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In 1762, at the height of his powers and popularity, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was engaged by the first Earl of Shelburne to reimagine the surroundings of Bowood, the Wiltshire house he had acquired (and subsequently enlarged) eight years before. Beyond establishing the bounds of his latest canvas, Brown possibly paid the neighbouring lands little heed. Yet immediately south of Bowood’s park was a property already possessed of ‘a fine designed landscape’1 which had been developed before Brown was born and which bore the influence of a man whose work ‘was seminal to the development of the English landscape garden in the early 18th century’.

bowheth2Today, the name of Stephen Switzer does not resound like that of his later fellow practitioner. Similarly, whilst the pared-back splendour of 4,000-acre Bowood draws thousands annually its comely neighbour to the south, Whetham House, remains decidedly obscure; little-known and hidden from view. Though comparatively modest in all tangible aspects Whetham retains a distinction riches by definition cannot buy, being another corner of England which has never once changed hands for money. Despite a line of descent stretching back into the 13th century the essential character of this place has remained remarkably little altered, due in part to the fact that for some 250 years…

… Whetham would play second fiddle to a larger family estate sixty-five miles to the north. With a 450-year history alternately separate and shared, while Homme House in Herefordshire would eventually be uncoupled from joint inheritance in the 1920s (and has latterly developed a commercial profile) it, too, remains ‘very much a family home’.

*

whethamsketch

see source

‘The arms of Fynamore, impaled by Ernle, are still to be seen carved upon the [west] front of Whetham House,’ relates this late-C19 source (which also carries a puzzling sketch, right, depicting the building in a form which has seemingly never existed). The ‘ornate armorial cartouche’ memorializes the first two families in the chain of ownership here, the Fynamore male line obtaining from c.1260 until the death of Roger Fynamore in 1574. His heiress Mary had married Michael Ernle, the couple being succeeded by a sequence of John Ernles, among them the most high-profile owner in Whetham’s history.

whethamdetail

source: Historic England

Sir John Ernle would serve thirteen years as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1676 until eventually replaced under the new regime following the Glorious Revolution. ‘Sir John had a large house at his death in 1697,’2 L-plan by this time, a south front of five bays and two gables now perpendicular to the original range. While a new entrance bay was later added by his grandson heir (Ernle’s two sons having predeceased him) the main preoccupation of the new young squire would be the park and surrounding estate.

John Kyrle Ernle was born in 1682, the same year as progressive gardener Stephen Switzer whose name, for all his professional success, would quickly receed from memory. Just five years after Switzer ‘died a rich man’ in 1745 it was remarked that people were ‘ignorant that he had been the chief promoter of the present taste in gardening’.3 Hampshire-born Switzer’s career began in 1697 as an apprentice at the preeminent Brompton Park Nursery of Henry London and George Wise (later to be joined by his younger contemporary Charles Bridgeman).

ichno

see source

Significant involvement in large scale projects such as Blenheim, Kensington Palace and Castle Howard followed, the last-named bringing Switzer into the orbit of Sir John Vanbrugh. The pair would later team up to remake Grimsthorpe Castle for Robert Bertie, 4th earl of Lindsey. But Switzer’s output was as much theoretical, setting him apart from his fellow practicioners. In 1715 he published what would become the first element of his three-volume magnum opus Ichnographia rustica, his ‘manifesto for a designed landscape’.4 A reaction against the over-wrought, high maintenance country house grounds hitherto prevalent, Switzer advocated a more holistic, relatively informal estate vision, ‘an enfilade’ of diverse elements adapting the bounty of Mother Nature, ‘a little guided in her Extravagancies by the artist’s hand’.

‘His message was not fully adopted until well passed mid-century’ but a corner of Wiltshire caught on early. Switzer introduced an array of features to the grounds of Spye Park (‘all now sunk without trace’) and, immediately to the east, a young John Kyrle Ernle was keenly rolling up his sleeves. ‘Given the personal association between Swtizer and Kyrle Ernle, Switzer’s residence and nursery nearby, his work for other improvers in the area, and most notably the fact that in this very early period the only advocate for a garden-estate was Switzer himself, his authorship of Whetham is a very near certainty.’4

whethampark

see: Bing Maps

‘Today the park at Whetham is a mixture of rough woodland and pasture but in its 1720s prime it must have approached very near to the Arcadian landscapes which William Kent would be creating in the 1730s’.5 A hands-on enthusiast, Kyrle Ernle developed various gardens, coppices, vineyards, and avenues including ‘ye Walk of ye Wilderness’ and, extending south, ‘ye Great Walk in front of ye House’. Most elaborately, in the wooded slopes to the north the flow of a stream was manipulated to create a spectacular water feature observed by the 1st Earl of Hopetoun on a visit in 1712.

‘The principal cascade began at the cascade-house – “25 feet broad and near as high, with statues and a dolphin’s head” – then descended some 60 feet [in] “10 or 12 steps for 500 feet”, finishing in a basin where three horse heads spouted water in the centre.’4 To sustain or increase the cascade flow, several years later Kyrle Ernle would pay £35 to a ‘Mr. Mitchell for ye Fire Engine’, a contraption for pumping water.1

whethamwater1

see source

In another treatise, on ‘Hydrostaticks and Hydraulicks’, Stephen Switzer cited the Whetham water-works in the same breath as not only those at Chatsworth and Dyrham but also any that Italy or France could then boast, providing an analogous illustration (right).

But while the development of Whetham certainly preoccupied the attention of its young squire it was not the only estate of which he was now possessed. For his mother, Vincentia, was the only child of Sir John Kyrle whose great-grandfather had acquired the Herefordshire manor of Much Marcle in the second half of the 16th century. The extent of John Kyrle Ernle’s involvement here, if any, has not been established, and the Kyrle seat Homme House appears to have been leased during this time. But in a corner of the walled garden stands a building suggestive of a creative mind at work here on the Herefordshire / Gloucestershire border at around the time the two estates became linked.

hommesum1

see: geeflee

While some elements of the recently restored ‘remarkable summer house [appear] convincingly medieval’, grant-aiding Historic England describe a ‘late C17 Grade I-listed important and little altered early example of a Gothick garden building, predating Miller’s work at Radway Grange in the 1740s or Walpole’s work at Strawberry Hill’.  Homme House itself at this time was a battlemented sandstone C16 edifice to which a ‘low brick wing of c.1700’ would be added (below).6

hommeold2

see: Russell Lewis Photography

John Kyrle Ernle died in 1725, his schemes at Whetham beginning a slow, inexcorable decline not least because his only child, Constantia, married Lord Dupplin (later 9th Earl of Kinnoull) and spent much time in Perthshire. At her death in 1753 the earl – ‘who probably owed his reputation as a fool to the fact that the word for bore had yet to be invented’ – was displeased to learn that his wife’s not inconsiderable estates had been settled ‘upon the sole representative of her ancestors’…

whethampainting

c.1845 (see source)

… namely her cousin Elizabeth’s son, James Money, a fact which protracted litigation would not alter. By the time of Money’s son, William (d.1808), Whetham had gained a sizeable north range (r), undergone some internal adjustments and in 1795 the house, ‘lately fitted up’, was available to let. (The imposition of a turnpike road in 1790-1 was, alas, another nail in the coffin of John Kyrle Ernle’s designed landscape, cutting the southern half of the park off from the house.)

hommebig

see: Jareklepak

Also around this time the character of Homme House would undergo rather more radical alteration. The castellated remnant now became an appendage to a three-storey Late Georgian block, ‘originally of stone, refaced in thin brick’. Inside, the ‘broad entrance hall’ and the rooms off it incorporate C17th fixtures from the earlier house, with ‘a handsome flying staircase’ (↓) beyond.7

hommestair

see: bethbakescakes

Soon after inheriting both estates in 1808 William Money’s eldest son, later Maj. Gen. Sir James, took the additional surname of Kyrle by Royal Licence. This favouring of his Herefordshire heritage was further emphasised when he gave his clerical brother William tenancy of Whetham for his lifetime. The rector of nearby Yatesbury for over four decades, the Rev. William and his wife, Emma, nurtured a large family at Whetham in an atmosphere of strong morality and emotional articulacy.

‘Although they spent relatively little time apart, William and Emma wrote almost one thousand letters to each other during their forty-year marriage,’ the last years of which were passed at Homme House following the death of childless Sir James in 1843. The transition ‘from being a rural clergyman possessed of 450 acres, to a substantial proprietor of 4,000’ in Herefordshire was not entirely comfortable, however. Also adopting the Money-Kyrle moniker, ‘the ostentation and worldliness of their peers in the social elite into which William was [now] projected’ compared unfavourably with the wholesome piety of their previous existence. William died five years later aged 61, Emma outliving him by just three months.8

With the family’s material fortunes enhanced, soon after their inheritance of the Homme estate the couple’s eldest son, William Money-Kyrle, in his mid-thirties and unmarried, belatedly embarked on several years of travel in Europe and the Middle East. A rather more prosaic excursion would prove his undoing, however, a dip in the sea at Scarborough in the summer of 1868 inducing a chill from which he never recovered. But he had lived long enough to foresee trouble ahead for the family estates.

hommeair

see: Prodrone Services

Having no children of his own, William’s heir was his brother, Lt-Col. John Money-Kyrle whose two eldest sons were now also young army officers serving in India. The difference between Ernle and his younger brother Audley was apparent early. “I should strongly counsel his not entering the army at all for, if he did pass, he would surely bring shame and disgrace upon us all by his ruinous and dissipated habits,” a 16-year-old Audley had advised his father in a letter home from school. Ernle did indeed pass out of Sandhurst and shame and disgrace did indeed ensue.

‘Court-martialled for debts and illegally selling beer, his deceits, criminality and lack of self-control became a template for ungentlemanly behaviour.’ Fleeing to England to escape his creditors, Ernle would be ‘retired‘ from military service in 1872, an exasperated (and by contrast eminently responsible) Audley now advising that their father “should simply decline to see him”, suggesting that he was a hopeless case.

And it transpired their uncle William had reached a similar conclusion, his will stipulating that the estate was to be entailed on John Money-Kyrle ‘as a life interest, with strict instructions it by-pass Ernle’. “Had he been different there is no doubt your uncle would have entailed the estate absolutely on me and my children,” lamented John. “Thus his miserable course has not only affected himself but may entirely change the direction of the property.”9

whethampaintxUpstanding Audley did eventually inherit in 1894, outliving his father by fourteen years before dropping dead suddenly whilst out shooting near Homme, aged 62. (He had made his mark at Whetham with a substantial extension, far left, at the western end of the south front.) This event was to usher in the most significant upheaval in the family estate for 250 years, a development not unconnected with the intellectual (and neurotic) preoccupations of Audley’s son and heir, Roger.

The disabled older brother of Roger Money-Kyrle (1898-1980) had died shortly before Roger was born, his father passing suddenly when he was ten. ‘My mother, a recognized beauty still in her forties, remained a widow. [They] were devoted to each other and the love and kindness I received from them made the later discovery of my Oedipus complex a very lengthy process.’10

whethamRMK

see source

A fighter pilot shot down in the Great War, various psychological pressures led a demobbed Money-Kyrle to the nascent therapy of psysho-analysis whilst studying at Cambridge. (Referral to Sigmund Freud in Vienna would follow but not before he had ‘foolishly rushed off and married an older woman’, against advice.)11 Not least amongst his realizations during this time was the discovery ‘that instead of a comfortable income from two properties, I had a negative income of about £400 per annum. I then sold Homme, for which I think the older tenants never forgave me’.10

Whetham remained Money-Kyrle’s home his entire life but, despite initially acceding to expectations as squire (JP, High Sheriff), he came to realise that ‘I had no vocation for such activities’.10 After the Second World War, with two PhDs and several books already to his name, his focus turned instead to practising psycho-analysis in London (becoming a ‘highly renowned‘ figure in the profession), returning to Wiltshire on weekends.

hommeview

see: Homme House

And while he had indeed sold Homme House it nevertheless remained in the family, the purchaser being his uncle, the Reverend Cecil Money-Kyrle, vicar of Much Marcle. (A great deal of the large Herefordshire landholding would be divested at this time, however.) Cecil died childless in 1962, Homme now descending via his sister’s grandson, Vice-Admiral John Ernle Pope. The house and 100+ acre park are today home to the family of the latter’s step-daughter who over the past decade have developed Grade II* listed Homme as a popular country house wedding venue

hommedogs… and who featured in Country Life (r) with their dachshunds back in 2014. This weekly magazine has been chronicling the vicissitudes of the British country house, large and small, for now well over a hundred years yet in all that time Whetham has, by contrast, entirely escaped mention. Modest in its dimension but epic in lineage, this house and estate remain in the hands of the Money-Kyrle family, and one of the longest-held, least-heralded ancestral inheritances in the land…

[Estate archive][Roger Money-Kyrle archive]

whethamaerial

1. Bishop, W. Whetham, Wiltshire: A Switzer garden?, Garden History, Vol.40, Summer 2012.
2. Crowley, D.A. (ed.). Victoria County History: Wiltshire Vol.17, 2002.
3. Brogden, W.A. Stephen Switzer, Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
4. Brogden, W.A. Ichnographia Rustica: Stephen Switzer and the designed landscape, Routledge, 2017.
5. Mowl, T. The historic gardens of Wiltshire, 2004.
6. Pevsner, N., Cherry, B. The buildings of England: Wiltshire, 1975.
7. Brooks, A., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Herefordshire, 2012.
8. Rothery, M., French, H. Making men: The formation of elite male identities in England, c.1660-1900, 2012.
9. French, H., Rothery, M. Man’s estate: Landed gentry masculinities 1660-1900, 2012.
10. Money-Kyrle, R. Collected papers, 1977.
11. Forrester, J., Cameron, L. Freud in Cambridge, 2017.

 

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Startling plot twists and fairytale endings, staple elements of the standard popular novel – but sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Strange fiction, even. In the early hours of March 10, 2005, 74-year-old one-time romantic novelist Cherry Drummond, aka the 16th Baroness Strange, summoned two house guests to her bedside to witness a change in her will. The ailing matriarch of Megginch Castle, north of the Firth of Tay, would be abruptly subverting family expectation that all was to be inherited by Adam, the eldest of her six children, now stipulating that the entire estate should go instead to the youngest, daughter Catherine. Lady Strange died the following day.

meggwill3The new will has changed everything. It is all very confusing and quite a few people are very upset. Everything about that family is strange. Strange by name, strange by nature.”1

That there was actually anything of significance beyond the title of baron to be passed on would perhaps have pleasantly surprised Cherry’s equally idiosyncratic father. In a memoir outlining his agricultural philosophy and innovations, John Drummond, 15th Lord Strange, had held out little optimism for the future: ‘I think, probably, the end of my plan will coincide with the end of the Megginch saga. In any case, the male line of this small landowning family comes to an end with me. I have no son.”2

meggcherry2

see: Tatler

Slightly unusually, neither estate nor title were automatically entailed upon the eldest child, while the Strange peerage is among a minority which can be passed in the female line. Cherry did in fact inherit Megginch but faced a protracted tussle with one of her two sisters for the barony, their father having apparently lead each to expect that they would accede. Despite financial inducement to favour her sister’s claim, in 1986 the abeyant title was eventually granted to Cherry Drummond, subsequently an assiduous attendee of the House of Lords (surviving the 1991 cull of hereditary peers) for the rest of her days.3

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that when apples are stored in an apple loft or shed, it is essential to lay them out carefully and then to inspect them every now and again? The rotten apples must be taken out and thrown away before they can infect the other apples. Should not the same be done with terrorists?”

“I don’t quite know how to follow the noble Baroness,” would become a familiar refrain in Parliament’s upper chamber, Lady Strange importing a unique brand of folksy wisdom (not to mention a weekly supply of cut flowers from the abundance of her Scottish garden) to their lordships’ House. But while she prized her peerage its direct association with Megginch Castle was young, post-dating that of the Drummond family itself by some 300 years.

*

SAW051278’Although Megginch Castle does not present the appearance a highly defensive site today among its fine, level parks and woodlands, it was once secure indeed, islanded among spreading marshes and pools, as effective as any moat.’4 The fertile plain of the present-day Carse of Gowrie, between Dundee and Perth, belies its unpromising estuarine origins when the earliest (probably monastic) structure was erected on a rare elevated spot 50 feet above sea level.

E1F6D682-14D3-438E-8E57-C3D8D84C3E38

see: Canmore

A branch of the Hay family, earls of Erroll – originators of nearby Errol Park – developed a C15 tower house subsequently incorporated within a significant expansion of 1575 by Robert Hay. Characteristic corbelling supports the watch-room and conical turret of this C16 block. But the Hays would not enjoy Megginch for much longer, financial exigencies obliging its mid-C17 sale to a cadet branch of another noble Scottish clan, the Drummonds, earls of Perth [see previous post: Drummond Castle, Perth].

meggbing

see: Bing Maps

Having removed from their traditional fiefdom of Lennoch 45 miles west, during the time of purchaser John Drummond’s son and grandson Megginch would be enlarged, becoming an L-shaped house. The family’s sphere of influence also expanded as the grandson, John Drummond, became MP for Perthshire (1727-34) in the interest of James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, 7th Baron Strange (who would later marry Drummond’s daughter, Jean). ‘John sent his children by boat from Dundee to be educated in Holland. They absorbed some Dutch ideas and translated them to Scotland.’ One result was the Beech Walk – one of several tree-lined avenues at Megginch – planted c.1750 by Adam Drummond, 4th laird.2

When his father died in 1752 Adam was in America furthering a military career which had begun – controversially for a Drummond – fighting the Hanoverian cause in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Upon his return, marriage to a daughter of the 4th duke of Bolton oiled a passage into parliament where Drummond soon put his service experience to commercial use, forming a partnership which gained lucrative contracts to supply victuals to the naval fleet in the Americas. Tacking and trimming with changes of administration, valuable New World land and mineral rights followed but his business reputation would be dented when he turned his hand to banking.

Founded in 1769, Ayr Bank ‘was to provide one of the most dramtatic incidents in the history of European banking’. A private operation founded upon the ‘seemingly limitless credit’ of blue chip Scottish landowners, Ayr Bank ‘was a most obliging source of funds’  for increasingly fanciful property schemes at home and abroad. But when an allied banking house went under the domino effect quickly exposed Ayr’s speculative dealings and it too collapsed in 1772. Facing unlimited liabilities ‘many of the landowning families had to sell up’ yet Adam Drummond appears to have survived relatively unscathed.5

Indeed, three years later he would be invited by Thomas Coutts to replace Coutts’ incapacitated brother as partner in his private London bank. The recently-widowed Drummond lived on the bank’s premises on the Strand but before too long Coutts concluded that money management was not the Scotsman’s metier. Requesting his resignation in 1780, Thomas Coutts would later recall his erstwhile partner as ‘a useless incumberance’.6

megggardenside

see: Simon Forder

Generally, ‘the fourth laird preferred London life, Megginch being somewhat neglected’ during his tenure.7 Dying childless in 1786, his heir was nephew John Drummond who promptly sold off the ancestral Lennoch lands in favour of developing Megginch Castle to which a transverse, bow-ended drawing room wing would be added. ‘Unsubstantiated tradition alleges that this was the work of Robert Adam. The now-reconstituted ceiling was certainly good enough to be by him.’8 But as funds again became stretched Drummond now elected to sell Megginch itself, the buyer being his younger and considerably wealthier brother, Robert.

meggstables1

see: Craig Frew

meggship

see: Sandy Stevenson

In the grounds of the castle a hexagonal dovecote is topped by a weathervane commemorating the ‘General Elliott’, the vessel which intrepid East Indiaman Robert Drummond had captained to Bombay in then record time. Having invested £29,335. 16s. 4½d. of his trading fortune acquiring the family estate Drummond soon set about adding some visual flourishes.7 The dovecote would be surrounded a striking stable range with neat Gothick fenestration; this fashion also informed the north lodge which these days abuts the A91 (see below) and a folly arch at the end of his uncle’s Beech Walk.

meggA90

see: Google Maps

Paintings by fashionable portraitist George Romney now adorned the castle walls, Drummond paying 25gns upfront for his own at the first sitting. It would take a dozen sittings for the artist to capture a satisfactory likeness of Robert’s mother (‘a large number for a work this plain’) and a remarkable 17 sitttings for a portrait of his sister. ‘It must be supposed that Miss Drummond or her mother, or both, were difficult clients.’9

The one member of the family Romney did not encounter was Drummond’s brother, Adam, who became the third sibling to succeed as laird of Megginch when Robert died childless aged 50 in 1815. A year earlier Admiral (as he would later become) Adam Drummond had stepped back from a lively, full-time naval career spanning more than three decades. With his wife, Charlotte Murray, daughter of the 4th duke of Atholl (and 9th baron Strange), he now set about making significant alterations at Megginch.

meggcoloured2

see: Canmore (annotated)

meggsouth2 (2)

see: Nichola Dawson

A large armorial tablet records their further development of the bow-ended Georgian south wing (↑) including ‘an off-centre Roman Doric portico [see], removed in 1928′.10 In the north and east a new L-shaped two-storey wing now wrapped around the C16th block.

Following the admiral’s death in 1849 his eldest son Capt. John Drummond’s tenure as laird lasted forty years but perhaps the most singular legacy of this era was that created by his younger brother, Henry Drummond-Hay. Remembered as ‘a noble specimen of the true field naturalist’, a peripatetic military career enabled Henry to assemble ‘one of the largest ornithological collections in the country’, hundreds of species of European bird life all personally shot, stuffed and mounted, most of which remain in the billiard room at Megginch. (Drummond-Hay himself would retire to Seggieden House, just ten miles down the road, having married its heiress and added her family name.)

megggiant

see: Carsesus.org

Meanwhile, Henry’s brother and sister-in-law made their mark in the Castle gardens. ‘The outstanding historical value of the designed landscape at Megginch is in its great age and the continuity of gardening by the Drummond family since the C17.’ Arboreally, 1000-year-old yews face competition as king of the trees hereabouts from the oldest Giant Redwoods in Britain (r), cultivated from Californian seeds supplied by a C19th neighbour, pioneering grower and evolutionary theorist Patrick Matthew.

meggcrown

see: GardenVisit.com

‘The top walled garden created c.1575 is still in use, its brick walls harbouring figs and nectarines,’ while the orchard at Megginch is home to a national collection of cider apples and pears. Capt. Drummond’s wife Mary was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and amongst the quirky topiary ‘is an extraordinary crown-shaped yew (left) planted to commemorate the monarch’s golden jubilee and concealing a delightfully gloomy chamber within’.11

Son Malcolm succeeded in 1889, marrying Geraldine, a daughter of Lord Amherst of Hackney the following year. Their children would enjoy summers at the latter’s country seat, Didlington Hall in Norfolk, in the halcyon years just prior to the discovery of the calamitous embezzlement of that estate by Amherst’s trusted solicitor (see also: Narford Hall, Norfolk). And the prospects were also none too rosy at Megginch when John Drummond eventually came into the estate in 1929.

I inherited a bag full of moonshine. I knew, of course, that we were broke. I had found the place slightly more dilapidated every time I came home, but no-one seemed unduly worried. Things went downhill but they went on as if there was no bottom to the hill.2

meggjd

see: Hillandale News

Being ‘by some way the largest farmer in the district’, Drummond committed, in the face of sceptical counsel, to a belief that the Carse of Gowrie held more promise than the socio-economic landscape, introducing forward-thinking farm practices. Despite an upbringing which ‘fitted me to be nothing more than a good sport’, John Drummond had many strings to his bow.2 A some-time novelist and restaurateur, his most unlikely estate enterprise was Great Scott Records, one of the earliest record labels outside of London, established in 1933. With a roster of local talent, ‘most of the recordings were made in the great hall at the castle and the manufacturing carried out in a factory in the stable buildings’.

When the 9th duke of Atholl died unmarried in May 1957 his subordinate Strange barony fell into abeyance; John Drummond’s claim to be the 15th Lord Strange would be ratified seven years later. Alas, not long after Megginch gained this added distinction it would be writing a rather less welcome (and only too familiar) chapter in its country house story, ie. The Year of the Ruinous Blaze. Being 1969, when much of the interior of the south wing was lost or damaged. But over time the cupola-lit stair hall and Adamesque ceilings would be reconstituted while many fixtures would be replaced with pieces from other local historic houses.

‘The restoration was a magnificent act of faith by Cherry Drummond and her husband, Humphrey, who had moved in with their large family only a few years before.’7 But this episode possibly strained the already marginal economic position at Megginch and by the late 1980s the estate was in a ‘financial mess’. Enter a fairy godfather with a nearby castle of his own.

meggcayz

see: Press&Journal

‘Sir James Cayzer, 5th Bt., had inherited vast wealth derived from the shipping business founded by his great-grandfather and devoted most of his life to entertaining himself and friends in the style of a bygone age.’ Cayzer owned Kinpurnie Castle and his largesse would extend to his friends 20 miles south at Megginch when circumstances obliged the sale of a 330-acre farm. ‘Rather than let the estate be broken up,’ Sir James stepped in, buying the property and promptly gifting it to the Drummonds’ eldest son, Adam…12

… today the 17th Baron Strange, and perceived to have been the principal ‘victim’ of his mother’s dramatic change of heart in her last hours. Of his five siblings, the best placed to summon a degree of equanimity in the fallout of the great 2005 will revision was perhaps middle sister Amelie – or, as she was by then more formally known, the Duchesse de Magenta. Rewind twenty years:

Dressed in a crinoline gown spangled with gold, leaning against the wall of a ballroom in a vast house, she spotted someone starring at her. Across the room was a tall lean man wearing a daffodil-yellow tailcoat with red velvet collar and cuffs, full white tie and hunting boots. In his hand was a silver-topped malacca cane. Moments later they were chatting and a few moments after that Amelie decided she was talking to the man she would one day marry.’13

meggsully

see: Julliieen@Instagram

Amelie Drummond is today chatelaine of splendiferous Chateau de Sully in the Loire Valley, with its ‘moat, wonderful state rooms and premier cru vineyards’.13 Her husband Philippe, 4th Duc de Magenta, died in 2002; ‘since 2012 she has been able to call on her sister Charlotte Drummond to help with the running of the estate.’ And there’s probably no better preparation for managing a castle than being raised in one. Perhaps the pair compare notes with their younger sibling, Catherine, present mistress of Megginch?

meggroses

see: Irina Tolubenko

Doubtless it’s not all a bed of roses (though the gardens at Megginch do contain over 100 varieties of such, some centuries old) but Handed on would like to imagine that the words of the Drummond sisters’ grandfather, John, may to some extent still pertain:

I realised .. that I was brought up in a fairytale and was still living in one.’

[Megginch Castle][Listing]

1. Daily Telegraph 20 Apr 2006.
2. Drummond, J. Inheritance of dreams, 1945.
3. Financial Times 10 June 2006.
4. Tranter, N. Tales and traditions of Scottish castles, 1993.
5. Checkland, S. Scottish banking: A history 1695-1973, 1975.
6. Healy, E. Coutts & Co. 1692-1992, 1992.
7. Montgomery-Massingberd, H. Family seats: No.54, The Field 12 Oct 1985.
8. Lindsay, M. Castles of Scotland, 1986.
9. Kidson, A. George Romney: a complete catalogue of his paintings, 2015.
10. Gifford, J. Buildings of Scotland: Perth and Kinross, 2007.
11. Campbell, K. Policies and pleasaunces: A guide to the gardens of Scotland, 2007.
12. Daily Mail 16 Apr 1988.
13. A Renaissance chateau with a fairytale story, House & Garden Oct 2015.

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Narford Hall, Norfolk

On April 28, 1733, a calamitous blaze took hold on the premises of White’s Chocolate-house – later to become exclusive gentlemen’s club, White’s – in Mayfair, central London.NHwhites The incident would feature in the sixth of the eight images which comprise ‘A Rake’s Progress‘ (1733-34), William Hogarth’s series of paintings and wildly popular engravings. ‘The Gaming House’ (left) sees Tom Rakewell, the hero of Hogarth’s morality tale, losing all (again). And for one contemporary art lover in particular this scene would have held an acute resonance.

For long-time local resident Sir Andrew Fountaine had stored a significant slice of his prodigious collection of art and antiquities in the upper rooms of White’s in the first months of 1733 ahead of imminent retirement to his country seat, Narford Hall in Norfolk. Among other things, the greatest accumulation of miniatures then in private hands would be lost to Fountaine (and national art heritage) in the fire.

NHhog

see: Philadelphia Museum of Art

But the renowned connoisseur still remained possessed of plenty including an earlier William Hogarth ‘conversation piece’ of c.1729 featuring Sir Andrew (centre), his sister, niece and the latter’s future husband, Fountaine’s ‘right-hand man in collecting’, Capt. William Price. X-rays and a near-contemporaneous copy of this picture confirm that the satisfied figure of Andrew’s younger brother and then likely heir, Brigg, originally also featured, recumbent in the foreground.1 ‘An ignorant, worthless scoundrel-rake’ in the estimation of Fountaine’s close friend, Jonathan Swift, this particular rake’s progress would terminate some seven years before the death of his brother, his likeness subsequently painted over.

The doctored Hogarth is now in an American gallery, part of a steady stream of contents sales over the past 135 years that has seen the collections which gave this place renown significantly denuded and Narford Hall beat a C20th retreat into mildly notorious obscurity. “The most beautiful room in England” (in the view of one who has seen more such places than most) remains largely intact, however. Still the private home of the Fountaine family, ‘barely disturbed archives’ preserve the fascination of perhaps the least documented Grade I house in the land.2

nhgoog2

see: Google Maps

Displaying quite differently in each of its principal aspects, Narford Hall’s distinct irregularity is the product of four main phases of evolution across 150 years from the turn of the 18th century.

NHdetail

see: Evelyn Simak

But while the house is foremost associated with the lauded discernment of Sir Andrew Fountaine (1676-1753), Narford’s ‘beautiful 7-bay south front, of carstone with a stone-faced centre’ was in fact created for his namesake father.3 Nor was Narford the first new country house fashioned for Andrew Fountaine (1), the ambiguous manner by which he acquired the means having its roots in his remarkable relationship with a scion of the largest landowning family in the county.

*

NHsalle

see: Salle Farms

As the third son of Norfolk barrister Brigg Fountaine, young Andrew (b. 1634) was naturally at the back of the queue for the property which had been accrued by this family in the parish of Salle since the mid-14th century. (This would in due course descend to the great-granddaughter of his brother, James, whose husband, Edward Hase, built Salle Park, left, in 1761.)

At the age of 18 Fountaine was dispatched in 1655 to study for the bar at the Inner Temple where he soon formed a bond with fellow Norfolk native John Coke, two years his senior. That same year Coke suddenly became heir to his family’s considerable estate at Holkham (and elsewhere) following the death of his older brother. When he then came of age Coke unexpectedly refused to sign up to the conventional resettlement of the family estate (which would have given him life tenancy but not outright ownership), causing a lasting rift with his father.

In a further act of rebellion Coke, with Andrew Fountaine, now decided to quit the Inner Temple without passing the bar, the pair instead setting out for France and remaining abroad for almost three years. Fountaine would later maintain ‘that it was ‘at John Coke’s entreaty’ that he neglected his studies to travel but Coke family lawyers in the future had little doubt that self-interest came into play’. On their return in 1660 Coke opted to reside with the Fountaine family in Salle; his father died the following year. John Coke now became ‘the absolute owner of the Holkham estate and Andrew Fountaine the chief manager of his concerns’.4

Over the next few years ‘Coke entered into a series of transactions which substantially enriched Andrew Fountaine’ including the grant of several lucrative long-term leases at very favourable terms on various Coke estate properties. ‘The most plausible explanation is that Coke did in fact intend to make large money gifts, of £20,000 or thereabouts, to Fountaine [over time] out of income but gave them as legal interests intended as securities to protect Andrew Fountaine, after Coke’s death, from the claims of Coke’s heirs’.5

And, sure enough, a queue of eager litigants quickly formed after John Coke died unmarried in August, 1671, aged 35. Broadly, they would argue that Fountaine had exploited the loose rein afforded to him as steward to fill his own boots, conducting intended estate investments instead in a personal capacity, the most conspicuous example being Fountaine’s acquisition of the Brookmans estate in Hertfordshire in 1666. Both sides would be mired in Chancery for the next two decades.

In the meantime, Andrew Fountaine would lose his first wife in 1671 but gain another – Sarah, daughter of Sir Thomas Chicheley of Wimpole Hall – a year on.

NHbrook

see: North Mymms History

‘A Hertfordshire squire of unattractive habits and personality, addicted to drink and always in money difficulties, Fountaine led his wife a most wretched existence.’ Sarah nevertheless provided her husband with a son, Andrew, in 1676 and, via some serious family string-pulling, a very handy seat in parliament three years later. By 1680 the ship had seemingly steadied sufficiently to allow Fountaine to develop a new residence at Brookmans (r).

Final settlement with the Coke estate was reached in 1694, all leases and income to be surrendered by Andrew Fountaine in exchange for £10,000. ‘This sum must have helped his purchase, only a year later, of Narford, which is still the home of the Fountaines. Thus one family prospered as a result of the legal carelessness of another.’4 Brookmans was disposed of in the spring of 1702 to fund a new project:

1702 Monday 29th June I laid the first stone of my new house at Narford.”2

*

Though a star classical scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, under the influence of its polymath dean Henry Aldrich – ‘one of the forerunners of the Palladian movement’ – there is no evidence (as yet) that the young Andrew Fountaine (2) took a direct hand in the shaping of his father’s new house.6

NHbell1

NHbell2Henry Bell of King’s Lynn has been suggested and Narford’s long since removed lantern as shown in Edmund Prideaux’s west front view c.1725 (left) echoes that of Bell’s Sessions House in Northampton (r).

In fact, in that summer of 1702 the recently knighted Fountaine, Jnr. was in Italy, a diplomatic mission to the elector of Hanover (later King George I) having turned into a three-year Grand Tour ‘of unusual intellectual intensity’.7

NHcarlo And while his precocious erudition impressed all, other qualities found favour with the fairer sex at court, reducing distinguished German mathematician/philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz to undisguised fan mail. “Your wit, your good looks, or rather your beauty, remains engraved in their imagination, and makes you as much noise at Court as your learning does.”8 Fountaine’s swoonsome aspect was captured in a drawing from life by Roman master Carlo Maratta preserved at Narford.

The declining health of his father obliged a domestic focus upon Sir Andrew’s return but in the next three decades he would largely favour the stimulating swirl of city life over Norfolk. Andrew Fountaine, Snr. died in 1706; four years later his 34-year-old heir would undergo a near-death experience at his London townhouse witnessed by good friend Jonathan Swift. Fountaine pulled through no thanks to his hovering relations according to the celebrated scribe:

Sir Andrew’s mother and sister are come above a hundred miles to see him before he died. I knew the mother; she is the greatest Overdo upon earth; and the sister, they say, is worse; the poor man will relapse again among them. Here was the scoundrel brother always crying in the other room till Sir Andrew was in danger; and the dog was to have all his estate if he died.

Pignatta, Giulio, 1684-1751; Sir Andrew Fountaine and Friends in the Tribune

see: Art UK

Long since returned to rude health, by 1714 Fountaine was venturing out on Grand Tour II with his now regular companion, the obscure Wiliam Price, and friends. A portrait depicting the group (Sir AF left, leaning) at ease within the octagonal Tribuna gallery of the Ufizzi in Florence was among his many souvenirs.NHinvent ‘Sir Andrew doesn’t seem to have made a record of his purchases abroad and his tours informed his later buying. An inventory of 1753 [by Price] lists a total of 3,327 prints in [just] one eleven-drawer cabinet in the Library Closet, one of the smallest rooms in Narford Hall.’8

NHlib

see: Evelyn Simak @ geograph

Brimming with inspiration and acquisitions upon his return in 1717 Fountaine would soon embark on the first of two major phases of development at his Norfolk estate. A four-bay wing extending north housed a new Library, the room remaining ‘an outstanding example of an early-C18 interior, its appearance comparatively little changed’.2

This is not, however, the aforementioned ‘most beautiful room in England’, that epithet having been applied rather to Fountaine’s central Saloon (formerly the entrance hall). Still dominated by ten huge canvas panels by the Italian artist who was in pole position to decorate the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral until politics intervened, ‘the saloon at Narford is the sublime monument to the genius of Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini‘.9

NHgarden

see: Vitruvius britannicus

Sir Andrew surrounded the Hall with highly formal gardens of enclosed spaces and geometric avenues terminated by classical eye-catchers. ‘Fountaine was uniquely mingling the latest Palladian architectural styles from Hanover with the kind of structural atmospheric content gleaned from Dutch gardens. For an enthusiastic supporter of the Protestant succession, Narford was the ultimate politically correct garden.’7 A long canal extended north from the house, passing the church of St. Mary’s which still stands isolated NW of the Hall. Now redundant, ‘it is a woefully neglected place’…

NHbust

see: John Salmon @ geograph

… one of the few remaining fixtures being Sir Andrew Fountaine’s memorial (left). “I am now building a Portico, and making a large plantation of oaks, as if I was to live 50 years longer,” he wrote in 1750, overestimating his longevity by some 47 years.8 The portico, a late indulgence, would not endure but much remains from a secondNHback significant phase of development at Narford after Fountaine’s retreat from the capital in 1733. New bays were introduced…

… north and west while, more significantly and seemingly also to his own design, a major new suite of rooms would now extend the house in the east.

NHbelts

see: Fairfax & Favor

NHboots

see: Fairfax & Favor

‘The c.1735 work includes a four-bay block, now the Music Room, with a handsome Kentian fireplace [while] beyond, a typical singerie ceiling of exotic animals by Andien de Clermont crowns the Queen Anne Room.’2

Perhaps inspired by his time at the Ufizzi, Fountaine created an octagonal closet, top-lit and fronted by a glass door, specifically to display choice items from his then incomparable collection of maiolica and Limoges enamel ware. (Coins and medals were another enduring antiquarian obsession, numismatic expertise which doubtless contributed to his appointment as Warden of the Royal Mint in 1727. In contrast to his proactive predecessor in this role, Sir Isaac Newton, Fountaine evidently regarded the position as something of a sinecure, his years in office characterised by ‘indolence and inaccessibility’.10)

The Fountaine Family ?1776 by John Singleton Copley 1738-1815

see: Arts Council

Despite his noted appeal to the opposite sex, Sir Andrew would never marry and following his death in 1753 Narford descended through his niece Elizabeth and her husband William Price to their son, Brigg Price Fountaine. Though he would be squire for over half-a-century Brigg’s tenure saw little significant alteration to the Hall and its contents. But one new adornment would be a family portrait of c.1776, a work which has recently been acquired for the nation via the Cultural Gifts Scheme (whereby art works are accepted in lieu of tax). The ‘English School’ painting had been sold at auction for £36,000 in 1987 by Narford’s then owner, Andrew Fountaine (5), to pay for dry rot treatment at the Hall. Reacting to the assertion by its new owner months later that the picture was in fact a work by the leading American artist of the C18th, John Singleton Copley, and actually worth £2 million, Fountaine was philosophical: “I am very sceptical [but] if it is, I wish the chap all the luck in the world.”11

NHlake

see: Fairfax & Favor

Brigg’s heir, Andrew (3), would enjoy Narford for just a decade, succeeded in 1835 by his son, Andrew (4), who soon initiated major changes, the estate coffers helpfully swollen by a four-day sale of surplus contents held in the Hall grounds in 1838. The rigid formality of the latter had long-since given way to open parkland. Surveying the scene in 1841 one visitor described ‘a place of great beauty though in miserable order at present’, a possible reference to the ongoing creation of the 60-acre lake behind the house.

NHgate3

see: Evelyn Simak

‘Before leaving this seat, it may be stated that we could discover no entrance to it at all worthy of the interior,’ the same author remarked, ‘the gateway [being] similar to that of a farmyard.’ Surprisingly, perhaps, the expansive plans of Andrew Fountaine (1801-74) would not remedy that situation as the house itself now underwent a programme of major aggrandisement.

In the 1850s, overseen by Robert Ketton of Norwich, the south front gained a dominating domed entrance tower ‘in the angle between the main house and the library wing of c.1718’2 while the single-storey range of 1735 was overwhelmed by ‘High Victorian grandeur’.12 The east face of this burly new block featured a canted bay book-ended by stout pavilions. Unlike so many cumbrous country house appendages of the period, all of the C19 work at Narford remains.

NH1850

see: Historic England

Andrew Fountaine may have been impelled to enlarge his house having also inherited his esteemed ancestor’s weakness for C16 Continental china. ‘A wealthy man who combined fastidious taste with great courage as a buyer, who never scrupled to give immense prices for exceptional items,’ Fountaine was the last of Narford’s great collectors. His immediate heirs, daughter Mary and her husband (and first cousin), Algernon Fountaine, ‘preferred their equivalent in money’13

NHplateVA

see: V&A

… kicking off a sequence of major dispersals with a ‘spectacle almost without rival’ in June 1884. Many of the 400+ pieces of “useless crockery” in the four-day Christie’s sale were acquired for the nation, displayed today at the British Museum and the V&A. A month later dozens of paintings and over 800 prints would be knocked down. One decade on, Rubens’ ‘Return of the Prodigal Son‘ was among more Old Masters sold, followed in 1902 by another four-day sale of almost one thousand folios and manuscripts from Narford’s library.

(Alas, a widowed Mary Fountaine would later be forced to sue the senior trustee of the Narford estate, Lord Amherst, when it was discovered that a large slice of the proceeds from these sales had been deposited with, and promptly embezzled by, his trusted solicitor.)

Mary Fountaine died two weeks before the 1918 wedding of her son, Charles, a career naval officer whose re-emergence from retirement to oversee North Atlantic convoys in WWII hastened his own demise in 1946. There followed an eccentric half-century at Narford dominated by the forceful but mutually antagonistic personalities of his widow and their son and heir.

“There is an iceberg between mother and me, there has always been a rift between us,” Andrew Fountaine (5) revealed to the Daily Mail in 1961. The newspaper had ventured to Narford to witness ‘the first international rally of the British National Party’, of which Fountaine was then president. The squire and his assembled acolytes were on manoeuvres in readiness to repel what they saw as the looming threat posed by non-white immigration into Britain. “Mother thinks it is outrageous. She owns the Hall but I own the grounds around it, so there is nothing she can do.”14

NHBNP

see: MACE

Exiled from the Conservative Party prior to the 1950 general election (the candidate for Chorley’s unapologetically racist views proving strong meat), Fountaine, as an independent, fell just 361 votes short of becoming the second of his line to be returned to Westminster. He would remain a prime mover in the BNP/National Front cause throughout the 1960s and ’70s – ‘the movement’s moneybags to a large degree’15 – losing more elections along the way. But in the 1980s ‘Fountaine largely abandoned his efforts to save the British race and concentrated on planting trees on his [5,000-acre] estate’.16

Meanwhile, his mother’s reign as the eccentric chatelaine of ‘the most inaccessible house in England’ having ended in 1968, more of Narford’s contents would gain new visibility via a steady trickle of further sales under Andrew Fountaine. Some key items have at least remained in the same county, Norwich Castle Museum acquiring Roubiliac’s ‘highly important’ terracotta bust of Sir Andrew (c.1747) in 1992, and the Grand Tour group portrait featured above.8

NHFF3

see: Fairfax & Favor

Pignatta, Giulio, 1684-1751; Sir Andrew Fountaine and Friends in the Tribune

see: Art UK

Sartorial scrutiny of that painting (left) reveals Sir Andrew Fountaine’s apparent fondness for distinctive footwear, the detail of his shoes being notably superior to that of his associates. While he would find much that has changed here since his time the renowned C18th aesthete might perhaps approve of the coveted creations peddled today by the Fountaines’ 21st-century generation from the converted stable block on the Narford Hall estate…

*

1. Einberg, E. William Hogarth: A complete catalogue of the paintings, 2016.
2. Parissien,S., Harris, J., Colvin, H. Narford Hall, Norfolk, Georgian Group Journal, 1987.
3. Kenworthy-Browne, J. et al. Burke’s & Savills Guide to Country Houses: East Anglia, 1981.
4. Hiskey, C. Holkham: The social, architectural and landscape history of a great house, 2016.
5. Macnair, M. (Mitchell, C., Mitchell, P., Eds.) Landmark cases in equity, 2012.
6. Colvin, H. A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, 3rd Edition, 1997.
7. Richardson, T. The Arcadian friends: Inventing the English landscape garden, 2007.
8. Moore, A. Norfolk and the grand tour, 1985.
9. Knox, G. Antonio Pellegrini, 1995.
10. Challis, C.E. (Ed.) A new history of the Royal Mint, 1992.
11. The Times 1 Sept 1987.
12. Pevsner, N., Wilson, B. Buildings of England: Norfolk 2: North West and South, 1999.
13. The Times 12 June 1884.
14. Daily Mail 22 May 1961.
15. The Times 22 Sept 1997.
16. Daily Telegraph 25 Sept 1997.
See also:
Harris, J. The Prideaux collection of topographical drawings, Architectural History, Vol.7, 1964.
Ford, B. Sir Andrew Fountaine: virtuoso, Apollo, pp.352-8, 1985.

 

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Update (2015): Alscot Park revisited: https://handedon.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/alscot-park-warwickshire-redux/

An absolute cracker and still, pleasingly, relatively obscure.

see source: alscotpark.co.uk

Stop anyone in the county and ask them to name it’s Grade I listed houses and I’m guessing about two in a hundred would come up with this beauty.

Acquired by the Wests in 1749 thence James the first set about expanding and Gothickising the house. ‘The best thing about Alscot Park is the internal composition or procession of rooms,’ said Pevsner which is a bit of shame since, as the estate website tells us, ‘The house is not open for public viewing’.

Alscot also seems to give the lie to the oft-quoted saw that land doesn’t necessarily equal money. Sitting on 4,000 acres of prime ‘Shakespeare country’, the estate would appear to be a model of viability without feeling any great need to tap into the tourist honey-trap that is Stratford-on-Avon just two-and-half miles up the road.

see source: Robin Dickin Racing

Now leasing some space to a racehorse training stable, a more agreeable, harmonious and thoroughly worthwhile activity its hard to imagine, you’ll agree! And which leads us naturally on to the rather enviable existence of another trainer over at the equally blog-worthy estate of…

[Alscot estate]

 

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