lamming, D. An English internationalists’ who’s who, 1990.

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Woodhouse, Shropshire

On 28 June 1764 one Hugh Owen MD was ‘gored to death by a favourite bull’. On such random happenstance can the fate of an estate sometimes swing. It’s safe to say that without that excitable beast’s dramatic intervention (and the chain of inheritance it set in train) this restrained Georgian mansion, the wholly private home of the Mostyn-Owens since 1773, would not exist.

woodhouse1

see: RCHM

And under-exposed Woodhouse would provide the backdrop for two striking daughters of the house, 150 years apart, to enrapture a pair of subsequently notable young bucks. One became a scientific revolutionary whose mere name, Darwin, would come to embody his transformative thinking while the other became, well…

… Boris Johnson.

William Mostyn would be the eventual beneficiary of the will of Miss Sarah Owen, adopting the name and losing little time developing his inheritance. He had already come into the Mostyn family’s Welsh estate, Bryngwyn, and engaged architect Robert Mylne to create a new house there. When the large and valuable Woodhouse estate dropped into his lap in 1772 he took the opportunity to consolidate his interests¹ and returned to Mylne with a second, grander, full-house commission for the place which would soon become the family’s primary locus.

source²

One writer has posited that in Robert Mylne ‘can be found the nearest example of the pure neo-classic architect who practised in Britain’.² Which, by extension, would make Woodhouse something of a dark horse contender for the most complete and unadulterated exemplar of the Neoclassical style. Though never as fashionable or celebrated as his direct contemporary Robert Adam – both attended Edinburgh High School and would cross paths repeatedly over several formative years touring in Europe –

woodhouse2

see: RIBApix

..the industrious Mylne had an avid fan-club in Shropshire, being the go-to guy for the county’s landed gentry from about 1766.
The expressly restrained 16-bedroom mansion Mylne designed for William Mostyn-Owen’s new English dominion features ‘exciting and unusual effects such as the stair hall’² while the dramatic portico – reckoned by Pevsner ‘a very curious and original composition’ – showed that ‘occasionally he could design something as strikingly original as anything by Soane.’

But it wasn’t the fascinating architecture which would attract a young Charles Darwin here as often as possible between university terms. ‘Woodhouse is to me a paradise, about which I am always thinking’, he would write in 1828. County neighbours, Charles and his sisters appreciated the relatively jolly household of the multitudinous Mostyn-Owen brood. And one in particular, ‘la belle Fanny‘, would preoccupy Charles, the pair spending long days in each others company and exchanging letters when apart.

see: Wikimapia

‘Why did you not come home this Xmas.. I suppose some dear little Beetles kept you away. If I could have found a Scrofulum morturorum perhaps you might have been induced to come down!,’ teased Fanny in 1830. (Always keen to engage with nature, another Darwin passion at this time was shooting, his zeal ensuring the survival of only the fittest of Woodhouse’s pheasants.)

Fanny, however, was a very popular girl, never short of ‘gallant attention’, and dropped a bombshell at the end of 1831. ‘You will be as much astonished as Caroline was when Fanny told her she was engaged to Mr Biddulph; he had proposed and been accepted in the course of a secret ride,’ Charles’s other sister Catherine informed Darwin who was but a few weeks into the epic voyage on The Beagle which would eventually make his name. Robert Biddulph was heir to Chirk Castle just 10 miles to the north and came with a rakish reputation: ‘I cannot help hoping that with such an attaching wife as Fanny he will reform, and become tolerably domestic,’ Catherine added.

see: Dafydd Jones

Fast-forward 150 years and Woodhouse would again resound to expressions of astonishment and doubt at the undergraduate engagement of ‘Oxford goddess’ Allegra Mostyn-Owen and the chaotically ambitious Boris Johnson. Although the boat was duly pushed out at a Woodhouse reception recalled as ‘La Dolce Vita meets Brideshead’, misgivings abounded. Boris was ‘rapacious’ said his father-in-law; she’s ‘nuts’, said hers.† ‘I got declarations of love every day. Boris seemed like a safe place.. but not for long,’ a chastened (and long-divorced) Allegra would tell the Daily Mail in 2008.

When he died in May 2011 William Mostyn-Owen had been master of Woodhouse for well over 60 years, inheriting at just 18 having lost his two elder brothers in WWII. For a moment in the early ’80s he considered selling the 1,500-acre estate in favour of another family property in Perthshire. But it was Aberuchill Castle that eventually went on the market ensuring that the Owens’ 400-year association with this place would continue and Woodhouse become a Handed on qualifier of the highest rank…

¹ Humphreys, T.M. Bryngwyn: A study of the impact of family settlements, extravagence and debt on a Welsh estate. Montgomeryshire Collections Vol. 75 (1987)

² Gotch, Christopher. Mylne and Adam. Architectural Review Feb 1956.

³ Colvin, Howard. A biographical dictionary of British architects 1600-1840, 1995.

† Purnell, Sonia. Just Boris: The irresistible rise of a political celebrity, Aurum Press, 2011.

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