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The turn of a new century would prove to be somewhat more than a symbolic harbinger of change in the life of Mr. Roger Jenyns, Esq. In little more than two years from 1700 this gent would: gain a knighthood, acquire a country house and estate, lose one wife (their three children having all previously died in infancy), and marry another. The estate was at Bottisham, seven mile east of Cambridge, a place which, precisely one hundred years on, would welcome a son for whom life was to unfold in altogether more sedate fashion.

bottgates

see: Google Maps

The Rev. Leonard Jenyns lived all but seven years of the C19. His first post after university saw him venture north from Bottisham Hall .. about 800 yards north, to the adjacent parish of Swaffham Bulbeck which he would serve for the next thirty years. ‘I have never been abroad,’ he declared¹ in his 89th year, a lack of adventurousness not – as we shall see – without…

… its own historical significance but which was untypical of the spirit which had first brought the Jenyns family to this place, and where they remain to this day.

*

On the morning of May 30, 1649, at a house in London’s Temple Bar, nine gentlemen gathered in a mood of businesslike self-congratulation, the previous day having seen the passing of a private parliamentary Act ‘for draining the Great Level of the Fens‘. Senior among those assembled was the 5th Earl of Bedford (later 1st Duke thereof) who was spearheading the revival of his late father’s ambitious scheme, a project interrupted by the Civil War but now given fair wind by Fenlander Oliver Cromwell. This epic undertaking was to be bankrolled by private investors, termed ‘Adventurers’, in return for rights in much of the land reclaimed.

Also present that morning was one Thomas Jenyns, younger son of Hertfordshire squire Sir John Jenyns and at this time a leaseholder of land in Hayes, Middlesex. Despite the many tribulations of the Fens enterprise, the family’s investment was plainly fruitful. In 1677 Thomas’s son, Roger, would acquire the manor of Hayes, having been one of twenty-seven Adventurers who constituted the original board of the Bedford Level Corporation. Subsequent generations ‘filled many of the most responsible offices of the Corporation’ until well into the nineteenth century.²

Roger Jenyns served ‘successively as conservator, bailiff, and surveyor general of Fens till his death in 1693’ whereupon he was succeeded as surveyor by his eldest son, John (also MP for Cambridgeshire 1701-17). They are among many Jenyns interred in Hayes church but Roger’s namesake younger son would be strikingly memorialised in Cambridgeshire having relocated closer to the heart of the action.

Behind a screen in Holy Trinity church, Bottisham, life-size effigies of Sir Roger Jenyns and his second wife, Elizabeth Soame, sit reposed in night attire, a composition which raised eyebrows in the first half of the C18. Knighted in recognition of his Fenland endeavours, Sir Roger had purchased the old estate of the Alington family at Bottisham, on the edge the Fens.

bott2

see: RCHM

At the heart of this property was the C15 moated manor house which ‘shortly after 1700 Jenyns remodelled (r), refacing it in red brick and converted the moat into a ‘canal”. And so it would remain thoughout the long lifetime of Sir Roger’s son and heir, save for the installing of a ‘large library’ as might befit…

…  the lively mind of one of the eighteenth century’s more impish men of letters.

For Soame Jenyns (1704-87) life was rarely dull. Leaving Cambridge University without taking his degree, Soame promptly entered into a marriage – contrived by his father – with his first cousin Mary Soame, a young heiress (‘of between 20 and £30,000‘) of whom Sir Roger was guardian. In summer the three lived ‘tolerably well together’ at Bottisham but in winter Soame preferred the diversions of London, ‘his mind by some means warped aside to the paths of infidelity’.

soame1

see: National Trust

A sparkling conversationalist, Soame’s urbane charm compensated for an unfortunate physical appearance. ‘Jenyns was so ugly that when [the playwright] Richard Sheridan’s sister met him at a reading party she judged him “the most hideous mortal” she had ever beheld’.³ A dandyish sartorial style went only so far in distracting from various facial tumours, broken teeth and ‘a laugh scarcely human’. Horace Walpole held Soame’s portrait by Reynolds (r) to be veritable ‘proof of Sir Joshua’s art’.³

But from an (initially) anonymous debut verse, The art of dancing, Soame fancied himself at home in the rarified company of such sharp wordsmiths, becoming a prolific, whimsically provocative poet and pamphleteer on matters topical and philosophical. One particular work, A free inquiry into the nature and origins of evil, would be remembered by posterity but, alas, more for the celebrated critique it attracted from Dr Samuel Johnson who decided that its author needed ‘to be thrashed in full view of the public’.4

johnsonWhile he received hate mail, ‘letters charged with great acrimony [and] much abuse’, the lofty barbs from the editor of The Literary Magazine were perhaps more wounding. Suggesting a more fitting subject for Jenyns’ next disquisition, Johnson wrote: ‘I should wish that he would solve this question, Why he that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer.’ Twenty years after his death it would be said of Soame, ‘He wrote verses upon dancing, and prose upon the origin of evil; yet he was a very indifferent metaphysician, and a worse dancer’.

Matters were no less turbulent on the home front. Soon after old Sir Roger died Jenyns’s wife eloped with the MP for Nottinghamshire, notorious philanderer William Levinz (itself ‘extraordinary [as] she was noways inviting’). But Soame did not have to look far for a replacement, marrying another cousin, the importunate Elizabeth Grey, who had been taken in at Bottisham Hall several years previously.

bottmain

see: RCHM

As productive as his long life was (being also a dilligent MP, mostly for Cambridge, and public administrator over 35 years) at his death in 1787 Soame had no direct heir. So Bottisham now passed to his uncle’s great-grandson, the Rev. George Leonard Jenyns, who proceeded to sell off the contents of the old Hall which was then demolished in favour of a new house built just yards away (r).

‘We are well into the Neo-Classical period, and – in Cambridgeshire especially – the accompanying rejection of the great house type in favour of more compact, villa-like plans.’ Fashioned from the characteristic white bricks of the chalky Cambridgeshire Gault, Bottisham Hall is ‘an attractive and gratifying intact house of two tall storeys in the Wyatt manner’5

bottdoor

see: Jason Webb

bottstair

see: RCHM

… initially on a square plan (an L-shaped service wing being added later). The semi-circular central bay fronts an oval entrance hall; further in, ‘the main staircase rises around three sides of the ‘D’-shaped stairhall and returns to a landing [featuring] a screen of two Ionic columns’.‘Much of the furniture acquired c.1800 remains in the house.’

Over the next two decades Rev. Jenyns would also greatly expand the parkland around the house creating the present 140-acre private domain – as one 2016 visitor noted, ‘many locals told us this was the first time they had entered the Hall’s grounds’ – of which his youngest son would be especially appreciative. ‘Cambridgeshire being open country, the gardens and plantations were like an oasis in the desert,’ recalled Rev. Leonard Jenyns (1800-93) reflecting upon a lifetime of scholarly local fieldwork which would see him become ‘an eminent, much respected naturalist’.7

heb3

see: Yale Center

Somewhat regretful that his father, ‘while quite a young man, came into possession of all of the Bottisham Hall property .. leading him to abandon ways and habits suitable to a clergyman’, Leonard’s studious inclinations flowed from his mother and her immediate family.¹ Mary Heberden was the daughter and sister of distinguished physicians (her portrait being painted for his doctor by a grateful Thomas Gainsborough). But his father, being canon of Ely Cathedral, did have his uses…

… young Leonard being appointed curate at the church closest to the Hall directly upon ordination allowing continued study of the local flora and fauna, often in the company of his ex-Cambridge friends.

bottair5

see: Bing Maps

“I shall never forget, as long as I may live, the happy hours I spent with you at Bottisham,” wrote Charles Darwin, whose later renown Jenyns would inadvertently assist. For in 1831 Captain FitzRoy had offered Jenyns the berth as naturalist aboard HMS Beagle ahead of his five-year expedition to South America. Citing parish responsibilities and uncertain health Leonard would decline the invitation recommending instead his young friend, Darwin. The rest is (natural) history.

leo2

see: accessart

On this day two years ago a pair of windows commemorating Rev. Jenyns were unveiled in the porch of Swaffham Bulbeck church by the present owner of Bottisham Hall. Leonard’s father was himself vicar (for over fifty years) of Swaffham Prior just a mile or so further up the lane. The land between these two villages is principally occupied by the parkland of Swaffham Prior House. It was here in 1901 that the prolific bestselling novelist H. Rider Haggard was put up by squire Charles Allix as he travelled about taking the pulse of post-depression Rural England for the Daily Express.

rogerjenyns

Bulbeck Beacon (Jan 2015)

As Mr. Allix and his near neighbour, Roger Jenyns of Bottisham Hall (1858-1936), explained to the writer, ‘Some of the old Cambridgeshire families still remain but during the last score of years most of them have melted away, their place filled by an influx of millionaires’. In the 1980s Swaffham Prior House was itself sold to a local millionaire who would be knighted for his commitment to the region, as Sir Roger Jenyns had been three centuries before. But at the latter’s Bottisham estate, presently the home of his namesake (right), change remains a relative stranger…

[Listing]

¹ Blomefield (formerly Jenyns), L. Chapters in my life, 1889.
² Wells, S. The history of the drainage of the great level of the Fens, 1830.
³ Rompkey, R. Soame Jenyns, 1984.
4 Hanley, B. Samuel Johnson as book reviewer, 2003.
5 Bradley, S, Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, 2014.
6 Kenworthy-Browne, J., et al. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses: East Anglia, 1981.
7 Dictionary of national biography, 2004.
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On display in one of the gloomier corners of the British Museum, easily overlooked, is a richly decorated nine-inch porcelain soup plate. This C18 object is presented as an illustration both of the skills of Chinese artisans and also of the lucrative export trade which came their way via wealthy patrons in the West. But no less worthy of remark, from Handed on‘s perspective at least, is the historical dimension represented by the plate’s dominant heraldic emblem, being the family arms of the Okeovers of Okeover Hall.

IMG_1045[1]

The order for what would ultimately be a 154-piece dinner service was placed by Mr. Leake Okeover, Esq., in 1738 at a cost of £1 per plate. ‘The service is the only known instance in which the original painting which was sent to China to be copied has survived; it remains in the family,’ noted Christie’s in 1975 in the course of selling 100 pieces which no longer would (r). ‘The reproduction is exceptionally accurate and marks out this service as one of the finest ever made.’¹

Nought but the best seems to have been the way of Leake Okeover (b.1702) who would inherit the Okeover estate on the death of his grandfather in 1730. The orphaned son of Thomas Okeover and heiress Catherine Leake was free-spending from the moment he came of age as his ‘very extensive accounts‘ record. ‘Bills reveal lavish expenditure on jewellery, clothes,’² and fine pictures including that Georgian gentry must-have, the ‘conversation piece’, typically depicting squire and company in the foreground of a handsome abode.

cropped to image, recto, unframed

see: Yale Center for British Art

In 1745 Leake (above, seated) recruited an artist for whom such pictures would become a speciality, namely Arthur Devis, not long relocated to London from his native Preston. While his figures are often formulaic, his scenes somewhat ‘stage-managed … Devis appears to be a fairly accurate delineator of a sitter’s house’.³ Except that in this particular case the house as depicted did not actually exist – and never would. Leake Okeover had gotten a little ahead of himself, this version of Okeover Hall being destined to remain forever just an artist’s impression.

Certainly, grand plans to radically upgrade an existing house were well under way by this time. But before any work had started on the principal south front with its imposing portico things began to go awry.  Firstly, in 1747, Okeover’s architect Joseph Sanderson inconveniently died. Soon after, Leake’s extravagance finally began to catch up with him, eventually fleeing abroad to avoid his creditors doing the same. Six hundred years of Okeover heritage was suddenly in distinct peril.

okegates2

see: Google Maps

The manor of Okeover had passed in the direct male line since a grant of c.1150 by the Abbot of Burton. The home range was imparked soon thereafter, bounded in the east by the River Dove (also the county border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire). At the death c.1400 of John of Gaunt’s ally and sometime enforcer
Sir Philip Okeover the family’s landholdings were on their way to encircling the nearby town of Ashbourne.

While Sir Philip’s son and heir Thomas would twice be elected to parliament for Derbyshire he largely ‘avoided the responsibilities of office, preferring to live quietly on his estates’. These he expanded significantly in the county and beyond through his second marriage to heiress Thomasina Sallowe and of which he would remain squire for 60 years. This record would stand until the time of Sir Rowland Okeover (d.1692) whose 67-year tenure was also notably fruitful.

OkeOld

see: Government Art Collection

60 different sorts of apple, 20 sorts of pears, 35 sorts of apricots and other plumms are to be found in the gardens of this ancient seat.’ A seat which at the time of this approving visitation by Robert Plot (then first Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum) in the course of compiling his ‘Natural history of Staffordshire‘ (1686), was a mid-sized Tudor house within a square moat (r).

okestab2

see: Thornber

This was the place to which Leake Okeover removed in 1730, vacating Wymeswold Hall (his mother’s Leicestershire legacy which he had received upon coming of age eight years before). Leake would quickly make his mark at the site of his ancient birthright with a large classical stable block which together with the now private All Saints church (both left) remain essentially unchanged elements of the Okeover tableau.

But it would be at least a dozen years before thoughts turned to seriously remodelling the Hall, setting in train a morphing process which would effectively last two hundred years.

okeview4

see: Google Maps

Phase One consisted of matching wings, broadly similar in proportion to the stable block, extending north at either end of the existing house; the east wing survives intact. The design for the final major element of the project, Joseph Sanderson’s patron-pleasing grand south front (below), would be a last-minute addition to Arthur Devis’s painting following a visit to the artist’s London studio by Sanderson in December 1746.

portico1

see: Yale Center for British Art

While the architect’s death the following August did not necessarily mean the end of Leake’s grand designs, his spending would. In the spring of 1751, facing debts of about £25,000, he took off to northern France for almost two years, lodging under the alias ‘Mr. Scrimpshaw‘ and leaving his wife and trustees to firefight the liabilities.

Wymeswold Hall was among substantial estate assets sold to meet the debts but in correspondence across the Channel Leake refused to countenance the disposal of Okeover itself: “I cannot nor ever will be brought to part with Okeover. I will much sooner never see England again than do it.”4

okeview5

see: Peter Barr @ geograph

okegates7

see: Churchcrawler

Work on the Hall eventually recommenced but the block at the S end of the east wing (left) was to be the last substantial addition before Leake died in 1765. This space features ‘exceptionally fine’ decorative plasterwork and joinery.5 Additionally, ‘there is much fine C18 furniture at Okeover’ and Leake’s especial weakness for exquisite ironwork remains much in evidence around the grounds.4

leakemem

see:ChurchCrawler

The Devis painting above is notable not only for the inclusion of a house which did not exist but also for the exclusion of a wife who most certainly did. A boys club of chums replaces the more typical family group, a scene which would never be possible since Leake and Mary – who died within months of one another, memorialised in profile by Joseph Wilton (r) – had no children. Nor would the next two heirs, the deeper reaches of the Okeover male line being mined until 1912. That year saw the death of Haughton Okeover whose remarkable 76-year tenure encompassed the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign.

okesouth3

see: Country Life

The C19 saw ‘incoherent, piecemeal’ changes to the Hall: the removal of the west wing, the doubling of the S-E pavilion and a two-storey extension into the space once occupied by the original Tudor house (left).4 A satisfactory holistic resolution would not be achieved until the 1950s when Okeover passed in the female line, a turn which would also see the family’s local landholding coincidentally double in size.

osmast2

see: Lost Heritage

On the opposite side of Ashbourne lies Osmaston, ‘a neat estate village with many picturesque cottages set against the backdrop of the park’,6 which itself is ‘stunning indeed’.7 The story of colossal Osmaston Manor (r) is excellently recounted here. ‘A magnificent example of that class of mansion in which wealthy Englishmen delight to dwell’8 …

… Osmaston was built by local industrialist Francis Wright between 1846-49 and acquired by Liverpool brewing magnate and philanthropist Sir Andrew Walker, 1st Bt, in 1884. In an unusual familial twist Sir Andrew and his son and heir Peter would marry two of squire Haughton Ealdred Okeover’s eight sisters, Maude (as his second wife) and Ethel, respectively.

osmast4

see: Stones Events

Their brother died childless in 1955, the 3,000-acre Okeover estate now passing to Haughton’s only living nephew, Peter and Ethel Walker’s son, Sir Ian Walker, 3rd Bt, then incumbent at similar-sized Osmaston (r). Owning two houses six miles apart Walker eventually elected to demolish impractical Osmaston in favour of Okeover Hall, also becoming Sir Ian Walker-Okeover in obeisance to the ancient lineage.

okeview6

see: Eamon Curry

‘Arguably the finest house built in England in the 1950s,’ Sir Ian’s remodelling of Okeover Hall was masterminded by architect Marshall Sisson. In retaining the Georgian E wing and recreating a counterpart, Sisson essentially reasserted Sanderson’s three-sided plan. The S-E pavilion was split to bookend an interposed nine-bay S section.5

okegates1

see: Peak District Online

If the latter’s muted central bow is hardly the imposing statement of Leake Okeover’s imaginings the opposite, courtyard-facing entrance front is less effacing. Featuring ‘a full-height projecting porch with a pediment and giant statues on top from the gardens at Osmaston’,5 this is however not easily seen since Okeover remains the wholly private home of Sir Andrew and Lady Philippa Walker-Okeover.

And, while it is possible to walk these unsold acres and to view the scene as captured by Arthur Devis in the mid-C18, be aware that the bovine residents of the Okeover Estate, too, can be very protective of this ancient manor…

[GII* listing][Osmaston Park][Glenmuick Estate]

1. Howard, D., Ayers, J. China for the West, Vol. 2, 1978.
2. Mowl, T., Barre, D. The historic gardens of Staffordshire, 2009.
3. Harris, J. The artist and the country house, 1979.
4. Oswald, A. Okeover Hall I/II/III, Country Life, Jan/Mar 1964.
5. Robinson, J.M. The latest country houses, 1984.
6. Thorold, H. A Shell guide to Derbyshire, 1972.
7. Craven, M., Stanley, M. The Derbyshire country house: 2, 2001.
8. Country Life, July 12, 1902.

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One day in October 1998 on the Rhug estate in north Wales, Robert Wynn, 8th Baron Newborough, blasted his late father out of an C18 cannon. The ceremonial scattering of his ashes in this explosive fashion was a fitting finale to the life of ‘Micky’ Wynn, a decorated war hero and Colditz inmate who, as we shall see, also had ‘previous’ when it came to loosing off the family’s antiquated arsenal. The cannon was a remnant of many such owned by the Wynns down the ages just as Rhug (pro. reeg) is the last of several notable houses to remain in their possession.

see: Country Life

see: Country Life

That Rhug should have finally emerged as the locus of this dynasty was never obvious, it being the only Wynn house they did not actually build and also the only one of their four properties to be located away from the family’s historical stamping ground west of Snowdonia.

Rhug comprises some 12,500 acres which in all likelihood have never changed hands for money and which have descended through three families since 1500. The Newborough estates were certainly among the great Welsh landholdings, 28,800 acres being recorded in 1873. For four centuries until 1971 444 of these were accounted for by Bardsey Island off the Lleyn Peninsula, one of many disposals by the 7th Lord Newborough who would also sell the original seat of the Wynns, Bodfean Hall.

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

‘A large mansion in the Georgian style built in 1736, remodelled and greatly expanded in the late C19,’ Bodfean (aka Plas Boduan) was relinquished in 1967 and its contents sold separately. As the Sunday Times noted, ‘It was the type of auction which will become increasingly rare; in which Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Sheraton furniture looked as if it had remained unmoved since it had been bought.’¹

Generations of fealty to the Crown had helped the family accrue a sizeable estate, and then a baronetcy for the builder of Bodfean Hall, Sir Thomas Wynn (d. 1749). The latter’s marriage to heiress Frances Glynne would in due course yield the Glynllifon estate to the north which by the time his grandson had been enobled as the 1st Baron Newborough had become the family’s principal seat.

see: Phil Taylor/Panoramio

Phil Taylor@Panoramio

‘A moderate sized brick mansion of 1751′ burned down in 1836, Spencer, 3rd Lord Newborough then commissioning the elongated neo-classical affair we see today. While the land here has been retained the 102-room house has had a rather chequered history since 1949 when it was vacated by Thomas, 5th Lord Newborough citing “high taxation and because I find it almost impossible to get staff.”

Money troubles but entirely of his own making had also forced the flight from this place of Thomas, 1st Lord Newborough (1736-1807). Still to be seen at Glynllifon are the 8-mile estate wall and the tower and armoury he styled Fort Williamsburg, all testament to defensive preoccupations which would be most spectacularly expressed some three miles north at the entrance to the Menai Straits.

Dave Dunford@BLB

Dave Dunford@BLB

‘Notable for being the only purpose built fortress of the American Revolution on this side of the Atlantic,’ low-lying Fort Belan would later stand primed (with Newborough’s own full-time militia) to repel the Napeolonic threat. But live action came there none and the place would be later converted for domestic family use. (The guns always remained serviceable, however, as the 7th Lord Newborough for one regularly delighted in proving, incurring a minor criminal conviction in the process. The Daily Mail amongst others reported his 1976 prosecution after ‘a 9lb cannonball whistled a quarter of a mile across the Straits, damaging a yacht sail and frightening people on the beach.’)²

While Newborough’s well-intentioned ‘military fantasies’ helped gain him a peerage they would also reduce him to a state of financial embarrassment such that he eventually felt ‘obliged to live obscurely abroad’. So it was that in 1782 a newly widowed Newborough relocated with his young son to Tuscany where he remained for ten years and where, fatefully, he would meet a girl called Maria.

see: Your Paintings

see: Your Paintings

Maria Stella Petronilla was a minor starlet of the Florence stage. She was also just 13. Though 35 years her senior Newborough became smitten, bedazzling her low-born but ambitious parents into the cause of winning round the reluctant Maria. In a sensational memoir some forty years later the second Lady Newborough (r) recalled her teenage dread: ‘Realising that it was not a joke, I implored them to let me become a nun, [anything] so long as I was not forced to make such a detestable match.’ But the grown-ups got their way, the eventual return of the squire to Glynllifon with his unlikely new bride giving rise to no little excitement in north Wales and the salons of the capital.

In 1800 Newborough’s 27-year-old son and heir died; his stepmother, 26, would yield once more. ‘His father’s grief was so great, and he had always shown me so much kindness, that I at last felt it to be my duty to make the most painful sacrifice for his sake.’ The future 2nd and 3rd Lord Newboroughs duly resulted.

see source

see source

In a rather amazing parallel Thomas, the 5th baron, would also make a controversial second marriage to an exotic Continental woman 37 years his junior who would later publish a tell-all memoir. The tenor of Denisa, Lady Newborough’s ‘Fire in my blood’ may be adduced by its lengthy serialisation in the News of the World in April 1959: ‘One of my friends said to me: “Have you heard the man’s reputation?” “Good heavens,” I said, “I’ve got a reputation too, you know. I’m not exactly a Vestal Virgin.” Another friend warned, “Tommy Newborough doesn’t want a wife, he wants a brood mare. He’s just crazy to have sons.”

But unlike Maria, Denisa nor any of Tommy’s three wives produced a male heir and his cousin Robert Vaughan Wynn of Rhug succeeded. Robert’s father Charles, a younger son of the 3rd Lord Newborough, had inherited the Rhug estate from his godfather Sir Robert Vaughan Bt (d. 1859), the last of his line. The Vaughans had benefitted similarly in 1780 by the will of Maria Salusbury in whose family Rhug had descended since an early C16 marriage.

see: Such & Such

see: Such & Such/Rhug Estate

Today Rhug is the home of Robert, 8th Ld Newborough (who has relocated from Peplow Hall in Shropshire, a relatively recent acquisition currently on the market). The present classical house was erected at the very end of the C18 and stands in an extensive landscaped park, the work of Humphry Repton.

rhug1

see: Rhug/YouTube

The latter’s Red Book for this place outlined the challenges of working ‘in a country like that of North Wales, abounding in magnificent scenery…yet exposed to frequent rains and violent storms of wind.’ Repton concluded that ‘Gothic architecture is infinitely more applicable to such situations than the lofty portico of Greece.’ Enter, later, architect Joseph Bromfield with a portico of unambiguous loftiness which has nevertheless survived unlike some later cumbrous Victorian additions.

see: Coflein

see: Coflein

A colonnade and enclosing ground floor walls are all that remain of a clunky full-height pedimented east wing wherein a curious ballroom-cum-conservatory arrangement was attempted (l). But much original interior detailing remains including a staircase with panelling from an older house and ‘excellent plaster friezes, painted and gilded, the dining room’s being particularly fine.’³

Some half a mile from the house is Rhug’s private chapel, ‘an astonishing survival, [its] profusion of ornamented surfaces a remarkable document of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.’† And no doubt a useful facility to have on hand for someone feeling in need of a miracle. Speaking in 1951 the present owner’s grandfather augured that ‘the future of large estates cannot be anything but gloomy.’††

see: Rhug Estate
see: Rhug Estate

Yet one place which has certainly confounded this prognosis is Rhug itself, today a thriving brand employing over 100 staff and supplying produce to high-end establishments around the globe. Behind all of this is the energetic 8th Lord Newborough, for the past 15 years something of a Richard Branson-esque figure at the forefront of the organic farming movement and who was named national Farmer of the Year in 2013.

A thoroughly estimable character by all accounts.. unless, of course, the present Lady Newborough – his second wife – has some tales she cares to share…

[Rhug Estate][Archives][GII* listing]

¹ The Sunday Times 17 Dec 1967.
² Daily Mail 16 Jan 1976.
³ Haslam, R, Orbach, J, Voelcker, A. The buildings of Wales: Gwynedd, 2009.
† Haslam, R. Rug, Clwyd I/II, Country Life 6/13 Oct, 1983.
†† Shaw, H.R. Country heritage: the stately homes of the NW counties and N Wales, 1951.

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see:  St. Paul's

see: St. Paul’s

Any visitor to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London will at a certain point assume the position: head back full tilt, bottom lip held between the teeth, the better to survey the glorious dome. And whose handiwork are they gazing upon? Well, if Sir Christopher Wren had had his way, none but his. However, the powers that be decided someone should be invited to colour in the space that Wren had framed.

Though undoubtedly another big-hitter of the English Baroque, the name of muralist James Thornhill has travelled less well down the ages. ‘More memorable as the father-in-law of Hogarth than for his own artistic powers, though these were considerable‘, it was being said as long ago as 1849. And just last week in the course of his fine BBC series Music and Monarchy historian David Starkey spoke to Thornhill’s masterwork in the Painted Hall at Greenwich without attribution. But Sir James – the first artist ever to be knighted for his work – was the foremost decorative artist of his day, his frescoes also adorning the likes of Blenheim and Chatsworth. Thornhill was a son of Dorset and the finest example of his work in his home county can be seen at Charborough House – but only if you happen to live there.

The lack of access to the mural at Charborough is the cause of much chagrin to local Thornhill enthusiasts and historians,’ bemoaned a correspondent to Country Life magazine in 2005.¹ Twenty years earlier writer John Julius Norwich in his weighty tome The architecture of Southern England had recorded, ‘I must confess to not having seen the staircase since I was not allowed in.’

Country Life March 1935

Country Life March 1935

The sight of which they were deprived was of the ‘first rate’² staircase of 1718, richly carved and decorated, working sketches for which survive in various collections (see below). This feature is the centrepiece of a grade I-listed house which has evolved and been added to since the time of the Civil War, much like the name of its owners the stupendously-monikered Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family.

source: The Huntington

source: The Huntington

Other families had been associated with the Charborough estate prior to the marriage of heiress Mary Wyke to Walter Erle during the time of Elizabeth I but ‘there is no evidence, as far back as records go, of its ever having changed hands by sale‘.³ It was Erle’s grandson, Sir Walter, who would really get stuck into the place. Inheriting in 1597 aged just eleven he would be master of Charborough for 65 years. Buying out local minor gentry through the first half of the C17 he assiduously expanded the estate (today some 7,000 acres in size) and would build a himself a house only to see it all but destroyed in the Civil War.

A very active Parliamentarian, Erle would later pillage Royalist redoubt Corfe Castle for materials to rebuild when the balance of power turned. His replacement seat was a modish single block, seven bays by five, with ‘dormer windows, hipped roofs and lofty chimneystacks typical of the group of Commonwealth houses that include Coleshill and Thorpe Hall‘.† One early visitor was his relation, pioneering travel writer Celia Fiennes who was suitably impressed: ‘The house is new built on ye brow of ye hill whence you have large prospects of 20 mile round. There is a very good Hall at the entrance, the chambers are good and lofty and sizeable, all well wanscoated and painted.

After the insertion of Thornhill’s showstopping staircase at the behest of Sir Walter’s grandson, accomplished soldier Gen. Thomas Erle, the next major remodelling of Charborough was a by-product of the first of many failures of the male line. Thomas’s only child Frances married Sir Edward Ernle, 3rd bt., and they in turn would have two daughters of which only the younger, Elizabeth, married, becoming Mrs Henry Drax (her first cousin). As well as coming into his estate Drax succeeded the general as local MP, emerging as a ‘great favourite’ of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and later his secretary (‘though according to Horace Walpole he could not write his own name‘).

see: Panoramio

see: Panoramio

see: British History

source: RCHM

see: Mike Faherty @ geograph

see: Mike Faherty @ geograph

Drax entertained HRH at Charborough in 1741, the prince being accommodated in specially created quarters, possibly the building perpendicular to the main house which would be developed into the Library by John Nash in the next century. (Nash also oversaw a four-bay extension of the principal block, a pediment and pilasters spanning the join and the whole stuccoed creating the house much as it is today.)†

source: English Heritage

source: RCHM

Lasting but a year the tenure of Henry’s son Edward may have been the shortest of any but yielded the monumental erection that is Charborough Tower standing 150 yards SE of the House and approached by a broad grassed flight.

see: PWilliams @ Flickr

see: PWilliams @ Flickr

Ascent of the tower’s spiral staircase is presumably rewarded with a panoramic vista of the 300-acre deer park (‘the finest in Dorset’²) bounded in the north by a three-mile long brick wall.

see: Google Streetview

see: Google Streetview

source: English Heritage

source: English Heritage

Also responsible for Charborough’s high Gothic Armoury (above, left), this wall was the creation of Sawbridge Erle-Drax, formerly John Sawbridge of Olantigh Towers, Kent, who married heiress Jane E-D in 1827.

John Palmer@geograph

John Palmer@geograph

The prodigious boundary was constructed in 1841/2 and marked his successful promotion of a turnpike road (now the A31). It is punctuated not just by some statement arches (above, right) but also, latterly, by regular impact holes being something of a notorious traffic accident black spot. ‘Ten to fifteen cars go into it every year..something must be done,’ said one local MP only last year, and one with more than just a passing interest in the matter, being….

…Richard Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, MP for South Dorset, present owner of said wall and all that lies within.

Standing for election as plain Richard Drax, the prospective member denied suggestions that he had been leant on by Tory HQ to ‘de-posh’ his name. Whatever, in selecting Drax from the various options available to him the MP was favouring a name which had been adopted willingly through licence by no less than four predecessors who had married into the family during a long run of Charborough heiresses spanning the entire C19. Their readiness so to do had its roots in the will of Col. Henry Drax (great-uncle of the aforementioned Henry, friend to royalty) and the colonial riches contained therein. Time, alas, for the ‘s’ word.

Or, to be fair, the ‘s’ words: sugar and, unavoidably, slavery. Arriving from England in 1629, 18-year-old James Drax was an early settler on the island of Barbados. Over years of trial and error he developed a sugar production process second to none and from which a fast fortune was made. ‘James Drax was the stand-out success story of the 1640s’, and he, like other plantation owners, would reinvest some of the profits in support of a key element of the business model, the supply of slave labour from Africa.††

Frederick Lange/slaveryimages.com

Frederick Lange/slaveryimages.com

James died back in England in 1661, his younger son Henry eventually inheriting the Barbados operation but producing no direct heir of his own. Instead, his sister Elizabeth Shetterden’s son Thomas was chosen with the proviso he changed his name, ‘and his posterity after him’, to Drax. And so they have, consolidating an inheritance that has included not just Charborough Park but also James Drax’s 1650s house, ‘the oldest surviving Jacobean mansion in the Americas’ (right).††

Like Charborough, Drax Hall still sits at the heart of an operational private estate, the 800-acre sugar plantation also continuing in the ownership of the Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family to this day.

[Charborough Estate][‘Not your usual MP’]

¹ Country Life, Narch 24, 2005.
² Newman, J. & Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: Dorset, 1972.
³ Oswald, Arthur. Country Life, 30 March, 1935.
† Royal Commission on Historical Monuments: Dorset. Vol.2, pt.1, 1970.
†† Parker, Matthew. The sugar barons, 2012.

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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 associations 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 pegged ‘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 the field at the Oval, 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!

[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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see source: Andy F @ geograph.org.uk

They [the National Trust] can’t wait to get their hands on this place.  We don’t want any part of it.”  You tell ’em, Sir Rupert!*  Being Sir Rupert Shuckburgh, 13th baronet and current incumbent of an estate held by the family by direct descent for the best part of 1000 years.  From this blog’s point of view, this is just about as good as it gets: Never been sold, never featured in Country Life, not open to the public and zero web presence.

The house itself, while in no danger of winning one of those rather meaningless ‘England’s Best House’ polls any time soon, does sit well, exuding a distinct rootedness.

Straddling the Warwickshire-Northants border, here’s the lie of the land:

see source: Central Horse News

And, despite his sister’s assertion* that “he’s pretty much cut himself off from the world“, here’s a shot of Sir Rupert in action, at last year’s rain-soaked Napton village show.  Handed on would like to imagine the 13th bart. and his predecessors as perfect candidates for membership of John Galsworthy’s fictional Stoics’ Club: ‘The idea with which its founder had underpinned the edifice was embodied in No.1 of the members’ rules: “No member of this club shall have any occupation whatsoever.”**

It would be great to think that Channel 4’s recently-commissioned series The Aristocracy, promising to offer an “insight into their daily lives”, might try to seek out an estate such as Shuckburgh rather than the Chatsworths of this world.

When those plucky National Trust bods come a-callin’ they are apparently put in the coldest room in the house, “that way they never stay long”. Obviously, Ruth Watson isn’t going to get an invite any time soon.  For, however the Shuckburghs have managed it, ‘punters’ haven’t been required.  An estimable survivor…

[Update: ‘Shuckburgh Hall revisited’]

[Picture update: Sir James Shuckburgh, Sept 2013]

[2014: Some recent images – inc. interiors – available here, here, here & here]

[Aug 2016: The wedding of Sir James Shuckburgh – new images of the Hall]

*Thomas, Marilyn. The Diary: Sex, Death, and God in the Affairs of a Victorian Cleric (2007) [buy]

**Galsworthy, John. The Country House (1907)

[Stay at Park Farm on the estate]

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